Friday, August 31, 2007

Now, About That GOOD Martini..

Miracles can happen. I am happy to report that Mom has become another source for deciding on a good shake. She drank a proper vanilla one today that she liked a lot. It came from the ice cream place in Towaco that Jeff discovered, and we determined we needed to do some follow-up. In addition, she’s walking again. She doesn’t yet remember that she’s walking, but it all seems to be coming together. Talk about highs and lows. And speaking of highs, how about a good Martini!

About 20 years ago I started to drink martinis on a fairly moderate but regular basis. At first I didn’t do it because I liked them. I did it because I adored martini glasses. The first time I tasted one I choked when I sipped it. I don’t know how old I was but I was not a kid and still I’m sure the brand was not Grey Goose or Stolichnaya. Not that the brand made a difference in those days. But I thought it tasted like a cross between mineral oil and wood alcohol. So why did I bother to do it again? The truth is that I found this fabulous little set of 1930’s or maybe 40’s, martini glasses in an antique store in Boonton and became so enamored of the glass persona, that I was hooked. They were very small, (as was the case before ‘big’ everything was in), and the colors were rich burgundy and a deep emerald and violet. After I purchased those glasses I decided that I not only loved the shape of the glasses, I loved the idea of a martini and it was important for me to develop a taste for the beverage. And additionally, to begin to collect martini glasses with clear unique personalities.

Over the years, when I traveled abroad I spent a great deal of time searching small shops trying to find two of a kind martini glasses that spoke to me in some way, As my Uncle Phil always said, “I only spoke English and dirty”—Anyway, the conversations with these foreign friends were often limited, convoluted or misinterpreted. Like the martini glass would have to shout to me, “I’m so special, I’d like to come and live in your house.” Most of the time they didn’t. In addition, I didn’t know how to wrap them and pack them for the flight. What a bore. It didn’t happen with great frequency but occasionally, when the glasses did demand I become the purchaser, I knew it was right whatever the cost or inconvenience. On a trip to Prague, for example, I found fabulous pink deco looking glasses. They were so beautiful that my friend and colleague Penn insisted I buy a half dozen. “You are going to use them, right? Well what if one breaks – are you going to rush back to Prague to replace it?” He was always so sensible, kind of the antithesis of me. And he was so very honorable that when the government decided even senior diplomats couldn’t fly first class, he almost always went along with it. Unless he was traveling with me – I decided the government made an arbitrary and stupid decision and furthermore the government didn’t pay for the upgrade it was an airline courtesy for all the money that was spent. “Penn” I would say, “I am sitting upfront. If you want to sit in steerage by yourself go ahead and sit there.” Inevitable he would cave and we would drink and talk to entire trip away. When he died two years ago, I felt the loss in my character as well as my heart. And, by the way, I bought 8 not six glasses. What a pain in the neck they were to transport. They were impossible to package carefully, so I carried four and made him carry the other four in the first class cabin – where they were much more comfortable.

Don't forget the trip to the salad bar... Olives, please!

David, as well as other friends, started to buy me martini glasses as gifts for holidays and celebrations. I have quite a wonderful collection. And I am now at a place where I do love a good martini. But I have also reached the point where I can’t drink more than one. It’s a combination of the alcohol and my terrible balance, but if I have more than one –you know the expression falling down drunk – well I become the epitome. Two martinis and standing up is a challenge—which I seldom met. That’s the bad news. The good news is that martinis have gotten so expensive I can’t afford to drink two. I guess that isn’t really good news, but it does give David something to do. Since we were invited to dine at the St Regis with friends, where the martini was $20, he searched for a good but inexpensive martini. When we say inexpensive we mean about $6 for one that is a brand not the house. Yes, you can actually find them. There’s a restaurant in Arlington called the Pasha, where the food is good and the martinis are good, large and reasonable. Last night, on the way from Va. to NJ we stopped at a new favorite diner called Mastori’s—(you take 206 north off exit 7 on the turnpike). The place is vast and the portions are enormous. And they bring a brioche type cheese bread and a cinnamon bread to the table before you even think about eating. Anyway, David - as he is wont to do - was going table to table asking people what they were eating before he made any decision. We were waiting to see what the woman at the table right across from us was having before he ventured over there. She had an order of onion rings (about 20 big crispy ones) and a martini in front of her—nothing else ever appeared. We asked the server what else the woman had ordered and the server just laughed. “It’s what she eats”. Is that not fabulous—clearly my kind of girl. The best news was that the onion rings cost more than the martini – about $5-- $6 for a brand name.

It all goes to prove that you can target your taste buds to meet your needs and you can target your needs to meet your pocketbook. And you can do research at a diner as well as a laboratory. And it is possible to eat delicious onion rings and drink a fine martini anywhere in the world including great (as Miss South Carolina would call it) U. S. of America. We’re just sayin... Iris

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

It's a Malted Thing, You Wouldn't Understand

There is almost nothing better than a malted milk shake. Some people would say sex is better or being a billionaire is better but those things are in a different category. Yes, there are different categories. That’s why people use the “apples and oranges” analogy. Although, apples and oranges, along with malted milk shakes, are in the food category, while money and sex are not. I mean, you could stretch and say that you can’t buy food without money or you could have better sex if .... nevermind, that’s another blob.

Over the last few months my lovely husband and I have become obsessed with finding and having a malt. It started when Kat and I went to Windber Pa. to meet with the Murtha Breast Cancer Clinic people. As we were approaching our turn off I noticed a Dairy Queen. I love Dairy Queen in the same way I love a malt – but different because it’s also in another category, but more closely related. There are three things I love at Dairy Queen. The pecan chocolate sundae, a chocolate dipped vanilla soft ice cream cone and a shake. They don’t have malts but the shakes are pretty damn good. For a long time we were Dairy Queen deprived, but then two opened, one at Tyson’s and one in Falls Church—both within a 20 minute drive. Until they opened the only DQ we went to with any consistency was in Ghent NY, near my cousin Honey’s. But we really only did that about twice a year, so imagine our excitement when so many opened in Va.

Chocolate, in its Malted Glory

Anyway, back to Pa. We decided, when we first passed the DQ, (and it’s nearly impossible to pass one up at any time), that we would stop on the way back. It’s always hard for me to decide what treat I will devour at the DQ but I hadn’t had a shake in maybe ten years so I went the ‘drink’ route. And I was not disappointed. It was incredibly divine—that’s the good news. The bad news—I have not been able to get the taste for shakes out of my mind, yet alone my mouth. Lately, whenever we pass a sign that says shakes or malts we have to stop and see if they meet our very high standards. When we go to Cow Town, which we have talked about in previous blobs, we pass the Olympic Dairy Bar. It advertises, among many other goodies, malts and shakes. Going to this little place is not like going to a “Tasty Delight” or a DQ. First of all they are not customer friendly: they refuse to give free samples, so you can’t get a taste of any ice cream you might want to order. (And they hardly ever have the ice cream you might want to try). They also refuse to make their malts with hard ice cream and milk preferring to use soft ice cream that mushes. Much to our surprise it is quite acceptable. There is also a list of things they won’t do and that the customer is not permitted to do. The place is really weird. It’s as if they’re channeling the Soup Nazi on West 54th st. (“If you don’t move down the line immediately, you won’t get fruit or bread!”) That being said, they have wonderful ice cream products and it is well worth the stop even if it’s not a Tuesday or Saturday-- the days Cow town is open. They are, however, closed on Wednesday, so don’t make a middle of the week trip.

No Free Samples, but worth the Pain - The Olympic near Cow Town

Our desire for a remarkable malt knows no bounds, but with Mom being in the best shape (I know this doesn’t begin to describe what she’s in, but it’s the way I prefer to think about it), our malt geography has been somewhat limited. We did get my brother involved in the search and found that within a ten mile radius of Boonton, NJ there are a few notable places to have this sweet drink. In Denville, just west of Boonton, and part of the ‘triangle of health’, there is the Denville Dairy. They make their own ice cream and have soft serve as well. They use hard ice cream and milk for their shakes and malts and you can choose between thick and ultra thick. The latter of the two has to be eaten with a spoon. I prefer thinner. And you do have to insist that they mix it until it’s smooth—unless you like a lumpy malt.

If you drive just ¼ mile through Denville there is a Stewarts. We never actually sampled their malts but we’re assuming, based on our experiences as children, that at the very least, their product us palatable. This might be wrong, but because were closed last Saturday before 9 pm, we won’t have accurate information unless we hit them in the afternoon or they stay open past 8pm. Moving south onto Main Street in Boonton, there is a small sandwich shop called Dan’s that is owned by a sweet guy named Pat who also does limo pick-ups at the airport. He doesn’t have malteds but if you brought in the powder I am sure he would put it in one of his excellent black and white shakes. I bet he could also make a dusty road sundae, which is your choice of ice cream and syrup with a big spoonful of malted powder spread on the top. Moving a bit to the north, Jeff found a little coffee shop across from the train station in Towaco (ah, the richness that is North Jersey!) that he felt excelled in the malt making area. Again, we didn’t have a chance to sample this one, but Jeff is a pretty reliable food and beverage source.

And here’s the best news. We really don’t have to travel any further than my kitchen to partake of the creamy delight. It happens that I possess an actual, true, 1960’s pea-green, upright/heavy steel, malt machine -- which we used last night. I wish my 1960’s mind could remember where it came from, but it seems to me that I have had it forever and not (since the women in this family are always on some kind of diet) used it for 20 years. Admittedly, it was not what it might have been, but since we have the tool and the time, I am confident, we will eventually achieve perfection. (Editor’s note: There are limits to what you can accomplish with Sugar Free Chocolate Syrup and No Sugar Added Vanilla Ice Cream, but such limits are the challenges this generation is great at conquering.) But we hope to do that in everything we try. We’re just sayin...Iris

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

A Joke's a Joke

Last night, in my dreams, I wrote a letter to God, which went something like this:

Dear God,
Now that you’ve had a good laugh, I’d like my mother back. The lady who is presently inhabiting my mother’s body is nice enough, but it’s not the mother I prefer. I like the feisty one. The one who always wants to have a manicure. The one who, when I asked her if she wanted to get her hair done at rehab center said, “have you seen the way the people look here? Why would I want to pay to have that done to me?” The one who is always dressed to the ‘nines’ and insists on making a fashion statement—not only with fringed, glittery clothes but with gold sneakers, flashy shoes, unique bags and trashy jewelry. (There’s no doubt about who Jordan takes after.) I want to one who never says anything nice to me but can’t say enough nice things about me. I want the one who can make me laugh and cry at the same time. I want the one who I called every day at 5 just to say hello and do a weather check. So thanks, for illustrating that I would desperately miss that mother and now, if you would be so kind, give her back to us.
Your friend,
Iris Linda Groman Jacobson Burnett (Just so you don’t mix me up with any other girls)

Mom and Jordan last spring.....

I wrote about one of my favorite ‘Rosie’ moments which was at the Democratic Convention in 1980. It’s a bit longer than my usual blob but I thought I’d share it so you could see what we’re missing. I was the Director of Security - but that’s another blob. Anyway, mom came to see what I was doing and seemed to enjoy herself. Then, at the end of the evening, when I was ready to walk her to her hotel across the street, this is what I heard on the command radio ....

“Has anyone seen Buttercup’s mother?" (That was my code name).
I looked at Detective O and he looked at me. Neither of us believed what we had heard. But within seconds we heard it again.
“Has anyone seen Buttercup’s family? We seem to have lost them."
The nausea moved quickly from my stomach to my heart to my throat.
“What do you mean you lost my mother?” I shouted into the radio.
“We cannot have this communication on the radio Buttercup. Use your cell,” came back from the Chief.
The cell wasn’t working so I raced back to the security office.
The convention was winding down for the night. It seemed like everyone who wasn't assigned elsewhere, had converged on the security office. I puId through the mess of people, demanded a stranger move out of mychair, and picked up the phone.

It was so noisy that the hotel operator who answered couldn't hear a thing and I hung up. I dialed back. The phone was busy.
“Poor Mom and Cynthia, alone in New York City. Missing. Where could they be? I know where they could be. They could be lying, God forbid, dead in the street, having been accosted by muggers or terrorists. They could be sopping wet from all the rain or bloodied from a club carried by one of those fanatical crackpots. Why am I worried? They were probably tired. They probably just went across the street to the hotel.”
There was too much noise in my office. I set out down the long hallway under the podium and went from office to office looking for a quiet room with a phone. I finally found one occupied by a few strange southern folks, all of whom looked like Willie Nelson. Undeterred by the possibility of a luminary, I marched in and picked up the phone.
It was not easy to get through to the hotel, but when I did, the manager informed her that, “Yes, Mrs. Groman and her party (that would be her pal, Cynthia) had come into the hotel to check in, but had not completed the process. Mrs. Groman,” the clerk relayed, “inquired about the room rate. Then, after being given the financial details, left in quite a huff.”
“Oh my God,” I spoke into the phone even though the clerk was no longer on the line. “They’re wandering the streets alone. Even if the terrorists haven’t clubbed them, thugs certainly must have mugged them. It is pouring. There are no cabs. It’s late and there are two fragile little women either wandering alone or lying dead in some alley.”
Ordinarily I wouldn’t think of mom as fragile, but it was late and I was very tired. Plus, judging from the communications on the command radio, NYPD was not having any luck finding them.
By 3:00 A.M. when all the area hospitals had been contacted, and the police could no longer justify the time they were spending on the search, I decided it was time to break the news to my father. How was I going to tell him that mom was missing, maybe dead in some dirty alley in NYC? How was I going to explain that all of the NYPD was looking, but no one could locate them? I had invited them to come to the Convention and the lost them. I dialed. Mom answered.
"Oh, hello dear. How come you're calling at this hour? You scared me to death.” You know, we did just what you told us to do. We went to that hotel, across from the Convention. I explained that we were only going to be in that room for five hours and they had some nerve saying they were still going to charge us for a full day. I know I wasn't paying but I didn't want you to spend that kind of money, so we walked to the Port Authority and caught the last bus to Lake Hiawatha.”
I was delighted to know that my mother was alive but almost too astounded to speak.
“In the middle of the night Mom? Why didn’t you tell me you were leaving?
“I didn’t want to bother you. Now, don’t think we didn’t have a lovely time in spite of that firecracker or gun shot or whatever the noise was and all the silly rushing around. And don’t feel bad that you messed it up. Nobody can control everything. It was nice to see all those famous people and now I'm very tired so I'm going to sleep. Try not to call so late again dear. It upsets your father.” We're just sayin...

Is That a 283 In Your Pocket, or You Just Happy to See Us?

I sometimes wonder if I really understand the world of journalism, or even that of photography. I continually am amazed at the terrific ideas which pop up in pieces which I have not been asked to contribute to, and often pose the question to myself: is this something I might have thought of, or am I just too old fashioned to ‘get’ new, inventive ways of seeing things. I will admit that I am perplexed by the nouvelle vague (well.. nouvelle for the past couple of years) which demands that pictures be shot with flash, isolating the subject, lots of light, or a feeling of lots of light, permeating the whole atmosphere. I’m not talking about work like Gregory Crewdson (talk about a master of genre.. wow!) who constructs entire set pieces, and lights them beautifully, creating work which is not only a marvel to behold, but which poses many more questions than it yields in answers. But if you pick up virtually any magazine these days, Time, ESPN (to name a couple which I do work for), Forbes, Fortune.. the list goes on and on… you see this trend of “slow things down, put up every Strobe in B&H, stop down to f/32, and shoot the hell out of it. I must confess, there are a few who do it rather well – Platon comes to mind. But sometimes, it’s as if Art School demanded that students buy a bunch of lights the first day, and never spend another day shooting without plugging them in each and every time. I understand that controlling light is what photography is about, but what about Moments? Whatever happened to a “Moment?” Of course just when I finish blabbering about this, I’ll see something like last Sunday’s NYTimes Play (sports magazine) with some great pictures of Serena Williams… on a court, at night, very angularly lit, extremely well done, by Finlay Mackay.

A picture of mine, with No Strobes: Amanda Arsenault & pal at the FEMA Park, Punta Gorda, FL

But, getting back to Crewdson, it is fun to just ponder and think about his pictures, and studying them, I’ll admit, is a bit like looking at a modern day Dutch Master painting: very constructed compositions, often a bit more ethereal or implied than a Van Der Weyden or a Vander Hilst. Yet, he is perhaps the true heir to the Dutch Masters, in that his pictures are all MADE. He doesn’t capture* anything. He creates, makes, puts together, a scenario, and then, almost as an afterthought, and because I suppose it would be easier than having to paint it perfectly, he shoots it on 8x10” film. I give the guy enormous credit, and you should too. This past issue of Photo District News (the Still Life issue) has a good piece which not only contains a q&a with Crewdson, but includes two of his pictures, with lighting diagrams and explanations of how each was done. (Lots of details are left out, naturally, but the basics…. A LOT OF LIGHTS are used but in a way in which you don’t say “hmmm he must have used a LOT of Lights!… are all there to gawk over.) Frankly, he is the one guy who could freely and unhesitatingly describe in detail exactly how he does his pictures, because no one else has the time/money/inclination to reproduce them in the same manner and degree he does. Like Hiroshi Sugimoto, the amazing Japanese photographer, Crewdson is a real artist, who just happens to use photography as the device to preserve, present and display his visions.

Those of us who chase after real world moments find this kind of well placed energy quite amazing (I think I speak for all of us, right?) When you spend your life trying be witness to things which happen in the world [Big H, small W], more or less, without any input from you, watching a ‘construct’ piece emerge is a little bone rattling. I was once (and I was flattered by it !) described by a former Press Secretary to a Senate Majority Leader as “…Dave Burnett, the guy who walks into a room and disappears…” I couldn’t imagine a finer introduction than that, for it goes to the base of what photojournalists TRY to do: let life go on as unfettered as it can, and grab little moments of it to share with the populace. TV of course has changed much of how the world thinks of itself in the media. Even though it is seldom necessary, I often see TV camera men waving at crowds – you know, those “hey,let’s see some action” kind of waves, or otherwise encouraging “for the camera” behaviour. Let’s be honest: no one even NEEDS encouragement anymore. Just let them jump up and down in front of the cameras; waving, pumping their fists, screaming for the camera. In 1979-80, right after the US hostages were taken in Tehran, it was common to see little else but footage (it was often 16mm film, as video had not yet become the everyday standard) of grown men and university kids, who were screaming “Death to America”, “Death to the Shah”, to anyone who happened to be there. But mostly they yelled as soon as they saw the TV cameramen grab their gear, and aim the lens in their direction. When the cameras went down, the crowds would return to “chill” mode, and sip tea, waiting for their next cameo. After a couple of months of this, I remember an intro to a “ in Tehran..” piece on the TODAY show. It was introduced with “while you may think that nothing in Tehran is going on besides crowds yelling anti American slogans, life indeed is going on..” My question at the time was “Gee, why would they think THAT? Simply because NBC didn’t show ANYTHING from Tehran except Men yelling Death to America?” The disconnect was astonishing, but I suppose it shouldn’t have been. Screaming meemies sell ad space, while thoughtful doesn’t sell bupkus. (Hey, is that a turnip truck out there?) Thoughtful artful use of photography (and cinema for that matter) remains a real joy to behold in this madcap world. The few who see clearly beyond the smoke are a resource that the rest of us need to salute. For the folks who can see beyond the obvious, I say thank you, even if it does keep me up nights, now and then, wondering why I’m not one of you!

Sunday, August 26, 2007

The Triangle of Health

My brother had a great idea. It’s not the first. He’s very smart. He thought we should do a documentary about taking my mother to Seattle in a big ass Recreational Vehicle. We all pile into the luxury ship on wheels, take about six or seven days and travel across the country. We would stop at any number of memorable places, (it would have to be someone else’s memory since we never went anywhere as children), and enjoy the sights. We would wind up on Bainbridge and maybe bike back across the nation. (You won’t get that inside joke unless you know Jeff owns a bike shop). We have been struggling with a title but then Jeff had another great idea. He thinks we should call it “Bury My Mother at Wounded Knee”. Not bad is it. (She liked the TV movie). Who ever would have thought we would have gotten to a place where we would even consider traveling anywhere with Mom. She was never really wanted to go any place. And when she got there she just wanted to be home. Even a museum in NY was an enormous effort – any kind of travel was just ‘not her cup of tea’ as she would say. Speaking of aphorisms, (I hope that’s the word I am too tired to remember), David never heard the expression, “Do you think I just fell off the turnip truck?” For those of you in the same place as David, it means, do you think I’m that stupid ornaïve?

Seth & Rosie this past weekend

Back to travel. We have spent the last year traveling in what we call ‘the Bermuda Triangle’ of health – Merry Heart (the rehad center), Victoria Mews (assisted living) and St Clare’s Hospital. The triangle is accessed by a main thoroughfare, the Mt. Lakes Boulevard. ( I really wanted to include the Denville Dairy but I couldn’t figure out how to sell it as health or, for that matter, a point on a triangle). The Boulevard is about a four mile road that runs from Boonton to Denville. To their credit, the citizens of Mt. Lakes (which was once a restricted or ‘Christian community’), have built a walking path the total length of the road. It’s a lovely place for a jog. Mt. Lakes is a fairly upscale little burb. The houses along the Boulevard have sculptured gardens, and spacious yards. They are not McMansions because they are mostly old, and elegant. There is, in fact, a private lake along the side of the road about halfway between Boonton and Denville. The walking path is carefully maintained throughout the year. They plow it in the winter, remove the leaves in the fall, and pick up the litter all the time. It’s terrific. But back to the triangle.

Nana plants one on Zach (the first Great Grand child)

Our travel has been continuous and unrewarding. Mom is alive but the spark is gone. And except for two unsuccessful escape attempts over the past two days, (which we learned about because they found her on the floor), both conversation and any repartee is no longer a part of the picture. Let me explain the escapes. One was last night when she was sure she could roll her wheelchair into the bathroom and use the toilet. Well, it almost worked but when she was getting up, she was too weak to turn, so she sat down and that was uncomfortable, so she lay down. That’s how they found her and because her blood pressure was high they sent her to the hospital—which is where we retrieved her and took her back to point three in the triangle. Today she disconnected the alarm on her bed – which warns the staff if she tries to get up-- and she slipped to the floor.

Nana and Zach

Point two (the hospital) proved to be unnecessary. So we’re pretty tired of the phone calls and have been doing “oh poor us” for some extended hours, but then we looked around at what other people are suffering. I talked to one friend whose mother is in a nursing facility. They gave her last rites four or five months ago, but she lasted. Now my pal is visiting her every day just to make sure she is fed. Luckily she lives nearby. At 2 or 3am her mother calls her to talk and lately she thinks the nursing staff is trying to kill her so she’s threatened to call the police. Much as she hates the idea my friend is going to have to remove her mom’s phone. Then I have another pal whose mother is 93 and totally incapacitated. She lives in a lovely apartment with the State covering costs for full time help. Sounds pretty good right? Not so fast. Her mother has a prolapsed bowel and every time she goes to the bathroom her rectum falls out. Is this too much information? Well. My friend doesn’t pay the cost of the help but she does have to pay the help to reinsert her mother’s ‘touchas’. (A more palatable word than rectum, don’t you think?) And almost everyone we know has an issue with caring for an elderly family member. I have promised my kids they would never have to do this for me --but this generation now understands what ‘care’ means, which we never did. So how come no official entity is really providing assistance?

The whole fam damnily at Point Two on the Triangle: Seth & Nana, Iris and Zach, Jordan & Joyce
Tomorrow we take Rosie (much to our surprise our mothers name is Rosie not Rose) to get her driver’s license. She needs some kind of ID to get on a plane and that may happen if the RV doesn’t work and she goes to Seattle to vacation with my brother for a while. We have decided to film the adventure as part of our “Bury My Mother at Wounded Knee” documentary. We’re still looking for another title but we know if Mom still had her sense of humor, she would love that one. We know somewhere behind those recently vacated eyes, Rosie is in there, and we sure would like to get her back, but it looks like that’s not going to happen. So we deal with a new reality and hope if it’s not Rosie, Sylvia will travel some distance and pay us a visit. We’re just sayin....Iris

Nana & Jeff - with an plug for the Boonton Diner

Friday, August 24, 2007

Fruits and Veggies (Did Someone Say Green?)

White peaches and white nectarines are probably my favorite fruit. When we were growing up we did have fresh fruit but we hardly ever had a vegetable. Fresh fruit however, did not include white peaches or nectarines. We only had the regular orange-y kind of those. We also had apples, oranges, pears, bananas, grapes, melon, and an occasional cherry. Fresh in our house was only fruit.

A PEACH of the White Peach variety

Except for berries, which were always frozen in heavy syrup. Vegetables were either canned or if my mother got very exotic, they were frozen. Salad was a whole other issue...

The only time we had lettuce was as a garnish for tuna fish salad. And this was no small deal because ‘Dubroff’ is quite amazing. The tuna is always the same and always good. But you don’t try to fancy it up. It’s just canned albacore – it can be any type although if you can find Rubenstein’s, that’s the best. And never use brown tuna. [Editor’s note: In Salt Lake City, we thought brown tuna was the ONLY kind that existed. Imagine how freaked out we were when we discovered, in our twenties, Albacore!] You mix it with Helmanns mayo. Never Miracle Whip or some store brand. I think it’s Helmann’s on the east coast and something else in the west, [Editor’s note: west of St. Louis it’s called Best Foods, and we DID know about it!] but the jar is the same. Some people put onions or relish or even celery in their tuna. We do not. And you can’t mix it in a blender because then it becomes mush. Some of my cousins do this, but the rest of us run screaming from the room and we don’t eat it. (And here’s a secret, one of the great treats is to make simple tuna and eat it on a toasted bagel with cream cheese). Back to the ordinary... Tuna salad is best eaten on a toasted bagel, Triscuits or a Wonder Bread type white, but if you want to eat it without a sandwich then you put some lettuce on a plate and pile the tuna on top. Which brings us back to salad. (I know it was circuitous but that’s half the fun).

When I got to college and we ate in the dining hall, the food was disgusting (food fight material and that’s was more than it deserved), but salad was one of the offerings. It was usually a combination of tomato, lettuce, cukes. I don’t think I had ever seen these three ingredients mixed together. As I said, lettuce was a tuna garnish. Tomatoes were sliced and eaten on the side of something. I mean as a side for something. I’m a Jersey girl so Jersey beefsteak tomatoes were not a treat, they were just something we had everyday in the summer along with Jersey corn. In fact, we ate the tomatoes like they were apples or pears. We just ate them whole. Even today I can’t eat a tomato unless it tastes like summer. When I go to a restaurant and they charge $8 for a caprese salad I insist on tasting the tomatoes before I order the dish. Eating a hot house mealy tomato is like eating dirt. Actually, eating those southern beans that they eat on New Years Day is like eating dirt, but this is a close second.

We ate a great deal of fried food and always the same sides with the same meat. My brother and I play a game where he says fried veal chops and I say, mashed potatoes and corn. Or he says broiled lamb chops, and I say mashed potatoes and frozen peas. Or I say roast chicken and he says mashed potatoes and corn. Or I say pork chops and he says, we never ate pork chops because we were Jewish people who pretended to be somewhat kosher. We actually kept kosher for a few years. Mom thought that she wanted her parents to be able to eat at our house. That means we had one set of dishes for dairy and one for meat. We didn’t eat pork products in the house and we didn’t mix meat and milk. But my grandparents never came to our house to eat and my dad couldn’t get around very easily and he wanted to have a BLT occasionally so the kosher part of the program was over.

Anyway, as I said, the accompaniment to meat was a lot of corn and potatoes, and sometime frozen peas but not many other green things. My mother didn’t like green vegetables so she didn’t cook them. If we wanted vegetables we went to my Aunt Sophie’s. What was great about growing up with extended family was that we could eat at any one of four houses. All we had to do was call our mothers and say that we were going to eat at one of the Aunts. Uncle Phil liked Italian food and spices so Aunt Helen cooked “foreign food”. She also made the best scrambled eggs and, if there was a sale, always had a wide variety of cold cereal. Aunt Sophie was a great baker and cooked from all the brown food groups—so that was a treat. Aunt Fritzie couldn’t cook but she had wonderful dishes and it was fun to eat in her gum drop colored kitchen. We never got bored with a venue. And if we wanted to eat at a friends, which was really not permissible, we would just say we were eating at one of the Aunt’s. Our mothers never checked as long as we were home on time.

And some things never change. For example, today when Mom was in the hospital, they served meatloaf and mashed potatoes—something we ate frequently—and there was broccoli on the side. She ate the meat and potatoes but opted to eat a piece of chocolate cake instead of the green. “Are you sure you don’t want the broccoli?” I asked knowing the answer. She just looked at me and shook her head. It was not a “no”. It was more of a “what kind of idiot are you?”

The surprising thing is that my brother and I both love vegetables. We still love fried, but we do like it accompanied by something green and fresh. So that’s a change but you know when you see a sign that says “fresh frozen” and most people snicker. Not me. I get “fresh frozen” —it’s the way we grew up. I still can’t eat berries unless they are covered with sugar or frozen in syrup – and on vanilla ice cream, fugettaboutit! Of course, I wouldn’t knock it unless you’ve tried it—that or I suggest you simply go with white peaches and nectarines. They are pretty special. As in just the fact that they are available at Costco for a pretty fair price. We’re just sayin...Iris

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

We Dodged Another Bullet

The social worker came into mom’s room tonight to talk about what we would prefer in terms of rehab. Mom hasn’t gotten out of bed since last Friday so rehab wasn’t even a consideration. In fact, after the stroke on Friday (at least that’s what they think it was), we didn’t think she would even be breathing—so rehab was far from our reality. Let me take you back to right after the “Sylvia” remark. You remember that two weeks ago when she had her first “pause” (that’s what we call it in the Dubroff family), she couldn’t remember her name so when the doctor asked her she didn’t pause for a minute before she said, “Sylvia. Her name is Rose. Anyway, my brother Jeff arrived last Thursday so I could take a little mother break. We took her from the hospital to rehab and when we arrived she was in such good shape she insisted on walking just using her walker and not a wheel chair. It was remarkable and we were confident that she was well on her way to good health and back to her home at the Mews. Then on Friday her blood pressure was thru the roof and she didn’t know who or where she was. Jeff rushed her back to the hospital where she lay in emergency for 10 hours. Then they took her to the stroke seizure floor. But luckily a nurse who actually knew something about medicine, realized what was going on and moved her to critical care. Saturday she was not able to move at all and she wasn’t talking. We were sure it was the end of the Rose saga. But on Sunday she seemed to rally a bit—at least she opened her eyes.

Jordan sings to her Nana

Then yesterday she started to move her right arm and when Rosalie visited her she was able to mouth “I love you”. Today she was moving her arms, she was lucid, she was talking and when Jordan sang her a song, her shoulders danced—maybe by tomorrow she’ll do a jig. So, rehab, surprising as it is, looks like a reality by next week. That’s the good news and I thank all our readers who wrote and expressed concern.

What’s the bad news? Michael Deaver died on Saturday. Michael crafted the Ronald Reagan image campaign. He was pretty much a PR genius and a terrific guy. He even returned phone calls—something too many Washington VIP’s don’t have the courtesy to do. I met but didn’t get to know him until years after he left the Reagan Administration when we were invited to a sing along with some friends, and Michael accompanied us on the piano. In addition, his wife Carolyn is a tapper so we tapped together to many tunes. When you live in Washington and work in politics, (at least this was true in the past), you might not agree with someone politically, but if they are a genuinely decent person, you develop a respect that transcends any disagreement about issues. That’s how I felt about Mike Deaver. Many people agree that he became an easy target and got a really raw deal after his Time Magazine cover, but ultimately that all worked for him and he conquered his demons and turned his life around. We are going to miss those wonderful evenings of song and dance.

In the category of other bad news, we also lost Stanley Myron Handelman. He was not a household name, but he was a very funny fellow. I guess he was at his peak in the 60’s. He wore a newspaper boy’s cap and enormous glasses. When he walked on a stage, just the sight of him made you laugh. He was one of the regulars on Ed Sullivan and the late night TV shows. He was born in Brooklyn and being New Yorker was his whole shtick. He brought all of us many hours of smiles. Being a comedian is not an easy way to live. First of all, you have to be funny. Have you ever tried to be funny for a living? I mean, I’m pretty funny, but if I had to be funny all the time, (once people find out that you’re funny they expect you to be funny on cue), it would put me in a very bad mood and then I really couldn’t even be pleasant, yet alone funny. My friends who are comedians are fabulous people and incredibly crazy—it’s part of their charm. They are usually delightful to be with yet unusually complicated. Just look at the people who are successful comedians. They are often great actors and the roles they choose are often the antithesis of how they appear on stage as stand-ups – which is part of the ‘complicated’. I think being in any performing art is hard. Dancers probably have the hardest time because once your body goes you either become a choreographer or a real estate agent. It’s not much different for singers because if the voice goes, the career ends. Actors can last a long time if they find a niche and an audience. But comedians need to change with the times. What was funny yesterday is old news today and God knows what tomorrow will bring. In addition, is there anything worse then standing on a stage and telling a joke that totally falls flat. Doesn’t your heart just go out to an aspiring comedian who is not amusing.

Tina called to say that Joeybubbles was also gone. He was a blind guy who had perfect pitch, so he could imitate the beeps on a touchtone phone and make free calls. Talk about talent. I guess we’ll miss him but I don’t know why. On the other hand I know exactly why we’ll miss Michael and Stanley and Thank God, not yet Sylvia. We’re just sayin...Iris

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

So, Where is Sylvia?

Absence makes the heart grow fonder... At least I hope that’s the case because I fear my writing will be on and off for a little while.

David’s last blob explains what we’ve been through the last few days and he’s absolutely right except the Caddie is gold. If Aunt Sophie ever heard him describe it as beige she would send a signal from the beyond and basically, it would say, “what would you expect from a Jew who grew up in Salt Lake?”

They took mom to the hospital on Saturday and we drove up from Va. When we got to the hospital she was still in the emergency room—where she stayed for too many hours, especially considering there we almost no other people occupying cubicles. But emergency rooms are notorious for making people wait. My cousin Rosalie best described the doctor by explaining that she seemed very sweet and dismissive at the same time. This is not easy to do, but I guess when you decide to be an emergency room doc they must give you special classes on how to annoy the family of the patients without being obviously rude. So, when we arrived and I asked Dr. Erin if I could inquire about mom’s condition, she looked at me blankly and responded, “when I have a chance.” Then she proceeded to turn around and gossip with a fairly attractive male nurse. I said “fine” and went back to sit with mom. I continued to watch her do nothing for another ten minutes. Eventually, she wandered into our cubicle and with a total reversal in attitude described what kinds of tests they were doing and explaining that they wanted to admit her for observation. Mom was not happy. All she wanted to do was go home – back to the ’Mews.

We signed many forms swearing secrecy about not disclosing any information about Mom’s illness -- I assume this was in case there were bio-terrorists lurking in the coffee shop at St Clare’s hospital in Denville N.J. We waited another hour or so and a few doctors wandered through to check her—I don’t know what for. After another half hour, Desi, a nurse, actually came into the cubicle and told us that there was a room assignment and she would be taken upstairs within fifteen minutes. During the hours and hours we were there waiting, it was the only real information we received. They checked her into 224A. We stayed with her for a little while longer and then, since we had been driving all day and were exhausted by the travel and events, we made our way back into the city. She seemed in pretty good shape—other than being unhappy about having to stay in the hospital overnight.

On Sunday we drove to NJ expecting to take her out of the hospital. When we arrived she was in good spirits, chatting with hospital staff and the nurses. The nurses all thought she was “so entertaining and cute”. It’s not the way anyone in the Dubroff family would describe her. I mean she is funny, and attractive, but cute doesn’t work for me. Anyway, we moved her from the bed to a chair so she could sit up and talk. She kept dropping her right arm off the arm of the chair and it was her good arm (not the one she fell on last week), so I didn’t understand what the problem could be. I said, “Mom what’s with the arm”. She responded in some nonsense words which were mumbled and totally incoherent. I walked calmly to the nurse’s station—where I had bonded with her nurse (we brought them donuts) and told her that something was happening to Mom and she should come quickly—which she did. It didn’t take 2 minutes before there was a whole team of medical people in the room working on her. They thought she was having a stroke. At some point, a very short doctor in a stripped polo shirt, appeared and determined that it wasn’t a stroke, but he thought it might be a mini-seizure. Really, did I care what they called it? My mother was incapable of speech or the ability to think. She was, in other words, totally out of it.

David and I stood outside the room until the medical personnel left and Mom started to come around. Once she began to speak, the doctor asked her several questions to see if she was recovering. First question. “What’s your name?” She thought for a minute. “Sylvia” she answered without hesitating. Now, I don’t know who Sylvia is because my Mother’s name is Rose—but at least you could understand her when she spoke. “And who is this young woman”, he said pointing at me. This one gave her pause. She did not know my name. But after a few minutes she said “My darling”, and smiled. She didn’t know her maiden name but she explained to the doctor that she was married for so long she couldn’t remember. It took about 20 minutes and then she came back. She knew who she was, where she was born, what the date was, and who won the last Yankee game – not really—but she did know Tiger Woods won the Open. By later in the afternoon she seemed OK, even fine.

Rose and Peppy at St. Clare's

Yesterday, when we arrived at the hospital, we were delighted by what we found. She was reading the paper. She never reads so I thought, what a miracle, this is really terrific. Aunt Peppy, her twin came to visit and to admonish her for not wearing her glasses or her hearing aides. We talked for a while, but Mom can’t hear much of anything, so she pretended to listen but didn’t participate. What’s remarkable is that Aunt Peppy, who was in not great shape a month ago, is now taking Aricept, and wearing hearing aids. She is back to her being her stubborn and incredibly insightful, articulate self, (she has always been a learner). The contrast between the two of them is startling. Not only physically but emotionally. Aunt Peppy has always worked hard at being a well and active person, and Mom was never interested in doing that. Anyway, (I apologize for any overuse of my favorite transition), we were happy at the progress she made. We even got her up and walking around her room.

This morning, Tuesday, I got to her room while the doctor was there. She was not in good shape. She could hardly keep her eyes open. “Something with her blood”, he said. “I’m going to give her a transfusion and I think that will help.” I hoped so too.

I sat with her for most of the day. I tried to feed her lunch because she was too weak to lift her fork, but she had no appetite and refused to eat lunch. The good news was that when I suggested I run out and get her a milk shake, she agreed immediately. And she finished it without hesitating to take a breath.

Now we have to decide if she needs to go into rehab or if she can go home-- but with 24 hour private nursing care for a few days. I don’t think she’s strong enough to go home (the Mews) without having some rehab but we’re going to wait til Thursday to decide. Not strong enough doesn’t actually begin to describe what she is, but impossible to find a better way. It’s very difficult to watch a person you love struggling to be Ok. It’s harder still to watch them fail. She’s so weak and frail even breathing is an effort, but she’s come back before, and we’re praying that she has the strength to do it again. And besides, I want to know who Sylvia is. We’re just sayin....Iris

Monday, August 13, 2007

It's A Fine Line

It remains a very fine line between what we say something is, and what it really ends up being. This past weekend, driving from DC to NY, as we have grown accustomed to doing on a regular basis (How Regular, Dave? Well, let's just say the E-Z pass Toll lights spell out "HOLA" to the beige Caddie as we roar thru...) Iris got a call on her cell fone. It was the Victoria Mews folks, where Rose (her mom, aka Nana) lives, as regular readers will of course know already, to inform us that she'd had a spell of dis-orientation, and that they'd had her taken by ambulance to St. Clare's Hospital (thankfully only a 9 minute drive away.) I don't know how many calls like this we have had the past year, but it has to be dozens by now. Never to say "you won't believe how many games of Bingo she won!", or "Wow, did she eat her way through the Sunday buffet!". No, it's usually something more difficult: a fall, a stumble. Something for which you really wish they didn't have to make that call. But of course they do, and every time the phone rings, it's as if you are expecting Michael Moore to be on the other end, asking if we would do an interview for SICKO II. We haven't had a chance to see SICKO yet, but I suspect that our experience over the past couple of years is a pretty good lead up to what his thesis seems to be: that Health care in the U.S. is, in reality, far behind the other '1st world' countries. It is very difficult to make, as Michael Moore tends to do, the kind of generalizations he specializes in, and win the argument. But he is definately on to something.

The headline in todays Morris County daily paper, tells of how some families, insured by HMOs (remember when HMOs were going to be the Saviour of the health care system?) are now having to pay nearly four thousand bucks a month for coverage. How many families even MAKE four thousand bucks a month, let alone want to spend their entire income on health coverage. The costs keep skyrocketing, and the benefits seem to shrink. Millions of people are employed in the 'health care' industry (and it IS an industry), so at least they have good jobs. [About five years ago I read a great essay by Doug Casey - - who defined a 'good job' as one for which a person is paid far more than they are worth for that position. Think about it.) But the bottom line, and the one which seems to keep escaping proper notice is that the rules and regulations, ever expanding in their scope and stupitude, seem to affect the real care that is given. HIPAA, the vaunted Privacy act has done virtually nothing to make anyone better sooner. Yet, if you are family, you now have to jump through hoops to even have access to medical information that any right-minded family person should have without question. Now when we call St. Clare's, God forbid we dont have the four number secret code to tell the Nursing station who we are, and they we are 'legal' to get basic information about Nana. The main way I see this ridiculous law enforced is at the pharmacy counter, where they keep telling you that you have to stand behind the Green line so you're not TOO close to the customer in front of you. Horrors, you might actually see that they are getting Rx drugs. Meanwhile, all the little helpful conversations you used to have with people in the 'health care industry' are suspect since you may or may NOT be legal to have them with. It's just one more insulting level of legal Bullshit which is overlaid on our daily lives.

And who benefits? Not sure I can answer that one. But a bunch of Congress people, the same ones who passed the Medicare drug bill which forbade the government from bidding for less than Retail pricing, the same ones who now pontificate about how great the system is, seemed to have been led down that path by a lot of folks who are not unfamiliar with Post=it notes bearing the logo of a drug company.

Michael Moore is usually about 2/3 full of crap, but his choice of story subjects is amazingly right on. All you need to remember about him is his first film, "Roger and Me", and his chasing of the boobs who ran GM. Those are the kind of overpiad multi-million dollar a year people who ran that company into the ground, who refused to have any vision of the future (did someone say Hybrid, did someone say 40 mpg?), and whose intransigence created the sick puppy auto industry we have today. In 1988, on a campaign with Jesse Jackson, I saw one of the great one-liners of modern politics. Jesse, who I wasn't crazy about personally (would it have been that tough on the 5 seat Lear jet to actually say Hello, and shake my hand?) did have a bead on things which was singular. In front of a big crowd, he asked 'How many people here own an F-15 fighter plane?' No hands went up. "How many people here own a VCR?" Hundreds of hands go up. "Well," he said," that's the problem. What people are buyin', we're not makin'." True enough.

In the Health Care Industry -- yeah, the one that won't let me bring medicine to the hospital to give Nana in a small plastic bag - I have to bring the whole bottle of 500 pills - we have all kinds of similar issues. We don't really want to buy what they're selling, but they are having such a good time selling it, they don't really have time to worry about what we, the consumers want to buy. It makes me wonder, sometimes, what happens to Drug Rep sales people when they get sick and are told the same stupid things which we have been told the last few days. The rules for this, the rules for that. Does it make sense if you are on the other side of the argument? Not sure. The thing is, at St. Clare's you find some of the neatest, kindest, caringest nursing staff around: They actually care how the patient is doing. But they are so constrained by the laws and rules, it makes the early departure of Common Sense far too likely. We wish it weren't so. There is plenty of Common Sense left out there if we just allow it to thrive. We're just sayin... David

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Once Upon a Time

Once Upon a Time there were two University Professors who had a daughter. They lived in NYC, in NYU professor housing. The daughter had a boyfriend who was abusive. Then he killed her. He said he tried to kill himself, but he failed -- what a shame. He’s alive, she’s dead, her parents will never recover, and no one lived happily ever after. The End. For them.

I didn’t mean to be morbid but sometimes terrible news just gets to me. Especially when it involves young men or women who might be my son or daughter.

Last night we watched the Democratic debate or as I think of it, “let’s get together and beat up Obama”. I guess all the candidates are hoping if they can’t be first, at the very least, they might be second. I think Obama and Edwards are still running for President but the others are hoping to get a job which allows them to live at the Naval Observatory. It’s a very nice house. We’ve been there for Halloween and Christmas parties with the Gores. I’m not sure it’s nice enough to play second fiddle to a President and have to suck up the humiliation that often comes with the job, but it’s probably better than being a Senator or even a Governor. You get a car and driver- lots of them actually - Secret Service, your own airplane, seats at the Kennedy Center, and always an invitation to a State dinner. Those other jobs may come with a car and driver but the benefits are nowhere in the same league. And besides, those other jobs require reelection. After this one finishes you can pretty much call you own shots. Go on the speakers’ circuit and maybe even position yourself for the big job.

In our soon to be published book “So You Think You Can Be President” we ask the following question, or maybe we don’t. But here it is:

As the Presidential Nominee, what do you look for in a Vice President? Choose the most important criteria from the following:
1. Someone who comes from a state with lots of electoral votes.
2. Someone who can deliver that state and lots of electoral votes.
3. A person who enjoys a good funeral.
4. Age, gender and issue balance. If you’re old you want someone young, girl boy, liberal conservative, good haircut bad haircut.

There are other qualities to consider. but those are a good start. I have only been privy to discussions about one Vice President. Not being a tell all kind of staffer I won’t tell you which one but it was quite an experience. First of all there is always a great deal of bad blood after the primaries because candidates say terrible things about one another and it’s hard to recover. For example, when Carter got the nomination there was no way they were going to consider Mo Udall as the Vice President. Here’s the interesting thing: Mo was from the West and Jimmy was from the South. Mo was a Mormon and Jimmy was a born again Christian. Mo had a wonderful sense of humor, Jimmy’s was hard to find. Mo was a liberal, no one knew what Jimmy was. The press adored Mo and they could never figure out exactly how they felt about Jimmy – but they did like his staff. Mo was tall and Jimmy was short. It would have been a perfect ticket except that they really didn’t like one another. Imagine what those Tuesday cottage cheese and ketchup lunches would have been like. Too many long silences? Probably.

During the primaries, as the candidates dropped out, their staff people joined other campaigns. But after the Convention, the Carter people refused to have anything to do with the some of the senior Udall staff. Mo was somewhat happy about this but ultimately had a conversation with the Carters, and they came to some kind of agreement about some of us. I worked for Mrs. Carter at Mo’s urging. He said it would totally piss Ella Udall off (I had worked with her during the Udall campaign) but he felt we were all Democrats and we needed to work to win. So I enlisted. I loved Mrs. Carter. I had been warned that she was a Steel Magnolia but after working with Ella, whose nickname she happily reported was ‘tiger’, Rosalynn was a joy. I actually didn’t have to go out hunting for her in the middle of the night and I didn’t have to stay up most nights till the wee hours of the morning (often closing the hotel bar) because she was an insomniac. That being said, Ella had a wonderful sense of humor. She was a truly funny, talented person who would do remarkable imitations of staff people and have us all howling about it. The media also loved her. They never reported all her antics, or her many marriages because, I think, they wanted Mo to have a chance. Rosalynn was much more well behaved, but much to everyone’s surprise, she liked my antics. We actually had a good time. For example, we were all told that we needed to stay in moderately priced hotels. That usually meant a crummy motel. I didn’t stay in those places but I did negotiate a moderate price in very fancy places. People were sure she was going to fire me, but to the contrary when I explained that Jews prefer to pay wholesale, she thought that was terrific and was happy about the occasional fancy place. Even when I had us staying at the Royal Orleans, where they put our names on the candy on our pillows, she was OK with it. Well, I did tell her that the Secret Service insisted, but she had no desire to check my story.

As much as I hated the Udall loss, I was happy for the Carter win. It was nice to be part of a White House Administration. The Carters were very generous about inviting their staff and their families to participate in White House events. Seth loved the Easter egg hunt and all the other activities – it was terrific for all of us. In addition, I met some of my closest friends and had fabulous jobs. I operated in senior circles and made contacts I couldn’t have imagined. And the Mondales (the VP selection) were always good to work with. You know, he was tall, liberal, from the midwest, funny and the press liked him. Further, there was no staff hostility and little competition – no bad blood. I guess the Carters made some very good decisions. Including me. We’re just sayin...Iris

It IS a Ridiculous Life

I suppose that besides taxes, the only other certainty in life is the assurance of uncertainty. We may think we really know what’s doing, how the world around us will react to certain stimuli, but there are plenty of places where there is just no certainty. We live, no doubt, in an age of hubris. Some of it is good, certainly, I mean we WANT smart scientists to have the faith of their beliefs, and a desire to test the out in the real world. Otherwise, there would be no medical advances, and things like the catalytic converter, disc drives, and cell fones would still be waiting to be invented. But there are iffy sides to the age of Hubris, and those include such obvious and every day examples as the Wall Street geniuses who continually guess wrong, yet are paid millions for saying so, and of course the Government (and the press following them closely in 2002-03) who all felt that once we disarmed Saddam’s nuclear weapons, we would be greeted with flowers and candy as liberators. Meanwhile the only certainty is that the people whose lives are on the line, your average Iraqi schlepper, and your better than average GI, will continue to live in a world of uncertainty, the kinds that begins nibbling your toes off, and eventually ends up taking big bites.

There was a great piece in this weeks TIMES Science section about a new book whose theory tries to understand how England became the fulcrum of the Industrial age, and eventually the first society where the Malthusian math (which essentially said that populations would expand to meet available resources.. i.e. FOOD, and that therefore there would never be a significant upgrading in the lives of a populace who were unable to produce more food per person, over time) was broken, and let the Industrial age ignite, a time which, for all it’s Dickensian booboos, did create a larger base of wealth for more people. A great piece. Read it. And of course it only emphasizes the fact that living as we do in an age of “Certainty” – food, transport, music, ipods, etc. makes us an anomaly in human history. The “big one” when it hits the West coast, or central Missouri, or Tokyo, will only reinforce that idea that some things not only cannot be avoided, they just can’t even be predicted.

Part of the hubris (I kind of like the word, even if this is a slightly altered meaning) is that set of societal assumptions that we all harbour. Well, depending on who you are, I guess you hold different views, but one of the things which we all take for granted is “how interesting” we all are. Come on, admit it. You DO think you’re somewhat cool. True, I know you feel there are folks above you in some social stratification, but generally speaking, I think if you read blobs, you probably feel kind of special. It’s ok, it’s not a crime yet. Be yourself, imagine the cool things you do at work, at home, with family, on road trips, places you have been which might make you FEEL special. That’s what I’m getting at. It’s particularly strong in the Baby Boomer, and younger generations, and with the exception, I suppose, of the Sumner Redstones of this world, it s less obvious in our parents' generation. They definitely were NOT the “Me” generation.

This IS Your Ridiculous Life

Last Saturday night Iris and I attended a wonderful small show in a little theater on West 42nd st. She belongs to a half dozen Broadway affinity groups (like FACEbook for the theater Discount set) which offer some very cool tickets at unbelievably low prices. Sometimes even for free. We saw “Beyond Glory” a month ago - a great one man play whose dialogue is taken directly from interviews with Cong. Medal of Honor winners. This week, once we saw the promo for “This is Your Ridiculous Life”, we knew we had to go. A half dozen improv actors sit on stage awaiting their cues, and the cues come from one of their own who serves, alternately, as the ‘director’/instigator. At the other end of stage are two chairs, one for a certified Psycho Therapist, and an empty chair for an audience member. Yes, its YOUR Life on stage, opened up for everyone to see. The idea is to get the audience member talking (the Therapist's job) and then at a key moment, the director asks several of the actors to do a riff on what has just been discussed. Iris kept nudging me to go, but at the outset, I demurred, and waited a moment. Nearby, a woman of some 70-plus years, egged on by her friends, took the stage. Elaine was her name. Very poised, very cool. And Very New York. “I was born on West 23rd st. Then we moved to West 98th st. Then West 115th st. Then to Dykman street (also on the West side) and thence to West 73rd street" where she lives today. So,I wonder, in Seventy years, did this woman never ride a crosstown bus, never see a sign for the East Side? Talk about Certainty! When you know every block, the direction of every street, even with the calamity of city life, therein lies a bit of certainty. Better yet, her very elemental discussions of her life, rich, I’m sure, in personal stories, were told in a very simple way: three children (two moved to the coast, the West coast) , one living here; her husband had been a Police man. New York’s finest. With such basic, what we might call not overly complicated stuff, the improv actors made some wonderful, hilarious skits. In the simplicity was the basis for the humor. I was next up, and I then realized how intently they must have been listening. Once they started doing my life as Improv, they ended up with a few funny things (“Wait a minute. You’re Jewish,, AND you’re from UTAH? How did that happen?) but somehow, in just answering the questions (Who is the most interesting person you ever photographed? – a tough one) as straightforwardly as I could, -- the Ayatollah Khomeini – it almost seemed forced on my part. I was just trying to play it straight, but for me, it was always a bit more complicated than just boiling it down to “..the West side.” They asked how I got in to photograph the Ayatollah, and I must have said something like “..I sweetalked my way in… and annoyed then so much that I left then no choice..” Well, the only thing certain was that I didn’t feel it was nearly as rich material as Elaine, and I started to feel bad about that. Not terrible. Just a teeny bit ‘bad.’ Then at the end, three actors gathered to sing a three sided song, one for Elaine, one about me, and one for Brandon the Chinese social worker from San Francisco who followed me on stage. And the best moment as they wrapped it up was “my” player singing “… and he sweetalked the Ayatollah…” Yea, I suppose that was, in part, my Ridiculous Life. Maybe no more Ridiculous to anyone on the outside than it is to me. But in the end, I think the one Certainty we should all be aware of is that our lives, even on the West Side, are just a step away from Ridiculous. We’re just saying… David

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

My Hero, My True Hero

Jeremy Hernandez refused to have a photo op with the President. He refused to be used by the White House for any political grandstanding. Jeremy is the young man who kicked out the back door of the bus and saved 50 children when the bridge collapsed in Minneapolis. All the Presidential candidates should learn a lesson from Jeremy. It’s not about taking a picture and basking in someone else’s glory. It’s not about inviting someone, who has suffered some tragedy or performed some act of heroism, to endorse a campaign or a policy, or a candidate. People who are heroes don’t necessarily need to be thanked in a public forum where the agenda is about good by association. For Jeremy the best news is that a school is going to acknowledge his quick thinking by giving him the opportunity to finish school—which will present him with many opportunities in his future.

What exactly does it take to be a hero? Are there different degrees of heroism? And does it take some catastrophic event to make a hero? I’m not sure. Yes there are. And no it doesn’t. There are jobs that, by circumstances can put people in a place where there is tremendous hero awarding potential. Like police officers, or fireman, doctors, or aides in health care facilities. But there are also people who are heroes who go pretty much unnoticed and they have real impact on lives. My friends Pam and Joyce are heroes. They teach in urban schools where there are metal detectors on the doors and attitude in the classrooms. Joyce is a school counselor. Pam is an English teacher. They both chose to teach in schools where not a great many creative educators want to be. Pam could certainly teach in a private school or in an upscale community where they would support her incredible creativity with money and resources. Joyce could probably do the same or maybe even private counseling for rich troubled youths—there are plenty of those around and in these days of “My kid is entitled”, she would probably have a lucrative practice. But they chose to be in an environment where they might just make a change in some young person’s life—they might make a difference. I think that everyday they go to work they are committing an act of heroism. The White House hasn’t called them for a photo op. I wonder why.

When my Dad awoke every morning he knew that he faced a day of challenge. As his disability was such that he had no use of his arms or legs but his mind was fine. He knew he couldn’t turn the page on the book he was reading, and he loved to read. He knew that he couldn’t change the station on the television when he didn’t like a program—not even with a zapper. He couldn’t eat a hot dog without help and he couldn’t run along the beach, or dance, or travel – all things he loved. But he faced the day with the kind of courage I could never have. He made jokes about his disability and he laughed at how ridiculous the whole thing seemed to him. He never let you know when he was depressed and he never looked for pity. He was an avid listener and interested in everything happening in the world. No one ever thought of him as being sick, he simply couldn’t walk. When he died, he did it without much fanfare. He seemed happy for the release but he never made anyone feel as though they didn’t do enough. He was truly a hero. As far as I remember, the White House never called and asked him to take a picture with the President.

Karen had breast cancer. I say had because she has had surgery and radiation and is now on some horrible medications but she insists that she is fine and all her friends are convinced she is right. When she found out the tumors she discovered were malignant she didn’t sulk at home and feel sorry for herself. We went out to dinner at the Reservoir Tavern, a favorite Italian restaurant in Boonton N.J., and we drank a great deal of wine and ate an enormous dinner. There was no, “Oh poor me”. There was only upbeat conversation and hopeful discussion about the future. And Karen decided that she would use her experience and her work to help educate other women about breast cancer and in fact, breast health. I have known Karen since college. She has been widowed three times (but she says she divorced number 2 before he died.) She worked hard, changed careers, made a good living, and raised her son and went on J date. There has never been any whining permitted in her presence. She has been who she is for as long as I’ve known her. She is indefatigable and she is a hero. She hasn’t mentioned a call from the White House to ask her to take a photo. Not even with the Secretary of Health & Human Services. Breast cancer is kind of a girlie issue and so many people have it, who would admire the President for taking notice? Actually, I know a great many people.

I could go on and on—but you know that. Suffice to say, I think that political people need to look beyond the obvious to recognize people who might not qualify as disaster heroes, or sports figures, or even military people who are ready to sacrifice their lives. I think they need to identify the people who are heroes because they face every day with courage. We’re just sayin...Iris

Monday, August 06, 2007

The lump that ate Chicago

Just when you think things are going great, the phone rings at 6am and it is Victoria Mews advising you that your mother has had yet another fall. This time, they are unsure how it happened but she hit her head – they think-- and her arm and shoulder were bothering her so off she went to the hospital where they discovered a chipped elbow. When I asked her how it happened she said that she was getting out of bed. I asked why she hadn’t called an aide to help her. She said in a tone indicating I was a moron. “I didn’t know I was going to fall.”

And then there’s the lump on my thigh. It seems to have come out of nowhere. I discovered it because I was carefully applying sunscreen during our trip to the beach and there it was. A big fat lump. It was bigger than a dime and hard and it seems to be growing – yes the growth part may be imagination, but it did appear from nowhere so why, like the blob, why shouldn’t it just grow until my whole leg is a lump.

My knee is also in trouble. I think that may be a consequence of a fall I took when Jane and I went to the Signature Theater in Va. A few months ago—maybe a year. We were crossing the street and I lost my balance and tripped...oh yes balance is another issue. So there I was, in the middle of Four mile Run bleeding profusely and hoping not to miss the first act. When I finally hobbled into the theater I went directly to the ticket office and asked if they had a first aid kit. They did and I went to the bathroom and cleaned it best I could—before the curtain went up. We enjoyed the show and then when I got home I took a good look. It was seriously gross, but I washed it used some peroxide and medicated it—what else was there to do.

Well, three days later when it was seriously infected, I went to the doctor and was not surprised to find that, yes, I should have had it stitched, and yes it was infected. I began taking antibiotics but that only helps the infection. I probably should have had it X-rayed because it keeps going out from under me. Of course, that might be a consequence of my bad back or the fact that I had a phlebectomy (I think that’s how it’s spelled, but my spell check has a headache) for my varicose veins a few weeks ago.

Back to my lump. I called Deborah because she is the VP at NY Hospital for Surgery. This does not mean she can operate on my lump but I figured she might know someone who could take a look at it. She said I needed a referral or something, and my doctor is on vacation so the search for a referral begins. I guess I could call my mother’s doctor who has heard from us about too many times lately. Did I mention the thing on my face that I thought was a little blister but it’s been there for three months and a doctor, who is not a dermatologist but a doctor still, though it might be basil cell – is that how you spell it or is that the spice? Either way it needs to be picked.

And more bad news. My friend Jill called to say that the McGovern luncheon was going to be broadcast on C-span tonight. That’s not bad news -- but I’m getting there. She said the producer Rich Dubroff had gone to the mat with them. I said, “Rich Dubroff must be my cousin.” Thinking, how many Dubroff’s could there be. Jill said to check the spelling on his name. I called Rich and sure enough he spells it the same way we do. He agreed there weren't many of us. His family is from Russia and his Grandfather had many siblings—who were not my grandfather. And his father was in the movie business and those Dubroff’s are related to Lauren Bacall. So that’s the bad news. They are related to Lauren Bacall and we probably aren’t. I hate the kind of relative who steals all the good stuff.

Oh and did I mention my bronchitis. Well I have a terrible case. I can hardly breathe. The doctor gave me a script for a Zpak which we picked up at Costco along with a script for Jordan, who has a sinus infection. Are you tired of this whining. OK There is some good news, speaking of Zak, he’s getting his first tooth. That’s good news for all of us, except teething can be painful and tedious for the little guy, but at least it’s temporary and thank God, it has taken my mind off the lump that is getting big enough to eat Chicago. We’re just sayin...

Saturday, August 04, 2007

A Joint Account

How long does it take for something to become a tradition. I’m never quite sure, but going to the theater and then a bite afterwards (lately at the Bar Centrale) has become a Wednesday ritual for the Smith/Burnett’s. The group usually includes, Clare, Jordan, Hannah, Kerry and me. Sometimes there is a Jordan substitute because she gets another offer. That’s not like waiting for a better offer. I’m sure you have friends who are always waiting and hopeful that something better will come along. Those are the people who can never give you a yes or a no when you invite them to join you for an activity. It’s always an answer like, “I have to see”.

What exactly do they have to see? I used to wonder about this. And then after repeated performances I realized that they had to see if there was something more attractive lurking in their future. It took me quite some time (often years) to realize that they were waiting for an option to my company. Which, of course, was almost impossible for me to understand but it was true. For a while I thought, I’m sure it’s not personal. And then I realized, it was very personal, so I stopped inviting them places. Well, I’m happy to report, Jordan is not looking for options. It’s just that our Wednesday night outings are not a priority, so she makes other plans. Let me say, We are grateful that our grown up girls even consider putting us on their list of potentially fun evenings. Maybe it’s about them being together rather than us but that’s OK. Anyway, overall we have a good time, and so do they.

Last week we went to see “Mary Poppins” – the musical. It was not on the list of shows I had to see or die, but I love the music and the spirit so I happily agreed to go. Needless to say, there were a million kids in the theater for an 8pm performance. Broadway theaters are pretty cool about kids. They want them to like the show and to continue to come back well into adulthood. Prices are so high that, at the very least, they want the experience to be positive and long term. They do things like provide pillows for the kids to sit on so they can see. It’s terrific. My kids loved the theater as young children. Granted, they got to sit in the President’s box at the Kennedy Center – which is not exactly like sitting in the balcony of the Shubert—but what mattered was their love of the shows. And what mattered more was that going to the theater wasn’t like going to a movie. They had to behave differently, especially in the President’s box. Seth, even as a kid who could never sit still and who enjoyed participating in whatever was happening on stage, understood that he needed to respect the performance and performers. That meant sitting ‘nicely’ and not talking. And he was very well behaved. After years of ‘the box’, Jordan was surprised the first time we went to a regular theater and sat in regular seats. She couldn’t believe there were people sitting in front of her. But she was so enthralled by what was happening on the stage, it would never have occurred to talk. However, she found it hard, even as a very small child, not to reprimand people who did. She’s like the theater Gestapo. No one in her area is allowed to talk, eat, or breathe loudly. And I think that’s fine. The point is, it was a pleasure to go to the theater, with my kids. And it was a pleasure, not only for me, for all the people sitting around us. (Of course, in the President’s box there is an ante room and a fridge with refreshments, and big comfortable seats—but that’s not the point of my blob.)

What amazes me is the number of people who have no theater manners. They come to the show with little concern for the experience and other people who are often paying $110 a seat. (We never pay full price but we because we’re Jewish and belong to all the discount clubs). But some people have to pay retail. Anyway, there are people who bring food and drink and a total lack of courtesy. I guess they think that because they paid so much for the seat they can do anything they want while they are its’ occupants.

But I digress and you’re not surprised about that. So, last Wednesday we went to see “Mary Poppins” and there were a million little kids whose bed time is probably 8pm. But the interesting thing was that most of the kids were pretty good. It was the parents who were a terrible pain in the ass. They were so excited about sharing the experience that they couldn’t seem to stop talking about it. All we heard were parents asking their children stupid questions like “Did you see that” and “is this your favorite part”, and “remember when we saw the movie? This is different isn’t it?” What exactly did they expect from their children. Did they actually want to have a discussion in the middle of the show? In addition, encouraging conversation during a performance is certainly not a way to teach them any kind of manners or respect for the people on the stage or the people who actually want to listen to what’s happening on the stage. I just wanted to scream, “leave those kids alone and let them enjoy the show!”

When I realized I wasn’t going to be able to control the behavior of every parent in the theater, I calmed down. The show was good, a little darker than the movie, but the talent on the stage was enormous. Afterward we went to the Bar Centrale, which was unusually quiet so we didn’t spend as much time looking for celebs as is our usual routine. The lack of celeb spotting did allow us time for alternative conversation and this revolved around what how Clare and Jordan were going to get to Disney World—on the top of their lists for travel. It must be genetic, because Seth and Joyce went to Disney World for their honeymoon. Anyway, the girls were in tears talking about their affection for the place – the mouse the rides etc. Jordan hasn’t been there since she was five, when on her birthday we took her to the airport and said “Where do you want to go” and thank God she said Disney World, which was the destination for which we had tickets. Clare has been there more recently.

Their passion for going to Orlando was about at the same level—off the charts. And they decided they want to go as soon as Clare is 21 and go together. We figured that meant a continuation of our Wednesday outings, but moved to Orlando—which led to another usual discussion between their mothers. The “What do I owe you for tickets/what do I owe you for dinner” discussion. After about 10 minutes of back and forth, (and ridicule from the girls) Jordan finally said, “You two should get a joint checking account”. It stopped us in our tracks. What a concept. I always hated it when men made fun of us with the “but I only had tuna and you had steak” conversation. Women, at least the ones I know, are very generous about checks and splitting costs. And for that reason, wouldn’t it be great for girlfriends to just pool all their extra income and, instead of sharing accounts with spouses, to share accounts with pals for whatever kind of entertainment they enjoyed. Jordan’s idea was just right. Instead of discussion about who owes what to whom, We all agreed that a joint checking account for friends is a pretty fabulous concept. We’re just sayin....Iris

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

The Things You Can't Believe

Yesterday I was reading the paper and there was an editorial about how the Administration wanted to cut health services to children. What else is new? But I thought the reason for it was quite interesting. It seems that they are afraid it will succeed and then, the next thing you know, adults will insist on government intervention in their health care – like, so they can have it. What a horrible thing. The reasoning by this White House never ceases to amaze me.

OK so now you know I can read. And I also watch TV. I am following, with great interest, the Presidential candidate debates. I am mixed about the U tube presentations. Don’t get me wrong, I think people should be able to ask the candidates questions. I even like it better than when pompous talking heads who call themselves news people, do it. In fact, when I can navigate my way to get on U tube, (I have not mastered My Space – which is too bad because Seth has a page and I can’t be his friend) and I like some of the videos (Jordan has a West Side Story clip and on a different one, The Gefilte Fish Chronicles make an appearance), but I’m not sure about it as a political forum. I guess I think of U tube as yet another way to entertain and I think political forums should be a bit more serious, or at the very least, not a method to entertain – but rather to educate and inform. Maybe it’s an age or generational thing—but then isn’t everything?

So much thinking gives me a headache. And speaking of headaches, I am not sure I believe the political polls. First of all, I cannot imagine anyone would vote for Rudy Giuliani. Are people still thinking of him as “America’s Mayor”. Well he may very well be America’s Mayor but that has nothing to do with being America’s President. It’s kind of ironic when you think about it. During the 9-11 tragedy America’s President was missing and America’s Mayor lead the nation. And now America’s President is still missing—OK maybe it’s not ironic. But it is a tragedy. Anyway, his policy inconsistencies, as well as his questionable moral character, make me wonder what kind of a Republican would vote for him.

And I just don’t get what Senator Clinton is thinking. My guess is that too many of her advisors are Washington political wonks. When she says she will have to think about whether or not she will talk to ‘rogue’ world leaders, Washington diplomatic people say, “Of course.” When she says Obama is naïve in his approach to ‘conversational’ diplomacy, the Washington diplomatic community agrees. But the Democratic base doesn’t agree. They are tired of not talking to everyone. People want someone committed to finding a peaceful solution to international conflict. They see this President refusing to talk to our friends as well as our enemies and they are exhausted by the rhetoric. They think he’s just a war mongering dope. Well, maybe that’s what I think.

I’m not sure analyzing a situation before you leap in is a bad idea, but I think that people want leadership and a willingness to reach out to ‘bad’ nations as well as good, shows a desire not only to find solutions to international problems without a war, but to show that we are strong enough to have a talk about important issues that effect millions of people. I guess that’s what the UN is supposed to do, but it seldom works – too much bureaucracy, too careful to step on toes.

This morning there are reports that Obama is going to announce that he thinks we should be out of Iraq but in Pakistan—where the real terrorists thrive. He thinks that the terrorists want us to be in Iraq because not only is it a distraction, and not only does it use up our resources, it is a way to unite all people who think of West as an enemy – with particular attention to the US. This new political strategy makes me nervous. I agree that we should be out of Iraq and focusing on the real ‘ism’, terrorism. But I’m not sure I want to play those kind of military games with the lives of our sons and daughters. These kind of politics always remind me of a game we used to play with Barbara Tuchman, the well respected writer and historian. We would go to Connecticut and she and Seth’s dad would play for hours. The game was called “Risk”. I think it’s probably still available and I wouldn’t be surprised if being able to win a game is a prerequisite for a job as a political appointee in this Administration. However, while the game was interesting and maybe even fascinating, it wasn’t for real. People didn’t die.

Were we speaking of headaches? Here are some of today’s headlines. John Edwards has hired Joe Trippi to run his website. You remember Joe Trippi from the disastrous Dean campaign.

Trippi & Dean in happier times (2003)

People credited him with conceiving of the internet outreach. He was not the conceiver, he was the merely the person who talked about it and, as with so many political people, took the credit. Oh, but he was responsible for the disaster. And the Congress has decided it’s all right for senior aides and lawmakers to lobby their friend in Congress without waiting a decent amount of time. The nominees for Joint Chiefs are saying that the Iraqi leaders aren’t doing much of anything—well what do you expect—they needed a vacation. And that right wing piece of trash “The Wall Street Journal” is finally owned by a right wing piece of trash. Have I overstepped the line? Sometimes I can’t help it. But here’s the best news as far as I’m concerned. Last week we went out to a riotous dinner with family and I lost a precious bracelet. (My dad had given it to my mom. It was gold with little jewels and a terrific personality.) I called the restaurant,

the Red Bruxelles on Greenwich street...

Café Bruxelles, (one of our very favorites with fabulous food including the best mussels and frites in the city) and asked if they found it. [Editor’s Note: The Sweetbreads (Ris de Veau) and Carbonnade (succulent beef stew) are just amazing!] No such luck. Last night, while we were in the area, I thought I’d just stop in at Bruxelles and see if anyone had turned it in. And sure enough, the wonderful server who patiently waited on us had. Discovered it under the table. The owner said he had called and left a message... I had inadvertently erased some messages yesterday morning and that must have been among them. Anyway, I have my bracelet and everyone should go and eat at Café Bruxelles (118 Greenwich Ave, (212) 206-1830) when you are in NY. In fact, make a special trip—it’s really good news. We’re just sayin....Iris