Wednesday, December 31, 2008

"Never Reading Another Blog...." the DAILY NEWS

[Editor's Note: Despite what she told the Daily News, Iris has decided she may continue to not only read the occasional blob, but, under heavy pressure from friends and family, continue contributing to We're Just Sayin'. On the other hand.. .it's New Years, and you never really know what might happen.. so.. at the very least, don't slip on the ICE tonight... see you Next Year. The Editor]
**click the image to see full size**

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

At The End of Each Year

Just to add insult to injury, David and I spent last weekend in bed. Don’t misunderstand. Being in bed with David is not like having a wound. Under normal circumstances this would have been something to celebrate. However, we had either food poisoning or stomach flu – I’m certain no one needs further explanation. Suffice to say, it was not pretty. So there we are moaning and writhing in pain, and each time I get up to brush my teeth, I notice my whole face is becoming increasingly black and blue from the fall on Monday. (Whine, whine, whine). It was absolutely not a time for pretty – except pretty weird. We were so exhausted that getting out of bed for more then a minute was impossible. At one point we thought we might take a walk and we made it all the way from the bedroom to the living room. It’s a small one bedroom so the distance was insignificant—but the attempt was noteworthy.

When I called my kids to find out about their Christmas celebration, I learned that it was OK but on Sunday but Zak awoke with welts or some terrible virus on his torso. He’s also fine but it took me back to a time when I had a rash all over my torso. It was also a holiday weekend and my internist was gone. So, after hours of panicking I finally went to the hospital. As I said, it was a holiday weekend and there were no doctors around—only interns and maybe a resident—who was never available to me. I sat in a curtained room cubby in the emergency room for hours until someone with a white coat appeared. To this day I’m not sure if it was a medical professional or a workman because when he looked at my body all he said was, “That is really gross!” I left shortly after the encounter.

There are so many people who get sick on holidays. Maybe it’s the stress or maybe it’s because the whole family is around and the attention is irresistible. My mom often got sick (rush to the emergency room sick) on Thanksgiving. It was always when my brother and his family were in from Seattle, and we were always convinced that it was curtains for Mom. It wasn’t, and for the last few years she has made it through the end of year celebrations without incident. Curious times these holidays.

At the end of a each year the newspapers, TV networks, radio and I suppose Face Book, My Space and the blogs share their favorite moments of the past year. We all look back at the celebrities who died, the children born, and moments remembered, and are filled with many complicated feelings. The memories can bring tears, smiles, regrets, joy, and even promises for the future. Looking back has always been difficult and picking events I liked or despised not an activity in which I can participate. Not because there were so many or few, but I can’t remember much past yesterday. For example, my favorite moments of today (this is easier to do) were on Morning Joe when Dr. Brezinski called Joe “stunningly superficial” – he didn’t want to say stupid --and he’ll never get asked back even if he is Mika’s father. And when the report of Bristol Palin’s (in case you’ve forgotten --the ill fated Vice President’s daughter),having given birth included a description of the young woman as having been tired of “that high school dating scene so she was ready to be a mother.” What’s wrong with those family values? Sorry, I had a momentary slip into commentary and all I meant to do was try out my memory.

Foolish as it seems, at the end of each year, all I want to do is remember and look forward to good times. Try as I might, I have a problem savoring bad times or, for that matter, sad movies. A friend of mine once said that when you go through a horrible time and live to talk about it, you become a better person. I don’t need to be better. I’m absolutely good enough. And I don’t feel better watching a movie that has an indefinite or “this does not bode well” ending. But these days, it’s not easy to find a movie that ends on a happy note. They all have a pithy important message. Have you noticed there seems to be a plethora of movies with those kind of endings. Even the “Tale of Despareaux” a cartoon about a heroic mouse (who is no Ratatouille or Feivel), is the only thing I’ve seen where the end has some clarity. I’m not even a romantic but I like it when the lovers are not star crossed and you can tell the heroes or heroines from the villains and villainettes. The loss of a friend, the passing of a family member. a serious illness, or saying goodbye to a career or lifestyle takes care of any need I might have for some misery. Quite simply, I need happy.

Goodness, I have changed the subject of this blob any number of times, but scattered is acceptable in a year end wrap up. (I hope I remembered to take this morning’s dose of Metamucil). In conclusion, what I’m trying to say, in a rather circuitous way, is that bad things happen to good people, (good things happen to bad people but we don’t care about them). They happen mostly when it’s inconvenient—like at holidays, and with what’s happening in world, our fantasies (hopes and dreams) should always be about happy endings and delightful beginnings. Have only a very Happy New Year. We’re just sayin’…. Iris

Monday, December 29, 2008

It Just Doesn't Add Up...

We were just going to get a quick bite at a place that David likes quite a bit. They have giant flat panel screens, burgers, beef sliders and numerous kinds of beer. Needless to say, I am not much interested in good beer or enormous TV’s so I had never been there. Given the way we live (back and forth to NY and Boston, never knowing where we’ll wind up), there was nothing in the house for dinner and I agreed that we should go to “Thirsty Bernies” because it is very close and the weather was miserably cold. I turned on the energy saving outdoor lights as we were leaving, and if you have ever used these ‘attempts to do your part for the environment’, you know that it takes a while before they actually give off any light. We have lived in this house for 22 years and it never occurred to me that I wouldn’t be able to negotiate the trip from the front door to the car. Alas, this is why 75% of all accidents happen at home. Quite simply, I missed the last step to the car. I did, what might be described as a colorful twirl, and then down I went, first hitting my knee and then my face.

It was still too black to see anything when I hit. My fall was not without noise. I suppose there were lots of “oohs” and “oh my Gods.!” culminating in an announcement that I was bleeding from my head. David stood on the sidewalk still trying to locate my whereabouts. By the time he did, I was up, hand covering the wound, and rushing back into the house where there was some light and a first aid kit. We never made it to “Bernies”. I’m OK and very lucky. The bruise looks like David whacked me with a pretty good punch to the eye. It could have been worse. I might have lost an eye or David might actually have walloped me. This could have happened but it didn’t. It did, however make me think about any number of falls that people have taken over the last year or so.

It is much less painful for me to talk about the falls suffered by other people, so let’s take a minute to do that. It seems so trivial, almost small time at this point but remember when Martha Stewart went to jail for 5 months because she allegedly lied about the sale of her Imclone stock just before the stock price plunged. She made $228,000 and was fined $30,000. She maintained her innocence and said “I didn't cheat the little people. ... We're all little people. I didn't cheat anybody out of anything.” This simple act of selling her stock, and all the controversy surrounding it, caused her to fall from grace. Or did it. Her fall was both temporary and not so painful. She decided not to let the ‘powers who had been’ screw around with her. She didn’t want the ‘fall’ to drag on . She didn’t want to lose her business or any serious money. And her recovery, which took almost no time, was total. No little people lost their life savings, and she didn’t lose serious money.

While we’re on the subject of serious money, let’s turn for a minute to Chris Cox. He is supposed to oversee serious money. In his official biography it says “During his tenure at the SEC, Chairman Cox has made vigorous enforcement of the securities laws the agency's top priority, bringing ground breaking cases against a variety of market abuses including hedge fund insider trading, stock options backdating, fraud aimed at senior citizens, municipal securities fraud, and securities scams on the Internet.” That must come as a surprise to all the people who lost serious money because Mr. Cox was not doing his job. Jim Cramer says Cox should be fired for letting short-selling run the market into the ground. Mr. Cox still has his job. The government has given billions of dollars in loans to banks, who were supposed to make loans but didn’t, and to corporate executives, who ran their companies into the ground. The executives of these banks, corporations and Wall Street firms still got their end-of-year bonuses, but no one knows where the money went, or for that matter, where it is. Think about this in terms of the Martha Stewart fiasco. Is it not just the least bit ridiculous that she went to jail and the rest of these crooks are living life to it’s fullest – with taxpayer money.

And talk about falls, jail and serious money. Who is a better example than Bernie Madoff. This guy bilked individuals, corporations, non profits and just about anyone he met out of 50 billion dollars. The people who invested with him were honored when he agreed to take their money. Honored. A friend of mine recounted the story of her friend who, about three years ago, called excitedly to report that Bernie had agreed to make investments for her. She lost 3 or 4 million – she’s too destroyed to figure out exact numbers. Bernie, unlike Martha, did not go to jail. Fifty billion dollars in fraudulent investments and he’s still at home in his Park Ave. apartment. He has an electronic device on his ankle and roams freely about that cushy residence, in a city that despises him and is still whirling from his chutzpa. But the question remains, where’s the money? If he’s still living in that apartment then there must be some money. Why is he allowed to spend it? Maybe he has fallen from grace but there seems to be no humiliation, embarrassment or punishment for his evil deeds. He has suffered no consequences for his heinous behavior. Why not?

"Iris with her black eye, and Jordan, in sympathy..."
None of this makes any sense to me. Some people rewarded for criminal behavior and not doing their jobs. Some people going to jail because other people don’t like successful women. And others, just doing good deeds and trying to save the environment are punished with a black eye. Who really deserves a back eye? I repeat, it just doesn’t make any sense to me. We’re just sayin’.... Iris

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

By Executive Order

In the attempt to pretend that Bush is over and all the harm has been done, I forgot about the Executive Order. This is a way for the President to continue to do business until January 20th at noon. The other day, I happened to hear a conversation on talk radio—which I absolutely never do, but David had left in on in my car. There were people talking about the Bush legacy. They were going on and on about how he had really made an impact on AIDs and malaria in East Africa. In my mind he only did it because Bono asked him to and Bono is so cool that George Bush hoped it would rub off. It didn’t, but that’s not the point. Let’s, for arguments sake, say he really cares about AIDs and malaria in East Africa. It is certainly not my intention to bad mouth a good decision—especially when there have been so few from the Administration.

The ‘experts’ on the President’s legacy then left and a few environmentalists took their place to talk about Bush’s real legacy. The way in which recent and last minute Executive orders are going to impact on the environment and the National Parks. These orders will apparently eliminate about thirty years of progress (started under Nixon!) in the areas of clean air and water as well as natural resources. And that’s not so cool.

Here’s what I just don’t get. President Bush has to know that President Obama will rescind any Executive order that is not in the best interest of the Nation or for that matter the world. These new proclamations are not just, “we can’t build because there’s a spider we want to save”, kind of orders. These are orders that permit corporations to dump hazardous waste into water supplies. These are a gift to corporate friends but whatever for? I get the part where Bush and Cheney don’t give a hang nail about the future. Just look at almost everything they’ve done(or not done), from the war, to the oil companies, to the economy and the health care system. What I don’t get is why anyone would do something so detrimental, as a gesture to people who are corrupt and dare I say, greedy, when you know it’s all going to go away within a short time. Does Bush just want to create unnecessary paper work for the new Administration, or is there something much more sinister that even I can’t figure out – except to say it must be really sinister if I don’t get it.

It just makes me wonder what else is in store for us for the next thirty days? We know they have burrowed political appointments into senior jobs to prevent change from taking place. But why would you even do that. If someone is concerned about their legacy wouldn’t they attempt to polish the image for posterity? Or, doesn’t he care. That may be the greatest of all his evils. As I have been told by White House sources, the President never thought he had to talk with anyone who he knew would disagree with any policy. His response about this was along the lines of “I already knew what they had to say”. It’s kind of like the guy who needs to fix his roof – but he doesn’t do it when it’s raining because he can’t – it’s raining. And he doesn’t do it when it’s not raining because then it’s not leaking. I don’t know why it’s like that, but I love that story – so shoot me.

There comes a time when you have to take responsibility for your actions. You can’t always blame someone else or for that matter expect someone else to bail you out of a bad situation. That has never been the case with this Mr. Bush. His family bailed him out of all his corporate failures. His daddy made it OK for him to serve in the military when he felt like it. And where the country is concerned, he simply doesn’t think he is responsible, so he doesn’t take responsibility. In fact, they have circumvented the truth by continuing to tell a bigger lie or just deny accountability. Here’s another of my stories. There was a kid who was lighting matches in the forest and started a fire. The woods are burning and he knows he’s in trouble, especially if his parents find out, because they told him not to light matches. So he tries to pee on the fire and put it out. It doesn’t work and sure enough the fire engines appear. And he starts to cry and yell about how he’s trying to put the fire out but (he points in another direction), he saw three bigger kids running away. I know that woods and that fire and the kid peed in his pants because he was so scared it just happened. But that kid learned a lesson and, although he never confessed to starting the fire, he did stop lighting matches in wooded areas – it’s not brain surgery. My point is, (and isn’t there always one), If you want people to forget that you were a nincompoop for eight years, you don’t keep being an nincompoop when you have a chance to be not a nincompoop. As my mother would say, “a leopard never changes their spots, and a dope by any other name, including President, is still a dope.” We’re just sayin’....Iris

Saturday, December 20, 2008

An Adventure to Hoboken, Bring a Knife!

Exactly what does “Breaking news” mean when it is used on any of the television networks? Does it mean that the news is actually breaking? Like it’s broken and it needs to be fixed or it needs some kind of a band-aid. Or does it mean “hey listen up, there’s something new we have to tell you.” And if the latter is the case than why is something called ‘breaking news’ repeated for hours and hours ad nauseum. Can’t something only break once? Take a glass or a heart, for example. The first time they break, they are broken. It might be that they can be repaired, but they are absolutely broken. The degree to which they are broken, and the time it takes to mend them may be different. But as my mother would say, “if it’s broken, it’s broken”. She would also say “Dead’s dead” and What is, is” but that’s a different blob.

My point is that because the networks want to get the viewer’s attention, they keep telling the viewer that they are watching something totally new and important. Of course this is not the case but they think the viewer is a moron – and why wouldn’t they. We continue to be viewers even when we know what they are telling us only breaks once, and the other 50 million times, it’s drivel.

Here’s my favorite most recent breaking news. Caroline Kennedy went to upstate New York to make a pitch for the Senate Seat. That was breaking news for two days. Governor Blagojevich’s troubles have been breaking for almost a week. Sure there have been different problems, but each one had at least three days of breaking.

The Hoboken PATH Terminal, a thing of beauty
Here’s some breaking news. David and I went on an adventure to Hoboken last night. Hoboken is the new Brooklyn but it’s in New Jersey. When we were kids we thought of it as a dump. In our minds it was kind of a place whose only value was that it was across the river from New York City (and was the birthplace of Frank Sinatra.) It’s unclear when that started to change but after the Towers fell a number of businesses relocated to Hoboken – because there is a ferry and a PATH (Port Authority Trans Hudson) train. So there was easy access to mid-town and lower Manhattan. We have friends that moved there twenty years ago, paid very little for a lovely apartment and recently sold it for so much money that they bought a great place on the West side and moved back into the city. The same thing has happened to Brooklyn, Queens, and even Jersey City is on the way to chic-dom. And while they are still not as convenient as being right in the city (especially when the weather is bad or the subway isn’t working), they are not bad.

However, the thing that makes Hoboken a bit different from these other suburbs is the existence of Arthur’s Steakhouse. Arthur’s has existed for 100 years—give or take 40. My mom always loved to go to the sister restaurant (also called Arthur’s) in Morris Plains because it was close to home and you could get a great steak (Morton’s quality), and the most luscious roasted potatoes for $18. Over the years the price has increased to $22 in Morris Plains—an all cash business, and $24 in Hoboken which takes credit cards. The wine is still $5 a glass with a bottle of pretty good wine for $15 a bottle. There is also beer – in huge urn like glasses -- and other beverages but, in my usually not so humble opinion, there’s nothing like a glass of red with a great steak.

Although the menu is limited, they do have ribs and burgers as well as some chicken and turkey plates. It is absolutely not the place to go if you are a vegetarian.
Wait, more news just broke. The little broken body that was found about a week ago in Orlando still hasn’t been identified. Why is that news at all? What about the fact that nothing has happened is news. But I digress—almost into a tantrum. Here’s another, the man who was never convicted of molesting and killing Adam Walsh really was the murderer. I thought that broke a few days ago. It’s so hard for me to remember the actual time or day when it breaks with such frequency. Even the new Obama appointments, (which truly are important), can only be announced once as breaking news—but the networks, constantly competing for something to say, don’t really care about details—or news for that matter.

Back to important news about hearty steaks and local color. The people who you see eating at Arthur’s are not tourists. They are not there for an adventure. Most have been going there after ballgames with their teams (adults and children), for special occasions with their families, and just because it’s a great steak, for years. Our adventure was not about the place, it was about taking the train to Hoboken, to a place where we knew the food would be worth the money we spent. It’s hard to find a place like this as well as any breaking news, but it’s worth it to try. And like the news, there’s always something leftover for the next day. For a peek at the actual Breaking News of our Arthur’s adventure, click this link.... We’re just sayin’.... Iris

Epilogue (doesn't that sound oh so literary:)

Two days later, some mustard and horseradish on an English Muffin... Heaven!

Some Would Say Washington....

Some would say Washington is a funny place. Those would be the same people that think Hollywood is a funny place. If you are in the government or the entertainment industry, the word ‘funny’ is not an accurate way to describe either.

Let’s pretend that you are my family (in Yiddish we would call you misbucha – don’t forget the 'ch' is a guttural, like you’re choking), and I am telling tales out of school. You will never tell what I told because then you would never get any more inside info, and that would mean you have nothing to talk about at cocktail parties or Bar Mitzvahs.

So, here we all are at a small family gathering and Aunt Sophie says, “What’s happening with this new President? Are you going to take a job?” And I say, “Well I don’t know. It is too complicated to figure out and when you are on the outside no one ever calls you back – so you don’t actually know what’s going on.” Aunt Sophie is not happy about this answer and she says, “Someone with your talent and experience (let’s not even talk about genetics or breeding), of course they should be talking to you.” So I say, “You don’t understand, there’s the reality and the myth.” At this point Aunt Sophie picks up a frying pan and smacks you in the tuchas with it.

Let’s talk about the myths and the reality of Washington politics.

Myth Number One: People who are working in the transition will not be permitted to go into government.
The reality: People who are lucky enough to have been called on to serve in the transition may (unlikely) not want to go back into the government but you can be sure they have a friend or family member who does want to serve. If they don’t know someone who they can help, then they are people without a soul and they shouldn’t be in the Obama government at all.

Myth Number Two: People who are your friends in transition will help you to get a job.
The reality: People in Washington are all about the power and the perception. If you have a friend working in the transition, the likelihood of them returning a phone call or keeping you in the loop is minimal. It’s not that they don’t like or care about you, it’s just that they have been corrupted by whatever power they have been given and they don’t have time to mingle with the great unwashed. This is not meant to be at all cynical, it is just what Washington has become.

Myth Number Three: If you send your resume to, someone will read it and eventually you will get a job, or a letter, or a gold star, or a gift from some obscure radio show.
The reality: If you spend the time to fill out your on line application, the transition/campaign will have one more e-mail from which to fund raise. Sending your resume to is about as likely to get you a job as it is to get you a boyfriend or a husband or an on line date. It’s a black hole. No one can tell you what happens to those resumes, and no one can tell you if you will ever be considered for a position. But that’s the bad news, and I don’t mean to be negative. The good news is that you have organized your thoughts, put them into some kind of order, and you know that you are a viable commodity for something—maybe it’s not in government, but something.

Myth Number Four: You worked in the campaign and the campaign will take care of you.
The reality: (And it breaks my heart). You may not be qualified for a government job. You are competing with a million people who worked on the campaign and civil servants who actually know what they are doing. The reason you see so many Clinton people getting jobs is because the Obama people want their government to work, and there are a finite number of jobs available for people, and silly as it seems, experience counts.

Myth Number Five: People who know everything are smarter than people who know nothing.
The reality: No one knows anything. It’s important for the government to work and make change. No one knows how that happens. There are too many people and too many issues to actually know how to get things done. It’s a crap shoot. This President is likely to do better than most because he is honestly attempting to cross divides and build bridges. He is willing to take chances and find common ground. For him, the myths might become the realities and everyone will be included – except maybe me -- but you knew that from my "I have no friends on Facebook" blog. We're just sayin'... Iris

Thursday, December 18, 2008

What Does It GET You?

Everyone should read Frank Rich’s piece on Sunday. It is exactly what I would have said if he hadn’t said it first. The only thing he doesn’t mention is that the Illinois legislature just passed a bill that outlaws things like selling a Senate seat. I guess it was OK a week or so ago, but now it’s no longer legal. Talk about absurd. But let’s not dwell on the absurd, I would rather have a good laugh.

And speaking of a good laugh, last night we saw a wonderful, delightful, poignant, one man show called “Sleepwalk With Me.” The whole show was premised on a story Mike Birbiglia, the comedian, shared. It was inspirational for me because I am trying to write my book “Schlepper” as a show. When I do that, this is one of the stories I will tell. It is a shortened version but imagine yourself laughing along.

A Rabbi Mendelsohn called on a very busy morning. “Iris, I can call you Iris right?” He didn’t wait for me to answer. “We are about to perform your Get and we need you to participate. Won't you come to Silver Spring?" I had just learned my ex was getting married and he needed a Get (a Jewish divorce). I had been assured it would not inconvenience me so the call caught me a bit off guard.
"No Rabbi I have too much work, You can come here."
"With everyone", he queried?
"Who's everyone?”
" All the witnesses, the Rabbi's and your husband's proxy".
" How many everyone’s are there?
"About eight, maybe ten".
It was a lot of people in my home-office, but I was relentless in my pursuit of convenience.

The next day at 9:00am Rabbi Mendlesohn called again "Please Iris, can I call you Iris?” He still didn’t wait for an answer. Couldn't you come to Rabbi Greenbaum's home on 29th Street. Some of the people who need to be at the Get are very old and they can't travel so far. We'll pay for the cab."

I didn't really understand how these very old people were able to Get themselves to Silver Spring or 29th Street and not Q Street but I was tired of arguing. "O.K. Rabbi, We'll see you in about an hour."

At 11:00 my team appeared at the Rabbi's door. I had gathered together as many friends as were available for the occasion. I introduced them one at a time. None of them looked Jewish and the Rabbi tssked audibly, with each introduction until I got to Michael Evans. “ Oye, thank God, Mike Levins” he said. No that’s Michael (pause) Evans – I couldn’t resist the correction. "A shanda, all these people and the girl doesn’t have one single Jewish friend." He shook his head regrettably.

We proceeded into a very small room cluttered with religious paraphernalia and decorative "chachka's" (little useless things whose sole purpose is to collect dust). It smelled like the air had been strained with chicken soup and doused with brisket. The smell was not dinner. It was a Rabbi's study smell. It was one which permeated Rabbi's studies all over the world. I am convinced that on the day a Rabbi graduates from Seminary the smell is presented with the degree. "Here you are Rabbi Shmendrick, your degree your and the smell to go with it - would you prefer essence of chicken soup and brisket or would you rather have cholent. You know of course, that because you were top in your class you get eau de gefilte fish as a reward".

"Iris", the other Rabbi whispered mournfully, "we are so sorry about your loss". "Who Died?" I whispered in return. As you can see I attempted to maintain my sense of humor. The Rabbi turned, unamused and introduced me to the witnesses.

You may wonder just who goes to a Get? One was a law student who made an extra couple of dollars being a witness to the demise of marital bliss. Two were introduced as members of the Congregation. I assumed it didn't matter which one since they were all the same. Two were Rabbinical students and one was an old man who must have been the Rabbi's father. He also must have lived in this study because he was incapable of traveling from a sitting to standing position yet alone from one place to another. He required assistance every time he had to get up for a prayer. "Girlie" he would say to my friend Marthena (she was the closest to him). "Girlie, denks so much for your help. This is not such a wonderful ding, a divorce. Don't worry because God willing, your friend will meet a nice Jewish boy, who doesn't mind she has no Jewish friends, and she'll get married again. She’ll live a happy life, maybe have a few children-boys God willing and so you shouldn't worry. Denks be to God My wife is still alive and we've lived a heppy life- we have our health and our children, who could ask for more. Denks for helping me to get up, you're a nice girl." This litany was repeated every time we stood. I got to thinking it was actually part of the service. "Barouch atah adonoi...God willing you'll get married again..." I listened and I listened and I listened. I made them translate the Hebrew into english so I could understand that my ex was divorcing me and divorcing me and divorcing me. Jewish women do not get to divorce Jewish men. Only the man can throw the woman from his tent.

As a final humiliation I had to take off all my jewelry , accept the piece of paper on which the Get was scripted and walk out of the house. It was, surprisingly, a tremendous relief for all. My friends were relieved that they could go back to work. The witnesses were relieved because they no longer had to be a part of my history. And I think I was relieved to be starting a brand new life or maybe scared is a better word.

We're just sayin.... Iris

Monday, December 15, 2008

I'll Do Better!

A number of people have admonished me for not writing a frequently as they have come to expect. This is quite flattering – I can’t imagine who would miss my blobbing but I will try to do better. Because I did not want to be one of those people I talk about –someone who just blurts – and the results of the Presidential election were to my liking, I have tried to write about the sublime or ridiculous. Obviously there has been more ridiculous than sublime and I didn’t want anyone to think I was just silly. OK I don’t care if people think I’m silly because being silly seems to be a positive quality in this crisis filled time, but rather, I have tried not to just blurt. When I mentioned this to David he reminded me that the reason I blog/blob, is precisely so I could blurt. In short I’ll try to do better.

In keeping with our new tradition of not celebrating holidays on their actual date, as you may have noticed, we had our annual NY Hannukah party yesterday. Kerry and I carefully planned all the details. I was to bring the pototao shredder from Virginia. (it’s not a 'cuisine' anything, so I don’t actually know what to call it), but it does the job. I brought all the paper goods, Hannukah gelt, poppers (yes they are a British Christmas item but they are also fun for any celebration because you get to read stupid jokes, wear paper crowns, and open gifts). And I brought twenty pounds of potatoes – eight pounds more than we actually needed. (It still made 60 latkes for 12 people). Kerry provided bagels, cream cheese lox, fruit, coffee, mimosas, Bloody Marys, assorted vegetables, and all the stuff to make the latkes. That being said, after schlepping the shredder all the way from Virginia., I forgot to take it across town.

When we realized we were shredderless, a decision had to be made. Thankfully, we had not yet indulged in the alcoholic treats so we were able to clearly think through the situation. We determined that going all the way back across town was too much trouble so we would walk a few blocks and purchase a new Cuisine Art. Kerry couldn’t find all the parts for her old one, so the purchase was legitimate. The ability to make mushed, shredded, or slushy foods should never be underestimated. Anyway, it all worked out, at least until the paper on which I was draining the oil from the latkes, caught on fire. I remained very calm, merely wandering around announcing that I was on fire and could use some help. You might think I could have thrown the tray into the sink and turned the water on. That would have been true except I didn’t want to lose the 10 or twelve perfectly cooked latkes that shared the space with the fire. Eventually, Clare came to my rescue – at least I think it was Clare -- but who could tell through the flames. Kidding. Kidding. Nothing but the paper actually caught on fire, and no smoke detectors were called upon, and all latkes emerged healthy. We didn’t do karaoke this year and it is unclear whether we'll add another Hannukah celebration during the inaugural—we’ll see. See the joys of “alternative date celebrations?” You're never very far from a well fried latke.

Shredded potatoes await their Latke Moment
On a totally different subject, over the past few weeks we have suffered a terrible loss. Steve and Barry’s, my absolutely favorite place to shop has gone bankrupt and are closing all their stores. Steve and Barry’s was a great place for sweatshirts, t-shirts, men’s dress shirts, baby stuff and women’s whatever. When we first discovered them, in Plymouth Ma., things were reasonably priced and they were just plain fun. Then Sarah Jessica Parker decided to sell her line through them exclusively, so they became the only place to shop for Bitten. Other super stars also invested with them, and really, there was no place else to be hip and pay moderate prices. Top o' the line gym shoes, were $15 instead of $150 – a socially responsible move. For a while, everything in the stores was $8.98. That was pretty cool and I purchased in large quantity. My hope was that they would figure out a formula and stay alive. In October, the Plymouth store closed. Then, when I was doing my discount shopping at Potomac Mills in Virginia, I noticed the 'going out of business' signs on their doors. Well, I didn’t just notice them. I was on my way through the doors and all that was left was the shelving. I was hopeful because the store at 34th Street in the Manhattan Mall was still open.

Things were no longer $8.98, but you could still buy a great shirt for $10. But it was not to be -- Steve and Barry’s is closing, forever and ever. Oh woe is us. With just what I spent they should have been able to sustain the business. It’s like losing a dear friend. Maybe they didn’t listen to my troubles or help me through difficult times, (wait, they did do that). OK, maybe they didn’t care about who I was or my dreams and aspirations– but what amusement they provided when I was in need of an affordable but worthy shopping spree.

It looks like we are about to lose many of these “old friends”. Restaurants we loved, car companies and investment firms we depended on (oops, that was clearly a blurt)… The news about the economy is mostly not good. At this holiday season will we only be able to celebrate Wal*Mart and the Bank of Malaysia? It’s all too depressing. I better go to “Daffy’s” for some socks.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

It's All So Random

Barbra Streisand kissed George Bush. OK, she did it at the Kennedy Center Honors. She was sitting in the Presidential box. It’s pretty heady in that box. I have been there many times. Admittedly, it wasn’t with any President, but that was even better because I didn't have to behave. There is a Presidential box in each of the Kennedy Center theaters. The box is a perk for VIPs—unless the President wants to go to a show. Then he gets to invite the guests. But when he’s not using it, the tickets are available to whomever wants to go—or rather whomever the person who controls them in the West Wing, wants to allow to use it. When Jordan and Seth were small (during the Carter and Clinton Administrations), I knew those people. I got to take my children and my Mom. (The perks are really the only reason to serve in any Administration—otherwise it’s all work and no play). Jordan saw so many musicals from the President’s box that the first time we went to a theater in NY, she was annoyed that there was someone sitting in front of her. And of course that there wasn’t an ante room with a refrigerator and Presidential snacks, including White House boxed M&Ms.

But I digress. No surprise. Enough about me and back to Barbra , who I met at the Vice President’s residence at a Christmas party. No, not Dick Cheney. The nice VP, Al Gore. Admittedly, I was appalled and had questions. Did she like it? Did she do it because she was so excited she didn’t know what she was doing? Was she thinking that she kissed the President not the man? (Can you separate the two?) After all her years of derision, how did she do it without thinking – as Charley Brown would say—“my lips kissed dog lips". Is James Brolin a Republican? There is no explanation other than her mother taught her good manners.

Speaking of confusion. Why can’t I remember that guy’s name? Something like “Bad Boy or Bitch” (I guess that’s his wife who has also been described as a potty mouth). He’s the Governor of Illinois. Until just a few days ago I loved him. Yes I did. When he went out on the street and stood up for the workers who were abruptly put out on the street without notice or the pay due them, I cheered for him. At first I didn’t understand that The Bank of America (which received billions in the bailout) had cut off credit to their company and the owners had no choice but to close down. The employees went out on the street to scream about the injustice, and the Governor was right there with them. He announced that the State wouldn’t be doing business with the Bank of America anymore—it was terrific. I said the Bank needed a crisis public relations plan and they got it. The Governor, it appears, is a criminal. The Governor was trying to sell the Senate seat left vacated by the newly elected President. The Governor has a foul mouth. The Lt. Governor hasn’t talked to the Governor in over a year. The Governor’s wife is a bitch. Did the Bank of America luck out or what? No one is paying attention to the workers or their suffering. The Governor, not the bank is the headline, the outrage.

This morning, when I was trying to understand what was happening, I watched the news shows on CNN and MSNBC after “Morning Joe”. I can never get news from Morning Joe. It’s much too entertaining. I hate when my entertainment is interrupted by the news. Anyway, it was not easy because there was so much information circulating about this topic of national interest that I could hardly keep the facts straight. Here’s what I discovered. Most of the reporters (who call themselves journalists but they’re really talking heads – not Mike Barnacle, who is a journalist), are trying as hard as they can, to link the President with the Bad Boy and Bitch, are frustrated because it is not working. Obama has asked the Governor to resign. But it appears that’s not enough. It’s not enough because then the news readers will have nothing to say. So the questions surrounding the President will involve any contact they had. Did Axelrod say Obama was involved and then changed his mind? Will the Governor stay despite his arrest? The arrest should be colorful – although nothing surprises me about Illinois or Louisiana politics. Will the President answer questions about the controversy when all he wants to do is announce new appointments? Will there be a special election? And is the elephant in the room, Jesse Jackson Jr., involved in any way. Well, maybe it’s not an elephant but it is at least, a rabbit.

What should the President-elect do? Certainly not listen to any advice from the “journalists”. But what about me? What do I have to say? Keep moving ahead. Address the issue people care about. Don’t get involved in local political issues—even if they are in his backyard. Stay away from commenting on Bad Boys and Bitches other than to comment on the outrageous behavior. The Senate seat in Illinois does not belong to the Governor, it belongs to the people – just like Barbra Streisand and the Kennedy Center.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Oh, That Holiday Season

Sometimes I don’t understand people I really like. For example, Barney Frank recently said that he didn’t think the future President was moving quickly enough with the transition. Obviously, Barney has never worked in personnel – nor does he remember the last Democratic Administration where, by this time, we had filled at least ten jobs. Not counting the Cabinet appointments. Never mind, sometimes people just have to say something. Speaking of people, and I know this is a stretch, when George Bush determined that the Ambassador to the UN shouldn't be a Cabinet post (because it was under Secretary Albright), it should have been a signal that he didn't think the UN or the rest of the world was important. It was saying the same thing that so many people say at sports events when they hold up their fingers and yell, “we’re number One!” As it turns out, and with regard to the all the many crises - we turn out better described as number Two - and I mean that in the nicest possible way.
A few days ago he announced Richardson as his Secretary of Commerce. What a hoot. Bill has had more political appointments then most people have had tooth fillings—but this is terrific. A well-versed, talented, Hispanic Border State Governor in charge of the Economic development of the USA.

Enough criticism for a while, let’s reflect about the holiday season. They lit the Christmas tree at Rockefeller Center last Wednesday. I didn’t go to the actual lighting, but I did walk by to see what kind of people stand, for hours in the freezing cold, in police designed steel corals – even just looking wasn’t easy because, since the revelation that terrorists were planning another possible attack, everyone is suspect. Anyway, like the nutty fathers in “The In-Law’s” I bobbed and weaved in a serpentine fashion between 5th and 6th Avenue and 49 to 51st streets, until I got to where I could see the tree. Even unlit it is a regal structure. I have often wondered how, exactly, they pick the perfect tree. Do people call in and offer their trees or do NBC farmers wander aimlessly around the country until they see what they think would look good at Rockefeller Center. Not that it matters, this tree didn’t fall in the forest – it was happily chopped down, but it’s interesting because we had big trees at my parents’ in New Jersey (not as far away as most places from which the trees come), and I never thought of offering them to the plaza.

So what kind of people go to the tree lighting? The police officer I asked said they were all people from out of town. But that turned out not to be true. I did find a few New Yorkers who said that, like with the Macy’s Thanksgiving parade, they have made it a family tradition—unless it is raining. Jordan and her friends went – but they found a police officer to escort them to the VIP seats (ah yes, it is genetic). There were also couples, who wanted to get engaged at the tree lighting, and just plain folks who just wanted to see the show. In New York, people like to go to free entertainment venues and at this one the talent was memorable. At one point I was almost tempted to stay—I was there early enough to get a pretty good view, but you mostly couldn’t see the stage and the lighting so that was too stressful a decision and I just couldn’t make it. Besides, I was having too much bob and weave fun and it was too cold for this southern belle. (OK Northern Virginia isn’t really the South but I do like grits).
Anyway, I made my way home on the subway, which at this time of year, is more entertaining than usual. So far, my favorite subway entertainer is a guy who sings a few off key songs at the 53rd street stop. It is not that he is so bad it’s good. He is truly bad—there is no question about that. But I like him because he is incredibly earnest about having no talent. Not only does he want contributions he wants people to listen to him. If you happen to be standing on the platform with a friend waiting for a train—which is of course the only reason you would be standing on the platform, except to sing -- he will move right next to you and sing louder. It is however, early in the season, so I may have other picks but right now he’s in the lead.

The holiday season is usually a time for glee –even on the subway, It is different this year. People seem reticent about joy. Maybe it’s because so many are suffering, or maybe because they don’t know what’s coming next, but there seems to be fewer people giving change or dollars to street musicians, or beggars. When I was walking with my friend Laura last week there was an older gentleman asking for change in front of the McDonald’s. We both searched out pockets and gave him what we had. When we walked away, Laura who is the Queen of information about everyone in the neighborhood, told me the guy was a former executive a Lehman Brothers. He wasn’t, but I believed her because there are so many executives out of work. What is happening in this country? And speaking of what is happening, the “big three” car executives have agreed to give up their salaries – but what about their bonuses, isn’t that the real money? There will apparently be a bailout, but I think it should go to the people who have worked all their lives and are now suffering the consequences of all the greedy executive decisions, rather than keep the dopes in business. But what do I know?

I know it’s especially important to celebrate holidays at these trying times. So we'll do our annual Jordan card and on with the Hannukah party planning—which of course won’t be on Hannukah, But a party is a party, so who cares when it is. We’re just sayin’. Iris.

Ribs: Don't Short Yourself

Tonight I relived one of those moments which was a highlight of the last few years. Iris and Jordan made a great dinner, and the warm kitchen was just what the night needed to ward off what has become the first day of winter. Dinner, I might add, was a quite delicious platter of slow cooked short-ribs. Beef short ribs, which I first discovered as “Kalbi” in Korea in the 70s, have finally made it out of the league of under-appreciated cuts, and are becoming one of THE hot dishes. It takes a lot of slow cooking. There is no “grill for ten minutes on each side” with short-ribs. You have to invest a bit of time, but the way the succulent meat falls off the bones after 5 or 6 hours of cooking, make it so worth while.

Winter arrives on Upton St.
And we did a practice run on latkes: yes, even though we only make then a few times a year, they never taste anything but great, and given the fact that you CAN occasionally forget how to make them, a refresher course a few weeks before Hannukah is smart. They work very nicely with the short-ribs. Normally we have some kind of brisket with the latkes, but this year, I suspect the brisket may be sent to the minor leagues as we take a chance on the American Kalbi. Actually, that would be a great name for a new Korean/American cuisine fusion restaurant. For years I have wished there were some local version of a wonder Korean dish I used to have in the old neighborhoods in Seoul (before they were kiboshed to make room for new skyscrapers). So-Gum-Gui was a wonderful little barbecue/do-it-yourself concept. You take very thinly sliced pieces of beef, about 2x3” or so.. grill them over your fire (each table has its own little grill), and when done, wrap in lettuce leaf with slices of raw garlic (those of you who read Sho-gun know what I mean) and a spoonful of delicious white rice,then dip it into a sauce redolent of sesame oil and salt and pepper. Then stuff in your gullet and enjoy immensely. We didn’t load the short ribs up that way tonight but with a trial vat of Nouveau Beaujolais (only so-so this year) -- it was a great dinner.

After dinner we replayed one of those wonderful dad-daughter moments. Jordan and Melanie (her bestest bud from the time they were 3 and already getting into trouble) announced they would be going clubbing, and could I drop them off. It’s the kind of sensible request which you love getting. It implies several things: a) I’ll probably be home. b) I don’t think I’ll be in a very good state to drive a car, by the end of the night. c) Just don’t linger too long when we get out of the car so it won’t look like a 9th grade dance drop-off. The girls looked pretty “clubby” when they walked out the door. It is, from the point of view of a father, only a mildly wonderful thing. I mean, it’s not that I want them looking horrible, ugly, or too messy. It’s just that being a guy, I sort of remember the way guys are. But I have to get it through my head, they aren’t 9th graders anymore. Mel turned 23 last week, Jordan will in February. When we were that age, well, things were a little different. Iris was married before she turned 21, student teaching in Massachusetts. I was living in Miami, working – or trying to – as a freelance photographer for TIME magazine. I never was one of those guys who would have happily bought two cute girls a drink at a bar. I mean, I would have, if they would have talked to me, but it was always a struggle to make chit chat (hard to believe, I know.) But when I did go out, it was usually to Big Daddy’s, a sports bar in Miami Springs. A lot of guys who worked in and near the airport, buying a lot of drinks, and wishing all the in-training PanAm stews who trained down the road a mile,would show up. Well, mostly they didn’t.

Our girls certainly know how to buy their own drinks, but I guess if I were a young freelancer working in the DC area and ran into these two smart, humorous & attractive young women, I’d buy a drink just to know a bit more about them. Jordan appeared on TV -- making a brief appearance on All My Children last Wednesday. She taped it three weeks ago, and unfortunately they cut one scene.

But, she did make an appearance in a wheel chair (I forgot to ask if you get paid more being ambulated.) But these kids are definitely living a world far beyond our own from that age. It actually took me until I was well into my 30s to admit to my folks on a rare trip home to Salt Lake that I “might not be home tonight.” I surprisingly ran into an old school pal, and ended up spending the night with her at her place. That call to my folks, at about 10 or 11 (late enough to engender worry when the phone rings in that nighttime silence) was one of the toughest I have ever made. It was one of those moments when I had to actually admit that I was, in some small way, an adult, and able to make overnight decisions all by myself. My mom, who was quite cool about the whole thing, just finally asked, “well, just let me know, are you coming home or not?” To which I think I mumbled something Jackie Gleasonesque like “humina humina humina…. Er ah.. no, I don’t think so.”

It would have been a whole lot more convenient if I could have asked my dad to just drop me off, and while he was always great at doing favors, it just wouldn’t have seemed right. I suppose we’re always happy to hang on to those little things we remember, and cherish. I’m happy, frankly, I can still fall into the category that my kid feels that being dropped off by her old man isn’t such a bad thing after all. It’s midnight now, and I’m wondering how late I have to stay up and hear that door open downstairs. We’re just sayin’…. David

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

The Media and The Game

The new President spends a great deal of time reminding the media that he’s on to them. So far, when asked a question like; “Well you didn’t like Hillary during the campaign, what changed your mind?” Or , “ You said Hillary had no international experience, she just had tea around the world, what makes her competent now?” He usually says that he knows they are trying to be cute with a question like that. Then he goes on to answer the question, like in this case, “Things are different in a Primary then they are after the election.” And he has totally confidence in her ability.

Today, at the Governor’s meeting, he told the Governor’s that once the media was out of the room they could really talk. This is, of course, the truth. But I don’t know how I feel about making so clear that he’s on to them and their access will be limited. And I know that he knows that they know, but still, it makes me a little uncomfortable. I like the game where the media think they are privy to actual information and all the questions they ask during a press conference are relevant.

Those of us who have worked on campaigns understand that things are said during the Primaries and even the General Election, that may help the candidate to win a race, but in the end, everyone is, if not friends, cordial. What were the chances of McCain getting an appointment in the Obama Administration? Not great, although who knows. It could still happen. The CIA is still available. But the point is, once the election was over, only Sara Palin continued to do any bad mouthing. And it’s pretty effective in Georgia – which you can see if you stand on your tip toes in Alaska. My point is that we all know Hillary is competent—beyond competent. And of course things were said (by all the candidates) during the Primaries, that weren’t true. So when the media ask the question, they already know the answer, but they ask because – if they are TV reporters – they make more money if they have air time. And if they are print journalists, their papers like that they are recognized by the President. It is an indication that they have access and if the White House ever wants to leak a story or share information, the people who are familiar are most likely to get the story.

Still, in Washington, the ability to play the game is often far more important than the final result—whatever that may be. George Bush often (well not often because he hardly had a press conference but when he did) he joked with the media. Pretending to like them and even listen earnestly to their questions. He didn’t like it when the questions were too difficult or someone insisted on an answer and then he got testy, but he continued to play the game.

Despite his Washington and lengthy campaign experience, it doesn’t look like President Obama will have the patience to answer what are often pretty ridiculous often repetitious questions. Does he expect the media to change? No he doesn’t, but he has learned that he can circumvent the mainstream media quite effectively. And, I think, that has shaken up the traditional Washington media corp.

The only problem with new media (blogs, You tube and the like), is that they only recently started to impact on public opinion. Certainly they helped the President in Waiting to win the election, because they helped to build a constituency, but what will happen once the Inauguration is over and the President is sworn in. Will they maintain their place of power with the White House Press Office, or will they be relegated to the rear of the room. Not really caring if they have traditional access as long as they have a computer and access to the information. Will they learn to play the game. Will the President try to play the game. Will the public enjoy watching the game?

People were pretty tired of being inundated by political news 24/7. With the economy in shambles and wars raging all over the world, people just want solutions not games. But they also want information about the solutions. It’s a puzzlement. But to tell the truth (and what else is there), I still like a game or two in my news. We're Just Sayin...

Monday, December 01, 2008

CHINOIS 2008 Part Deux

Another of those too-quick-for-your-own-good trips this week. I left last Thursday for China for a week and this is my first, moderately belated update on what the place is like since leaving after the Olympic Games ended. Truth told, I saw very little of China, and a lot of press buses and athletic locations in those three weeks of nearly sunless August. Following the Games, I spent a few weeks going the Democratic Convention and added a few other things to the last 3 months, and all of a sudden it was time explore Xiamen on the south coast where the local photographic commission, led by a man who lived and worked in the states for while, opened a show of my sports photographs. It includes previous Olympic work plus about a dozen or so from the Beijing Games.

It’s up in the lobby of the Concert Hall, in a place that has no small series of Classical concerts, so the audience attendance is guaranteed. (It’s a great way to stoke the viewing habits of a show.) We had a very attentive local host committee, and in addition to opening the show, and doing a presentation with a large group of photographers, we had a chance to visit one of only 11 officially sanctioned Olympic Museums around the world. The good news is they are in serious need of some content for their walls, and I am hoping we can interest them in some great Olympic sports imagery. I even got to photograph myself in front of a pic of Fu Ming Xia, who I seemingly immortalized in 1992 in Barcelona where she wont a Gold in diving. More to follow. Meanwhile this all takes place on a very interesting little island called Gulangyo, which is about as far from Xiamen (a famous coastal city) as Ellis Island is from Manhattan. To wit, a 12 minute ferry ride, on boats which turn on a dime. Gulangyo is a real tourism haven, with dozens of little groups being led over its hilltops by folks with flags, the long time Asian tradition to keep from losing your charges as you pass the dried fish stores. I have never been partial to dried fish unless there was a need to patch a hole in a boat. There is something about dried fish, and its perfume which makes me want to just open a can of tuna and grab the Hellmans. I can’t really understand why folks are so wild about it, but it must have something to do with what you grow up with. Ludefisk, the Norwegian version of sea-borne chittlin’s is apparently in that category. (The category is Freaky Smelly Food they make fun of on Prairie Home Companion.) We were (I was traveling with Bob Pledge from Contact, my agency) invited to an unending series of banquets to celebrate our celebratory wonderfulness. I kept thinking.. Ok.. we ARE special, but how bout a burger or an order of ribs? The one thing you have to give the Chinese, they can find things to eat in the world of animal and plant endeavor that would challenge an A.P. high school biology teacher. I’m not really squeamish, and certainly not ungrateful to our VIP treatment, but the fact is, at each and every dish, not to mention meal, there were things which haven’t been seen since a Pleistecene Era rumble between maritime and land borne organisms. Somehow the fact that something is unchewable makes it a delicacy, though I’m partial to actually hearing my teeth get thru the bite instead of bounce back like soccer balls. At one point there was a great looking dish of fried rice (always a staple that will save you…) and in one bite I realized they had taken all the stuff that had the texture of three day old oysters, and drummed it throughout. Darn, those delicacies… I say.

DB and members of the local camera club mugging(top), and a session with professionals - more fun, less mugging.

On the far side of Xiamen, there is a view of a rather historic little set of islands. In the 1960 Presidential campaign Nixon attacked Kennedy (that would have been John Kennedy) for being soft on the nuclear option over Quemoy and Matsu. These little islands, just a few miles off the coast of China, have remained part of Taiwan all these years. It’s about as weird as the US having a base IN Cuba. Think about it. It’s as if the Russians had an air base in Kansas. Or the Syrians a training site at the Saratoga Race Track. Taiwan itself is a few hundred miles away.

But in the late 50s the Chinese regularly shelled the islands and threatened to take them back though they never did. Nixon was all for dropping the BigOne on the Reds to make them desist, and felt Kennedy wasn’t being gruff enough. The words Quemoy and Matsu resonate with those of us who worried about yet ANOTHER nuclear war possibility as kids. Now, they remain little nearby bumps on the horizon, as seen from a beach full of Sunday holiday goers. No more specter of A-bombs dropping from B-47s. Just people getting sand in their sneakers as they walk across the sunsetting plages. I think I prefer the sand as sand, as opposed to heat – altered glass.

Quemoy and Matsu, 4 miles off in the distance
Meanwhile, I have arrived tonight in Beijing where I happily traded in the fancy banquet circuit for a simple $18/for two Szechaun meal with beer, something much closer to Mark’s in Falls Church VA where dim sum rules and the Peking Duck isn’t that bad, either. I know I should like all those things from the darkest bottom of the ocean, and from caves you need galoshes to tromp around in. The chewy ones you could use as roller bearings in a DeSoto transmission. Three thousand years of culinary mastery sometimes ends up expressing itself in ways that social mores encourage but for which the actual engagement of tastebuds is truncated. Me? I’ll vote for the sizzling platter of recognizable meat with vaguely familiar sauce any time. We’re just sayin’….David

P.S. if you happen to be in Europe or the South Pacific, you may notice that I had the cover of the local editions of TIME this week. Still rare enough that I get to mention it: Music in Cuba! Great piece by Nate Thornburgh.. have a gaze (or see it online at )And as always, click on a picture to see full screen.

Friday, November 28, 2008

No Need to Be Lonely

The idea of celebrating the holidays when it's convenient and without stress remains terrific. However, there is one problem. Everyone you know is celebrating and gone and you have to struggle to find something to do. Well, not exactly struggle – because you are unstressed and able to watch everyone else rushing around trying to have fun, if they didn't go somewhere else. This is such a circuitous predicament, but Jordan and I solved it by finding a way to have an enjoyable day – without cooking and visiting with family and friends – who may very well be somewhere else. (Here we go again).

Moving on... We were sitting around the apartment—David on his way to China – and we thought we would look in the Zagats guide for a place to have lunch. Unless they were Asian, most were closed. Finally, we found a wonderful place that was open. The York Grill, where I had been before but to which Jordan was a stranger, was open and happy to have us. But not at a table. They were totally booked but said we would be able to sit at the bar. The food was the same and there was no discount on the price, but it was pretty empty and they were happy to accommodate at whatever time we appeared.

About 1:00 we rolled out of bed and headed uptown. The weather was great and the walk from Lex to York was really pleasant. For many people sitting at a bar for a meal is not what they would choose. That is not the case with me. I love to sit at the bar anywhere that isn’t a dive. For example, one of my favorite things to do is go alone to the Reservoir Tavern, in Boonton, New Jersey. When you sit at the bar for dinner, you are never alone for long. People make conversation about many different things and if you can’t find commonality in topic, there’s usually a game on TV—does it matter what kind. I don’t think so.

The difference between most of my bar dinners and yesterday’s lunch, was that Jordan was with me. I am happy to report that she loved it as well. Just FYI, Jordan is a certified bartender and mixologist. Additionally, she is no stranger to the joys of making friends. In fact, from the time she was a little girl she thought it was her job to make friends with everyone we encountered anywhere. Yesterday was no exception. The bartender, Gerry, was delighted to share his holiday with us. He made the most glorious martini and was happy that we appreciated his talents. Charlie, the owner tried to find us a table, was impressed that we didn’t care, and kept coming back throughout the meal, just to chat.

The menu was prixe fix -- $44 without booze – not bad for appetizer, entree and dessert. We enjoyed our stay so much that in addition to the tip we bought him a drink – for later, which he thought was a fabulous gesture.

When we left, after three hours of gorging, we considered going to a show or a movie but decided we were too tipsy to sit through any venue where there was actual entertainment. We walked for a while and then caught a dreaded 2nd Avenue bus to 54th Street. We were a bit giddy with holiday cheer and made it up the three flights and directly into bed. I think we awoke a few times to watch a free movie, but we actually didn’t get out of bed until this morning when we joined friends for a lovely brunch.

All in all, our Thanksgiving continues to be memorable and without incident. And now we have to figure out what to do about moving Christmas Eve. We’re just sayin...

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

You Can't Have It Both Ways

Let’s be honest, (maybe a radical change for some of us), you can’t have it both ways. This is a reference to the ongoing conversation about the new Obama political appointments.

Here’s the dichotomy: Although this may turn out to be a somewhat bipartisan Administration, the reality is that the new President wants to appoint a significant number of talented and experienced Democrats. In order to do this he has to look at people who know how to operate in government. The cry of “Too many former Clinton people,” when combined with the call for “Experienced people”, is somewhat schizophrenic. Of course there are going to be people who worked for Clinton ,and a number of the Clinton people also worked for Carter. They could have worked for Kennedy but if they did, they are probably dead. So it would be hard to get them confirmed.

This is not a time for novices running Departments or Agencies. In order to get anything done the people in charge will have to understand how the system works and what to do in order to move things ahead. While the Civil Servants ordinarily want to maintain the status quo, that is not the case at this point in history. They know that in order for things to change for the better, they will have to help rather than hinder the new people in charge. And let’s not make any mistakes about this, Civil Servants know how to stop progress but in the end, they are public servants, many of who could have opted for much higher paying positions in the private sector but they chose to serve their country. The last eight years have not been easy for them They have been witness to catastrophic mistakes (like the disasters at FEMA) but were powerless to do anything about them -- short of resignation. And even Colin Powell, who might have made an important statement with his resignation when they lied to him, chose to remain the good soldier. After all, a job is a job and having health care is no joke.

Back to the new appointments. Rahm Emanuel worked at the White House as a Special Assistant to President Clinton. He knows what works. In a previous blob I talked about how I thought it was a brilliant appointment because, even though I was never crazy about his interpersonal skills, it does send a message to the Hill that they won’t be able to screw around with this President. That is very important. If the Congress thinks they can get away with anything they will try to do it—if they know they can’t they will do what they can to march in line. As witnessed by the standing ovation Senator Stevens received, there is no slime too sticky for the Senate to applaud. And regardless of the chatter, the Republicans will try to make trouble. They want to blame the Democrats for all the crises and they don’t care how they do it. Am I being unfair? Well it’s a game of wait and see. But, when I see television ads talking about the greatness of Sarah Palin, I have to wonder what these people are thinking. Just a note. My good friends who are Republicans, and yes I have many—that’s how you stay alive in Washington, are at a loss to explain any of this – and are hopeful that the party will be rebuilt in a way that makes sense – but again, it’s a wait and see.

Actually, I would like someone to explain to me why anyone would underwrite a series of ads that look to Sarah Palin as the future of the party. All you have to do is look at the her remarks and the kind of press in which she chooses to participate to realize that she has little or no judgment. You can say that she will learn about being media savvy over the next few years and that’s true. However, I’m not talking about being good on camera—which she is. I’m talking about thinking about what you do. In case you haven’t seen the latest Youtube video about pardoning the turkey, allow me to share with you.

Ok, I digress and I didn’t mean to get off the track. It’s natural for the media to complain about the new transition and specifically appointments. This one is good, that one is bad, this will help, that one won’t. If they didn’t do this they would have nothing to say and the airways would be devoid of talking head crap. Perish that idea. The bottom line is that you have to look for experienced people who will be loyal. In order to do that you have to look at people from your own Party who have served. It’s not easy to find people (good people) willing to give up lucrative careers to go back into government. (In Washington the question is framed “Are you going back in?” Like it’s a jail term). And when you do identify those people you need to remember that, if they agree, they are serving the public and deserve to be lauded rather than derided. You simply can’t have it both ways. We're just sayin'... Iris

Monday, November 24, 2008

Finally... David's Olympic (Beijing) pictures in a gallery

Sorry this took so long.. but I'm just getting the hang of this gallery thing... enjoy...

Reflections on Fotoweek DC

At the middle of last week (the 19th) I joined the wonderful documentary photographer Eugene Richards for an evening of shared pictures and comments in conjunction with Fotoweek DC, the first annual (I'm sure this will not be the last) photography festival held in recent years in Washington. The nation's capital is one place which has exhibited serious pent-up demand for such a cultural event: the first weekend alone more than 5000 people passed through the headquarters and (across the street) Contact Press Images / Contacts show, as well as some wonderful archival material from the Black Star files, going back to the 30s. On Wednesday, Gene and I spoke to an overflow crowd of nearly 300 at the Navy Memorial Auditorium on 7th St, downtown. It's heartwarming, in this age of internet/Youtube/Facebook to see that people are still interested in photography, and photojournalism/documentary in particular. Both Gene and I have made our lives all about following and reporting on what's gone on in our world in the last four decades. We had chosen different paths to do it, but essentially, we are looking to tell stories with our pictures. (a picture of us..) Gene's stories tend to be very personal, very much him placing himself in an intimate situation, and coming away with pictures which demand to be looked at. In almost every case, he is the only photographer present, and he relates on a very personal level with his subjects. Much of what I have done is the polar opposite. While I do plenty of individual projects (i.e. me alone with the subject), in large part what I do is cover the big event. The ones with photographers coming out the wazoo. Political campaigns, the Olympics, life in Washington D.C. to name a few.

Those are very different types of work, and require very different approaches. Gene described one situation where he just hung around with a family for three days, never taking his camera out, becoming, in essence, part of the woodwork, before they finally relented and invited him in. Very few photographers have the patience, energy and concentration to understand that presence is perhaps the key element. That you need to become a non-threatening part of the landscape, in order to be able to enter that landscape, and begin observing with your camera. I find Gene's work quite amazing, in that he never flinches from a tough moment, and somehow has a sense of what it will take to bring back a picture which tells the story he sees.

I was quite pleased that there wasn't a single question about technique. Nothing about f-stops or favorite lenses. In our attempt to speak frankly about how we work, I think the audience understood that it is – to paraphrase Lance Armstrong -- not about the bike. Cameras – and technique -- can help you land a picture, but they will never substitute for the raw, elemental eye of a photographer, who sees what must be seen first, and uses that camera to bring the picture back for others to share. One of my favorite expressions was thrown out years ago at some cluster-esque event. Just take a camera, one lens, and be ready, and if need be, “zoom with your feet.” That's why you have two of them. They can be amazingly handy as zooming tools. Forward, backward, left, or right. Go where the camera pulls you. That IS the place to be.

I'm very glad the Fotoweek was such a success, as there are a combination of interest and talent in the DC area which is seldom given a chance to flourish. I hope that next year's event will have an even greater pull, and support from the local folks. This is the kind of Art which can really make a difference. We're just sayin'....David.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Giving Thanks Whenever

As is often the case, we celebrated a major holiday on a day that was not actually the holiday. This started a few years ago when Jordan wasn’t going to be available for the day of whatever celebration—I think it may have been Hannukah. Hannukah has always been a time we loved to party, but without Jordan making the latkes (traditional potato pancakes) for just us, it seemed a waste of time. I think we celebrated Hannukah sometime during the Christmas break. The year before we changed the day of celebration, we started a tradition of doing a Karaoke Hannukah. We had the karaoke machine but I’m all for participatory karaoke, and thank God for Oriental Trading, where you can purchase massive amounts of anything (in this case, woodwind instruments) for mere pennies.

Jeff with Cooper (Cooper is the one with four legs)
This kind of buying, or supporting the Chinese economy may be questionable, but whose fault is that? And it is, after all, Hannukah. The selection for musical instruments was surprisingly vast, but when I assigned the items to the invitees it became much easier. In other words, I assumed that no one who had been invited, (despite their theater training) was fluent in any actual music producing instrument, and I wasn’t going to drag the piano from the sunporch into the kitchen (our stage for any event -- you have to see it to understand why).

Anyway, I bought lots of percussion, a few flutes, some whistle-like things, and of course, tambourines. In this way the audience could accompany the singer and if necessary, drown them out. The kids were as happy about the possibility of entertaining as they were about the food—but most are theater kids and they always want to do a show. They did want to take their instruments home but I explained that because we were establishing a tradition, they would have to leave them at the door. But they would see them again at the next event—no matter the date.

Last year we had two Hannukahs. One in November in DC for those friends and one in January for our NY friends. Of course, I was not going to schlep the basket of musical items to NY, but I replaced them with something almost as entertaining. They were sing-along poppers. You know the kind they have in England, that never actually pop, but which include a neatly folded paper crown for every person, as well as some cheap gift items. They are the English version of a piƱata. The difference between these and the ordinary popper was that each, in the box of twelve, gave the participant a different part to sing in any one of ten silly songs. Kind of like “Row, Row, Row, your Boat”, but you didn’t sing at the same time. Hard to explain but much fun to do. I have looked in every store where I might possibly have found them—so we would have a NY stash for the upcoming Hannukah, (whenever that works out) but I can’t find them anywhere.

This year we started a new tradition. To have Thanksgiving before Thanksgiving. We decided that it was simply too difficult to travel the week of Thanksgiving and additionally too frenetic to shop or deal with the crowds. Equally important was that David was not going to be around and my mother didn’t care about the day as long as we were all together. Jordan and I traveled to Seattle last Tuesday and David met us out here on Thursday.

Mom scopes out some pictures
Mom isn’t actually in Seattle, she is on Bainbridge Island—a mere 30 minute ferry ride away. The Northwest is beautiful and you can actually see that when it’s not raining—which is not as often as I would like. Els and I shopped for most of what we needed on Friday.

Turkey, stuffing, French cut greenbeans to use beneath the true delicacy-- french fried onion rings, squash, potatoes (mixed with buttermilk and butter instead of cream), vegetables for the stuffing, lots of butter and broth and juice for the gravy – and wine.

Oh, and we absolutely had to have a gingerbread house for Jordan and Devin to build. It turned out this one was pretty much built before they did anything to it, and the candy was a bit sparse, but they were both so consumed with “Twilight” the new book for kids about vampires (little kids, so there’s no gore or sex), that they didn’t care about construction complications—or the lack of M&M’s. It didn’t matter, it was cute enough to use as a centerpiece and Mom thought it was gorgeous.

David’s cousins, Ernie, Diana and Nora came from Seattle and joined us for the festivities. It was delightful and without stress. I think this idea, about celebrating holidays when it’s convenient rather than everyone else does,

the cousins, Jordan, Devin, Nora
can help with a few things, not the least of which are those dreaded traffic jams. What it also does is to make you realize that the holiday is important and should be celebrated whenever you can do it with the people you love. We’re just sayin…..Iris

Jordan tries her self out as a blonde (Devin supplying the blondes)