Friday, December 28, 2007

Til There's No One Left....

“Til there’s no one left who has ever known us apart.” This one of my favorite lines from one of my favorite musicals, even though I am really not sure what it means. The song is called, “Last Ten Minutes”, the show is “Last Five Years”. There’s lot’s of lasts there. The show is beautiful, and soulful and funny and pretty depressing because it’s about the failure of a relationship. The characters, and there are only two, are never at the same emotional place at the same time. When it begins the female character starts out not very interested in the male character and by the end she loves him desperately, but he who starts out loving her, by the end has moved on. Somewhere contained within the musical book reality hits, and things change. So throughout the show the characters are moving in a different direction and this song (in the middle of the show) marks the only time when they are both in sync. I am weeping as I write.

The Tree at 30 Rock...
It is unclear why I thought about this, but speaking of weeping, the mothers were missing at Christmas brunch. The moment I realized that we were without adult supervision was exceptionally sad. My mom is in Seattle. Aunt Claire was too busy dealing with other family issues. And Agnes passed away a few months ago. For the last ten or so years we have always gathered at Joyce’s for our Christmas day celebration. Joyce and Pam and I have been friends for over 40 years but our mother’s never connected until we were all in our 50’s.

Joyce, Ronnie, and grandson Darren
This brunch had become a tradition which we all thoroughly enjoyed.

Jaime and son Max
We still had a wonderful time and while it was incredibly sweet it marked a passage. We are now the grown-ups. Who ever would have believed it.

Iris and Ronnie, King of the Santa Hat collection (and, yes, two of the 'grown ups')

It was a pretty much stress free couple of days which started with our Hannukah party for the kids (mostly for Jack Marash who loves latkes) and a few of our New York friends.

(We also had a Hannukah party preceeding Hannukah in the same spirit, in Virginia.)

A Belated New York Hannukah
Yes these parties had nothing to do with the date, but we celebrated the miracle of the lights rather than just the day. (David's quote; “of the millions of Jewish homes, all over the world, tonight – we are the ONLY one celebrating Hannukah...”) The Washington party is usually a karaoke party – I provide the musical instruments. For the New York party I bought musical Christmas poppers thereby providing our guests with different sized whistles. Inside the popper case were whistle sheets of music. Jordan led the band of whistlers and they all played some out of tune, but incredibly entertaining tunes – this may have to become a tradition.

Grand Central: How can you not love a New Yorkers respect for signs?
Of course we went to Pam’s for Christmas Eve and for whatever reason, we all drank too much and laughed too long... so by ten we were looped and exhausted and had to go home. It was a much smaller gathering this year which made it all the more intimate and less frenzied. Nice... very nice.

The light show (sort of) at Grand Central
We went back to NY in the afternoon on Christmas day, and although we thought (like millions of Americans) we might take in a movie, we opted to go to Grand Central for the light show and to Rockefeller Center to see the Christmas tree.

With Dane at the Tree
The highlight of the evening was when Jordan’s friend Dane (a talented performing artist) decided to (like Judy Garland and Andy Rooney-- oops I mean Mickey Rooney) 'do a show. ' So in the midst of the madness of the crowd, he got down on one knee and asked Jordan for her hand—she gave it to him – It had nothing to do with marriage, it was just her hand, but the millions of tourists privy to the show were excited beyond words. We went out for a French Christmas dinner and completed the evening with a walk through Manhattan. Lovely... On the 26th we flew to Seattle to visit with Mom.

Jordan gets a hug from her Nana
The words of that song are still ringing in my head. But it has nothing to do with romance. It has to do with passages and moments. “Til there’s no one left...” The moment at Joyce's was one that brought me to tears, but there were so many that made me laugh. Our families have had losses and growth over the last year. It hasn’t been easy. Joyce has another grandson and we have our first. Joyce’s mom is gone but Susan, her daughter-in-law, is having another baby. Christian and Carly are still together while Jordan has replaced her old boyfriend with a few new ones. My mom is not where or what she was but if these terrible things had not happened to her I would never have found my brother. I used to describe him as “Jeffrey my brother who I never spoke to until he was eighteen, and then we had nothing to say.” But this is, thankfully, no longer the case. We have found that we really like each other.

Things keep changing. I like the way things were but I am beginning to get comfortable with the way things are going to be, at least for a while. Til there’s no one left...

En route Sea-Tac Airport in the 22' limo..

We’re just sayin Iris

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

...Give Pace a Chance..

In the time it took Jordan to pack one bag for her Christmas vacation, I carried five giant bags of trash down around the corner and up six flights of stairs, three times. When, exhausted from the unexpected morning exercise, I dragged myself into her room, she was still deciding what shoes to take. "Mom, as soon as I finish this I just have to straighten the kitchen a little, and then we can go." There had been a party two nights prior to my arrival and saying "straighten it a little" was like my pal Phoebe commenting on our adventures in Calcutta by saying "if only they would tidy up a bit." So while she was deciding which shoes would go with which pair of jeans, I "tidied "the kitchen. I mean I was like a whirlwind, wiping and washing and drying and decimating the dirt. But we really needed to get going because we had to stop at Emerson so she could fill out employment papers, (there was no way that wasn’t going to happen), and I wanted to drive to Plymouth to see Zach and his parents. In addition, we had to drive to NY in order to get to a 6:30 dinner meeting.

"Jordan", I said with all the calm I could muster, "I'm going to get my stuff, get the car out of the lot, and I'll be outside your apartment in five minutes. Be there!” And miracle of miracles she was.

Don't get me wrong, there is nothing wrong with making thoughtful decisions about clothing or shoes, or vacations, it's just that because people operate at different paces it often can cause problems. David operates at about the same pace as Jordan. He takes about five times the amount of time I do to get anything done. He thinks and thinks and thinks about everything. I never think (there are plenty of people to attest to that) I just do whatever I need to do to get it done. This can sometimes lead to being less thorough, but it presents a conundrum, because even when I do think, it is impossible for me to move slowly. I don't do it when I drive, walk, or work.

So here it is, the holiday season. A time when many things have to be done. Presents need to be wrapped, packing needs to be completed for vacations, houses need to be cleaned for celebrations, and ends need to be tied up so there is a sense of freedom from what was, before delving into what needs to be. These are all menial tasks but when combined they can be overwhelming, especially if you take your time to think about completing them. My oh my, is all I can say-- and it is the one of very few things I don't need to say quickly.

What determines pace? Is it either genetic or it it geographic? My guess is a bit of both. It seems to me that people in the northeast move faster than people in the south or west. Especially people on the NY subway. However, most of my female cousins operate at a quick pace. I always used to say we were all genetically perfect advance people. And in fact, when I directed security for the 1980 Democratic Convention, I hired (without pay and for the glory of the nation and our grandparents) my cousins, and Marthena to work with me. Marthena is from Georgia but she was somehow able overcome the pace at which many Southern Belles seem to operate. (She has also overcome the Belle factor but not if she has to use it to get something done). I think her sister is the same so maybe it is genetic in some families.

As long as I brought up the subject of big garbage bags and the holidays, I might as well share this as more of an example of my inability to move slowly, and other people’s ability to adapt their pace. I have begun to pack my mothers stuff. Most of her clothing is too big or out of style—and my mother would never be anything less than stylish. Anyway, I packed about eight black garbage bags full of clothing and decided that in this, the season of giving I wanted to donate them to more than a dumpster that claimed to be a charity. Henry, the Super in our NY building said he would donate them to his church. So after we returned from Boston, I went out to NJ and loaded all the bags into the car—again moving quickly and this time in a torrential downpour. When I got back to the city I was lucky enough to park not far from the entrance to the building, but the doorman with an attitude was on duty, and when I carried the first big bag into the lobby he hardly looked up. It was clearly necessary to call in the big guns. “Gee Juan” I remarked, “These clothes are all for Henry (your supervisor) and I bet he would hate it if everything got ruined.” With that he jumped up from behind the desk and quickened, what is usually a turtle's pace, to get the stuff into some shelter. Sometimes pace is not only genetic and geographic, it is job dependent.

Anyway, maybe pace is a combination of threats, practice and genetics. Political Advancepeople don't have time to think through the hundreds of tasks that need to be completed for a political event. Once the planning is done and you have asked and re-asked the same questions about a million times (to be sure everything is in order –on the right track), and the the event has begun (events have a life of their own) the Advanceperson operates on auto pilot. The only thing anyone can do once the event begins is try to save it from any disasters – like President Clinton at the supermarket. And the pace at which you work somehow will define your ability to respond in a more than timely manner. Having worked that way for so many years, it is difficult to accommodate my family by not moving quickly, asking the same questions over and over and seriously driving them crazy.

Oh and here’s the ‘pace’ kicker, if someone dares to tell me to take it easy, I will put them through a wall—if not physically then certainly verbally. This does not make me a bad person. It makes me a nutcase. But it’s part of my charm – you just have to be quick enough to catch it. We’re just sayin...Iris

Friday, December 21, 2007

Weather or Not

We can always count on the weather. It will be there no matter what else disappears. When people think about weather they think inclement weather but that’s not what I mean. There is good weather and bad...that sounds too stark. There are rainstorms, hurricanes, twisters, dust storms, snow fall, sleet, ice storms, blizzards, fog, blazing sun storms, cool crisp breezes, wind storms, sunny days that make you smile. I’m sure I’m missing something but the point is that we cannot avoid the weather.

Weather can have an enormous impact on the economy and not just because someone might need an umbrella. But there are rain gear, wind gear, snow gear, sports gear for all the weather related activities, hats gloves, shoes, sweats, socks, underwear and on and on. And lest we forget all the equipment and assorted paraphernalia that are weather related.

There is an entire weather culture that starts with a look at a thermometer and progresses to radio listening, radio and television programming. People are serious about the weather. In fact, I remember that sometime in the 80’s one of the networks decided not to include weather reports and there was such a public outcry it was immediately reinstated. I like to know what it’s like outside but I only need about two minutes of any report. And, let’s get real, if you absolutely cannot go through a day without knowing what conditions exist outside, it is possible to open a door or window and find out.

At the beginning of the week I drove up to Plymouth to see the kids. The weather was OK but it had snowed two days before followed by a torrential downpour and the snow froze so there was ice every where, including the tops of cars and trucks. Driving was hazardous because people hadn’t bothered to go that extra step and clean off the “hard to reach/see parts.” It is impossible to describe the feeling one has when you see a big piece of ice simply dangling in the air, having been lifted off a speeding car, waiting to crash. Most of the time it just splits into tiny pieces on the road but often, it hits a car. It happened to us in 1970. We were living in Boston and for whatever reason we were a little bored and decided to drive to Jackson Heights for a pastry. Sometimes we drove to Coney Island for a hot dog—and they weren’t even that good. Yes, we were young and spontaneous and, like most kids in their twenties we felt immune from any harm. Anyway, sometime in the early evening it started to snow and we decided to head back to Boston. By the time we got on the Mass Pike the weather had degraded and the roads were treacherous—but we were penniless so we couldn’t stay in a motel and we didn’t want to pull off to the side of the road. We just wanted to get home.

At some point about ten miles from the entrance to the Pike I looked up and saw this flash of light twirling above the car. And then it started to fall. It fell so fast that we didn’t have time to swerve the car – which was good because we probably would have hit another vehicle – but it fell so fast and so hard that it came right through the middle of the windshield. If it had fallen 5” to either side, one of us would have died. We still didn’t stop because as dangerous as it was to drive in that weather it would have been worse to try to get over to the side of the hiway. We continued to drive without a windshield for at least 40 miles and finally when we reached the toll booth we paid the toll through the windshield not the window – it is best always to maintain a sense of humor in a disaster.

That was the beginning of my distaste for cold weather. I had been in Boston for about ten years and never felt an aversion to the winter but that episode marks the beginning of my bad weather attitude. It also marks the beginning of my inability to ride in a car in any relaxed way at any time during the cold. I always think there is some ice lurking about waiting to come at me again.

Anyway, my former husband said that I hated any weather and was in a bad mood for ten out of twelve months. He was close to right. But ten, out of twelve months in Boston and surrounding New England towns, the weather is horrendous. It is too hot for some and too cold for others. So my move south was predictable and preferable. Except when they predict snow in Virginia and within fifteen minutes there is no water, eggs. or milk to be found in any grocery. Or when the snow removal is a bit too biblical -- the Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away. But I love the seasons – spring and fall being favorites. It is unimaginable for me to think about living somewhere where there is just summer or just winter. (I guess I could live with just fall and spring, but once you lose the leaves what is there to look at). We have many friends in California and they love it—I love it as well but I just can’t get into celebrating with Santa and palm trees.

Sometimes weather related decisions don’t work out as planned. Because the weather, like political elections, are unpredictable. We took Mom to live in Seattle because they have a mild winter and, of course, this year there have been rainstorms and snow storms and wind storms and cold—so she hasn’t been outside for two months. The only consolation is that it hasn’t been any better at her house in NJ. Last week when I went to check on the house there was so much ice that I literally skated across her front yard, and leapt up the ramp holding tightly to the railing in order to get into the house. So you never know. And I guess there aren’t many options about dealing with something that’s as inevitable as the weather, so I’ll just ready my hat, gloves, galoshes, sweater, jacket, scarf, and flannels, sweatshirt, sunscreen, sunglasses, swim suit, skis and goggles, and hope for the best. We’re just sayin...Iris

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Your Personal Reality

There are so many things to blob about today, I don’t know if I should talk about the weather, the family (our grandson is delicious) spirituality, or politics. Oh, let’s take a leap -- of faith and just see where this goes. As long as there was a mention of faith and it’s Christmas, let’s start there. What the heck are these political candidates thinking (talk about a leap)? There has never been a time, that I can remember, when Presidential Candidates competed for who was closer to God, who loved the baby Jesus more, and who had the best Christmas commercial. Huckabee’s “let’s be nice to each other” being more of the same, Hillary’s being so condescending and Giuliani’s being a little too much theater.

Commercials have transitioned into events, instead of sound bytes/bites. But they remain not as colorful as events (we used to call events campaign ‘hits’ which was much more descriptive – so I’ll stick with that). The Clintons and Magic Johnson did a supermarket/shopper ‘hit’ on Tuesday. It was every advanceperson’s nightmare. It seems the ex-President wandered off while Hillary and Magic were talking to a crowd imported by the campaign. (The press were supposed to be watching—you know the old photo op). Most of the media stopped listening attentively and followed Bill, leaving the press opportunity/mini-conference without any media and just a few stunned shoppers, who didn’t expect to find their supermarket encumbered by a candidate and a former basketball star. It was chaos until someone went and collected the President and brought him back to where he was supposed to be. People just running hither and thither (my mother would say like a chicken with it’s head cut off... yech). I love when this happens because it keeps a campaign in touch with reality, and illustrates that there is no way to control or predict what’s going to happen with anything political.

Speaking of reality... What is the nature of your personal reality? This is an actual question I was asked by an actual person while in San Francisco for the Democratic Convention in ‘84. No, it was not asked by a political colleague. It was asked by a friend of Pam's during a period of time when she was living in a Sufi community - she is still a Sufi but lives with her mother in a two family house in Boonton NJ. You can be a Sufi no matter who you are or where you live. There are no rules in the spiritual approach to the universe in which we are a part-but not a very big part.

After the Udall campaign ended in 1976, I was having a difficult time and needed a place to find peace—and maybe myself. It’s unclear how this happened, since we didn’t have cell phones and Pam lived in a Sufi commune, in a geodesic dome, in the middle of a forest in Woodstock NY, but we connected. (It was the real Woodstock, but by then they had picked up the trash so it was both magical and pristine). She invited me to bring Seth and visit with her for a few days, to join in the music, dance and ongoing spiritual conversation. It was both relaxing and reinvigorating. Talk about culture shock and personal reality. I had been 24/7 darting around the country, never stopping to have a thought about anything but trying to elect a President, while these lovely free thinking people had been thinking about they fit into the universe. Talk about feeling small.

Anyway, we had a blissful time. Seth danced with the Sufis and sang “Rock My Soul in the Bosom of Abraham” non stop for days. We spent all our time just having time to be together and “lay back’. It was more than wonderful—it was mystical. Unfortunately, when we returned home I packed to go back on the road for the general election -- that was big part of my personal reality. And so the saga goes on, but it wasn’t until 1984 that I was confronted once again with any questions about my personal reality.

When Pam’s friend asked me the question, I think I gave him some smart ass answer, as would have been my style. I didn’t know how to, or want to, answer that question. I didn’t even know what it meant. I had nature and personal and even reality, but not all combined. A few days ago Pam asked if I remembered when the question was posed. And I did remember, but I hadn’t thought about it for years. And now, when I might reflect, I have to go have breakfast with good friends, go to the fitness club, develop strategy for my book “So You Think You Can Be President” (don’t forget) and finish our Christmas cards – Hey, I find that the nature of my personal reality has not changed much in the last 30 years. We’re just sayin...Iris

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

It Sucks to be Us, Sort Of

It Sucks to be Us. Well Sort of.

(Editor’s note: this was written on a campaign bus at 8:15am, and posted at 8:45am, all on the way to the day’s first event in Iowa. You gotta love wireless!)

Check out the schedule of the “anyone” for President campaign and you’ll see a couple of things. Once you read the first entry, something like “since we have a 3 hour bus ride and we need to be at the event by 9am,.. well you do the math..” you start backing the clock up, and you realize you’ll need to be up by 5:30 am. I realize for most people that doesn’t seem really draconianly bad, but for someone who constantly re-calculates how much he would want to be paid to host the Today show (up at 2, limo at 2:20, office at 2:45, work till 6:30, make up at 6:40, on air at 7:00) –it would have to be at least 9 bucks an hour – there is something which we photographers deal with on a regular basis that proves our lives suck. The good Lord, in his bountiful munificence is basically our lighting technician, and wow, does he do a great job of it.

Light, as most photographers know, is what our lives are about. Some is strobe, some is incandescent (i.e. a regular ole house lamp), some might be the new curly-que fluorescents, but in the main, the big guy upstairs is in charge of the REAL light. The sun, the giant source of all that outside and window-lit goodness, remains the great enigmatic, sometimes quirky essence of what we do (photo-graphy = writing with light.) This morning as we gathered at the press bus at 6, and moped around briefly (we’re all, journalists and advance people, mopers of the first degree) getting on the bus, next to the several seats worth of bagels, coffee, cereal, Moonpies, and cream cheese, the general melancholy of early risers made itself felt. Whining about sleeping (we whine well too, let me add) on the nearly 3 hours drive gave us something we could all share in common misery.

About 7:30, as I had just finished showing a few photo colleagues in row 5 and 6 some of my 2004 campaign pictures, I turned and looked out the window, catching the briefest glimpse of the rising sun just beginning to poke it’s head over the horizon. It was a quarter of a disc, dark deep orange, filtered by a thick layer of Iowa fog over an empty, snowy farm acreage. It was something. “Wow,” I uttered, “ check this!” I grabbed a camera and immediately started shooting, followed seconds later by two other photogs, and the rest of the scribes and bloggers, who were equally adoring the stark, yet powerful scape. Yes, it does suck to be us. We photogs do need to be where the light is. And HE has made sure that if you want it, you need to get up early and stay late. Summers are admittedly worse.. (up at 4:30am, shoot from 5:30 till 8:00, back in bed by 9:00.. then repeat it that evening at 7:00 till 9:00) Winters at least cut you a little break. You can be up as late as 7 or 7:30 and still see something startlingly wonderful. The power of those bars of sunlight breaking through a string of trees, a silo, a farm house, any obstacle which might bend or disrupt the light, is something to behold. Texture of terrain, heightened by the low-angle raking light of a sunrise or sunset, can be astonishing in its revealed detail. But be there early or it doesn’t work. You can’t re-construct it. You can’t can’t fake it. The dispersed beams of sunlight through a forest of tiny branches, that which creates what we lovingly refer to as “God rays” have a mind of their own and seem to run on schedules which man is not privy to. You can show up one day, and nothing special will be evident. But get complacent even for a moment, and you set yourself up for something which you won’t want to miss. So, yeah it does suck to be us. We have to get up early and be there. If you decide to be a photographer, just know that light doesn’t wait for you. It will be there when it wants to be, and doesn’t really care if you’re hungry, have theatre tickets, need to pick up the laundry, all human endeavors which need to be taken care of.

But don’t ever forget that getting up early, for all its suckiness, will also give you a chance to remember why you were born, why the world can be so beautiful, why, when you wonder what the real “meaning of life” is, the answer can be as simple as looking out the window of the bus, speeding through the Iowa countryside. It sucks to be us, but I’ll happily take it. We’re just sayin…. David

Bookend: at 5:15, on our way back to Des Moines... the same sun goes down..

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Who to Endorse?

The Des Moines Register endorsed Hillary Clinton in what I think was a kind of a ‘damning with faint praise’ accounting -- Here’s what they said:
Readiness to lead sets her apart from a constellation of possible stars in her party, particularly Barack Obama, who also demonstrates the potential to be a fine President,” the newspaper’s endorsement editorial concludes. “When Obama speaks before a crowd, he can be more inspirational than Clinton. Yet, with his relative inexperience, it’s hard to feel as confident he could accomplish the daunting agenda that lies ahead.” The Boston Globe doesn’t seem concerned about ‘experience’ (I agree with whomever said that unless you have been President you can not be experienced in being President—or was that me?) They endorsed Barack Obama and here’s what that editorial board felt: "It is true that all the other Democratic contenders have more conventional resumes, and have spent more time in Washington," the board wrote. "But that exposure has tended to give them a sense of government's constraints. Obama is more open to its possibilities."
John Edwards, who won the Des Moine Register endorsement in 2004 – which virtually launched his successful campaign for Vice President, has had a few local newspapers say he was a good guy.

The Des Moines Register also endorsed John McCain in this way: "the iconoclastic senator from Arizona has earned his reputation for straight talk by actually leveling with voters, even at significant political expense." I must admit I don’t know what that means but since people don’t read more than the name, it doesn’t really matter.

I guess, judging by their less than enthusiastic ‘go get um’ prose, the Register decided to go with the Senate candidates who had name recognition without Oprah’s help — which is as good as any other reason.

The question becomes, do endorsements have any effect on the outcome of an election. Can a newspaper editorial board sway a voter. I don’t know the answer to the question but I think, when people read newspapers, it might have been a help. In a former blob we were saying how celebrity endorsements don’t really help but they can hurt. Should we consider other elected officials celebrities. Do we think that any Democratic candidates are surprised or upset because that “political star’ Lieberman endorsed McCain. I’m sure the seven people who still think we should be in Iraq are going to be waiting in line for the polls to open on election day but does that say more about the Senator and loyalty than it does about the Candidate? These are questions I’m merely posing. They cannot be answered unless we break through the voting booth curtains and watch how every newspaper reading Oprah or Lieberman groupie casts their ballot.
It would seem to me that the battle of the endorsements is no longer relevant to an independent thinking (especially) young voter. For example, in 2004, Bruce Springsteen endorsed John Kerry. Straight from a concert, he walked 1000 students over to city hall to register to vote—and they did. But then not many of them voted. I have a sense that young voters depend on technology to introduce them to candidates. They see commercials on Youtube, they go on the Facebook and talk to friends, or they text message information they may have gleaned from some other source. But the next question is, will they take all the stuff they know, walk themselves to a polling place and punch a chad or pull a lever—or will they take the time to vote absentee? Only time will tell.

The 2008 election will be won by women who have real issues concerns. Right or left, they want to have a voice and the Presidential election will give them one. From what I read, women who are Oprah fans were uncomfortable with her endorsement of Obama – but that may just be more media babble. I think it doesn’t matter who endorses whom. I think what matters is that people believe what candidates say without the filter of another voice…[Editors note: does C-SPAN ring a bell?] I’m in that, “who cares what anyone else thinks just, sit down and shut up” place. We’re just sayin…Iris

Monday, December 17, 2007

And one day we’ll all understand...

I’m riding on a campaign bus in Iowa, speeding smoothly across gently whitened farmland whose snowfall yesterday has left an artist’s touch across the soft rolling hills. I’m riding on a campaign bus, tears flowing like that snow, as I listen to my iTunes in a attempt to make everyone else think I’m trying to be serious journalist like each of them. I’m riding in a campaign bus, trying to digest the news that Dan Fogelberg the wonderful songwriter and singer died of prostate cancer yesterday. He was 56 much too young years old. I suppose people pass all the time, contemporaries of ours, the known ones being in the fields of sport, entertainment, and perhaps politics. I can’t remember weeping at the passing of a singer before, though, even thinking back to John Lennon. I suppose Lennon’s horrible end was much more of a news event, and in that regard I must have internalized what I, a kid of the 60s felt. Fogelberg, five years my junior (he was only a 7th grader the year I graduated from High School!) touched another chord.

There are a few songs in the mySpace of my mind which register as real moments, for things that I’m not even sure I can tell you exactly what they are. Music can be such a subtle and sublime thing, and each of us takes tunes to heart which touch extremely personal, sometimes fragile memories of something dear to us. I know that walking through the Quang Tri press center, a dorm like arrangement the Army set up for the throngs of scribes in the 1971 Laos invasion, is when “Fire and Rain” came to mean something to me. The helicopter I’d tried to board – but turned down for -- with photographers Larry Burrows, Henri Huet, Kent Potter, and Keisaburo Shimamoto had been lost that day, shot down by North Vietnamese gunners, and the emptiness and tragedy of the moments following that news were colored forever by sweet sorrow of “Fire and Rain.”

Other moments in my life which seem destined to be wrapped around a lyric or a tune come back at the strangest times. During one of those difficult periods of courtship when Iris and I were in the “off” part of an “off and on” year, we both kept coming back to a Jeffrey Osborne song, each of us wondering as he did in “Don’t You Get So Mad” -- ‘ Do you have to get so mad???’ Every time we would end up at odds, just asking that question, even if never as cool as Jeffrey did it, seemed to get us over the bump in the road.

In the mid 70’s, once I had moved to New York, I often walked home from the uptown Contact office, or from Time-Life, passing through the record stores of Times Square late at night (this is pre-Disney), fighting your way for nearly every step between the gadflys, hoodlums, pimps, and theater goers, to see what the new LPs were. During that time I would sometimes buy a record on a whim, either having heard a lyric or two on the radio, or just take a guess based on a cover design. I’m not even sure what the first Fogelberg song was that I remember. I know he was a kid, early 20s. Yet nearly every song I came to hear from him had such a rich personal sense of discovery or maturity to it. Other than athletes, it remains rare to find someone so young that their talent just jumps right out and makes you sing along, sharing for that moment the poetic ectasy of a thought so beautifully stated that you can only give yourself up to it.

On first listen, some of his songs seemed a little schmaltzy, but rare was the tune that didn’t work its way into my soul. “Same Old Lang Syne”, a song at once so personal and universal, that every love ache you have ever felt comes back in imagery that is convincing, and beautiful. “Living Legacy”, a tribute to his dad the bandleader and music teacher always makes me think of my dad, Ted Burnett, who, like me - unable to play a note - nonetheless passed on a sense of optimism and goodness in humanity (oh hell, let’s just call it Pollyanna) which I wear today. Even “Part of the Plan” whose lyricism and melody I would be hard pressed to explain, draws me to its “One day we’ll all understand..” view of the world. Maybe this is the kind of moment that iTunes was meant for. The passing of a poet of our time, and if you’re not sure who I’m talking about, well, go listen to a few of his songs. Enlightenment is cheap. Just before the bus left Des Moines, I got up from my 8th row seat, and walked forward where a couple of writers from the Post and the Times were sitting next to the trip tech guy. All of them were at least fifty. In the back of the bus, near and behind where I’m sitting are a team of ‘campaign embeds’ young writers, bloggers and videographers none of whom is over 35. For a moment I had to share the loss with another – a grown up. Each of the four of us agreed – what a sad loss it was. H from the Post said he, too, had several albums at home. I’m sure by album he means a 33rpm LP.

The bus is still rolling, and my iPod is dutifully engaged on “Longer Than” .. “longer than there’ve been fishes in the oceans… longer than there’ve been stars up in the heavens.. I’ve been in love with you…” We’re just sayin… David

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Public Transportation

Jimmy Carter had been President for almost a year when he took his first trip abroad. I was detailed from the State Department to the White House to advance the trip. Advancing a President is much different than advancing a Candidate for numbers of reasons, not the least of which is you have military support and you are treated with diplomatic courtesy. At least that was the case in those years, now no one wants to be identified as an American diplomat—thank you seven years of George Bush. I had been divorced for two days when I boarded the plane to New Delhi India, where I stayed for ten minutes and then was reassigned to Paris. Oh poor me. In those years the dollar was strong and you could buy gifts for your family without having to sell your first born. But that’s not what I wanted to blob about.

It was three years before I actually went to India and stayed for three weeks. It was also a diplomatic trip but this time for the “people to people” diplomacy effort—which, as you can see by our relationships around the world, the State Department hated. But that’s not the point (I really do have a point). After I visited Calcutta I had an epiphany, which was that before anyone can become a journalist, they should be made to spend a month in Calcutta. And it’s not only about the poverty. It is about the color, the smells (which range from delicious spices to acrid body burnings), the sounds and the sights. You cannot go to Calcutta and stand apart from what’s going on. You are forced to get involved with all the life you see on the street.

I had another epiphany yesterday. It was about the New York City public transportation system. We have talked about some of this before, but this week I bought a weekly pass instead of a per ride ticket. For whatever reason, I have felt compelled to use the system no matter where I go. For a while I had difficulty with my pass and the bus. I just couldn’t put it in correctly but finally a patient (and adorable) bus driver gave me insertion lessons. Doesn’t that sound obscene—no such luck. Anyway, I have been making the most of my pass, but this is not without some issues and lessons. For example, yesterday at rush hour the subway was very, very crowded and there were two young women who got into a “space intrusion,” quite hostile conversation. It went something like “Stop pushing me.” And in response “I’m not pushing you -- if you put down your bag I wouldn’t be knocking into it.” And in response, “Why should I put my bag down and inconvenience all the other people just so you can remain untouched.” This makes it sound a little less hostile than it was, but I finally intervened by saying, “Girls, let’s get in the holiday spirit, it’s a crowded train, let’s all just be cool.” For a minute I thought they might haul off and hit me, but then I realized the train was so crowded that they would never be able to lift their arms. Nevertheless, I started to think this might be a career calling—like I could just ride the subways and calm things down. Then late last night, I took a bus across town and transferred to the subway. It was the 4,5,6, line. The 4 and 5 being express and the 6 – a local - which gets me two blocks closer. I just missed a 6 so I walked down the platform and noticed there were two guys who were standing on the stairs between the 6 and the 4 & 5. I asked if they were waiting for both trains and they said they were and would board whichever came first. “Why don’t you watch for the 6”, one of them said to me, “And we’ll watch for the 4 and 5.”

The 4 came first and we all raced down the stairs. We were very close to the first car so I jumped on without noticing that all the other people waiting with me, avoided this car. As soon as I got on I realized that this was the car the homeless got on late at night so they could sleep and ride the entire night. The smell was as bad as the body burnings in Calcutta, and I was stuck there for one stop. I raced off the train at 59th and threw myself into the fresh air, happy to walk the two extra blocks.

Relevant flashback -- In 1976 the Udall campaign ran out of money and we were forced to take all the press and VIP’s on public transportation because we couldn’t afford to rent campaign vehicles. We told the media it was an example of the way everyone could conserve energy. They might have believed us—but it was unlikely, they just liked Mo so they didn’t write about the lack of funds. Anyway, it was a disaster. We got lost on the subway, took the wrong buses and found ourselves in a neighborhood where no one in the campaign had ever been. We happened upon an outdoor church service which we turned into a political rally, basically stole the church’s chorus bus and got the press back to the hotel late and over tired. But, I am happy to report—we lost no lives. (It’s another blob).

I guess I should have realized way back then, that working people, without large sums of money, did not have an easy time. But I didn’t have to take public transportation to work and I was too busy trying to figure out how to keep the campaign alive. It all came back yesterday after hours and hours above and under the streets of NY.

Anyway, (I used a great many of these tonight but the transitions necessitated repetition). When I got home the epiphany caught up with me. Every person running for President should be made to spend a day riding the NYC subways and buses. No cars, limo’s or security—OK maybe one cop. But no one shielding them from the reality of what people all over the country (NY is just the most complicated and therefore a good test) have to go through everyday to get to work, or to take their children to appointments or just to buy groceries at a reasonable cost. What people who can’t afford an alternative must do to survive. Spending time on public transportation provides some real insights and education – one from which most politicians would benefit. We’re just sayin...Iris

People Who Need People

About ten years ago I was watching Sunday Morning on CBS and Bill Geist did a piece about a group of people in New York who take a singing workshop for 4 weeks and then they perform at a cabaret. It was a Geist piece, so he studied and performed with the rest of the class and it was very funny. One of the people in the class was a woman named Laura Slutsky. “Slutsky” as we all call her is an amazing talent. “With a name like Slutsky” she says putting on a clown nose and jester’s hat, “what did you expect me to do.”

We met Slutsky at some black tie reception at the Corcoran Gallery. She had either been on the Charlie Rose Show or she was there to meet Charlie for a blind date—it’s such a long time ago who can remember –but she was with our friends Pat and Marianne Oliphant and so we all connected. Laura was clearly not from Washington. When people from Washington go to an event they dress in high boring. There is rarely any color in the room or the clothing. To say people are staid in their dress is like saying snow is sometimes cold. I mean you could get arrested for wearing white. And there was Slutsky with her flaming red hair and a stunning bright blue frock. (Frock is another one of those great words that people never use anymore). She was breathtaking and I knew she was meant to be our friend, so we insisted she join us for dinner and then forever. But it didn’t happen that way and after about five years, we lost touch. Until I saw her in Geist’s piece about “The Singing Experience”.

At first I didn’t see her but I heard a voice that sounded incredibly familiar and then when I looked up there she was—our Slutsky on TV. She sang and danced and told a short story about her life and how events led her to the class. She had been having a hard time in her business –she produces (identifies, interviews, and edits) commercials with real people. As she says “I go into someone’s home, I look in their closets, I clean their toilets, I walk their pets and then I ask them about dentures.” And she needed something about which she could be proud and would give her the confidence to feel good about her life and herself. She had always been an entertainer without a stage and with this class she found a platform.

After we reconnected, she invited us to one of her performances and we went, not knowing what to expect. The audience was almost entirely made up of people who knew one of the ten or so performers. It was a safe place for the aspiring singers. Linda, who started the business, is truly a talent. Not only as a performer but as a mentor and guide. She not only gives people who may or may not have any talent, a venue to stand up in public and do something that they always wanted to do, but never had the courage. One of the loveliest things that happens during the evening, is that each performer does a fantasy introduction of the performer who follows. So before people appear they have already been introduced as world wide entertaining success.

Anyway, we were very proud of Slutsky, who is truly talented, and we were amazed at the family that Linda had built with this class. Last night I was sitting with two women who had taken the class and who were, on or off the stage, very much a part of this musical family. Sometimes, you may have noticed, I am somewhat cynical about life –or, if you prefer-- old glass half full. But not last night. Here were ten people who had a variety of jobs, (an accountant, a legal secretary, a priest, a model, a professor) who really wanted to sing. Some of them expressed hopes that they could make it a career (not many were that talented, although one woman had boobs big enough to take your mind off the fact that her voice was more than lacking) but that wasn’t the point. They all swallowed their vulnerabilities and stood up in front of strangers and sang from their hearts – without worrying if they were good or bad. And more importantly without caring about being judged.

There was no bull-ticky on that stage. There were no lies about reality or opportunity. Here were people who aspired to be recognized at something they loved to do and so they just stood up and did it. As a person who has tried to inspire young people by giving them the confidence to be who they want to be, it was absolutely inspirational. There was an honesty in those performances that I wish existed in politics.

When I was fifteen I had a very bad bronchitis and had to be out of school for weeks. It was a time when we didn’t have television in our rooms and I had to stay in bed, so what was there to do. I read a magazine that I think was called “Your Hit Parade.” It gave you the words to the 10 most popular songs of the week. My voice was always mediocre, but since I wasn’t going to sing to anyone, I memorized all the words to a number of songs and sang my heart out – in bed. Anyway, I learned the words to my favorite -- “Secret Love”, (sung by Doris Day) -- which I have belted on the top the top of my lungs. Slutsky asked me if I would want to do it for “The Singing Experience”. I declined because I didn’t do it to sing, I did it for my friends for laughs—I did many things for laughs—and still do. And over the years I have continued to sing the song badly but with great assurance. Still, it gives me joy because it makes people laugh. Last night when I watched the performances I was not envious of their performance, but of the joy it gave them to be on that stage. There was such love and passion for the music and delivering it. It made me wish there was that kind of love and passion in what our politicians do. We’re just sayin...Iris

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Paging Mr. Success, Report to the Studio

I believe this will be the quickest blob I will have had the pleasure to have done. (11:23pm start time). People ask “where do you get the time to do this” and frankly I don’t know other than having a combination of ADD, insomnia, a love of hot tea late at night, and thanks to Mr. Stewart (Olympus Junior High School, 1960) – a credible touch typist. My fingers fairly fly across the keys, and though I’m prone to more errors than Mr. Stewart would allow, at least the thoughts make it on screen. Tonights blob, written under the gun of two other deadlines, and a desire to get things moving in my studio, is a purely psychological salve. Salve.. you know that ointment stuff.. sticky, smelly, gooey, which you would put on a skinned knee after baseball or kick the can, instead of calling an attorney, a pediatrician, and a shrink like a parent would do now. Some of you might actually have sold a salve.. it was advertised in the comic books in the 1950s, and if you sold 100 cans, you could earn a swell gift, like a model plane, a magic set, or a volume of Classics Illustrated. White Cloverine Brand Salve was the item, and I suppose that somehow with selling all that salve, someone made money somewhere, but I’d sure love to see the Business Plan for that company’s comic book promotions. Or did they even HAVE Business Plans in the 1950s? I personally chose to sell American Greeting Cards.. if you sold a dozen boxes of them, rendered most of the money to the company, they would also send you a swell gift. Though in my case, there was a distinct lack of marketing Salve-y going on. I tried selling in the nearby ‘subdivision’ which, while at the time – age 12 – I just thought that meant “ a helluva lot of houses” and ergo a helluva lot of potential customers, in fact it probably meant “people who work hard for their money, gathered enough to buy a house, but likely don’t need your all purpose greeting cards.” Too bad. Of the dozen, I sold one box to my folks, and one to Steve somethingOrOthers’ mom. Any money I might have made went into sending the cards back to Pennsylvania to the Company.

A lesson learned early on about salesmanship.

Tonight, I want to celebrate crossing the hump. Ten days ago we had this Pods trailer delivered to the house, emptied the better (or worse) part of two or three rooms of stuff into it, and started dealing with the resultant mess & emptiness in order to reconfigure my office out of the basement dungeon, and into the lovely (but messy) studio, upstairs where there are even windows. It has been a bitch of a time. And that was the good part. Not until last Friday did I start to think that it might actually work: I bought a set of plastic bins at The Container Store (a yuppie place in very yuppie Clarenden, which I’d vowed never to shop in) whose gear was more than competitive with Walmart and Target. I started sorting batches (well, sorting is a strong word for it…) of pictures, tear sheets, slides—oh the HUMANITY of it! – and into the plastic bins they went, semi grouped, waiting for me and some lucky future Corcoran intern to go thru, edit, and scan the stuff. Many bins, many boxes. But it began to make order out of chaos. All you have to do is remember what the Potsdamer Platz in Berlin looked like in 1989 (i.e. western Utah desert), and now, it is the most moderne and fashionable part of Europe. It IS possible to affect change.

So onwards we go.. and having taken this break to make a cup of tea before hitting the last of the basement shelfs for stripping and bin-ning, I want you all to know that success has a million fathers, and failure is an orphan. Well, at 11:38, I want to say that I think we may have found the missing parent. Yea, over there, behind the ladder. We’re just sayin…David

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Blather and Change

My favorite part of the Presidential campaigns has become the advisor-to-the-candidate-blather. If you watch MSNBC they have more blatherers than the other stations so if you want to see them, this is your best bet. Today they continued to spew useless information about what was going to happen in Iowa and New Hampshire. They know nothing about what’s going to happen. No one knows what’s going to happen because that’s the nature of politics. For example, I think it is possible that Hillary will come in 3rd in Iowa. Anything is possible and as a blobber I can say anything better than the blatherers or at least twice as fast. If Obama continues to gain momentum and Edwards moves people with the family decision (the one where they got very bad news but they decided to go on with their lives), victory for Hillary may not be a sure thing. OK, but the blather I enjoyed most today was when a Democratic advisor said to a Republican advisor, “I don’t understand why with all the fighting between your candidates, you don’t just elect McCain.” What in the world does that mean? In case she hadn’t noticed, there have been shots fired between Democrats as well, so who do we go back to, Wes Clark?

When I was just a wee thing starting out in Presidential politics, my friend and mentor Paul Tully told me two things I will not forget. Actually he told me lots of things that were unforgettable but not fit for sharing. Anyway, the things were, ‘you never know how someone is going to vote’— it is never a sure thing because people are never predictable. You can make some good guesses, you can get people you know are your voters (or told you they were) to the polls, but since you are not in the voting booth, you will not know the outcome of an election until it’s over. And given what we’ve been through in the last two elections you may not even know then. The other thing he told me was in story form. It was about a Congressman who, having won in his district consistently by 80% of the vote, after 20 years he only won by 50% of the vote. When a newsperson called his district office to ask what happened, the response from some person who answered the phone, tentatively, was that the Congressman had died six months before. You can never predict what the voting public will do. I rest my case.

But not my thoughts... It is also possible that Huckabee will knock Mitt out of the ballpark. I never use baseball analogies but with a name like Mitt it was hard to resist.
If Mitt doesn’t make it, it helps Giuliani, so if I were Rudy and I was in a caucus state, I would do my best to make Huckabee look plausible. Of course, this could be a mistake as well, because eventually Huckabee and Jesus (who apparently is working on his campaign) may make anyone who is not a Baptist or an Evangelical Christian a little nervous. I mean look at the choices the Republicans have – it almost makes me feel sorry for them... only almost. Of course, there are those who would say the same thing about the Dems, I am just not among them—but that’s why MSNBC can fill hours with people who don’t know much of anything. And talk about nothing with great assurance that whatever they say is interesting and maybe even true. Isn’t it poetic, and much cheaper than paying for a mini-series?

Joe Trippi was on this morning. You remember Joe from the last Presidential election. He’s the guy that appeared to move Howard Dean all the way to the top – until the primaries, when John Kerry was actually at the top. Joe is working for Edwards and when asked why he was working for Edwards this time (since he had said so many horrible things about him last time), Trippi (had there been a camera he would have looked directly into it) actually said that he always thought Edwards was a winner and it certainly was the case this time. I’m not sure what that meant. The consultants never answer questions directly – it’s not what they learned in their training sessions, but to answer in a way where you conveniently forget what you did and said -- and it’s all recorded somewhere, is almost unbelievable. You see I said almost. What is amazing is that Presidential candidates and staff can just lie about whatever and then move on. I have often wondered why political people (especially in the White House) don’t just say, “I am going to be truly honest about this: I will be lying about everything I say. So feel free to go on with your lives thinking things are working and will get better (because that’s what I lied about), but don’t really expect anything to change.”

Change is a flexible word isn’t it? It can mean coins that you carry in your pocket, money you get back after a purchase, or a transformation, revolution, or alteration. When Presidential candidates use it they want you to think that all change is good. (They never carry wallets or money so you know they are not talking about coinage). But change is not always good. For example, one day you might be making a nice living doing whatever and the next day you lose your house, lose your job and wind up as a homeless person. I met a 70 year old woman the other day who was standing on a street corner, asking for money because she was hungry. Most people passed her by as if she were one of the thousands of invisible, some gave her some change and commented that she was probably going to use it to get drunk and I watched and listened and finally I gave her a dollar. She thanked me and told me that it wasn’t always like this but things had ‘changed’ when her husband got sick and lost his job and the bills piled up and then he died leaving her with all the debt. She had no other family, lost her house and went on welfare but it wasn’t enough. So she started to beg. Change was not good for her.

The candidates are all offering solutions to important issues like poverty, high costs of health care, and better education. Notice I didn’t mention immigration or gay marriage – God seems to be directing those efforts. But we don’t know where the truth ends and the lie begins or vice-versa. There is a website that does look at what candidates are saying and they research the fact from fiction, but how many people are going to take the time to look up the truth? Not many I’m afraid.

Anyway, I no longer watch cable television news expecting to learn anything. I watch it for the entertainment value. I am sure that during Christmas people in Iowa won’t be paying much attention to the candidates, but we don’t have to worry because there will always be blathering about the election – that won’t change. But I guess we can always have one change that is good, and that is to just take it upon ourselves to change –the station.
We’re just sayin...Iris

Sunday, December 09, 2007

That Ole Holiday Spirit

Last Tuesday we had a planning meeting for our 40th College reunion. We all sat around telling one another how good we looked. And we do look pretty good. And we had a great time. Sue, one of the great funny people, really nailed why we had such a good time. She said it was because with this group we didn’t have to pretend we were younger than we are. It is stressful always hoping people will think you’re ten years your own junior—is that right? I think the other part is that the old friends we see only on occasion don’t have any idea about the baggage we carry. They don’t know our children, our work, the general trial and tribulations of our lives. They know and remember us from before we had any baggage and , although they are willing to learn about problems we may have had, that’s not the way they see us. Anyway, we toasted to ourselves for about 3 hours and we left feeling quite warm.

Maybe you remember that Kerry and I opened a joint checking account for joint entertainment purposes. We had the maiden voyage of the Debit Card last week. We journeyed to the Upper East Side – she lives West and I live Midtown—but there’s a cute French restaurant that, although, not our favorite, has good food and nice service. The only issue is that they have a live Jazz band, which is not as good as it is loud. But we had a wonderful time – as is usually the case. After dinner she walked west to find a cab and I walked east to take the subway. But when I got to 2nd Ave, there was a bus right on the corner and going my way, so I got on. Normally, I don’t take the bus because it is so slow. But I wasn’t in a rush. There is only one way to explain about the bus. When you work in DC, people who live in Maryland are different than people who live in Virginia. On the surface we all look the same, but we’re not. It’s the same thing with people who live in Westchester and people who live in New Jersey. I can’t explain exactly what makes us different, but we are. It’s the same thing with people who take the subway and those who prefer the bus. And although there are those who claim the subway is not safe at night, the buses are no picnic and, in addition, because you are above ground, they are well lit and in your face. In other words, you cannot miss how nuts the nuts are – on the subway they go sit in the corner. It’s what makes NY a colorful place. Last night ‘Davis’ and I took the bus again, (we let him out of the dungeon for the weekend) and it’s much more fun when there are two of you.

And speaking of yesterday (another one of those transitions), Oprah went to Iowa and talked about why she was working for Obama. Actually, she didn’t say exactly why and she did mention that when she looked out she saw a cross section of America—I doubt it since almost the entire audience was white, but I guess the lights were bad and the place was cavernous. Having worked with a number of celebs who appear on the campaign trail, I can honestly say that she didn’t do anything to hurt his candidacy. Her appearance would have been more effective had her speech had been targeted to women and blacks (both constituencies Hillary needs), because it would have sent a message about how competitive the campaign is going to be. But she’ll be much more directed by the time she gets to New Hampshire. Celebrities don’t usually help, but they can hurt if they are perceived as polarizing—like Barbra Streisand. What was interesting was that the Clinton campaign had three generations of Clinton women on the trail and the media compared their appearance with that of Oprah. I may be overstating here, but I just don’t think it’s the same thing. Oprah is a star. She has had an enormous impact on women’s reading and shopping habits. Maybe star is not the right word. She is a phenomenon. She has worked very hard to achieve the status of most important woman (not elected) in America. Mrs. Rodham is a mother. Chelsea is a lovely young woman but she didn’t earn her celebrity—she was born into it. It’s a first that the three of them campaigned together but I don’t really think women, who are struggling with the expenses of life—food, health care, education, would have paid for that ticket. It’s not quite like seeing three generations of Dubroffs, but then I think we would be much more colorful—somewhere between the Clintons and Oprah, but we don’t give her level of gifts anymore—which, by the way, she mentioned in her speech.

Speaking of gifts, there’s a store I have come to love called ‘Steve and Barry’s’. They have t-shirts, outerwear, college crap and terrific baby clothes. They are the only store that carries the “Bitten” collection (Sarah Jessica Parker's stuff), “Amanda Bines wear” and there is a new line but I don’t remember who’s it is. Anyway, when I called to check on an item they were supposed to get in, the call went to India. It wasn’t until I said I wanted an item at the Manhattan store, and they asked “where is Manhattan?” that I was clever enough to figure out they were not located in the US. This happened immediately after I was trying to deal with an online payment for Mom’s Universal credit card, and I was connected to the Philippines. My years as a diplomat, taught me many things, the most important being that cultural differences between people of different nations really do exist. So when I tried to tell the service person that my Mom hadn't received a bill on line - the service person was quite insistent that it was sent and maybe it went to spam (which meant there were finance and late charges) but it wasn't their problem. I mean. She repeated it maybe nine times despite my attempt to resolve the bill. In desperation I demanded to speak to a supervisor and was then connected to someone in the US -- who gave me bad info but resolved the finance issue. People who you deal with out of the country are not bad people, but they just don't operate the same way we do -- not unlike, subway-bus people or Maryland-Virginia. There are just those subtle differences that prevent productive communication.

And speaking of yesterday, and people from all over the world, there were thousands of them viewing the tree in Rockefeller Center yesterday. I think they must have changed the lights because it is much brighter and more beautiful than years before - and I even took a picture. We're just sayin...Iris

Friday, December 07, 2007

"Love you, Bye!"

All the experts say not to leave the TV on or drink too much if you’re trying to sleep. Mostly, I ignore the experts but sometimes when I can’t fall asleep (and I think it’s because of sound, light, and maybe drunken stupor) I listen to a book on tape. Last night was one of those times. But when I fell asleep I had a dream that the earphones went into my brain and even when I took them off, and shut down the CD player, Harry Potter and his friends were still talking to me. It was a heinous situation. Me and Harry, connected forever, yet never finding out what the outcome was of the final book because it just kept playing disc 10 in my head. But thank God I woke up and that ended. And speaking of endings (nice transition huh), I have a difficult time knowing the most appropriate way to end an e-mail or a letter.

When I say appropriate I mean with people who you know and like but with whom you have no relationship. Or with people you want to get to know but don’t want to seem forward or pushy. With some of the people you can say “sincerely” (even if you’re not) And with some you can’t or shouldn’t say, “best regards” because that sounds so formal. And you don’t want to say “hugs” or “kisses” because that sounds so unsophisticated and familiar – unless it’s a good friend or family. “With affection” sounds old and stodgy. And “I love you to pieces” only works with a limited number of people. So I have taken to signing off with, “cheers” (how very British) or “all the best”. Those are nice, right? Those work if it’s a written communication, but what do you say when you are ending a phone call? Signing off is always difficult for me. I guess part of it is that in my family no one ever said ‘goodbye’ to end a phone call—they just hung up. I mean there were any number of times when I was finishing a sentence and before I got to the end I realized that my mother or my aunts were no longer on the other end. When they were finished listening or talking they simply hung up. Yes, it does account for some of my phone phobias, but I know they must be overcome in order for me to succeed (what crap). Anyway, I never know whether to say “see you” or “speak to you” or “catch you later.”
Jordan and her friends all say “Love you, bye”

When I was growing up my parents hardly ever said “I love you”. They loved me but it was not necessary to say it—as far as they were concerned. In fact, I never exchanged “I love yous”, with my high school and college friends – until recently because I really do love them and we’re of an age where it’s important to share this affection. But when we were younger, although we did enjoy each other’s company, we would have been uncomfortable had we actually declared our love. Even our boyfriends or more like boys we went out with, would never have made the “love commitment” unless they were so aroused it did damage to their brains (or elsewhere) and in their stupor they blurted their affection.

It’s not the case today. Everyone says I love you. (It should be a song). For example, I was walking around in Costco today and I overheard at least five people on cell phones say, “love you, bye”. Kids today find it easy to say “love you” but these were not just kids. One was an elderly black woman. One, a busy middle aged white grandma. I’m actually not sure if she was the grandma but she was busy chasing after some rowdy 6/7 year olds who seemed determined to destroy any toy within their reach. And no, they were not just playing with the toys, they were heaving them like it was an Olympic sport. Anyway, I don’t know who grandma was talking to, but in between “Don’t do that!” and “I’m going to kill you” she was loving someone, “bye.” Then there was a well dressed man in his fifties who was distracted but took the time to say “Love you, bye” before he hung up with whomever. And there were two young women talking to a friend who they claimed they both loved.

I can’t remember if I told Seth I loved him at the end of every conversation, or if I did it with Jordan. Probably not, because it wasn’t how I grew up—despite the fact that I love them dearly. I didn’t think I had to say it. But I was wrong and should have taken every opportunity to tell them what they meant to me. My mother now says it to the kids when she talks to them and Jordan once mentioned that David’s mom didn’t say “I love you”, when they talked, so she just kept saying it until grandma responded in the same way. [Editor’s note: that seems to have changed – most calls now end with “I love you”]

In a way, the casualness of the “love you, bye” makes it not as meaningful as a real, “I love You”. But that doesn’t make it bad—it just seems to minimalize the importance of the words because you hear people say it so often, and usually in a most casual way without thinking about what it means. At least that’s what appears to happen. But who knows, maybe I just need to look in the mirror and practice saying “I love you” or even “love you, bye” in ways that appear meaningful and sincere. So to all our readers (and I mean this from the bottom of my keyboard), I say, “Love you, bye.” We’re just sayin...Iris

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Capturing Inertia

I don’t really recommend what I am about to share with you. Not that the world won’t be a better place for it. But whomever said there is no gain without pain had it right. I’m currently in the A part of “P A I N” I think. At least I hope I’m that far along. Much of what we do in life is a product of Inerita: something happens for a reason which may not be the true ‘raison d’etre’, but because it IS that way, we just stay with it. Over time it takes on the force of law (even in the Supreme Court there are doctrines about “established law.”) I used to see that in my pictures. Some image would be chosen by Time or Life to run because it seemed to be the best to illustrate a certain story. Often it wasn’t really the BEST picture (yes, that is subjective..) but because it had been published, it began to take on a certain weight, inertia, if you will, as the definitive image of that story. Other magazines, seeing the first publication, might ask for that picture, and because there is a certain amount of ‘cover your ass’ in publishing (i.e. 87%) they really wouldn’t want to see your ‘better’ work, they’d just want to see what was published. God forbid they try and go outside the already established guidelines. Eventually it could happen that the first published picture, although perhaps inferiour to others, might become the ‘signature’ shot, the one asked for, the one demanded.

Well, in the 22 years we have lived at our cozy little abode on Upton Street (in Arlington VA), there are cases of inertia which have finally been challenged. I will tell you that were it all up to Iris, this would have happened when Reagan was just leaving office, Bush I was measuring curtains for the Oval, and Bush II was still trying to figure out how to lose money in baseball and Oil. But, in that “inertial” spirit, things were just the way they are, because things were just the way they were. We added a wonderful little studio to the house in 1988, and though it was mostly used to shooting more intimate pictures, I tested a LOT of cameras, film, and lighting in there over the years. For nearly twenty years, the big ole chair has sat in front of the grey mottled backdrop (from a PhotoExpo in 1989 in New York) and that ‘look’ became emblematic for the house, the family, and in particular Jordan.

We have taken the New Years card picture there for the past 18 years, shot in black and white, hand tinted by Iris (she does this once a year), and sent out to friends and colleagues, many of whom came to know that our studio WAS this backdrop and chair. For nearly two decades, parties at the house would end up with attendees sitting in the chair, being photographed with a pal or spouse, and you can’t believe how many of those pictures ended up on mantels of homes “.. the best picture ever taken of us…” When I was assigned to photograph Art Monk for the Washington Post Magazine (he was an all-time record holder Redskins wide receiver) at training camp in Carlysle, Pennsylvania, I took my lights, and my backdrop with me, photographing him catching a ball, in a make shift studio at the college. At least a half dozen people asked me, the next week, “How did you get Art Monk to come to your house?” Well of course, the house came to Art Monk.

Befitting a failed Wizard, the question of what was behind the curtain began to catch up with me. Storing cameras, bags, bags and more bags (shout out to Jim Domke, ladies and gentlemen!), lights, seamless paper, batteries, filters.. the list goes on, behind the curtain on shelves and rolling tables reached what is known in the Space shuttle trade as “throttle up to 110%” levels. You would think things cannot exist in amounts greater than they are. But, like the rockets on the Space Shuttle, the amount of stuff I had grew to a place where, jigsaw like, there was no easy way to get AT anything. The stuff just overtook the other stuff. It was, in short, a frickin’ mess.

My “office” in the basement, carved from a 14x10’ space opposite the washer & dryer

(that rinse cycle is music to my ears), is where I have printed pictures, done paperwork, and filed away thousands of documents. Low ceiling, ugly, visually annoying, it finally reached the tipping point this fall. Iris had the brilliant idea of “getting you out of the basement.” I will admit that I was by that point very understanding of the Hermit mentality. “I’m in my cave, just throw a lamb chop thru the opening a couple of times a day, and leave me alone.” Why not, she suggested, turn the back of the studio (i.e. “… that rat’s nest..”) into the office, and make the basement photo-storage? Well, the light finally went on a few weeks ago, and we ‘re now one PODS closer to making that happen. The hardest part, and this is really a killer, is the necessary mess created as you move massive amounts of Stuff from one place (the old place) to another (the temporary one) before you relocate it (the final) to where it will live. I think a picture or two here, and as of yet they haven’t been published, so you can choose which, if any, are the ‘definitive’ ones, might help explain. As part of the ‘move’ we are cleaning, painting, and generally trying to sort out things. I have discovered piles of pictures which, like tree rings, describe a historical narrative. One stack of slide sheets in the basement: I grab a handful (all this to ‘empty the shelves’) and realize I am in the early 90s, pictures of Bush and Reagan. Below that, the Dukakis campaign. Above, the Clinton campaign. It’s almost as interesting as it is painful. But so far, painful is really winning. Up late, moving stacks of stuff (dropping no longer wanted photo mags and books at the library) from one jammed location to the next. I cannot believe that in the digital age (don’t believe we are yet living in the ‘computer age.’ Maybe in ten years, but so far we ‘re only toying with it) I have so much, dare I say it, “analogue” material. Analogue means film, by the way. Thousands of slides, prints, 4x6s and jumbos, signed prints from Presidents, Vice Presidents, and one from an Asst. Atty. General whose name I do not even recall. Shredding old tax documents yesterday kept me near the trash for an hour. I have a baby shredder, and it’s fun the first fifty pages, but 500 pages later, you wish you had one of those annoying ‘Shredder-Saurus’ trucks which wake us in New York at 7am, devouring thousands of financial and legal documents from neighboring law firms.

The Studio at D-Day +1

You Can Start to See the Light at the End of the Studio
I have turned down several jobs, knowing that I cannot leave here before the job is done. To do so would create a “Lost World” which, to come back TO, after time in the outside world would be the most crushing of mental challenges. I’m sticking with it. Israel, our wonderful contractor/carpenter is moving along only about 18% slower than I wish (in home improvements, that number is usually 40 or 50%) but he is good, and when it’s done, it’s really Done.

So, wish me luck, and let this give you a bit of inspiration that things don’t always have to be the way they are, just because they are the way they are. (Fix that sentence, Dr. Bergen Evans!) We’re just sayin…David

Sunday, December 02, 2007

The Hillary I Know

There has been a great deal of Hillary bashing lately. The media seems to have lost the ability to evaluate the candidates in the way journalists should, (I hesitate to use the word responsible) and they have chosen to bash rather than give be analytical. She’s an easy target for many reasons. I probably don’t have to tell you what they are but it’s never my intention to let you spend any time struggling for answers.

For those of us who live inside the beltway and have worked in politics it’s about who we know. Let me explain. After thirty years in Presidential politics you get to meet thousands of people who do, have done or will do, the same job that you do. The reality is that, after that many years, you either know everyone in charge, or you are an incredible dolt. I choose to think of myself in the former category. In politics, like any other high stress occupation, you make friends and enemies and you judge these people based on your list of personal priorities. You ask yourself questions before you ask these colleagues questions because you want to know who you can depend on to get the job done. So you want to know who is: competent, arrogant, smart, compulsive, friendly, a screamer (lots of those in Presidential politics), task oriented, thinks ‘greater’ picture, personable, takes initiative, and most important –returns phone calls. If you put together the people you know with what they are doing in each campaign, first you just shake your head and then you say, “How did that happen?” Sometimes it’s a positive question and sometimes it is indication that the powers that be have lost their minds. But because different people have different experiences you can only hope that in some cases, theirs were better than yours.

For example, when I started to do advance, I prided myself on the fact that I would be welcomed back to any community in which I had worked during a campaign. In the early years of Presidential politics this was not a good thing. You were supposed to go into town, be as hard-assed as possible – leave blood --- and blow out before you got arrested. During the entire time I worked in Presidential campaigns I only got arrested once and that was in New Orleans for hanging posters – oh and in McAllen, Texas for driving through a park – I was too frustrated trying to follow directions. Neither had lasting consequences or impacted on the candidate but my ticket probably still exists in Texas.
Anyway, It was hard for me to work in other than a friendly way and I still got the job done. However, the model for the way you were supposed to work was a guy named Richard D. Richard started out with an advantage in this “leave blood” category because he looked a little like Dracula and was able to frighten even before he opened his mouth. Richard was ruthless in his politics. He was never going to win any popularity contests. He hated the fact that I would not play the game the same way but he liked me because I didn’t take his crap. Ultimately, years passed, politics changed, and people refused to work with Richard. Most people felt that he was ‘more work than he was worth.’ But I liked him and would have many arguments about his political values. My point is that we, (political hacks and whores) have lots of varying opinions about what’s going on inside the campaigns and we judge them not only by the candidate but by who’s working/advising them.

Anyway, I have worked in some capacity with all the Democratic candidates except Kucinich. But I worked with Hillary far more frequently and closely than with the others. There was a small group of McGovern Senior staff in 1972. We were all so young that calling us Senior was laughable, but we were committed and found places to thrive. I worked in the Massachusetts Headquarters with the brilliant and volatile Pat Caddell, Bill Clinton was in Texas, and Hillary was working for Doug Coulter in Indiana, I think. We didn’t spend much time together but we were all about 25 and had the same dream—of course we won in my State, which gave all of us, competent or otherwise, a big boost in campaign lore. Over the years I would run into the Clintons (we had many mutual friends and campaigns), and in 1992 I went to work for their/his campaign.

Having developed a name (some not so nice I expect) I was able to work on a campaign that was not located in Arkansas. It was the Clinton campaign’s goal to tell people why they should elect Bill. It was my job to tell people why they shouldn’t elect Bush – but always with humor – sometimes chickens and other costumed characters. But we were always a professional communication operation and we were never rude or disruptive. The Clintons admired our ability to do things that could never have been done inside the campaign and so after the election I was asked to go into the Administration. At first I refused but said I would help out until official appointments could be made. But then, Hillary asked me to help with Women’s issues both domestic and international –so I stayed as Chief of Staff at USIA (a former international public diplomacy agency).

Hillary was instrumental in getting the West Wing to create a White House Women’s office, which was the way the general public could express concerns about women’s issues, to the White House. She also helped us to create a Women’s Governmental organization where the senior women in each agency would come together to discuss problems and develop solutions for women who were working in government and issues that impacted on women all over the world. This included people like Donna Shalala, the Sec. of Health and Human Services, and working with the senior female officer at the CIA to talk about whether the technology available for detecting bombs could also detect breast cancer. And Hillary was very involved in what we were doing both inside and outside the White House.

She knew how to listen and further invested confidence in our ability to act. She was serious but had a good sense of humor and enjoyed the interaction among all of us. She was approachable and, on one occasion when we there was a screw up on the t-shirts we were using for the official delegation to the women’s conference in China, we laughed so hard about it that we actually had to stop the meeting or get seriously reprimanded by the State Department bozos. So I like her a lot. I like her as a person and I have questions about why people in the public don’t like her. My conclusion is that her staff, (some of whom I think are competent) have made bad decisions about the Hillary they want the public to see. It’s not too late to change this, but it will mean that some big campaign brain will have to take their ego and shove it. And more importantly, Hillary will have to be comfortable about who she is – not who she is with Bill or her staff—but who she is as a mother, friend, competent thinker and manager. And I think people will be more likely to be comfortable and think they know and like her. She can be a good President and even be a good friend to the public. We’re just sayin... Iris