Saturday, March 31, 2007

Fun with Fish

Over the past few days we have been having a wonderful time. Who would ever have guessed that after years and years of establishing ourselves as notable journalist and communication strategist, our fame would come from a fish story. But it has been so much fun we hardly notice an absence of political acumen.

...On the Joey Reynolds show....
Last night we were invited to be guests on the Joey Reynolds show. If you’ve never heard Joey he’s quite a NY character with a pretty big following. Friday night is his ‘Jewish hour’ show. Last week we were in touch with his producer, Myra Chanin, who is a star in her own right. Her cookbook “Mother Wonderful’s Cheesecake and Other Goodies,” and her books about her mother, are hysterical. She was generous in the time she gave us and a wonderful addition to our segment of the show.

The esteemed US at the Esteemed Joey Reynolds microphones
There are “Jewish regulars” who appear on the show weekly but they were stuck in traffic because there was an accident on the ramp of the Lincoln Tunnel, which tied up traffic in the City for hours. We were very lucky in their delay, because apparently, the regulars never let anyone else talk. So Joey had only us to talk to—and we were very entertaining. I have the CD if anyone wants to listen. We brought horse radish and matzoh for Joey, and everyone was blown away by how hot it was. What can I say. We were a hit.

This morning, while I was at a creative meeting for BreastCare, David called to say that the New York Times had reviewed the show. What a Valentine. You can read it here.

Being in the NYTimes is really a trip. It’s hard not to tell everyone you see. So when I finished my meeting I got a copy of the Times and immediately shared it with the concierge at 55 Wall Street, where the meeting had been. “See this” I said, “This is me” She thought it was very cool and we high fived. I shared it with people on the subway and on the street. Yes, it was a bit presumptuous to be waving the paper in peoples’ faces, but it was too much fun to stop.
I met David at the Comfort Diner on 45th between 2nd and 3rd. one of our favorite places and David showed it to the waiter who showed it to the owner, who gave us a Comfort Diner cookbook. We promised to send him “The Gefilte Fish Chronicles Companion Cookbook”, so he would not only be able to cook comfort food, he would have access to cooking from all the brown food groups.

* * * * * *

David: There is a big difference between having a credit line in a publication, and being mentioned in an article that publication writes about you. I have been published in the Times and the Times Sunday Magazine over the years, and for the most part the reaction is a very quick high, followed by a quick tempering of the joy of seeing the credit line, and usually, within hours, you’re back to where you started the morning. Today was quite unlike that. I sent a DVD review copy of the Gefilte Fish Chronicles to the Times TV reviewer about three weeks ago. Normally its like tossing it into a long dark tunnel. Seldom does the response come back right away, if at all in situations like this. I suppose if they feel it necessary to ‘ask the director’ something about the production, motivation, or some other minutiae, you might get a call. But this was just one of those times when, as the WNET/Ch. 13 broadcast date (tomorrow, Sunday, April 1, 7pm) approaches, I’d hoped we might get a mention. When I logged on this morning, I had two emails from friends offering kudos for the review. I immediately found it on the Times site, and it was as much fun seeing it online, as it was later, holding a paper in my hot little hand. I shared the review with the booth next to us at the Comfort Diner (“… I don’t usually do this, but TODAY, my wife and I are reviewed in the Times!”.. ) and they kind of dug it, too. It has been fun hearing from several friends who saw the paper long before we did. There was that faint air of similarity to Burt Lancaster’s character in Atlantic City, the old retired gangster who, as he passes the wretched front desk of the crummy motel where he lives, sees on the old black and white a news piece about a murder, and is compelled to share with the desk girl .. “ I did that.!” Last night’s trip to the Joey Reynolds show was a trip in its own right.

More kachers have sat in front of those microphones than you can imagine. Sitting next to me was Mickey Freeman, who once played Private Fielding Zimmerman on the Bilko TV show, and who was has been a comic for six decades.He sat next to me with his jokes scribbled on 3x5 cards, shuffling them as the hour went on, keeping the fresh material. (“I had a booking – 9 days at Mount Sinai! I had such a rare disease, they didn’t have a FEE for it yet…”) Pure borscht.

Mickey Freeman, at the mike
Well, actually the Borscht was in the horse radish which the Joey Reynolds team kept (against our advice) sniffing. Ouch. It will burn your nose, people, so be careful. So night has fallen on Gotham City, and this morning’s New York Times is starting to be used to wrap fish and other trash. Tomorrow there will be another paper, and our review will just be a little noted moment of journalistic triumph. But the best of all is the fact that I’m called the Director. The Director of a documentary about a family which cannot be directed. Not bad. No, I mean it. YOU try directing that family. Can’t be done. All you can do is try and keep up. And keeping up isn’t so bad.
We're Just Sayin' .......

Friday, March 30, 2007

A Zeisen Pesach

Passover is the time that my whole family gathers to celebrate the fact that we care about being a family. It is always a combination of wonderful and incredibly stressful, but it is no different than any other families—and not necessarily just Jewish families.

A LOT of fish
I haven’t blobbed for two days because I simply couldn’t. It was too difficult logistically. But I have found a way to communicate and I am going to try to tell the story from end to beginning. So today (The end) we made gefilte fish—from scratch. I guess there are 120 pieces which is less than we usually have.

Yesterday I took mom to the rehab center. Her caretaker left and we decided that a caretaker is not the answer. She needs to be with people and she needs to have care. But first she must be strong – hence the rehab facility. She likes it there and because she is very friendly, they like her and it turns out she is the Queen of the May. But last night she was trying to get something out of the closet and the door was not secured, so she fell. How horrible is that? I put mom in rehab when she is OK and needed minimal help, and she winds up needing rehab because they didn’t secure a closet door. It’s the ‘no fairs’ big time. But we’re dealing. The only real issue after the fall was that the rehab center didn’t want to let her leave the premises until she had an X-ray and they were sure there were no hairline fractures. This meant that she couldn’t go to Rosalie and Dickie’s to supervise the making of the gefilte fish. She was disappointed but she understood. In addition, she also had hoped to see Aunt Peppy, who was able to travel from Newburgh to supervise the hocking. Hocking is like chopping but you have to use the whole arm, and do it for a long time and no matter how long you do it, it isn’t enough.

It is so painful to see what has happened to mom and Aunt Peppy since last December. You may remember my blob about the collision of the walkers. But at that point they were both in physically OK shape and while mom refused to believe she had not been visited by three of her dead sisters, she was pretty lucid. That is no longer the case. Even with signs of the onset of early dementia—or she is forgetful and sometimes doesn’t know the days (she always knows what game show is on and when Dancing With the Stars is aired), Aunt Peppy’s confusion is far more painful. Maybe because she has always been so clear about everything that is more startling.

Peppy and the Fish pots
Anyway, we made about 120 pieces of fish. We started about 9:00 am and by 4:00 we had about the amount of fish we needed for the Passover feast – but who really knows. If you look at “”, you can share in our joy. David shot film of the transition—from generation to generation and I’m sure it’s pretty colorful. Yes we still yelled and tasted and hocked and laughed a lot. The best part of the day was kind of a deja vu moment, when the grinder we bought 4 years ago (it replaced a 50 year old grinder), stopped working. We were seriously concerned until Ro remembered that she had a Passover adapter/grinder for her Kitchen Aid. And then were we happy. No one wanted to be grinding or rather mushing fish for hours upon hours—we were much too excited about the hocking and the salting.( You have to grind it BEFORE you hock it – it’s a two step process.) No one killed anyone. Maybe because my pal Karen was helping and we thought we needed to be on good behavior ,and maybe because we were just thankful that we could be together and carry on this 100 year tradition. Sometime between 2 and 3, Dickie and I left to go to a Senior Citizen center to show the film and talk about our Passover. It was colorful. The attendees don’t hear very well and some were not sure when the film began and ended. So there was a mix of milling about, combined with some loud commentary. “What’d they say?” “ I never had Cholent on Passover.” And, “Who are these people?” Luckily I have seen the film 198 times, but it is still very hard for me to sit through a screening where people aren’t paying attention. I don’t know if it’s the pride of being a producer or that I just want people to love the family without interruption, but Dickie reminded me that it was a Mitzvah—so I felt Ok.

Somehow the Genuine Bunny Ears seemed appropos (Rosalie, Honey & David)
When we got back to Rosalie’s, someone suggested there needed to be a trip to Amazing Savings, but I was exhausted so David, Honey, and Rosalie, went to buy containers for the fish stock. I’m not saying they were over tired as well, but there apparently was no shortage of silliness. Then we went back to the rehab center where mom had still not had an X-ray. I informed them that we needed to have results by first thing in the morning because while she may not have made it to the gefilte fish party, there was absolutely no way she was going to miss her beauty parlor appointment.

The day ended with pizza and great wine back at Rosalie and Dick’s. We talked about things in the past and hopes for the future. We talked about the loss of loved ones and our feelings about all the changes taking place. And I shared the fact that mom was resigned to all the new moves. Maybe she even had a moment when she looked forward to some of the change. And as emotional as it was for me to think about how difficult it was for her to say farewell to the house we had called home for over 55 years, I was doing OK until, on the way out the door, she turned around, walked back into the den, and kissed my grandmother’s picture goodbye. We’re just sayin...Iris

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

How Big Was That Lump

Don’t you hate the conversation surrounding the Edward’s decision to stay in the Presidential race. I have heard things like “They should get off the road and stay home with their little children. He’s staying because he’ll get a sympathy vote And, he’s putting his career before her health”. What are people thinking? These people have experienced enormous tragedy before. They lost a sixteen year old son in a car crash. As I have said before, there is no greater loss for a parent then the death of a child. And now they are facing another tremendous loss. Here’s their reality, her cancer has spread. She isn’t going to live very long. But they have decided to go on with their lives. Not to hide in a corner praying for a cure that will never come. Don‘t you love the fact that together, these two courageous individuals are prepared to face their destiny without putting their lives on pause.

The other day I was watching a TV interview with Elizabeth Edwards. It was 2004 and she was explaining how she found the lump in her breast. She hadn’t ever noticed it before. But when she was taking a shower there it was and it wasn’t small. It was big enough for her to feel it without having to search very hard. There are so many variables in a woman’s breast like having cystic breasts –where you can’t detect a benign lump from a bad lump-- that it is hard to know what’s doing in there. But she went to the doctor, had the surgery and follow-up and did what she needed to do to rid herself of this horrific disease.

I assume that Elizabeth, as worldly sophisticated mom with many resources, had a few mammograms before discovering the lump. But for whatever reasons neither the self breast or the mammogram picked up any abnormalities before the shower. A few months ago I would have been surprised by this information But I’m not anymore because here’s what I know.

Approximately three million women in the U. S. are living with breast cancer. One million don't know it yet.

By the time breast cancer is detected by a mammogram, a woman will have had the disease for an average of 6 to 8 years.

Women typically get their first mammogram at the age of 40. But breast cancers that occur in women under 35 are more aggressive and more toxic.

Which of those statements is most surprising. For me it was the one about how, by the time it is detected, you have already had it for 6-8 years. Imagine how many people could have been saved if they knew about it when the tumor was no bigger than a dot instead of a pea, or a softball. Additionally, I always assumed that women under 40 did not need to have a mammogram because they were not likely to get breast cancer. This is not the case. No one knows how likely it is that women under 40 will be diagnosed with breast cancer because there are no statistics and they don’t have yearly mammograms because they are not insured. There are also issues for women with dense breasts. Maybe Elizabeth had a mammogram and it simply didn’t identify a tumor. It’s silly to speculate. All we can be sure of is that her cancer was not detected in the early stages.

More than one million women in the United States have died of breast cancer since 1950. This year alone more than 41,000 women are expected to die from breast cancer or 1 every 12 minutes. More lives have been lost to breast cancer than in war. It is estimated that in 2006 about 212,920 new cases of invasive breast cancer were diagnosed, along with 61,980 new cases of non-invasive breast cancer. One in seven women will be diagnosed with breast cancer this year as compared to one in 20 in 1960. 90% of these women will have no known family history of the disease.

How did I get so smart? I have recently become involved with a wonderful company which, in the near future, will market a device that can identify abnormal cellular activity in the breast. It is already being used in France, Saudi Arabia and Brazil. The product is accessible, inexpensive, and simple. It should be used as an adjunct to traditional detection devices but it needs to be part of the big 'war against breast cancer' picture. Every person with whom I have had a conversation about it, wants it immediately—for themselves, friends and family. And we hope to provide it in a timely manner.

It’s too late for Elizabeth but is there anyone anywhere who doesn’t know someone whose life has been touched by breast cancer. It’s not to late for oh so many of us. If we are educated and empowered to be in charge of our breast health we can make a life-death difference. The only thing about which I am still amazed is that no one calls breast cancer an epidemic and with bigger numbers than AIDs, it is still only a disease. We’re just sayin....

Monday, March 26, 2007

The Other Woman

Here’s the bad news. (That’s a terrible way to start a blob but the good will soon follow). My mom’s latest caregiver is leaving. Here’s the good news and much to my surprise, she hasn’t been taking good care of mom – so it’s not such a loss. But I’m in Florida finishing the book Clay and I wrote, and doing some investment work for a new company, and I can’t get to New Jersey before Wednesday. And on Wednesday, because mom hasn’t had the kind of care she needs, we will once again enroll her in rehab, where she will have daily physical therapy, be fed three meals a day, and have social interaction with people her own age. She liked it when she was there before. The plan is to get her good and healthy before she moves into the lovely assisted living facility where we pray she will take advantage of everything available to her, and have some fun. But getting her healthy is the primary goal.

Over the last year, I have dreaded seeing my mother’s telephone number on my cell. My mother never calls me unless there’s a problem and she usually leaves a message on my home phone. But when someone calls from her house to my cell it’s usually an indication that there’s trouble. My heart begins to pound and my head begins to hurt. Two weeks ago the call came at 5:15am. It was so early I thought it was my alarm and just turned it off without looking. It rang again 15 minutes later and as I was about to turn it off, I saw the number. It was the caregiver calling to say mom had fallen and was in the hospital. Luckily, I was in NY waiting for my alarm to ring to warn me that I had to move my car and get on the road to Va. No such luck. I went to the hospital and waited for the doctor and the tests and then took her home. In the past, I have had to drive to NJ from Va., often more than twice a week. Not only for falls but for threats from care givers and other such emergencies. I’m not whining—well maybe I am, but as I have said before there has to be a better way.

Enough of that (I wish). Today, when Soozie and I were walking to breakfast we stopped at Paul’s store to say hello. Neither of us had ever been there, despite seven years of meetings with coffee every morning we’re in Key West. Paul’s wife Mary was there. She works along side him in this kind of charming Christmasie gift store. He makes wooden cut outs of animals and things and they can be used as ornaments or remembrances- what ever. It’s very cute. And so is Mary. She explained that she doesn’t come for coffee because she’s usually working in the garden or doing something around the house before she goes to the store. But the key is that she doesn’t come for coffee and it’s more likely that it’s because they consider morning coffee part of Paul’s life—rather than she’s busy at home. Consequently, my relationship with Paul has nothing to do with his real life.

When we left we headed down to The Last Flight Out, but I wanted to stop on the way to give Clay’s wife Maxine, a little something for her birthday. I met Maxine last year for the first time. Clay and I had been working on the book for about seven or eight months by that time and part of my trip to Key West, like this trip was to actually work in person and progress through the writing process. I had been at the store when I asked Clay if I was ever going to meet the elusive Maxine. He said she was working around the corner and I should go and say hello—which I did. I’m not sure he thought it was as important as I did but it was. Again, Maxine is an adorable delightful person with a great sense of humor—and to be married to Clay, a great sense of herself. But I don’t really know her because my relationship is with Clay and by choice, she has her own life.

When I began to think about these two relationships it took me back to my days of political campaigns. The staff on a campaign, especially the traveling staff (because they are always moving to another place), become very close. Often they have relationships that go beyond the professional, but just as often they do not. What is amazing, however is that hardly anyone knows anything about the others life. For example, there are people with whom I worked for twenty years and I had no idea if they were married, had children, or had real careers outside of the campaign. (I always talked about my son but that was atypical). When my friend Eli died last year I was out of the country and I had no idea he was gone—I didn’t even know he was sick. When I called his wife to express my sympathy and apologies for not having called her sooner, we started to reminisce about all the wonderful time I spent with Eli over the years. She had no idea about how many years we had been political friends. None whatsoever and I have had a long time relationship with her as well.

While it is not often, you do sometimes hear about people who got married or divorced but it is usually years after the fact. I guess part of it, in Presidential politics, is that you only see people every four years and for a finite amount of time. There are exceptions like Paul and Karen Sullivan, who are both dear friends, but it’s only because they both worked on the campaign. Additionally, with people like Karen and Paul, who live in Hawaii, you have to work to stay in touch. They are worth the work, and that is the case with only a few other campaign colleagues, but most often people are satisfied to separate and reconnect on another campaign.

It’s so wild to think of yourself as the other woman, not in the traditional sense but because of the way the world works now. People have their own little universes. Married couples develop relationships with people who they see separate from their spouse. It might be mother in a child’s play group, colleagues at work, people with whom they play and even people who they have coffee with as a consequence of their location. These relationships are absolutely separate from the life they lead with their partner. And they only know about the person with whom they deal—not anything about their lives apart from an activity. I think this is a healthy thing. I think it’s nice to know people who David doesn’t know and visa-versa—except attractive young women who feel it is important to get close to a world traveling photojournalist. It provides us with material for lot’s of interesting conversations. Additionally, it lends to a bit of mystery. And after 28 years of together-bliss (today is the anniversary of our meeting), a little mystery is not a bad thing. And, although I do often wonder about the lives of the people we hardly know, I am always thankful that we know them. We’re just sayin...

Sunday, March 25, 2007

In a Word

There has been such turmoil in my life I thought my blog today should be a little nonsensical, maybe frivolous. But I’ll get back to that tomorrow.

When we were driving through Clarenden last week I noticed a sign that said that a new store would have 'artisanus' cocktails, but David said I was nuts and the ending was anas not anus. What in the world kind of a place are they opening, I thought. I asked David if he had ever heard that word before I saw the sign? He said 'yes, but you’re pronouncing it incorrectly.' I called him a liar and I said, “Since you know what it means, how do you pronounce it?” He didn’t answer me but started to laugh and recalled a Saturday Night Live where three fake stars were playing Jeopardy. The Sean Connery character chose ‘anal bum cover’ as his topic and the Alex Trebeck character had to correct him with “that’s An Album cover, Sir.” My point, and I must have one, is that I never did get the pronunciation of the mysterious new word.

When we got home I looked it up in the dictionary and there was an Astasanus who died in 1330. But nothing else that even came close. He insisted we spell it the correct way, as opposed to the way they had it on the store (I’m sure I’m right) and it is someone who has artisan skills. I have always been curious about words that contain other words, especially words like anal or anus, but I can’t tell you why so let’s not go there. My tuchas is fine. I have to admit that when, on a rare occasion I am forced to discuss Uranus, the planet, I am reluctant to pronounce the word. I know that may be puritanical but it makes me uncomfortable.

The first time I heard the word preternaturally, I did not have a dictionary and I was most curious about what it meant. You know how you think you have never heard a word, then you hear it, and then you don’t stop hearing it. Well, that’s what happened with preternaturally. It seemed to be used mostly in articles that were preternaturally pretentious. So I decided that I would start to use it in situations where people were feigning importance—or they found themselves in a position where the only power they had was when they could say 'no'. Like the maitre d’ in a restaurant -- and it didn’t have to be fine dining. Here’s what I do when I am in a situation where I ask if there is a table available at a place that clearly has room and the host/hostess wants me to think they have sole responsibility for decisions concerning the people who get to sit at one of their usually tableclothed tables. I say, “Do you know what preternaturally means?” I have never had anyone respond with a yes. They usually look at me inquisitively and say “No”. And I say, as nicely as I can (usually shaking my head), "Oh, I’m so sorry” and walk away. I don’t know if this simple question about a big word is a leveler, but I always get a table within minutes. I guess I could just say, “what’s with the attitude you pretentious idiot," but that’s much too confrontational and this is about words not actions.

Yesterday, when I was having coffee with my colleague Paul, we started to talk about semantics. As a result of an undergraduate class I had in college, whenever I heard the word semantics I would run screaming from the room. Semantics is defined in the dictionary as 'the study of how meaning is created by the use and interrelationships of word, sentences, and phrases.' You see why I ran from the room. What the hell are they talking about !!!!!!!! , seemed to benign a response, so I was forced to flee. But what it comes down to is that meanings are in people, not in words. There are those of us who think bitch is a bad word and others who think it’s a dog. It is both. The tone of a voice can change the meaning of a word. It’s why e-mail or blogs are so dangerous. Remember, meanings are in people not in words – so no one ever knows what anyone means when the word is written not spoken. Other factors that impact on meaning are the situation, how the word is used and by whom. How confusing it is to mean anything. I don’t know why I’m sharing this useless information except to say, we all have favorite words. (Whew, that was a leap.)

My favorite word is tapioca. I love the soft sound of this pudding like substance. In fact, when I was a small child and even though I didn’t like the taste, I forced myself to eat it. I think I like it now but I don’t know if it’s a consequence of the sound or my taste buds changed. Soozie likes the word 'palindrome'. She likes it because of what it is. No, I’m not going to make you look it up. It describes a word that is spelled the same way backwards and forwards (i.e. "atta" as in 'atta boy!'). Her second favorite is douche bag — which can be a device or might be a personality trait. Anyway, words are amazing. Especially English words because the language is so vast and complicated. As an example, we used to play a game called “Dictionary”. You would locate an enormous dictionary. Then one player would go through it and pick a word they were sure no one could define. Everyone who was playing would write a dictionary-like definition—including the person who knew what it meant. Then the chairman would read them aloud, and all the players would try to pick out the real meaning. It was all about the presentation. I once defined a kibitka as “a miraculous recovery." Everyone thought that was the correct definition when actually a kibitka is a small horse-drawn Russian wagon — but even in "Fiddler on the Roof”, they didn’t call it that.

My point is (and I have one), is it any wonder that there are so many communication problems throughout the world? There are too many cultures, too many people, too many languages and too many words so no one is ever sure of the meaning, intention or spelling of any word. Maybe we should eliminate sounds and writing and go with a universal sign language. Maybe that is the answer; and just think about the entertainment factor when you are trying to convey a sentence about ‘Uranus’. We’re just sayin...Iris

Saturday, March 24, 2007

The Relevance, Immediate or Otherwise, of Alistair

I have to confess, when it seems I haven’t blobbed for a couple of days, I usually check, and realize that it’s really been something closer to a week. I’m not sure if that has to do with the way my subconscious fears the act of writing (I know it surely did in college), or if life is just speeding along so quickly we can barely keep track of the time. Maybe it’s a little of both. Like my photography, I try and use the writing, even the most mundane of topics, as a chance to either explore a new technique, or at the very least, come up with something which is new for me, whether or not it might be for the Blob reader.

My original inspiration last year when we started blobbing was Alistair Cooke, the late venerable Brit who, taking a page from Ed Murrow’s World War II playbook, came to New York in 1946, and for the next 50+ years, wrote and recorded his Letter From America every Tuesday for broadcast on BBC Radio on Wednesdays. That would be something like 3000 essays, each of which was a perfect gem of a statement. In the 70s and 80s, before the instant-“on” curse of world-wide cable and satellite communication, we globe trotters always traveled with a short wave radio. It was THE way to stay in touch. It was only “download” of course, but tuning carefully in the 19, 25, or 31 meter bands, you could hear the chimes of Big Ben on the hour, and then hear BBC World Service news. Additionally there were wonderful “magazine” programs like “From Our Own Correspondent”, quaint quiz shows like “Just A Minute” (‘…speaking for one minute without repetition, hesitation or deviation…”), and music programs like “Desert Island Disc” (famous people were asked what 6 records they would have with them if stranded alone on, yes, a Desert Island.) In Ethiopia, Iran, China and Peru of yore, the radio was a welcome, very welcome friend. Now you just tune on your cable system to channel 19 and you have BBC TV (not as good as radio was, of course) in color and stereo. At the risk of being a fuddy duddy, which I suppose I already am, there was something not only charming but perhaps even more fulfilling about the old ways. You had to work to find the station on your little radio. Atmospherics would sometimes render one frequency more touchy, and you had to find the broadcast elsewhere on the Sony scale The dials were all rotary, hand tweaked, no "digital" tuning, yet. (Photographer Jean Pierre Laffont was the senior ‘I.T.’ guy on radios. There wasn’t a newer, smaller (emphasis on Small), better receiving radio made that didn’t make it into his camera bag. His counsel was like doing a quick info hit on CNET now, but much more sympatique. And certainly better spirited.) You quickly became expert at listening through the static and hearing just the words or music.

Once you got tuned, Mr. Cooke would weave a nearly perfect essay of tone and poetic imagery, leaping from one event in a mosaic of phrases to the next, and making the listener feel as though he, too, had lived in the States that week, and felt those events first hand. He could take, for example – and I am making this up, but you know on this blob we do make a lot of things up for illustration purposes – and speak of the unveiling of a new car by the Ford Company in Dearborn, and it’s futuristic forward looking features, segue to a mention of a homeless man winning a million dollars on a lost lottery ticket, jump to the capturing of wild ponies in the Nevada desert near the atomic test site, and wind it up (this was always the “bring it all together slam dunk”) with a beleaguered President Nixon, a man needing no money but feeling like he might risk being trampled by wild horses, as Watergate unraveled in Washington in real time. Cooke was an absolute master at this story telling genre.

I struggle to be relevant, though every time I use that word I’m reminded of my senior year of college, in a thought provoking Political Theory class taught by professor, now Dean (I THINK he’s still Dean) Tim Fuller. In a discussion of the Hobbesian State of Nature, one classmate asked “how do we find it relevant in the world we’re living in…” Fuller’s response I shall never forget: “I’m sorry Mister Fisher, this isn’t a course in Immediate Relevance.” I suppose of all the things I heard in college, those seven words were the ones which marked me the most. I have always tried to look beyond Immediate Relevance in my work, and even in just ordering dinner. Yet, ever increasingly, everything we do, say, watch, listen to, seems to have a built in demand for some kind of immediate relevance. Just listen to the “all News” stations. Whether it’s Anna Nichol, Valerie Plame, the 8 U.S. Attorneys, or anything to do with the war in Iraq, there is virtually nothing but fluff, although I think that is a disrespectful use of the word we use to describe whipped marshmallows. Real Kraft FLUFF has much more to offer than what our media dispense. And it cuts across party lines. Fox News Sucks. CNN sucks. MSNBC sucks Bigtime. It makes one pine for the likes of Alistair Cooke to help put it all into context. Instead, they give us The McCaffrey mad minute on CNN or something hideous on CNNhdline by Glenn Beck.

I would recommend (this is the beginning of the WereJustSayin book Recommend list) a collection of essays by Alistair Cooke, and if you want to read journalistic poetry go right to “Please Die Before Noon.” Today, having spent a couple of days shooting pictures in north Florida, a story on the family of a wonderful young man killed in Afghanistan in an air accident two years ago, I am headed back to D.C. (If you can't wait to try Amazon, the BBC has a few years worth of his last letters here.)

I don’t have Alistair Cooke with me, but I managed to find a private cabin on my Delta flight, and I suppose I’ll just sleep it off. When I get home, we’ll find the listings for Letters from America. They don’t write’em like that anymore. We’re just sayin’… David

What's In a Name

Mike is not really his name but I often change names to protect the innocent. (Maybe not often enough). When I got on the mini-bus, which took us out to the little plane to Key West, I was sitting next to a handsome young man with a warm and wonderful smile. Like it “lit up the bus” kind of smile. He sat for about two minutes and then offered his seat to a woman standing nearby.

She sat down and commented that he was a very nice person. I looked at him and said, I “Bet he’s in the military.” “Why would you think that?” she asked. “Because he has seriously good manners.” Then I asked him if he was in the military and he said “yes” and “how did you know” and we had the circuitous military/manners conversation once again.

We didn’t sit together on the plane but we did make conversation before take-off and when we landed and I saw him waiting at the rental car counter, I suggested he take a cab into town and rent a scooter. “There is no place to park and the hotel will charge you a fortune” I said in my role as everyone’s Jewish mother. He thanked me and asked if we knew any place to eat or party. “Eat I can do.” I said. “My party is not going to work for you.” He laughed and there was that smile again. “Look,” I said. “We go to Louies Backyard for cocktails. Why don’t you meet us there and we can brainstorm with the locals about the best places for you to go.”

He met us at 6:30. We were sitting with a young couple who had just gotten married and they all chatted about college football and basketball. When it was time to leave I invited him to join us for dinner the next night –before he started to party. He thought that was a terrific idea. So we made a date to meet at Blue Heaven for a pre-party meal.

Em, Louise, Soozie, and I arrived at about 6. Mike came at 6:30 with apologies and that smile. He ordered a mojito. He had never had one and heard they were the drink to have in they Keys. We all ordered dinner. Then we began to talk. Mike is a Captain in the army. He likes his job, which is to supervise drill sergeants. He has served in many places, one of them being Iraq. He did not have a good experience. Not with the Iraqi people, who he thinks are wonderful but with the Generals serving and making life death decisions. “They lie about everything” he told us with a great deal of pain and overwhelming sadness. “When I first got there people were happy about American troops liberating their country. But now... We had a friendly fire incident and my Brigade Commander wanted to clear out the 1000 or so refugees that had made there homes around us. He wanted to blame them and I talked to him about the mistake he was about to make. Then later after the investigation was complete we found out they did not do it and we didn't clear them out like he wanted to. I'm not sure of the reason...hopefully because we discovered the truth. They make up programs so they can pay warlords and keep the violence at what they think is bay. But it’s not. The Generals don’t care and when I tried to tell the truth, because I thought what they were doing was immoral, and wasn’t helping our position in Iraq, they said I had mental problems and accused me of being a traitor. But I had evidence to the contrary and I told them I wouldn’t make it public if they just left me alone. And I was really lucky to find a Commander who understood and offered me a job instead of retribution. It was horrible and you know I am not the only soldier this has happened to. It’s all about the politics of CYA.”

He shared more and his conversation lasted well over an hour without a break. We were speechless. It was not that we were surprised, we had heard so many other horror stories in the news, but the depth of his concern and the intensity of the passion with which he spoke were stunning. We were saddened by what has happened to this country. How can it be that when a someone wants to tell a truth, that will strengthen a nation, there so many deceitful powerful people with a not so honorable agenda, who can prevent them from doing so. Never mind, I’m not that na├»ve I know the how’s and why’s but I can’t get beyond the, so is there anything we can do?

Mike had a great vacation. He says he’s going to make it an annual adventure. He met a local girl, they went swimming, sailing, and snorkeling. They watched the sunrise and the sunset and my hope is that they partied in between. He left Key West rested and hopeful and with us as part of his new family. But his heart is heavy with grief for the nation. For what people around the world perceive we have become. “The Iraqi’s were rooting, not only for themselves but for us,” he said, “And now they hate us. I guess we really blew it.”

Last week I heard a group of retired and active Iraq Veterans against the war talk about what they had been through and why they decided to speak. So Mike is not alone in his frustration. I am happy that these people feel that where the military won’t listen the American people will. I hope that Mike will find someone he loves and trusts with whom he can share his disappointment about this injustice we forced him to endure. And I hope that all the “Mikes” who have a story do the same. We hope they know that there are people who think the war is an outrage but we do support them because they are our children and they want the world to be a better place. And we pray that they are not emotionally wounded for the rest of their young lives and they will find a way to live with the guilt they feel about having participated in activities that simply made no sense. We’re just sayin...

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Fly Like the Wind

I fly like the wind. I know, you’re thinking, what the hell is she talking about? Is she on a plane? Does she have a new kite? What?

I am in Key West. Going to Key West is something I do every year. I wasn’t sure I would be able to make the trip this year, given my mother’s tenuous health and living arrangements, but David and Jordan insisted I go.

The Trike in Question.
Soozie has a house on what we call the ‘quiet’ side of the Island. There is no honky-tonk in this neighborhood, but it is close enough that if we are feeling like sleazy is where we need to be, it is only a walk away. David and I had been to Key West a few times. But after Soozie’s husband Jeff died, seven years ago, she asked me if I would go back with her to help her through what was bound to be a difficult time -- The reentry into a life shared, as a single person. The first few days were a nightmare. Not because Jeff was gone (although that was hard enough), but because the not so good friends, who invited us to stay with them until Soozies house was ready, really didn’t want us there. I don’t have any idea why they extended the invitation except to be able to say, ‘look what we did for Soozie.’ You know what it’s like to walk into a room where you know people would like it if you did not exist. I mean they did things like not let us take phone calls because it was disturbing their dog—at 2:00 in the afternoon.

Nevermind. Luckily it was only a few days and then we fled. I don’t think she ever talked to them again and when we saw them on the street, they would cross to the other side. They were the antithesis of the people I have come to call my friends in this extraordinary paradise. And let me tell you about the friends.

When I arrive at the Key West airport Stevie, a lead agent for American Eagle, (they are so lucky to have him), gets on the plane and before he allows anyone to depart the aircraft, he welcomes me back. He actually announces my arrival. That’s the good news. The bad news is that every tourist on the plane now thinks I can give them insider info about the Island, so they surround me and shout questions while I am awaiting my luggage. Soozie comes to collect me and we drive to her house, where I start to decompress. I usually take the same flight which gets in about 2:45 and we’re home by 3pm. At around 5 we start to ready ourselves for cocktails at Louies Backyard. It’s a colorful bar where you can watch the sunset and order a mojito—which you will not get because they never have any mint. Our friend Marian, who loves a mojito, knowingly brings her own mint. .After the sun sets we decide on a place for dinner-but it is never planned. There are never any plans in Key West. Things just seem to happen.

The Butterfly tent is filled with beauties like this one
In the morning I ride my flashy red tricycle to the beach and I walk for about two miles. Then I head back to the house to pick up Soozie and the puppies and make our way over to the Coffee and Tea House—I think that’s the name but I’ve only been going there for 7 years and I’m too embarassed to ask. Paul and Stevie are usually there and we spend about an hour bitching about the country and the government – a world so far removed from this place it might as well be another planet. By 9 it’s time to start what will be our day.

Bubbie and Pearl, in their bike basket
But what does that mean? It usually means a ride to the “Last Flight Out” a t-shirt shop owned by my beloved colleague and friend Clay Greager. Being with Clay, who is one of the great writers and philosophers, is always entertaining. Clay and I wrote a book called “So You Think You Can Be President? Well Take This Test.” We wrote it by e-mail over a six month period. He was pissed off about something Bush did and he e-mailed me to say he thought I should be President. I e-mailed back to say I couldn’t pass the test. He e-mailed me to ask if there was a test.

Clay in front of Last Flight Out
I e-mailed him to say I didn’t think so, but there should be. He e-mailed back with the first question and said ‘let’s write the rest of the test.’ Which we did and it is hysterical and if anyone out there knows a publisher, this could be an enormous big selling ‘point of purchase’ hit. Anyway, sometimes we just talk, sometimes we have coffee or lunch and sometimes I just watch him interact with his customers—his wit and insights are breathtaking.

By now it’s sometime in the afternoon and maybe Soozie and I sit by the pool or go to the Butterfly Conservatory, or do some work or shop or meet other friends, and then it’s almost time to get ready for Louie’s. I don’t know where the time goes but without having made one decision, it seems to be tomorrow.

The toughest decision all day: Stop? Turn Right? Maybe...

And then my Key West time is up and I fly like the wind to the MoPed Hospital where I sign the charge for the hot red tricycle, walk back to Alberta Street where I pick up my bags, and we head for the airport, where I begin to transition to real life. What a shame that time away from the way we usually spend our days is never real life. Maybe we should rethink the way we fly. We’re just sayin...Iris

Saturday, March 17, 2007

In Praise of Braise

When I look back at the menu which my mom, a consummate woman of the 40s and 50s, raised us on, there were a few things which stood out. We did pretty good at breakfast (my dad’s diced fried spam in scrambled eggs was a treat to behold), lunch was never a major hit (I do miss those chopped black olive & mayo on Wonderbread sandwiches), but dinner was, for the 50s, pretty good. There were a few dishes that I never quite got. Mom had an electric range (we lived out in the sticks, and were lucky to have electricity) so the broiling all took place with an electric broiler on the left hand side oven. The heat was quite intense, and on those cold Utah winter days when the oil furnace would go out, mom would turn the oven on, and open the oven doors to let some heat escape into the part of the kitchen where we kids were hovering. In her repertoire, I guess as a spill over from her youth, she always included calves liver and kidneys (ah, that would be two separate dishes on two separate nights). Her broiling pan was a 12” pie tin which looked as if it had been a test plate at the Alamogordo A-bomb tests. Gnarly, black, lacking a single flat surface on any side, it may well have also served time as the hubcap which kept flying off the Keystone Cops Oldsmobile in a 1923 movie. The mere sight of that pan instilled the same kind of dread that a visit to the dentist evoked. The dreaded organ meats would make their appearance, and we would, using knives not sharp enough for the challenge, try and wrestle and subdue them on our plates. I think I must have felt as if kidney was a direct test of will: that if you could somehow manage to eat some of it, you would be rewarded on Friday nights when she would make a big Porterhouse or T bone steak. Those were always delicious and dad would slice it perfectly, and serve each of us from both sides of the bone. It remained in the Burnett household, for decades on, a joke about when WOULD we be old enough to cut our own steak. Occasionally we’d have either pork chops or spareribs, served the one way mom knew how to do pork: slices of lemon, and salt and pepper. This was well before the concept of dry rub, or Cajun seasoning had arrived in Utah. Well before. Both of these porcine specialties required a pretty good knife to get through. There never seemed to be any tenderizing involved, aside from a sprinkling of Adolph's. (For those of you under 50, Adolph’s Meat Tenderizer was the first incarnation we had of MSG. The current formulas are happily MSG-free, but half a century ago, no one worried about these things.) Food (as we called it then) has really evolved in the last fifty years, and happily so for the most part. Now we call it cuisine and enjoy the multiplicity of goodies available on every corner. I didn’t mention pot roast or brisket, or even roast beef. Those were always well turned out, and each became an incredibly successful candidate for those next day Wonderbread sandwiches, the ones that defined a generation. The long stewing, long roasting meats are, in some ways, among the easiest things to make. But there is a richness to the carmelizing that goes on which makes for heavenly meat.

The last few years my interest in a meat form long neglected in this hemisphere has grown with a fever pitch. If you have spent any time in Korea, you know the magic of Kalbi. Kalbi are the Korean bbq version of Short Ribs. In the 70s when I made a lot of trips to Korea, Kalbi was one of those great new flavors which grabbed my attention. Marinated in soy, sugar, sesame, garlic.. lots of garlic, pepper, and a half dozen other spices the meat is then grilled. The Korean key to short ribs, is the way they cut them. Zig Zaggy cuts are done parallel to the bone, interleafing the cuts in a way which lets you lay the meat out, almost flat, It means that all the meat is subject to the flavor of the fire and marinade, not just the outer edges. It cooks quickly, and makes Korea a serious contender for the next time they have a World Series of Barbeque. But the rediscovery of Short Ribs, and things you can do with them, well, it makes it a great time to be alive.

About two years ago I had a wonderful lunch at Tenh Penh, the moderno-Asio-spicio place in downtown DC. The Short Rib special that day (which I had spied on another diner’s plate while doing my “I must be lost, so I have to walk through all the aisles to get to the restroom” recon trips)was nothing short of sublime. Short Rib, huh? Well I knew it as Kalbi, but like so many things, certain cuts of meat, veggies, etc., just don’t make it mainstream everywhere. And when they are rediscovered by talented chefs, it’s a wonder to behold. Now I’m always looking out for a short rib on the menu, no matter where I go. And they keep popping up.

The other night I decided to try it myself. Iris was driving back through the snow from Jersey, and I was able to work unfettered all afternoon in the kitchen. Well, not all afternoon, exactly, but for an honest four hours. It was fun. The first sizzle you get when you put the meat in the hot oiled pan to sear it is a treat in itself. From that moment on the smell and sounds contrive to make a little sensory cheerleading section. I browned all the meat (this recipe was from the Silver Palate cookbook) and then laid it all out in a roasting pan with crushed (by hand) tomatoes, garlic, a mushed up hot pepper, plenty of salt and white pepper, and a celery stalk. Covered with foil, and let it do it’s braising thing for a little over 3 hours. When I pulled the foil off for the last 20 minutes of cooking, even the foil was a visual treat.

The foil used to cover the Short Ribs - a piece of modern Art all unto its own
There is something wonderful that bubbling liquid does to the meat. It remains brown but softens up and becomes so tender that it’s a chore to keep the meat on the bone as you transfer it to a plate. But what a pay off. The slow cooking thing really does it for me. There is an earthy richness to the succulent meat and for me, few dishes will come close to the almost sensuous nature of these ribs. It’s so different from barbequing pork ribs, or even big beef back ribs. The short ribs, (and I have no idea what part of the bovine they come from ) are their own reward. I praise the braise, and suggest to you that there few better ways to cook than to set up a pan of short ribs, kick back with a good Bogie or Thin Man flick, and know that when Mary Astor is ‘sent over’, the payoff dinner will be ready. We’re just sayin... David

Lekish and the Moodle

If you’ve turned on TV you know it’s politics as usual time again. I was once a part of that politics and it often comes back to me when I remember an event in New Hampshire in 1975. It remains vivid in my memory for many reasons not the least being everything in the room was blue and tasteless. It was hard to work to be diplomatic and keep a straight face. My colleague Mark, was much better at it then I. All I could think about was Lekish - the imaginary character my mother and her sisters referred us too whenever we had a request or a complaint. Like "Mommy, I need a new Tiny Tears. Mine doesn't wet the way it’s supposed too". "Go tell Lekish", she would respond.

I spent all my growing up years trying to figure out who Lekish was and where I would find him. But now, standing here in this maze of blue I finally knew. I was Lekish. I spent most of my time alone and talking to myself or with Mark, who was negotiating entrances and exits with the man in charge of the blue. Mark, who symbolically represented the campaign for my family, had come to be known as the Moodle. Seth, then four years old son could not say Mo Udall. He had never seen Mo Udall. All he knew was that I was always on the road with Mo Udall. He knew Mark, and it seemed I was always going somewhere with Mark. He assumed Mark was also called Mo Udall- or as Seth could only say, Moodle. "Mommy is away with the Moodle".

"I'd like to use a different back drop", I heard Mark saying. "That particular shade of green just doesn't look good on camera. Maybe we could use an American flag behind the podium." We had done this a million times. Look around. Ask questions. Give Advice. Make final Decisions. Sometimes it was more fun then other times but usually the Advance was pretty much the same. Find out everything. The how, what, when, and where of the candidates trip and make it newsworthy.

An event doesn't just happen. It is the Advance person or team that do all the work once the decision is made to create an event. And in 1975 Lekish and the Moodle, were creating an event that would be campaign and media worthy.

"I love the blue plates and the blue table cloths, and the blue napkins, and the blue plastic flowers. I just don't like the pea soup green of the backdrop"... Moodle was still trying to create an adequate visual. I knew we would do it, even if it meant appearing ten minutes before the candidate and changing it ourselves but he was still trying the diplomatic route. I remember feeling like I forgot something. Have I got everything I need?" I asked Lekish silently. Advance people are always doing mental check lists. "Do an equipment check", Lekish responded in my head.
l. Soap... incase something like a goose neck mike or a podium chair squeeks. Also good for washing clothes in the hotel bathtub when you don't have time to send them out or go to the Laundromat.
2. A candle... in case the fuses blow at the event the candle will help you to find the fuse box. Also very useful for greasing a mike or a chair if you forget the soap.
3. Gaffers Tape... preferably at room temperature so it sticks better. 4. Swiss Army knife... (which you can longer take on a plane). It should have as many attachments as possible, but especially a scissor, corkscrew and can-opener. You will inevitably need one of them and will impress many people with the mere act of having it readily accessible.

"No, green is my favorite color. I heard Moodle say. “I don't like the blue and green combined but that's personal preference, I just don't think it looks well behind the speaker. Mo is terrible in green and it's probably the same for most of the other candidates."

I remember mentally sketching out the entrance we would use for Mo. The one close to the press or close to the VIP table? What do you think Lekish? When would he do one-on-one interviews, before or after he spoke? Got any suggestions Lekish? Should we feed him before he arrived or after. He'd probably want to eat so he could have a drink and socialize afterward. Do you agree Lek?

"I'm glad you see it my way", Mark was finishing. Yes We'll rent the flag. It will be great." I remember how happy we were that there would be no issues. “Are you ready Lekish"? Mark asked. "I sure am Moodle. We've got lots of things to do today. Let's get on the road." And so it went for too many years to remember. But I find in everything I do, the Lekish lives. We’re just sayin...

Friday, March 16, 2007

Check Your Motives at the Door

David and I made a policy decision. We are never mentioning any member of our families who is not immediate. That means, I will continue to write about my extraordinary son, his fabulous wife, our zany daughter, and probably my brother and his incredibly beautiful and smart wife and daughter. And Mom, of course. David will reflect on growing up as a Jew in Salt Lake and he will probably mention his mother – on occasion. But that’s it. I am going to talk about friends. And I am going to talk about politics and life – but no mention of family. It gets me into trouble. And just FYI, it hurts my feelings when people think I would say or do anything to intentionally be unkind or harsh. It really hurts my feelings. What would motivate anyone to be cruel?

When I started in politics the first thing I learned was to assess the motives of the people who wanted to be involved with the campaign. Some wanted fame or glory. Some wanted attention. Some wanted to parlay their relationship with the candidate into a money making venture. As I moved along the highway of life, (can’t you just see me riding in my jaguar waving to the cerfs), the ability to figure out personal and professional intentions became a part of my expertise. People hired me to figure out why someone would want something—anything.

It may sound trite but my intentions are always good. No one who is ill intended can assess motives because they will always be suspicious or paranoid. I try never to say or do anything that would make another person unhappy. Sometimes I screw up, but it is never intended. And that doesn’t make it right. It’s just what happens because no one is perfect. For example, I have friends that try to be complimentary. They try to say the right thing but it never quite gets there. You know who they are. They want to tell you your hair looks good, but it comes out like your hair always looks terrible and this is a nice change. They don’t intend to imply that you need a new comb. But you think you should buy one—and that hurts your feelings. Sometimes I say or do something stupid or wrong but it is not ever intentional. Like, I didn’t mention that Seth and Joyce were having a baby, on one blob, and he felt slighted by it. It was not intentional. But he felt terrible. And of course, I felt terrible about hurting his feelings. But we got beyond that in an attempt build a better relationship.

All people do not have inherently good motives. There are people who are not nice and intentionally do and say things to hurt feelings. Take for example Laura Ingraham, just one of a handful of despicable money grubbing political liars. She happens to be a Conservative but there are Liberals who play the same role in stirring up trouble. When Laura or one of her other colleagues says something, you know that their intention is to hurt or attack. They are reviled by their opposition and that’s how they make their money. I don’t know how they look in the mirror but that’s not my problem—I don’t want to be invited to their bathroom.

And we all know people—let’s not call them friends—who find it physiologically impossible to say anything nice about anyone or anything. I have always wondered, by what they were motivated? And why would anyone want to be friends with them. A psychologist friend of mine said it was because some people hated themselves and when they were around individuals who had nothing nice to say, it reinforced their self-loathing. But that’s too much thinking for me. It’s like when you meet a terrific woman and she’s married to a son of a bitch. The first thing I think is—why would she put up with that. And the second thing I think is, only a really nice person would put up with it. It, like so many things in life, is not uncomplicated. But we’re getting off the motive track.

When someone lies to me professionally, and I know it, I wonder why they lied. How would it benefit them for me to think something they said was true when it wasn’t? Did they screw up and are trying to cover for it. Are they trying to get someone they don’t like into trouble? What will they get if I believe them? When someone says something unkind about a friend, I will always ask why they said it, and what do they mean. I assume they misspoke or they didn’t mean what they said... I hope they’re not that stupid. And, I think, why would anyone say something bad to me, about someone I love. I assume that it was not intentional until we have had a conversation. In my own Pollyanna way, I look for the good in people – not the bad. And while my friend (not family) Soozie says I see the glass half full—I never think the glass has a chip or is dirty.

So you have the motivated and motivators. Or the good guys and the bad guys. They are easy to tell apart. The good guys say I’m sorry and they mean it. The bad guys always think they are right and they never put on tap shoes. And maybe the bad guys are also people who are unforgiving, assume the worst about people, and don’t ever want to know any truth. We’re just sayin...

Yet Another Change

This is not my orginial blob. Yesterday when I wrote, I wrote about trying to keep family together -- it is something important to David and to me. Some of my cousins, who I didn't know read the blog, were upset about it because they thought it was in someway directed in a negative way, toward them. This was never my intention and I am sorry if it was misperceived. I did not write it to be mean, hurtful or insensitive. Quite the opposite. I wrote about the things that happen to a family to that keep them from getting and staying close and I wish it were different. I think that when it was read by some people, they overlooked what I thought was the good stuff, and they thought was bad stuff. I never intended for anything to be bad, but it was unfortunately perceived that way-- given the phone calls I received this morning. And I am sorry for that. And I am sorry that some people can't leave a message like this "You hurt my feelings. I think you were wrong. What did you mean because I don't agree." Instead of screaming about how horrible I am and they're never speaking to me again. If after 60 years, of relationship they're not speaking to me over one misunderstood opinion in a blob, then I guess there wasn't much of anything there anyway. One of my cousins called to explain her take. Here's mine. I love my family. I think that there are often misunderstandings and miscommunication about intentions. Mine were misunderstood. I can't do more than say I'm sorry. What I've learned is that more people read the blog than I thought and that people don't always get' or agree with what I write. Which doesn't mean I'm going to stop writing. I hope I can speak directly to those who's anger is misplaced and we can resolve any misunderstandings. With that said, mom's feeling better today.

When the phone rang this morning, I thought it was my alarm so I just shut it off. Fifteen minutes later it rang again and I was about to do the same thing but I noticed the caller id said ‘mom’. It was Marcella, mom’s caregiver who was calling to say that Nana had fallen, banged her head and was totally out of it. She had called 911 and the police officers had just arrived. I spoke to a nice young Sergeant, who said he talked to me the last time this happened, but unlike last time, he thought it was different and it was a good idea to take her to the hospital So they did, and I met them in the Emergency Room. It was quite a change from yesterday.

Yesterday was a good day. We went to the assisted living facility to sign mom up. We’ve had 6 caregivers in the last ten months and it was just too complicated to look for someone else—for a number of reasons. We’ve been very lucky because we only had one nut out of the six. And a nut she was. I don’t remember if we blobbed about her but the first time she worked for us, she and mom were driving somewhere and mom told her to turn right. She thought they needed to turn left. Anyway, mom was right so when they got home, Connie packed all her things and without even saying goodbye, left in a huff. We had two other caregivers and then Connie called to say she was so sorry about what happened and she would be devoted to us forever, if we gave her another chance. Which we did while Mom was in the hospital and rehab. But the day before Mom came home, Connie flipped out again and in the middle of the night packed all her bags and fled to the neighbor—a woman who has terminal lung cancer. Not only was it intrusive, it was stupid. The neighbor really didn’t want company at 1 a.m. and she was prepared to call the police.

Moving on, we have been incredibly lucky with help. They have all been incredibly honest and kind—even Connie. But the stats say we are due for a real lunatic, so I felt it was a mistake to look for someone else when there was assisted living as an option. I might add that it is not easy for mom to keep readjusting to new people. And when they leave she does take it personally and think it’s something she did. So we all agreed that a place where, not only would she get three wonderful meals a day, but she might make friends and have fun, was probably a good idea. Assisted living is expensive but I think we’ll be alright. If not, I know I can call on my cousin Chuck to help.

Anyway, yesterday, Mom seemed pretty cool about the transition. At least she went for lunch and the interview without screaming and yelling about, how could I do this to her. The first time she said “Why would you do this/”, I said, “Why, is it a crime to want you to have some fun and a life?” And that pretty much set the record straight. I have been stressed beyond belief, not about her wanting to go—because this is a woman who loved being with people—even at the local rehab facility, but because I wasn’t sure she would make it through the medical evaluation. But either they think she’s fine or they are passing her through for the down payment. I was lucky because, stressed as I was, Rosalie and her grandchildren came to help us pick out an apartment and cheer her on. As Nathan said, “If I were 80, this is where I would want to live.”

We spent about 8 hours in the hospital and, although she was tired from all the excitement, we thought that being in the hospital was not the best alternative. The last time she was there they gave her sedatives, she became agitated and every morning, despite our pleas, we would find her confined in a strait jacket. We got her up and dressed and took her home. It is better for her to be home. And now I wonder if she will be able to adjust to a new ‘home’. I hope so because there is no place like home, unless it’s not working anymore. We’re just sayin... Iris

Tuesday, March 13, 2007


The first time (I was a very young child), I read a newspaper and saw that ‘anonymous’ was a source, it took a minute before I realized that anonymous wasn’t a name like Milton Anonymous, it was a person who didn’t want to be identified by name, but wanted to have something to say. It made me uncomfortable. Over the years I came to understand why some people, like journalists and CIA agents needed to have anonymity, but I was still not comfortable about ‘anonymous’. In fact, in the days when I was a political hack, being anonymous was the way we leaked stories to the media about either our, or other candidates. Obviously, the information was always positive about the person for whom we were working and usually not so nice about the other guy.

You see it all the time in ‘reports’ from Washington. According to anonymous, so and so had a lengthy conversation about such and such and here is what happened as a consequence. Some journalists use quotes that are exclusively from anonymous or their sources are people who are dead. The result of course, is the same. There is no one who can actually confirm the truth.

Why do people want to be anonymous? Sometimes it is because they are afraid. For example, when anonymous exposes an injustice or reports that their supervisor was doing something illegal—they are usually afraid of retribution. Sure, there are laws that protect them, but in a bureaucracy there are ways to punish someone that appears to be both legal and simple. Sometimes the “whistleblower’ (heretofore referred to as anonymous), will actually get a promotion, but the job will be so terrible they will want to leave. Can they again insist the promotion was retribution—I doubt it. In this case it’s better to make up a name, wear a Groucho mask, and meet the reporter in some dark corner of an obscure bistro – maybe bistro is too public but you get the picture. Sometimes people need to maintain anonymity because of their work. We’ve all seen the movies of the hangman or the French head chopper-offer with the leather mask covering his face. Surely it wasn’t because he was kinky—or maybe it was, but kinky or not, he clearly didn’t want to be walking down the street and have someone point a finger a yell “There’s the head chopper-offer from yesterday’s guillotine events”.

There are also people, like spies, who depend on anonymity in order to be able to do their jobs. I know in my heart that James Bond could never have been able to do what they say he did in the movies, because if you were the enemy and knew what he looked like you would simply have shot him -- like in the Indiana Jones movie when the guy in the turban descends on Indiana with swords blazing and the audience thinks Indie will be cut to pieces but the our hero takes out a gun and shoots the villain. Well, maybe it’s not exactly like that, but it was an incredibly funny moment.

Is there a difference between being anonymous and having anonymity? I think there is in some cases but I also think that credibility diminishes when someone chooses not to be identified and the same is true for the person whose reports depend on an anonymous source. This is a personal opinion and it is based on the fact that I know people who have been anonymous sources and they simply did not tell the truth. This is obviously, not the case with every anonymous source but, when there is no danger, or no physical or professional jeopardy, it does lead to questions not asked when the source has a name.

Which brings us to the people who chose to remain anonymous when they comment on the blob. (Admittedly, it was a pretty circuitous way to get here). I love to discuss differences of opinions. And I know a comment does not have to lead to discussion because some people simply want to comment. But I made a policy decision that if someone says something ugly or unkind on the site without identifying themselves, I am simply going to delete it. If anonymous says something nice, I will leave it forever. And if someone named Seth, with fabulous insight, obvious good judgment, very handsome, and incredibly talented, has a comment, I will give him a big fat kiss when I can. We’re just sayin....

Monday, March 12, 2007

On Avenue Q

The dictionary definition of a racist is as follows:
1. a belief or doctrine that inherent differences among the various human races determine cultural or individual achievement, usually involving the idea that one's own race is superior and has the right to rule others.
2. a policy, system of government, etc., based upon or fostering such a doctrine; discrimination.
3. hatred or intolerance of another race or other races.

I don’t know any people who fit that definition. That does not mean I don’t know of any because I know of many. Louise Day Hicks, who tried to prevent busing in Boston, Southern Governors who tried to keep schools segregated or prevent voting, the religious lunatic who assassinated Gandhi and the bigot who shot Martin Luther King. So when I say I don’t know anyone, I mean I would never associate or even argue with anyone I thought was a racist. I certainly do not see that person when I look in the mirror.

Forgetting the dictionary, and who we know, who or what do you have to do to be considered a racist. I think it’s all about hate, and hate is a terrible emotion and at one time or another we have all felt that we hated our parents, or friends or teachers or an idea. But we didn’t think of ourselves as racists—we were merely angry about something they did or said or believed. A racist has usually been taught to hate from a very early age and unless they have an experience that negates the teaching they will probably continue to believe that their race or religion is superior to the target of hate.

When I was at USA Networks we designed an award winning campaign called ‘Erase the Hate’, the purpose of which was to promote respect for individual differences. We were all proud to be part of something that could make a positive impact. But what exactly are individual differences? For our campaign we focused on race, religion, gender, age, culture, and disabilities. These are all things that we don’t have much choice about. We didn’t talk about things like weight, hair color, not bathing, smoking, taste in clothing, political persuasion, or being a vegetarian, because these were all things about which people made their own life choices. But lately, if you object in any way to these items, you are considered to be prejudiced or intolerant. Tolerance is a word that belongs right up there with bigot. I think it is arrogant and condescending to say we are tolerant of another person’s beliefs. It implies that what we believe is better or right, but we’ll let you have your own little beliefs and we won’t object to them—at least not publicly.
There’s a show on Broadway called Avenue Q. It’s a great show and totally politically incorrect. It makes you laugh from beginning to end and a good portion of the time you are laughing at yourself. There’s one song that is especially germane to this blob called, “Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist.” There are a few verses that, although I don’t agree some of the sentiment, I find appropriate to what we have become as a society --very quick to label or accuse people of being racists based on limited information. They are as follows:

“Ethnic jokes might be uncouth,
But you laugh because
They're based on truth.
Don't take them as
Personal attacks.
Everyone enjoys them -
So relax!”

It goes on...

“Doesn't mean we go
Around committing hate crimes.”

And then...

“The Jews have all
The money
And the whites have all
The power.
And I'm always in taxi-cab
With driver who no shower!”

I wrote something a few days ago that apparently offended a few of our readers. I was trying to be funny and clever, and even David says it didn’t work. But who I am and what I have done in my life is much more telling than two sentences in a blob. And it does push my buttons (and I find it equally offensive), to have people who because of a word or a phrase pretend to be, (as we say in our house), ‘TVOMO” (the voice of moral outrage), when they have to attack rather than discuss an issue as important as this. We’re just sayin...Iris

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Priorities Maybe?

How do we order our priorities? Work, family friends, health, food, or entertainment?
For some part of our lives work has to be the priority because, whatever would we do with our days if we didn’t have someplace to go or something to do. And if work is not a priority when we’re young, then what will we have to complain about when we’re old? When I was growing up I never really thought about what I was going to do with my life. I supposed I would get married, have kids, retire to Miami and die – with a few pauses for a meal at the Rascal House. I had no career aspirations... it was too much work just thinking about working. After I graduated from College with a degree in Speech Education and Dramatic Literature, and I couldn’t find a job teaching (which was everyone’s fall back career.) I did get married, but it wasn’t a full time job. So I worked in a drug store and at an employment agency. But those were not careers and aside from being boring, they were low paying. What to do? Go back to school –which I did with the help of a Professor who awarded me a teaching fellowship.

In those days, (when you had to park you dinosaur in a big parking space), a teaching fellow got paid about $3200 per year. Together, my then husband and I, made $6400 a year. It was not a great deal of money but we were young and it was fun to struggle. But I still didn’t have a career goal. I got my Master’s in communication theory and decided that maybe I should be a lawyer. But I wanted to be Perry Mason and I didn’t want to have to go to school or work for it. Then I thought I wanted to work as a political guru in Presidential campaigns – but girls didn’t do that unless they were lawyers—I still don’t know why. Well I know about the girl part but not about why you would need to be a lawyer. My fallback became my fall front and I was hired to teach speech and English at Waltham High School—which was great until one of my students tried to push me down the stairs and some whacko administrator put me on library leave because I was against the war in Viet Nam. So I applied to teach at Boston University --which I did until they closed the Department and I had to start the search again. But it was OK because I was pregnant.

It was 1971 and I got pregnant on the first try although the tests kept coming back negative. I knew, however something was up because when I tried to light a cigarette it made me very sick to my stomach. And I couldn’t get enough Matzah with butter and salt and root beer soda. I quit smoking and I think drinking—in those days you could ingest anything –raw fish, cheese, booze—anything. Unless it made you feel bad, in which case you would certainly throw up. I had a wonderful baby and decided to put my non-career on hold, but I had already gotten involved in the McGovern campaign because I had a constituency (college students) who were of interest to the campaign. My career, while not exactly changing, did take a different direction and I thought I had found my niche in Presidential politics. But I had no specialty except being good at bull doody—which ultimately turned out to be the basis of my somewhat eclectic successful career. Seth is a lot like me but not in exactly the same way. It took him time to find his way, but once he realized he had talents (writing and music) that he could parlay into a career, he pursed them and he is a success at both.

David’s life was quite different. He knew what he wanted to do and went after it. He was totally focused on being a photojournalist and he never let anything interfere—not relationships or other interests. He had them but they did not distract him from his goal. He is recognized as one of the best in the business and that didn’t come without sacrifice—but to his credit he never sacrificed a relationship with his child for his work. He accommodated both and he did it successfully. Jordan has to be like David because her career of choice demands that she is totally focused on the theater and performing.

We try to encourage our children to pursue their dreams. But we don’t always encourage them to understand how we got to where we got. Is that clear. I think not. Our children often think it was easy for us to get where we got because we haven’t told them about the difficulties and, of course, we have tried to make their lives easy. They may have expectations of who and what we are that far exceed our ability to be that person. Sure we always try to be there for them but that’s not always possible. And certainly we try to love them without suffocating them or interfering, and that often leads to them thinking we don’t love them or we don’t care about their lives. We want them to be independent but at the same time we want to always remain a part of their lives. It’s a delicate balance. One that unfortunately or fortunately often tips to one side or the other. And children are not the only family issue. Often it includes parents and siblings. What roles do we play in their lives and the bottom line, how do we divide the problems.

Oh my, I didn’t get to discussing food, friends health or entertainment. They will have to be another blob. I guess this isn’t about priorities it’s about the way things work and I’m just too tired thinking about all the working. We’re just sayin...

Thursday, March 08, 2007


Sorry to have been out of touch. It’s been a hard couple of days. March 3 was Purim, which meant we had to begin the preparations for Passover. Aunt Peppy has been quite ill and mom has been a bit out of sorts, so the geographical, generational, transition was not without emotional difficulties.

We had a terrific “Gefilte Fish Chronicles” screening on Sunday generously hosted by Johanna Mendelson and David Forman. People loved it but seemed almost shocked about the quality of the documentary. I don’t know why except that David and I have not produced anything like this before, and I guess all they expect from us is a pretty face—so extraordinary talent is a welcome surprise. Kidding! Anyway, people laughed and cried and that’s all we want.

We met on Monday to begin preparations at Rosalie’s in Caldwell, NJ. Preparations mean we start to clean the chickens for the soup and the Seder meal, to make the stuffing for the cholent, the knaidel (matzah balls) for the soup, the farfel biscuits (usually very boring) and the fry the gribenes (chicken fat and onions fried until the fat melts or crisps with the onions.) I arrived from NY at 8am. Yes, it was early but I was parked in front of the NY apartment so I had to move the car at 7. The chickens had not been delivered to Arnold, the caterer who is supplying the meat and fowl, so we couldn’t start to pluck, but we could clean the vegetables for the soup. Just FYI, and in case you didn’t buy “The Gefilte Fish Chronicles Companion Cookbook” we use leeks, parsnips, turnips, carrots, dill, celery, and onions for the stock—lots of them. We were planning to make about 18 gallons of soup – and that’s a lot of liquid. So we peeled and washed for about two hours and then Honey appeared. There was still no word about the chickens so we decided to make the knaidel and gribenes. Mom arrived in time to supervise and to tell us that David should have come to film the transition.

Mom was correct about the filming because there were no shortages of transition screw-ups. Even though we used the cookbook it was difficult to remember exactly in what order to do things. Like, we realized (mom realized) that you need to mix the dry ingredients into the wet when you’re making the knaidel or they will be hard instead of fluffy – if you had been hit in the head with one of the balls from the first batch it would have killed you. We were reluctant to waste the 40 eggs we used and tried to convince ourselves that, sure they were hard, but still tasty. We did that for about three hours and then dumped them -- but not into the garbage disposal because it would have severely damaged the appliance. It was about this time that Arnold called to say the 17 whole chickens and 20 pounds of thighs (for soup) had arrived frozen so he would have to thaw them and we couldn’t have them until Tuesday. But we were totally knaidel consumed by then, so we agreed it would be OK to wait one day for the soup.

We mixed the second batch of knaidel by adding dry ingredients into liquid and they were fine. As we shaped them, we stuffed them with gribenes, and when they went into the water they rose right to the top. The floating action is a good sign for fluffy. We felt confident about the third batch so we mixed them the right way, refrigerated them for a half hour and then realized we had forgotten the seltzer. But we didn’t have any seltzer so we used cola. Much to our surprise they were terrific. We made a total of 72 and probably need another 50, but now that we know the secret it will be simple and we’ll do it later in the month.

While we waited for the knaidel to get cold we made the stuffing for the cholent. The recipe calls for 6 pounds of Mother’s, Kosher for Passover margarine, three large sliced or chopped onions and as much matzoh meal as the liquid will take to shape a ball. Yes, it is a little heavy on the fat but, when at first we couldn’t find the margarine they wanted to use chicken fat, and I drew the line. Actually, I ran screaming from the room and because they needed my help, they agreed not to go the chicken fat route. The final task was to freeze everything we created and store it until we are ready to use it at the Seder.

I went back to the city tired but satisfied about having completed some tasks. I parked in front of my apartment because I knew I would have to be back in NJ by 8am. When I arrived the next morning back in NJ Honey and Ro were at Arnolds picking up the chicken. There were massive amounts of chicken and they were pretty dirty. Kosher chickens are never clean. I don't know why. Never mind, the chickens had millions of feathers (that’s not clean) and we had to remove them. My mother, Rose The Supervisor, wanted us to pour boiling water over the chickens to make it easier to clean them but we didn’t think it was necessary. Mom’s response to most of what we did was “You girls are in such a hurry.” And it was true, we only wanted to spend 2, as opposed to 10 days with the chicken and soup. Additionally, we decided that there was no need to use the “boil three hours, cover with ketchup, and roast for another 2.” Method. We decided to season them in interesting ways so they would taste good. In Aunt Peppy’s honor we did one with ketchup.

We used the pots the size of Miami (4 of them) cooked the 18 gallons of soup with the vegetables, for about three hours, let it cool in giant containers and froze it. We roasted the 17 chickens for about an hour and a half, let them cool, cut them into pieces and froze them. While I do not want to be thought of as Delores Defrost, we have to freeze everything that can be frozen before we make the gefilte fish and the cholent because we need the pots.

With a significant amount of food prepared, I left Rosalie with only one chicken still needing to cook, and headed back to the city. David knew I had returned because he smelled me all the way from Second Avenue. As my Mom says in the documentary, “it was a good couple of days work and it’s not over yet.” More to come from Gefilte Fish Central. We’re just sayin... Iris