Sunday, March 27, 2011

Some Sad and Good News.. all 3/26

Today we have good news and sad news. One of the most wonderful opportunities in my long and jaded political career was to work with Gerry Ferraro, first on her Vice Presidential campaign and then on the delegation for the Women's conference in Beijing. As you can imagine, neither was relaxing. In between these two monumental events, we got to be friends. She was always available for questions. Always gave good guidance. Always laughed at my jokes. Stressful situations often bring out the worst in people. This was not the case with Gerry. She was spectacular under pressure and always stayed true to what she believed, regardless of controversy, or criticism. It took great courage for her to do all the things she did, including dealing with this rare cancer. Whether you agreed with her or not, it was impossible not to admire, respect and for so many of us, love her. I will treasure all the memories I have of the time we spent together and the laughter and tears we shared. Rest in peace my friend.

Today David and I will celebrate 32 years together. (We met the night of the signing of the Camp David Peace Accords at the White House: Carter, Begin & Sadat at their best. For us, it was a blind date. )
A picture from the Camp David signing...3/26/ the time, we didn't have a clue who the other was...
It probably will surprise you to know that we have spent half our lives connected in some way, most of it married. So when we awakened this morning he said, what are we going to do to celebrate? Since we are in N.C with dear friends, I thought we should do something different. "Here's what I think we should do. We've spent so many good years together, it seems to me we should just get separated. Divorce is out of the question, but I love you so much, I don't want to watch you get old.” (Our getting old has not been pretty.)

“Wow,” he said, “what a novel idea. The leave them laughing approach to life.”

"No one else we know has done it,” I said. "And you know how we like to be the trendsetters amongst the people we know."

So on this, our 32nd anniversary, I would like to share this decision. In true Burnett fashion, we were incapable of making it a decision. I guess that means it at least another 32 years before we have the discussion again. Were just sayin …. Iris

Monday, March 21, 2011

A Child by Any Other Name

As I have done in the past, maybe even yesterday, I will write in order of very good to shame on you!
We welcomed Jake Raymond Gatsik, to the world at 11:20am on Sunday – amidst many Purim carnivals and the excitement of many members of their family. Parents, Jonathan and Beth, are doing fine. Baby is terrific. About 7 pounds and 21 inches, I am told he is skinny but has big feet. Need I say, he is adorable, I think not – the child has an exceptional gene line. Only wish his Great Grandma Elaine had been alive to kvell (something every Jewish parent, grandparent and great grandparent does). Well, we will all have to make sure that we do her proud with our kvelling.

After our trip to the armory for the photo show, we discovered a new restaurant in the neighborhood, Cabana Nueva. We sat at a table for two. On one side was a table of six young women just having a great time. On the other side was an empty table, and on the other side of that table, there was a father in his late twenties (maybe early thirties), with his four year old son. I knew he was four because he acted just like my little Z (also four). They came in just after we did. The father (not actually an adult), was texting when he came in. He told his son to sit down, but without looking up from his iPhone. He used that tone – the one that suggests the child sit down and shut up and not bother him. The child, we’ll call him Kenny, sat right down. The father continued to text. Kenny played with the silverware, fork, knife, and with the napkin. Dad continued to text, and Kenny moved over to the table next to us and proceeded to play with the lit candle on the table. The father didn’t notice. “Honey”, I said, “It’s not a good idea to play with fire.” Kenny looked at me like, “why are you speaking to me, no one else does.”

David was getting upset about the lack of communication between father and son, “I want to say something,” he told me. “Don’t bother,” I said, “this is a guy who snapped his finger at the waiter and hasn’t done anything but order his kid two virgin (I hope) pina coladas – nothing to eat and nothing with which to entertain himself. So Kenny found amusement in lying full out on the table bench, where he kicked some ladies purse and finally fell off, hitting his shoulder and his head.

He cried and dad momentarily got off the phone. “I told you not to do that”, he said. Put him back down, and got back on the phone. It took Kenny about five minutes before he was moving around again. Then, he was momentarily distracted by the arrival of some dinner. It was really momentarily because the dinner was something that dad wanted, but there wasn’t any conversation with his dad about what he might like, so he lost interest in, as I said, five minutes. Dad was still texting when Kenny moved over to the table next to us once again.

“Hi, what’s your name? And how old are you?” I said, holding up three, five, and then four fingers. He chose the four. “What?” he said. And I responded exactly as I do with Z “What,” I repeated in exactly the same tone. We did that back and forth for a while. “What’s your name?” I asked. He told me and asked who David was. “Poppie” I said. “NO” he shouted, and I realized that he must also have a Poppie. “Not your Poppie,” I said, his Poppie, and we showed him a picture of Z. He was delighted to have people paying some attention to him. He got so excited that he knocked my water over.
Dad finally put the phone down. “I told you not to do play”, he shouted. “Whenever you don’t listen to me, something like this happens.”

“I did it,” I said to dad. “Oh, Okay,” he said picking up the phone again.

Kenny went back to his own table, we covered our table with some napkins, and soon after they left – dad still on the phone. “Goodbye, Poppie,” Kenny said, looking at us like he was losing his only water in the desert.

Shame on you, we said, but not loud enough that dad would hear and the punish Kenny. There was a article in the Times this weekend about parents with whom their children are estranged. One woman, whose Dad after years of not being in touch, wanted to be her Facebook friend. She refused Dad, and like Kenny, just wanted a bit of attention, before it was too late. We’re just sayin’…. Iris

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Not Funny

This hasn’t been the easiest week. In chronological order:
David went to Paris (oh poor David), Egypt and Tunisia with the Sectary of State. David going away is not unusual, but we are in the middle of trying to buy a house, reregister our cars, get new driver’s licenses, and I am trying to put together a reading (this is an equity event where a show is performed with dialogue and music … but no scenery or costumes. In fact, the performers have to keep their scripts in hand for whatever the duration of the play. Am I theater conversant or what?). It is not too complicated, but it is time consuming. It’s easier to deal with the professional part of life when there are two people dealing with the personal stuff. (No, I m not finished whining – that was only #1).

It has been cold and bleak. Bad weather is never good for my personality –just ask my old friends from Grafton Ma. When it snowed, was cold, or rained, my insides mirrored whatever was going on outside. I was, for the most part, in a bad mood about ten months out of the year. This is no longer the case but it was a rough winter and it just needs to be over. A real spring day would be lovely. We are supposed to have one tomorrow, so maybe next week will be easier.

Yesterday, I was on my way to a reading (most are on Monday because the theater is dark and often people who are involved in a reading are also doing another show – for which they actually get paid what they are worth. Doing a reading is not a way to make a living). Anyway, somewhere between 44th and 49th, on 8th Avenue, a thief, pick pocket, hoodlum, desperate stupid soul, lifted my purse out of my satchel, and fled with all my credit cards, ATM’s, drivers license, supermarket and pharmacy discount cards, Triple A and AARP identification, library card, money, the Tasti Delite buy 10 get one free card and worst of all, my Dairy Queen gift card, which still had about $80 on it. That made me really mad.

Needless to say, it was incredibly inconvenient. My day was spent calling and canceling everything that had any value attached to it. It was challenging, but I did not get hysterical (how I would normally behaved). Nope, I was calm and organized, card by card, number by number, trying to think about all the items I had thrown in the bag thinking, foolishly, they would remain in my possession. But the Dairy Queen card was one bridge to far – one step over the line. It meant a great deal to me. True there are very few Dairy Queen’s in the area, but that’s not the point. I often travel to places where there are more than one –even a few. Whoever took the purse, whatever degenerate lifted my bag, could never have the same respect or appreciation for the Dairy Queen. They couldn’t possibly feel the same way about a hot fudge sundae with pecans, or a vanilla malt, as I do. For me, a trip to the Dairy Queen is like a religious experience. It is sacred, spiritual, and all consuming. The card is gone. Sure I can buy another one, but it’s not the same. There was so much money left on that card. And I was so looking forward to eating my way through it.

Did I already say “woe is me”, well I am saying it again. The cruise we were supposed to take on the Silver Seas (David as a lecturer) was going to Tokyo and north. Oops, pretty bad timing.

OK, now I’ll stop whining and move on. The kids are all great. I look forward to every day. The sun will shine. Gefilte Fish Chronicles is on about 60 PBS stations (check you local pbs for date and time -- probably around the first two weeks in April), and the musical is (GFC the Musical) is nearly complete. I found a green shirt to wear for St. Pat’s Day, and David will be home tomorrow. I guess things, if not funny, are all good. We're Just Sayin. Iris

Thursday, March 10, 2011

In Other Words....

Sometimes your own words don't tell the story. You think about a story, a place, someone special, and you sit down and try and put it all into words. On some days it just flows. Others, you feel like a plane speeding down the runway, overloaded with bananas and oil drilling equipment, destined never to get its wheels off the ground. And there is a third possibility: that someone else, quite apart from you, will put it all into those words you couldn't find. Back in January, we spent New Year's with Kerry in Stone Ridge, NY, a rural community between Kingston and Newburgh. Each time we drove to Kerry's house, at the last real Stop sign, I'd see this beautiful barn. Red, worn, regal, needing a little TLC, but quite stunning. We'd always be driving to or from somewhere, with intent, and I never bothered to bother my driving mates to stop the car and properly shoot a picture of the barn. On one trip back from the market, we stopped, and I determined that the likelhood of ice cream melting due to an additional 45 second layover was nil. I grabbed my CX5 off my belt pouch, fired a half dozen frames, and drove on. That day, in some sort of New Year's style artsiness I'd set the camera to a square format (i.e worlds tiniest Rolleiflex.. or, if you will... worlds tiniest Yashica-MAT.) I posted the picture on my Facebook page, and a few days later had a note from an acquaintance, saying she loved the picture, could she buy one. I wrote her back that I'd be happy to make a print for her ( a nice 11x14 as it happened) and sent it on. As usual, this took a month or so, and she just finally got the print about a week ago. Two days ago she wrote me a note which summed up her feelings about that picture, and in many ways of her own life. It's quite beautiful, and I share it with you, as her words are so elegantly more captiving than my own. Thanks T.


I wonder when you stopped to take the picture if you were thinking of me. I am sure you weren’t. How could you have known that all my life I have been looking for this barn? This rustic red barn sitting solitarily in a field--- not connected to anything, but standing for everything.

I never lived in a barn. I only imagined what it would be like to have one. I lived in a house with 3 brothers and 3 sisters and I shared a bed with the youngest. It wasn’t an interesting house, it was just four walls and a roof with perfunctory windows, as little as zoning allowed. It was a mess all the time, stuff strewn everywhere and noise filled corners and crevices when actual stuff did not. It was like that every day, crowded, noisy, smelling of fried baloney--an economical meal for a family of 9.

Maybe I saw a barn on tv and fell in love then. I don’t know. Maybe I drove by one in my life. All I know is that I loved the idea of a red barn. The richness of the red such a contrast to our boring white suburban house, the wood that fits together on the outside, each piece unique. Inside our house we were all the same. Mom used to call us by the same name most of the time, searching to remember the real one she assigned to us at birth.

When I saw your picture, the picture that you stopped to take for some reason, wherever you were, I recognized it. I knew it was the one where I dreamed I would have my first kiss in a hay loft, where my horse would be waiting for me when I entered with a carrot in my hand. I knew it was the one where my sisters and brothers would play hide and seek, where we would decorate at Halloween and all the neighbors would come to admire our work.

You found my barn. My deep red passion. You found it and you knew someone would recognize it. You saw its beauty. You knew it meant something to somebody. To me, it means so much.

Thank you for knowing that this picture might be the only way I ever really get my own red barn.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011

A Different Auntie Mame

Peppy, Pesha, Pearl, Pepafonic, Pepalicious, Pep, all endearing names, which at one time or another, someone somewhere has called my mother's twin sister, and other half. Last week we got a call from her daughter to say she was in the hospital. Needless to say, all the cousins were concerned because, she is quite a phenomenon and she is also the last of the Dubroff siblings. There were eight of them. Seven female and one male. Rosie and Peppy were fraternal twins and the youngest of all the children. She is the family memory. The last Indian standing. But stand she does - I'll get back to that.

As with most twins, they had a special connection. When my mother had a pain in her leg, I knew aunt Peppy probably bumped her leg. When Aunt Peppy had a headache, my mother also felt the unexplained pain. When my parents had an argument my cousin Eden (eldest of Peppy's kids) would call and say her mother was in a bad mood and picking a fight with her father. There reactions to situations which involved food was usually identical, (both thinking they were great chefs and experts on all things Jewish), but we secretly called my mother Delores Defrost, because she would cook in the morning, freeze whatever, and defrost it for dinner. Aunt Peppy actually had fresh vegetables and even salad, but many things were so heavy, more than a taste would kill you. They did, as do we all, make identical tuna salad.

That's where the twin thing ended. Aunt Peppy is a balabusta (real Jewish homemaker). She cooked and cleaned and scrubbed and prayed, kept kosher, honored the Sabbath, and ran every organization of which she was a member. Rosie did not do any of these things. When she cooked, it was always a mess. Usually my Aunt Helene, or Aunt Sophie would trail after her with a wet rag trying to keep the muddle under control. Shopping and returning were her favorite exercise - oh and buying crappy jewelry. She belonged to the Boonton Jewish Center for the social life, and always wore something that sparkled.
They were as different as they were alike, a nice combination of a total person.

On Saturday, when Peppy returned from the hospital, I took a little three hour ride to visit with her. Her ankles are a bit swollen but she said that she was fine before she went to the hospital - which made her sick, and she was fine when she got home. She is supposed to use oxygen, but like her twin, refuses to wear it if there are other people around. (Did I mention that having their hair and nails done, was always of primary importance.) When I got to her apartment I couldn't figure out the confusing directions about how to enter. Finally, a four year old, who saw me wandering aimlessly, said she thought I probably wanted the apartment with the "thing" on the door, (the mezuzah).

We spent a few emotional and wonderful hours talking about my mother's headstone, (I wanted her to check the Hebrew on the engraving), and she told me that she wanted "She had a wonderful life" on her tombstone. I told her that since it was not the wild west, she would probably have a headstone as well .... But not yet. Peppy has always believed that God has a plan for every person. That everyone has a certain amount of time to live. No doctors, tests, or predictions make any difference. It was what all the sisters believed, and they had such strength of character, that you never felt frightened about what lie ahead. That's not the end of my story. On Sunday my cousins Stevie and Billy went to visit her. They also had a difficult time getting in and also had no idea about the apartment number. After fifteen minutes of frustrating encounter with the door and location, they called the apartment. "We're here but we're lost", they told her aide. "Ok
Be right down, stand near the elevator". They followed instruction and when the door opened there was 90 year old Aunt Peppy, with her walker, all dressed up for company."
the twins in action
"There's nothing wrong with me", she told them. "Why wouldn't I greet my company."
And she was right. We were all concerned and incapable of following simple instructions, but she certainly is allright. We’re just sayin’….Iris

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

There It Is

You just have to listen to the news for five minutes to realize that the world we now live in bears increasingly less resemblance to the 60s and 70s. Curiously, about the only continuity I can think of is that Ghadaffi is still in power (he came along in a coup in 1969.) Not sure for how much longer. But, voila, there he is. And aside from Castro, you have to give Ghadaffi credit on one point. The Queen of England has been in power for nearly sixty years, and nobody besides Lyndon Larouche seems to be complaining about her tenure. Well there are those anti-monarchists in Scotland, but I don’t unfortunately break haggis with those folks often enough to get a personal rant from that p.o.v. But more importantly, there are those little tags in our daily lives, the ones of literature, film, and television which to be the links to those eras just passed.

Language has its funny way of telling you more than you think. Little phrases take on meaning far beyond the letters of their words. They become secret acess panels which, once opened, let you walk into a place of comfort and communication, enabling you to trade in the currency of a certain time, with a number of like minded people. Sometimes the phrases become little codes: their acknowledgement opens a place for you that you might have not otherwise been welcomed to. The one incalculable here is time. Things come and go, and amazingly, we seldom ever know the sources from which they come. I mean at some point you can say ‘Right On!’ was a product of the turbulent sixties, with marches in the street, young (mostly) marchers with clenched fists in the air, speaking to what they perceived as their own cause for justice. But who was the first person that actually put “right” and “on” together, and created that bellwether? (Iris says she remembers it originally as “Right on, brother,” from a poetic African American…) I don’t think we will ever know. And how did it spread so quickly? Obviously some copy cat who heard it thought it resonated, and just grabbed it and made it their own. Within weeks , it became one of the great rallying cries of the anti-war movement. And within months, it crossed social boundaries much like a fast spreading virulent virus, and became an almost everyday platitude, thereby losing its effectiveness as shock value. I was never more amazed than sometime in the early 70s, when a coat-and-tie Deputy Chief of Correspondents for TIME Magazine, a smart and lovely guy who well understood the politics of the world, was used to picking up the fone to move correspondents around from hot spot to hot spot like pieces on a chess board, but who seemed more at home over a three martini lunch than a tightly rolled joint, looked me in the eye one day, and said “right on.” He kind of said it in the same tone he’d have used while ordering a second martini. The displacement between the meaning of the words, and the man uttering them was so out of place, that it probably made far more of an impression than if he’d put a fist in the air and yelled it at me.

I did once ask my mom about her memories of “Oh, you kid!” a phrase popular in the 30s, and one which, like “Right on!” probably meant something very different at the time than we think it does now. I don’t’ even know which word gets the emphasis… “oh” or “kid.” And what the hell does it mean? I still don’t know. But it sounds cool, especially if you’re Dick Powell in a white linen suit.

What made me think about all this today was the single most popular line used by the millions of young Americans who served in Vietnam. It was something which existed virtually only in the firebases and basecamps with young GIs. And as near as I could ever tell, once those young guys boarded a freedom bird to leave the ‘Nam and head back to the ‘world’ the phrase seemed to just disappear. “There it is.”

“There it is….” There is what? you ask. And just where IS ‘there?’ Well no sense in trying to read too much into it. “There it is…” said with a flat tone, mildly strong emphasis building up to “is” was the one lingua franca which all GIs shared. Well, officers, not so much. But if you were under the age of 25, had been drafted, and didn’t particularly want to BE in Vietnam, “there it is” was your key to sanity. The three words which let you express your profound emotional mélange of disgust, annoyance, fear, despair, surprise, acceptance, satisfaction, and occasionally contentment. Once I arrived in Saigon in October, 1970 and began a two year interaction with the world the American GI, it was a phrase which meant so little, yet so much. You could almost say that it meant whatever you wanted it to mean, and be interpreted almost any way. It often just served as a coda in conversation. It was the comment which had the force of finality in a discussion where soldiers were otherwise unable to explain something. “There it is…” was a way of just saying, ‘yeah, that’s how it is here, and this is how we have to deal with it.’ What has always surprised me is that once back home, the phrase seemed to disappear. The context for its usage was gone. Without the very personal, very weird, perplexing, illogical elements of the war lived first hand, it seemed to no longer have a proper context.

Along with a few other everyday Vietnam-related phrases like “shit burning” (yes folks, when you lived on a remote firebase, every few days someone would be assigned the task of pouring some flammable substance on the receptacle barrels on the two-holer, and set it alight. And yes, shit burns) once you returned home it just fell out of disuse. I suppose you could do a drop by at a Legion hall in Wichita or Missoula and ask someone drinking a long-neck at the bar when he last heard the phrase “there it is” and you could have a whole evening’s discussion. I'd love to know what today's GIs in Afghanistan have created as their version of "there it is." But I wouldn't be surprized if it gets left at Bagram Air Base, along with the other contraband stuff you're not allowed to bring home. But living in this madcap world of today, there are moments when it seems quite apropos.

Charlie Sheen is off drugs and booze and has a medical report to prove it. There it is!

The people in the streets of Cairo really rocked the world or politics. There it is!

Gas prices are clearly a product of oil companies ripping us off. There it is!

The Wisconsin’s Governor is just trying to use the budget crisis to bust the unions. There it is!

You wanna taste the best thing that ever crossed your lips.. a Zero candy bar. There it is!

We’re just sayin….. David There it is!