Wednesday, August 30, 2006

If Only All Mothers Were Aunt Sophie

Here’s my problem with my mother. I want her to be my Aunt Sophie. I think the whole baby boomer generation would all like our mothers to be Aunt Sophie. She was 92 when she died two years ago and it was a terrible loss for her two remaining sisters, (the twins) one of whom is my mother. But it was also an enormous loss for all her nieces and nephews as well as her children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren. First of all, she was incredibly funny. I mean laugh out loud hilarious. Then she had such a positive attitude. When she found out she was going to die, she declared that she was not afraid to die but she didn’t want to suffer. So she decided to move into her daughter’s home, have hospice care and good drugs, —so as not to be a burden—and die with dignity. All the friends and relatives came to say goodbye while they still had a chance to let her know how they felt about her. And a few days before she died she decided she didn’t want any more visitors and she didn’t want to talk anymore, except to my mother and her twin, Rosalie, her daughter and Honey who was Fritzie’s daughter. Fritzie was Sophie’s twin. She died in 1980 from lung cancer.

the Twins: Fritzie and Sophie

Yes, my grandmother gave birth to two sets of fraternal twins. None of them were even remotely alike physically or personality wise, but when one had an ache the other had a pain. The twin phenomenon is really spooky. I would call my cousins and ask if their mother had hurt her arm because my mother had pains there, and of course, she had. Aunt Sophie was strong willed, funny and basically grounded everyone else. Aunt Fritzie was a real sweetie pie. Always good humored and upbeat. She loved clothes and so would buy two of everything in different colors and then Aunt Sophie would take one. She would buy designer stuff, and once even called Paramount studios to find out where Doris Day got a sweater I own today. As a consequence of her marriage, Aunt Peppy was an Orthodox Jew and was very involved in the temple, Haddasah and other Jewish organizations.

the twins: Rose and Peppy
She made it her business to be in charge—except when Aunt Sophie was around. My mother was the baby so she didn’t have to do anything but look pretty and have fun. She and my dad were great at partying and were great dancers. Aunt Peppy and Aunt Sophie did all the housework and tasks my grandmother assigned. Expectations, as far as cooking or cleaning, were seriously limited for my mother and Aunt Fritzie. The other siblings, Betty, who was the eldest and kind of the queen, Sarah, who had polio as a child, and Helene, (one of my personal favorites), who was between all the twins, kind of filled in the blanks. Uncle Jack, generous and loving to a fault and the only male simply supervised his sisters, (without having to know anything) whenever they were assigned a task.

When my grandparents got old and infirmed, my Aunts took care of them. When my Aunts and Uncles got old or sick, the other Aunts took care of them. The idea of an old age home was never, and I mean never, part of the conversation. Do you remember the movie “Where’s Papa?” Every time George Segal tries to say the word ‘home’ for his father, he starts to choke. That was nothing in comparison to the way my family dealt with the idea. It was a “shonda” – an evil. Not one person in my family was ever in that kind of an institution. And I have, as you may have guessed, a pretty big family.

And so the expectations our parents had was that we would take care of them like they took care of their parents. But it was such a different time. And they all lived near one another. And there were so many siblings who didn’t work and felt it was in their job description to do whatever they needed to do for their sisters or brother or husbands. And for whatever reason, people didn’t seem to have lengthy illnesses, except for my dad who had multiple sclerosis, and although he was a quadriplegic, no one ever though of him as a sick person. And he died of complications not the disease, but he did it at home—as did almost everyone else.

And now I find myself, still being caregiver to my children, in a situation where my mother expects me to be caregiver to her. And to tell you the truth, I, like so many baby boomers, am not prepared to do that. I love my mom but I was never taught to do that.

the Sisters: Helen, Peppy, Sophie, Rose
In fact, in my family the children were protected from any bad news. I read literature about women who are giving up successful careers to return to their childhood homes in the middle of nowhere to care for their aged and sometimes, you should excuse the expression, demented parents. Remember not too long ago when women had to chose between family and career? Are we right back to square one, but with the older generation? My Aunt Sophie would never have expected anyone to give up their life to take care of her. My mother is quite the opposite and although it never seems to be enough, I’m doing the best I can. Which is why, I hesitantly admit that, yes this is a generational problem and we all need to think out of the box and find better alternatives, and I wish my mother was Aunt Sophie. We’re just sayin…Iris

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Too Little Too Late

The White House made Laura Bush available to the networks to talk about contributions to libraries as part of their Gulf recovery effort. There she was talking about how everything is so much better and how encouraged she is about not seeing wrecked cars on the yards of destroyed homes. We were in New Orleans last week and there were still wrecked cars on yards. I don’t know where she was. Jordan says they took her to areas where the Bush friends live. I’m sure there were no cars on those yards and they probably had lawns. Couldn't the press office have guessed that Laura would be in one shot talking about blue skies and butterflies and the next shot would be of some dilapidated structure that used to be a home with an abandoned car still under a tree.

Talk about too little too late. The President said yesterday that he was determined to help those people who were still in trouble. Is he kidding? If he ( and the thousands of people in homeland security and relief agencies) couldn’t find a way to help “those” people for a year, what, besides declaring a day to honor them, is he planning to do? Will he send out search parties to locate and identify displaced people everywhere from Florida to Texas? Will he then order FEMA personnel to use FEMA vehicles to move them back to their homes—or since there aren’t any homes, to FEMA trailers.

Trailers in East New Orleans, waiting for distribution

Is it me or do other people see that the guy (and his party) are in political trouble and now he is prepared to give lip service to a problem he and an entire administration were incapable of solving. These concerns can’t be politically motivated can they? And at the very least they should have briefed Mrs. Bush about the fact that not all the cars have been removed and in some places there still aren’t libraries to put the books.

The networks are covering the anniversary full force. And what are they doing to make things better. Shameless self promotion. There hasn’t been one story about one person which hasn’t involved the way some network person did something wonderful to help them. NBC is the worst. Brian Williams did an entire hour about Brian Williams and I think there might have been a mention about the Gulf. It went something like “This is what I did and this is how I felt and this is what I tried to tell the White House and this is what I hope might happen sometime in the future.’’ It's like that old joke, “Well enough about me let’s talk about me.”

I don’t like thinking about myself as a skeptic or as cynical but some would say “a rose by any other name still smells”. What good are any of the TV outlets doing by celebrating the anniversary of such a tragedy.

A Car buried in sand, Lakeview, New Orleans
Did I say good? How foolish. It’s not about good it’s about profits. Is this another case of “we’re just giving the people what they want.” Do they think the American people don’t know what’s going on? The American people are not stupid, they have chosen to take this national embarrassment, (just like the war), off their radar screens. The people who are not suffering have chosen not to pretend to care. They have moved on. The networks can’t get over it but the people already did. Do they need to fill air time? John Karr isn’t a story so they needed something almost as horrendous? Why don’t they take all the money they spent covering this horrific event and the Jon Benet tragedy, give it to the communities still in dire straights – the ones Laura Bush didn’t see.

David Burnett was in New Orleans January of this year. He thought it might be too late to take any real pictures or get a sense of what people went through. Unfortunately he was wrong. People were still going through it and continue to do so. When we opened a show of his work from that story, in the Cabildo Museum in New Orleans, hundreds of people who were affected by the storm came to see it. The community felt that David’s pictures, along with pictures taken by young people from the city, really represented what the people suffered. It was not about David, it was about them. He’s opening a show of that work in NY and the Cabildo Museum is mounting a show that will travel throughout the US. Because it is important for all of us to understand the consequences of "too little too late". Maybe the President should see it. We’re just sayin… Iris

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Smart Smart Stupid

When I hear someone called a political guru or a political genius, it usually makes me laugh. Talk about an oxymoron — politics and genius!? When I hear that Hillary is lending Lamont her communication guru, I just shake my head. People who are considered gurus today were are mostly in the right place at the right time. And if they happen to be the right color or gender, (Democrats are the worst) then they will have a meteoric rise to campaign stardom regardless of talent. If Wolfson is such a guru then how come Hillary can’t get beyond all the media mediocrity. Surely somewhere in the guru’s mind there must be a better approach to the public than middle of the road caution. Pleeese!

In the last fifty years there have probably been five people worthy of any title that comes close to crediting them in the category of wizard or mastermind. James Carville comes to mind along with Paul Tully, Pat Caddell, Kenny O’Donnell and maybe Lee Atwater. I didn’t like Lee Atwater. I thought his tactics were slimey but I don’t think he was immoral. Before he died he did finally have a “come to Jesus” about the way he operated, but despite his questionable approach to the public, I did think he was smart. People might put Karl Rove on that list but I can’t because by my definition, I think a genius might be ruthless, but is usually not willing to compromise morals and ethics and the truth in order to succeed. Because as we look around we see that that is what's happening today. That being said, election politics, especially Presidential, are usually played for big stakes with gigantic egos so you don’t expect senior staff to be nice, but it is a treat when they are.

Kenny O’Donnell knew a win for a young Catholic President was a stretch, so he caught the voter off guard by crafting a strategy that went something like “Young people understand that we need to be open to a new youthful kind of President. And if you don’t vote for JFK that must mean you are some kind of religious bigot.” No one wanted to think of themselves as old or a bigot.

Pat Caddell was a boy genius in the field of polling. He was able to combine the numbers with what people wanted from a government and a President. He understood how to translate Jimmy Carter from who he was into what people wanted. He became advisor to the President and helped to develop some effective strategies that led to some effective policies. Especially in the area of human rights. Then he made a mistake. Gurus don’t make mistakes and recover in Washington. so Pat left politics and became equally smart in other areas.

Paul Tully was the ultimate organizer. He organized political campaigns, people, unions, schedules and life. He was a giant man with a giant heart and an incredible understanding of the greater scheme of things — he didn’t do as well at one to one communication, but that wasn’t his job. Despite all his years in Presidential politics he never had a win because he died in Arkansas during the Clinton campaign. But he was doing what he loved, wearing a rumpled white shirt, organizing some constituency, smoking a cigarette and drinking coffee. He never loved Bill Clinton but he knew that if Clinton listened to him, Clinton could win. And Tully was right.

James Carville masterminded the Clinton campaign while wearing a pair of filthy gloves he refused to remove. Some genius' are quirky and have questionable taste in wives. Carville, who supports an entire town of extended family, really understands what people think. He took an obscure Governor of a small unsuccessful state - not unlike Caddell — and translated all his personal positive attributes to make people feel that Clinton was the right choice, and if the voter elected Clinton, things would be better. He knew that using youth and Southern charm was a good way to appeal to the baby boomers, the moderates, the independents, women, and the Democrats. And he was correct.

I guess I’m a political dinosaur. I admire real talent and I loved having to convince a voter or the press or some local leader that they needed to support my candidate. And I did it in person. I liked it when the campaign had limited technology and the candidate was not protected by pretend gurus. I believe it is important to travel around without a crackberry or a computer, and get know the country and find out what the people are thinking. That’s the only way a President or a candidate can truly be victorious or a leader. Forget being surrounded by genius after genius. People who are called genius are the same people whose job it is to say no, which gives them some perverted sense or kind of power. And then they start to believe their own press and think they are very smart. There simply aren’t that many of them who know much of anything. My mother would call them smart, smart, stupid. But she’s much more generous than I.
We’re just sayin… Iris

To Assimilate in Simla

I am working out west this week, in the homestate of my birth. Utah, some would say. Zion, others would call it. But whatever you do call it, it remains a singular part of the country, imbued with its own style, look, sounds, accents, and above all, spectacular geography. Driving through the country side to get to my final destination (or, as Steven Wright reminds us, why do they call the place you are flying to a “Terminal” – what surprises do they have waiting for you there?), I passed by some of that great red rock country, sheltered with giant rain clouds, the kind that remind you that while God may have made you, he probably did it as an afterthought to the scenery around you. My mom’s grandfather came to Utah in 1889 or sometime near that. According to family history (never to really be relied upon for accuracy, but it reads well) Nathan Rosenblatt arrived more or less from Russia, with a brief stopover in Denver. (Imagine that itinerary now: Bialystok – Provo. I don’t think they book a lot of people on that route anymore.) Once here, he decided that he would become part of the world he had arrived in, and proceeded to work hard, start a couple of businesses which his 3 sons eventually took over. Yiddish, which I assume was the language in the old country, was pretty much relegated to a memory. My mom, born in 1918 in Salt Lake, like many immigrants children, never really learned enough of the old tongue to converse in it. She knew a few little phrases, but I assume her folks and grandparents used Yiddish as a secret code, to keep secrets from the children when they conversed in their company. Yet, for all the language issues, there was never for a moment a question about where Nathan’s allegiance rested. He was an American from the day he arrived in Salt Lake. The strength of that allegiance is what formed the basis for what became the 20th century American feeling. Immigrants arriving at Ellis Island, or Galveston or Boston, and jumping right into their own version of the American Dream.

Last week, in celebration of Independence Day, a large parade was held by Indians now living in the states. This is Indians from India, not upper New York state or Minnesota. It was amazing to see the turn out.

Along Madison Avenue for a dozen blocks, small clusters of Indian families gathered to cheer on the various floats and marchers as they made their way to 26th street, where they were greeted by 4 blocks of Indian food stalls. Even by their names, (the Federation of Indian Associations of NY/NJ –Proud to be Indian and American!), Iota Nu Delta (the Indian college fraternity) and the Kerala Tourism association, you could tell they were still very strongly influenced by their Indian heritage.

Yet, it did seem as if they were as committed to being American as they were to breathing. There was a wonderful spirit, the usual amusing conversations, and of course butter chicken for 2000, please. It made me reflect that in a time of discontent on so many fronts, and American xenophobia at a high in our life times, there was reason to hope for the arrivals of newly committed Yanks. Pat Buchanan is currently selling a book in which he describes the great threat to American life represented by Immigrants, both legal and illegal. Now, I don’t suppose it would be fair to assume everyone at that parade was totally up to date in their paperwork. But there was no doubt that they had a feeling of commitment – hey, they were marching down Madison Avenue in New York City – to their new lives.

I only wish that the openness of those thousands of Indian Americans is something that could be multiplied around the world. Imperfect as our society is, there is much to commend it, not the least of which is the chance for anyone who comes here, works hard, and plays the game (and you can play the game without drinking the Kool-Aid), can make a great life for themselves and their families. So, step up to the buffet. The butter chicken is really best eaten before it gets cold. We’re just sayin. …. David

Friday, August 25, 2006

The Littlest Jon

How sick are you of the three named John’s? Benet and Karr of course. So who are the people that the TV networks are claiming to satisfy with the gore of this story. I am so sick of hearing, “We’re just giving the people what they want.” I want names of those people.

When I was a kid my mother would say, “finish your dinner there are people starving in China.” I didn’t believe her either, so I asked her to name one. And whenever I went to THE (there was only one) Chinese restaurant, I would embarrass her by asking the owner if he had family who were starving on the other side of the world. So I pose the same question to the broadcast and cable networks, name one person who really, really, really, wants to hear more about this child pornographer, who married a 13 year old, beat and raped a bitty beauty queen and sat in business class at taxpayers expense.

It’s bad enough that the guy decides to confess in a far off land. And he calls a press conference. And we learn that maybe he was going to have a sex change and that’s why he went to Thailand. Or was it to meet little girls? What’s the difference. Maybe he liked little girls so much that he wanted to be one. Now that would have been a great topic for some talking head. But no, MSNBC had two whores, excuse me, experts on to talk about whether or not he’s guilty. They are both ex DA’s. One says he thinks maybe the guy is crazy (Duh) and didn’t commit the crime. And they have some other moron say that she is still convinced that Patsy Ramsey did it. Just what we need multiple truly loathsome talking heads to participate 24/7. Where is Ann Coulter in this debate? Have you ever wanted to put your hands around someone’s throat and squeeze – other than your mother. Patsy Ramsey died never knowing what happened to her daughter. Patsy Ramsey remains on trial for being the mother of a contestant. Are children’s beauty contests obscene? Yes, but so are all beauty contests and sports that encourage not only sexist behavior, but screaming parental confrontation. That is not the point. The feeding frenzy is the point.

And how did they feed? First the confession and the press conference. Then the trip back to LA. Then all the info about his past. Then the extradition to Colorado. All of these events peppered with interviews with know-it-alls and know it nothings. Today the red neck father and enraged brother appeared to defend their relative. OH MY GOD!

Here’s the bottom line. He’s guilty. He wants to have killed a little girl. Did he do it? I don’t care. Actually I want him to be guilty. I want everything he confessed to be true. I love my children so much that my insides hurt and I’m sure the Ramsey’s felt the same way. This needs to have a conclusion—soon. The American public needs to move on to war and hurricane recovery (by the way next week the President declared a day to honor the recovery. Someone should tell him there isn't one) and other important issues. Just stop showing her as a carnival act and give her story some dignity. Just let the littlest Jon rest in peace. We’re just sayin…

Four Funerals and No Wedding

In our 100th blob, we talked about staying together by choice. This will be my last serious blob but as the Jewish holidays approach I think about the other friends who are no longer part of our lives. They are the friends who have been separated by illness or God— who really knows. Over the last few years at least four of our very good friends died. They left behind devoted partners, who spent the last years of their marriages as full time care givers. Friends do what they can to help, but it’s never enough. It can’t be, because the truth is, the person who is ill only wants to deal with their beloved partner. On one occasion we visited a dying pal who, as sick as he was, allowed us to understand that he didn’t want to die because he didn’t want to leave his love. It was so personal a statement and so unlike anything he had ever shared before that we felt like we were, in some way, intruding in their lives. And so we said a quiet goodbye and raced to the car where we could have a really good cry.

What is amazing to me is the different ways people deal with such a serious loss. Based on my fortunately limited experience, it takes years before someone can function after that kind of a loss. And by “that kind” I mean people who chose to be connected 24/7 and loved it. Some were life long partners, some married late, some were married more than once. But they made the commitment to spend most of their day, as well as nights, together. Then, without any warning or preparation, they are fighting some unwinnable battle with an aggressive lymphoma or some equally devastating disease.

So what happens to these brave and devoted people once their partner is gone and they have no alternative but to move on with their lives. It depends. My friends have reacted in totally different ways. But they seem to fall into four categories; numb, professional widow, you can’t be happy because I’m miserable, and I’m picking myself up and moving on.

Numb is just a stage but worth noting because it can last for a long time. This happens to everyone but it is more severe when the survivor was dependent on the spouse for everything from work to driving. The spouse did most of the tedious tasks – bills, taxes, repairs etc. This is not to say that the partner left behind is helpless, but it means they have to spend a great deal of time playing catch up. They need to spend inordinate time figuring out where things are. Simple things like where the circuit breakers are or when the car needs inspection, and complicated things like mortgages on vacation properties. Or, were the new windows ever installed? Is there a security system? What the hell am I going to do about insurance and medical bills? The person you love most in the world is gone and has left you with a mess. Are you angrier about the death or the clean-up? Probably a combination of both. But it does teach us all a lesson and as a consequence I have begged David to clean up the basement because if he leaves me with a mess I’ll have to kill him. Never mind, I’ve decided to go first—it’s easier.

The professional widow is someone who can’t deal with the fact that they should be credited with moving on with their own life while carrying on a legacy. They insist on giving credit to the dead spouse for their livelihood and at times, their existence. They feel like they can’t take the credit or it will take something away from the spouse. It’s probably more a girl problem than something boys suffer, but at the best of times, it’s not easy. You adored the person who died and you just want to keep protecting who they were and how their astounding talent impacted on the world. The only way an outsider can help is to be supportive and keep reminding them that they are special in their own right.

The people who feel like you can’t be happy because they are miserable are always the most difficult to deal with because you always have to be careful not to do or say anything that makes them feel worse than they already feel. If they are in good financial shape it’s easier than if, along with the loss, they have to figure out whether to eat or take medication. You can try to be supportive but there’s always the chance that you’ll do something insensitive or, in their estimation, unfeeling. If the have work that is rewarding or children they love and can look beyond their suffering to something positive in their lives it will be OK. But it is breathtakingly painful to watch your relationship with a dear person degenerate because if you are the self who was part of a valuable friendship, it just makes them angry.

A college friend, who has also become my personal hero, has been widowed three times. But she will tell you that the second husband died after she divorced him, so it’s questionable whether that one counts. How horrible it must be to have to go through that kind of a loss 3 times. But she has. After a few years she decided to stop mourning. She went on the web for dates, (where, she says, everyone lies), she been to singles events, and has bought new sexy underwear. She says you have two choices – to live or to just breathe and be miserable. And she has chosen the former. And she has done it with great class and good humor.

I have asked all these friends the same question. How do you get out of bed in the morning. How do you face the day, pick yourself up and go on? They all agree that you take one day at a time. There is no long range plan—that it too stressful. They also agree that although the loss becomes less immediate with every passing day, it is not something that goes away. There are always wonderful memories but they are often mixed with tears. They agree that the support of friends and family are important but that they are basically on their own and have to learn to find a different path to happiness.

I guess I have come to this conclusion. If we love them we hang in, help them through the worst times, and celebrate the best times. As friends it is our job to be there when they need us and be quiet when they don’t. We’re just sayin’…Iris

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

#100: In Case We Get Separated

On this, the occasion of our 100th blob, we have decided to reflect for a moment on how we got to be where we are. And so we have chosen as our subject something we hold quite dear—us.

Crystal and Iris at the Indian Independence Day Parade, celebrating our 100th Blob

When we met some 27 years ago, it was not love at first site. Or it might have been for David but he wasn’t looking at me. It was a tumultuous first five years culminating in Germaine Swanson suggesting I throw all his personal possessions out on the street and move on. There were very few possessions at my house, since he always left his things at Arthur Grace’s in case he needed to make a quick get away, but the idea was great and just the suggestion was enough for him to understand that all the lack of direction was much too painful. What was really amusing was that I didn’t need to get married to make a commitment but in his Ozzie and Harriet head, David did.

He left for some photo shoot and when he got back he took me to some closed restaurant in which at some point he had been an investor, and proposed. We decided that we needed to get married within three weeks or we would talk ourselves out of it. The next weekend was too soon for our parents to participate—my dad was ill and his were too far. The following weeks were some shoot and the Super Bowl, so we chose January 29th as the date.

We made the announcement at Germaine’s restaurant on New Years Eve. We were with our dearest friends and David decided to make the announcement in Japanese, with David Kennerly doing the English translation. Needless to say, no one understood anything either of them said. But we did get married in Boonton N.J. We had intended to get married in my parents bedroom with just his immediate family and mine. This was not to be. My mother flew the Rabbi in from Florida (my childhood Rabbi) and moved all the furniture out of her house in order to set up tables for the food. It was kind of a surprise wedding. After the bagels, lox, egg salad, and tuna were gone we moved on to NY where David’s brother and sister-in-law had another party for 250 of our closest friends. That night, we stayed in a suite at the Regency which was so big we wanted to invite people over to share the space. It was a wonderful day and except for the enormous parking ticket we got because Matthew Naythons offered to park our rental car – and did – in a bus zone, it was without incident.

When we look back over the years and see how many of our friends are no longer together we often wonder why we are. Maybe it’s our devotion to Jordan, but many of our friends are devoted to their children and still split. (One pretended devotion and in his haste to move on, split from his children). Maybe it’s the three week rule. I mentioned this previously. After three weeks of separation something starts to happen. Maybe it’s that lives move on and it’s harder to catch up but we decided that none of us, including Jordan, would be apart for more than three weeks while she was growing up. This does not work for everyone. Maybe it’s because David really did make the commitment to marriage, and to prioritize his activities. And while it was difficult for him not to go to the first Gulf War, it was too dangerous for my mental health so he stayed home (did domestic shooting) and built Jordan a doll house. I don’t know. Maybe it’s because we have the same spending habits (we both watch pennies), or because we love to cook, we love to go out, and we love the same foods, or that same we share the same values, or the same need to be a part of each other while remaining independent. Maybe it’s a combination of all these things. When we are leaving the house or the apartment the three of us always say, “take a key in case we get separated.” Even if we know we’re going and coming at the same time we take our own keys. And maybe that’s why we are still together. We can go our own ways, still stay connected, and still choose to be in each others lives. Or maybe it’s because I still think he’s adorable and I want him to be my boyfriend. We’re just sayin. Iris

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

And I’ll just add my two cent’s worth, given that two cents doesn’t buy what it used to (3 sticks of gum, or a personal size envelope of Fruzola… -- you remember.. it was the cheap version of Kool Aid (is that redundant?).. or perhaps it was only a Salt Lake thing: “everybody loves Fruzola, Yippee-Ola” (I’m not making this one up!) So, two cents worth. The funny thing about US (Iris and I) is that one of us, not me, is actually a grown up. One of us (not me) seems to understand how to deal with annoying sales people, and the kind of situations which need adult supervistion, and resolution sooner than later. I’m actually far more charming in restaurants, operating, as I do, on the theory that until you get that food in front of you, you’re better off being especially nice to the waitstaff. And now that Jordan has worked her third year in the food service industry, I’m sure we could confirm that theory if need be. But living with a grown up is a weird thing when you’re not one. For me, the person who has visited any number of seriously screwed up places, with camera in hand, one would assume that I had attained a certain maturity which would manifest itself in daily life. Not really. I understand certain things financial (though haven’t figured out yet just how to score a couple of gigantic deals, the kind that those 24 year olds are doing at the rate of about one an hour, somewhere), and some things political. Yet, for all the times I’ve been in and out of the Oval office, inside political strategy meetings, etc. etc., I still don’t really think I understand the tone of meetings that the principals engage in when the shit really hits the fan. We all think we understand this kind of thing because of the stuff we see on Westwing, and movies. I don’t really think that’s the deal, though I suspect its either a bit more cowboy-ish, or a bit more Viennese Diplomat. But until I get that job working FOR the White House, I think I’ll just let these other folks pretend they’re the adults. In some ways I guess I think I’m like my dad. I don’t think he was really ever a grown up either. Sure, he knew how to conduct himself in the locker room at the golf club (that’s another one that I never attended the briefing for..the whole locker room, steam room, guy who shines your shoes, sauna, club room thing..) but at heart, I think he was just a lovely guy who didn’t invest a lot of time in the bullshit which businessmen seem to revel in. So here I am, the immature mature one: on the edge of Sixty, I still think of myself as just out of college, more or less still from Salt Lake City, though its been decades since I lived there. Today I spent the afternoon down on Vescey street, next to the giant hole that used to be the World Trade Center, looking for pictures of people coming by to see the place. It’s interesting how five years on, it has become one of the real downtown tourist must-sees. It’s done extremely well – and very simply. It’s a big hole, with fencing around it, and photographs which describe to the visitors just what happened, using a very precise time line. People are truly affected when they see it, as they should be. (Frankly, do we NEED a $500 million memorial? No, I’d say: the only memorial to 9/11 that means ANYTHING is making sure it never happens again. Otherwise, leave it as it is now, build a new building, yes, use the space. But don’t spend millions on some kind of overly melodramatic memorial. I’d thought the Vietnam Wall has finally made us understand the power of Understatement.) When you see something like this – a place where all our lives have been changed – you appreciate the power of history, the media, and the way the two of them spiral together like genetic dna, and carry our view of the world forward. It’s never far from our minds nor our thoughts. As much as we want to pretend that it won’t happen again, prudence demands that we always be thinking of the next solution. Somehow, compared to the insidious battle with the anti-Westerners now at hand, the Cold War, and World War 2 seemed like a piece of cake. Even though the outcome was always, I’m sure, in some doubtful corner of one’s heart, the simplicity of the battle was one you could understand. Now, there is something far beyond the mere power of armies to fight, and I fear that our leaders have done so much to miss the boat, that those worries of the next battle somehow seem to always be present.

So I took my keys today, knowing that after lunch I’d be heading down town, and the girls (my girls! ) would be heading up to Verizon to get new mobile fones. Just in case we’d be separated. Well, sometimes we know, and sometimes we don’t. So the jingle of those keys in your pocket has a re-assuring calming effect. And in the city, we often leave the door open, as if it were the kitchen door of the house, waiting for one or the other of us to just pop in from the back yard. And one of the things, not unlike the jingling keys, is the way Iris sleeps. She sleeps cute. There is something very restful about her punim when she hits that pillow.

Is that cute, or what?!

I’m usually up later, and it’s the last thing I see, other than David Niven on TCM, when I turn out the lights. The girl knows how to sleep, even if it isn’t always as fitful as it looks. She just sleeps cute. How can you pass that one up? Even if No One Cares About Your Blob(g). We’re just sayin David

Friday, August 18, 2006

Just Like the Boys

When Seth was growing up there were two girls who were like his sisters. I wrote about one of them (Tina), a few weeks ago when she got married. The other (Brenda) is a college basketball coach. She has a friend we met at the wedding who plays professional basketball for the NY Liberty. I’m only giving you the details because they took us to a place we should have been for a long time. A professional female sports event.

The Liberty does a Team Hi-5 before the game
There were thousands of kids at the game. Many little girls wearing Becky “Hammon” t-shirts. (Becky is Brenda’s friend). But also many boys and many men. There were lots of mothers with children and many fathers with their daughters. Jordan wasn’t with us, because she is in rehearsal, but she would have been if it were possible. It also made me incredibly sad to think about men who have daughters and love sports but they don’t share the two.

Becky Hammon shoots for 3

Some just figure they don’t have time for either frivolous sports or their kids, and some because they chose to walk away from their families and the god given opportunity to be with their children, and many because they think girls’ sports is for girls. Of course it is. But like women’s tennis, track, and soccer, professional basketball is wonderful to watch. The women who play are aware and grateful for the fans. There is no ego and no self important acting out. They are talented, graceful, and fun. The sports venue provides a perfect place for sharing family time.

Women of my age never thought about sports as a career. The only women allowed on the field, when I was in high school, were those who aspired to be cheerleaders Their role, of course, was to cheer the boys on. High school sports for girls before 1972, (a year of change in every aspect of society), meant wearing red gym suits and never participating in sports other than running a lap around the track or an occasional round of dodge ball. Women having the opportunity to play professional sports or college sports, or high school sports was not always a given. Until Title IX.

The University of California at Santa Cruz provides this information: “The federal law prohibiting sex discrimination in educational institutions is Title IX of the Educational Amendments Act of 1972 (amending the Higher Education Act of 1965). The law states that "no person in the United States shall on the basis of sex be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.”

In other words, Title IX prohibits high schools and colleges that receive federal funds from discriminating on the basis of gender. Title IX is most commonly invoked to ensure equal opportunities for girls and women in high school and college athletics. But it was meant for more than that.

There were a number of organizations and people responsible for Title IX. There were and are numbers of people who still believe Title IX takes something away from boys and gives it to girls. The implication being that girls are neither serious or don’t matter. The law needs to be defended, constantly. If I were a young woman, participating in an otherwise male-perceived activity I would hang a picture of Marcia D. Greenberger on my wall and thank her everyday for fighting to protect and extend the parameters of this very important Law. Marcia founded the National Women’s Law Center the same year that Title IX was passed. She keeps a watchful eye on any areas of potential discrimination against girls, like science, math, and technology. Her most difficult task has been to debate right wing and self righteous women. “They don’t tell the truth but people listen”. She often says. I suggested to her that we tell too much truth by feeling like we need to explain everything—and people don’t listen. But that’s another blob.

Personally, I got excused absences from gym because it was boring and I was lazy. But I wanted to take shop and car repair and that was not permitted. Maybe that’s where my aversion to “you’re not allowed” began.

Title IX is critical because (if a law can do this), it insists opportunity be provided to women. Women’s sports is delightfully different, but equally demanding. If you have been to a WNBA basketball game, and seen the look on the faces of those little girls when they watched the game or met the athletes; or attended a high school science fair where the nerds happily include girls; or even attended a girls lacrosse game, where the play is extraordinary and even though they brush one another’s hair at halftime, you know they are serious about the sport, you would get it. Girls love a competitive game (whether sports or academic) and as the mother of a female, I am thrilled that any girl who wants a chance at any career, is by law, able to pursue it -- just like the boys. We’re Just Sayin…Iris

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Life Lessons, in General

Recently, my book agent and I had lunch with a most charming, clever and insightful, book editor. I mention this because a few of them can be a bit arrogant and flip. But my agent is very sharp, so the few, with whom I have had the opportunity to chat in person, have been smart and savvy about the publishing business and what works. I guess she feels like I do, why waste a lunch on people from whom you can learn nothing.

During this pleasant and delicious meeting we discussed a number of book possibilities. There was a time when discussions about potential book projects were limited to David’s photography, so this was a positive turn of events. We talked about my past professional achievements and, of course I told stories—the thing I enjoy most not only about writing, but about meeting new people. I shared some insider information and confessed that, while I would never betray a confidence, be disloyal, (or parlay what I knew into an audition for a career change), I have been able to find ways to divulge intriguing information without feeling guilty about it for years. We talked about audiences and targeting and I told him about two surprising audiences for “Schlepper. A Mostly True Tale of Presidential Politics”, (which the publisher so screwed up that when we launched the publicity campaign, it was not available for purchase.) But in fact later, when some people figured out how the public could buy it, I learned it was used as a text book for political communication classes and as entertaining reading for Jewish organizations and women’s groups. I learned this when I was invited to speak at some colleges, the Jewish Federation and a few synagogues.

The book never had wide distribution nor did it make any money but I believe it still has potential and someday some intelligent publisher or Hollywood producer will make modifications and snap it up. But that’s not what I wanted to blob about. When I traveled around to book signings and lunches, I gave entertaining speeches which always ended with Q & A. The most frequently asked question by both young and older women was; how did you get to be you? Or, how does someone so ordinary get to have the kind of special life you lived? And believe me, I know my life has been extraordinary—both personally and professionally. I confess that many painful hours have been spent trying to figure out the why of who I am. This is not to be confused with anything like “who am I?” But because I do give speeches and lecture in colleges, I thought I should have some answers. Annie, my wonderful agent now friend was my test case. After I shared the rules with her, she said that she will take them with her wherever she goes. Needless to say, I was flattered and flabbergasted all at the same time. And because I love and respect our blobbing audience, and so few of you are critical about what we do, I will share “Iris’ seven rules for… whatever” with you. Please pass them on to your children—especially female.

The Rules According to Iris aka Rees Burnett

1. Never ask permission to do something you want to do. You can always apologize later (if someone doesn’t like what you’ve done) but chances are good that no one will ever admonish you for a reasonable (define that however) action.

2. When Jordan was young and still trying not to be embarrassed by her parents, she would say, “Mom, you’re not allowed to do that.” And I would say, “not allowed does not exist for creative and determined people.” So, my second rule is take “you’re not allowed” out of your vocabulary. This does not mean you can burn down a house, but it does mean that if the house needs to go, you should find a way to do it.

3. If you are working with other people and they tell you why something, can’t be done, rid yourself of those nay-sayers. Find people who will be happy about a identifying a challenge, and positive about finding ways to achieve a goal.

4. Develop a sense of humor about everything – especially yourself. Infrequent as it is, even I have probably made a mistake and so will you. You need to learn from it, laugh, and move on. This does not mean you are not serious about your work. It means you have found a way to live through some horrendous predicament and you have survived to laugh again. For example, in college when we were studying speech defects, we all learned (and entertained ourselves) by imitating them. While speech problems are not funny, we needed to find a way to deal with all the pain they caused the people who suffered from them. The same is true for politics and probably business. You will not survive a campaign if you can’t laugh at it—this includes the issues and the candidate. If you do not laugh, you will become one of those people who is incapable of distinguishing that which is important from that which doesn’t matter.

5. Always look like you know where you are walking and people will follow. Never confuse this with actually having to know where you are going.

6. If you want to be “at the table” when the decisions get made, just go and sit there. It is seldom anyone will ask you to move.

7. Find a way to sign the checks. If you are not signing the checks you always want to
be in the loop about how money gets spent, on what, and whom. It is not as hard as you imagine. But you will have to identify the key players and become one of them. This will happen if you follow the other six rules.

I don't pretend to know much about everything. But after many years in politics, academics, business, government and the non-profit world these are the life rules I found most helpful. And with a little self-confidence they are easily mastered. With the Presidential campaign season fast approaching this could be useful advice for aspiring political wonks. Or just life in general. We’re just sayin…

Saturday, August 12, 2006

That NOLA Spirit

I have been a photographer for forty years, and yet there are things which still surprise me. It can only be a good thing, I suppose, that you are able to continually find something newly invigorating in your chosen field, but often those moments come from somewhat unlikely places. Therein lies the satisfaction. This week Iris and I left the Big Apple for a couple of days to take on the Big Easy. New Orleans is a city still reeling from the impact of the destruction of Katrina a year ago, and trying, as it slowly, painstakingly slowly, rebuilds, to remind itself of what it wants to become again. I spent a month on the Gulf Coast in January working on a story for National Geographic Magazine, published this month in a 24 page article. The idea was to take a look at the coast months after the storms, and see what, if any, progress had been made to try and get reconstruction going. What I saw was depressing and unsettling. Many areas were virtually untouched since September; it was as if you had been dropped into dead zones which had been frozen in time. I was, as it happened, in Atlanta at Home Depot headquarters just about the time that Rita hit western Louisiana – the last week of September. As we watched in their “crisis center” the movement of the storm, and the local reactions to it, the one surprising thing I learned was that right after Katrina, the usual “morning after” rush of shoppers to Home Depot to buy the things they needed for repairs never materialized. It was the first time anyone at Home Depot could remember (and they have all the numbers to back it up) when there wasn’t a rush to “fix things up.” The reasons we now know. Hundreds of thousands of people either had left town, or, in too many cases, were unable to return to homes which had totally been destroyed. It was unlike anything that has ever happened in my lifetime in this country. Storms hit every year, some homes are ruined, but there is always a reason for that “next day” rush to the Home Depots of this world: people are fixed on staying where they are, and want to start the reconstruction process as soon as possible. In New Orleans, and other towns across the coast, there was simply nothing to go back to. Nothing to repair. Nothing to fix. Nothing to work on. Nothing to hit a few boards into in order to keep the water out.

It is difficult to photograph something that isn’t there. Sure, you can see damage, and in many places it was an obvious and stark reminder of what had taken place. But when there is nothing left, you will be pressed to find a way to show that barren quality in a photograph. But I met people throughout the month of working there who I will remember for sometime. Robert Guzman, whose house had been swept away, and was then living in a trailer, wanted us to see the lone remaining picture of his former house. But he couldn’t find it. He looked all over the place, talking the while, trying to describe what had happened during the big blow. But no picture. We said goodbye, and I headed on down the road, going another 5 or 6 miles before I reached the Mississippi Gulf Outlet (or MR. GO, as it is known), the waterway constructed in the 60s to facilitate shipping access to New Orleans, but whose presence acted as a conduit for the storm surge as it came inland towards the city. There, photographing the rocks and water, I was surprised when 20 minutes later who should arrive but Robert Guzman. He’d found the photograph of his house, and he wanted us to see it.

In the Lower 9th Ward, a black neighborhood on the “other side” of the industrial canal, the destruction was nearly complete. Hundreds and hundreds of homes were essentially lifted from their foundations and smashed against trees, cars, and each other. The waters rose ten to twelve feet everywhere. There was no escape. I kept going back to the Lower 9th, a neighborhood just ten minutes drive from the relatively untouched French Quarter, probably a dozen times over the month I was there. Each day I would pass the same destroyed homes, my jaw dropping in amazement. I never got used to seeing the depth and breadth of the destruction. The last day I was as shocked as the first. There I met a wonderful 83 year old man named Herb Gettridge, who built his house on Roman street in the 1950s, with his own hands. He was a mason, and apparently quite a good one. This house was built with three layers of plaster – no dry wall for him. Sturdy and tough, the house was nonetheless flooded to the ceilings the day the levees broke. As we walked through the house my heart just dropped like a rock when we came to his clothes closet in the back bedroom. Filled with new suits, still in their plastic, readying for parading that September, 19 days of ceiling high water had rendered the suits and hats on the rack above them, nothing more than decaying cloth. A total loss. A man’s life in one closet, turned to piles of rotting thread. Anywhere you would go in the city would find people like that. Those trying to make something of their lives, caught in the middle of nature and an unresponsive government. Those were the lives I tried to photograph during my month on the coast.

The Cabildo Show - New Orleans (running through December)
This week, those pictures came home to New Orleans. The Louisiana State Museum and the Geographic got together to put on a display of 23 photographs called “After the Storm.” The prints were made in Washington, and shipped to New Orleans.
We figured out the order they should be displayed in, and framed onto the walls. As part of the exposition, a piano belonging to rock great Fats Domino, beaten up during the storm, was also on display. Last night (Thursday) a reception was held for the opening of the exhibit, and while I was somewhat trepidatious about the response the photographs might get, the end result was in itself surprising and satisfying. Virtually everyone who came felt the pictures had told their story in some way. I signed magazines for over an hour (some 200 of them), and had brief chats with people as they came by. A half dozen of my subjects came, too, people in the pictures, people who helped me make the pictures, people who were part of the story of the Hurricanes. I want to thank all those people, and remind them that this story is really their stories. For a couple of hours, on the second floor of the Cabildo Museum, the New Orleans spirit which I used to know was back in full force, foreshadowing, I hope, the rebirth of a city yet to come.

What else can you say about a city whose airport ramp has a smoker and two barbeques (and two rat traps?) Count me in!
We’e just sayin. David

Search for Fair Weather

In 1976, during the last week of the general election, I was sent to New Orleans to help organize a large crowd event for the Carter campaign. The last week is always the time when the candidate appears in at least three cities a day, usually in different parts of the country. The campaign crafts a schedule that has the candidate, and vice candidate, crisscrossing the nation. It is important to touch base with every constituency in an effort to get them excited enough to vote. No one who is working for the campaign in any of the rally cities, or traveling on the candidates plane gets any sleep but this last push is so exciting that you are able to live on the rush – and lots of bad food and drink.

I was working for the future First Lady (Rosalynn Carter) as her Lead Advance. Jimmy Carter, unlike so many candidates, really cared about the way his wife was treated. His staff never put her staff on “total ignore”, as has generally been my experience when working with the spouse. We operated as a team and while she was my priority all the people assigned to the rally worked together to make the event successful. Which is never easy in Louisiana. It is one of the most politically difficult places I have ever worked. Maybe, (in those days), it was the overwhelming amount of corruption, maybe it was the culture, or maybe it was the fact that the people who didn’t want us there were unlikely to participate in conversation. They simply sent thugs to introduce us to their fists. No joke. I remember one call from a volunteer who was crying about being chased down the street by angry Republicans.
“I’m trying to put up flyers, but they are beating us up. What should I do?” she cried over and over.
“Are you nuts? Just get the hell out of there!” I shouted back.

With all the political and logistical difficulties we still had a fabulous time. It was, after all, New Orleans. Wonderful music, fabulous food, dozens of oysters and never a shortage of fun. We stayed in the French Quarter at a new luxury hotel called the Royal Orleans. When I booked the hotel I knew Mrs. Carter would admonish me because we were under instructions to stay at “moderately priced” hotels. So when she told me that she was not happy about our accommodations because it was clearly not moderately priced, I told her that, despite the elegance, we were only paying moderate prices. (I didn’t think I needed to remind her that Jews don’t pay retail whether it’s shoes or a hotel room).

“And furthermore”, I added, “This is where the Secret Service wanted us to stay.” I believe her response was something like, “Nice try Iris.” Anyway, the rest of the team couldn’t have been happier. How could you be unhappy when the chocolates they left on your pillow, had your name engraved on them.

We have made several trips back to New Orleans over the years. The first was when we realized that if we didn’t go some place immediately, we were going to lose our airline frequent flyer miles. We decided that New Orleans was the perfect destination. It was close and we could eat and explore for the day and a half we had left before the miles were gone. We stayed in a charming little bed and breakfast that had no air-conditioning but we were hardly in our room. And eat we did. We had lunch at Acme Oysters when we landed, dinner at LeRuth’s (the house of garlic butter) only a few hours later, CafĂ© Du Monde coffee and beignets for breakfast and on the way to the airport we stopped at Pascal Manale’s for lunch. Yes, we were sick. But it was a trip about which we remember every moment.

The next time we visited was also most memorable. We took Jordan, who was eight, and met my friends Tina and Mark there for a reunion. (During my first marriage we met Mark and Tina in New Orleans, slept on the floor of their room and drove back to Wisconsin with them. This we fondly refer to as the firkin trip.) Tina and I had been separated for most of Jordan’s life and it was time for them to bond. New Orleans provided a perfect venue. It rained and rained and we bought silly blue plastic parka’s which kept us dry and in stitches. We laughed until it hurt. It was impossible to be with Tina and Mark and not laugh. Mark bought so many beads for Jordan that we had to buy another suitcase to get them home. We stayed at the Holiday Inn near the Quarter and we watched preparations for the Mardi Gras parade. In between buying beads, and remarking on the floats we ate wonderful meals and enjoyed the city.

David opened a breathtaking show with his National Geographic “Killer Hurricane” work last night. When we pulled up at the hotel and I saw it was the Omni Royal Orleans, no one could have been happier. And then we went in. It is no longer the luxury hotel I remember. It’s Okay for an ordinary place. It has beds and a tiny bathroom and a health facility with a few machines, and a not too large swimming pool. The people at the desk were amused by the concept of engraved candies and much more interested in convincing us that a queen and a king were almost the same. It made me remember that “you can’t go home again.” That being said, we had beignet’s and coffee at Du Monde and at least two dozen raw oysters at the Acme. We ate a not so memorable meal at Emeril’s but we were with lovely people so it was fine. Yesterday, we decided to tour the hurricane area and see the status of the clean-up. It is not happening. Lots of people are still without water and electricity but determined to rebuild their lives.

Blobbing during the embarassingly early (3 hours ahead) arrival

Because of the orange alert, we left for the airport in enough time to spend an embarrassing three hours sitting around waiting to fly. We had stupidly believed the media about lines and back-ups. There weren’t any. It was all hype.

The non existent lines at NOLA Airport Security
If there weren’t a crisis they would have nothing to say. Can you imagine an hour without some doomsday scenario. I’m sure NY and LA, Chicago and Houston are bad, but my guess is that in most of the country people are neither frenzied nor frantic. The one thing that caused me some most inconvenience was that I couldn’t carry my rewetting solution for my contacts so my eyes were very dry. We packed the French sunscreen, toothpaste and hair products in a backpack, waved goodbye, sent it through, and hoped it would make the trip.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Do Not Give Him the Baby!

I intend to blob about Lieberman but (you may recall) we’re in New Orleans, so for a minute I’m going to bitch about not bringing my hair gel home. Now back to the Connecticut primary. The people voted. Lieberman does not intend to listen. Which is precisely why the people voted the way they voted. You remember that old verse we repeated as kids, “So he died and we buried him with sand and it tickled and he laughed so hard that he died and we buried him… It is how I feel about Mr. Lieberman. He still doesn’t get it. His inability to suffer a graceful loss is ongoing, unattractive and frustrating. Not surprisingly, the Vice President, never knowing when to sit down and shut up, intimated that an anti-war, would give comfort to the enemy – who ever they are.

What is there for the Democratic party to do about this guy? Nothing. Mr. Lieberman thinks he is more important than the Party. He believes the Democrats who voted in the primary simply did not know what they were doing. He believes that all the people in Connecticut need to have an opportunity to vote, so they can all tell him they don’t want him. Surely he cannot believe that since Democrats said “Hell No Joe Should Go!” the Republicans will rally behind him. Personally, I think he’s delusionary. He should be in therapy or at the very least, he needs counseling. But who counsels him?

There are two people I can think of. The first person he should talk to is to Joe Duffey. Joe is politically astute, wise and compassionate. He understands the consequences of Lieberman’s self indulgent decision. He ran as a Democrat for the Senate in 1970. That was the last time Connecticut had a race where there was an Independent in the race. It was a three way contest between the almost moderate Republican Lowell Weicker, Tom Dodd, the conservative Independent and Duffey, a liberal anti-war Democrat. The parallels are easily drawn and the results, I fear will be unfortunately similar. In 1970 Duffey lost to Weicker because Dodd cut into his vote. I believe the same thing will happen this time and the Republican candidate, (no one can remember who that is), will emerge victorious because Joe Lieberman will take votes from Lamont. Joe D. could certainly explain to Joe L .the importance of doing the right thing.

1970, which as you may know, followed soon after 1968, were both chaotic political years. Nixon was the President and while he didn’t get us into the war he decided, like this Administration, to stay the course. Baby Boomers, opposed to fighting a war that couldn’t be won, (or where they might get hurt), recognized that they had enormous power in their numbers and if they united they could make change. Nixon didn’t want to hear anything about change. (Does this sound familiar). In 1968 Eugene McCarthy was the first elected-official-adult, who articulated the anti-war sentiment and he announced that he intended to run for the Presidency. He had been courageous and vocal about withdrawing troops from Viet Nam and was successful in mustering energetic young anti-war activists to support him. Bobby Kennedy parleyed that sentiment into his own Presidential aspirations (with is own young people), and probably would have been the candidate and President if he had not been assassinated. It was a big year for assassinating great men who wanted to make things better for people whose voices could not been heard. Grown up people were just starting to articulate their opinions about getting out of the Viet Nam war, amongst them was Joe Lieberman who was one of the founders of the ADA.

The other person who should counsel Joe L is his Rabbi. Lieberman is an Orthodox Jew. He insists a great deal of his support comes from this community. I guess they are all registered Republicans or must have been very ill because they were not there in force for the Senator. Nevertheless, a Rabbi would impart Jewish wisdom to his confused Congregant. Maybe the story of King Solomon and two women who both claimed to the mother of the same child. The King asked for his sword and told the yentas that he would simply divide the child in half and then duke it out for which part went where. The fake mother thought that was fine. The real mother said that Solomon should give the baby to the other woman rather than kill him. This siuation is analagous. It doesn’t matter who the real Democrat is, Joe Lieberman is willing to kill the Party rather than let someone else have it. Why would anyone want to elect a person who is willing to sacrifice the life a child or in this case, a party in need of growing strong by being united, because of his ego or in order to satisfy some personal desire. Surely that is reason enough not to want to give him the baby. We’re Just Sayin…Iris

Monday, August 07, 2006

Does Hillary Emerge? Stay Tuned.

When the arrogant 50’s thinking Secretary of Defense testified before Congress last week he did no longer get away with murder. At least not before the Senate—he is still allowing troops to be murdered everyday.

Someone finally took him on. Finally refused to allow him to circumvent the issues or glaze over the truth. If you watched that hearing you saw three remarkable things. The military commanders defied the Secretary of Defense and said that civil war in Iraq was inevitable. They had to be subtle or they would have been relieved of command because this White House cannot tolerate any truth that doesn’t confirm their lies. You saw an unusually uncomfortable Republican Senate absent of the usual humorous banter and elbowing jostling insider jokes and you saw Hillary Clinton emerge as a leader, possibly even a candidate.

I’m one of those people who likes Senator Clinton. I liked her when we met as young staff for McGovern, I liked her as the First Lady, and I liked it when she became the Senator from New York. Being a part time New Yorker, I had no problem with our Senator being either an” out of towner” (in today’s always in transition preferred society who isn’t), or a celebrity. I admittedly, didn’t like it when she stayed so far in the middle of the road she was in danger of being a median. I could now leap into other traffic analogies like, we didn’t care if she gave something a red or green light but we wanted orange to remain a fruit or a homeland security warning, but I won’t. Suffice to say, she wasn’t nice, and she wasn’t careful in that hearing. She asked good questions and every time the Secretary tried to dismiss her inquiries she asked pithy follow up questions that illustrated how deceitful he was. And, it couldn’t have been easy for her because she was competing for question time with Rumsfeld who kept asking and answering his own questions.

For whatever reason the hearing took me back to the McGovern campaign in 1972. I think someone is writing a book about the people who were involved in that campaign, where life took them and the impact that their lives made on people throughout this country and around the world. Among those people were, of course, Bill and Hillary Clinton. There were a number of things that we learned from working on a campaign that we knew was futile but hoped would be successful. Maybe, we dreamed would be successful was more accurate. Or maybe we prayed that God would take all the republican first born, and there would be no need to bus the bodies to the polls. Back to our political education. We learned that success is measured not only by victory but by graceful loss. Well, maybe we thought we learned that, but the defeat was no less painful. We learned that friendship was as important as politics. Politics only happens every two or four years but friends are there forever. We learned to value loyalty and discretion. No one in the McGovern campaign parleyed inside information into a best selling book or a new career. And we learned about what we wanted for our children and our future. This was not easy since we were all children, but in that campaign we had a very specific goal—to get our troops out of Viet Nam. We didn’t win the election but eventually being focused worked. The war ended. And for most of us, that focus is what we have taken through our lives.

Did this experience have anything to do with the way Bill Clinton governed or Hillary Clinton might govern. I think so. Surely they both had and have dreams of a peaceful world for Chelsea. Certainly they know how important opportunity is for all people including women and minorities—not hand outs but opportunity. There is a difference. Having spent his life in public service the President now knows how wonderful it is to make and have money. And unfortunately that led to some errors in judgment for the Senator, —like letting millionaires give a glitzy shower for her when they bought their expensive digs in Chappaqua and Georgetown. That’s kind of a Washington gossip column item that passed but not unnoticed. It has taken time for many dedicated McGovern folks not to be embarrassed about making money. But there was no embarrassment when the Clinton’s sent Chelsea to private school because the public school education in the Nations capital is shamefully inadequate. Because developing the tools to be successful has always been important to the Clinton’s—and most of the people that worked for McGovern.

What we saw in the hearing was the Hillary that worked for Doug Coulter during the McGovern campaign. The Clintons are both highly intelligent, in fact brilliant students of issues and life. The President was able to translate that for the American people. (OK he screwed up big time and that was embarrassing, but nobody died.) Hillary is probably as smart, if not smarter but she has become so self conscious and cautious about her politics and positions that she may not have a chance to translate that beyond New York. If only she would remember that incredible McGovern focus and have the courage to share what she is really about. John Kerrey wasn’t ever able to tell us who he was. Of course, he didn’t work for McGovern. During the primaries he endorsed Muskie and by the general election Massachusetts was the only state that didn’t need help. Maybe that is a good excuse for Kerrey but not for Hillary. It is my hope this brief but memorable encounter with the elderly Secretary Rumsfeld will kick start the Bay Booming Hillary to be vocal, courageous and articulate in her desire to try to make a difference. Does Hillary emerge? Stay Tuned. We’re just sayin…

A Centennial

August 7, 2006: Today my dad would have been a hundred years old. He passed away twelve years ago --- 88 isn’t bad in terms of longevity –- but just the idea that he would have been a century today still gives me pause. I’m visiting with my mother in Palo Alto this weekend, and found a wonderful picture of dad, trimmed from one of those photo postcards people used to send, on the mantle in the living room. It must have been taken in the late 40 s or early 50 s, and dad is walking with a jaunty step on a downtown sidewalk, (it could be Manhattan or Salt Lake, hard to tell) with a cigar in hand, and showing that it is possible to wear a double breasted sport coat, and still be chic. It’s a look that I’m not sure I have ever managed to pull off with quite the same panache in my six decades, but it definitely gives me hope that it could happen some day.

When we were growing up I never really thought that either Tom or I looked very much like dad. His face was more square, a solid jaw, and though I suspect we smiled not unlike him, it wasn’t really until the last ten or fifteen years that I started to see the resemblance. We all have those moments in front of the mirror (I’m informed by Iris and Jordan that perhaps I have too many of them) when you try and do one of those Disney-esque Time-Lapse things, by pulling your hair and cheeks back as you look in the mirror, trying to see what you might look like in another ten years. Now and then, when I do that, I SEE my dads face. It’s almost scary. But there is something magical about DNA, and often those little proofs of lineage only become obvious to us later in life.

At some point, let it be said, I would be happy to just walk down a downtown sidewalk (New York, San Francisco, even Salt Lake, but Please, don’t let it be Downtown Disney) and carry off the look in this picture.

Yesterday at 5 in the afternoon, at mom’s place in Palo Alto, a stunningly nice senior place called the Hyatt Classic, a dozen men and women in their 80s, mostly, with a few young chiquitas in their late 60s, gathered around the Grand piano and sang the songs of their lives. Mom, who isn’t shy about getting on a piano and running through her repertoire, took the lead, and started playing her ensemble of Cole Porter songs. Everyone there knew most of the songs by heart, and I must admit I knew more than I thought I would.

Mom and the Cole Porter Chorus

The Porter lyrics, like those of Sondheim (though perhaps a bit more so) are full of the most delicious little word plays. When we got to Always True to You Darling In My Fashion, I just cracked up at lush elegance of

"Mister Harris, plutocrat,
Wants to give my cheek a pat,
If the Harris pat
Means a Paris hat,
Bebe, Oo-la-la!”

as I tried to sing along. Oh, that Paris Hat, too wonderful. Several pianists gave it their best, and the singing, as someone proudly pointed out to me – unscheduled by the Hyatt folks – just happening spontaneously because they love doing it, lasted for over an hour. That’s a lot of songs when the songs are only two minutes each. I wondered how it came to be that I knew so many of the tunes, most of them written before my time. Obviously the fact that mom played them on the piano at home had the most to do with it. But it gave me pause. In twenty or thirty years will today’s kids sit around a piano and sing “It’s hard out there for a pimp…” Somehow it doesn’t seem that plausible. At a bar the other night Iris and I both loved the background music, and found out it was from a Kenny Rankin Greatest Hits album. I know Kenny G, Kenny Rogers, Kenny Loggins, but somehow Kenny Rankin never made it on to my radar, though I’m happy he now has. Maybe that’s what we’ll be standing around singing in twenty years (that and all the Beatles songs.) But watching the wonderful group of seniors enjoy the music made me think that dad felt the same way about Golf. There was nothing about golf, the shots, the outdoors (hitting out of a rough on the 14th fairway was as close to camping as he ever got), the camaraderie, that he didn’t love. I got a haircut Saturday.

At the Supercuts in Palo Alto

Everytime I do, and I have to look in the mirror, perhaps hopefully, perhaps merely my keen eye, I think I begin to look a little more like Dad. I’m going to see if I can find one of those old double breasted suits in the downstairs closet. With a tweak here and a tweak there, it just might fit. We’re just sayin. David

Saturday, August 05, 2006

The "Rapture" : Handle with Care, Please

Arrogance and Self Absorption – What? In America?

Every night on the news (I should clarify this, as an Over 55 person, I’m referring to “the News” on tv, either b’cast or cable – normally in the slot between a vodka martini and Jeopardy or “the Wheel”) they try in their 22 minutes to tell you what of consequence might have happened since the night before. They used to be very good at doing this. In fact, it probably was never better than the mid 70s when for the first time, the combination of satellite ‘casting and smart editors gave us the likes of Rather at the White House, Jennings in Lebanon (where is he when we REALLY need him there?), and Irving R Levine, somewhere in Wall Street or Main Street.. The advent of satellites meant that a report could be presented in a matter of hours from virtually anywhere in the world. Even during Vietnam, as I like to recall to photo-groups I occasionally lecture to, it was a several day process from Event to Reading/Watching Event in the media. We didn’t know at the time, but that delay tended to add a care and elegance to the News which was a positive force for accuracy and explanation. There was actually time to figure out what the hell had happened, and in doing so, try and get it right. For the past two decades, the most chilling phrase in the News business has been “… and now LIVE, here is Joe Schlobotnik…” Joe, of course would be (choose one): standing ankle deep in water in South Carolina, badly lit near the locale of a break-in, in front of a hospital where a victim might have ended up, or perhaps on the docks in New Orleans, in a slicker, hanging on to a tree while a 100 mph wind blows through. None of the above add anything to the real meaning of what the news ought to be about. Being LIVE and clueless somewhere doesn’t add any insights or knowledge to a situation, when the reporter in question is probably not too bright to begin with – but hey, they are LIVE, after all. It scares me to see how “the News” has plummeted in meaningful content in just the few short decades that I have been running a parallel track in the magazine world. (Magazines have plenty of their own problems, like trying to be ‘relevant’ in the age of TV and internet but that’s another Blob). In the end, the talking heads rule, and they seem to have dragged the whole sense of what “the News” might have been (imagine Ed Murrow in London ) to the crap that we are stuck with today (imagine Wolf Blitzer, the guy who was singularly wrong in nearly EVERYONE of his “live” broadcasts from the Bush I White House in the ’91 Gulf War, in his “situation room”… where the only situation seems to be that we can’t get rid of Wolf.) I know it’s a tiresome cry, and believe me, I don’t buy into the Rightist phraseology about the MSM (main stream media) that Ms.’s Coulter and Ingraham, among others, spout so venomously. But let’s be honest: when you can’t have an interview longer than three minutes (“… Gee, time is running short…”) with a major player from the “____fill in the blank________” crisis, and yet the Today Show gives Star Jones 29 minutes to discuss whether or not she really had her stomach stapled, well, something is amiss in the News room.

This became further evident to me earlier this week, when, trapped in a hotel room in Florida, packing my gear to come home, I was listening to Paula Zahn (on CNN) do one of those “… Armageddon, and the folks who see it coming…. Coming up in our next segment…” pieces. The guests were a smart thinking Reverend from some NY (Park Avenue, no doubt) church and Jerry Falwell. Gee, there is a really great combination! The topic was the “end of days” & “Armageddon” and how the Israeli attacks in Lebanon might encourage it, and Falwell, eager in his first sentence to say that he shared the opinion of Billy Graham and other great theologians, felt that of course there would be a time when the Lord will return, but only after the conflagration and tribulations. (Editors note: The Tribulations will NOT be a fun time.) Then they threw it to the other guest, the reasonable one, who said, rightly so, “I think that the book of Revelations is being taken out of context, misquoted, and misinterpreted by the current crop of fundamentalists who see it in their own interests that the Middle East explode”, and gee, maybe we ‘ll get lucky and it will be the end of the world, and the Rapture will take place.

Falwell then piped up in that incredibly annoying way he has of being Mr. KnowItAll, that “I believe in the literal interpretation of the bible which I believe Reverend “The Other Guy” apparently does not.

So, rather than ask a brilliant follow up question (see below) Paula just flogs it back and forth in yet another of those idiotic to and fro screaming matches which adds zero to the Knowledge Politic, and just serves, one presumes to help CNN to sell hamburgers and GEICO insurance.

The correct questions, by the way, would have been (and I’m quoting from the famous letter to Dr. Laura Schlesinger which made its way on the ‘net three years ago…) the following (according to strict interpretations of the Bible):

1. When I burn a bull on the altar as a sacrifice, I know it creates a
pleasing odor for the Lord - Lev.1:9. The problem is my neighbors.
They claim the odor is not pleasing to them. Should I smite them?

2. I would like to sell my daughter into slavery, as sanctioned in
Exodus 21:7. In this day and age, what do you think would be a fair
price for her?

3. I know that I am allowed no contact with a woman while she is in
her period of menstrual cleanliness - Lev.15:19-24. The problem is,
how do I tell? I have tried asking, but most women take offence.

4. Lev. 25:44 states that I may indeed possess slaves, both male and
female, provided they are purchased from neighboring nations. A friend
of mine claims that this applies to Mexicans, but not Canadians. Can
you clarify? Why can't I own Canadians?

5. I have a neighbor who insists on working on the Sabbath. Exodus
35:2 clearly states he should be put to death. Am I morally obligated
to kill him myself?

6. A friend of mine feels that even though eating shellfish is an
abomination - Lev. 11:10, it is a lesser abomination than
homosexuality. I don.t agree. Can you settle this?

7. Lev. 21:20 states that I may not approach the altar of God if I
have a defect in my sight. I have to admit that I wear reading
glasses. Does my vision have to be 20/20, or is there some wiggle room

8. Most of my male friends get their hair trimmed, including the hair
around their temples, even though this is expressly forbidden by Lev.
19:27. How should they die?

My retort is perhaps not original, but I think it makes the point. Beyond all this, however what really irritates me is the attitude of those who just can’t wait for the “rapture.”
The world since Christ has been around for 2000 years. More than a hundred generations. Billions of people. Millions of worthy ones. And you think, just because you shop at Walmart or eat at Burger King and go to church on the occasional Sunday that this makes you worthy to be THE Generation which will be that of the Messiah? Un real. Don’t you think that perhaps Leonardo, or any one of the thousands of Saints of antiquity might have been a little more worthy? Driving a pick up truck or an SUV doesn’t make you worthy of the messiah, I dare to say (and this with my 8th Grade Utah Jewish education!) Give it up folks. The world is going to continue on, and carry on. Don’t rush the Messiah, I believe that He (or She) has plenty of work to do in the mean time, and that they don’t need to set their watches by the self-absorbed fawningly religious fools of our times. We're just sayin David

Maybe someday We'll Laugh

Last Wednesday Todd from the Lester Senior Housing facility called my mother to say that a two bedroom apartment had become available and did she want it? She immediately called me to say that I should call Todd to find out what he wanted.
“Mom”, I said, “You know what he wants. He wants to know if you want to move into the complex.”
“Just call him. I couldn’t talk to him.”

We have been on the waiting list a this lovely independent living apartment house for almost a year. We were told that they never know when an apartment would be available until the last minute. This means that when someone dies they find someone on the list to take their place. I called Todd and asked how fast we had to make up our minds. “Immediately!” He was adamant about that. “I have 90 people on the list and I’ve been making calls all day, but your mother is at the top so you get first crack.”
“That presents a bit of a problem”, I said. You see my mother’s phones are bad. It must have been the rain. So I can’t really discuss anything with her until I see her on Friday. Can you wait that long?”
“I’ll try, ”he answered. “But so many people want to be here I can’t make any guarantees.”

What I didn’t say was that I couldn’t talk to my mother because she wouldn’t put on her God Damn hearing aide. I didn’t want him to know that she was as deaf as she is stubborn. I called her back and said that I would be there on Friday and we could discuss it. She said,
“There’s nothing to discuss.” And hung up.

Neither my mother nor any of her sisters ever said goodbye before they hung up so this was not unusual. But I was curious about what there wasn’t to discuss. I called back.
“Okay mom” I said trying not to seem too interested, “What aren’t we going to discuss and why?”
“Nothing, I’m not going anywhere.” She hung up again.

There is hardly a baby boomer alive who is not dealing with parent problems. ( Those involving mothers and daughters are particularly complex). It’s a new phenomenon because our grandparents died before they got old enough to make our parents miserable. But thanks to the wonder of new drugs and advanced technologies, our parents are alive and well… around. There are those of us have to deal with parents who are sick, have Alzheimer’s, are disabled, or just fragile. Some of our parents are well enough to be independent but not alone. A few of us chose to be older parents so we’re sandwiched between demands from our children and their grandparents. Each requiring inordinate attention, emotional dependence and financial resources. The situations are endless and vary, and Like Vietnam , they unite us as a generation, and are universally not good.

My mother had seven sisters and a brother. Only her twin is still alive. They will be 86 in October. When their parents got old and sick there were eight siblings to pitch in and make sure the quality of my grandparents last years were wonderful. In addition, when my aunts and uncles got old and sick they all took care of one another. No one ever went to any kind of an institution. That would have been as embarrassing and as unacceptable as eating in a restaurant on Thanksgiving. It just wasn’t done in our family. My mother has the same expectations but there is no one left to do everything she wants done. It wouldn’t matter. No matter how much is done, it is never enough.

When we arrived at her house on Friday, (I took David because he always takes off the edge), she was about to go to the beauty parlor. She does that every Friday no matter what the weather or her health. She has made some remarkable recoveries when her hair needed work. David and I did errands and waited until she got back to have the conversation about her living arrangements. It went something like this:
MOM: I am not going to Lester, it’s so far no one will come and see me.”
ME: It’s 4 miles from this house. Anyone who comes here will come there.”
MOM: No one comes now.
ME: Yes they do. You have neighbors and friends and Rosalie (a cousin).
MOM: I think I want to be in Boston.
ME: Why Boston? Aunt Peppy says that’s where she wants to go. (Peppy is her twin and she’s not going anywhere soon.)
MOM: Besides, I have people there. Sheila (a cousin), Seth (my son) and Jordan.
ME: Seth works, Sheila works, and Jordan is only there for two more years.
MOM: It doesn’t matter. I probably won’t live that long. I feel myself fading everyday. (Oh pleeeeease!)

You may not believe it’s possible but the dialogue degenerated from there. How can you have a positive conversation with anyone for whom everything is negative? In frustration I finally said, “Okay mom, you are capable of making your own decisions now, but if you choose not to do that, then when you aren’t capable, I will make decisions for you and you may not like the choices. Of course, she immediately assumed I would put her away in one of those store houses for the elderly. Aside from always thinking the worse she has never had any confidence in my judgment. We left without having resolved anything.

She called about ten minutes after we got back to NY. You may remember, from previous blobs, that my mother has had four companions in three months. Her latest, Prudence, is smart, caring loving and kind and will do whatever my mother asks.
“Prudence and I took a ride uptown to Victoria Mews. It was lovely.”
“Mom” I was aghast, “Pam and I went to look at Victoria Mews about a year ago and it’s an old age home for church going blue haired ladies. No one owns designer, yet alone discount designer.” (This was my way of saying there were no Jews.) “Why would you consider a very expensive old age home for Christians rather than Lester, where every person is your age and religion.”
“They have nice activities.”
“You do what you want,” I said short of screaming. “Let me know where you are and I’ll visit.”

The final conversation came fifteen minutes later when she called to say that she had phoned Lester Senior to see if she could look at their apartment. But I was neither happy nor satisfied. It’s been years of angst and ongoing bull doody. I don't want her to die, and she refuses to participate in having a life. But to tell you the truth, as I held the silent phone in my hand, all I could think of was five years ago when my fabulous friend Soozie, frenzied from a irrational encounter with her mentally failing mother called to say, “When I opened my eyes I had my hands around her throat and I was squeezing. I actually wanted to kill her but I didn’t so I know we’ll laugh about it someday.” (Grandma Fran remains alive and well at 96).

I only hope that we’re all alive to laugh about all of this someday. We’re just sayin…