Sunday, July 29, 2007

There's... a Summer Place....

When we were kids my Grandparents had a summer place in Long Beach NY. I’m not sure if they rented or owned the house and I’m not even sure it was always the same house, but my mom and I would stay there during the week and my father would come on weekends. Actually, my dad may have come from the city every day but different people have different memories about it. The one thing that is consistent is that some of my best memories of my dad are when we played on the beach.

At the Sandpiper this weekend...

I loved the sand and the water and the bigness of each. In my small child brain, I thought they went on forever. As with any small person, I thought a lot of things went on forever—like friendship, family and good health. It’s too bad these very important things seem to have a finite quality most of us don’t consider. Anyway, I loved those days with my dad. He would share stories and dreams and he inspired me to do things I hardly knew about at the time, like visiting the Taj Mahal, something he dreamed about but only got as far as North Africa during the war. He never made it to India.

Done Up for Dinner

My guess is that my love of the beach is a direct consequence of these times with my father. The years passed and my Grandparents stopped going to Long Beach. But when we moved to New Jersey, my cousins liked to go to the shore and I sometimes tagged along. As a teenager many of my friends went “down the shore” in the summer to work as mother’s helpers. There were no Au Pairs then because no one knew you could import foreign young people to baby sit and do domestic chores. So there were just plain old American mother’s helpers. I didn’t work at the shore. I worked at the family handbag factory packing and stacking bags. I had started out in the office but I got tired of filing so I merely threw away the files, and my uncles, who wanted to kill rather than fire me, just sent me to the factory. It was not an easy job but the people were friendly and kind and, because I was the boss’s niece, they were especially generous with their help.
But I’m getting off the subject, what else is new?

I was allowed to take two weeks off from work near the end of the summer and so I made arrangements to visit my grandmother, who was staying at a hotel in Asbury Park. My Grandma Sadie spent winters in Miami. She actually lived at what now is the Delano, ( a very chic boutique hotel) but was then just a place where older Jewish people sat on the porch and kibitzed about their health. My Grandmother also entertained the residents. In the evening she would take the stage, sing, dance and tell jokes. It was not a paying position but she loved it and they loved her. I actually got to see some of her performances, but my Auntie Irene, her daughter, never got to see her in action. We still can’t figure out why she was not permitted the experience and it was too bad because she was a hoot. Back to my vacation.

Kerry, Iris & Clare, on the veranda

Grandma had two beds in her room. I slept in one. And I must say, she was not a pain in the neck about my comings and goings—and the goings were with great frequency. My pal Joyce and our friend Vicky were both working for rich families. We didn’t understand why Vicky was working because she was extraordinarily wealthy, but she had a job. Unlike Joyce, Vicky did not live in. She had her own room at a girls’ boarding house. Now that was very cool. None of us had ever known a 16 year old friend who had her own unsupervised place—especially at the beach.

We were a pretty wild crowd for those days. The girls would work during the day (I would tan with a reflector), then we would meet up at some appointed spot and either go to someone’s mansion in Deal, N.J., or we would go and sit on Davey VanNote’s porch in Allenhurst, (then a blue collar suburb of Asbury), and we would scream derisions at the tourists. I met Davey years later during the Carter campaign and I remembered him as being much taller but no less funny. Eventually, we would make our way to some venue which included beer or liquor—no one drank wine in 1962. It didn’t matter, we drank and drank and on more than one occasion I stayed at Vicky’s rather than make my way back to Grandma’s. As long as I called she was OK with it, and there was only one occasion when I was so looped my friend Davey dropped me off at another girls’ boarding house where I slept on the floor until about 6am and then made my way to Vicky’s. Grandma was very understanding when I explained I had tried to call but the hotel wouldn’t put me through—she didn’t have her own phone—no one did.

What's a Trip to the Beach, without going to the Beach?

Those summers were fabulous and my love for the Jersey Shore continues. A year or so ago Jordan and Clare had left for school and Kerry suggested we spend a weekend at the shore. I thought that would be terrific—it had been much too long between trips. We found a B&B in Spring Lake, had a fun weekend and decided to go again and this year take the girls. Which we did this weekend. We stayed at a lovely Bed and Breakfast called the Sandpiper Inn in Spring Lake. The rooms are beautiful, the beds are comfortable and there is a refrigerator in every room. They have a swimming pool - which is nice if the weather is bad at the beach, and there is a great restaurant in the inn, where you can actually order take-out, and enjoy it on the veranda. Along with breakfast there is a daily tea, free water and sodas, yogurt, cereal bars, fruit, and juices. They have dishes and glasses and in the morning before the actual breakfast you can have coffee (the decaf was sensational), in the “living room” a lovely well appointed common space. They have got it together and we will surely go back.

Jordan and Clare - the 'Veranda Portrait'

The beach and the ocean remain very special to me. When I walk along the shore I can still see my dad running ahead and I still hope I will. I know there will never be another chance for me to catch him, but when I’m with my friends or with my family, I feel like he’s still there waiting for all of us to duck through the waves. We’re just sayin...Iris

360? Say It Ain't So!

Aboard the Acela Express, DC to NY:

You sometimes wonder what will tap your fancy when you start to blob. There are, of course a million things to write about in this lunatic world of ours. Whether it’s the Snowman asking questions on Youtube’s CNN “debate”, or another quite unbelievable story of the latest Administration blunder. Today’s Washington Post has a piece detailing how political appointee William Steiger (he is at HHS) has stifled the release of a Surgeon General report on what the U.S. should be doing around the world to help in the fight against poverty-based health problems. The name Steiger sounded familiar, and as I read down I noted that he was the son of a former “moderately conservative Congressman” from Wisconsin. Oshkosh to be exact. And the reason I know that is I took a picture of young – maybe three years old --William with his dad in the weeks that I returned from Vietnam in 1972. It was my first assignment for LIFE back in the states “The New Young Turks of Congress” and Bill Steiger, the dad, who had apparently hired Dick Cheney as an intern, was one of our subjects. A lovely guy, who died too young – still in his 40s, I think. The picture LIFE ran was of the Congressman with his little tyke of a son grabbing on to his leg, the kind of grab that every kid has done with every dad. It hurt, almost, to see that the son has become quite the political bulldog, having been charged over the past decade with numerous Republican operative jobs. You just kind of hope that the little kid would have become, you know, someone who brought people together, who worked not so much for political ends as for the kind of apple pie and mom country that we all read about in the fourth grade. Some of the other folks, by the way, in that article included: Bill Cohen (Maine), Joe Biden (Delaware), Jack Kemp (NY), and Wayne Owens (Utah).

The Actual CNN News Bag: News, "that's NOT my bag!"
But in the world we live in, we are not, apparently, going to be allowed such gifts of reasonable behaviour. On the train this morning I was once again reminded of how idiotic a country we live in. Buying a newspaper, I was asked if I wanted a bag for it. As usual I’m schlepping more than I should, so I said ‘yes’ please, and received the Hudson Group Commemorative Anderson Cooper 360 shopping bag. Lucky me. A nice enough bag but one which has emblazoned on it the irredoubtable Anderson, slogging through the Congo/SierraLeone/Liberia countryside with a half dozen escort/helpers/FreedomFighters/porters wearing that perfectly fitting black Armani t shirt. (He wears the t-shirt, they of course wear fatigues.) It got me to thinking about the wonderful marketing opportunities which Bill Paley miss handled.

Makes Perfect Sense, No?
What a lack of vision. What narrowmindedness. Anyone with half a brain could have seen that putting Edward R. Murrow’s likeness on an Au Bon Pain coffee cup would have given him so much more market exposure. What was Paley thinking?

And it makes you wonder why neither LIFE magazine nor Magnum, ever licensed Robert Capa’s picture to put on, say, a banana. In the world we live in, it makes sense. Nothing like getting that face out there 24/7, is there. Did I mention that if you buy a book at the Hudson newsstand, they give you a bookmark with Anderson Coopers face on it? Well, what can I say: it makes me nearly physically ill to see that this is what my dear profession has become. I think however that it behooves some young smart lawyer to find out just where Anderson's picture was taken, fly to Africa with a video camera and a stenographer, and interview the schlepper/porter/FreedomFighters in the picture with Anderson, since I doubt – and I don’t think I’m going too far off base here – that they have a signed a model release and were paid a fee for having their photographs (likenesses is the Legal term for it) used to promote and market CNN. My colleague at Contact, Bob Pledge, suggested years ago, and perhaps we should have just done it then, that we travel the second & third worlds finding people who, because the suits in NY or Washington never felt an obligation to treat them fairly, ended up in all kinds of advertising schemes, none of which would have been thinkable for a domestic subject, without a signed Model Release.

The Afghan refugee girl, by Steve McCurry

Steve McCurry’s picture of the Afghan girl was perhaps the most famous of these: the haunting blue eyes, taken in a camp as part of a bigger reportage, and as he didn’t have her name she became the iconic, nameless beauty of a refugee, only to be found nearly twenty years later. A good attorney could have easily wrangled a seven figure settlement from the Geographic, as they had used her image on everything from advertisements, tip-ins [the annoying little subscription cards that fall out], posters, the list just goes on and on. But as there is a feeling that the subjects will probably never see the final product, these things sometimes go through without the usual vetting you would have if it were a more domestic subject.

But, as Iris says, that’s not what I want to blob about today:

Yesterday I finally got into the car and headed north into Maryland, to meet with BlobCommenter #1, and old pal, Walt Calahan. Walt and his wife Donna – a wonderful sculptor, live in a little pocket between DC and Baltimore, on a lovely farm they moved to about 3 years ago.

Hitting the Maryland countryside...

Walt is constantly having to update all the things that break and go bad over time in a country environment (the fences, the tractor paths, etc etc) and yet he still finds time to muck about with silly old cameras the way I do. In additon to all this, and perhaps most notable of all, he reads every damn word that Iris and I write on the Blob. Well, after threatening to visit for a year, I finally hopped in the Miata and made my way north.

Walt and Zippy

An hour later, there we were, in the middle of 8+ acres, paced by three “can’t wait to jump into the creek” hounds, and one colorful, Tuxedo like cat named Zippy. I got the cook’s tour, and I must say – even though he doesn’t have dozens of acres under cultivation, or two dozen horses to look after (just 2 at the moment) the stuff to required to keep the place moving and running is seemingly without end. Hats off to Walt and Donna for making the Greenacres move.

Walt, on the "north 40..."

Yet, it’s true, when you look out over the pasture from his office window, you can understand the attraction.

Peaches, $ 4.50 per 1/4 peck.. how many bushels is that?

Meatloaf Special & Walt @ Baughers

That, and the ability to be at Baugher’s country café in about 12 minutes. This 60 year old establishment, which is an offshoot of a large family run farm in the area, features “home style cooking’ and from what we could tell yesterday, plenty of folks who are in need of a “home style cooked” meal. The peaches looked good enough to take home ( ¼ peck for $4.50 and of course I left the basket sitting on the Victrola in the front hall as I raced out of the house this morning to catch the train…)
Meatloaf Special and Me, by Walt

Ours included meatloaf, beets, and corn, topped with bread pudding. It was a very throwback kind of place, and I’m sure if they really wanted to see increased profits on the bottom line, and bigger lines of folks out the door, they could cut a deal with CNN to have Anderson Cooper emblazoned on their menu. Or, better yet, how ab out Wolf Blitzer arriving with your plate of candied beets?

Would you like Wolf with your veggies?

Who knows, soon we might be able to see Anderson 360 degrees without having to turn the damn TV on. Or, maybe that’s what they mean when they call him Anderson 360. What a nightmare vision. You can’t look anywhere without seeing him. Kind of makes you hanker for the Blitz (not the Blitzer), when, if you were over-dosed on news, all you had to do was turn off the radio. We’re just sayin'…David

Friday, July 27, 2007

Indulged (@ 300!)

Whenever I hear another Lindsay Lohan story I can’t help but think, “what the heck are her parents doing to help this child?” So? What do you do when your kid is a Lindsay Lohan? Maybe a better question is, why do we care about Lindsay Lohan? No that’s not a better question. The public is fascinated by celebrity difficulties. Here’s maybe a better question. What responsibility does a parent need to take for a child who can’t seem to get themself together? Probably because the parents never got themselves together. I understand that some people who are exceedingly wealthy feel that they don’t have to abide by the same rules as mere mortals. Those people feel entitled to live their lives the way they choose to regardless of the consequences, and the consequences are often that their children, who also are indulged and entitled, frequently behave badly. What is it with people like the Hiltons or the Lohans The Hiltons were known to always be out partying with Paris. Lindsay’s mother took the press on tours of the rehab center where her kid was housed. I think that sending these kids to rehab or jail is only one part of the problem. A bigger part is that their parents seem to be oblivious or in denial about what is happening to the kid, and maybe it is they who need to be rehabed or jailed. But that’s not what I wanted to blob about.

I wanted to blob about indulging in a good way. Like tonight we went to possibly the worst show running on or off Broadway. It was called “Sessions”. The music was terrible, the lyrics were boring, the book was bland, and the actors were ordinary. It was so bad the Jordan said “even though we had comp tickets, I want my money back- or at least the hours I wasted.” Don’t get me wrong, we had a good time but we did it despite the show. The only difficulty we had was that Clare , Jordan and Hannah had trouble not laughing out loud. When I saw their shoulders shaking I looked at Kerry and she mouthed “it’s the lyrics”. At which point I started to laugh. Then the final straw was when they started to sing about ‘fish gotta swim and birds gotta fly,’ and it wasn’t “Porgy and Bess” we knew we were in trouble. But later when we were having drinks and a bite at our new favorite after theater place, Michael Cerveris (big Broadway star) stopped by and told us that “the only way you know how difficult the good shows are to produce, is to see some really bad shows—but not too many.”

We have also started to indulge in things we like to do New York. Most New Yorkers hate the street fairs that take place every Saturday and Sunday on both the East and West side. New Yorkers hate them for their sameness and because they seriously screw up traffic (which I don’t understand because most of my city friends don’t drive) and this is true. But since you know where they are going to be (usually 12-15 blocks on an avenue) it is not difficult to get around them.

An Actual New Yorker at the Lex Ave. Fair, surrounded by other New Yorkers."

Anyway we love them because there is always something fun to buy, and more importantly, to gawk and giggle at/with. And, yes, while it is true that there are no shortages of t shirt booths, Indian rug merchants, Koreans that want to rub your back, Pashmina like shawls, cheap jewelry, grilled corn and icky foods from many nations, every once in a while there’s a good buy – and you can usually deal with the vendor.

The Burnett Girls in full Purchase Mode

So last week we bought a cute purse for $15 and there was a guy selling “Limited” summer dresses for $10. We bought two of those.

The best thing is passing a pet store and seeing Jordan test drive a Yorkie: "...and I shall call him Moishe"..)
We strut aimlessly up and down the avenue and just watch the people. I find that on the East side you get more neighborhood people and on the West side it’s more tourists—unless the fair is upper West or lower East or lower West—then it is neighbors. Sometimes the Upper West has things like furniture, vintage jewelry and designer knock-offs of pants and dressed.

Jordan, at the Lex Fair

I guess what I’m saying is avoid mid-town on the West side because it’s all tourists and they are simply not interesting, nor do they know the rules – we talked about the rules in another blob [Editors note: always remember Rule # 2: Stand Right, Walk Left]. But the products are not really important. It’s watching the people and it is New York where the people are none too colorful. Even Jordan said, “You know mom, it’s New York, so people don’t even notice your nuttiness.”

I love how the light bounces off New York windows, and even at Street Fairs, it creates very cool looks. Yeah, I'm the guy taking his own picture on 59th st.!

And speaking of nuttiness, we are about 300 blobs into this. And we have things to celebrate. I signed a book deal this morning for a non fiction political humor point of purchase book which should be out by next January. It’s called, “So You Think You Can Be President”. There will be book parties and readings and perhaps some actual sales. When the time comes I will let you all know and you can spread the word. We are also celebrating my Grandson’s baptism. I’m not sure what that means but a little extra help from God can never hurt. We are also celebrating our niece Liza’s marriage. And we’re celebrating how fortunate we are to have avid readers, good friends, and families who like us – or maybe it’s good readers, families around and friends who like us.. either way it’s all good. We’re just sayin... Iris

The Boy's All Right

My Better Half has a nicely honed talent as an essayist. I actually think (though I know she strongly disagrees) that I tell better stories in person, you know, gathered around the dimsum table, recounting hilarious tales of woe. But it has been a real pleasure getting to do the final Edit on her blobs for the last 14 months. And yes., today we reached a bit of a milestone. Three Hundred blobs. That’s more blobs than you can put into a free (oops, they cost a quarter now) IKEA shopping bag, more than you can fit into a recycling sack from Trader Joe’s. It doesn’t seem like much perhaps, but I suspect that even my 100 or so (she usually out blobs me about two to one) are equal to all the papers I penned in college, and I daresay, the spirit of Alistair Cooke notwithstanding, these probably make a helluva lot more sense. And while I don’t have the lingering stare of one of my Poli Sci professors, wondering when I WILL turn in that Int’l relations paper on the 1938 Munich accords, the butting heads of NeedToWrite, and procrastinatory desire to put it off, create a chemistry which yields, once something is written, that is worthy of a B+, spiritually. So, once I actually sit down and start writing, the mojo just appears, whether in the form of GoodEarth tea, or something stronger, and the keys start to fly. I love that feeling. I’m having it right now as I write this. I wonder if this is how Samuel Johnson got started. No, wait, he used Compuserve, so I suppose not.

I was thinking the other day about what I would say in my American Express TV commercial. Apparently I haven’t been cast yet, but assuming it happens some day I want to be ready to throw something at them. You know “ my life.. my love, my lust, my sorrow.. my card is American Express…” [DiNiro]. I quite liked the tone of that one. I keep trying to think at my stage in life, what are the things that matter. Family. Friends. Great colleagues who I work with. And that very personal, very particularly satisfying side of me which still, after more than forty years – gives me a charge: making a good picture. Seeing it come together in a viewfinder, and actually getting the image before it compositionally decomposes – now THAT is wonderful. That is Fun.

In summer of 1967, just before my senior year of college, I managed to land an internship at the TIME photo department. Michele Stephenson, who just retired from TIME in April of this year, was a junior researcher, doing the Business section. Not one other person from that summer is still with the magazine, or working in journalism on a regular basis. Well, except me that is. I have been doing this for forty years. I took a picture of John Kennedy in Sept. of 1963, on his trip through Utah, just before he was killed in Dallas. At that time, if I had been meeting someone in the photo biz who, like me now, could say, “I’ve been a photographer for forty years…” he would have been talking about covering the White House of Warren Harding. It makes for a D’oh moment when I ponder this. So quickly, so few generations, and you’re back in the ‘olden days.’ Well, that summer, I had 13 pictures published in TIME, a pretty good feat for a quite immature kid from Salt Lake City. And it more than confirmed for me that, inspite of a Poli Sci degree and having wanted to be involved in the space program as a rocket builder, that my life would somehow be related to photojournalism. I remain largely self taught, though I suppose a few classes here and there wouldn’t have been the worst thing in the world. Yet, learning something by doing it badly has its moments as a teaching theory. No one can tell you that you have done something wrong like yourself. I shot, and screwed up, and paid attention. And of course, did I mention it was fun. I clearly recall a fight with Tom (the famous "older brother", 3 years my elder) about – well, I suppose, the meaning of life. He attacked me as being a photo dork, and in retort, I screamed:
“People RESPECT photographers!” Little did I know.

I guess I was only saying what I thought I knew. But after he stopped laughing, he went on to tell me what dorks photographers were, and why would I wanna do THAT? But I stuck to my guns, and kept watching, and trying to learn. One of the pictures I did over that TIME summer was of the Grateful Dead, a band which I’d never heard of at the time (“Hey, Dave, head down to Tomkins Square Park, there is a free concert there..”) who became, well, “The Dead.” I had a pretty cool picture, and in the July 7, 1967 issue about Hippies (“The Philosophy of a Sub Culture”) I finally got published. It was a summer filled with meeting great people (David Gahr, an icon in the pop and folk music photo world, wonderful and talented, and who, most importantly, reminded me that “you should never do a job which doesn’t let you grow as a photographer..”)

The Dead by Me..

It turned out to be a rather eventful summer: the 6 Day war, the Newark & Detroit riots, anti-war demonstrations gripping the country, President Johnson embroiled in a mess not dissimiliar from today’s Iraq. Part of that summer I spent in Washington DC, living with a couple of friends from Salt Lake at an old brownstone apartment on 22nd and N streets (now a trendy Condo building.) Washington was still a small town, stiflingly hot in summer, full of the kind of one-horse-town business folks that made it a different kind of place. I was 20, and too young, in theory, to get a drink. Wally Bennett, the TIME staffer who took me under his wing, spent his lunch hours in the 60’s tradition – sipping martinis at Duke Ziebert’s across the street from the office. I still don’t see how the martini lunch ever took off. One whiff of vodka at noon, and I’m out cold. At five in the afternoon, it’s a different story, but noon? How the hell did they do it?

Now, forty years later, I could have a martini at lunch if I chose to, but I’d rather just have a bento box of sushi or some udon noodles. The world is so much less insular now. Whatever you do for work, when it’s time for a bite, you have the whole world palate at your command. Sushi, shashlik, and that invention of the upper West side: the Salad Bar! I learned to use chopsticks when I was 24, in Saigon, and struggling not to starve at group meals. Jordan learned to use chopsticks when she was 3. I had my first raw fish in Asia, as a grown up. Today’s kids have no idea of the world of wonders they inhabit. And however screwed up things might be, I’d rather live in a world of sushi, shaslik, and salad bars, than without them.

This week, I was able to give myself a little birthday present for my 40th Anniversary of being a working stiff. This week’s TIME has a cover story on the state of Boys. Is there a Boys crisis? Does the addiction to Gameboy and Play station give us boys who no longer know how to play baseball without an adult standing around with a clipboard? I’m not sure there is an absolute answer, but David Van Drehle did a wonderful essay on the question, and I was the lucky working stiff sent to Falling Creek Camp, in North Carolina, to spend 4 days with a bunch of 8-16 year old campers, in a place devoid of TV, iPods, and cell phones, but rich in salamander filled streams, muddy bike paths, and a great swimming hole. In what we sometimes call “unashamed self promotion”, I invite you to read the piece (Here is the ONLINE Gallery) and have a look at the online photo gallery. Who, besides me, wants to go spend a couple of weeks at Camp?! The great thing about a weekly magazine is that it’s actually on newsstands for a whole week (hey, do the math!) Next time you walk by at an airport or shopping mall, give the magazine a look. I’ll be waving back at you! We’re just sayin…David

Sunday, July 22, 2007

People Change

Dick Cheney was the President for two hours yesterday. Too bad it wasn’t 24 hours because then he might have had time to do what he wanted to do—like bomb Iran, wipe North Korea off the map, or pass some laws in the middle of the night banning books in public libraries, except the ones his wife deemed acceptable (she was after all the Chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities). But that’s not what I wanted to blob about. I wanted to blob about how people, who can’t seem to find their moral core change for money, convenience or power.

Back to Lynne. I liked her then. Well, actually I liked her before then. Here’s a little known fact. Lynne Cheney was a producer for the Mark Shields Public Broadcasting show. Dick was a seemingly good Congressman from Wyoming. I met Lynne when Mark invited me on the show to talk about political Advance and asked me not to look like I was from Washington. “Wear an ‘Iris’ kind of outfit”, he requested. So I wore a 1940’s beaded jacket that looked like something out of “Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club”. It didn’t look like Washington. But the other guest, former Republican advance guy looked Washington enough for both of us.

As is the case with all people who do Advance, we told stories about campaigns and working for the President. Mine were about McGovern, Udall and Carter. His were about Nixon. Mine were funnier. They were so funny that Lynne asked if she could write a piece about me. Of course I said Yes. I love stories about campaigns especially if they include me. We talked a number of times and she wrote the story, which I saw in an airline magazine one day, when I was flying off somewhere. I called her and we chatted for quite sometime. She was friendly and even fun. Can you imagine?

I didn’t see her again until after she was confirmed as the Chair for the Endowment. It was on a plane and she was flying 1st class while I was in steerage. It was like I had the plague—she really didn’t want me to breathe on her. So then I didn’t like her so much anymore. I didn’t know Dick, but he was friends with friends of mine. Apparently, his change came as a consequence of his job at Halliburton. Those tight ass mostly white CEO types have to meet certain expectations -- it’s in their rule book. Like you have to belong to the rich, self important, egotistical, know it all club. They have to find a way to make the most of their powerful positions, often at the expense of the people who work for them or at the least the people on whom their work impacts. I know I don’t have to write about Halliburton and the billions of dollars they ripped off with government war contracts. Despite investigations, the American Tax payer will never see that money again and the Iraqi people will probably never recover at all. But who cares? Cheney’s friends made lots of money and they can buy each other (if they are in the club) expensive Christmas gifts.

Yesterday, when I was relaxing at Kerry’s, my calm was interrupted by a story in the NY Times. It was about how Giuliani is surrounding himself with a team of ultra conservative lawyers and advisers who have set about to make his record, or rather his ‘political positions’ clear. That means that he is now denying all the reasonable positions he took on things like “choice,” and his rhetoric is reflecting his pandering to the Republican base—I’m still not sure I know who they are. Are they the Cheney’s friends? Are they the people who think war is good but funding children’s health insurance is bad? Or maybe they are the people who don’t want to leave “Any Child Behind” but don’t want to help keep them fed with adequate school lunch programs. Maybe they are the Christian Right (remember that great bumper sticker, “The Christian Right is Neither!”?), who think everyone else is wrong. It remains unclear but apparently they must exist in substantial numbers because Mitt Romney is also denying all the progressive policies he advocated in favor of a much more conservative pitch. I guess what I don’t get (and admittedly my ‘I don’t gets’ are becoming more frequent), is how a politician can do a 180 degree change and still expect an electorate to find them believable, yet alone electable.

It’s not that I think people don’t have the right to change their minds. In fact, I think admitting you may have been wrong in your thinking is fine. Like, don’t we all wish that Bush was capable of admitting he was wrong to lie to the American people and take us into a war where the only people who are benefiting are his oil buddies, Cheney’s Halliburton friends—there’s that club thing again, and the Terrorists. But changing your mind about everything that was part of your moral makeup in order to vie for a job, (yes being President is a job) is not fine. And believing that you can fool all of the people all of the time is just plain dumb—unless the people are really dumb—which is certainly possible.

This is much too serious a blob. Let’s talk about another kind of change. Our kids grow up and they change. Over the weekend David and I spent some time with Kerry and her daughter Clare. Clare was an adorable child who has changed into a beautiful smart talented young woman. We also went to a party to celebrate the opening of a play written by Adam, a really loving and funny kid, who has grown and changed into a charming, bright, talented and gifted artist. My son, who was always just a little reckless, has changed into a wonderful father and husband. Maybe change is the wrong word for these fabulous young people. Probably ‘growth’ is a better description.

Adam (left) and crew at a run through Chez Lerman
It’s too bad, or rather, unfortunate, that the people who are often selected as leaders don’t seem to understand that change might be good depending on the degree and kind, and that growing as a person is better than changing the person you really are, for the person who you think other people want you to be. We’re just sayin... Iris

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Badda Boom, Accent on the Boom

For more than five years this city, New York, has been waiting for a shoe to drop. Not a shoe that anyone WANTS to drop, but waiting nonetheless. Yesterday there was a hint of what might be in store the next time a real shoe drops. About 6 in the evening, something went wrong with a 20” steam pipe near Grand Central station, and it blew, creating a 10 foot, or so, hole in the ground right in the middle of Lexington Avenue. We had just passed into the Lincoln Tunnel, having driven from DC to the city, and, en route to our apartment, had picked Jordan up on 44th St. and were making out way up the slow moving west side. Jordan got a text message from a friend …”there is some kind of explosion at Grand Central.. “ was all we knew. Then we tapped into WCBS/880 a.m. and got a few more details. It didn’t sound pretty. The steam was still blowing tons of crap into the air, creating a plume which rose several hundred feet into the air over Lexington.

When the Cops have masks and the People don't....

By the time we got to the apartment, and parked the car, and found out that indeed, it was not the ‘other shoe’, but just an “infrastructure failure” – as Mayor Bloomberg called it – it was too late to try and head down there: I don’t any longer have a N Y police press pass (if you don’t regularly cover murders, they say, don’t bother applying…) and getting by the cops was not easy.

Jack Hammers, piles of rock, and a Wake Up Call

So I watched the TV choppers as dusk fell, from our roof, thought I still couldn’t see the place where the pipe blew. Thursday morning, early, I got up to move the car to the garage (at 6:50am usually – it has to be gone by 7:00 am) and then headed down 3rd Avenue to see what I could see. While I couldn’t get right to the spot where it had blown, I was nevertheless amazed to see how many Con-Ed guys were out there, digging trenches, laying cable, and other “get it running again…” barometers of City Life. I had several impressions:

Tearing Up the street, to built it back up: 7:02 a.m.

1) There are a helluva lot of Hispanic guys working in the street crews, and I have to say, it would be interesting to know if/howmany of them are “Illegal Immigrants.” That seems to be the topic du jour just about every jour, so a little precision would be a good thing.

Things are anything BUT Casual at the Casual Corner

2) There is a whole other city underground, which we, the folks never really even know exists. Cables, tunnels, pipes, wires. And that’s the part you Can’t See!

3) When they do start to put things back together, and today, I must admit, the whole area had the look of “… the Mayor has told us to fix this in a week, and we will have it fixed within a week”

4) Other than 4 in the morning, or a streetfair, you ‘ll never see the big avenues this uncongested. And I mean the Big Avenues.

Who Ever Thought 3rd Avenue could be this quiet at 7 in the morning?

In a week or two, there will still be plenty of traces of what happened yesterday, but I think traffic will have been restored. People do expect their city govt., to take over and make something good of it. Here is another chance for New York to show just how it IS to get things done. It’s a mess, true, but the shoe really didn’t drop. We’re just sayin… David

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Upton Street: Home

Every time I think I’m ‘over’ Arlington, VA. something happens that gives me pause to rethink. When Jordan finished High School there was really no reason for us to stay here, other than the fact that David loves having a 10 minute drive to one airport and a 25 minute drive to the other. For me, this is really not a good enough reason to remain in a place where I do not necessarily need to be.

The House on Upton Street

We have lived here for over 22 years. We bought the house when I got pregnant with Jordan. The only place I was considering (we were living at Dupont Circle in DC) , was close-in Virginia. My friend Chuck lived in Arlington and the first time I came out to visit him I couldn’t believe how close it was. I didn’t even look in Maryland because Arlington was so convenient to DC, and it was affordable.

The first weekend we looked we saw a few things that we liked but nothing too exciting. David was traveling so even when I found something that looked interesting, by the time he got back it was gone. Prices were beginning to rise and I was getting a bit nervous about being able to afford something we liked. About a month after starting to look we found an adorable house on the ‘fancy side’ of town and we put down a deposit. To celebrate we went to the pancake house with Chuck (he was our lawyer, too) and he mentioned that the house adjacent to the one he grew up in was for sale. Well why not just go have a look, we thought.

We loved the house. It was a small Colonial which had been redesigned by a gay guy. I only mention that he was gay because it was something he wanted us to know—it impacted on the style he indicated. You know how every real estate agent says to take down your family pictures. Well, Bill had a 3foot by 4 foot portrait in oil that was in your face as soon as you came in the front door. It didn’t matter. He had cookies in the oven and it was twice the house of the one we had just purchased. So we called the people whose house we intended to inhabit, and told them some sob story and they were kind enough to say it was OK and they wouldn’t deposit our deposit. Then we put a deposit down on what Chuck called ‘the Keeler house’.

Even in the snow, it's Home

As it turned out, Bill Amos (May he rest in peace) was not much of a contractor but he was a hell of a designer. We had problems with the front porch, the electricity, the water , blah blah blah—there was no place we didn’t have issues. But it didn’t matter because it was a great place to be. He’d added an L shaped addition, Dining room, kitchen and Bedroom, and it nearly doubled the size of the house. And despite all the warnings about not buying the biggest house in the neighborhood, our investment has turned out to be very wise. In fact, when we moved to NJ for my job at USA Networks, we decided that we would not sell because the real estate market was at a low—and that was the right decision as well. In the last 21 years we have added four spaces including a Master suite, a kitchen addition, an office and a studio. It sounds like a lot of space but it’s not – they are all small comfortable spaces.

N. Upton Street between 19th Road and 19th Street is a special place. It is one short block with only six houses but we include our friend Bruce to make it seven. Bruce is actually on 19th Street but thinks like an Upton Street resident so we would never discount him when we’re counting. While all the streets around us are adding sidewalks and speed bumps, we have threatened the head of the Waverly Hills Community Board not to dare touch our street. Yes, we have used intimidation techniques and threats of all sorts and he has come to realize that screwing with the Upton Street gang would be a terrible mistake,

Even in the Fog, it's Home

So back to ‘I’m over Arlington’. While we don’t have planned block parties or necessarily socialize on an ongoing basis, we all really like one another. When any of us go away the others are there in case of an emergency. So when we were away and had a flood in our basement, Phil and Marty came over and saved papers and clothing and many valuables we didn’t even think we had. When Jordan was little the neighbors took great care to make sure she was always safe. When we had our dog Earnest and thought he had run away, everyone looked for him. When we go out to dinner and have a steak we always bring bones for Tripod, Puwan and Dick’s dog. Evelyn, the baby next door calls me Mimi which is my grandma name. On New Years we try to have a little party but like the other night, we mostly do a ‘last minute let’s have a few bottles of wine’ when we suspect everyone is around. Last Sunday was such a day. At 6:30 we called everyone to say that at 7:00 we would all meet on the street and have a drink. We brought the wine and glasses (not plastic), Phil and Marty turned up with cheese and crackers, and Puwan and Dick brought steak and cucumbers. There were no chairs, we used the trunk of a car as a table. We have done this a number of evenings, (although when the first house in the neighborhood sold for $500,000, we did all go out on the street during prime real estate hunting hours in the afternoon to greet the potential buyers.)

Anyway, I think about moving and then something gives me pause. I can’t imagine we would ever find such a congenial and yes, perfect place to have a home and such perfect neighbors. So maybe it’s not time to go – yet.
We’re just sayin... Iris

Sunday, July 15, 2007

George McGovern is 85

Senator George McGovern, 85 years old, at his Birthday party

1972 was a pretty important year in my life. Seth was born and I started my Presidential political career, but not in that order (only in importance). I don’t remember exactly how it happened—no, I remember the Seth part – but not the sequence of events that led me to the McGovern campaign. I was teaching at Boston University in the College of Liberal Arts. I was, in fact, fulfilling my career goal. All I had ever thought about doing was teaching some communication art/skill in a University. But in those days there was no such thing Communication Arts. As a matter of fact, Boston University was just building its School of Public Communication. Anyway, I was teaching public speaking to jocks (some professional) and education aspirants. It was mildly interesting and somewhat fun since the jocks always got me tickets to sports events.

It was a chaotic time politically. The war and the draft was looming over all our male friends, civil disobedience was in full swing, the takeover of Administration offices in order to demonstrate for more attention to women and blacks was a common occurrence. Student protest organizations were growing in numbers, and everyone who felt even slightly alienated from government action or was morally outraged, wanted to have a voice. John Kerry, for example, had come home from Viet Nam disillusioned enough to return his war medals (supposedly), and run for office to help make a difference. It was a time when, if you were not actively involved in something you would have been embarrassed.

I don’t remember who first approached me to work for the anti-war junior Senator from South Dakota, but someone who realized that I had access to a student constituency invited me to a meeting at the Boston Headquarters. The dynamics were fascinating. People eating, screaming, frantic, laughing -- frustrated and determined. Most were younger than me (I was 25), like Pat Caddell the boy genius pollster. Age didn’t matter—dedication to making a difference was all that counted. The meeting was for Senior Staff, and although I might have been the oldest person in the HQ, I knew very little about campaigns, let alone Presidential campaigns. But I was curious about how a campaign works so I pretended not to be reluctant, and I went. It taught me the first lesson in politics – just pretend you know what you’re doing and people will think you do. I walked in and saw a filthy table with the remnants of what appeared to be donuts and pizza, but could have been any food substance- - or maybe animal—it didn’t matter. People who made decisions sat at the table, others scattered around. I sat at the table without understanding the nuance, and everyone assumed I belonged there.

George McGovern with his Campaign Manager (and ex Candidate) Gary Hart

By the action of sitting at the table, I had a meteoric rise in the campaign. I went from being a simple Assistant Professor at BU to being a Senior Staffer at the McGovern campaign. This didn’t mean I was absented from doing all the menial tasks required to run a campaign (door to door canvassing, telephoning, leafleting, filing, collating) it just meant I got to meet the big shots (I was allowed to drive and advance the candidate) and was privy to developing campaign strategies—which I only sometimes understood. It was a heady place to be and I was proud and delighted to be a part of this history.

George McGovern is 85. We were so fortunate that he celebrated his birthday with a number of events in Washington. Many people, who still credit him as the person who most impacted on their professional lives, the people they have become, and of course, the country, gathered to wish him well. OK, so there was an abundance of old farts, but no one noticed because I believe, as we age with the people we knew as young people, our eyes age in a way that prevents us from seeing them as old. Does that make sense? Who cares, so many terrific people together after such a long separation – People who still call me Iris Jacobson.

Senator McGovern blowing out the birthday candles

The weekend started with a reception on Capital Hill. The Speaker and numerous elected officials were in attendance. They spoke about the impact Senator McGovern had on their lives and on the nation. We set up a little portrait studio and David did pictures of old friends, VIP’s and groups like staffers on the McGovern Nutrition Committee. I noticed at some point, that the Senator was standing alone at the doorway and went immediately into advance mode and became his staffer, making sure he had a drink, moving him through the crowd, and keeping people from draping themselves over him for too long a time. And he responded by going into candidate mode and allowing me to do it.

It wouldn’t have been a McGovern celebration without some substance so on Saturday there was a panel discussion about world hunger—the issue closest to the Senators heart. I had forgotten that Billy Shore, who started “Share Our Strength” was a McGovern staffer early on in his career. The panel was followed by a luncheon where Rep. Jim McGovern (no relation except in their politics), David Broder, Sara Ehrman, Woodward and Bernstein, Gary Hart and Nancy Harrington, told stories and remembered the times. All applauded the courage the Senator had to tell the truth in speaking out against the war. Everyone talked how important the McGovern candidacy was for this country—it didn’t matter that we lost, what mattered was that it united a generation of social and political activists in many different fields. I mean, it mattered to me that we lost, although I will always take great pride in the fact that we won in Massachussets.

The Senator spoke briefly and eloquently about how important we all were to him—press and staff. He talked about his relationship with the media and how much he and Eleanor enjoyed traveling with them and how they loved the campaign. He said he could never understand how Nixon, as big as his victory was, could have been so hostile and angry with the press. He talked about what it was like to lose and how he felt the world had not ended—this was not the case with his staff. And he talked about how grateful he was to have had the opportunity to do what he did. As we say, there was not a dry eye in the house.

Last night we went to a reception at former Senator Tom Daschle’s. It was some of the same people but in addition, Senator Dole stopped by to give his birthday wishes. We couldn’t go to the brunch today but we saw everyone we wanted to see and talked about enough old times for at least another ten years.

Friday night at the reception, corraling the Senator to the photo studio: after 35 years, once again Candidate and Advance Person

George McGovern was my first Presidential candidate. When I think about the era, the friends who are gone, and what has happened to the country, it makes me so very sad to think that there is no George McGovern to address the issues. Not only this horrible war, but the loss of civil liberties, the menace of poverty and hunger, the ongoing violation of laws and lack of truth from the government. Some people say Obama is the George McGovern of today. I hope so, but I think the only George McGovern there will ever be was the guy we celebrated over the weekend. Happy 85th Birthday Senator. We love you and we thank you for starting us on the right path. We’re just sayin...Iris

Friday, July 13, 2007

Caretaking the Rare Glass

From time to time I have one of those moments when I start to feel that I’m just passing through. I know (though I can’t find anything apropos at this very moment) that many societies have held that you don’t really OWN anything: you are just a caretaker, that interim holder between your parents and your children. There is a clever Rolex ad which reminds you that you don’t really get to own the watch. You are merely taking care of it until your own child is old enough to wear it.

I often feel that way about some of the photographic gear I use. For the past few years I have been buying some older lenses to use on my 4x5 cameras, and invariably, the first few moments that I open the box (they usually are found through eBay, that great equalizer), there is an almost familial kinship, and a desire to know what that lens has done and seen in it’s life. I would give much to know their history. What events did they see? The most fascinating thing, I think, is to understand where they came from and how they were produced – by hand – at a time long before computers existed to work out mathematical formulae. Whether it is a fast lens (lots of glass/ heavy) or something slower (lesser glass, and more modest), the beauty of these old lenses never stops striking me. Some of my favorites are from the mid 1920s, Ernostars, which are beautifully hand crafted, and hewn, one suspects, from some piece of rare earth glass from the Carpathians, which had been dragged to Dresden or Køln on a carriage drawn by a dozen enormous draught horses.

Erich Salomon, “the first photojournalist”, who worked in Germany and the US in the twenties and thirties, before dying in a Nazi death camp during the war, was a master, the first master, of the candid photograph. A contemporary of Alfred Eisenstadt and other pioneers, he shot with glass plate cameras, using a Ermanox with a very fast lens. I managed to secure one of those lenses several years ago, and mounted it on my Speed Graphic. The look of that lens, crisp, contrasty and narrow depth of field, was unlike anything I had used before, and really caught my attention. The stupidest moment came when trying to dismount the lens from the camera the first time.

Erich Salomon with his Ernostar, and his ever present tux.

Here I am, with an 80 year old piece of artisanal hardware, and in getting the slider off the board, my hand slips, and the lens falls. I have this slow-motion memory view of seeing the lens board start to tumble, slowly, over and over, end over end, racing with my left foot to try and break the fall. I made pedestrian contact, and kept the lens from hitting full force into the wood floor, but part of the lens tube hit on the second bounce, and knocked what had for 80 years been a perfect circle into a very slight oval. What an idiot! This beautiful piece of Lindberg-era industrial engineering weathers the Weimar Republic, the burning of the Reichstad, Kristalnacht, the whole of the Second World War, Russian dominance, and God knows what else. Only to have me, a putz in Virginia, drop it on a hardwood floor? It’s the kind of “dip-stick” moment that makes you wonder if you really should be allowed behind the wheel of a car, or permitted to hold a Ginsu knife. In the ongoing circle of life, dropping that lens was a wake up call. You have a responsibility to keep these things for the people yet to follow. They will never again make material like this. Its all going to be computer generated, and designed. The old hand crafted gear is just not to be repeated again.

A 1927 ad for the Ermanox - what a little beauty!
It’s funny, because what drew me to shooting with the older, larger, filmier gear, was a kind of allergic reaction to the way digital was taking over everything. Everyone I knew was shooting with the same three lenses (17-35, 24-70 and 70-200 zooms), and while each photog brings his or her own vision to the viewfinder, there was a certain technical sameness to many of the pictures. This is really what spurred me into looking at Large Format. A “normal” lens on a 4x5 camera has, inherently, much less depth of field than the same kind of lens on a 35mm or digi cam. It just looks different, presents the subject in a different way, and lets you try and tell the story with a different palate at your disposal.

Last week I received another lens, an old Xenon from a German aerial recon camera of the late 1940s, early 50s. It is a bit beat up, has undoubtedly lived a life with no small amount of stress. Yet, when I eagerly wanted to try it out, I was once again faced with the dilemna of the free lancer who works from home. No staff. No interns. No Fedex drivers who just happen to be dropping something off. No wife (she was in New York). No kid (she was in New York.) The list of potential subjects began to diminish quickly, and I realized that I was about to once again nominate myself for the position of photographer/subject. Cindy Sherman made millions of dollars selling portfolios of her self portraits. I don’t suppose my pictures have the same patina, but I share what must have been a difficult technical approach.

The Speed Graphics have a little shutter release lever on the side of the camera. Some models have a place for a cable release (giving you an extra 12-24 inches of reach). But since I ‘d grabbed one of the cameras without the cable fixture, I was shooting me at, literally, arms length. This doesn’t say much for ‘arms length’ business deals. It’s NOT that FAR! The real issue, when you have a fast, long lens, is getting the lens focused where you want it sharp (usually the eyes). This leads to a difficult set of circumstances: How to be IN the shot, and have it sharply focused as well.

My solution several years ago was to expand a wire hanger into a square, tape the hooked part onto a light stand, focus on the wire square, then put my head IN the square, and reach over to shoot the picture. Semi-cool but I didn’t like the wire IN the shot.

Me, where the door handle was moments ago

Next, and this is what I tried on Monday, was to focus on a door handle, move the door and SIT where the door had been and shoot it. Not bad, but I wanted to try something out in the fading sunlight. Hence, to the barbeque grill. We have one of those big gas grills, usable all year round, on the back deck. This was relatively easy, if a bit cumbersome. Focus on grill cover handle. Lift grill top out of the way, and put head where grill handle had been.

Me, where the Grill Handle had been

Nearly perfect, and good enough to know that this lens, having survived any number of regime changes and war threats, is a wondrous addition to my little collection of antique glass. Something worth saving for the next generation. And since I’m only taking care of it, and don’t really own it, I guess I will. We’re just sayin… David

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Another Moment to Remember

Just so you won’t be sitting around thinking, “isn’t it great that there haven’t been any new incidents with Iris’ mom”, last night she fell out of bed and last week she fell two or three times—we’ve stopped counting. Other than a few new black and blue marks, she’s just fine. She’s up and around and participating in activities and frustrated by the silly falls, but as she says, “go know”. Have I explained the concept of “go know”. It is best used when you are surprised by something like a fall and you can’t explain exactly why it happened but you shrug your shoulders and instead of saying “who would have guessed”, you say “go know”. It’s not exactly a shortcut and you do have to say it with precisely the right intonation, but it works when used appropriately and if you’re an 86 year old Jewish woman who doesn’t understand why she falls because there is really no explanation... blah blah blah.

I went out to visit her on Tuesday and to pick up the car because I was going back to Virginia on Wednesday. When I got there, the residents were watching a DVD of George Burns’ 100th birthday. I thought we’d spend some quality time together (whatever that means) but she wanted to watch the show, so I watched it with her. It was incredibly entertaining and in some ways very poignant to be watching it with people who were almost 100. People who are facing their own mortality every day... falling is only one of the many reminders. The activities director did say that they love my mom. They think she is kind, sweet, cute and oh so friendly. She helps anyone who needs it and never has an unkind word. I guess she has mellowed over the years. She sent David $25 for Father’s day and he has been walking around talking about how cute she is... I guess he has mellowed as well.

So where were we. Oh yes, The President. We were watching the news conference this morning and I was gagging until Helen, who never asks a question anymore but just puts it to him, said, “thousands of people have died in Iraq. Don’t you think it’s enough?” and he didn’t answer her because he doesn’t think it’s enough. But everytime he says things like, “We have to defend the Iraqi government.” or “We cannot leave at this crucial time.” Or “the Congress should not interfere.” I wonder why someone in the press doesn’t just say.. .”Why?”. I am certain he cannot answer a “Why” question.

And don’t you think it’s interesting that McCain’s campaign director and strategist resigned. Here’s what I don’t get. There are two elected officials who continue to defend the war—Leiberman and McCain. The only thing I an figure is that it must be about business. Are there contractors in Conn. or Arizona who are making a fortune on war related enterprises? What else could inspire these two presumably intelligent people to continue to say “everything is fine” when we know that is not the case. I watched McCain’s speech to the Senate a few days ago and I could not believe the crap spewing from his mouth. First of all, no elected official visiting a war zone has any real sense of what is going on because they are so insulated, it would be impossible to see the truth. But then there is the macho factor, which means that it is impossible to admit a mistake so you continue to defend the error until you can deny that there was ever a problem. This Administration is excellent at denial and even better at moving on without explanation. Here’s what I think will happen. The President will decide to bring the troops home, in a slow but steady withdrawl, and they will blame the Iraqi government for their ineptitude and failure. They will never take responsibility for creating a dangerous and volatile situation in the war zone. They will never admit to creating rather than eliminating an increase in terrorism around the world. They will never say, “We so screwed up international relations that now we don’t know what to do.” Jordan says we should just make Bill Clinton ‘dictator for a day’ and let him fix it. But that’s not going to happen.

Congress needs to be involved and vocal about our international foibles. People elected them to be our voice, our representatives. We want them to be involved. Painful as it is to admit that this was parallels Viet Nam, in oh too many ways. But I am not sure that the Iraqi’s or any ‘terrorist’ organization will ever aspire to be like us economically or technologically, Oh my, what are we going to do about so much hate. Fanatics are fanatics no matter the continent or religion. In a world that knows no kindness, no compassion, what will our children have to deal with? Why do people do such terrible things to other people? Too many questions. There are terrorists, there are economic and religion issues. There are stupid people. “Go Know”. We’re just sayin....Iris

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Service? Service? Would You Like Some Service With That Service?

When did the concept of service change from “we’ll happily help you” to “we’ll try to get there but you will have to wait at least four hours, oh, and that’s only if we’re not late and have to come the next day.” My favorite part of the ‘service required’ event may be the telephone conversation that kicks off the process. Let’s use, for example, the service one needs for a bi-yearly check up on a heating and cooling system. When we installed the system the company we were dealing with was a family owned business. Very popular in our area and more importantly, thorough and service friendly. As is often the case, they sold to a larger company who basically didn’t give a damn about the customer, just the bottom line. They are called ARS... I call and ask for a service appointment. They tell me the date. I ask for an early morning appointment and I am willing to wait until one becomes available. They tell me there is no guarantee anything will ever be available. I remark that there is always going to be a time when something will be available. We go back and forth and I threaten to go elsewhere and to bad mouth them all over Arlington and they pretend to care and relent. I make these threats remembering that there was a guy on the road from Arlington to Mclean (maybe 6 miles), who had a bad experience with a company called, Long Fence and he put a big sign on his property that said “Don’t use Long Fence”. It was quite effective and I, among many others I suspect, certainly would never have used Long Fence. So I had this tactic in mind but they do show up at whatever time they want, knowing that I’m not going to leave.

It’s the same in department and other stores but with a little different flair. When you are trying to buy something there is never anyone around to help—except at Trader Joes. If by chance, you find what you need, it is nearly impossible to purchase it without waiting in a long line at the cash register... the lines are so long, in fact, that to avoid customer pushing and shoving, many stores have created Disney-like rope lines. This of course, is a way to cut back on the number of cashiers needed in order to ‘serve ‘ the customer.

Did I mention that at least 50% of all service persons were not born in this country and some are not even located in this country. Let’s start with the telephone service person name Julie or Brad who happens to be located in India or Pakistan. It is no longer as simple as “hello, can you help me?” It is always complicated by a subtle cultural difference. Like last week I was pretending to be my mother to deal with a credit card issue. Yes, I pretend to be my mother and it usually drives them crazy enough to want to get off the phone by resolving whatever my complaint in a timely manner. I’m just good at that. Anyway, the service person was not an American. I have taken to asking where they are located in order to have a sense of what or with whom I’m dealing. The question of where they are located does one of two things: either they answer with pride, or they get indignant about my discovery. Whichever it happens to be, I know there will be tension and I will end up asking for a supervisor and they will hang up before I can tell the supervisor—usually in the US, that Brad or Julie was an idiot. Needless to say, when I am pretending to be my mother I prefer dealing with someone who just wants to be done with ‘some old lady’. Last year when mom was in the hospital, David called the Social Security office to see if we could do direct deposit. They insisted on talking to Mrs. Groman, so I got on the phone (as my mother) and within five minutes they were begging to have ‘the young man’ back. OK it is possible to have fun with people who are providing a service but not enough and not frequently.

This in not meant to be a commentary about immigration, and as a good Democrat, I want everyone who lives in this country to have opportunity, but it does drive me nuts not to be able to understand a person who is answering a question for me—even in a fast food establishment. Like, “can I have my burger without ketchup”? And the response is “Yes madam it will come on a roll.” I know they say it’s hard to get Americans to fill these jobs (which I’m not sure I believe—although it is probably cheaper to get someone foreign born to take orders at a drive through window), and I’m not saying that hamburger flippers have to be born in the USA, but I want them to speak English and understand the difference between a hot fudge and a caramel sundae—is that asking too much?

I know you’re wondering what precipitated this blob. Or maybe you’re not but David spent the day waiting for a Verizon guy and I spent the day waiting for someone to fix my air-conditioner for the fifth time. The waiting for service, seems never to end when you own any property, need to purchase something, or just want to have a life. I often think we should agree to wait the appropriate amount of time and after that we should start charging them for our time. Why should our time be less valuable than theirs. So here’s the good news and the bad. Good first. David’s Verizon guy was late but fixed the phones and was very appreciative for the coffee. Bad news. My guys came early, spent five minutes knocking the machine around and left—with the air-conditioner still leaking. More not surprising news—I will be waiting for more service people this week. We’re just sayin...Iris

Monday, July 09, 2007

How Can You Be In Two Places at Once, When You're Not Anywhere At All

In the early 70’s (that means the decade called the 1970’s), there was a wonderful comedy troupe, who not only performed in clubs across the country, but more importantly for a guy living in Salt Lake with a dearth of Comedy Clubs, recorded a number of albums. They were called the Firesign Theater… a couple of Phils a David and a Peter. Fabulously funny, they did a lot of work in LA, radio mostly, and released over a dozen albums in the early 70s. I discovered them right before heading to Vietnam in 1970, and with all the craziness of their schtick, once in VN it often seemed like their riffs were more telling than what I was seeing for myself, or hearing from “big time journalists.” I never really did any pot in the college / post-college years, but in Vietnam the mama sans, bless them, would sell a small pack known as “Number One Cigarette” openly right on the Tu Do street sidewalks. It varied from the standard American brands only in the fact that tobacco had been replaced by some astonishingly good weed (writing this it probably sounds like I knew good from bad, which I didn’t ), and the pack perfectly resealed in cellophane. They sold for about $3, instead of the usual $1 tobacco cigarettes, making the inconvenience of having to roll a joint, something I was incapable of, a mere distant memory. I preferred the KOOLs since the menthol was gentle to my tender lungs. But I would have to say that Firesign theater gigs did become approximately 28% funnier after a Number One cig.

Even now, like many of their followers, I’m prone to start reading off imaginary road signs on a highway exit approach (Antelope Freeway- 1 mile; Antelope Freeway- ½ mile; Antelope Freeway ¼ mile; Antelope Freeway 1/8 mile; Antelope Freeway 1/16th mile; Antelope Freeway 1/32 mile….) you get the point. You never actually GET to the Antelope Freeway. But they had a way of putting it out there that was singular. One of their great album titles was “What To Do While Waiting for the Electrician, Or Someone Like Him.” This morning, after a dozen fone calls, I am waiting for the Verizon guy (he replaced the Cable Guy) to show up and figure out what has gone wrong with our fones since they installed the new Fiberoptic lines. We went for the whole bundle: TV, internet, and phones, all on the Fiber line.. to surely no cost advantage, but at least the minor satisfaction that we need no longer pay Comcast anything. Since day one, the TV works great, the internet is speedy, but the telephones sound like you are in a dressing room of a Russian public swimming pool shower. Of course we are missing the forty overweight but happy swimmers, but the sound is about the same on those fones. Seriously static-y. Impossible to hear a voice at the other end. The fones don’t ring when someone calls. It’s just, how do you say it… One small step for technology, One Giant pain in the ass for the house residents. In the overall scheme of things, perhaps it is only a minor hiccup. And it wouldn’t be so bad if my house weren’t the ONLY place where my cell fone doesn’t work. But as I look around (when you’re waiting for someone like the Electrician, you can do a helluva lot of looking around) I notice all kinds of little paradoxes.

I was in rural North Carolina over the weekend at a wonderful Boys Camp (no Gameboys, no TV, no AA batteries – just trees, lakes, wet swim trunks, and lots of hiking). Great pictures, nice kids, lovely scenic vistas. I took with me not only my nifty new digi cams (Canon 5D) but my really nifty almost-as-old-as-I-am Speed Graphic with an even-older-than-John-Kerry lens.

The Speed & Me (cr: Chas. Ommaney)
The Speed Graphic is a 20s-30s designed press camera, big bellows and fold down front, to which I attached a 1943 Kodak Aero Ektar lens, famous for having let World War II recon pilots fly at times other than high noon. So fast was the lens, that pilots could fly in less threatening (dawn and dusk) times of day and still get pictures of enemy movements. Sixty years later it sits on my camera for portraits, sports, and even Presidential politics. (Francis “Nig” Miller, a colorful LIFE photog in the 50s & sixties once told me “..the trouble with a Nikon is, you hit somebody, they go down, but they get right back up. Now you hit ‘em with a Speed Graphic, they’re gonna stay down!”)

It is the perfect counter point to the “I can see it right now and know if I screwed up…” digital cameras, and even though carrying both of them should probably get me committed, I find there are times when the old just beats the ass off the new. Shipping the gear to Greenville, I put the whole of the backpack – the camera and lenses work out of a back pack but it offers virtually no impact protection) into an aluminum Halliburton case (no, not THAT Halliburton..)

Forty Years of Schlepping

The case is a little history lesson itself. I bought it for a hundred bucks in 1969 from John Olson, my young(er) friend who worked for LIFE (he was 21, I was 22) who’d picked it up in Hong Kong. Over three and half decades the case went to five continents, remained a pain to carry when full (it’s big!), yet always got to the other side of whichever pond I was crossing. There are decals from NATO maneuvers, the Continental Palace/Saigon Hotel, the Black Virgin of Czestachova (Poland), and dozens of other bits of organic history which decorate its exteriour. I suppose I could get a really snazzy rip-stop black nylon case, but somehow I almost feel comfy with the big ole Halli. En route to Poland (Dec. 1981-Martial Law) Lufthansa pranged it good, and sprung the case. I got a hundred bucks from them for the damage, and amazingly later, managed to respring it back into shape, and get another 100000 miles on it. As I get older, and especially as I do try and chuck old stuff in favor of that which I’m more prone to make use of, I find it painful to separate from the things which accompanied me to a lot of crummy hotels en route to great pictures.

There are tons of new cases, all designed to make you look like a photographer while claiming not to (we all want that look of being noticed without being noticed) but the oldies still do it for me. Even my Holga cameras, the $25 plastic Chinese rollfilm camera.

Though they aren’t old, they have an unmistakable charm to them. Partly I suppose it’s that you don’t really know what you’re going to end up with, along with that odd satisfaction of feeling that somehow

Al Gore, on the final Sunday of the 2000 Campaign

you have managed to throw a shoe into the ongoing mech/tech processes of all our lives, and enjoy something which is totally Manual. And when it does work, it’s whoop-dee-doo time. The most fun, is pretending to look on the back of it when you shoot something, as if a screen will magically appear with what you just shot. Ain’t gonna happen.

So, I’ll keep treading water in that middle ground. Enjoying the joys of the new, while savouring the flavor of the old. Some things are probably still best done by someone, not someTHING. In New York last week in front of the world famous Madison Restaurant (on First Ave. not Madison, go figure) was a guy hawking parking spaces with a sandwich board. I guess the garage owner could have put up a billboard, or maybe bought time on WINS, the most listened to station in the country. But if you were driving up First avenue, wanted a parking spot, there wasn’t any better way to reach your customer.

I wonder if the Verizon guy is having lunch at the Madison (a killer Cobb salad with chicken? A late breakfast of strawberry waffles?) Maybe he's stuck in traffic (Antelope Freeway, 1/256th of a mile.....) I hope he’s doing something fun, because he hasn’t arrived at Upton Street just yet. We’re just sayin…David