Friday, December 29, 2006

A Nice Visit

I hadn’t visited with my dad for a long time. So yesterday, when we took Jordan to Kennedy Airport for her flight to Israel, we decided there was enough time and it was silly not to go sinc,e he was so close. It was near four when, having waited two hours for a trip authority figure to appear (he did and he must have been at least 16), we thought it was safe to leave. OK there were about 200 other kids and there was no real danger other than being run over by one of the gi-normous (bigger than giant and enormous combined) suitcases that most of the young Jewish princes and princesses packed despite the suggestions from the Birthright Israel staff.

Amid the packing for Tel Aviv

Birthright is an organization that takes kids (18-26) to Israel for free, to discover their heritage. If a child wants to go and find their roots—although our roots are somewhere between Russia, Romania, and Poland and none of those appeal to Jordan—and they have one Jewish parent or can convince the powers that be that their heart is in the Jewish section of the Holy Land, then they can qualify for a ten day trip with everything paid but the expenses they incur for gifts for their parents -- in our dreams. Jordan, being the sensible child we all know her to be, surprisingly packed as suggested. She took one small suitcase and a backpack and she packed an empty duffle for gifts she thought might purchase. Our guess was that the idea of schlepping an oversized bag up two flights of steps, in a not very fancy hotel, was unappealing. And she understood that when traveling with royalty you cannot count on assistance.

Jordan Kai Burnett - off to Israel

We tore ourselves away before she dismissed us. We might have returned for one final glimpse, but we ran into Katie Whelan, a great friend who we hadn’t seen for months. She and Bill were on their way to Paris for a New Year celebration. We had a nice chat and then it was their time to get boarding passes so said our goodbyes with promises to get together in 2007 and we all went our own ways. Their destination was far more exotic then ours. It was getting close to 4 and the sun was setting but we made a determination to try to get to Elmont before the sun set.

For whatever reason, it occurred to me that Jewish funerals are different than Christian funerals. When Christians die there are all kinds of rituals performed before burial and it is usually days before they are taken to their final resting place. When Jews die they are buried the next day unless it is the Sabbath and then they are interned after the Sabbath is over. As you know, this kind of intern differs considerably from the kind that works in some job for no money, little gratitude, and certainly no permanence. This kind is really permanent. David and I have decided that we do not want to be permanent in the ground. We do not want to have graves because then they are the place where your loved ones think they need to visit. Who needs it? We have decided to be cremated and regardless of who goes first, we want some of our ashes scattered together. I want people I love to have small film canisters filled with my ashes to scatter wherever it is convenient or where they will think of me and laugh. And there are no rules. It might be on a beautiful beach or it might be on a golf course—although I have never played golf. Maybe that’s a place where one of my friends might spend time, needs help eyeing a putt, and wants to feel my presence. For David’s father, Ted, an avid golfer his whole life, we scattered his ashes between the 6th green, and 7th fairway of the Country Club course in Salt Lake. He has an excellent lie.

Anyway, I still feel my father’s presence and I still miss our conversations. He had a wonderful sense of himself and about life. He was totally disabled from continuing degenerative multiple sclerosis. And although he could not move any of his limbs, no one ever thought of him as sick. He had a remarkable ability to find a kind of peace within himself. He spent a lot of time in his head because he couldn’t move his body. He did get frustrated and even depressed on occasion, but he was never uncommunicative or without a sense of humor. Both my brother and I loved our conversations with dad. They were always entertaining and never without substance—even when they were reprimands. I miss those moments and I am not willing to give them up. So whenever we are anywhere near Elmont NY we make our pilgrimage to Beth David and try to find the Lenkowsky family group.

Iris and Milt having a chat

I know I could talk to him long distance – like from my house in Virginia, or from a synagogue wherever, but it’s just not the same as being there with him. And we had lots to catch up on. He said he’d like to be with my mother again but he wasn’t quite ready. And I assured him that we would take good care of her until he was. He says he’s fine, and that he’s been walking around visiting with the rest of the family. They’re all doing very well although my aunt Sophie wants us to stop telling people she’s in Florida—she hated Florida. And he said that 2007 would be a much kinder, healthier year than 2006. And he said that he wanted all of us to appreciate one another and whenever we had a chance, to be sure to tell the people we loved that we loved them. And so to all of you to whom we haven’t had the chance to say thanks for reading us and we love you, we do. We’re just sayin...Iris

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

A Really Good Guy

Susan Ford always told the funniest stories about her father becoming the Vice President. She talked about how it happened so quickly and unexpectedly that they were not really prepared for what they were, as a family, about to encounter. She did, however think that she was going to be best friends with Julie and Tricia Nixon. It just seemed like it was bound to happen. After all, they were a little older but about her age, and they were Republicans, and their dads would be working together, and maybe (although unlikely) their moms would find something in common. So the fact that they would have nothing to do with her came as big a surprise as the fact that her father was going to be the Vice President of the United States.

I didn’t meet Susan until after the Fords left office. But I did know her first husband Chuck Vance. He was the honcho on the Udall detail in the 1976 Presidential campaign. I was working as personal staff for the Udalls so Chuck and I spent an enormous amount of time together. Chuck had been protective detail for President Ford and there was some talk about his relationship with the Ford daughter. It was Washington gossip and we were excellent Washington gossipers, but the campaign trail was not a place for personal conversation about personal issues, so we didn’t ever mention relationships – other than those on the road. Chuck and Susan were married in 1979.

Gerry and Betty welcome the Giscard d'Estaing's to the Private Quarters, 1976 ©D Burnett

When Morris K. Udall lost his bid for the Presidency, I was devastated. I cried from the end of the convention until almost two months later when I went to work for Rosalyn Carter. I simply couldn’t work for Jimmy because I was so closely identified with the Udalls that I couldn’t deal with the national press and a new candidate. The Carter’s were not as colorful as the Udalls. It was quite a change. The most difficult being that I lost touch with so many friends I had made on the campaign trail. Chuck and his partner Harley Limpke were among the missing for me. Until about 1979. When David and I were invited to go to Jamaica with a group of friends—some of whom we knew and some of whom we were about to know. The group included Pat Oliphant and his then wife Marianne Kuhn, David Kennerly and his then wife Mel Harris, Chuck Vance and his then wife Susan Ford, and David Burnett and his still wife Iris Jacobson. Get the picture, we are the only couple still together. It was wonderful to see Chuck again and t was terrific to meet Susan. Basically, despite the personality differences, the week was fabulous fun.

Over the years I have lost touch with Marianne, we see Pat infrequently, Kennerly has been married twice more, Chuck is remarried and we have recently reconnected but I have remained in touch with Mel and Susan, two women I admire, respect and really like.

Anyway, as a Democrat who worked for Jimmy Carter, I was happy when he won. But I was never happy that Gerry Ford lost. It’s not something I can explain but the country was so tired of war and division that the fact that he ended one and brought us all together was quite a feat. And I don’t think he lost because he pardoned Nixon. I think he lost because everyone was tired of what they considered the status quo. We all needed a change and unfortunately change meant Ford had to go.

I was happy that the Carter win meant that we all might get jobs. For me it meant a new start to my life. Little did I know that it would take months before the new White House would make any decisions and I would be living in my Fiat 128 stationwagon for weeks because I had no money and was recently separated from my husband.

This morning we were still in bed when we heard about Gerry Ford’s death. We were saddened by news and sent a note to Susan and her family. For this country and the rest of the world Gerald Ford was a President who healed the nation, who sometimes experienced silly falls, who respected the opinions of women, first and foremost his wife and daughter, and who, as David says, was just a great guy. Generous, loyal and good humored. I didn’t know President Ford personally, but David did, and over the years he has been consistent in his admiration for the man. The stories he told about being with the family were always (you should excuse the expression) heartwarming. In a time when people were, much like today, self absorbed, mean spirited, and unattractively partisan he was one of the good guys. It’s only too bad there aren’t more like him in public service. Really too bad. We’re just sayin...Iris

Monday, December 25, 2006

Home O' the Ten Dollar Hat

Every Christmas, for about the last fifty years, I have spent Christmas Eve at Pam’s house. I’m not sure how it started but I guess her parents felt sorry for me because I was a Jewish anomaly in a virtual sea of Italians, Poles, Irish, and of course a variety of Protestant/Episcopalian types. What does virtual mean? I could say literal but I’m not sure how that works either. Anyway, Boonton (a town often used as a backdrop for the “Sopranos”) was surrounded by restricted communities. For those of you who don’t remember restricted, it meant no Jews, Italians, Blacks, or Catholics. There were actually signs on the entrances to these places that said “A Christian Community”. We, of course were oblivious to any discrimination because we would never have considered buying a house where there were no Jews – forget allowed. My family would never admit that they were forbidden to occupy any space.

It must have appeared to Pam’s parents that I was drowning in my loss of Santa or, at least, the action of gift giving. They knew we celebrated Hannukah, but when there are a total of 25 Jewish kids in the whole school system, Hannukah was not something that anyone but the 25 Jewish kids understood—and even some of us were not that committed to celebrating what were considered exotic holidays. I mean, when we were kids there was no such thing as separation of church and state. There was no question about singing Christmas carols during class time—it was just something we always did. And rather than make us feel uncomfortable about participating, the teacher would insist that the Jewish kids go and stand in the back of the room. As you can imagine that took all the discomfort away. There were three Jewish kids in my class. There we were me, my cousin Stevie, and Andy Hurwitz trying not to look different or separate.

Back to Pam’s for holiday celebration. But before we get to 88 Harrison Street, it’s important to know that Claire, Pam’s mom, was the original human rights advocate. She was adamant about respect for individual differences and resigned from a “Christian” sorority which forbid admission to Jews. So her invitation was not because she felt sorry for me it was because she wanted to share the joy of her holiday. So it became a tradition that we would decorate the Christmas tree and on Christmas eve we would exchange a gift. I would spend the night Christmas eve and leave before any of the Christmas day activities—that was at my mother’s rather than Pam’s mother’s insistence.

About 12 years ago things changed a bit and my mother started to celebrate with us. In addition, we were all invited to have Christmas brunch at the Wilds. Ronnie and Joyce have also been friends since high school. The ‘all’ included my mom, Pam’s mom and Joyce’s mom—none of whom had ever said more than two words to one another. It was wonderful to see them chatting like old friends. We instituted a few other traditions—I presented them ‘all’ with beautifully sculpted White House Christmas ornaments and I purchased a silly hat for Ronnie—because he is one of the funniest people ever born and I knew he would wear it.

U-Know-Who and Ronnie W.

It’s strange because, as I recounted about our Hannukah party, this year’s events were very quiet. Mom had a kind of ‘pause’ before we left for Pam’s. The pause took the form of a narcoleptic nodding off. She was actually standing and seemed to go to sleep. Needless to say, we thought it was not a good idea to take her out on the town. Then the same thing happened before we left for the Wild’s this morning. Pam and her family and Joyce’s mom were not there. Pam had other company and Agnes can no longer walk so it’s impossible for her to leave the nursing facility. Things have certainly changed in the last year. Too many tears outweighing the too few laughs.

Obviously, it’s time for laughs so let’s go back to last weekend when we returned to Va. from our last New York adventure. Soozie, David and I stopped at our favorite flea market—cow town. Soozie had never had a Cow Town experience so first we needed to hit our flea market hot spots, which included the fresh roasted peanut guy and the cheese steak stand. It was only about 9am and we were a bit nervous about things being open—but not to fear— everything was open and in fact, the Danny’s Cheese steak was also making omelets on the same bread as the steaks—to die for. When we started our walk in the outdoor section of the market it was pretty brisk and my ears were freezing, so our second stop was at the Russian fur hat lady where I purchased a $10 fur head wrap. We then sauntered about and found a guy who was selling not bad wigs for very good prices. Jordan had misplaced her curly blonde Sally Brown wig (from You’re a Good Man Charlie Brown) and there was one right in front. We bought that one for $10 and he said if we found another it would only be $8—so we took that one as well. Then Soozie had to have the most ridiculous hat at the market – she called it a barn hat. I guess that’s because you would only wear it in a barn, (or a World War II Russian fighter plane). It cost $10. We milled about until David found a terrific 1940’s fedora. It was a must have item...for $10.

The Cow Town Troika

We probably spent $200 on many things we didn’t need but we had a great time and no shortage of laughs. I never found a hat for Ronnie at Cow Town. But I finally found one in an Oriental Trading catalogue—which is a must if you every need cheap chatchkas for Halloween or a religious party. But that’s another blob. So Christmas was quiet and it’s over and unfortunately, no matter how good things can be, nothing stays the same, except maybe always being able to find a $10 something at Cow Town. We’re just sayin...Iris

Saturday, December 23, 2006

And a Very Happy Hannukah

Tonight was the eighth night of Hannukah. We do a Hannukah/Karaoke party every year for Jordan and her friends—and sometimes the parents of her friends who have become or were our friends before they got to be her friends. What’s the difference. I make latkes and if I’m very lucky, Ralph Smith the father of one of her friends who was our friend before China Bay—her friend, became her friend. Are you following? Well let me try to make it simple. Amy Milman, who is married to the latke-maker was my friend from the Clinton administration. Then we both decided to send our girls, Jordan and China to business camp. Jordan had been going to a theater camp which, for the sixth year, she was going to do after completing business camp. China, had decided to go to theater camp as well. So on completion of their final projects involving starting some kind of business, they were both off to the world of musical theater. It was clearly a change, but Amy and I felt they needed to find a way to express themselves in whatever profession they so chose. Neither are business majors, but at least they learned how to write a check—I think.

Anyway, we had the Hannukah party tonight on the actual eighth day of the holiday. Sometimes we have it well after the holiday season ends—it really depends on when all Jordan’s friends are home from college.

There are a few tasks we traditionally complete. I make my usual “bigger than Brooklyn” challah.

Punching down the Challah dough

Iris rolls the challah into shape

And then dozens of latkes with Ralph’s help. The kids eat the latkes without any help.

Latkes: from the "brown food group"

Then the activities begin. We have some kind of dinner, usually all brown or beige food groups like chicken and kugel and some other meat cooked for hours.

Sometimes we introduce a vegetable but they are usually consumed with the appetizer portion of the program. When we finish the latkes and the dinner it’s time to dance the hora. We always dance to the same music.

Jordan and Iris light candles

A tape that we bought Jordan when she was about three. It has wonderful songs about Hannukah night and lighting the menorah and it has a few upbeat pieces that are perfect for dancing. And so we do. Sometimes to the same music two or three times.

But tonight it was a quiet Hannukah celebration. Amy’s beloved mother died yesterday and although she came to take her mind off the melancholy for a moment, her thoughts were elsewhere. Mom couldn’t be buried on the Sabbath so they will have a graveside funeral on Long Island on Sunday. I used to think that Long Island was only cemeteries. It came as a big surprise to me that there were living people who resided in this place. My whole family, both sides, are buried somewhere on Long Island, as are a variety of in- and out-laws. The most amazing coincidence is that my father’s family rests right next to my first husband, Allan Jacobson’s family. And they didn’t come from the same shetel nor did they know one another. It just happened that they picked geographically similar plots.

It’s a funny old Jewish cemetery where the streets are exceedingly narrow and the people are buried in close proximity to one another. The first time we visited was when my grandfather died. But I have only nightmares about the horror of that death. When my grandmother died Seth was about two. He didn’t go to the funeral but a few years later we went to pay our respects to his grandparents and mine. While we were saying the prayer at the grave Seth was scouting the perimeter and at one point he came to get me because he had to show me something. “Mom, you are not going to believe who is buried here. You have got to see this!” We walked not very far and he was jumping up and down with excitement. “Is that unbelievable?” he shouted. I looked over and sure enough there was Golda Lax’s grave. “The three bears probably weren’t Jewish” He lamented. “But Goldie is right here with Grandma and Grandpa.”

People seemed so tired tonight. Almost exhausted by the events of the past year. When Christmas is on a weekend people don’t have time to shop or pack or have any time to relax. Back to the party. We had my favorite dessert, a chocolate cake from Costco, opened presents and then most people left without even turning on the Karaoke machine.

When Jordan was in elementary and high school she had six friends. One, Melanie, was her friend from nursery school, and the others five she met in sixth grade. Mellie moved to Iowa freshman year in high school but they remain very close.

JKB and Mellie

The others spent grades 6-12 as a big part of one another’s life. On one memorable occasion, when we had a hurricane in the winter, and school was closed for a few days, the girls came to our house and stayed for five days. They watched “Angels in America” and “The L Word” and mostly never got out of pajama’s. After three days their parents started to call wondering if they would ever see their progeny again. I guessed there would be a time when they left but it was so much fun to have them around, I didn’t care if they never went home. We clearly did not have the same teenage issues as many parents.

"The Girls": Jordan, Lina, Caroline, Emily
The “girls” stayed after the party ended. We played dress-up and they insisted I try on some whacky clothes that they could laugh about. And then they all went home and it got even quieter than it had been.

I thought about the wonder of these children and their joy about life. And I thought about Amy’s terrible loss. And I thought about my mom and how frightened we were about her illness and the possibility of loss. Life is certainly not uncomplicated but I know we should celebrate whenever possible and we should always surround ourselves with the people and things that make us happy. And we should all have many wonderful Hannukah’s and Christmas and very Happy New Years. We’re just sayin... Iris

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

A Tuna Free Zone

We arrived home at about 11:00 pm. CL, my mother’s latest au pair, was supposed to be spending the weekend at her sisters. I noticed her bedroom door was closed and asked Soozie if she had done it. “No” she said “but it is weird”. With that she opened the door turned on the light and indeed, found CL in bed.

“Who is the blond?” She asked. “It’s CL, but I’m surprised she’s here because she was supposed to be away.” That’s what I said, but here’s what I thought: we are certainly going to hear about another CL drama.

With CL the drama is endless and the performance accompanying the drama, always matches it in time and tedium. Mom has been in some institution, first the hospital and now rehab since we hired CL. This means that I have been paying her but she has really not had any responsibility. In fact, when she forgot to renew her driver’s license (she insisted this didn’t mean she was driving illegally) and was driving her own car (I forbid her to drive my mother’s car), without a license, I was not too concerned because she had a little time before my mother would need her for transportation. But this week she told mom that getting her license was not as easy as she thought it would be. She thought it was merely a matter of going to motor vehicles with some identification and they would issue the valued piece of paper necessary for her to have her job—which requires she drive mom to doctors appointments and, of course beauty appointments for hair and nails.

Nothing is easy since the Patriot Act was passed. Did I mention that CL is not a citizen—she failed the test. She has lived here for 30 years and has a green card and had a job with a law firm, but she sold her house, never could find her social security card, and clearly didn’t have enough ID to make the motor vehicle people happy. Did I also mention that this is the same woman who worked for my mother a few months ago and when my mother told her to turn left instead of right, on their return from a shopping expedition to the Dollar Store, drove mom home walked into the house, packed her bags and left without a word.

Dancing on the 3rd night of Hannukah

Why did we rehire her you ask? Because we had no one, and she begged to be forgiven and promised nothing like this would ever happen again. And my mother liked her, despite the signs of a personality disorder and not being the brightest star in the sky.

Anyway, after Soozie turned the lights off and we had two or three words about how surprised we were to find CL in the house, I went into the living room and Soozie went into the bathroom to brush her teeth. When she came out she saw that the light in CL’s room was on and, in fact CL was packing numerous bags and destroying an endless number of cardboard shoe boxes—but let’s not go there.

“I think she’s leaving” Soozie reported. “Why” I said. “How should I know but you might want to go talk to her.” It was now close to midnight.

I knocked on her door. “Where are you going in the middle of the night?” I thought that was a reasonable question. “Well you don’t want me here and I’ll just go to Helen’s” Helen is my mothers neighbor who has lung cancer and is not in great shape. “Why would you do that? I didn’t tell you to leave. I am angry about the loss of your license since you didn’t renew it and now we have to find someone else to do what we hired you to do, but I never asked you to leave—especially in the middle of the night if it requires waking Helen.” And here’s what she said. “I didn’t choose to lose my license. It wasn’t my fault.”
And here’s what I said. “Of course it was your fault.” That’s not what she wanted to hear.

Well, CL continued to pack and rant and at one point she tried to give me a Christmas gift. But I would have none of it. I was now very angry about the fact that we would once again have to start a search for health care help, my mother would be upset, and poor Helen would have to deal with this nut case in the middle of the night.

Soozie, Rose and Iris..."candle, candle burning bright.."

I awakened very early the next day and drove up to mom’s to report what had happened. Unexpectedly, she said not to worry but would I mind taking her a bag of laundry she had discovered, home. That was part of CL’s responsibility but she hadn’t done it. So I took the laundry and was about to put it in the washing machine when I saw there was no detergent. CL was suppose to take care of shopping for stuff we needed in the house. I GAVE HER $100 TO DO THIS. Then I noticed the sink was filthy, the carpets full of crap AND we were out of tuna fish and Hellmann’s mayonnaise. In all of the 54 years my mother has lived in the Reservoir Drive house, there has never been a time when the cupboard was without at least one can of albacore tuna and the fridge always had a jar of mayonnaise. (Never chunk light and certainly not Miracle Whip).

I called my brother. “There is no tuna and CL left in the middle of the night.” I screamed.
“Do you think she stole the tuna?” he asked.
“NO! I think she ate it. She ate everything that wasn’t marked poison or nailed down. But nooooooo tuna!” It was inexcusable.
I called mom. “There is no tuna in your house.”
|”That can’t be. Do you think CL took it when she left?”
“NO! I think she ate it and didn’t replace it.”
“Don’t worry. Listen, Just go buy some tuna, get the Hannukah candles, and come light the Menorah.”
“OK,” I agreed, “we’ll be there after we pick David up at the airport.”

I know many of you have been following this continuing mother care saga and I don’t want anyone to worry. I had put an ad in the paper as a ‘just in case’ last week. Lots of people are looking for work. We found a wonderful woman to replace CL and mom is coming home on Thursday. We picked David up, lit Hannukah candles and we all danced the Hora. Oh and 620 Reservoir Drive is no longer a tuna free zone. We’re just sayin...Iris

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Oh, that Text Messaging!

Text messaging was always a mystery until Jordan changed the choices on my phone. I could never find it. I saw there were messages but I didn’t know how to get to them. Jordan would say, “mom did you get my message?” And I would admit that I had seen there was something waiting for me but I couldn’t negotiate my way through all the options to retrieve it. She would then guffaw, or something close to what a 20 year old does to indicate impatience, and I would simply feel at a loss. First, because I didn’t know what she wanted to say, and second because I was clearly a technical disaster.

Then, when I got my new phone—the old one had fallen in the toilet and I thought, if I got it out in a timely manner and immediately used the hairdryer, it would be fine. It was, for a while, and then it died. Even though I did a pretty good job of pretending I couldn’t imagine why it was on the fritz, the Verizon IT guy said the insurance didn’t cover it. Well, Jordan needed a new phone so we went to the Verizon store, perused all the possibilities and spent enough on hers that mine was free. It was an amazing experience. The range of phones and the possibilities of performance are breathtaking. There are phones that play music and movies, and cards. You don’t just talk anymore, you bond with this tiny machine.

It took her about an hour to decide on the perfect instrument. She made friends with all the sales personnel, asked good questions and found it impossible to make a decision. Finally, she picked something that slid into a rich chocolatesque case, was incredibly sleek and very today. I just wanted something sturdy that could withstand the constant beating and possibly another swim.

As a final step, we had the IT people transfer all our information from our old to the new. Phones. But unfortunately, they couldn’t transfer the ring tones for which I had paid many dollars, and with which I’d become so attached. There is no shortage of profit centers in today’s world of communication. OK no more “Law and Order” theme when the kids called. No more “Lady Marmalde” for Marthena. “La Cucharacha” as my main tone bit the dust, and I lost the calypso ditty that I so identified with David. “But”, I was assured by Jordan’s new friends, “ I could always repurchase them.” Actually, I couldn’t. There are a million tones available but just try to get to them. It is almost impossible. Am I whining? Probably, but not without deserving to do so.

Once I had resigned myself to my new lack of musical entertainment, I read the instruction book. The new phone was similar to the old but there were a few changes, like the options key. There was an entire page that reflected my message status. And there was a special way for sending and retrieving text messages and voice mails. It was like a miracle. I actually understood how to do it. So I sent my first text to Jordan. “Hi”, it said. And she replied. “Hi Mom”. And I hit reply (there’s an obvious reply option) and I sent a word or two back to her. “Hi again honey.” Ok so I didn’t have much to say but if I had, I would have known how to do it. It was a wonderful new skill.

I text message all the time. And I teach my friends, who are as clueless as I was, how to do it. But when my new colleague Steve suggested I get the text message option on my phone, I didn’t tell him I already had it. You see, I don’t want to be in constant touch for business purposes. I need time to think and reflect about professional things. It’s too easy to be connected 24/7 and it’s not the way I want to live my life. I am crazy about the ability to text message but I only want to use it for Jordan to tell me she loves me, for David to tell me he misses me, and for me to reply “ditto” to both of them. We’re just sayin... You have one new message, from Iris

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Tis the Season

New York City is brimming with tourists. You can hardly walk down or up 5th Avenue. From where do they all come? It is only December 15th, hardly Christmas vacation. Doesn’t anyone go to work anymore?

And people are really nuts. Where the nutsiness normally starts about five days before Christmas, it has already started. It seems people are not filled with the holiday spirit. They would just as soon push you off a curb as walk around you. They push and shove in the theater line, and they cross streets without looking and then get angry when a cab comes close to running them over. Do not think I am in anyway defending cab drivers, but street crossing has become a terrific way to be entertained.

Maybe it’s the times. Maybe people are feeling guilty about not having to pay any price for the suffering of our troops, or maybe people are simply nervous about the future. I was OK about the future until last night when we returned from not suffering in the least at our friend Louise’s fabulous yearly Christmas party. It’s an event we look forward to all year. There are always new (and old) interesting people in attendence. Writers, actors, musicians, producers, performers and just plain fabulous folks. On the top of my list of favorite attendees is Bel Kaufman. Bel wrote my favorite book, called “Up the Down Staircase.” Although it is a novel, it was my handbook and survival guide when I taught in a public high school in 1970. It’s smart, funny and so very creative. As is she. At 95 years young, she still dances (ballroom) three times a week, is is happily married to a younger man (he’s 91) and she has the most marvelous sense of life and herself. Bel is the granddaughter of the Russian writer, Sholom Aleichem, so there is never a shortage of stories. Louise was kind enough to extend an invitation to our cousin Joe, a most talented photographer and to Soozie, who is visiting with me this week. It was a great evening until I got home.

Bel, with Soozie and Iris

Unfortunately, the news was on and worse than the news was the information. The President has decided that he is not leaving Iraq until the “mission is complete.” I would sure like to know how you complete a mission when you have no idea what it is. Do we expect a victory—well he said we have had many victories – we killed over 5000 people. I wonder if they were all terrorists. It seems unlikely. Is that how we are measuring victory now? It’s hard to say since we no longer have to determine what constitutes victory or mission. I thought the President announced “mission accomplished” almost four years ago. OK, I say we go with that. We simply declare that the mission has been accomplished (since no one knows what it is, it won’t matter), and we bring the troops home.

Today there was more bad news. It looks like the President thinks we need more troops to accomplish the undefined mission. So not only is he ignoring the committee recommendations, he’s just going to do whatever he wants to do instead. Clearly, he has done such a marvelous job up to now, the country will continue to whole-heartedly support his folly -- not. He’s at 34% approval and dropping. And what can we do about any of this. If the disaffected parent of a soldier who was killed or still serving, were to knock him off, Dick Cheney would step in. Talk about your worst nightmare. And then there’s no telling who’ll get shot.

This guy has two more years and can do the kind of damage internationally from which this country may never recover. As you can see, between the crazy people on the street and the crazier person in the White House, those of us in New York, in the US, and the rest of the world are simply not going to feel safe well beyond the holiday season. I would suggest going to work, taking a few breaks, not to suffer at a holiday party, and then rushing home and never turning on the TV. Maybe in the New Year, someone will find Mission Acceptable enough to accomplish and we can all feel better about the state of our nation. We’re just sayin... Iris

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Hillary INC.

David says my last blob didn’t make any sense and I should rewrite it. So I went back and read it and I have to say that I heartily disagree. It made perfect sense. Maybe not to anyone but me but isn’t that the reason we blob. Actually I especially liked the part about the penguins and the fact that Paul Begala has found a way to make money without having to do any work. It should be the way we all live.

The news over the weekend about Osama Ben Barack traveling to New Hampshire was most interesting. Do we think Patti Solice can find a way to create the same excitement for Hillary? I doubt it. It really doesn’t matter if you like Obama or any of the other potential Democratic candidates, what matters is that people are clearly looking for a spontaneous and attractive alternative to Hillary. It feels early and not as organized, but not unlike the campaign against Jimmy Carter in 1980—the Anybody But Carter movement.

So is there anything Hillary can do to get beyond this feeling that she can’t win and the Democrats need to find someone who can? First of all she has to talk to people beyond those in Hillaryland—I think they are now calling it Hillary Inc. Even that says something about who she is as a politician and potential candidate. And her people need to stop saying that she can win the Presidency because she has won over the Republicans in upstate NY. Next she has to stop trying to be the ‘other’ Clinton, the one who can make a heartfelt speech and win you over by looking deep into your eyes. (I stood in many lines when I was working in the administration just to experience that ‘look’). Then she needs to decide what role Bill Clinton will play in her life. Is it greatest supporter or worst nightmare? You can’t be the President if it is in someone else’s shadow. The Coretta Scott King funeral was a perfect example of this. Hillary had no business on the podium and certainly no business speaking. And why she would want to follow Bill (where people can actually measure the difference) still remains a mystery. Lastly, she needs to have people in her office stop saying “We have to check with the lawyers” whenever you make a request. I am not a stranger to these people and yet I never get the feeling that they have the ability or desire to make friends beyond a small circle of people who are calculated to be advantageous.

I never thought I would feel this way but when I watch Barack and Hillary I think I would much rather work on an Obama campaign that become part of Hillary Inc. Where he is youthful, energetic, adorable, spontaneous, and warm, she appears old, too studied, and part of the status quo—which Americans decided in the last election they did not want.

Enough politics. Mom is in a rehab facility called Merry Heart. OK the name is stupid but the place this fabulous. She had a bout of TIA’s (small strokes) about two weeks ago. We mistakenly took her to the hospital where they overmedicated her, never got her out of bed and at night tied her up so she wouldn’t try to escape. It was horrible and she had to relearn to walk and function on her own. Yesterday she made two Christmas ornaments, and the day before she won at Bingo. She is the life of the party. As she says, most of the people can’t hear, see, walk, or talk, so by comparison she’s in really good shape. What I realized was that she might want to be in an assisted living situation with people and activities but she doesn’t want it to be in a place like the Jewish Metro West because it’s too much competition. She wants to be in a place where she’s the star. Now I know where Jordan’s Diva behavior has its genetic roots. Mom likes being in Boonton in familiar surroundings where everyone knows her and, in fact, likes her. She doesn’t want to leave, but it’s for rehab so she can’t stay there because at some point she’ll be rehabilitated. So what’s the next step? I guess we’ll just take it one day at a time and find a way to keep her happy and on the top of the heap. Nothing wrong with that. We’re just sayin... Iris

Sunday, December 10, 2006

OH!, the Narrative of it all!

Do you have any idea what the “new narrative” is? OK. Do you have any idea what the “old narrative” was? Today for the first time in a hundred years I finally found it impossible to listen to political pundits having their say on the PBS radio network. It’s usually the place I go to hear fairly unbiased and accurate reporting, but today it was more painful than natural childbirth. And did you know that the Christian right are big penguin fans because penguins don’t have homosexual relations or abortions – well except the male penguins in the San Francisco zoo who adopted a baby penguin.

I know I have you on the edge of your seat about the state of the ‘narratives’. Alas, Paul Begala has found yet another way for getting paid to say nothing. I yearn to be Paul Begala. So, the old narrative was that George Bush was not responsible for any of the decisions made from the White House. The blame rested on the shoulders of Dick Cheney — who in case you haven’t noticed, has no shoulders, the Rovemeister – how quickly we forget, or Rummy — who went to Iraq to say goodbye, and “don’t let anyone tell you we made a mistake to sacrifice your lives in the terrorist ridden civil war.” The new narrative, according to Mr. Begala, is that all the blame for all the screw-ups in this administration lay with the head administrator, the Commander-in-Chief, Mr. “I never made any mistakes, nor do I have any regrets.” What does this all mean? WHO THE HELL KNOWS AND, MORE IMPORTANTLY, CARES!? Yes, the caps are intentional because I am sick of the bull doody — who is not related to Howdy.

Best I can figure it means Democrats will blame George Bush for the war, the economy, high gas prices, the unfortunate state of public education, inadequate health care and an increase in preteen pimples. When haven’t they laid blame with “the buck stops anywhere but here, GB2?” It’s never as much fun to blame the staff (or as my mother would say, the ‘help’) as it is the principal. Further, it is not as effective or fruitful. So if the new narrative is supposed to mark a big change in the dialogue (that’s my word), then I don’t know how. But if the old narrative — which involves a lot of old men — which may be why it’s old, revolves around blaming anybody but Bush, then of course it is not politically advantageous. Or maybe it is. Remember, the President isn’t running again so you can’t campaign against him. But you could campaign against the entire administration and draw direct connections to all Republicans, large or small. You could ridicule (my personal favorite campaign tool) all the Republicans for Mark Foley’s Foible and their inability to demand satisfaction — or is that what Mark Foley got. (I’m sorry, I just couldn’t resist).

But seriously folks, I’m not sure if I’m more appalled by the ludicrous Begala narrative conversation or by the fact that PBS was treating it not only with seriousness, but interest. I guess everyone is obsessed with naming things — events, issues, and now campaign rhetoric. Can you imagine how inspirational these appearances would be: Obama addresses “THE Narrative”. Hillary comments on THE old Narrative. John McCain claims he is a part of THE new Narrative.” What does any of that mean? Exactly what is a narrative? It used to be the meat of the story. Maybe it didn’t have a beginning or an end (like a campaign) but you did learn something about something when you listened to a narrative. This cannot be said of anything campaign pundits say. They don’t know anymore than you do but they have a bigger audience and they are able to keep reinventing the same thing in order to continue to charge the big bucks.

I don’t want to cheat the penguins in my narrative. They are certainly the Bird (or the plane) of the Year. If there were anymore books, movies, cartoons, or musical compositions written about these cute little critters, maybe they could be President — all of them. Given the way this President has governed it couldn’t be much worse. But here’s another thing I don’t get; how do right wing Christians know that penguins don’t have abortions and aren’t homosexuals? Have any RWC lived with penguins? Have any RWC had meaningful conversation with penguins? More to the point have any RWC slept with any penguins? I think not. So I would suggest not pinning their hopes for salvation on bird-like creatures that can breathe underwater, walk gingerly on ice, pass eggs between feet, and disappear for months at a time without an excused absence. You know what, I don’t care if there’s an old or new narrative and I certainly don’t care if RWC have disappointed expectations. We’re just sayin...Iris

Saturday, December 09, 2006

The Somethings, Redux

David and Dick Swanson had this terrific idea. They think there should be a television show called “Fifty Something.” For those of you who slept through the 80’s, “Thirty Something” (1987-1993) was a most popular evening drama about the angst people in their thirties were suffering. It was a wonderful hour and despite the frequent whining, it did deal with serious life problems relevant to people in their thirties. Of course we were in our forties but we did have dim memories of similar issues.

No one I remember produced a show about being 40. I think it that’s because it’s kind of an interim age. In the thirties you are becoming a grown up person who finally has to confront adulthood. In your fifties you are trying not to be a grown-up and face the inevitability of being 60. But the 40’s are pretty boring. The kids (if you had them like a normal person, not like us) are at or coming to an obnoxious age when they think you are a dope and everything you say is stupid. When you are like us (older parents) you don’t get involved in those parent-child battles because you think your kids are a riot and they appreciate, rather than take advantage, of the fact that you worship them.

Anyway, what issues would you deal with on a “50’s Something” show? I guess the kids would be in their twenties so you could spend a few episodes on looking for colleges, deciding on how you would pay tuition, what the advantages were of the kids having an apartment as opposed to living in the dorm. Then you could spice up the kids’ episodes by discussions of sex, gender identity, alcohol and drugs, eating disorders, sleeping with the boy/girl friend at home, and looking for a career. I look at this list and think the more things change the more they stay the same. You wouldn’t have to talk about protesting or working hard and paying dues because kids don’t really do those things anymore. The “30 Somethings” never wanted their kids to struggle. The “ad base” for a “50 Something” show is huge: all those medicines you’re supposed to ‘ask your doctor’ about, and which, if you take them, encourage you NOT to operate heavy machinery. In fact it could be the one show on network TV which has similar numbers to the evening News shows. (Account execs for Spirvira, Avodart, and Boniva, please take note, and call us at your earliest convenience!) I guess the only issue might be that the show could cause inflamation of the liver, dizziness, itchy scalp, dryness in the throat, and flatulence. You know, just like BEING 50 does.

You might want to concentrate on other subject areas like, taking care of aging parents. There’s plenty of stuff to write about here. You could do an episode about losing a parent, or one on Alzheimer’s, then you could really let loose and talk about independent as opposed to assisted living situations. And if you want an ongoing theme could be the progression from independent to assisted to nursing care. In my family no one ever went into a nursing home, it was too embarrassing. There were two things that were too embarrassing for any of my aunts and uncles, one was a nursing home and the other was eating out on Thanksgiving. I can remember my Uncle Jack fleeing for the parking lot after a Thanksgiving meal spent at a restaurant in Hallendale, Florida. We looked for him for about a half hour and found him sitting in the car because he didn’t want to run into anyone he knew. Go Know, as my mother would say. But there is plenty of good stuff.

And then you need to deal with personal relationships. Things like, are “you” (and I mean “you” in the televsion character sense), still talking after the kids leave for college? Do you still want to have a life together? Is it possible to have a conversation that is not confrontational, ‘you did - I did’, or about pizza? Is plastic surgery an answer to staying attractive and will you concentrate on face, legs or boobs? Is your spouse faithful, unfaithful, or just sleepy. What kind of medication should you be taking to enhance your love life? What are you going to about retirement. Will you be happy doing nothing. How will you occupy your time? Warm climate or cool? City or Country? Do you want to move to one floor living? Can you survive in a smaller space? Does a retirement village sound like something from Hans Christian Anderson or Nightmare on Elm Street? Do you want to travel? Together? Does the spouse want a younger partner, a new family, a punch in the nose?

On second thought, television, whether it be comedy or drama is supposed to provide escape. Maybe, Davey and Dickie should stick to photography and stay away from producing television ideas. We’re just saying...Iris

Friday, December 08, 2006

Shelley, Kirsty, and Britney

I was always puzzled by the fact that in the South Seas Islands the young women were so svelt and beautiful but the older women were always pretty hefty. And it’s not just a geographic issue, because even when the Tongans move to Utah, having been convinced by young Mormon missionaries that they would be closer to God if they lived in 12 feet of snow instead of the lush green tropics surrounded by white beaches and turquoise water, they arrive as slim and fit and in no time they are enormous. For a while we believed that the only logical explanation was that at some point, the old women ate the young women.

But seriously, I always wonder why beautiful women let themselves go. And further, is it possible to predict that (beyond the fact their names end in y), it’s going to happen. Remember Shelley Winters before the Poseidon Adventure? She was shapely and very sexy—never anorexic but certainly not big. I thought she was a terrific comedienne and a wonderfully talented actress. Her success was certainly not based on a Marilyn Monroe kind of beauty but rather her abilities as a character actress. The first time I met Shelley was in 1976 when she decided that she wanted to be politically active and she was interested in helping Mo’ Udall’s Presidential campaign. I was in New York working as a celebrities coordinator. They needed to find something for me to do because I had been traveling with Mo and his wife Ella as personal staff, and in a drunken rage she decided I wasn’t her pal. I was replaced by two very nice and very blonde friends who the campaign referred to as the “gold dust” twins. Anyway, Mo wanted me to remain with the campaign so I went to NY and immediately became the liaison to the stars like Paul Newman, lots of Broadway talent, and the Saturday Night Live cast during the years of Chevy Chase, John Belushi and Gilda Radner, but that’s a whole other blob. I thought it would be glamorous. Little did I know that it was the last job any of the smart people in NY wanted to do. Catering to the whims of the famous is not much fun, but it is also not without challenge.

Anyway I was told that I needed to meet with Shelly Winters in her apartment. When I arrived the doorman told me to go right up. Her apartment door was ajar and I knocked and yelled “hi” to announce my arrival. She was in bed. My initial impression was that she looked like a beached whale. She took a large amount of what was probably a queen sized bed. “Get a drink” she ordered without saying hello. “And get me something. There’s liquor in the living room.”
“Anything in particular?” I said.
“Do I look particular?” she said with a laugh.
I poured us both a scotch and brought the drinks back into the bedroom. “Sit down and tell me about Mo and about what I can do.” There was no place to sit but a small area left unoccupied on the bed. So I sat down and we talked for about three hours.

When I left I had such mixed emotions. Here was this smart, talented, very funny woman who had allowed a kind of “has been” status to replace the attractive person she had been with a big and almost frightening lush.

I recently saw Kirsty Alley as a contestant on the “Match Game.” I saw it in reruns or I never would have known her as a celebrity. Mel Harris told me that as aspiring young actors many of them were able to support themselves as winning contestants. Mel, who later starred on “Thirty Something” also won “The $100,000 Pyramid.” Kirsty, who was very cute, was an entertaining guest and won a couple of games. The first time I saw her was when she took over the female lead on “Cheers”. I didn’t ever like her character, I was not a big fan of her acting ability and there was something about her that was ‘horsey’. It wasn’t that she was heavy, she was just horsey. As the years passed she seemed to go from pony to plow. So I was not surprised to see her on the front page of the “Enquirer” at 800 pounds. I am not unsympathetic about a battle with weight. I have fought it all my life, but at what point do you just give in and do nothing but self destruct?

The thing is, you can almost look into the future and predict what’s going to happen to some of these people. I think it will happen with Britney Spears. I don’t think she’s going the anorexic route. My guess is that she becomes a big mama, like Barbara Cook or Rosemary Clooney – not that she has anything close to their talent, but I think she must have a similar appetite. This is just a guess. Being big certainly does not decrease your value as a human being, but when the career you choose is impacted by the way you look, it is not unlikely that (for whatever reason) the road to ruin might be an inability to stay away from the fridge. This is not schadenfreude, but it would be interesting to be around when Britney explodes. We’re just sayin...Iris

No Regrets

Sports is not usually my forte, but this morning I heard about an issue with Washington Redskins player Brandon Lloyd. It seems this twenty five year old 30 million dollar wide receiver (that’s a pass catcher) had a kind of tantrum during the game last Sunday. He was asked by a reporter if he was sorry, or could guarantee it wouldn’t happen again. In response to the questions he replied that he had ‘no regrets’ about anything he had ever done in his life, and he could not guarantee it wouldn’t happen again because anything can happen —or some such nonsense.

When you are in your early twenties and have spent six or seven years doing nothing but playing football and being a star why would you have any regrets. Probably no one –including his mama, ever told him that anything he did was wrong. And probably, as a star, he didn’t have to suffer the consequences of any bad behavior. So why would he have any regrets when he has lived a life without criticism or suffering consequences.

Doesn’t this sound all too familiar? The President voices the same sentiments about different subjects. Sure he’s a little older but he’s also a guy who has never paid any price for bad behavior, at least not until the Iraq report – but even that wasn’t direct repudiation. It was subtle and easily spun by his expert spinners or as I like to call them the Merry-Go-Rounders. That’s not true you say. He was an alcoholic and had to give up drinking or lose his wife. So what, I say. He stopped drinking and kept his wife. Should that be considered paying a terrible price. Get real.

For most of his life Daddy covered for him. Whether it was not showing up for military service, screwing up business deals or becoming President without winning the popular vote, he has never admitted making a mistake. My guess is that he doesn’t know how, so instead of simply admitting error he continues to insist that everything he has done is just fine. He has no regrets either.

I don’t get macho crap. I’m a girl so that probably makes sense, but I’m also a little envious about it. I mean I really don’t get how guys get away with behaving badly and not paying any price. Like Super Sports Stars who act violently off the playing field or basketball court. They rape, rob, and pillage and get paid to go to work the next day. Or when a man gets people to invest in a business which fails. He raises millions of dollars and the business goes bust. The business closes and people who invested are out of luck. Does the man spend years trying to pay those people back and make everything better? Not a chance. Men pick themselves up and move on, often getting other people to invest in yet another business. Some would say that this is not behaving badly it’s just a business reality. When a woman starts a business and it fails it takes years for her to recover. She obsesses about the business demise—which she considers personal, and spends years getting over the embarrassment of the collapse. And, of course there are men who after years of marriage decide they want something new, or younger, so they simply kiss off the life they have lived and never give the people who are left behind any thought.

I know this is less lighthearted then my usual shpiel but it seems that lately too many people have been affected by men behaving badly. Let’s get real. Lloyd is rewarded with millions of dollars for being able to catch a ball. The President gets to be the most powerful person in the world and send people to die because he doesn’t want to say, “whew, that was stupid.” It’s not exactly the same but bad is bad, stupid is stupid, and as my mother would say, what is, Is. We’re just sayin...Iris

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Grits, Grins and Florence

We drove back to Virginia last night. We arrived home at 1:30am, having made a midnight stop at the Waffle House because we were starved. I had never been to a Waffle House and so I was a bit reluctant, but we were starved and the options after midnight were limited. We stopped at two service places on 95 – both of which had no services (even the bathrooms were closed), and certainly there was no food. The Cracker Barrel was closed, and the Seven-Eleven was bleak. So the WF seemed the only reasonable choice.

The menu and short order cook were unbelievable. The chef was all business and the food was all butter, all the time. Butter with eggs, sandwiches, milk, grits, everything. Many people would think of this fare as disgusting. I am not among them. In fact, my favorite place to have butter breakfast (because you can’t get it everywhere), was a small place in Milwaukee where Tina and I would go whenever I was visiting with her. I am sure it had a name, but we just called it ‘butter’ because there was no better way to accurately describe the primary ingredients. It closed a few years ago and we have been mourning it’s demise. Despite the politics, I’m a big Denny’s fan, and I have been to a mega number of Cracker Barrels, but the WH is heaven on the highway.

David had Texas Toast (it’s grilled in butter) with sliced steak, onions (fried in butter) and cheese. It’s not a cheese steak in the Philly sense but it is fabulous. I had cheese grits and eggs over easy. Needless to say, they contained, and were drenched in, yes, butter. Along with everything butter I am also a big grits fan. If you are in Virginia finding grits is not a problem, but in the North it is almost impossible unless you happen to be on East 46th st. in NY and sitting at the Comfort Diner. Anyway, they served this delicacy (when you’re from New Jersey grits are a delicacy) in a bowl the size of Sheboygan. I cannot start to tell you how delighted I was to partake in this late night snack. I am sick as a dog (not from the butter), tired and stressed, and I forgot all my cares in a bowl of cheese grits. Who says I’m not easy.

This morning I stayed in bed for a while because, as I said, I am suffering with a big bout of bronchitis. When I finally got out of bed I realized we had no staples like milk, eggs or the sainted butter, so I rallied and decided to do a few errands. This involved staple shopping, returning books-on-tape to the library, picking up the black and white version of our annual holiday picture, (which I then hand tint) and purchasing a little color for my hair. Despite my chest discomfort, it was a nice day, which culminated in one of my favorite marital activities—don’t go there. David helps me to get rid of the dreaded gray roots. Yes, you probably thought I was perennially golden brown with just a touch of blond highlights, but alas, I started to gray at 25 and it’s been a battle ever since.

For a long time I colored my own hair, but Soozie yelled at me so I started going to a beautician at Saks in McLean. She was a lovely person and I was always happy with her haircuts (which I also used to do myself), but never the color. Then I went to Key West and found Debbie who colored to perfection and highlighted my curly locks with great aplomb. But I don’t live in Key West, so what was I to do when I returned home?

One night while I was struggling to apply medium golden brown, David offered to help. I figured if it worked it would save about $90. If it didn’t we would have a great colorful fight. What did I have to lose?

It worked but not just as a ‘cosmetic’ activity. We have some of our most interesting conversations during the process. And it’s not just the usual dialogue about life, love, kids, work and travel. It takes on a totally different tone because once David has put on the plastic gloves and taken the brush in hand, he starts to converse as if he were my beautician. I can’t explain it exactly, but his whole persona changes from photographic artist to hair colorist. Today, while we were like girls gossiping in the beauty shop, we realized the change in our conversation and dynamic. We started to laugh until we couldn’t stop, it was genuinely therapeutic. We agreed that if anyone is looking for a couple-bonding experience, you just can’t beat this as an activity. Of course it does necessitate trust, good humor and a guy who doesn’t mind being called Florence. We’re just sayin...Iris

Monday, December 04, 2006

Agent, Agent Agent! Did I say Agent?

How annoying is it to call the phone company, some essential utility, or the United Staes Government and get a computerized friend on the phone. The “Hi, I can help you do whatever it is you need to do and all you have to do is wait one hour and provide us with enough information that we could be your parent or child.” Today we attempted to switch my mom’s social security income from snail mail to Direct Deposit. I waited for about fifteen minutes, talked to my computerized friend and was disconnected before any changes could occur.

The Dubroff Twins, Rose and Peppy at St. Clares (12/3)

David took over. He loves to deal with idiots because he can play with them, but even for David the social security computer friend was too much. So he pressed operator and screamed agent about 100 times and was finally connected with a human being. He gave them all the requested information and then they asked to speak to the principal – in politics this would be the President. Anyway, he put me on the phone to pretend to be my mother. I decided to frustrate them as they had done to us. I yelled into the phone pretending not to hear what she said. I indicated I was hard of hearing and then I did an imitation of Jordan doing an imitation of my mother—heavy NY accent and smokers voice—neither of which my mother actually has. The best part was when the agent begged to speak to the young man who had made the call—we considered that a victory over the technology.

The issues we never thought (as young people) we would have to deal with as adults, just seem to go on and on. Last night we escaped to our apartment in the city but by 5am we were both wide awake thinking about all the issues and were so overwhelmed we could hardly get out of bed. David has been there all the way as have my cousins Ro and Honey and, of course, Kerry, Soozie, Marian, and Karen—all of whom have gone through this or have been there and done it.

It’s not as simple as finding help. There are all kinds of financial and emotional issues. For example, I am a person who has never written down the amount of a check. Ever. I know about how much I have and I refuse to quibble about pennies. Don’t you love the word quibble? It’s almost onomatopoetic but only if you shout it. Never mind, I am clueless about numbers. I don’t mean to be, but I did have to take Algebra One and Geometry One twice. And I only passed because the math teacher was my next door neighbor. He later became Vice Principal and despite the regulations about not leaving school grounds, he allowed us (me, Pam and Joyce) to travel two blocks to my house to have lunch and watch soap operas. OK, he didn’t know we watched TV, but he did know whatever we were doing was not academic. In addition, when we left the school grounds it was in Ronnie Wild’s 1963 Edsel (he is the only person alive who had two of them.) That car stayed up all night thinking about how it was going to fall apart the next day.

We thought “on-line banking” would help relieve the burden for me. But when David explained the complexities I totally freaked out and wondered why anyone would select this option rather than write a check. I haven’t decided what my choice will be. But I do know that any additional bookkeeping for me does not have attractive consequences. The good news is that we continue to find wine to take off the edge. Moscato di’Asti is our latest love. Our friend the Italian Wine guy suggests Ceretto but I’m such an Italian wine slut I’ll drink anything that doesn’t say Arrivederci before I uncork the bottle.

We’re doing our best to do our best. And it’s really all anyone can do. So we pray mom gets better, which will be easier without the burdens of everyday tasks, and we hope for a miracle with regard to my skills to add and subtract. Talk about stress. We’re just sayin...Iris

Sunday, December 03, 2006

I Think... Who Cares?

Remember when Jackie Gleason used to say “What a revoltin’ development this is!”. Well now I know what he means. But I’ll get back to that.

I was watching some talking head TV this morning and when the talking heads opened their mouths, they all started in the same way which was, “I think... blah blah blah blah blah”. As I was watching their lips move the Gary Larsen cartoon flashed before my eyes. The one where you see “what people say” and “what dogs hear”. It turns out that the public hears what dogs hear when politicians start to blather.

Have you ever yelled at the TV? David and I do it all the time. He is actually worse than I am because he calls the news desk when he feels they are incompetent or just stupid. All I could think (and I do think), who cares what you think! Take Lieberman – please. He was going on and on about the fact that he thinks we can’t withdraw from Iraq because there will be chaos and bloodshed. What does he think there is now? The US has become merely a third party in a civil war that has been festering forever and our presence continues to make worse. To be perfectly honest (and what do I to gain by lying? You’re not going to elect me for anything), I don’t care what any elected official thinks. They all have their own agendas, which usually include advocating for some special interest, rich contributor, or local very visible positive effort which they can use as footage in the next campaign. But it does not necessarily include being concerned about the lives of your family or mine – unless we are of some political importance. How many of those people are around? Quite simply we need to get out of Iraq and stop trying to think about why we can’t. If Iraqi’s choose to kill each other we won’t be able to stop them. What our politicians do or think doesn’t make any difference. We can’t stop the killing on our own streets so how can we possibly stop it a million miles away—at least culturally.

Anyway, back to the ‘revoltin development. My mom has been in the hospital for six days. She cannot walk because her feet are too swollen and arthritic. They can’t give her the physical therapy she needs. In addition, she is in and out of La La Land. This morning when Aunt Peppy (her twin) arrived at the hospital they discussed the fact that my Aunts, Helene Sophie and Fritzie, couldn’t possibly have come to visit mom because they had died. She seemed OK with that, for about a minute and a half. Then she wanted to know if they hadn’t called because they were in Florida.
“No” Aunt Peppy insisted, “They died”.
But did Sophie go to Florida with Rosalie?”
“No she died three years ago.”
“Don’t be ridiculous”, my mother replied. “They were here last night and if David had been here he could have taken their picture. They were wearing cardboard hats and Aunt Helene looked ridiculous.”

Aunt Peppy gave up. So mom turned to me. “Did you arrange for them to come? It must have been expensive to come all that way.” You used to make arrangements for the President. Did you do this?
“No Mom. I couldn’t do that.”
“Well who did it then?
I thought about it for a minute and decided to tell the truth. “God did it mom.”
“You think so?” She asked

About ten minutes later she was perfectly lucid and we talked about people who had expressed concern about her, and the fact that the doctor thinks she should be in short term rehab until she can get around a bit.

When David and I left the hospital we took a walk along the Boulevard in Mountain Lakes. It is gorgeous day, a little crisp but clear and sunny. When something like this happens and you seem to be facing your own mortality you realize that decisions need to be made while you can make them and even then, who knows what will happen. Here’s what I think. Our generation must find a better way to deal with being old, sick and dying. The politicians who are always thinking into everyone else’s business and bedrooms, (domestic and international) would be better off thinking about dignity and elder care. If they have to think—let them do it about something that will really make a difference. We’re just sayin...Iris

A K-24 and a Slice of History

I have been a photographer for about forty years (next year is actually my 40th anniversary working for TIME Magazine, as a wide eyed intern) and I have seen a lot of changes in the world of photography, and the technology which surrounds it. There is no question that the last ten years has brought changes to our world that no one could have foreseen (well, perhaps Victor Appleton, the author of the well known Tom Swift science adventure books for the 30s-50s.) The advent of digital photography - you know, where there is Noise, but no Grain in the pictures, has sped up the flow of imagery, and been responsible, I think for some very negative changes accompanying the positive ones. The real down side has been the purchase of speed at the expense of a number of other indices of journalism: thoughtfulness, reflection, pondering, kicking ideas around. In so many realms of journalism, and photoJ above all, there simply isn't time for such niceties. Amongst my newspaper, wire, and now even magazine (make that web) colleagues, speed to publication is the ultimate demand. In the 60s the Associated Press (".. the AP!...) used to say "a deadline every minute.." That was true, if there wasn't one in Istanbul or Perth, there very well could have been in Vancouver, Bogotá, or Niamey. Now, it really IS a deadline every minute. In fact, the events each make their own deadlines: as soon as they are over, bang! Deadline.

So, it was with a good bit of historical levity, and appreciation that I opened a box this week -- another eBay purchase. I'd heard there was a military collector in New Jersey who landed a set of 200 World War 2 recon cameras: the K-24, a beauty which used a big (5.5") roll of film, my favorite old/new lens, the 7" Aero Ektar (it would have been silly for them to call it the Airo Ektar, right?), and an electric motor which would take 3 frames a second while dodging German flack. [The Germans made a great version.. the LuftCamer which no doubt was dodging Allied Flack). The cameras were selling for about $200, and I couldn't resist, having been the "inventor" of the Burnett Combo (the Speed Graphic and Aero Ektar lens). I didn't really invent if of course, but I think I am the first guy to have a cover of TIME magazine with it. I came late to the 4x5" press camera world. It flourished in the 30s through the 50s, when it was finally overtaken by 35mm. But as I discovered in the past few years, there is a charm to shooting SLOW, and knowing you only really have ONE chance to get a picture. It changes your attitude, big time. You become quite good at Mulling. At considering. At pondering. You want to get it on that first frame. And as part of that change in point of view, I wanted another MINT, clean, ready to go Aero Ektar lens, and figured this camera was the key to it. I ordered the camera, and it arrived earlier this week; as I opened the outer box, it was if Jumanji was arriving in the studio. There, stenciled onto the side of the original box was the info about the birth of this camera. In that great military-speak: 1 Camera,Aircraft type (they are NOT kidding about that!) with 7" lens.

"The Jumanji box arrives..."

Serial number 168459 lens number EE830. There is a code for military/1940s stuff to keep track of dates: CAMEROSITY: those letters correspond to 1234567890 so... EE is 44 = 1944.

In all its Beauty, and, yes, Weight!

I was disappointed not to get a 1945 model, but I suspect most of the later ones are already gone. This lot of cameras had been sent to an east coast depot, thence to go to Europe. Then the war ended, and they remained for sixty years in storage. Opening the box was a treat . A LOT of corrogated cardboard, and underneath, a barely liftable olive drab behemoth. The K-24 in all its glory.

"Don't drop this on your foot!"

The 'stuff' is all there (interfaces, cables etc etc) , and of course I was being given a little message: The 3 lock screws holding the lens on won't move ( I need a machinist, I think, to liberate lens from body) .. but the joy of trying to hold the damn thing really made me feel like my hands were touching a part of history.

I am a history buff I suppose. I have visited Normandy a number of times over the last 35 years, still enthralled with D-Day, the men who made it happen, and the living history which still surrounds those beaches. Who else do you know who has on his itunes Gen. Eisenhower's broadcast to the people of Western Europe the day of the landings? So you get the idea. But more than anything, to hold a piece of amazing industrial engineering like that which the K-24 package represents, is like holding a history in your hands. We photographers like to think that we are collecting and writing the First Draft of History for the rest of the world. But now and then, the latter drafts of history have their own amazing ways of speaking. In holding that K-24 I think I was touching a draft that I'd previously been searching for a little too hard to actually see it. We're just sayin... David

Friday, December 01, 2006

Barak Atah Ado-nnoying

Barak Osama, or is it Obama ben Laden or is it Barak Atah Adonosama? I get so confused. Who is it that is running for President or terrorist or both? Here’s what I know. The Ben means son of. And before there was the son of Laden I only knew about Schmoil Ben Pupik or Rivka Bat Basha. Those are the Jewish names people are given when they are born or have a B’nai Mitzvah. I don’t want to go into great religious detail, but that‘s what I know.

I have been involved in Presidential politics for about thirty years – give or take thirty years. Being involved in Presidential politics is totally obscure. What does it mean exactly? Well, it can mean that you get to sit “at the table” and make important strategy decisions. Or it can mean you get to go to a hotel ahead of the press and candidate, and flush toilets. There are a variety of tasks you can perform to consider yourself involved in Presidential politics, and I guess I’ve done all of them. So, my favorite time in the Presidential cycle is when people start to announce that they are running for President.

1984 was probably the last time that a candidate simply announced. After that most created an ‘announcement to announce’. The ‘announcement to announce’ is a concept more easily understood when you remember that everything which is done in the modern political campaign is somehow related to money and/or the media. Today, because campaign costs have become prohibitive, almost everything which happens is done with the idea of getting "more free media".

Barak Obama: Is he readying his 'Announcement to Announce?'

Let’s take a trip down memory lane. The ‘announcement to announce’ is sometimes made before the formation of an exploratory committee. This was true with Jesse Jackson who announced intention to run as early as 1985 but wasn't formal about it until late in 1987. Expressed intentions to announce do not always count on my list of ‘announcements to announce’ because, according to my definition, in order to qualify as an ‘announcement to announce’ there must be a substantial amount of press coverage. Intentions to announce never get more than a sentence or two in one local paper and one national publication. I guess we could consider the ‘intention to announce’ as an intermediate step somewhere between the family discussion, the formation of an exploratory committee, and the ‘announcement to announce’ but everyone has intentions.

Governor Dukakis (the guy with the helmet in the tank) had lots of reasons for announcing he was going to announce. First reason: he did it because he told everyone he would make a decision by the middle of February, it got to be the middle of February and he had made a commitment to make a decision but he was not yet prepared to make the Official announcement -- so he announced that he would be a candidate but the Official announcement would come in the middle of May. Second reason: he felt he owed it to elected officials, staff, and the public to let them know what his intentions were. Third reason: (not unimportant in the political scheme of things) he wanted to send signals to "all the interested parties and usual suspects." In other words he wanted to let the right political people know he was "thumbs up" and not to hook up with any other candidate.

This announcement was much more than an announcement of intentions because it worked. It was a carefully orchestrated series of events. First Governor Dukakis called a press conference, then followed it with an address to a joint session of the Massachusetts House and Senate, and finally ended up with an address to hundreds of cheering government managers. April.

Some of the candidates announce to announce by accident - like Senator Joe Biden from Delaware. It was right after Mario Cuomo decided to announce that he wasn't going to announce. At that moment it seemed like a replacement announcement was in order. Therefore, during a question and answer session with the AFL-CIO in Bal Harbor, Florida on February 13,1987, Biden announced that he was going to announce. His real announcement came in June 1987 when he announced from the train station in Wilmington, Delware. The station was chosen because the Senator takes the train home from Washington every night to be with his family. Get it? Home, family, strong family ties and a train station -- the one visual item which symbolizes Democratic success and Harry Truman. (Since Harry Truman's successful whistle stop campaigns many Democratic announcements are tied to Harry Truman and train stations.) But Biden was a horrible candidate and three thousand announcements wouldn’t help then, and probably won’t help now.

Then there was Rep. Dick Gephardt who ultimately announced at a train station but first he announced the formation of an exploratory committee. As I said before, you hardly ever find a candidate who sets up a committee to explore and then admits they can't raise a dime. The Gephardt committee was formed in November of 1986 and explored until after the holidays. The actual ‘announcement to announce’ came in January when Gephardt announced that he would run, but he would make his formal announcement at the end of February 1987. According to some of the staff there was some dispute as to whether or not they should delay the formal announcement until later in the spring but it was felt that an obscure Congressman from Missouri could not afford to wait until everyone else was announcing, and then get lost in the pack. They felt that if he delayed for a long period of time people would just assume that his ‘announcement to announce’ was the actual announcement and when he finally announced it would be anti-climatic. It didn’t matter, his campaign went nowhere.

Flash forward to 2006. Democrats and Republicans are ‘announcing to announce’ all over the place. Here we are, two years out, and Vilsak, Clinton, Obama, Biden, McCain, Gingrich, Brownback, Giuliani, blah blah blah, are all testing the waters in New Hampshire, Iowa, and the fundraising circuits an New York. But rather than blurting political sound bites, they should be taking a test. And it just so happens that our guest blobber and home spun philosopher, Clay Greager and I wrote a book called, “So You Think You Can Be President?” We believe that anyone who wants to run should have to take our test and passing the test should be the only acceptable way to ‘announce to announce’. Let’s be honest, it is too early to start thinking about who we want to vote for unless there is a way to measure their competence and ability. And we’ve developed that method. So when you listen to the political crap you’re about to encounter for the next few years, ask yourself if they could pass our test—which we will be happy to provide if a publisher is smart enough to buy it. We’re just sayin... Iris