Monday, October 29, 2007

Camp Nola, '07 Edition

I am guilty of what Sen. Daniel Patrick (you used his middle name when you wanted to make him sound serious) Moynihan once called ‘benign neglect’ …. Not a serious attempt to avoid action, but inaction caused by non action. It is, well, much more benign. In my case, it is looking after my writing responsibilities on the Blob. So, this is perhaps what the doctor ordered: I am in New Orleans where I have been since Friday, working with a small but dedicated and talented squad from the National Geographic conducting a ‘Photo Camp’ for a group of young (12-16 years of age) Vietnamese – American kids who live in NOLA, and who families have been in the forefront of those who wasted little time in trying to reconstuct their lives after Katrina ravaged their East New Orleans homes two years ago. We're trying to teach them how to be photojournalists (you know. .like "Photojournalist In a Can") The kids are middle and high schoolers, and following a very successful ‘Photo Camp’ a year ago with some NOLA kids from more downtown neighborhood, a second one was scheduled this year, but this time with kids who share a common experience, having lived through Katrina. Driving to and from E.N.O. you pass by large tracts of neighborhoods – houses, apartment buildings, shopping centers – which are still ongoing ghost towns, unfixed, unreturned to, and uninhabited. It remains more than an eyesore; it is still a shocking site to see such places which have not only fallen in between the cracks, they have become the cracks.

I Mean, Where Are the Crowds?

This weekend, aided by a half dozen photo students from Loyola University helping head up the teams of 4 kids each, we have tried to explain both by example and by illustration, some of the techniques which let tyros hone their photo skills. It is always amazing to see how quickly enthusiastic students (of any age) pick up those hints and run with them, and start making some excellent pictures. I was here in early 2006 to do a story for Nat. Geo. Magazine, and while there has been much progress in getting the city going again, it is painfully slow. Sure in the French quarter, wonderful restaurants abound, well populated, and Uptown, the amazing and beautiful gentrified quarter, dotted with historic houses and cute cafes, people slink in waiting lines outside some wonderful eateries. But there remains much scarring, and it’s evident in nearly every quarter.

A big 'Poisson' photographed at the local VN farmer's market

You have to merely start to speak with someone who was here for the storm and/or its aftermath to feel the barely contained pain, worry and and angst. Yet, with the photo kids this week we had a great time, watching them break through social inhibitions, and begin to try and take pictures in ways and places they most certainly wouldn’t have tried before.

Where IS Everyone? St. Charles St., 10pm
NOLA retains an air of fun even through the difficult times, and yet you see and feel the contrasts on a walk through the edge of the French Quarter, as I did tonight coming home from a team dinner. All of a sudden, having stopped for a minute to call home on my cell fone, I found myself alone on St. Charles street, surrounded by the shell of a former hotel, a parking lot, and a virtually empty sidewalk. Three years ago, it would have been teeming with people, but tonight, the silence was, if not deafening, somewhat disconcerting. The city is still fighting an ongoing crime wave, as different elements of society deal with the return of gangs and shooters, and I don’t mean photographers. New Orleans is one of those cities which, like Redsox Nation (ok, so they just wrapped up the Series in way less than five games!) has citizens all over the country, people like me who have some kind of soft spot in their hearts for the city which has provided so many good times. The Vietnamese photo kids, most second generation (most of their parents left either in the “end of the war” exodus in 1975, or several years later as Boat People) speak pretty good English, and retain their knowledge of their mother tongue.

A Visit to the Buddhist Temple: Buddha with US & Vietnamese flags

A vibrant, overworked priest, Father Luc, looks after a flock of dedicated Catholics whose lives revolve around the church, and you cannot but admire a guy who, as he put it tonight counts amongst his parishioners, people who have lived through the partition of Vietnam into North and South (1954), a dozen + years of the American War in Vietnam (not the “Vietnam” war..) and then a resettlement in the US which wasn’t, in itself, very easily done. The community is close knit, sticks together and provides a vast number of services for its members. Today, there was a health fair offering Tetnus shots, acupuncture for pain, and in another room, a large choir readying to sing at Mass. I don’t know what will happen here, except that the drive of the neighborhood is powerful, and they WILL make it if anyone does. If the photo kids can help document their lives as part of that rebirth, then my few days here will have been very worthwhile. Tomorrow I hope to do a drop by and see Herb Gettridge, who, at 84, decided he wasn’t waiting for someone to do it for him: he rebuilt his house wall by wall, room by room, and finally succeeded in getting electricity restored, at which point he brought his wife back from Michigan. People like Herb, and the Vietnamese across town in East Nola, will be the ones who recreate this city. It won’t be the shyster developers who are jockeying for position in the attempt to be the king pins of re-construction. It’s about the people: and one can hope that in the end, it will be The People, Yes! who Triumph. Thanks to Kurt Mutchler (who drives like I wish I did), Susan Poulton & Jim Webb (co-directors.. or at least they are now that I have called them such) and Kathy Anderson of the Times-Picayune, a great photographer who brings an unabashed humanity to her work (and proudly displays her paper’s Pulitzer Prize in her living room, though you have to really LOOK to find it.) As usual with workshops, I think the teachers get more out of it than the students, the difference being that we realize it right away, while the students won’t really know what they have learned for months or even years, when their pictures really start to fall into place. One decided advantage: lunch is more likely to be pho ga (Vietnamese noodle soup) instead of a Mickey D’s Drive through. We’re just sayin… David

Sunday, October 28, 2007

I Feel a Draft....

Thank God for football because if I’m going to watch anything violent on TV I’d rather it be sports than threats to invade Iran. It was frightening to watch the morning shows today. All the supposed leading candidates are talking about another military action. What happened to honest diplomacy as opposed to more diplomatic threats?

Yesterday, at breakfast Kat and Bill were talking about what happened on the Hill this week and the most startling thing they said was that the main topic of conversation was the reinstatement of the draft. Of course there has to be a draft if we have another unwarranted confrontation—there are no more people to send to anyplace else right now. The Pentagon has used up all the troops including the National guard. Whoever would have thought that the National Guard would have to go to international territory to do a part time job. I am certain that most of those people, especially the women and older people never expected to be leaving their families for years to fulfill their service requirements.

It seems that the Republican candidates are competing for who can be the most aggressive while the Democratic candidates are responding to the republic uproar. What is clearing lacking in the Republican rhetoric is any mention of domestic issues, other than abortion and gay marriage – now there are two very important issues. I think I liked it better when they were the means by which Republicans changed the subject, but there is no changing the subject now—it’s just about Iran. What happened to Iraq? Did we declare another victory? And what happened to Afghanistan, are we back in charge? [Editor’s note: No we aren’t, the Bad Guys are.] These are questions for which I have no answers because I am so confused about the future.

When we were twenty one and the war in Viet Nam was raging, one of the reasons you saw the protests was because there was a draft. Every male over eighteen was eligible and not many of them wanted to give up college and fun to get dirty in a place they couldn’t even locate on the map. So what happens now? I assume if there is a draft our daughters will be included in the lottery. What should we advise them to do? Bill says that if we are all asked to sacrifice or be inconvenienced the war will end immediately. He also says that all the people who are working for military-like corporations like DynCorp or Blackwater should be forbidden by law to work in war zones. They should be made to go back in the military if they want to serve their country rather than serve themselves. He says these companies are killing the military and the Secret Service because – figure it out -- why should anyone work for pennies when they can make dollars doing the same task. It’s not a bad idea, but how do you make it work?

I hardly ever watch George Stephanopolis on Sunday, I prefer to watch Bill Geist on CBS. But I was on my treadmill watching all three networks this morning –you can do that at a club because there are 15 TV’s – and George had an “aspiring to be the most macho” John McCain on. I’ll tell you the truth, which I try to do and not be serious at the same time, I don’t know how George kept a straight face. John was so earnest that it was almost laughable. He kept saying things like, “When I’m President you won’t have to worry about nuclear weapons and Iran, I’ll take them out before they get a chance to develop anything that is a threat.” But the only real threat so far is the conversation the US government is having to antagonize Iran. Yes, I agree the Iranian President whose name is too hard to pronounce, is a lunatic but the Iranian people are not. Where is the people to people diplomacy when we need it – hidden somewhere in the bowels of the State Department – not important enough to take a leading role. And we see how well the Political Diplomatic people have done. I sleep peacefully at night knowing that there’s a Foreign Service Officer kissing up to his boss, and their boss and up the diplomatic chain all the way to the Vice President’s office. It is such a comfort. I’m not sure this is the “walk softly and carry a big stick” model, but we don’t use sticks anymore. I wonder if those are the same sticks that work with stones in the name calling game.

And the Democrats are not much better except they do take a moment to talk about health care and education. I had such hopes that there would be a candidate who was not afraid to say, “We made a mistake let’s cut our losses and come home from Iraq and then we can assess Iran or make threats or call them names” But even when they indicate that this is the way they feel, they are too intimidated by their opponents to support it in any real way. If you cut the funds, the Pentagon will have no choice but to find a diplomatic solution to ending the war. We declared victory before, let’s just do it again and give Iraq back to whatever Iraqi’s want it.

Back to the draft. If my daughter was called to serve I would suggest to her that she leave the country. Of course, I would suggest Italy and we would go with her. Since this generation of young people are so career directed and since so many of them are in college I don’t think they would go easily or quietly. It’s a terrible time to be a young person. But, as Bill said, maybe if all the Congressman had kids who had to serve [instead of the just 4 who do] , they would rethink sending them into a war which 74% of the American people are against.

I think I have to stop watching programs where pundits either say things or they ask political people to say things which on the surface are ridiculous and but in reality are terrifying. I guess I just need to watch something more upbeat like Law and Order Special Victims Unit. We’re just sayin...Iris

Friday, October 26, 2007

Between Parent and Child

When my kids were little I used to read books to guide me through the difficult times. A new mother has a million questions for which she needs answers and for me, I would call the doctor and then immediately forget what he said, and I was too embarrassed to call back so I would just cry. Seth got the worst of it because he was a first child and I really had no idea what I was doing. Anyway, I used Dr. Spock as my guide because right or wrong, he had the answers to everything. Important stuff like how long to let a baby cry. What to do when a child has a tantrum. How to figure out if the child is sick or teething and of course, toilet training. Toilet training wasn’t really an issue for Seth because when he got big enough that his poop was too adult like for pleasantries, I told him that he would either use the potty or change himself. And in those days we used a diaper service not disposables. He showed incredibly good judgment and started to use the toilet.

Jordan had the benefit of my having practiced on someone else and by the time she was born I was an older parent and had the wisdom of a sage. David just thought everything she did was funny and, actually, he felt the same way about Seth. He was always entertained by Seth’s antics, while I was still reading Haim Ginott. We’ll get back to that. When Jordan was little T. Barry Brazelton became my guru. He wrote books and had a TV show where he would cutchie coo with kids on air. Unlike Spock, he was pretty flexible and his suggestions were not necessarily written in stone. And he was a joy to watch. He said not to worry about potty training, but I didn’t have to because my mother told Jordan that if she went in the potty, she would buy her new pretty underwear. And that was the end of diapers for her.

When both kids were past infancy and into toddler and preschool experiences, I discovered Haim Ginott. He wrote a series of books called “Between Parent and Child,” “Between Parent and Teenager” and like that. He was an Israeli psychologist who operated from a good sense perspective. Things like, don’t attack personality traits, don’t talk in chapters (or lecture), deal with the situation at hand. Most of his writing was about respecting the child and getting the child to respect the parent – which are not accomplished by threats. His books were fun to read and whenever he revealed something you would say, “That makes absolute sense and it’s so simple. Why didn’t I think of that?” Unfortunately Dr Ginott died some years ago and it is almost impossible to get his books anymore.

Happily, it appears we won’t need Spock or Brazelton or Ginott anymore. Britney Spears’ mom is writing a book about how to raise two celebrity children. Thank God we will not be without real expert advice about how to deal with our children. And moreover, if we want our children to turn out like the Spears sisters, we will have the inside secrets. Now let me see, what is it I really want to know? Important things like: When will I actually be able to turn my terribly talented kid into a product for me to merchandize. When should I start to allow my child to dress like a slut and act like a whore. Is there a point at which I should say, “Honey, you dumped the kids, but that’s OK” If my child runs someone over should I offer to pay the hospital bill or just pay them off and hope they go away. Do I allow my baby girls to ignore rules of common courtesy or should I send them to Miss Manners. These are all things I feel sure every parent has on the tip of their tongues but they have never had a place to go to get educated. Do you think that we’ll get really lucky and Lindsey Lohan’s Mom and I guess now Dad is in the picture, will try to compete with a book of their own. I can hardly wait.

As a writer, am I flattering myself? Who cares. I often go into a book store –usually a chain or Costco, to see who is perusing the books. There are so many bookstores that it gives me hope that people are reading but what is selling? The NYT best selling non- fiction hard cover books are:
1. I AM AMERICA (AND SO CAN YOU), by Stephen Colbert et al
2. CLAPTON, by Eric Clapton
3. MY GRANDFATHER’S SON, by Clarence Thomas
4. THE AGE OF TURBULENCE, by Alan Greenspan
5. CELEBRITY DETOX, by Rosie O’Donnell

The top five self help—which I guess are non-fiction but sometimes I wonder

1. DECEPTIVELY DELICIOUS, by Jessica Seinfeld (I think this must be Jerry Seinfeld’s wife, why else would anyone spend a dime.
2. THE SECRET, by Rhonda Byrne
3. BE THE PACK LEADER, by Cesar Millan with Melissa Jo Peltier
4. THE DANGEROUS BOOK FOR BOYS, by Conn Iggulden and Hal Iggulden

I understand the draw of the first five, they are all about celebrity. Clarence Thomas’ book reveals how he grew up pitifully poor. He is good at ‘oh poor me’ and name calling —but he still never explains why, since he had advantages because he was Black, would he deny others the same opportunity. He merely says he doesn’t want people to think that Black people can only excel with certain privileges. What a crock. And– even Greenspan has an audience – I guess there are a great many old white guys who still care about what he thinks. And I know why people buy self-help books even though they never help. I have owned more diet books than there are diets. But why in the world would anyone care about what Brittany Spears mother has to say with regard to raising a child. And this book will inevitably be a best seller.

My editor (So You Think You Can Be President ?—in stores January ’08) tells me that in order to be in places like Costco you have to be a best seller. And you don’t get to be a best seller until you have a commitment from the publisher for lots of best selling books. And Best sellers are media driven—so if they think you’ll get lots of media, then they will distribute or buy books and best selling books will sell. Does that make any sense? Here’s the bottom line. If you are a celebrity or write about a celebrity then your book is likely to become a best seller because people and publishers are celebrity crazy. People won’t necessarily read it but they will buy it—and that’s what counts. And the only good news about that is that people will buy the wondrous Mrs. Spears advice/tell all book, but hopefully they won’t read it. We’re just sayin… Iris

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

It Must Be a Kibitka

Some years ago, and I am sorry we stopped, we would invite friends over to play Dictionary. There are quite a number of variations on the game but ours required only an enormous dictionary (one that has words you would never hear yet alone use, and weighs about twenty pounds) and a few players with good imaginations and the ability to keep a straight face. The rules were easy. The leader (which changed with every word), would look through the book, select a word, and write the definition on a small piece of paper. The rest of the players would hear the word and write likely definitions on paper exactly like the one used by the leader. All the definitions were written on like pieces of paper. Then the leader would read all the definitions in random order, and the players would select the one most likely to be the definition. If people picked your definition you would get a point. The scoring was not as important as the ability to imagine what a word might mean and craft the definition so it sounded plausible. It was great fun. And it could be played by anyone of almost any age or intellect—so it was family fun as well.

Oh, La La!
The most memorable definition from all the games we played was one I made up. It was an accident. The word was Kibitka. I thought the definition should be “a miraculous recovery”. Like when someone was dying or totally bedridden, you prayed for a kibitka, and they got out of bed and jogged around the house. It was like one of those Yiddish words that sounds like what it is. The real definition of the word is “a small canvas-covered Russian wagon” but whenever we describe something bordering on a miracle, we call it a kibitka. This is a long way to go to say that my mother has had a kibitka.

When last I wrote about her I was on my way back from Bainbridge thinking that I would never see her again. She was so weak and fragile. You may recall that a few months ago I asked God to give the mother I knew so well—and had mother –daughter issues with, back to me. Well folks it seems to have happened. I don’t want to give her a ‘kunahura’ that means I don’t want to jinx anything, but she seems to have had, as I just said, a kibitka. The day after we left Jeff and Els moved her into her new apartment. It is in, what is called, a retirement facility, rather than assisted living. And somehow that makes a difference in attitude. Her doctor in NJ as well as all the medical professionals in the rehab, said she would never be able to get out of bed unassisted and she would never be able to get up from a chair and use her walker. Well, once again, the Rose has proved them all wrong. Yesterday she got up from her chair—by herself, and used her walker to get to her closet and change her clothes.

Some of this has to do with the fact that she is incredibly stubborn and has never allowed anyone to tell her what she couldn’t do. But most of it has to do with the fact that Jeff and Els see her everyday. Jeff stops by and Els has tea with her every afternoon. She has therapy, goes to the movies, and plays bingo (which she admitted she hates) to have something to do. The people who run the complex are supportive and compassionate. They treat her like a person not just a tenant or an income producing entity. What a difference attitude makes.

With Devin, Els and Jeff

Mom and Aunt Peppy, who moved to Massachusetts last Sunday, were 87 on Saturday. The twins, as we call them—it’s unlikely we would confuse them with any of their siblings since everyone else is gone, celebrated by lighting a cupcake and sharing a “happy birthday” by phone. It is terribly difficult for them to be separated by an entire country but when we asked them if they wanted to get two apartments in a Jewish assisted living facility, Aunt Peppy wasn’t ready and Mom didn’t want to live there without her. Actually, when we went to check out the place Mom asked a woman who was sitting outside how she like it and the woman said, “I’m the wrong person to ask”. So there was no way she was moving in without a pal.

Happy 87th!

Who ever would have imagined that my mother would become a West Coast convert or chick, as they say. We have let her go so many times that we never thought she would ever be an independent spirit again. But, as she always says “Go, Know”. That means, who would have guessed in Yiddish shorthand.

With a copy of a picture of her and Milton, 1942

None of us have any idea how long this kibitka will last but she has assured us she will not have any more falls and she will ask for help when she needs it. And we have assured her that we will try to make her quality of life not only Ok but one with as much salt and pepper, and birthday cake, that she wants it to be. We’re just sayin...Iris

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Does It Have to Be Same Old Same Old?

There has been some pretty interesting television programming over the last few days. Last night we watched a documentary about Granny Haddock [ RUN GRANNY, RUN – on HBO… and it was OUR kind of film] , at age 89 had walked across NH to call attention to public funding for campaigns. At 94 she ran for the Senate against Judd Gregg (2004). She lost 34% to 66%. But the fact that she won more than 10% was in itself a great victory. None of the political big shots took her seriously, but the public did because she wasn’t a politician. She was a concerned citizen who saw a need. I’ll get back to this in a minute.

Coincidentally, Masterpiece Theater is running a five part series called “The Amazing Mrs. Prichard”. It’s a about a woman who manages a Wal-Mart type supermarket outside of London. It takes place in the present with Tony Blair leaving office and an election looming. Rosamund (Roz) is tired of all the political meaningless chatter, as well as the badly behaved perspective MP’s and she decides to run for office. She is the antitheses of political and, in the story, this newness resonates with the voters and she not only wins a seat, but becomes Prime Minister. Her husband admits he didn’t vote for her because he didn’t think she could handle or would want to handle all the tasks –like sending young men and women to war—that would be required of her. Interestingly enough, as she suffers the novelty of her campaign, this supposedly apolitical person. cuts deals with very political women who have become disenfranchised by the men in their different parties. So by the time of the election Roz has some pretty heavy duty experienced women pols on her team as advisors.

Back to the documentary about Granny. It was an inspirational accounting of one women’s outrage about campaign fundraising. But it was also heartbreaking because no one in her campaign, except her son, actually seemed to understand the need for contributions—big or small. At one point they need to decide if this 94 year old woman will saddle herself with insurmountable debt in order to run a TV ad. Her campaign manager refuses to take a cut in pay and to ask others to do the same, so she gets fired. She should have been tied to a stake and been made to eat the money. David and I were horrified by the lack of ability to raise enough money to first create an ad, and then to find enough funding to air it. I think it finally aired twice. I kept thinking, she’s a great candidate, where was the DNC or the DSC? If New Hampshire was that important in the overall Democratic Senate strategy, then why didn’t they send her some help. She actually got 34% of the vote with absolutely no resources. And if she had won we wouldn’t have to depend on the kindness of strangers—in this case Lieberman, for a majority.

Back to Mrs. Pritchard, with the accent on the second syllable. In this first program we meet her, she gets elected, finds out her husband pinched a young woman’s ass at a Christmas Party, in opposition to advice from her 14 year old daughter, curtsies to the Queen, has to decide if she will assist the French in a daring military raid, start to understand the depth of the job, and deal with all the politics—there’s more but that’s enough to chew on. OK, the circumstances and consequences are improbable, but I couldn’t help thinking, “If only that would happen here”. When I wrote my first book, “Schlepper”, the young female lead character eventually becomes the Chief of Staff to the President – and as impossible as that seems it was not so unlikely in the Clinton White House where there were so many young still starry eyed political wiz kids. And that’s what I like about this program. It is just close enough to something that by a fluke or whatever, might happen if people get really tired of same old same old. And it could have happened with Granny, only she needed some professional help and just couldn’t get it.

When Wes Clark ran for President in 2004 I went to one of his early organizing meetings. People, some of whom were political hacks, asked questions he would be asked during the campaign. These are often educational meetings where political junkies decide who they will support and candidates decide if they want to listen. Anyway, someone asked him what he thought about Gays in the military and he said “I think everyone should have the right to serve their country.” It was a great answer because it was not an answer to the question but it was an honest statement about civil rights. In the documentary, Granny is asked if she is in favor of gay marriage and she says “I am in favor of love”. A similar non answer but still a statement about the character of the candidate. Granny was not as quick on her feet or as slick as Judd Gregg but neither was she arrogant, dismissive or as rude as he. Why would the Democratic Party just leave her hanging? Is it because she would not buy into politics as a business. Or politics as a payoff. Did they think that because she was elderly and a bit zany (she wore silly looking hats) that she was less credible or serious? I still can’t figure it out but it was a real missed opportunity for the Party. If only she had gotten my phone number.

I expect there will be many pitfalls for Mrs. Pritchard. It is what makes good television My hope is that she succeeds in this unintentional win. That she continues to represent her constituency in a respectful and laudable way, that she takes her kids and dumps her husband and that it is not just same old same old. If only fairy tales (without the big bad wolves) could become a political reality. We’re just sayin…Iris

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Fellow Publishers, Take Note!

This weekend is the Photoexpo, the once a year gathering of photophiles on the East Coast (and many from afar) to see the newest in new: no longer just lenses and cameras, but the preponderance of debut items include photo related software, and amazingly, this year, dozens of companies who specialize in taking your photographs and turning them into photographic books. The high end market ($300 and up for a 40 page 10x13" book) which is concentrated on wedding and "family portrait" markets seem to be the most popular, while there are a number of smaller, less done up versions which let you put a lovely book together for under forty bucks.

All of this probably seems pretty "out there" but I had a little encounter this morning which reminded me just how far things have come. Jordan, when she was still a toddler, had been the object of my lens on an ongoing basis, and I have the pictures to prove it. At least I think I do. But when she was 18 months, in the summer of '87 (yes, twenty years gone), I had the idea to do a project in which she would be the main player. Like all middle aged photographers who become fathers (I think this is a pretty universal reaction.. just ask Peter B Kaplan who actually photographed his kids nearly as much as the Statue of Liberty when they came along in the late 80s) you see your kid not only as a child but as a constant subject. It occurred to me that perhaps I could take this idea a step further. The 80s had seen a number of "Day in the LIfe" photo book projects, and the most fun thing about them was that you got to hang out with other [talented] photographers while prepping for that "one day" shoot. Photographers rarely get the chance to just spend quality hang out time with each other (these rare "photo expo equipment shows" aside) and so participation in the book projects was always with the assumption that some social time would be built in. But even those attractions began to dissapate when the organizers realized that they could save a lot of money just sending each of us to our destination, without the unpleasantness (read: expenditures) of having to host everyone one for a few days before they were sent to their proper assignment. So, while it was a slightly different idea, it seemed to me a natural that we put together a photo-based calendar whose theme would be: Twelve photographers, One subject. I had the subject - a cute 18 month old, and all I needed was the photographers. Astonishingly, almost no one turned me down: there were a few, one being Irving Penn ("... Mr. Penn doesn't participate in 'group' projects..") who had about as good a reason as you could have. But the list of collaborators was impressive: Jay Maisel, Stephen Wilkes, Walter Iooss, Jr., David Leach, Michael O'Neill, Uli Rose, Bill Allard, Joyce Tennesen. Well, you get the idea. In each case I simply said "Please do anything you think reflects your own personal style." And each was different, to be sure.

Where it got interesting was the negotiating with the calendar publisher. After long discussions, the Landmark General company -- then a calendar company publishing in California said they would do it. We'd tried to present the calendar as a photographic oeuvre: that is... how different talented photographers choose to shoot the same subject, each with his or her own personal style, and it would be accompanied with notes about the photographer, and the kind of work they do. It wasn't so much a 'baby' calendar, as exploration of photographic styles. At the last minute, Landmark decided not to do the project, and other than a little four page takeout in Parenting magazine, nothing much became of those pictures.

Long segue, but yesterday, in responding to an invitation from fellow photographer Tim Mantoani, who is based in San Diego, I went to the Soho Polaroid studio where the giant 20x24" camera lives (yes, you have to go TO the camera, it doesn't come to you) to be photographed with one of my photos (the National Stadium - Chile - after the coup d'etat) for a series he is doing on photographers and their work . It 's quite amazing to see a huge, perfect print be born just minutes after the flash goes off. Astonishing really, considering we often have to wait days or weeks for a "lab" print. But it reminded me of having been in that same building in 1987, Jordan in tow, the day she was photographed for the 'calendar' by Joyce Tenneson. Joyce had been photographing jewelry draped on the slender perfect body of a model named Rebecca, and when she finished with the jewelry, we unleashed a naked baby, who quite naturally walked over to that gorgeous body on the seamless, and just stared, as if she kind of realized something familiar, but felt it was out of place. That wonderful shot came back to me as I became, for the first time, a subject of the immense camera (it weighs hundreds of pounds, and rolls around on something which looks like an overgrown grocery cart).

Now, of course, living as we do in the photoshop/iPhoto world of self publishing, we could finally produce a "Little Wonder" calendar, and we just may do it. The world has come a long way. We no longer have to wait for publishers to deign to approve what we want published. You need a little money, but if you think that "freedom of the press belongs to the one who owns the press.." then perhaps we all own a little bit of one. Self publishing, as exhibited at yesterday's photoExpo (see and )with its dozens of book vendors, has given us a new way of publishing, and we'd be silly if we didn't take advantage of it. We're just sayin... David.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Dubya Dubya Three

It was difficult to sleep last night. And, for a change, it wasn’t because I was concerned for my mom or my kids. The President of the United States in his continued attempt to prove that he has the least guile of any human being on this planet or any other, said the three words that put him totally over the top in stupidity.... World War Three. I guess it’s not enough that he has questioned anyone’s patriotism when they disagree with his sordid positions, nor is it enough to try to frighten us with changing the color of the threat level. No, he has decided that anyone who does not support his position on the War will have to face the consequences and become responsible for World War Three.

What is he thinking? OK he’s not thinking. But what would make him take the leap from Iran possibly having nuclear weapons sometime in the future to WW3. He’s nuts. I think he should be seeing an obsessive compulsive therapist instead of giving press conferences. And in part, the Democrats are responsible for this behavior because they have fed the beast. Some 74% of the American public don’t want to be engaged in Iraq and yet the Congress has voted to support the President in whatever he wants to do. What are any of these people thinking? Oops, there I go again, they are clearly not thinking. Is it any wonder that the President has a 24% approval and the Congress an 11% approval rating. I am just sick about all of this. We need dramatic change in the country and I am no longer convinced it exists.

On a lighter note... I just saw one of those 100 foot limo’s run off the street and hit a little baby tree on the sidewalk of NY -- there are many but this was one tree and sidewalk. People gathered around to see what happened and best as I can figure, he either hated the tree or lost control of the vehicle. I can never understand why cars that large are allowed to roam the city but luckily no one was hurt, unless you count the tree.

On a hungrier note, David and I stopped at Cow Town on our last trip to the City. We have a kind of tradition about what we do in Cow Town. First we find a parking space, which is no easy task. The we go to Danny’s Cheesesteak which is run by Andy. It’s kind of like Don’s sandwich shop being run by Pat but the food is different. This time David couldn’t resist trying the Pennsylvania Dutch hot dog wrapped in dough. So he bought one and consumed it before we had Andy make us steaks and sausage sandwiches. Then we walked to the fresh roasted peanut guy, but we didn’t buy anything because we have so many fresh roasted peanuts in all our homes that we could sell the leftovers on the sidewalk and make a fortune. On Saturdays we walk to the far end of the flea market and visit with the Korean sock lady. But it was Tuesday and she never comes on Tuesday, so we visited with the rib guy (Rocky, who smokes in a 1948 oil tank smoker) who didn’t have any ribs. When we leave Cow Town we pass a farm stand that always has Jersey tomatoes. I asked one of the staff if it wasn’t late for fresh Jersey tomatoes and he said that Ralph—who grows the tomatoes has them until late October. He doesn’t know how Ralph manages that but he assured me that they were great—which they were not. So Ralph is a liar. But they do have other fresh fruits and vegetables and who cares, since it is right next to the Olympic DairyBar where they are weirdh [“ANY CHANGES IN YOUR ORDER WILL COST $1.00] but make fabulous malts. By the time we leave we are so nauseated that it is almost impossible to drive but that’s part of the fun.

On a nicer note. I visited with my Aunt Peppy yesterday. She my mother’s twin. Both Mom and Aunt Pep have had a difficult year. There have been so many ups and downs and insides and outsides, but she is doing well and looking forward to her move to Massachusetts. Mom is also doing well in her new digs in Washington. I was talking to my friend Sidney today, who also has ‘Mother’ issues, and she said that she read an article about the lack of sensitivity toward the elderly, both in the hospital and nursing care. Of course we all know this but the Wall Street Journal is on the case. There is an enormous lack of respect and consideration for their minds and their bodies. Nursing facilities are all about the convenience and schedule of the Staff. So, even though older people (including many of us) need to get uninterrupted sleep, the staff wakes them at all hours for medication or even just getting a weight reading. The things they don’t have time to do during the day, they do in the middle of the night. In addition, when a patient has surgery or some procedure that requires anesthesia, they are over medicated and lose brain cells as well as the capacity for being mobile. It either takes a very long time or sometimes they cannot recover—from part of the cure. I guess this really isn’t on a nicer note but at least the media is becoming more aware of these issues and maybe someone will actually pay attention before there is a WW3 and no one will be around to care. We’re just sayin...Iris

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Don't You Dare Take Away My Leggings

The best place to read trashy magazines is in the doctors office. It’s a place where you know you are going to have to wait so you can catch up on everything Lindsey, Brittany and poor dead Anna, have done. All my doctors have a pretty good selection of People, Us, Time, and for those who have no interest in entertainment, National Geographic. As it happens, my dentist –Brad Schneiderman, who has been my dentist for over 20 years, and is such a good dentist that I told him I was relieved to find out he was ten years younger than I because this meant that he probably won’t retire before I die. Actually, I have forbid him to retire before I travel to the other side. He is so kind that he used to give me gas when I had my teeth cleaned. But I’m better now and I have learned to live with the noise – which is what really hurt me. Anyway, he has the best magazine selection and he even has fashion and advice publications.

The last time I went to have my teeth cleaned I was rifling through one of these and noticed an article entitled, “When You Are Too Old To Dress Young”. Of course I was curious about this because when we go shopping, I often ask Jordan (the fashion queen) if she thinks I am too old for a particular item. She never thinks I’m too old for anything but that’s because she refuses to think of me in those terms. She’s in denial, but I love it and wish everyone felt the same way. Because I no longer have to look like a corporate dweeb and in addition, I spend a great deal of time in New York, I dress the way for comfort and have taken to wearing t-shirts and pants, or black leggings. In New York we wear lots of black and, in fact, the fashion queen has forbidden me to buy one more pair of black pants or another black shirt.

Well, this article said that women over forty shouldn’t wear short tops or leggings. They were inappropriate for people my age. Why not, I thought. And then I read on. There were letters from women as old, you should excuse the expression as 50. They each outlined the reasons why they did or didn’t wear leggings – which seem to be the focus of the whole conversation. Most didn’t because they felt that leggings were age sensitive. And I thought, if that were true no one over 10 should wear them. There was no real definition of terms and I am still wondering if age sensitive means that the struggle to pull them up would lead to a heart attack or a hunger pang.

I shudder to think about what I would do if I was forbidden to wear leggings, especially in the winter. I love leggings and when, for the few years they went out of style, I ignored the style police and continued to pull them up and on. And are there really things that women over forty shouldn’t wear? Probably. Things like short tops and low jeans. Not because they don’t look nice but it is hard to avoid the middle age fat belt that so many of us find difficult to remove. And probably skirts that are too short, or frilly things that look ridiculous at any age. I think that in the past fifteen years I have seen only one woman who I thought looked totally ridiculous and she was at least eighty wearing spike heels a short skirt and a sweater that showed all her wrinkled cleavage. But I also thought how brave she was not to care that she looked ludicrous in her attire. And I also thought that maybe she had no memory or idea about who she was and how old she had become. Either way it wasn’t my business to decide if she was dressed age appropriately.

There are a whole bunch of things that much more impact on the way a person selects their clothes than age. Weight for example. I am always amazed at the things heavy young women parade around in. They wear outfits that emphasize their size rather than diminish it. And you always see them eating a big burger, a sundae, cheese fries and a giant coke – often reading Seventeen or Vogue. Do they look in a mirror before they leave the house? And if they do is it possible that they don’t see themselves as obese. I guess so because look at all the young women who weigh so little you don’t know where they put their organs, and those men think they are enormous. But back to appropriate. There are women who wear clothing to work that make them look like hookers—regardless of age. And there are those who wear jeans and a t-shirt to formal events. Like the other night when we were at a big glittery photo opening at the Corcoran. There were two kids, about 16, who were wearing ripped jeans and dirty t’s. They were with adults and I couldn’t imagine that their parents allowed them to appear that way. OK yesterday I admitted that I was a dinosaur, but it shows so little respect for the hard work of the artist. Now I know things have changed and we are not wearing white gloves, hats and heels to get on a plane or go to the theater, but I think that parents should be responsible for teaching their kids about how clothing shapes impressions and opinions.
We had a public speaking professor (before it was called communication) in college, Mama Mitchell, who was a big woman—tall not heavy. She used to say, in a booming voice, that “ anything that called attention to itself was in bad taste”. She graded us on how we looked during presentations because she said, “that’s what people will do all your life”. Regrettably, she was right. People do judge you on how you appear. And if you are meeting for business it’s even more important to make sure nothing interferes with what you have to say. I can remember the first time I interviewed a young woman who had her tongue pierced. I didn’t listen to anything she said because I was consumed with how she talked at all. And further I was grossed out just thinking about the process of shoving a needle through your tongue.

I think those things are far more important than age. We all look so young. 60 is the new 30 or 40 I can’t remember. So do you dress for the age you are today, the age you think you are, or the age that the rest of the world agrees doesn’t matter if you think and are young in spirit. On my Dad’s side we were blessed with good genes. My aunt, who is around 80 looks about 60. She dresses in lovely clothes that make her comfortable. She does not wear orthopedic shoes or a bubbe shawl. And I have never heard anyone comment on her appearance except to say she looks wonderful. I’m not going to buy into the “oye, your too old to wear that” conversation. And I would sooner give my soul to the devil then give my leggings to Goodwill. We’re just sayin... Iris

Friday, October 12, 2007

When Primaries Made a Difference

There was a time when the Presidential primaries gave the public the chance to get to know the candidates. It was not only a grueling endurance test – criss-crossing the country, traveling from state to state over a period of six months, it was like boot camp for government service. At the very least it did give us a little time to think about in whom we were going to put our trust. I loved it when Iowa and New Hampshire happened ina frozen January, then there was some space in between and in June we voted in New Jersey and California.

The spread out primaries were important for a number of reasons. We could watch the candidates mature. We could see if there was a consistency in what they said. We could see by the people who staffed them during the campaign, the kind of people they might appoint in their Administration.

We had some time to see the way the candidates conducted themselves in stressful situations and how they reacted to pressure under unpredictable circumstances. And when there was a crisis or some uncomfortable revelation—which there always is --we had some time to see the way things played out. The public could estimate if the candidate of their choice seemed honest. Did they conduct themselves with dignity and civility? Were they able to keep the attention of a large crowd, a small group, when talking one on one. Did they seem sensible, interested in issues, worldly and competent. We saw something building and we celebrated the wins and we suffered with the losses. We got to know the person who might lead the nation.

The Democratic primaries are rolling out as pretty meaningless. They will begin either shortly before or after Christmas or, in some cases Hannukah. The holidays will provide a distraction for sure. What is the need for everyone to be first? It’s become more than a contest for who will be the nominee; it’s like watching five year olds who are told to line up and they push and shove to be the first in line. They think being first makes them more important. I think the Democrats who are making these stupid decisions have five year old mind sets. The DNC has decided that anyone who moves the primary up before New Hampshire won’t have their delegates seated at the convention. Well nobody is going to tell these five year olds what to do. Florida, among other states has moved their primary... and they don’t even have to worry about weather. (I mean part of the primary charm is being in that terrible snowy, skid-prone, winter dizziness in the north and mid west. Don’t get me wrong, I hate Iowa in January. I can remember waking up in the morning with snow drifts actually in our sleazy motel room.) The point is what’s the point.

There are some folks who will say that the states who have primaries in later months don’t have the same impact as those up front. But that’s not true. As much of an impact as the early states have, sometimes it does come down to the last contests. In 1984 Walter Mondale was not winning as easily as he expected. Gary Hart had made the primaries into a real contest. It all came down to New Jersey and California, both states with lots of delegates. At a fund raiser in California, Gary decided to talk to the press (he was told not to do this) and sure enough when asked about Lee (his wife) he said that Lee was lucky because she got to be in California and he got stuck in N.J. It was a dreadful moment and being a Jersey girl I knew his chances of a win on the East Coast were no longer a possibility. Mondale became the nominee.

What impact will it have on the Presidential decision if there are states who don’t have representation? My guess is that people from States Without Representation will not sit by quietly, nor will they stay home. Will there be a convention like Chicago in ‘68 or Florida in ’72? Will there be fist fights and pie throwing? Will people get tossed off some mountain in Denver?

Let’s say that Clinton wins in Iowa, Obama wins in New Hampshire, and Kucinich wins in South Carolina. Then without taking a breath, there are 20 other primaries in two weeks. Which are divided between Dodd, Biden and Richardson because they went into those states rather then the traditional first three. Everyone wants to be first someplace and the resources will be so limited that whoever can withstand the financial assault will be the winner. (OK it’s unlikely but we’re playing let’s pretend). This condensed primary season is probably good for Clinton and maybe Obama, but it’s bad for us because neither of these candidates will have been tested in a thoughtful way. Neither the candidates not the public will have a chance to breathe.

Maybe when I fell off my dinosaur I hit my head and I can’t get beyond what was good in the past. But it takes time to have insights and make thoughtful choices, and it seems to me that if you give the public an opportunity to be educated about the person who will become the most powerful elected official (Oprah wasn’t elected) in the world, the likelihood of real progress and a good sense approach to problem solving on both a personal, and greater scheme of things level, could become a reality for all of us. We’re just sayin...Iris

Sunday, October 07, 2007

The Dash

In 1980 when I was the Director of Security for the Democratic Convention, all my friends who didn’t know what to do with their kids for the summer, gave them to me to be interns or volunteers. There were five fifteen year old boys who hold a special place in my memory and my heart. For their parents sending them to work with me was like sending them to summer camp without the sports or a sleepover—although they worked from 6 in the morning until after midnight every day. I was warned by their folks that, cute as they were, they were lazy, practical jokers who probably would screw up but could I just give them a chance. Parents generally do not know that their children are always much better behaved for strangers than they are for family. Anyway, I had been an English teacher in a school where, given the opportunity, students often tried to push faculty down at least one flight of stairs every week. So I wasn’t worried about these kids. I knew they would be just fine. Although I loved all the boys, my three favorites were Ronald Pledge. Bill Dixon, and Noah Gotbaum. I guess they were favorites because they had sparkle and incredible` spunk and they also had total access credentials which they waved without hesitation in order to taunt the security people as well as their parents – (who mostly were limited in where they could go).

Today I saw Noah for the first time in 27 years. We went to his wife’s, Carol Anne Gotbaum, funeral service. Carol Anne is the woman who was died at the Phoenix airport last week. We didn’t know Carol but we knew about her from her in-laws. And what we knew was that she was a beautiful, generous, brilliant woman who was cherished by her children and her husband and admired by all who knew her. What we learned was that she was a painfully private person who troubled by depression and alcoholism. It was sad beyond words. Not only because she died unnecessarily but because she hardly had a chance to live.

When the Rabbi welcomed everyone it was clear that he was not happy about how Carol died. At first I thought that perhaps his politics about the police and how they behaved were inappropriate, but as the service unfolded I realized he was not. The elephant in the room was the question about why, knowing that she was troubled, did the family allow her to travel alone. And the Rabbi addressed that. Carol didn’t want the children to be without a parent. She wanted to live and be better and she was determined to do it alone... to make that trip to rehab alone. Only she didn’t get there. What happened that led to the police brutality and when three large men need to handcuff and shackle a mother who is pleading that she was not a terrorist, just a housewife in trouble , you can’t consider it anything other than overkill and, in fact, brutality. We have truly become a “don’t tazer me!” society. People in positions of power no longer use their heads when they can use their guns, or fists or electronic equipment. It’s true that Carol was upset when she couldn’t get on the plane. Which of us hasn’t been outraged when the airlines screw around with us. And when a man gave her his boarding pass for the next flight and they still wouldn’t allow her on she became distraught beyond words. She needed to get on that plane. She needed to get someplace for help. And maybe she was out of control but what does that mean. “I am not a terrorist, just a housewife in trouble”. That’s what she told them and they didn’t care. They just wanted to keep her quiet and really, putting her in shackles and handcuffs her gave them something to do. But she was not a danger to them or anyone but herself. What the Rabbi said was that if only one person had put their arms around her and tried to comfort rather than subdue her, she probably wouldn’t have died. But only one person showed her any kindness and even when he did she was rebuffed.

The media is speculating about lots of stupid stuff. My friend Andy who owns a fabulous wine store called West Side Wines even got a visit from some People Magazine ‘children’ – young interns -- he said, who wanted to know if she bought wine there. He threw them out. Maybe she had been drinking between flights and maybe she hadn’t -- who cares. This lovely mother of three who pleaded for help and instead got tied to a bench alone in a holding room is dead. Nothing is going to change that. And there was no excuse for the way she was treated. As she said, she was not a terrorist.

The Rabbi said many things that were important but the one poem that he read that was quite moving was about a young woman who had died and when the poet went to the cemetery he was struck not by the date she lived and died but by the dash in between. What did the dash say about who she was a how she lived. What will the dash mean for any of our lives. Carol was described as a woman who had no college education but she did have a Master’s in business. She was a loving mother who, when her daughter was born prematurely and had to be in an incubator, stayed in the hospital for weeks from 6am to midnight holding her babies hand. Her family said she cared more for other people then herself. She was unselfish in her concern for husband, siblings, children and friends. She was fun and organized and smart beyond books. She was self directed and committed to justice. She grew up in an apartheid South Africa and fought bitterly against it. They also said that she was incapable of understanding anyone who was not civil or polite. Is it any wonder that she dropped to the floor when she was surrounded by the police. She just couldn’t comprehend why anyone would want to hurt rather than help her. Why anyone would treat her like a criminal or a terrorist.

The service was lovely. The lead soloist from the Abyssinian Baptist Church sang “Amazing Grace” There were remarks from friends, her family and Noah. When Noah bid her a last goodbye he said “I love you my sweetness” and his loss was shared by the hundreds of people in the synagogue.

Will there be any kind of punishment for the police involved? Probably not because they think they acted appropriately. What is this country coming to when there is a total absence of rational thought. When it is easier to ‘shoot’ first and think later because you have no idea about civility or as the Rabbi said, just being kind instead of intolerant. Carol could have been any of us but she suffered the ultimate degradation and she died. By any standards it was unnecessary for her to die. For her ‘dash’ to have been filled with so much pain. Were just sayin...Iris

Friday, October 05, 2007

Time For A Rethink?

I'm not given to public outbursts as a rule, but maybe this isn't one. Or maybe it is.

It's time for a serious re-think. Major league. Big time. We cannot continue to stumble down the same road we are on and hope to be able to give our kids a country that even remotely looks and feels like the one we not only felt we were living in, but was the 123 Main St., Anytown USA, Dick & Jane version which we boomers grew up with and felt committed to. In the instant world we have become, nothing seems to have staying power. There is some major cataclysmic event (K-Fed gets custody of Brittany's kids; Larry Craig (bless him!) decides he's not leaving the Senate after all) which makes the AOL / MSN / Yahoo news headlines for a cycle or two , and then disappears, as if it had no meaning at all. Our lives have become the quintessential version of "knows the price of everything, and the value of nothing." We process and cycle things, news, events in ways which perhaps let the structure feel as if there is a beginning, middle, and conclusion, but in the end it becomes nothing more than a series of screens on which to try and sell pop-up ads. All our information is becoming web based, and in the process, everything is being taken down to the point at which speed becomes the only defining factor. Nothing is important if it isn't delivered quickly, at lightning speed. Yet, as we discover, there is no value in speed if the essence of what is being sped is so unimportant.

This was one of those weeks with a series of events which tapped me on the shoulder. For some time I have taken umbrage at the continuing, relentless creepiness of how our airports, bastions of reliance that they are, have become little more than the vessel of this New and horrible order. At Washington National (I won't be calling it Reagan anytime soon: for a guy who hated the federal government, they sure haven't held back in naming things for him) the announcments every 6 or 8 minutes just drive me up the wall. "This is a Special Security Announcement..." which then goes on to tell you that you cannot a) park your car b) leave your vehicle unattended c) leave your luggage unattended d) carry more than 3-1-1 in a regulation 1 quart plastic bag e) if you spot something suspicious let someone in Authority know about it... the list goes on and on. First of all: anything that happens every six minutes cannot, by definition, be Special. Either its a mind-numbing-ridiculous-howdidyouthinkwedidntknowthatalready Announcement, or it's special, but you cant do it every six minutes, and be both. And to people inside the Security area, who have, obviously already passed the barriers where our crack teams are tracking down bin-Laden (oops. typo, they're searching 87 year old grandma's for contraband) who are obliged to keep listening to the 3-1-1 announcment -- dont you think they might have figured that one out already if they are INSIDE the security area? I sometimes wish I could just yell back at the TV, one of my favorite occupations. But this goes far beyond TV.

Earlier this week a woman, on her way to an alcohol treatment center in Tucson missed her flight, and I'm sure freaked a bit when the uncaring airline folks told her she wouldn't be able to make that flight. At that moment, 3 of Phoenix's finest, three black-nylon clad, donut wielding cops, who, if they hadn't been called to the gate, were no doubt hot on the trail of bin Laden and a dozen other terrorists, took down a woman from New York, a mom of three, in a stressful situation - freaked that she was missing her plane, and who I suspect couldn't see anything good on the horizon at that moment. The cops - 3 of them - tough guys I'm sure, got her on the ground (well, they didn't have bin Laden handy so she was next in line), cuffed her and took her off to the "holding room" where, 10 minutes later, she died, trying to get the cuffs from behind her back to in front, since they were, in the words of one cop "..not meant to be comfortable." No kidding. Instead of looking after bin Laden, these tough guys were busy taking down a troubled mother of three. What in the hell is going ON in this country? More SWAT uniforms. More guys in black nylon web gear. More guys in Blackwater outfits. More guys with guns, and fewer and fewer brains behind them. I really wish some of these tough sumbitchs would buy a one way ticket to Peshawar, or Quetta, or Herat. If you're so fricking tough, go find bin Laden. The one guy who is worth a million mom's of three. FInd him. Don't strut. Don't give us your puffed up chest. Don't give us your donut-sized web-belt with truncheon, 9mm, and cuffs. If you really think you are something, go do the real job. Get off your fat asses, and do something that helps. Don't buy into the hideous vision of a country that is "winning the war on terror" one mom at a time. This week Barak Obama was grilled about the fact that he has stopped wearing an American flag pin on his jacket lapel His answer was that after he'd started seeing a lot of flag wearers "wearing a lapel pin, but not acting very patriotic. Not voting to provide veterans with resources that they need. ... My attitude is that I'm less concerned about what you're wearing on your lapel than what's in your heart. " President or not, those are the words of someone who realizes we are in trouble. Think about that one. We're just sayin...David.

Bainbridge ..Home

I wept from Seattle to New York. Even with all the travel and aggravation I am going to miss her more than I can say – remember I asked God to give her back to us. It happened and we are grateful but we realized that she could no longer be a four hour drive and a six hour flight from both Jeff and myself. We decided to do what was best for her. And what was best for her was to be in a beautiful place with my brother ( fondly referred to as “my son, my son”) and my sister-in-law, Els (who really is a saint). They are only two minutes away and will be able to drop by every day. We saw why we did this last night when my niece came from the U of W to visit with her Nana. Devin is only an hour away. She was anxious to see Nana and despite the warnings…. “Nana lost 25 pounds and doesn’t look like herself”, Devin was happy to be with her and hold hands for an hour. What a joy that was to see.

Nana and Devin in Bainbridge

We watched the Food Network for a while and saw Ina put heavy cream into sour cream and a pound of butter followed by Paula who put a pound of butter into sweetened condensed milk and four cups of half and half – did I mention the cups of sugar? Mom loves the Food Network and just kept wondering what in the heck they were cooking. In addition, she thought anything that had sour cream, sugar, heavy cream and butter had to be wonderful.

We spent yesterday doing chores. Buying cable attachments, nails, toilet paper and paper towels, hanging pictures, attaching the phones and on and on, but that was OK. We were fixing up her new life. First she went to have her hair done at Alberto’s – in her new apartment complex at the MARC. That’s the new assisted living facility. Alberto was very kind and when she walked in he took both her hands and helped her into the beauty chair. After she had her hair done she went for her ‘evaluation’. That’s when they ask you if you know where you are and what your name is. She had answered those questions so many times over the last three days that she was not likely to make a mistake. When we finished the evaluation we introduced her to her new digs and had lunch in the MARC dining room. We decided to make it a family affair so we all had soup and cheese bread. In her new incarnation as “eating like a truck driver”, she was not happy with the limited amount of food we were served and she wondered why there was no dessert. I told her the fruit on the plate was the dessert and in classic Rose she looked at me like I was nuts and said “What kind of dessert is fruit?”

My last blob took us through the arrival in Seattle. When we got Bainbridge Jeff had arranged for her to go to rehab for a few days to be evaluated. Did you ever see the play “Marat Sade”? If so, think about the opening scene when all the nuts are loose on the stage. This will give you a good idea of what the rehab facility was like. If you haven’t let me give you a taste. There were people with all kinds of horrible disabilities who were lined up in the narrow hallways in wheelchairs or on crutches or on gurneys. Some were just looking into space without many expectations – or no expectations. Some were quietly singing to themselves or talking to imaginary friends or yelling to get some help. It was, at the very least depressing beyond words. At Merry Heart, in what they call sub acute—that’s the clinical name for rehab, there were elderly people in varying conditions, but nothing like this. It was actually frightening. Apparently when Jeff and Els saw the place a week ago the hallways were empty and without much color. Anyway this was was really bordering on bizarre.

Rose was not happy when we arrived there from the ferry. We explained to her that this was not where she was going to be, but she didn’t believe us. Actually, until we took her to the MARC, she didn’t believe us. Nonetheless, she was scheduled for a few days of evaluation and therapy and decided never to come of her room. “Why would I want to eat with all those sick people?” she said. “I’ve had enough of that”. She refused to eat in the dining hall and when the volunteer came to find out what activities she liked, she refused to answer because she had no intention of staying. On Wednesday a nurse came in to ask some questions while Mom was having dinner and Mom, although cooperative, was barely civil. If you have ever met my mother you know you don’t want to be on the receiving end of her annoyance. When I mentioned that she could have been a little nicer, she said, “For my part, she could have waited until I finished eating.” I agreed but then I realized that when you are in one of those places they don’t treat you like you are a whole person, so they feel they can interrupt anything from a meal to a bowel movement. She was, as usual, absolutely right.

When we ate lunch at the MARC mom noticed that there was salt and pepper and mustard and ketchup on the table. “Did you see that?” she asked. At first I didn’t know what she meant, and then it hit me. She has not enjoyed the taste of a meal in over a year. Between her low sodium and her high blood pressure, her diet has been pretty boring. “You know what Mom” I told her. “Just have a good time. Eat what you want, and enjoy what there is available and don’t worry.” She agreed. At eighty seven (in ten days) and having been through what she’s been through, I figure why not throw a little caution to the wind.

When we were saying our goodbyes last night, it was quite emotional and I was OK until she called us over to her bed. “I had a wonderful time on the plane, it was the best fruit and coffee I ever had and I can’t thank you enough for taking such good care of me.” David said, “You just did.” I couldn’t speak because there were so many emotions involved. “Love you Mom, see you in a few weeks” was all I could come up with. Then I had to leave before I had a total meltdown in front of my niece.

Older people do not have an easy life. And while it’s true their children don’t have an easy time either, at least when people talk to us they don’t pretend we don’t exist. So you say to yourself, should we keep Mom restricted and frustrated by not being able to do so many things she loves or do we just say, have a great time, eat what you like, watch all the cable you can (the MARC system does get Matlock!) and enjoy whatever time you have left? My brother and I decided she should just go for it. So Mom, you go girl! We’re just sayin...Iris

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

With Mom, En Route Seattle, Pt. 1

Pat, who owns Don’s Sandwich Shop, drums and J and E Limousine service—all at one address on Main St. in Boonton, (I once asked him how he made the decision to be that eclectic and he said he would be bored doing just one thing,) picked us (David and Iris) up at five thirty am. It was one of those nights when you know how early you have to get up so you stay up all night waiting for the alarm to ring. As it happens, the alarm on David’s watch never went off so it was probably a good thing I wasn’t in a deep sleep. As a matter of fact, by that time I had cleaned the house and washed the cars—not really but close. It’s funny that David’s watch goes off every day at about six am, even when we don’t have to get up but today it decided to sleep through all our activity.

Rose in the FIRST Class Lounge

We finished packing and I worried about whether or not Pat was going to come and what would we do if he didn’t and would we drive our car to the airport, where it would be problematic because we took off from Newark and we were landing at Kennedy. Or should I say Newark Liberty.... David says they should just have called it Newark “Where You Can Get a Great Portuguese Meal” Airport. Worrying about everything is something I may have suggested once or twice, that I do. I think part of it is genetic, part of it is being an former political Advanceperson. And part of it is the old “glass half full” as Soozie would say. Anyway, Pat came exactly on time and we loaded the car and drove up to Merry Heart.

Mom was ready and anxious to get started. We had worked out the medication needs the night last night, which in itself was quite an ordeal. I know it that administering 6 or seven pills is no big deal but since mom gets her medication from the Veterans Administration, everything is generic and the names bear no resemblance to any brand name, so it was difficult for me to figure out what she needed to get and when, and it was even more difficult for Edith, the nurse to explain it. Health care people assume that family members know what medications their parents are taking. This might be true for some but mom is taking mega amounts of pills which seem to change with every new ailment or symptom. We finally communicated and, not trusting that they would have anything ready, (Half full advance mentality), I took a bag full of drugs with me when I left. Let me say that the amount of drugs we shipped and are carrying could cure the diseases of every man woman and child in a medium size emerging nation.

Seattle seen from the Bainbridge Ferry

We arrived at the airport at 6:45. Our flight was not until 8:20 so we were comforted by the amount of time we had to be subjected by any unforeseen disaster. We put one bag through but in case it got lost I packed two bags for mom. One with clothes and one with everything else we might need for the trip. David had a backpack and a computer bag, which I did as well. So we had six small bags and mom in the wheel chair. I call this traveling like Joe Duffey, who was my boss at the former USIA. When I started to work for him and we traveled he would pack two big suitcases and then carry a small one on board. I packed very little never put my luggage through. After a while he decided he should pack like me but instead of very little, he put a great deal in lots of small suitcases and usually, when we arrived anywhere two or three foreign service officers and diplomatic travel people would meet us but occasionally we were on our own and would wind up schlepping all the stuff by ourselves.

Then like magic Delores – a lady skycap - appeared pushing an airport wheelchair and asked if she could help. In my sleep deprived stupor I declined and then I remembered that was idiotic and I said “Of course, but can we keep mom in her own chair.” She thought that was fine and suggested she push mom and we put all the bags on the other chair. Delores was an angel. She took us right to the front of the security line, took mom through the line. (Except for a brief encounter with the crack security personnel who decided to body search her to see if she if this 86 year old disabled woman was carrying any bombs or weapons of mass destruction.)

We had over an hour so we went to the “Club” – where anyone who has an American Express Platinum card can go if you used it to buy the ticket – had a coffee -- and took a breath. Pretty uneventful so far.

Boarding the plane was a bit more exciting. We wheeled her up to the door and then had to walk on board. She can walk but is a bit unsteady. However, we had determined that we couldn’t fly coach so she was seated in the first class bulk head. Once on board, David renegotiated his seat, as did many passengers, and he sat right in back of us. This would have been more attractive had he not realized that without the change he would have been sitting next to Ellen Burstein. Oh well.

Breakfast was unappetizing but Mom, having been in rehab without a good meal for weeks, thought the croissant was terrific and put jelly on the tasteless cheddar omelet without any cheese. She had coffee and fruit and, of course, it was inevitable that she would have to go to the bathroom during a point in the trip when there was turbulence, the seat belt sign was on, and even the flight attendants were seated. It took both of us to get her up and into the bathroom and then, while she did her business, I waited inside with her so she wouldn’t lose her balance and tumble off the seat. When the turbulence subsided she was finished and the three of us made our way back to our seats. David was now sitting in my seat and I right behind them.

The Bainbridge harbour,filled with boats...

We had fresh baked chocolate chip cookies and coffee about an hour before landing and, although she looked very tired, she seemed to be comfortable and having a good time reading magazines, watching the movie and listening to music. She suggested going to the bathroom again but David talked her out of it and assured her there would be big clean bathrooms at the Seattle airport. David had started to film a bit of the adventure but then just moving got so complex he gave it up. Maybe in the next part of the journey, (the ferry to Bainbridge), with my brother and sister-in law, there will be more time for artistic endeavor. We’re just sayin....Iris