Thursday, July 31, 2008

Where DID I Put It?

Editors Note: (that's the Preogative you have when you are the Editor) This is the 500th entry of We're Just Sayin' and we hope to have a few thousand more to go.

My beloved needs to eat more blueberries. This perfectly plump, round, moist, sweet little taste of fruit heaven, is supposed to have a positive effect on memory. I have been eating tons of them everyday in hopes that the episodes of things like, ‘I’m on my phone shouting about the fact that I can’t find my phone,’ will seriously diminish. Or the frequency of the times when I’m holding my car keys and racing around the house looking for my car keys, will become fewer. My pal Soozie says everyday our lives begin with a treasure hunt. That’s certainly is true in our house.

A few years before one of my favorite uncles died, he got lost finding his way to his house. We found him not far away sitting in a parking lot in tears. It was the last time he drove, but it was also the first time I had ever seen him frightened. He was an artist and a flyer and had been under enemy fire in WWII, so seeing him devastated by a trip to the grocery was beyond horrible. But now it happens to me. It’s not that I get lost, it’s just that I can’t remember the best route to get somewhere, so I find myself driving in the wrong direction.

When you are young you have so little to remember that your memory appears infallible. You can remember names and dates and even where you put some treasured or essential item... like a recipe or the keys to your house. But as you get older your mind fills up with crap and before you know it, you don’t remember your spouse’s date of birth. And it’s not only that your mind fills with poop. We are now forced to remember hundreds of words and numbers so that our lives remain secure—passwords and log-ins and God knows how many bank passcodes and account numbers. Here’s an embarrassing example. My friend Kerry and I have a joint checking/debit account we use for entertainment—dining out, shows, movies, etc. It prevents us from having to do that “divide up the check” thing. We just use our ‘card.’ A few weeks ago I thought I better check to see how much money we had left in the account. (We have been having a great time spending). I couldn’t remember our password or ID. I called Kerry to see if she remembered. No luck. Neither of us had any idea about the names or codes we (to be honest I) had selected. So I had to go to my branch and find out—yes it was mortifying and yes, I did finally write and put them in a safe place, but I’ll be darned if I remember where that is.

Anyway, that is the reason Barack Obama should be the President. Was that a stupid transition or what? OK I’ll try again. There are now a generation of people who understand all the technical information some of us deign to forget. They thrive on it. John McCain lives in a world where other people remember or do stuff for him, a world where fighting a war rather than negotiating a peace makes sense, where bread costs a $1 a loaf and milk will always be $2 a gallon. Where Hummers are normal and desirable transportation (whether or not you need to go off road), so drill more rather than look for alternatives for oil , and the military knows what’s good for the country. Obama is one of those people who gets the change in technology and the way we will have to live in the future. It’s why everybody’s kids love him. They don’t see his race, age, or lack of experience as a negative – they get him and his rhetoric about what their lives might be. That’s the transition, now we can go back to that’s why Obama should be the President. It’s all about looking at the world in a different way. It’s like when someone asks you how to describe where you live. You can say the street, the town, the country, the world, or the earth. It’s just a different way to think about who you are and from where you come.

We all need to move past the 50’s 60’s or even 90’s thinking about the possibilities in life. Who would have imagined –even 10 years ago—a “Bluetooth” or an “iPhone”? Ten years ago we were carrying cell phones that were bigger than our TV’s – well maybe not HDTV’s... but who would have considered those? Or the “iPod” or a “Blackberry” Or the Facebook, MySpace. Nor would we ever have conceived of how annoying they can be. Who would ever have conceived of all the stuff we now have available? Other than the inventors or the geeks. There is a generation of older people that can learn to use these incredible tools, but they don’t really understand the impact. They think about the limits rather than what can be limitless. (Thankfully we’re not that generation).

The technology has changed the culture—for the good and the bad. The bad news—people are not as courteous about space, and manners seem lost in an airport or on a train where everyone is having a conversation with someone for whom you don’t give a damn. Politics has become impersonal and distant – voice mails and e-mails have replaced face to face contact. But the good news is that people around the globe are connected and interdependent in unimaginable ways. The leader of our nation has to understand all this in a way that someone over 70 never will. John McCain might be a nice guy (with terrible judgment about the commercials he runs), but I bet he doesn’t remember where he puts his keys and more importantly, his mentality will always be the Cold War instead of Hot Link.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Brain? What Brain?

Aging has its moments. Wisdom just flows off your brow as if it were sweat in a steamroom. Yea, your hair may slowly grey-out a little, but in losing the color, you end up with something far more cool: Distinguishment. Distinguishability. Distingué. So, there are things which come with slowly getting to be over, oh, let's say fifty, which are notable. One thing not on the list is the increasingly apparent habit of forgetting stuff. I know that in the 10th grade I could remember the whole Periodic Table of the Elements. Even now, as then, I marvel that scientists were able to make up all that stuff, and more amazingly, prove it in experiments. Mendelevium was always one of my favorites. Named for a relatively obscure (see? am I right?) Russian physicist, and whose isotopes of varying construct have half lifes right up there with work shifts at the local deli: 5.5 hours for Md257, for example. Well, I'm not trying to wow you with bits and pieces of useless physics information, it's just that I have to say, I was able to remember that Md was 101 on the Periodic chart, and until I was 23, I could have answered that on Jeopardy. (Sadly, I didn't appear on Jeopardy till I was well into my 40s, and by then, my knowledge of the chart served me not well.)

Yet, it wasn't until the last couple of years that I have really started to feel the oddities which have plagued my well being. The worst is increasing signs of ADD. I skipped it when I was a kid, and was happily able to concentrate on things at great length. Now, however, it's another story. Just when I thought I could be in a place where everything would be orderly and arranged, I start to forget about things. I do crosswords now and then to stay sharp (they do force brain waves to emanate even if the waves have no interest), but some how things just start to lag.

This week I had one of those terrible episodes. In Cuba, the spring loaded eyepiece on my Speedgraphic Viewfinder (circa 1951, and showing no signs of aging, by the way) came loose, and I had just to keep it handy, and fix it once I got home. Cuba, besides having spotty supplies of food and electronics, is devoid of Speed Graphic repair goodies. So, I put the 'stuff' in a Hotel Nacional envelope, and put it in a safe place. There is nothing like a "safe place" when you want to be sure of finding something days later. The great thing about a "safe place" is that it's "safe." That means it will be there when you come get it. Great concept. There is only one problem associated with this theory:

Where the HELL IS the SAFE PLACE? Yep, it was so secure, so "safe" that I had absolutely NO idea where I'd put it. In the Tenba camera bag? Nope, looked there. In the purple US Marine Corps back pack? Nope, looked inside there. How about the computer laptop bag. That's an obvious one. Nope, looked there, dumped everything out, couldn't find it. That took about two hours, during which I continued packing for Beijing (I'm off to the Olympics next week. I'm competing in the Photo Triathalon: Loading film, uploading digital, unloading film. I have a good chance since almost no one else is shooting film!) But I was just beside myself with annoyance. One step below anger. Two steps shy of Rage. But annoyance has its own charm. Then it hit me: I remembered putting the stuff in a film box (a 5x120 Propack) but it wasn't there. I was getting desperate. Then in one final run through, I tried the handly little outer pocket of the purple back pack: There was the envelope. Hosanna! Hark! It's all good. And now, instead of walking around the Birds Nest stadium, guessing how far away stuff is, or straining with the loupe on the groundglass (I'm sure I'll still do plenty of that!) I can actually use the Rangefinder. It was a victory for Perseverance; for Intensity of Purpose; and for Age conquering Youth. Voila, the guilty parties. Now, where did I leave that Martini? We're just sayin'.... David

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Donnez Moi Du Ketchup....

In the mid 70s, a Franco-American pop singer named William Sheller (Wheel-yum Shae-lehrr) had a satirical song called "Rock n'Dollar" about a young pop star which started "Donnez moi, Madame, du Ketchup pour mon Hamburger..." I photographed him and his family for a couple of days for little feature story for Gamma, the French photo agency I was then working with, and remember little (in Ohio, as it happened where his mom was from )about hamburgers, and lots of discussion about who was bringing the cigarettes, which brand, and how many. But it remained a moment in my appreciation of French culture, imagining just how the French regarded the quite American concept of a Hamburger.

And you just never really know when something will spring up and remind you of a moment 35 years ago, when hamburgers cost a buck or two, and Americans made them best. These days, every now and then you run into a restaurant that does a lot of things right. Too often they almost get it right, or more precisely fumble the one thing you really hoped would be a winner. Tonight, wandering in downtown Washington after a political meeting we ended up at Central, the new bistro owned and created by the whim of Michel Richard, the amazing Frenchman who has managed to turn Washington into his own turf. He originally emigrated to California (who wouldn’t?) via Santa Fe, and started Citrus, and the west coast Citronelle. The odd thing, I find, is that instead of going to New York or San Francisco, he opted for DC. Lucky for us. Citronelle in Georgetown is absolutely madcap fun as an eatery: delicious, inventive, and if you get the table IN the kitchen, a visual treat as well, watching the staff make it all up. Someone really does lay hands on those plates (and no rubber gloves, OSHA, Please!)But did I mention really expensive? One of those places where they put a lot of $$$$ next to the listing on the Internet World Restaurant Preview Site.

In the past year he opened Central, a devilishly good cafe on Penn. Avenue and 11th street (Federal Triangle metro, for you urban romantics.) I had read of his treatment of the hamburger, and tonight faced the test. Truly, it is amazing. Iris went for the fried chicken and polenta (when it says “creamy polenta” on the menu, they are not joking), but all in all, it is a fabulous Gallic run at American comfort food. The French are generally too uptight about their food to deal in the notion of comfort, though I suppose a Chicken in the pot on Sunday might come close. But here, he has basically done what any bright emigrant to this country has done who has found success: He looks around, sees what people are doing (in this case, eating) and says “oh la la, I can do it better.” I’m not sure he actually said “oh la la” – it could have simply been “tu rigole, toi!” [are you kidding?], but 'oh, la la' seems to fit. And he surely realized that paying attention has its moments. I have to say that short of our own bbq in the back yard, seldom have I had a hamburger with intrigue and surprizes like this one. A layer of something resembling a squished super thin fried onion lays on top of the cheese (it was a fromage-burger), and gives a crackly texture, a pop in your mouth which is surprising and quite wonderful. Not to go on and on, but the fries were great, and the Bernaise sauce worthy of a lunch at the signing of the Kellogg Briand treaty of 1927. It was, simply, a perfect bistro meal. With a coupla’ beers and glasses of wine, a c-note all told. And seldom have we been that satisfied as we walked out of a place, and felt a desire to come back soon.. like, you know, breakfast tomorrow. And we didn't even have to ask for Ketchup.

If you find yourself in DC, Central Michel Richard is a great way to go. The thing is, I am always reminding myself that in France it’s quite easy to get a lousy meal. Yes, there are elements of great, and lots of good, but there remains a whole layer, like here in the states, of places which just don’t think you ‘ll ever be back, and so why worry about what they serve. In contrast, we’ve found it difficult to find a bad meal in Italy, and we still go, searching for that one bad plate of pasta. Just hasn’t happened yet. There is some mindset separating the Italians and French on this subject, but I can’t put my finger on it. Suffice to say, Central would find a very happy clientele in the 6th Arrondisment. Go check it out next time you’re downtown. We’re just sayin...David

Monday, July 28, 2008

No One Can Have It Both Ways

The latest political conversation is most confusing. It revolves around the question of Senator Obama's trip overseas, and oil. My feeling about all the rhetoric is, you can't have it both ways and, once again, perception is reality.

The McCain people need to make up their minds about exactly what they want Obama to do. First they say he doesn't know anything about Iraq, Pakistan, or Afghanistan because he hasn't ever been there. Then when he goes to these places and is well received they say, it's all a political ploy and why did he need to go there. Do they want him to be schooled in the way of the world or do they want him to just stay at home and be a long distance decider. They have released so many conflicting commercials that I'm no longer sure they know what they want. Are the same people making and buying the media for these spots-it looks like there may be two different campaigns doing the buy. The commercial I saw this morning first shows Obama with the troops having what looked like a pretty good time. But the point of the spot was that Obama spurned the wounded troops in Germany when he didn't stop by and say hello.

Additionally, the energy ads are also confusing. McCain cannot talk about the energy crisis (he doesn't suffer from it because he's a rich guy), while talking about drilling for more oil, rather than funding research and development for alternative energy resources. The ads that blame Obama for the oil crisis are ludicrous. To actually think the American people will believe that any Senator is responsible for the high cost of oil is ridiculous. While it may be true that if people want more oil they have to elect John Sidney McCain, it is only because he will allow his friends in the oil companies to make more money and continue to keep us dependent on this substance oh so foul. (What about the commodity speculators) Personally, I think they should both be talking to T. Boone Pickens, who seems to have an actual, sensible, alternative energy plan.

The Obama campaign explained that up until the time they got to Jordan, he was on a Congressional delegation so they could visit whomever.. not the Palestinians- but whomever else wanted to chat. They insist that, although the Pentagon didn't say they couldn't visit the troops, the campaign felt that (since by the time they got to Germany they were using campaign funds), it would be viewed as using the wounded vets for political purposes - is this confusing enough? Anyway, they didn't go and McCain feels terrible because Obama dissed the men and women who have served the country so well. Nevermind it was a needless war based on a lie and McCain continues to support it). We know, however, that if Obama had gone, McCain would be screaming about using those who have served the country so well, for political gain.

What I find a bit disturbing is the rhetoric of both campaigns. Obviously, I think McCain is desperately trying to get some attention and thinks he has traction here because wounded Vets not getting the attention they deserve tugs, at our hearts. If only McCain had thought about this before, there would be no wounded Vets, but that's another conversation. Clearly, there will be no agreement about whether Obama should or shouldn't have gone, but when Robert Gibbs (no longer Communication Director or Press Secretary, now Senior Campaign Strategist), says Obama would never have used the "wounded warriors for political gain," and repeats that four or five times you know he's talking from campaign script and if it is not dishonest, the repetition of script is certainly annoying.

Here's what I think is happening and they all better be careful because they are treading on the sensibilities of a frustrated and pissed off electorate. The McCain people are crafting a picture of John McCain as a "straight talking loveable down home guy who will always tell the truth." This is happening at the same time they are painting a disturbing portrait of Obama as a guy who can admit when he's wrong, and doesn't get what real people think or feel. And, in some ways the Obama people are playing right into their hands because their script is sketchy and inadequate. Two examples of this come to mind: the success of the surge, and no visit to the ‘wounded warriors" in Germany. For whatever Obama's rhetoric about the two subjects, the impression is just what McCain wants it to be. It smacks of Hillary's inability to say she was wrong when she voted for the war. It doesn't matter what the reason is ... the perception IS reality. Someone in the Obama campaign needs to write a new "change" script and modify using the "experienced" Republican tactic of repeating the old script enough times that the public finally says "OK, I believe, I believe" and just moves on to the next topic. No one can have it both ways-- no matter right or wrong. We're just sayin

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Nose Pressed Up Against the Glass

In 1976 Milton Schapp, the Governor of Pennsylvania decided to run for President. He was one of seven or eight people who made the same decision. The difference between Governor Schapp and everyone else running was that no matter how hard the Governor tried, he couldn’t get any press to cover any of his announcements – so no one knew he was running. In fact, it wasn’t until Jack Germond wrote a piece about the Governor’s inability to get anyone to acknowledge that he was a candidate, that any of the public knew there had been another hat thrown into the ring. It was pretty hysterical—not for Schapp and a staff person we called “the grape”, but for everyone else involved in any of the other campaigns—which included unknown soon-to-be luminaries like Governor Carter, Cong. Udall, Senator Bayh, and the 'Ron Paul'-like character Senator Fred Harris.

It is unfortunate to have to report that John McCain is suffering from Schapparitis. He is just one of many candidates who have anguished from the dreaded ailment, but most of the time it has gone unnamed. This is not the disease caused by having Milton in any part of your name because McCain’s middle name is Sidney—and before anyone goes on and on about my picking on Sidneys or Miltons, it was my dad’s name and I actually kept a straight face when I was required to divulge that information – which is not always the case when I find myself referring to John Sidney McCain. No, this is the political disease you get when you think you are not getting enough attention from the media. It causes you to do totally ridiculous things like make media luggage tags that decry your second place status. It may cause you to give speeches in which you make mistakes and where the information makes little or no sense. And, it has the appearance of whining, which is exceedingly unattractive in a Presidential candidate. It does puts you in the public eye but sometimes being a public which is blind is preferable. Oh, and it may cause you to make scheduling decisions that are responsive instead of proactive. Which means, in human talk—someone else is setting the agenda and you are merely responding. A very bad idea.

The consequences of this disease are far reaching, but the symptom’s identified initially give the appearance of running from venue to venue and pressing your nose, ear or any body part, against the glass—if there is one—otherwise it’s the door, or any partition and beg to be let in. It doesn’t happen and you end up wallowing in self pity and doubt. If it is not controlled with medication, (or a wise strategist – kind of an oxymoron) it can be fatal to your future.

And talk about stupid – maybe we weren’t , but this is worth mentioning. As if there aren’t enough stupid people perpetuating ugly rumors about the Democratic candidate, they had to deal with cover of the “New Yorker” -- which was neither clever nor was it funny—although they claimed brilliant satire. Since most of America merely passes the New Yorker on the stands and never looks inside, all the public sees is Obama is a Muslim and his wife is a terrorist. If they asked my pal Kat, she would rightly have told them that it is only credible satire if the next edition is a picture of McCain wearing a diaper in a wheel chair with a hearing horn and standing next to him is Cindy in a prom dress carrying a designer purse with money pouring out from all sides. But that is not what an elitist would call smart. Here’s the bottom line. Or the top line depending where you start your sentences. John McCain is a guy who (only a few months ago) was beloved by the media. They couldn’t get enough of him and the Straight Talk Express. Now, I’m afraid the only thing that would actually get the media to pay attention to his campaign would be if Obama were run over by that Straight Talking bus. And I’m sure that must have crossed the mind of more than one of the staffers – off the record. It’s unfortunate for the McCain campaign but Obama has had a brilliant overseas trip. He not only looks Presidential he sounds like a leader. He has answered and asked important questions and he has made actual policy statements like he is not about to let the Generals (who have a vested interest in war – my words not his), determine White House policy. I love when the President actually has a vision for what he wants his administration to be—and it is not about pandering to a misdirected military or a fear of being called unpatriotic because you are thoughtful rather than reactive.

So what does John McCain have to do to get back in the race? He has to stop running against an idea and stop running in favor of the past. He has to start to define who he can be and where he wants to take the country. The problem for him is that his thinking is all yesterday and the voter is looking for tomorrow. And no one wants to find a cure for a disease—they just want a vaccine to prevent it. We're just sayin'...Iris

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Preserving the Integrity

When we were kids the guy (usually male and young) at the local sweet shop (often attached to a drug store) who prepared sundaes, milkshakes, sodas and egg creams, was called a soda jerk. Although the actual derivation of the word is unclear, the job title was not in any way a negative term. It was a designation and the guy was not necessarily a jerk - his occupation was simply to make and dispense sodas. It was an occupation, not necessarily a career, because it occupied his time but he aspired to move on professionally, unless he owned the drug store.

Unfortunately, with the passage of time, drugstores have become chains that sell sodas from refrigerated cases, and Diners have servers who may or may not prepare the drinks. So there are no traditional soda jerks anymore. I hadn't thought about the disappearance of the soda jerk until a few days ago. By way of explanation, I am involved in a not very important controversy with the employees (they call themselves "baristas") of a small coffee shop (Murky Coffee) in Virginia. The baristas (defined by the dictionary as a person who works in a coffee shop), seem to have the time, not only to make a latte, but to respond to anything said about them on the internet. Anyway, their response got me to thinking that in this case it would probably be more fitting to refer to the Murky employees as "coffee jerks" - and I mean that in the nicest possible way - because they have replaced the soda jerk in pop culture. Admittedly, one reason I prefer the term jerk, is that it's too hard to say barista with a straight face if you are not in Italy - where they make a perfect cup of coffee that you can have any way you want. But back to the controversy - explained using the soda jerk analogy. Back in the era of soda jerks, I sometimes liked to have chocolate sprinkles in my otherwise purely vanilla milkshake. There was never a time when the soda jerk refused to make it the way I liked it, nor did they ever say "I have to preserve the integrity of the ice cream, so I cannot mix any sprinkles in your drink." (And it was home made, very fine ice cream.) A few weeks ago, when I was in Murky Coffee, I asked for an iced espresso, and was told that they would not make any espresso drinks with ice because they needed to "preserve the integrity" of the coffee.

Yesterday I blogged about this in response to another blogger, who had a similar experience. Well the "coffee jerks" got all in a twitter and because I had said it was a pretentious policy, they decided to respond in kind and called me pretentious for saying that they needed to get a ‘real job' - which was wrong of me. They have a job -- what they need is to get some really good sense and use good judgment rather than simply go along with a policy that denies a customer the right to have what they want. Anyway, now that we cleared that up and we're all friends, I thought I would share the definition of pretentious. It is: 'making claim to or creating an appearance of (often undeserved) importance or distinction.'

I make no such claims, so I want them to be able to call me names, but to use that particular word properly in a sentence. That is all I am ever going to say about a place that makes up rules instead of giving a customer what they want. But it is not all I'm going to say about rules or integrity.

I have never been good at following the rules - especially when they make no sense, or are imposed arbitrarily because it is a way to make one person more important than another. In political campaigns or situations these are the people who say "no" to every creative possibility, because it is the only way they have any power. Think about it. If they say yes, you just go on your way and don't ever have to think about them again. But if they say "no you can't," you have to spend a great deal of time figuring out how to convince them otherwise - or circumventing a stupid decision. I can't help but think that part of the "no espresso over ice" is a way to make someone who makes the rules more important than someone who pays for and drinks the consequences. The rule is stupid but using the phrase "preserving the integrity" borders on the absurd. Forget borders, it is absurd.

Take, for example the box of red licorice we saw at a coffee shop yesterday. The candy was housed in a plastic container and was cut into many small pieces. I love my red licorice in sticks, or long strings and I thought the cutting up diminished the importance of the eating experience, but I never once thought, they need to preserve the integrity of that red licorice by making a rule that it not be sold in little pieces. (Actually, as you can see I did think it, but only to use as an example in the blog). And when we passed a group of women who were selling baked goods from a sidewalk stand to raise money for the Obama campaign, I didn't once mention the integrity of the action.
I did think, however, isn't it great that they were preserving (keeping alive), the old ways of raising campaign funds. For me, (as a wonderful communication professor used to remind us, meanings are in people not in words), integrity is not about something as unimportant as a drink or even as remarkable as raising money selling cakes and cookies. Let's once again try to look at a definition that makes sense in the "coffee context".

Too hard? You're right. It just doesn't work. Integrity can mean, keeping something in tact like the hull of a ship - but if that were the case with coffee, you wouldn't grind the bean. In my pal the dictionary, it is most often used as follows: "the adherence to moral and ethical principles; soundness of moral character; honesty." Of late, you have heard it used with regard to the Presidency, Candidate behavior, the issue of torturing a prisoner, and the people responsible for high gas prices. And that's how it should be used. Integrity is a word like trust, loyal, and honest. All are much too important to minimize the definition by using it as a noun to talk about a bean. Integrity is a way we want other people to think about who we are as people. It is much bigger than a cup of coffee, a piece of licorice, or a malted milk-but any jerk would clearly understand that.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Coffee Schmoffee

A couple of weeks ago David and I were out and about in Arlington and decided to get an iced coffee. Although I am not a big Starbucks fan I do enjoy a decaf iced tripio in a venti cup. One of the reasons I’m not a big Starbucks fan is precisely because the drinks are made up names that sound Italian but have nothing to do with the coffee or size of the coffee you get in Italy – where even the instant decaf is great. Anyway, David suggested we try this place he likes called Murky Coffee. Just as an introduction, and so I present an accurate and unbiased picture, the definition of murky is 1. Dark and gloomy 2. Unclear and difficult to understand and 3. Involving dishonesty or illegal activities.

I had only been to Murky once, and I didn’t like the “coffee scene” in the place. It seemed to me, there were too many entitled computer geeks. Every little coffee place in Arlington seems to have a particular clientele (like the Starbucks in Chesterbrook is a daycamp for bored housewives with children while the Starbucks at Bailey’s Crossroads in a hangout for Chain smoking displaced Iranian discontents.) However, since David really likes it—he is a computer geek but certainly not entitled – I agreed to give it another try. Did I mention I adore three shots of decaf espresso over ice with cream and a Splenda. If I didn’t, I do.

I looked around and I saw a small sign that said something that included, “we don’t do iced espresso drinks”. “Surely they must be kidding”, I said to David. And when I ordered my iced espresso they way I like it, the barista (what a laugh), explained that “it was the store's policy to preserve the integrity of the coffee." And they wouldn’t make it for me. “But that’s what I want” I said, thinking that if you liked a coffee in a particular way, they would respect the customer’s desires, and make it for me. I was absolutely wrong and he refused to put any ice in my espresso. I guess I could have ordered a cup of ice and espresso on the side, but it was so totally ridiculous and pretentious that I refused to support this asinine “policy” and I insisted we leave.

Apparently, the subject of iced espresso at Murky Coffee (remember the definition), has become an issue beyond the Burnetts. In fact, there was a Washington Post story about another recent confrontation. A guy named Simmermon blogged (, about the Murky refusal to make him an iced espresso and he did order a cup of ice and espresso. When he poured the coffee over the ice the barista (again a bad joke) told him, "Hey man, What you're about to do ... that's really, really not okay” and reminded him it was the store's policy to "preserve the integrity of the coffee.” What a bunch of crap. I can think of a great many things about which we want to preserve the integrity, (the vote, the constitution, maybe hair products) but coffee—it is right up there on the list of beyond idiotic pretentions. However, it is Arlington, Va,-- one of the nation’s capital of pretentions, so it is foolish but not unexpected.

But wait, that is not the end and as if the preparation of an iced coffee was not stupid enough, the Murky proprietor has other pretentions like, "No modifications to the Classic Cappuccino. No questions will be answered about the $5 Hot Chocolate (during the months we offer it). No espresso in a to-go cup. No espresso over ice. These are our policies. We have our reasons, and we're happy to share them."

Who cares what their policies are. It is a service business, It is a “facockta” (Yiddish and it is what it sounds like), coffee business. It is not in Seattle and it is not in Rome. Cleanliness should be important. Enough tables should be important. No baby carriages in the aisles should be critical. But ice in an espresso – “facockta” doesn’t begin...

And in conclusion with regard to preserving integrity—these people need to get a life. They need to get a real job in a real world where there are real policies and real issues. They need to go out of business and preserve the integrity of good sense. We’re just sayin…Iris

Friday, July 18, 2008

Hillary Unpoofed

Unlike people in DC, people in NY do not take their umbrellas seriously. This means that when it starts to rain in NY, people are not able to whip out an ever present, probably tidy umbrella. People In DC are used to an afternoon thunderstorm, but in NY nothing is that predictable. Well, maybe that's only somewhat true. What is predictable is that people in NY are often caught without protection from a downpour. But, it is NY, where you never have to walk more than one block to buy anything you need-food, clothing, medication or a two dollar (three if you are feeling rich), umbrella. Oh, and the other thing that is predictable is that, whether you spend $2 or $3, the umbrella will break - probably within two uses. Additionally, if you stop a New Yorker, who is attempting not to drown, and inquire how many of these inadequate umbrellas they own, the number is usually above four. And they have no shame about making it five.

When I am walking along in the drizzle and I lift my head to see what's coming at me, one of my favorite rain sights, is what looks like a scene from Mary Poppins on drugs. I am surrounded by a sea of black material hanging askew from metal curved sticks. Yes, they are what were umbrellas, but they are tattered, almost unrecognizable, and there is hardly enough material to cover a small head, yet alone enough to keep an entire body dry. So as you can imagine, people who are actually carrying these things, look a bit washed out. Which reminds me of the last time I saw Hillary on TV. It was an event she did with Barack, and she was totally unpoofed.

You remember that during the campaign she was all about terrific painfully colorful pantsuits with the high collars, and her hair and make-up done to perfection. Well, I guess now that she is only going to be a Senator, she has decided to relax the look along with the hair. I can't help but wonder if it's really resignation to her loss, or if she is so devastated by the humiliating rejection, that she simply doesn't want to deal with any ‘look'.

I remember when I suffered my first real Presidential loss. Although I had worked for McGovern and he lost - he didn't do it in Massachusetts. For whatever reason, and it might have been denial or the fact that I was having a baby, I was upset but not rocked to the core. My first heartbreaking loss was when Mo Udall lost to Jimmy Carter. I traveled with the campaign as Candidate staff (I was Mrs. Udall aka Tiger's) staff person, so it was a most personal loss. We were all in shock. Mo kept saying things like, " that little son of a bitch beat me?" "Yes, Mo, apparently he did", was all we could say. But it wasn't easy because rejection of that magnitude (national) just can't be comprehended - and, unlike Hillary, Udall never expected to win.

It's interesting, because if you look at the other men who ran (Republican or Democrat) it is obvious that they recover from these things much easier than a woman. "Oh well" they say, "I spent millions of someone else's money, and it's clear that I can't go all the way, so I might as well pack it in and get lunch." It's not unlike when a man has a business that fails. Chances are good that he will pick himself up, say the same "oh well", and start another business. It's just business. He won't hesitate to ask for loans or additional support from financial institutions. But when a woman has a business that fails, she thinks, "where did I go wrong?” "What did I do to screw it up?” It becomes all about her failure and the embarrassment of the failure.

So you can only imagine how Hillary, having made numerous bad campaign decisions and having blown what was an expected national victory, feels about her own inadequacies and Obama's victory. And worse than anything, in New Hampshire, when she had a chance to reorganize and do something about the excess of her campaign spending, the stupidity and shortsightedness of her campaign staff, she did nothing. She said she found her voice, but she never found enough of a voice or the courage to say to the overpaid bloviators, "You are not serving me well and in the words of Donald Trump (who always picks himself up,) You're Fired."

When I watched her speaking to the crowd, having just been close to dissed by Obama's forgetting to mention her debt, my heart did go out to her. After many years of working with her and admiring so many of her wonderful qualities I did just want to give her a hug. I can no longer get that close to her, but I sure wish one of the people who can, would. We're just sayin'... Iris

Some S'plainin' to Do

Havana, (don’t you love the idea of a Dateline?)

I’m not quite sure what struck me most about having finally made it to Havana this past week. For reasons that only Senator No (the late Jesse Helms for those of you who don’t remember his repetitious and insistent use of the word “No”) can tell you, the U.S. still treats Cuba like it is the one pariah, the one leperous country left in the field of nations which isn’t worthy of our respect, attention, and money or at the very least, Travel status. It is a totally baffling assumption. It’s as if anyone who has visited here for more than an hour could tell you, the American Blockade (el Bloqueo) is the stupidest thing the US Government has mandated since the ____ (fill in the blank -- since the possible answers are numerous and far too obvious… though you can start with the Iraq war, Katrina relief, oh, and throw in the Grenada invasion of ’83… that was a goodie.) It does little more than give the Cuban government a handy excuse when things get tougher for the justplain folk. The point is, and I’m frankly sorry that Senator Helms isn’t around to understand what he really could have done to depose his personal nemesis -- the longest running dictator in modern history (right?)

He apparently wasn’t paying attention in the late 80s when the flood of fax machines into China (before they started making everything) let the Beijing Spring Freedom offensive of 1988-89 get off the ground. Hitherto, there was no way the dissident forces could be in touch with each other. Once fax machines appeared, and in grand number, the game was on. Yes, it ended badly that Spring, with the TienAnMin square quashing of the Freedom kids, the young man standing valiantly in front of the tank… don’t we all remember that weekend? But Cuba, which would unquestionably find itself in a different place, has been denied the imprimatur which the Chinese had twenty years ago. And what happened? The Chinese knocked down the Liberty statue, arrested tons of people, and within a few years were making Billions-with-a-B of dollars manufacturing everything that Walmart and Target wanted to sell. We didn’t just embrace them, we signed over the whole damn country to the Chinese financial wizards who figured out that owning dollars, at least in the 90s, wasn’t such a lousy place to be for a country which was, itself, just starting to industrialize. The Cubans, let’s face it, need just a couple of things to be competitive: the end of the blockage, and the resultant influx of cheap high tech goodies. There would be cell fones, laptops, fax machines, and above all, no more excuses. And no doubt given the Cubans ingenuity (these are the folks who figured out how to get HBO using a metal pie tin) the status of the old regime would be measured in weeks and months, not the decades that we have waited for Fidel to choke on a pretzel during a soccer game. Nothing succeeds like internal change: when you try and force it from the outside, even the most anti-regime people will think they are being taken for a ride by the fer’ners (and they would be right. Just ask the 1953 Iranians). Yet, if they get there themselves, it’s a different ballgame. And I guarantee you, that if we somehow flew the Key West/ Costco Air Force over Cuba, dropped two million laptops with software installed in Spanish (I know I shouldn’t have to say this, but you know the guys at DELL would forget that part) their world would change in a heartbeat. And all the Jesse Helms and Lincoln (named for the car?) Diaz-Bellard’s of this world, living or dead, would just have to suck it up, and realize that the only way for the change to happen that they proclaim they want, is for it to come from within.

The Cubans, denied all kinds of goodies for decades, have persevered nonetheless. No question you would have riots in Rye, Ogden, and Sausalito if you limited Americans to what the Cubans have had to live with. We would be pissed, figuring that our due was denied us (and we’d be right). For them, it’s been a slow roll out of a very rich/poor country into a place where the average Cuban, from whom no information is withheld since they LIVE that life and know it first hand, knows that something good MIGHT just be around the corner. What they absolutely are not waiting for is to be ‘rescued’ by the Calle Ocho crowd, the long departed families with money in Miami and Tampa, who think, mistakenly, that they will return, take back their family homes and businesses, and return Cuba to the ‘good old days.’

It would be instructive to look at East Germany: for all the legion faults of the old bad days (yes, the Commies really did run a crummy ship), there was, nonetheless, a certain self-reliance which the Easties created for themselves – by necessity. And when the wall came down, the last thing any of them wanted was to be procured by a Mercedes driving Westie from Frankfurt or Hamburg, arriving to buy a town with a trunk full of hard currency D-Marks. There is an element of pride, of having suffered plenty for fifty years, which would, I’m convinced, prevent the wholesale retaking of Cuba by the exiles. Yet, there just might be a way to let families get back together, and for the people of the island to finally breakout of the self-imposed strangle hold of their bitter economy. The sense of personal pride, and the way they embrace their culture beyond politics is something to behold. Go to a musical event – a jazz club, an open air salsa jam, or even just recorded music at a street festival. No one is standing still. There is feeling, energy and passion in those amazing movements. Hips gyrate (Editor’s note: My hips, despite exposure to Cuban music, have yet to show a single gyration), arms move in that locomotive-like cycle, and people churn their bodies to the music. They dance not to impress anyone, but because they can’t not dance. Their souls demand it of them. Stripped of so many of life’s comforts by a system which has fallen short, there is a tingly excitement which the music provides. They dance for themselves.

When you drive through the city it is impossible not to see the bill-boards which are provided to keep the faith with the population. Exhortations to remain true to the Revolucion…. 50 years later..are everywhere, reminding one that real revolution is staying true to the principles. I guess it might be easier to remain true in spirit with a full belly, and a few more of those missing creature comforts. (And no question, the encouragement to lead a constructive and positive life would mean more if the government didn’t have it’s own sticky issues with internal dissent). But Cubans are a resilient, tough people, with a very passionate side. No question that life as Martyr can become tedious and boring after decades of difficulty. But somewhere inside that amazing psyche is a torch ready to burn, not for the faux happiness of the American materialist model, but maybe something in between: which gets a little more food on the table, a few new tires for the car, truck loads of paint and cement to restore the amazing architecture, and at the same time keeps that wonderful flame of hope and selflessness burning. It wouldn’t’ be so bad to have a neighbor who we could pretend to have as friends, and get over those two generations of alienation. Aren’t we all ready for that? Senator No, I think you got some ‘splainin’ to do. We’re just sayin…..David

Sunday, July 13, 2008

My Republican Pal

My pal Heidi Berenson (one of the premier media trainers, and she actually knows what she’s doing-unlike so many PR people who are good at pretending), called me to ask if I would do some voice training for a friend of hers. I was full time professor of communications at American University, but I loved to do hands on voice and articulation sessions on the side. “He’s a Republican”, she said. ” But he’s a great guy, brilliant but you should know, he works at the Washington Times” . Brilliant, I thought and he works and the Moonie paper. This is truly an oxymoron. However, I wanted to keep active in all my expertise (how’s that for a good reason to make some money - academia is not the place to get rich), so I asked what his voice problems were and I agreed to talk to him.

He called the next day. On the phone he sounded like he had a very tight throat and his pitch was a little high but surprisingly, he also sounded like a reasonable guy and he was incredibly personable and funny. Certainly not the kind of character you think about when you picture someone working for Reverend Moon. “What is it that you hope to accomplish”, I asked in the initial conversation. “I don’t like the way I sound”. He said. He also told me that he wanted to make that giant leap into electronic media. He, like me, probably wanted to make some money-which, as I said, you don’t do in academia or the newspaper business. He also mentioned in the nicest possible way, that he had once been a liberal or maybe a Marxist, and there was a time he had sported a pony tail, but he got a haircut and unlike Samson he got over it. We both laughed and I agreed to travel all the way to NE Washington to his office at the Times.

The next day I wandered through the Times newsroom and after a number of wrong turns, I found my way to the executive offices. Maybe I seemed a bit nervous, because the secretary asked me to sit down and assured me that no one would do any proselytizing before or after my meetings with the Editor. After about five minutes, the inner office door opened and out popped a remarkably tall, stunning, smiling, 40ish, clearly not a Moonie, seemingly charming guy. He grabbed my hand with one hand and gently grasped my arm with the other. “Heidi said you’re great, so I don’t want you to escape. Let’s go talk.”

It was my first of many meetings with Tony Snow, musician, speechwriter, White House Press Secretary and so much more. We worked on his voice for about six or eight months. Every meeting was a joy. “At one point I confessed that he was so cute– no one would notice how he sounded. But he still wanted to improve. He learned to hear the way his voice sounded, and never tired of the way I sounded when I harangued him about any mistakes. And he practiced all the exercises I gave him — there was progress every week. He confessed that he never liked his voice and even if he never got into TV (which he felt was unlikely-talk about determined), he really wanted to feel confident about the way he sounded. During the sessions we did vocal exercises that were loud and even silly. He was neither shy nor self conscious. He seemed to have fun with it and I had fun as well. Eventually, we talked politics and issues - couched as voice improvement 101, but we never had an angry or even confrontational encounter. And we got to be friends. In fact, when he went to the first Bush White House to write speeches he called and asked if I would do some voice and speech work with the President. He said something like, “this is not about politics — your country needs you.” I declined but I did agree to listen to some of the President’s speeches so I could tell Tony how to write for his voice pattern-not what, how. For example, I noticed that when Bush took a breath he lost his place in the speech text and wandered into areas that were probably not on the paper. “Write short sentences” I suggested… and he did and swore he would never tell anyone that I had helped him.

The lessons stopped but we remained friends. Every once in a while, I would listen to him on the TV or radio and call to say “you need a tune up pal” and remind him to open his throat or do his relaxation exercises– not easy when you’re in a high powered stressful job. We would talk about a range of issues, but he was so smart, it was hard to argue and win. Neither of us liked losing, so we agreed to disagree about those things upon which we knew we would never agree. There were times when he would meet an impressive young Democrat who needed a job or to make connections, and he would call me. And I reciprocated by introducing him to some of my remarkable young Republican students. He was always willing to help a young person find their way in the maze of Washington politics or media. He was always gracious and generous - no matter his personal success.

Tony Snow died yesterday after a multi-year year battle with colon cancer. He had such an indomitable spirit that I think-we all thought, he would beat it. There was no one-media or political or anyone who ever met him, who didn’t at least like him. You simply couldn’t help it. He was a patriot and a prince of a guy. There will always be a special place in my heart for my wonderful Republican pal. I am so very blessed to have known him and I, along with thousands of friends and acquaintances will miss him. I am so teary and saddened by this enormous loss. We're just sayin...

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Letting Go

This week has been very difficult because letting go of anything has always been an issue for me. I’m not at the point where I would prefer to watch a pet goldfish float on the top of the fish bowl, rather than flush it away, but I never understood the concept of ‘just’ moving on. I remain friends with nursery school playmates. I have clothing that I inherited from my Aunt’s thirty years ago. And without realizing it, I have a deep attachment for the house where my Mom lived for 55 years. I’ll come back to that.

Today I went to a memorial service for my dear friend Stewart Mott. It was at St. John the Divine, an amazing and massive Cathedral on the upper west side of NY. The kind of Cathedral you see in movies when the stars are chatting about the magnificence of religion and spirituality. Before we went into the sanctuary we were asked to put on an AIDS type orange ribbon (Stewart’s favorite color). On the ribbon it said, “Let us be known by our deeds.” It was one of Stewart’s favorite sayings. He was a most complicated personality. His drinking caused the break-up of his marriage, he smoked too much dope, was reviled by Richard Nixon (a pretty good recommendation for his character in my book), supported numerous liberal causes and candidates—most of whom lost elections, and was unfortunately, estranged from his son until right before he died. He was charming, adorable, a wonderfully supportive friend and a generous philanthropist. Given the amount of money and energy he spent trying to make the world a better place, it’s easy to understand why he wanted to be known by his deeds.

As we listened to the eulogies resonating in the massive Cathedral, I not only listened to what was being said by the speakers, some of whom, talked too long and talked about themselves rather than Stewart. I also thought about how I wanted my life to be measured. So I did a mental check of my resume—it’s the only way I can remember what I’ve done. And in my mind’s eye, (how can a mind have an eye), I see a list of accomplishments—as opposed to tasks performed. Included are teaching and mentoring young people, helping women to find opportunity, and finding ways to increase understanding among people who have differences—religion, color, gender, culture and on and on. I’ve written books and produced documentaries but the accomplishment is not in the writing or producing—it is in making people laugh. The ability to make people laugh is really something special... even if I must say so myself, and you know I must.

Anyway, I’m listening and reflecting (luckily I’m ADD so I can do more than one thing at a time), and the final speaker got up to the podium. His eulogy was a memo he wrote to Stewart about the arrangements Stewart wanted when he died. Among a number of items on the list he wanted to be cremated wearing a Flint, Michigan volunteer fire department hat. He also wanted a specific marching band and fluorescent orange vests from the Cabela catalogue, for all the mourners. Unfortunately, there wasn’t time to produce them so I didn’t come home with any hunting paraphernalia. Oh yes, and for everyone who came to any service celebrating his life to make a donation to Barack Obama. There were other equally unusual requests but the point was that Stewart thought about how he wanted his life celebrated and the requests were not only colorful but provided real insight into the way he saw himself and his legacy.

Needless to say, I thought, what do I want my legacy to be? Who knows? Certainly children who are loving, well centered, and concerned beyond themselves. (Done). But do I want the list to include possessions, like my hats and antique beaded bags? Do I want to be measured by my things, rather than my deeds.

This brings us back to my issues with my mother’s house. A week or so ago I wrote about how, after a lifetime, all the things in my mothers house were valued at $650—without the dumpster—that cost $500. If we measure our worth by our possessions it will never amount to much. When the guy came to discuss what everything was worth, I got angry. I kind of made the deal and then I was upset about them wanting to actually remove the things they had purchased. I guess that’s part of the letting go. Today at the memorial service I had a ‘kibitka’. A ‘kibitka’ is actually a small Russian wagon. But years ago, when we were playing “Dictionary” with friends, we decided to redefine the word as ‘a miraculous recovery.’ Are you following? Simply, when I was sitting in the Cathedral I had a miraculous recovery from letting go.

Here was my thinking. My mom used all the stuff in the house for over 55 years. She used it and enjoyed the time she had with it. She loved shopping from catalogues and she got enormous pleasure from buying anything at a discount. Despite all the collectables (and I use the term more than loosely). She would never want her life to be measured by the things she owned. If I put an unrealistic value on things she no longer cared about then all those things – just things—were the way her life would be measured. I don’t want that for me and I certainly don’t want it for her. So tomorrow, I will allow them to take the stuff and graciously and accept a check for $100. It’s still pretty painful to leave a place filled with good and terrible memories, but at least the pain is no longer about the things. We're just sayin...

Tuesday, July 08, 2008

A Pundit At Last...

If you missed my appearance on the MSNBC, Chris Matthews' show, “Hardball” you missed an unusual occurrence. I was intentionally funny. Not that I didn’t make good political sense – which of course, I always do – but I decided to make sense with humor. I don’t remember exactly what I said, but I got lots of calls from fans saying that they wish I had been asked more questions, because I was so much more entertaining than the two other panelists. Needless to say, I was thrilled and flattered to hear that I was good and relieved not to have been ridiculous. There is a difference between funny and ridiculous. Funny is crafting what you say to appeal to anyone who has a sense of humor and will listen—Pat Buchanan laughed and I’m not sure he knows what a “free baser” is. (You’ll have to figure out exactly what I said in order to be in the loop. We’re trying to get a DVD so we can put it on Youtube, we’ll see – or you’ll see). Anyway, being cleverly funny is an art. Being ridiculous is a mistake made by someone who doesn’t know that there is a difference.

Michael Schoenfield (subbing for Chris M), Michelle B, Pat and me
You probably think I am going to say something terrible about George Bush, but I’m not. He’s the past and I’m all about the future. (If only that were true and he was unable to do any more damage—but alas we still have about seven months before that happens.) No, I am not going to talk about George Bush being ridiculous, I am going to blog about how campaign staff people make decisions. Now that sounds ridiculous, right? But the people who are making decisions as campaign staff now, will likely make decisions that impact on your life after the election. So, I will share a political reality.. Everyone working on a campaign, with maybe the exception of the 4 or five most Senior people, are afraid to make any decisions at all. Because they are afraid to get yelled at.

Talk about ridiculous. But I’m afraid it’s true. As a consequence decision making is passed up the chain of command until it reaches a place where the person who makes the decision can only get yelled at by the Candidate, who doesn’t have the time to yell at anyone—except in an crowded auditorium when they’re saying “hey” to some local folks. It’s why you see these earnest, mostly youthful dedicated staffers on their Blackberry’s 24/7. They are asking someone else to make a decision – even simple decisions. It is also why whenever a campaign request is made (say, by a media person) they say No. Saying No is always easier than saying Yes and risk making a mistake and getting yelled at. This isn't an issue specific to one Party —it's most campaigns if you work your way past Presidential politics.

I’m not sure when this happened, when technology took away the self reliance which made for great staff people, but it is too bad for everyone, for any number of reasons. First, when you had to make your own decisions it tested your ability to make reasonable judgments, but more importantly you developed a sense of self worth which you could find in no other job. There were people in very Senior positions who depended on you to help craft a message and a campaign which was not only credible but unbearable. It didn’t matter whether you won or lost (that is not actually the truth, it mattered), but it was important for you to participate. Like the Advance people who traveled before the candidate—they were on the ground so they made not only logistical decisions, they made political decisions. It was their job to make decisions and they would no more have passed it up the chain to someone 900 miles away in a cushy office, than they would have called the Candidate personally to get some inside dope.

a brief push for "So You Think..."
Ok, so what does all this mean in terms of your life and the campaigns? It means that all the campaign decisions are made by the people who surround each candidate. In most cases they are what activist women call, “smart ass white boys”—and that is Democrats as well as Republicans. Yes, it is a bit disheartening that the same people are making the same decisions despite the outcry for change. We knew it would happen with McCain and we expected more from Obama—but such is life. It seems that all the senior women in each campaign still have to be accountable to some male. We have come so far and progressed so little—but I guess we need to be grateful that it appears we are in charge.

Anyway, it is a bit discouraging that the campaigns don’t actually invest any confidence in the people they have selected to be in charge. But it is even more disheartening that the people in charge have such limited confidence in the people they expect to run a country—a government—which will need not only new direction but a confidence in the ability to make decisions which will move us forward and in a direction that will help to make all our lives better. That’s not ridiculous! We're just sayin'..... Iris

Thursday, July 03, 2008

A Blog Begat

A Blob Begat

It is a time of change, whether tethered by Barack Obama, or merely the little edges of our lives. We all feel it, we sense it. We sort of just know that somehow tomorrow will bring a new view a new technique, a new process that was invented last night. For most of us we have come to understand change as part of the natural order of things. The acceleration of change is what is, in itself, surprising. It is self-begetting. You know, like the bible. The tube begat the transistor, the transistor begat the circuit board, the circuit board begat the CPU, the CPU begat the disk drive, the disk drive begat the CD-rom, the CD-rom begat the DVD, the DVD begat BlueRay. Or was it Blue Tooth. No, wait, Blue Tooth is that ear catcher which makes even intelligent people look like idiotic robots. Sometimes it’s tough to remember what begat what, but what you know is, while you were dozing off in bed last night, some 20 year old Chinese kid in Shanghai was begetting something which will be in your favorite computer store before Labor Day.

I have always admired the way my dad, born in 1906 adapted to the begetting of changes in the last century. He was born before the words “fighter” and “plane” were even in the same sentence. He witnessed unsurpassed breakthroughs in transportation (the steam engine begat the subway, the subway begat the 40 hour work week; the Wright Flyer begat the Biplane, the Biplane begat the Spirit of St. Louis, the Spirit of St. Louis begat the P-51, the P-51 begat the jet powered P-59, the P-59 begat the 707, and the 707 begat the 757 in whose 17C seat I am begetting this blob) and civic / cultural life which we barely remember. The availability of modern medicines (pre-penicillin, there are a lot of diseases from which we just didn’t recover), communications, etc. were things which were just taken for granted in that American Century. Not that we invented them all, but we surely learned how to put them to use on a wide and massive scale. The way we took them all for granted, shortly after their arrival is one of the great illustrations of the ability of man & woman to keep adjusting the bar higher and higher in short order. No where do you see it more than the ubiquitous cell phone and Blackberry craze we are the poor suffering fools of. No one really questions (do they?) the potential for intelligent use of mobile technology. Well, there really is nothing like a text message reminding you to pick up a head of lettuce at the Safeway, or a bag of ice at the 7-11. Those are the kind of things which didn’t even exist, except in Dick Tracy comics, until the late 80s. In 1978, with my old pal, the late Olivier Rebbot, we would drive through Cairo, Egypt (it was a Presidential trip…) with a telephone handset – the ear piece – with a wire connected to it. We’d pull up next to a car at a stop light, press the battery powered ringer on the accompanying box to imitate a phone ringing, and lift the receiver to our ear. After a brief “uh – huh” we’d reach the handset out the window to the driver in the next car, saying “It’s for you!” and all of us, the other driver included, would collapse into hysterical laughter. It was only funny because it was so absolutely unlikely. Now, as wander through airports, or even on the sleek new BoltBus ($20 one way, New York to Boston or Washington!) you hear that unmistakable quality of voice which can only be on a cell fone. It’s not just that you hear only one side of the conversation, but there is something in the way that ‘cell fone’ voice is projected which is a giveaway.

Though we never actually printed it out, Iris and Jordan and I always joke about stitching into the inner lining of a jacket, a page with the following, in large readable type: “NONE OF US THINKS YOUR CONVERSATION IS NEARLY AS INTERESTING AS YOU DO.” It’s a kind of civilized way of reminding some loud mouth to shut his trap, or at least modulate it. There isn’t a day that goes by when such a notification wouldn’t come in very handy. There is a mathematical correlation, not quite sure what part of high-math it comes from, which states that the more boring and annoying the talker is, the louder the voice will be. Recently at an airport waiting lounge, there was a woman who, as is normal, had no real need of a phone at all. Her voice carried loud enough to be heard by her friend 400 miles away. And it was so compelling, so news laden, so immediate. “So, I ‘ll call you when I arrive!!!” She must have said it a half dozen times, as if letting the whole airport know her plans was a way of validating the intelligence there of.

We have written often of the new etiquette concerning Blackberries and cell phone texters. In this day and age, the new crutch for avoiding conversations in public situations (i.e getting on an elevator) is to flip out your Blackberry and look for some new message,. Instead of there being something germaine to a million dollar deal, or notification that you are already the winner of a LOTTO, it’s more likely to be “Ill call you when I arrive…” or even more probably, nothing at all. But the physical act of flipping open that appliance is a justification of existence, a way of showing you have arrived in the digital world. I find it appalling bad manners (and I have a pretty low threshold of manner acceptance, just please cover your mouth on the plane when you cough) and yet am constantly amazed at how this new mode of living is taking us over. Yet I stand by my assertion a year ago that there is nothing in a Blackberry message which will equal a face to face meeting, eye to eye. And the more the digital devices find acceptance, the more a phone call (from an actual phone!) or a face to face meeting will have value. Early last week, the Gefilte Fish Chronicles received an order from a woman in upstate New York for a half dozen DVDs. Iris personally looked after the packaging and shipping to the lady customer in question. When you are selling retail like we are, every little order is a potential pain in the ass. Customers do feel a certain sense of entitlement (I am an customer, so I know whereof I speak) but if you are a small outfit, all that bitching and moaning comes back directly to you. We have had, of our several hundred orders we’ve done this past year, a handful of complaints: They pretty much sound like Lucy complaining to Charlie Brown why she couldn’t hit the softball (the bat was too short, the pitcher’s mound too high, the ball to small, the sun too bright… you get the idea). So when I get a note from a disgruntled customer, I just try and fix the situation and move on. One lady complained that our cookbook should tell you at the beginning of each recipe how many it will serve, despite the fact that in the opening page Iris describes exactly why she DOESN’T do it that way. But, the customer is always right (or… is it “the customer is always a putz>?”) so we gave her back her money and moved on. And if you must know, the formula in the cookbook is: make the dish, see what you end up with, and invite enough people to finish it!

Yesterday I received an email from the lady who bought the 6 DVD’s bless her. Her email address was a one, so I knew she was probably over 70, and had limited capabilities. WebTV is an amazing device, uncomplicated above all, which Seniors seem to have embraced to be able to do rudimentary email and surfing. It’s dog slow, but it does at least work, which is saying something in a world of systems Begat by ATT, Verizon and Comcast which everyday linger on the edge of “No Service.” Her email had a minor air of panic, and stated that, having already sent 3 DVDs as gifts to family, she was unable to get it to play on her DVD player, and wanted her money back. There was no kiddin’ around with her. No trial period, no back-up stance, just that ugly marketing word: “refund.” So I sent her a note saying that virtually all of our many hundreds of happy customers were able to play the movie, and that she should try it in a second DVD player (we have one Toshiba which is very temperamental) or be sure to hit the right PLAY button once the opening screen shows up.

She emailed back saying “a technician is coming over this afternoon, stay by your email so I can tell you what happens.” Another reminder that Retail Sucks. You have to stay near your terminal just to be sure she can play her movie. Well as it happened, I was near my terminal half an hour later when I received the following message: “David Thanks for your help. Apparently I have to hit the PLAY button once the Gefilte Fish Screen comes on my TV.” Maybe that is the secret of life in this age of zeros and ones ruling everything. Sit back. Grab a bag of popcorn. And don’t forget to hit the PLAY button. It could be the best thing you do all day. We’re just sayin’ David