Friday, January 30, 2009

The First Twenty Five

Yesterday, the 29th of January was our 25th anniversary. David and I were married on the 29th and as is usually the case, we weren’t together. Why we were in separate places is not the issue. But it seems, that for whatever reason, it just happens. Actually, we think of the 29th as the anniversary of the day Aunt Sophie repacked the plastic tablecloths and returned them to Kmart. Let me explain a bit. We had a last minute wedding. No, it was not a shotgun wedding it was merely last minute. David asked me to marry him on New Years’ Eve. We had been together for five years, and a couple of weeks before New Years, when he was on his way to Hawaii, for the “A Day in the Life of Hawaii” book, I had thrown all his stuff into the street and told him – after five years of on and off—that we were through. So anyway, he got back from Hawaii, and decided we needed to be together forever and on December 31sth, asked me to marry him.

We looked at a calendar and realized that the Super Bowl needed to be considered, but we also realized that if we waited for more than three weeks, we would talk one another out of it. And the date we were left with was the 29th of January. W called our friends and my mom tracked down the Rabbi who had been my Rabbi when we were kids. He agreed (that since I had acquired a Jewish divorce or a Get) he would fly up from Florida to perform the ceremony. We determined that we would get married in my parents’ bedroom since my dad was ill and had not been out of bed for weeks. But that was not to be. What started as a small and incredibly intimate ceremony, developed into a real event. Mom took all the furniture out of her house and stored it on a moving van in the driveway. In its stead were round tables and chairs for at least 50. My aunt Sophie went to Kmart and bought table cloths to cover them, but alas, after she had cut and shaped them, she hated the way they looked so she took them back. Yes, they were cut to fit our tables but she convinced the Kmart sales staffers that they were simply inadequate. – Hence the description of out Anniversary as the Aunt Sophie table cloth return.

Unbeknownst to us, my mother had invited the entire family—mine and David’s. So what started out as maybe five people, became at least fifty. It was a wonderful memorable day—but not what we expected. The tables were covered with real cloth table covers—my Aunt Peppy provided and brought them at the last minute. All my family miraculously appeared from several geographic locations. The Rabbi was flown in from Florida. The friends traveled from Washington, New York and California, and most important my Dad got out of bed for the first time in many weeks.

It was truly a unforgettable day. One which we cherish, but never seem to celebrate together. We have always considered our real anniversary the day we met. March 26th—the Carter-Begin-Sadat Camp David Peace Accords signing. David thought he was getting fixed up with someone else, his camera had no film, and he was in a bad mood and non verbal. But on March 26th we will have been together 30 years. It sounds like such a long time. I suggested to David that we might think about renewing our vows and he suggested to me that we might commit suicide. Either way, it has been a remarkable run. And one that I hope will continue for maybe another 25. We’re just sayin’.... Iris (and David!)

And at a wedding attended by two dozen photographers, the only picture we have came from Joannie Gramatte...and the print hasn't faded yet, either.

Monday, January 26, 2009

There, But For God

In the closing scene of the show “Cabaret” (as currently performed at the NewRep Theater in Watertown, MA), the Kit Kat Girls all slap a Star of David on their chests, and the male dancers appear as Nazi soldiers. There are times in one’s life when you have a ‘there, but for God, go I’ experience and I think Jordan must have felt that way. When she put on the Star I saw she had tears in her eyes and was clearly moved by what was happening –despite the fact that it was only a show.

It would be extraordinary not to have this happen at least once in a lifetime. For me it has happened three times. The first was when Allison Krause was shot and killed during the Viet Nam war protests at Kent State. During those very volatile years I made it a point to go to as many protests as possible. We even took over a college library, but it was Emerson College and no one noticed. It was a time of protest but it was also a time when young people were divided about the war. The National Guardsmen who shot Allison were also young people. Some would have been in school but were serving their reservist time. Everyone was frightened and however it happened, the shooting started and four students were killed. Allison Krause, however, could have been me – which I realized when her teary eyed father appealed to the people who were calling her a traitor and other horrible names, to stop it. Allison was student exercising her right to protest. In fact, it is still unclear if Allison was actually protesting or she was merely walking across the campus and got caught in the cross fire.

The second time it happened was when I was visiting Yad Vashem, the Israeli memorial to the 6 million Jews who died in the concentration camps. We were walking through the museum and there was a picture of a family taken from the rear. It was a mother, father, and two small children standing on a hill. Behind them were about ten uniformed men with guns clearly aimed at them. For whatever reason, and although the children were older than I, my heart started to beat and I felt scared. “It could have been me”, I told the tour guide. “And it can be again”, she replied.

The third time I felt this way was the other night when I saw my daughter standing with a yellow star on her chest. What would we have felt if, in fact, we had to watch our children suffer the humiliation of the Nazis and, in so many cases, die. I must confess that I am always confused when I hear that Hamas mothers send their children off to die
in suicide missions. The one thing I know is that Israeli mothers would never send their children on suicide missions. While they understand the need to fight for survival, they would never say, “Here’s a nice breakfast. Now go sacrifice yourself and kill a few people on the way.” We could argue about whether or not the Israeli’s overstepped and bombed the wrong facilities. But we could also argue about whether or not Hamas fighters hide in places which they surround with civilians, so it appears the Israelis are targeting women and children rather than inadvertently killing them in a bombing. Who knows? But if the value of life for these people is such that they send their children to kill and die, chances are there is no value of life – only religious fervor.

As a mother, happily sending any child to die is very hard for me to grasp. As a human rights advocate, it is additionally difficult to cope with the idea that anyone would deny the right to live free to another human. But I feel sure if more people felt the ‘there, but for God, go I’, there would be a whole lot less of ‘there, because of God, I have to go.’ We’re just sayin’… Iris

Saturday, January 24, 2009


In the realm of “maybe it’s me,” all this talk about how dangerous it is to close Guantanamo, is seriously ridiculous. It’s like saying that closing the concentration camps would have been bad for German morale. And since we pretended not to know what was going on there, we didn’t have a plan and the Jews wandered for 40 years in the desert—or was that another story? Excuse me, but the terrorist who is now a leader in Al Qaeda was released under the Bush policy of never having a good G-d damn idea of what they were doing. He is a perfect example of why the base should be closed over the next year during which time we institute a plan for how to do it and what to do with the people who are there. The people who, (and who have been there for years) are not terrorists. In addition, of course, people who have been tortured, and culturally disrespected are not going to have a long lasting passionate love for the people who abused them. Yes, the prisoners, who have been released because there was a mistake or, (not surprising with the Bush folks), a lack of coordination, are likely to vent their anger about what happened during their incarceration—at the people by whom they think they were wronged. This is not a good thing. But should come as no surprise to anyone. It reminds me of all the people who complained when Jimmy Carter passed an executive order that CIA agents could no longer be undercover at USIA ( Public affairs, press, and cultural exhanges officers). He felt they undermined the credibility of the US Public Diplomacy effort. And although it was a bit inconvenient for the CIA, sometimes you weigh and measure what makes sense in terms of the credibility of the nation. Whew!

And speaking of trying to maintain the credibility of the nation, my pal Dick Sklar died on the 20th of January. His son called to share the very sad news. He told me that they had a wonderful week. Dick was thrilled about this election and the results. He was excited to watch the inaugural. He seemed peaceful when he went in to take a nap. He died in his sleep. Eric said he felt almost OK about losing his battle with pancreatic cancer because with Obama in command he knew things would be allright.

I met Dick in the McGovern campaign. He was one of those memorable characters who was more a whirlwind than a person. He always knew how to get things done. He understood the goal was not only to win an election but to do it in a way that didn’t shatter a principle or a reputation. A human rights advocate who always wanted to make things better—to make them work. When Clinton was elected and there were no appointees who needed Senate confirmation in place, (only the Cabinet was confirmed, not the 192 directors of Agencies) Dick graciously agreed to take over AID until there was an Administrator. He called me on his second day to fill me in on what was happening with his job. “You won’t believe it” he said, “There are 50,000 people here getting paid as consultants instead of employees. How in the world are we going to get the budget under control when we have no idea who even works here? These people are not living like Peace Corp volunteers. They staying at the Four Seasons instead of the Marriott, and the taxpayer is paying for their massages -- can’t talk. Gotta go! I have to figure out how to do some serious firing!” And he hung up.

Dick was always figuring out how to rebuild something or how to manage a disaster. He was a loving and generous friend, husband, and father. He always left you breathless and wondering what would come next. Dick Sklar will be especially missed when you need to make sense. When you need to make real change. When you need someone who is principled, and sympathetic but never suffers fools gently.

I spoke to Dick every month or so over the last year. The last time we spoke he told me he was tired and ready to go. I told him he was selfish, it didn’t matter what he wanted—he needed to think about the rest of us, who were not prepared to say goodbye. He laughed, said his usual quick goodbye, and hung up.

Dick would know how to close Guantanamo. He would know who to fire. He would figure out what to do with all those people and find a way to make sure the real terrorists were put away and others given their freedom. Dick just knew everything… we will miss him in our lives. We’re just sayin’…..Iris

Thursday, January 22, 2009

There is a lot of lip service paid to the idea of the American peaceful turn-over of Presidential administrations. And in the era of cable TV and other blobs, the lip service kind of turns into yap-service, a nonstop yapping which tends to deaden the senses of all but the most dedicated event watcher. But yesterday, having spent much of Tuesday freezing my heinie off at the Capitol waiting for that hand-off to take place, I strode back into the Northwest gate of the White House, the same way I have done for over forty years. You wave your pass at the guard gate, they buzz you into the heated hut where everything runs through an x-ray machine; you swipe the pass over the electronic code key (and enter your own personal four digit code), pick up your gear from the x-ray machine, and voila, you are inside the grounds. It's actually less difficult than getting into any of the sky scrapers on 6th Avenue in New York, whose new, and patently ridiculous “security” measures are something out of a bad movie. Once you step out of the hut, you are on the long, curving drive way which heads up to the West Wing. You pass Pebble Beach (formerly a garden area, now permanently occupied by the television cameras and lights of the networks, so their correspondents will have the White House as a backdrop for their “stand-ups.” Then, a few dozen more steps, and you enter the Press room. You are in the White House, even if this Press room is the only place on the property you are allowed to go without an escort.

Fox News' Wendell Goler at Pebble Beach
But yesterday's little meandering walk up the drive - it's the White House - you always meander, and never run., did strike me again, in the simplicity of the moment. I am always, I have to say, moved when I pass through those gates, aware of the sense of history which surrounds the compound. It is a living testimony to the best things this country stands for, and the worst. I was there briefly during the Johnson era, spent lots of time during the 73-74 Watergate years, and significant amounts of time since Ford assumed office. Yesterday, the first workday of the new administration was another of those watershed moments. I began covering the White House a full decade before many of the new staffers were even born. Our afternoon jaunt over to the Old Executive Office Building to see President Obama sign 3 Executive Orders, was punctuated by those moments where the long present photographers explained to the young staffer the best way to get there, where the elevator is, all those basic things which are a question of experience. And so it was, once again, after all the pomp has quieted down, and the perversely overdone “Security” has finally disappated, that the sense of the place, the enduring, unchanging calm of the White House was restored. There will surely be some moments to cherish going forward, and just as surely some terrible ones, products of a world which gives us the likes of Bernie Madoff, Bin Laden, and Kim Jong Il. But the knowledge that the place has been there for some two hundred years (come to think of it, we're approaching the Bicentennial of the Burning of the White House by the British (actually it was in 1814) maintains a sense of constancy in an age sorely lacking that kind of grounding.

Marlene Dietrich on the phone with her daughter, by Erich Salomon

The Berlin Court 1937, by Erich Salomon
I have this thing about some of my cameras. Most of them I purchased new over the years, taking them out of the box, wrapped in plastic and fine paper, and creating for those cameras the lives that they lead, capturing little snippets of time. I remember with some precision, just which camera I used for which story along the way. But some of the gear I use has a history far longer than my own. I own some German lenses which were made in 1925, and used on the kind of cameras which were employed for the very first modern reportages, in the 20s and 30s. I found (like all things) those cameras on eBay, the product of someone who was cleaning out a closet, or handling the estate of a friend. They come with a whole history of their own. Who would have even owned such a camera in Germany in the late 1920s, and into the 30s. These cameras were originally designed to take glass plate negatives.. and later modified for film, but largely they were owned by people of some means, and presumably the occasional journalist. Photo reportage was just starting to become something of note in the 20s, with German and later French magazines leading the way in taking their readers to places they otherwise wouldn't have had the chance to visit.

Erich Salomon and his Ermanox

DB and his Ermanox (cr: Cameron Davidson)
Erich Salomon, who was one of the inventors of modern reportage (there were no books, classes, or online discussion groups to take advantage of, he simply DID it on his own) owned not only the cameras, but the will and inventiveness to use them. He made candid photography what it has become today. So when I pick up one of my old German cameras, I can only wonder what it must have seen. How lucky am I to even have the chance to hold one of these cameras in my hand, a camera that has surely seen and lived through some of the tumultuous moments of modern history. The Weimar Republic, the rise of Nazi Germany, World War II, the post war reconstruction, and the Cold War. What secrets lie inside that little black box? What moments has that glass passed through its elements? I would love to have a conversation with that lens, the one conversation that I just can't quite figure out how to achieve. This Monday, I walked by the White House on the day before Inauguration, the last day of the Bush era, the eve of the Obama. From the Pennsylvania Avenue fences, I looked again at that stately mansion, as I often do. Being the dead of winter there are no leaves on the trees. The craggy branches seemed to take on an even more sinister Tim Burton-like presence. It's as if the mischievous trees are just waiting for you to turn your back, so they can reach out, grab the gardener's golf cart, and fling it across the front lawn and into the fountain. I'm not much of an arborist, but I have to assume those trees have been there since John Quincy Adams, Andrew Jackson, or Abe Lincoln. What must those trees know of us? We have our secrets, our “affairs of state” and we think those reign supreme in our own time. Yet if you could somehow sit down and have a cup of coffee with one of those gorgeous north lawn White House trees, maybe they would, just like the Dustin Hoffman character Jack Crabb in Little Big Man - telling modern day folks about how he fought with Custer, enlighten us just a little bit about ourselves, and about the things we think we know. We never really know as much as we think we do. There is that wonderful conundrum about knowledge. It always falls just short of what it thinks it is. But I can tell you this, if my 1920s camera decided to sit down for a rest in the shade of that White House tree, and the two of them started spinning yarns, I sure would like to be there. We're just sayin'...David

Barack Obama being sworn in, the Capitol, January 20

as always, click on a picture to see full size

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Purple People .... Eater

[Editor’s note; This blob is the 600th entry on what began as a lark three years ago, and now includes some 150 to 200 to 3000 (on a really big Link day) of you who actually bother to belay your handling of the Economic crisis and affairs of state long enough to come read us. Thanks to you all. It is a blast being part of this new world of communication. Oops, I forgot, it’s not communication, it’s a Blob.]

Perhaps the news about people holding Purple Inaugural tickets has not reached beyond Washington. But there were hundreds of ticketed people who missed the Inaugural because the security wizards had no idea what was going on. Instead of finding out, (and when there were actually security people around to give any info), they just didn’t allow any movement other than sending people in circles. Bad enough the ticketed Purple People didn’t ever get to their assigned seats but as the President took the oath of office, they were also stuck under 3rd Street in a huge, but totally barren tunnel (i.e. no portaJohns). It was so awful that there is even a Face Book page for these folks. And it has become known as the Purple Tunnel of Doom. Aptly named.

One of my Purple friends was fighting his way through the crowd when he noticed that Mariah Carey was right in front of him, also being kept away from her seat. He was lucky because she had police security and when they moved her through the frustrated crowd, he simply followed like he belonged and eventually worked his way to the designated area. My other friends, who were staying in Virginia, were not so lucky. They were at the Metro, as instructed, by 7am. They had purchased Metro Tickets the day before so they, unlike thousands of other people, did not have to wait in a long line trying to get tickets. The trains were so crowded it was impossible to get on without a struggle. Think Rush Hour in Tokyo. Further, the train stopped and started (not at any station) about every five minutes, so what was ordinarily a twenty minute ride, took an hour and a half. And they were incredibly nauseated by the time they arrived at their appointed stop – Judiciary Square. However, when they got to the station they were not allowed to exit and were forced to go elsewhere. These wonderful people, whose Senator thought they were worth giving tickets to, are from Nebraska. Elsewhere was a whole other issue. Further, they had their children with them and the crowds in the 3rd street tunnel (the place to which they were directed), were frightening. The children were terribly upset and finally, exhausted, and having no alternative, they made their way back to Virginia and went to sleep.

The girls were disappointed because they were supposed to do a report about the event. Their parents were disappointed because they were so looking forward to sharing this moment in history with their kids. These are not the kind of people who need special accommodations. They didn’t care about not having seats or the size of the crowd. They just wanted to be witnesses to history—and actually their area would have permitted them an actual sighting of the new President. In other words they didn’t need a giant TV in order to have the Inaugural experience.

So, does the new President and his crack staff just leave it at -- too bad shit happens? Or do they step up to the plate and offer to have those people back at the White House for a special reception, if not a reenactment of the swearing in. What if they offered tickets to the White House, (people have to pay their own way), with a sighting of the President—maybe passing by on his way to a meeting, a cup of coffee in the White House Mess and a souvenir of their trip –like a Coke from the Kennedy Center with the Presidential Seal. It’s not too much to ask to have someone acknowledge the frustration and yes, humiliation, these good people from all over the world suffered at the hands of an incompetent security brigade. Or wait, how about just a simple “we’re sorry”, instead of a multitude of stupid and inadequate excuses. And, just a reminder of stupid -- how about those bridges to Virginia. We’re just sayin’....Iris

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

One Nation, Under a Supreme Being...

Over the last few days we have heard quotes from some incredible rhetorical prose. Among my favorites are things are those said by George Washington, Abe Lincoln, John Kennedy, W.H. Auden and George Bush -- just wanted to see if you were paying attention. These words, however, are the ones I like best (I took a little license): “One Nation, under a supreme being in any form, (the idea of something greater than ourselves has always appealed to me), indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.” Liberty and justice is my favorite part.

What is it about Obama that has captured the heart of the nation? Is it the cool, the calm, the words, the youth? Are people outside of Washington riveted to their chairs/beds relentlessly watching the 2 million people on the Mall? Is it a National holiday? Do we get mail? I am confused about so many things on this wonderful day. Like why did they close all the bridges in and out of Virginia and what makes people travel thousands of miles to stand in freezing weather with millions of strangers to watch an event (regardless of magnitude) on a big TV screen. When the reporters say “to see history happen before their eyes,” it’s not really true. History happens somewhere near where they might be. But they are not close enough to have anything historic happen ‘before their eyes’. Yet just being able to say you were there seems to be enough – just not for me. Pay no attention to the cynic writing this piece – I’m very excited by this transfer of power. I just can’t be that excited cold and in a crowd.

stand here, please...
Actually, one of the things I have always yearned to be was comfortable standing shoulder to shoulder with millions of people I don’t know. Anyway, I forged across the Potomac and went to watch at my pal Johanna’s. I was determined to defy the odds and leave Virginia. I made it in time to see all the notables walk out from the Capital. It was admittedly, thrilling. It was also wonderful to watch the transition with good friends. That’s what this inauguration has been for me – reunions with old friends. Admittedly, I decided not to participate in any official events, including celebrity parties. This might not make any sense but (whenever do I), it’s like when you celebrate a Bar or Bat Mitzvah and all you can think about is the party rather than the service. I love the parties, but this is such a difficult time for our nation I just wanted to be with people with whom I shared both happy and difficult times in and out of government. While it is true that I could have found a party or ball that included many of those people – you then have to deal with crowds waiting on lines and who’s important enough to have been invited. This President (I like that better than President-Elect), talks about how we all, regardless of race, religion, financial status, or gender, deserve to be treated with respect. He has never had that conversation with security or a party planner. So, I choose not to play that Washington game, and instead partied with equally important like-minded people.

the two million on the Mall
President Obama’s inaugural address was predictably brilliant. Poignant, intelligent, and dramatic. The two things I found most moving were his statement about reaching out a hand to any country with an uncurled fist, as well as his insistence that we will not tramp on civil rights for political expediency. I’m sure that one made former President Bush wince. And wasn’t it poetic that Dick Cheney, who has crippled this nation in so many ways, was in a wheel chair. These powerful statements were not only important but the essence of both a domestic and foreign policy. He was sure good. The whole ceremony was good. The whole nation is good. And I think the whole world will be good. And so, I made my way back to Virginia, baked a bread (always do for a celebration), and now look forward to seeing more friends at our house for our own personal Ball, later in the evening. We’re just sayin’….Iris
as always, click on the picture to see full size

Friday, January 16, 2009

So, Why Come? How Bout New York!

If I were in charge of the Presidential Inaugural, I would move it to New York, where they are equipped to handle large crowds and emergencies of all sorts. The plane landing in the Hudson yesterday is merely one good example. Boats, divers, police and fire fighters all worked quickly to handle what could have been a total disaster. If that had happened in the Potomac (which some time ago it did) instead of the Hudson, there would first have to be a decision about in whose jurisdiction it took place. Was it Park Police, Potomac Police, Virginia Police or the Airport Authority who would be in charge?

Just look back at what happened when a farmer drove his tractor on to the mall in DC a few years ago. The Park Police, or was it the DC police, or who knows, working in harmony or otherwise, decided not to act for fear of the severe consequences. What they thought of as consequences were never explained. So instead, the guy sat there for four days tying up traffic in and out of the District and causing utter chaos not far from dozens of important Government buildings. Clearly, inconveniencing people outside of the District is not on the list of law enforcement priorities – as exampled by the half assed security measures they are taking to make certain the Inaugural is ‘secure.’ Things like closing all the bridges and making metro stops inaccessible at certain times. Not just somewhat, but really stupid decisions , like not allowing people to transfer at Metro Center (THE transfer point in DC). Instead of actually securing the venues where the President is going to be, these yahoos (or are they googles?) are spending countless resources securing areas that don’t need to be secured and trying to enforce ridiculous security rules – how exactly will they prevent people from transferring at Metro Center – which is no where near anything and it’s underground.

It is as if there had never been another Inaugural, there had never been a large protest or Million (man, mother, peace), gathering. While it’s true that this President needs to be secured a bit more than others, we all know that if someone wants to disrupt the ceremonies they will already have moved bombs, guns, tear gas, whatever into place. Closing the bridges (which are not actually closed because buses, taxis, ‘authorized vehicles’ (and authorized by whom?), bicycles, and people on foot can use them), only makes sense if you want to keep the commuters at home. All they have done is discourage people who live in the area and the disabled, from participating. Oh, and they have made the balls inconvenient for the rich people who live in the suburbs. The dreaded suburbs, which unlike so many other cities are about 10 minutes away from the White House – in traffic.

Yep, if I were the Director of Security (which I once was), I would move the whole damn thing to NY. The NY suburbs (Queens and Brooklyn are actually part of the city), are far enough away that there would be no issue about driving. Sure, people come from N.J. Long Island, and Connecticut to go to a show but not without a ticket to something. For this Inaugural, if you don’t have a ticket, you can go to the Mall but they’re going to close the Mall at some undisclosed time when they reach an undisclosed number of people. Security demands that nothing be disclosed, so if you forge your way to city center you may still get turned away, but where do you go? You can’t get on the Metro—it’s exit only. You won’t get on a bus, they are only picking up and delivering—not returning until after the ceremonies. What do you do, go stand on a bridge closed to anything but an authorized vehicle? It will be mighty cold up there – if you can fight the throngs of other people who have also been turned away.

Barack Obama (which still comes up as a spelling error on my Microsoft Word – shame on them – where is the “Obama” upgrade?), wanted this to be a Peoples’ Inaugural. And people are coming from all over the country to celebrate. But when they get here I’m not sure what they will find other than iron gates, masses of fellow celebrants who can’t go anywhere they choose, and cement barriers. Here’s the good news. I always said I can build a crowd of 100,000, but I never want to be in the middle of it. Take that and multiply it by 4 million. That’s how glad I am they are closing the bridges to Va. And, even if I wanted to, I won’t be able to get there. We’re just sayin’….Iris

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Marley and Me? No Thanks

Everyone loves movies about pets. “My Dog Skip”, “Black Beauty” and “Lassie” were among my favorites. They were helpful, obedient, friends to all. We rooted for them to win races, find a missing child, and defeat the bad guys. When they were injured we cried and if they went to the dog run in the sky, we mourned the loss with their Hollywood trainers. That changed for me yesterday. Up until the time Marley, the dog dies (and yes he dies, they sometimes do to make the movie work better), I couldn’t imagine that anyone would have wanted him to live. In fact, if he had been my dog, I would have killed him in the time it took to watch the film.

“Marley and Me”, the number one box office hit for weeks and weeks and weeks, was pretty much a disappointment. Mostly, because the dog was so obnoxious, but truthfully the actors were equally insufferable – OK, they didn’t chew up the furniture, crap on the beach, and knock over old ladies, but they were talent free and yes, their performances were uninspired at the least, insipid if the truth be told. And I mean that in the nicest possible way.

Jennifer Anniston, who so wants to be a star like Angelina Jolie, just ain’t gonna get there. She has neither the big presence nor the mystery. She’s a cute television personality. There are lots of cute television stars who have become more than a little successful. Kelly Rippa for example. She was a star on “All My Children” before she became a host. (Jordan did a ‘roll on’ –she was in a wheel chair so it wasn’t a walk on-- for “All My Children”, but she doesn’t aspire to be Kelly Rippa.) Kelly is a successful talk show host albeit daytime, with Regis Philbin – who was started as Joey Bishop’s co-star on late night. Regis once walked off the show on his way to obscurity but Joey is dead a long time, and Regis had a kibitka and hosted “So You Want to Be a Millionaire”. It’s all a matter of how long you wait and how you define success. I don’t think Kelly aspires to be Jay Leno, or even Regis, because she is good and popular just where she is. Sometimes you just have to work your strengths. There’s never going to be more than cute for Jennifer no matter how many movies she does. “Friends” was the best of who she is. She is simply never going to be Kate Winslet, Amy Adams, or Meryl Streep. And Owen Wilson gave simply a one tone, emotionless performance. Additionally, he’s never going to be as cute as his brother.

Earnest, a dog worthy of a movie...
So why did I go and why didn’t I leave when it was apparent that there was not going to be any improvement. I did it hoping to find some real connection between the Bob Marley and the success of the movie. David’s “Soul Rebel” a photo book about Bob Marley which is out on February 6th. I thought maybe I would find a hook or at the least some kind of connection. But alas, other than the fact that the dog likes Marley music—hence the name – we would all be hard pressed to find a link. Yes, David could answer the question “How do you think Bob Marley would feel if he knew there was an intolerable dog named after him and it’s making a billion dollars at the box office?” But David’s answer would be so much more amusing than the film that it might encourage more people to buy a movie ticket, And unless there is going to be a book giveaway at the local AMC, what would be the point to send people you like, to a movie they won’t.

the Marley worth listening to..
The release and success of this movie tells us a great deal about what people want to see. They'll see anything with a animal as the star. The less concentration it requires the more people like it. If the trailer is funny, people will come (even if the trailer is the only funny bit in the film.) And, when nation is depressed they just don't want to think about anything that requires thought. We’re just sayin’.... Iris

Sunday, January 11, 2009

And Thanks to the Hollywood Foreign Press....

It seems that muted colors (beige, silver, gray, green) are what the important stars are wearing. Isn’t that nice. It’s not like black is out of fashion, it’s just that muted is in. It also seems that Jessica Lang and Drew Barrymore are doing the HBO version of Gray Gardens. Is it still a musical or a fictionalized version of the Documentary? Wow, talk about theater – of the absurd. What you don’t learn from the red carpet is hardly worth knowing. And just so that this prediction is not after the fact. It’s 7:00pm, the Golden Globes have not started. But I predict Slumdog Millionaire will be and should be, the film of the year.

The Golden Globes, an award show that put an organization on the map. For years the foreign press was viewed by the Hollywood community as a second class group of journalists (who never paid for a cup of coffee.) If you have never worked in politics or the entertainment business you probably don’t know that mostly, people don’t give a hoot about the foreign press. But the Hollywood (entertainment) foreign press were tired of being treated with distain so they started to give this little award called the Golden Globe. In retrospect, what a good idea. Maybe the political foreign press should do the same thing and give awards to elected officials. What should it be called? Give that some thought. We're just sayin'...Iris

Hey Cupcake!

click the picture to see full size
I have to admit that while I would like to think of myself as a reasonable person in the kitchen, I'm probably not quite the FoodNetwork accolyte that I sometimes perceive myself. I usually manage to slice onions and carve a turkey without significant injury, though I am still rather envious of the Emerils of this world who can grip a 1/4 of an onion in the tips of their fingers, and slice it without the river of blood turning it to oignons sanglant. The first few slices, anyone can do it. Trying to get those last couple of thin slices, that takes practice and concentration. Cooking does require one of those amazing combinations of mental agility (to perceive of the flavors and textures and how they'll mix) and physical ability (to know just how to cut what, and how to mix, and swirl them to make the magic.) Sometimes, you can almost imagine what it will taste like when its still just a lump on the cutting board. But you need to keep that target in mind as you move forward.

There are, of course, a lot of recipes which arent really rocket science, though it remains one of the surprizing elements of human endeavor, just how many lousy cooks are out there (and often related to your friends.) I had a junior baking set back in the late 50s, and it included handy little kid-sized boxes of cake mix and brownie mix, and a tiny 5" x 1/2" pan to bake them in.

I remember the difficulty of trying to get enough frosting on the lower layer of cake so that it didn't pull apart the top one in that epoxy like fashion which too-thin frosting can do. I'd been well schooled in these things given that my mom, a pretty good cook all things considered, would make her peanut butter and jelly sandwiches with only just enough peanut butter to block out the surface of the bread. Two, perhaps three molecules thick, that layer of peanut butter had virtually no taste, other than the slightest perfume of peanut, but retained that ability to bond two pieces of Wonder Bread in a form so immediate and sticky that there was nothing to do but try and eat the damn thing. I marvelled at the people like Dick Yardley whose sandwiches fairly oozed jelly, and peanut butter in swirls so full it resembled the cover of a Duncan Hines cake mix.

The brownies and cakes were always my favorites. For some reason osso bucco and lasgna weren't really that attractive to a 5th grader. I knew how to plunge a toothpick into a brownie pan and determine whether or not it was done yet. It was exciting when you had to make that decision to pull it from the oven, and hope you'd done right. Licking batter from the bowls: who didn't like that! And while we'd pretend to get all the batter into the pan, there was a lack of discipline which usually left a few good tastes for a swirling forefinger.

But I married a good cook, and while I'm kind of like the Corporal doing KP duty, peeling potatoes, skinning carrots, I don't really spend a lot of time actually producing much anymore. So on Friday, doing one of those quick runs to Safeway when you've just gotten back to town (eggs, milk, a few apples, a loaf of 8 grain bread), I passed by the baking section, and was entralled all of a sudden by the cake mixes. One of my favorite Food Network shows is Sandra Lee's Semi-Home Made, the lady who doctors boxed and canned goods and creates something nearly passable for scratch. I hadn't actually thought there would be a lot to consider about cakes, and cakes really don't interest me that much anymore, but Cupcakes, wait, that is worth a look. The big cupcake rage the last couple of years has, as it did with bell bottoms 3 decades ago, created a new inflated market for things which probably needn't be that popular. In New York, and even the suburban DC stores and bakers, you'll pay three or four bucks for a single cupcake. They are usually, to be fair, on the large size, and swathed in frosting, though I find that places like the Cupcake Cafe on 9th Avenue use food coloring instead of actual flavorings for the icing. Close your eyes, and you'll be hard pressed to tell the difference between the pink and the green.

Well, I couldn't help myself as it turned out: I bought a box of Chocolate Fudge cake mix, a set of 50 "normal" sized cupcake papers, and a tin of "butter cream" frosting. I have no idea that we even keep the stuff in the house that you could make these things from scratch if you wanted to. And for this first time in twenty years baking project, I figured that a mix was better than nothing. So, when I got home and announced I'd be making cupcakes, there was a hush drawn over the kitchen multitudes. Disbelief? Wonderment? Skepticism? All of those I suppose and maybe a little bit of fake enthusiasm. I called Jordan in Boston, announced my intentions, and she told me of the new 'thing' in baking: replace the eggs and oil with a can of Diet Coke. Cuts down on a lot of the stuff that they say is 'bad' for you. So that's what we did. Or rather I did. The view of the hand mixer blades swirling through that chocolaty batter was one to keep. The beautiful striations of batter, the ring upon ring of wave like deliciousness. Even without baking a single cake I'd have been happy at that spectacle. Then I grabbed a measuring cup, and starting pouring the batter into the 24 cake papers, in two pans. That was a joy, too. Watching the batter fill each cup was like one of those vids you see on "Unwrapped" when they show you how Reese's Peanut Butter Cups are made. All yum, all the time. It took a while longer to bake (was it the Coke? maybe..) but in the end, there they were, two dozen little chocolate beauties. Grab a knife, and schmear a little frosting on each. Frosting is the most fun, the most sculpting like of the cake functions. We proceeded to eat them, a mere bite or two per cupcake. They were small enough that they weren't terribly guilt inducing, just full of that wonderful combination of "Hey! I made that," and "yummm." They look pretty good, too. We're just sayin'...David

Two Dogs All the Way, and Side of Cheese Fries

Blah blah blah blah. Does that ring a bell? Probably because it’s all you heard on the morning shows today – except on the George Stuffing Envelopes show, because Obama was his guest and even if this President-elect never gets anything done, he will have done more than George Bush did in eight years. And I mean that in the nicest possible way. However, on the other ‘news’ shows there was a plethora of chatter and not much substance. Just to be fair, that may or may not be true when there was chatter about the economy, because I don’t pretend to understand the economy but other than Tom Friedman, it appears that neither does anyone else who was talking about it. This may be a result of having to put network correspondents, regardless of expertise, on the air as often as possible because it is cost effective. And since no one (expert or otherwise) has an idea of what’s really going on, it doesn’t seem to matter. But when Peggy Noonan talks about anything other than writing a speech (at which she was only OK), I just want to gag. Actually, I’m still waiting for someone on a panel with her to say “you know Peggy, I don’t think you are that smart. Remember when you repeatedly and intentionally mispronounced Barack’s name, that was either pretty disrespectful or are you simply an idiot?” OK, I’m living in some kind of fantasy world where people don’t have to be solicitous to a moron, but one can only, (as Obama would say in many speeches), hope for real change.

Anyway, President Elect Obama says he wants to be a part of the Washington DC community. Yesterday, he went to Ben’s Chili Bowl. If you live in Washington and have never been there, you should go back to from wherever you came. You didn’t have to like it if you went, but it’s a rite of passage and in order to remain past whatever administration brought you here, you needed to go. So anyway, he went. The news coverage was pretty cute. He did all the right things. He asked what he should order, he sat and ate the right thing, he held a beautiful baby and he even paid his own bill—something a candidate and the President never do. For whatever reason they never carry any money. It’s not like they have to worry about getting mugged. Nor is it because the campaign left them without any funds (they always have a personal penny.) But I can’t tell you the number of times I had to fork over a $5, $10, or even a $20 to pay the food bill for a candidate. Of course, I also carried one Candidate’s American Express card and paid for hotel accommodations and private planes, but that’s another blog. What you didn’t see was that they closed most of NW Washington in order for him to get to Ben’s.

Today, he told George that he’s going to look, not only for places to eat, but for a place to worship. The nice thing is that he is sensitive to the consequences of his security demands and he understands that wherever he goes it will inconvenience the congregation (“You don't want to subject your fellow church members, the rest of the congregation, to being magged every time you go to church...”) But he wants to go somewhere to pray, and shouldn’t he be able to do that? The good news is that he’s not looking for a Synagogue – so we don’t have to worry. Nope, we’ll just keep focused on the lack of intelligent conversation on television.

And speaking of inconvenience. We're pretty much over this inaugural--what a pain in the tush. You can't go anywhere downtown or anywhere near where the President elect might be. Note, I said might be. If he's thinking about going, no one can be there--even if you don't know where that is. This is no different than it’s ever been – except maybe a bit more intense. We want this President to be safe and secure. We just don’t want to be anywhere in any area where that’s happening. We’re just sayin’....Iris

Friday, January 09, 2009

Who's the Terrorist?

A terrorist is simply defined a person or persons who terrorizes or frightens others.

It is raining on Capital Hill. Inside the Senate it is warm and toasty. All the recently elected Senators are waiting to be sworn in. All, except for Roland Burris. He wasn't elected, but some would still call him the ‘junior’ Senator from Illinois. Mr. Burris is standing uncovered amid a swarm of journalists. He seems slight, huddled beside his lawyers and the Washington Press Corp. He seems a quiet man—even introspective. He is sorry all the people who have come to hear what he has to say have to hear it outdoors in bad weather. He has been turned away at the entrance to the halls of power. Harry Reid has said he will never accept his credentials because he has been appointed by a person of questionable character. Mr. Burris says he doesn’t understand that. What did he do? The implication shouts injustice, and although not actually spoken asks, should the sins of the father become those of the child? Which, since Burris is 70 and the Governor is about 32, seems a bit of an age enigma, but it’s politics, where nothing ever makes sense.

Actually, I love this kind of politics and yes it’s a little distorted, but I think it’s terrific when someone like Blagojevich kind of sticks it to the those who think themselves smart political operatives or even elected officials. Whatever else you can say about him, (slime, no moral core, cheat, liar thief, and most importantly stupid hair), he is not slinking away either apologetically or with any remorse. He’s in their face --still the Governor. He was just doing his job and appointed an old, black, seemingly qualified, political gentleman, to fill Obama’s seat . If you wrote this as a movie, it would have to be fiction because nothing this absurd could be true.

As I watched Mr. Burris standing outside in the rain, in the middle of the crowd of journalists, he seemed terrified by all that was taking place. He seemed to have great difficulty trying to comprehend what had happened, he had almost no words, and no explanation for what appeared to be the Senate behaving badly. The Senate, in all its glory managed to strike terror into the heart of this kindly elderly local political person who was in Washington to represent the people of Illinois. ‘Surely the people of Illinois have a right to be represented’ he told the press.

You will note I used the word ‘terrified’ to describe the way Mr. Burris appeared. I might have used frightened or scared or even uncomfortable, but I didn’t. Everyone is concerned about terrorism. We are all terrified by the mere mention of a terrorist attack. When we hear ‘terrorist’ we think of the attack on the towers or the Pentagon. Is it possible that we need to think simpler—that we need to think about the terrorist who does not live in the Middle East and wants to destroy our society.

The Powers that be (Homeland Security, the Secret Service and the FBI – so far but it’s unclear because no one actually knows), have made the decision to close all the bridges to Virginia and Maryland during the Inaugural. How does this make us more secure? In addition, if you live in the District you will suffer the “Times Square New Years Eve Syndrome”. Which means, you can come, and stay put, but if you leave—don’t try to come back. We all get why security is important—especially for this Inauguration. But to close all the bridges to Virginia and Maryland? Exactly what does that accomplish. Oh, but buses and taxi’s can cross—because we all know that bus and taxi drivers are much less likely to be terrorists than just a suburban house frau. OK, so we close all the bridges because we know that they, rather than Inaugural activities are a likely target from 2am on the 19th to 7pm on the 20th. So what’s to prevent a terrorist from doing something naughty at 1am or 8pm? The simple answer is—nothing. It takes lots of people to close all the bridges and secure them. Doesn’t it make more sense just to use resources to secure the bridges rather than inconvenience all the rich political donors that live outside the District. Why not forbid any large vehicle (those that might hold explosives), to cross the bridges and insist that only people driving BMW’s, Lexus, and Mercedes can cross. In fact, why not insist that people who drive those cars provide transportation for those of us who drive Hondas, the Prius, or a Volkswagon. Now that makes some sense.

Here’s the thing. We have lost our sense of perspective and have become the terrorists we hear about. The Government is required to spend the money allocated for terrorist activities. It’s just that simple. The Political Conventions had 50 million dollars to spend on security and they managed to spend it in the most embarrassing ways. At the Democratic Convention, they had thousands of police surrounding 100 returning military Veterans who were peacefully protesting the war. And they had SWAT teams roaming the streets hoping to encounter a rogue grandmother. At the Republican Convention they arrested the media who asked uncomfortable questions. It is apparent that there is no one who is thinking about what makes sense. My mother would say ‘smart smart, stupid.’ Which quite simply means that there are people who have a great deal of book smarts but not an ounce of common sense.

So, is the Senate a terrorist body? Has Homeland Security become the our own well funded personal terrorist organization – have they (like any other terrorist group) overreacted to the point of lunacy? It is too hard answer these questions with a yes or no. What is obvious, however, is that the Government is convinced that they can dictate incredibly ridiculous policy by saying that they are protecting the population, and we, the citizens of this ‘free and democratic’ society are powerless to do anything except be afraid. So exactly who’s terrorizing the people of this great nation? The answer is as frightening as the policy. We’re just sayin’…Iris

Thursday, January 08, 2009

"the Kid Stays in the Picture!"

Two nights ago, watching the ABC news (yes, someone still watches the network news programs.. some 30 or 40 million people..), I was struck by something which flashed on the screen. The Obama family, freshly back from their last semi-normal vacation, had done a quick turn-around in Chicago, and flown to DC over the weekend. The reason? So the girls, Sasha and Malia, could start school on Monday, the same day that all the ‘other’ kids were coming back from Christmas break. It was the kind of situation which a President hadn’t had to face in decades. Chelsea, was a bit older, and her transition into DC school was relatively painless. Well, as painless as anything related to school can be for a teen-ager. Every kid, except the ones who are totally clueless (that would be math dweebs, or the kids in the “Audio Visual” class) has a tough time with the First Day of school. You kind of think you’re the only one feeling out of place, and that worry sits on your shoulders heavy, very heavy, as you start to meet other kids.

In the piece Charlie Gibson introduced, he spoke of his own trauma as a youngster, and as he did so the screen flashed quickly to an aged black and white photograph of a 7 year old Amy Carter, making her way up the frozen sidewalk to the Thaddeus Stevens Elementary School, the public school which Jimmy and Rosalyn had decided to send her. It is pretty unfair, frankly, for a kid who would probably attend a neighborhood school back home, to be thrown into the spot light of a public school, and one that may not even be so great academically, just because her ol’ man got elected President. It’s somewhere between “sins of the father visited on the child” and “no good deed goes unpunished.” It can’t have been that easy being Amy, I’m sure, but on that first day of school, it looks like she wasn’t having a lot of fun. Head down, with her Snoopy bag drooped on her shoulder, she walks the gauntlet. And what about all those guys around her. On each side of the frozen ice-covered walk-way was a set of stanchions and ropes, to try and keep the press photographers back and let Amy walk peacefully. Well I have to confess I was one of those photographers. Now I will say this: I don’t think, given the circumstance, that we acted particularly horribly. Should Amy have been allowed to walk quietly and unrushed to her class room? Probably. But the thing that is forgotten is that one of the reasons (say what you will about politics) that Amy went to this school was the fact that it WAS a public school. So if she attended, but there were no pictures or TV, then who would have ever known that little fact. It was, really, another of the games the press, the cognescenti, and the dweebs constantly play. In the spirit of the former Soviet worker who once told me “We pretend to work, they pretend to pay us...” it becomes one of those games which the press is quite good at. They pretend to have an event (Amy going to school, a Peace treaty signing in the East Room..) and we, the press, pretend to cover it. The formula isn’t altogether new, but it does kind of lumber along all by itself, from one generation to the next. Although, happily I suppose, the Obama girls, who got a lot of coverage this year, were slipped back into the “children of the President” cocoon. An attempt to try and shield them from Press. I am happy to see the Obama girls in a school where they don’t do things so much differently than a Vice Presidential hide-out: the keywords are Secure and Undisclosed. Let the girls try and have a life, let them deal with their own problems and not necessarily the affairs of state. It’s the least they deserve.

an AP shot that cold morning in 1977
But I will say, having been one of the rapacious lensmen that day, I really enjoyed looking back at, and trying to deconstruct that picture. I do remember that it was hideously cold. Ice was all over the sidewalks, and in fact, just out of frame to my left, photographer Owen Franken was attempting to take a shot from a step ladder, but of course he lost his balance and fell to the ice. Owen, bless him, had a habit of such things, but never seemed to get hurt, or for that matter, hurt anyone else on the way down. He’d just pick himself up, laugh it off, and keep shooting. And today he lives in Paris and photographs wonderful platters of food for the Times and others. I suspect he eats much better these days than the days in DC when he’d fall off a ladder as soon as look at it. And it looks like his little brother may actually get certified as the next Senator from Minnesota.

Nearer to me was my TIME mentor, Walter E. Bennett, but don’t call him that. He was Wally Bennett. (It helped to differentiate him from Utah Senator Wallace F Bennett, a good Mormon who was known NOT to drink 3 martinis every day at lunch.) A lion-hearted, wonderful and funny man who took me under his wing the summer I was a college intern (1967). Wally didn’t mess around. I’d been sent to DC by New York, and he never questioned my presence, nor bitched about it, instead he’d just hand me a couple of assignment sheets, fresh from the teletype machine, give me a little guidance on how to make the arrangements, and send me on my way. It was a great learning experience. Sadly, at 20, I was too young to legally drink. Wally, to the contrary, owned a seat at the bar across the street at Duke Zeibert’s. Duke’s was the place where all the ‘grown up’ photographers went for lunch. My impression was that the only food served there was Boiled Beef (hard to ruin that one), and olives, which would be found frolicing around any one of the myriad martini glasses in use. Wally was the only real 3 martini lunch guy I ever knew. And today we marvel at how those folks managed to throw back a few at lunch and still report for the afternoon shift. DC has always been a somewhat forgiving town, and in the end, you just took your pictures, shipped your film (oh yes, film, I forgot, there was film) and thought about another drink.

I’d met Wally Bennett several years prior, 1965 I think, when he accompanied Lady Bird Johnson on a trip to Salt Lake. I had just purchased a $49 lens for my screw-mount Leica, a 35mm/f 2.5 Nikkor. I was very proud of it, and for the first time, I had a fast wide angle lens. My cameras were pretty hodge-podge, and in addition to my Leica, I had a lovely silver Pentax. So I thought I was relatively hot stuff. I saw Wally, waiting for Lady Bird’s contingent to leave the hotel, and wandered over. Even at 18 I was looking at magazines every week, and I knew most of the photographers’ names. When I saw his name on a beatup leather shoulder bag sitting at his feet, I figured, cool as I was, that I’d say hello. He was smoking a Pall Mall, and as I inched closer, he seemed to react to my presence as if I were a gnat, ready to buzz annoyingly in his ear. I said hello, and as if to certify that I was a cool guy, I said something like “...and I have this new Nikkor 35mm lens for my Leica...” Wally, who was festooned with beautiful Nikon rangefinder cameras, the S3 and SP, lifted his hand and in the most subtle way, flipped his thumb on the top camera, saying “... I have a 25mm [wide angle]..... I’ll be a step in front of you...” In one nanosecond he had vanquished the gnat. And he’d done it with such mastery that I knew that someday I wanted to be able to deliver a line just like that.

In the Amy Goes to School picture, Wally is wearing the kind of slacks that we might use today in a quilt or perhaps a semaphore flag at a train depot. They scream “Two for One.” But somehow we all got through those years, Wally and his slacks, me and my Afro, and even little Amy Carter. Wally passed away about 8 years ago, but I still think of him often, and every time a young photographer asks me a stupid question (yes, there are such things as stupid questions) I try and answer in the way he might have. So far, unfortunately I haven’t been able to deliver “... I’ll be a step in front of you” just yet. But I remain optimistic.

As for Amy, sometimes I wonder if she wasn’t marked by that frozen morning, and secretly, in a way she probably will never confess to anyone, wishes that when she goes to Costco or Best Buy, there is someone like Owen tumbling off a giant stepladder, just to remind her of how much fun she really had. We’re just sayin’....David

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

The Rose Groman Shopping Experience

In the 60s, the great guitarist Jimi Hendrix asked us “Are You Experienced?” We all thought we were, though in truth, you think so? I know I was a total dork. I was experienced in worrying about things like “will the grown ups find out we’re screwing around?” when screwing around meant stuff like crank calls, and throwing water balloons at cars. Experienced? Well, not so much. But there was, as I grew up, a series of bogus companies which used the “experience” concept to try and sell themselves to the public. They were so unbelievably successful that inspite of two margaritas in the last two hours, I can’t think of a single one. But I know they existed. Sort of like the “Alan Parsons Project” except instead of a mere project, this was a real experience. Not the kind of thing we spend so much time worrying about of late, but occasionally something sets you off.. taps you on the shoulder… and says.. “experience…”

Iris and I had one of those the other day. We were en route to David and Karen’s wedding in West Orange (yes, its right next to Orange, and not so far from East Orange), and we found ourselves on Route 46, just where it meets Route I-80. I-80 is, of course, part of the vast network of 6 lane roads known broadly as the Eisenhower Interstate Hiway System, conceived of by the President/General as, no doubt, in a way that only a Logistics guy could imagine, a network for delivering the goods. In 1944 those goods would have been tanks, rations, ammo, and fuel. In 1956 and beyond… it was cars, food, and other consumer goods for which the hiway system provided a delivery channel. Pretty cool, I guess, if you weren’t used to having so much STUFF, like we are now.

When I married into the Dubroff family (Iris is a Dubroff on her mom’s side—Rose Groman -- and as all Jews know, the mother’s side is the only one that really counts, right?) I was introduced to a different kind of experience. The shopping experience. Even at our wedding, at her mom and dad’s house in Boonton NJ, there were traces of the shopping. Part of their preparations including covering a dozen tables in top grade paper table cloths. Yet, after they had opened the package, and cut them to size, they realized that it didn’t quite work, and STILL took them back to the store as “Returns.” I’d married into a family of world class shoppers, women (mainly) who knew the art of returning or more precisely, the art of purchasing and returning, sometimes in the same day, sometimes twice in one day. There was never any doubt about the ability to return an item in this family. If need be, you’d perhaps have to call in the heavy artillery (Aunt Sophie, who never took No for an answer) but it was just understood that purchases that came in were on trial, and had better behave, because otherwise.. it was .. whoosh… back in the bag, and back to the store for a refund. I wanted to write a memoir ten years ago when we moved to Boonton for a year, and lived with Nana. I even had the opening line figured out: “In the summer of my fiftieth year, I moved in with my mother – in – law.”

It kind of changed my idea about commerce in general. I’d heard of the Right of Return, but usually that meant something to do with diasporic Jews returning to Israel. I had no idea that it was something which had to do with commerce and floor staff who are able to just put things back on the shelf for another prospective buyer. So, now into my third decade I have come to appreciate all the effort that goes into being a full time shopper. Now I have a real look around when I come into a shopping Mecca, and try to appreciate some of the potentials for savings. It’s not something I immediately understand, but I do my best, and as it happens, some of those North Jersey venues where Rose shopped in her heyday, the 70s through the 90s, are still cookin’ with gas. And so it was that on Wednesday last we ended up at “The Source.” Not just any source, of course, but The Source.” If you spent much time around New York in the 80s, you’ll remember The Source as being none other than Fortunoff, being hawked for on the radio, TV and the newspapers by none other than Lauren Bacall. Whether it was fur coats, silverware, linens, or anything else related to your house, the one classy and wonderful place to purchase it for what were always competitive prices, was Fortunoff. And Betty Bacalls’ throaty and sexy voice did nothing to deter you from dropping some coin there. I’m sure if they’d bothered to ask that Rose would have been happy to do an endorsment. She could have emphasized the vast array of goods and the main point, as she once told me “…when Fortunoff has a Sale, it’s a SALE!” The voice of authority.

We were looking for some pillows for the NY apartment (yes, this is the thing I most love doing in life, with the sole exception of checking out cameras at B&H), so off we went to Fortunoff. The place is huge, and when I finally got tired of the looking, I just went back to the coffee maker area, and studied those very cool little “use a capsule of coffee to make one cup at a time” machines. They really are the coffee maker of the new century. And then there are the pillows, soft, medium, firm, extra firm. The small applicances, the blankets, the rugs, the cutlery. Well you get the point. And at each turn, as we changed direction and wandered into a new amazing array of goodies, there was a voice which seemed to chime into my ear something like “I’d wait for a sale.” Or, more to the point “this is not really nice enough for you.” Or, surprisingly “they must have sold all the good stuff. I’d wait till the next truck gets here.” They were all the voices I know as Nana. She loves to shop, but she hates a bad deal. And the funny thing is, you never really know what’s up and what isn’t until you have a Rose to guide you. It should probably require a C or D ticket, like Disneyland of yore, and imprinted on it would be the words “The Rose Groman Shopping Experience – Shopping Like You’ve Never Seen Before.” Fortunoff seems like the perfect place to start. Nana is living in Bainbridge now, and hasn’t been to Fortunoff for some time, but I am sure that were she to walk into the main foyer, between Silver Jewelry and Coffee Grinders, a magic voice would hop onto the intercom and announce that “today shoppers, you are in luck, today YOU may actually have the Rose Groman Shopping Experience…” People would drop their shopping baskets, and race to the door. No one would want to be left out. It is, after all, the Experience! We’re just sayin’… David

Monday, January 05, 2009

Not Uncomplicated

There is one street in our neighborhood where you can actually park your car during the day. Unfortunately I will not give you more information than that because the competition is fierce for every space and so it is information that I am better off not divulging – to anyone within 100 miles. Last Friday I was driving across town and, having heard rumor that there were some long term spaces around the corner, I decided to take a look. And there was one fairly small space open – so I took it. I was so excited to have found it that I really didn’t really know what to do to celebrate. I sat there for a while and then I called a few friends to share the news. “How long do you have?” They asked. “Four days”. I replied. “Wow,” they said. They were right.

This parking is not without a few complications. Like, you have to move the car for street cleaning on Monday and Thursday between 10 and 11:30am. The strategy is to sit in your car until the street cleaner or parking Nazi arrives and then move it to the other side of the street while the cleaning ensues and then you move it back to the space where it had been parked. People actually sit in their cars for that hour and a half and then don’t worry for another few days. A lot of books get read.

Watch out for cleaning, Mon/Thu 10-1130
I chose not to participate in this ritual. Regrettably. I put the car in a garage. But I did want to see what happened between those “street cleaning” hours so we went back at about 11:00 a.m. to take a look. Sure enough, people were sitting in their vehicles waiting for the time to pass. The street cleaner had been and gone but in NY, you don’t leave your car when there is any chance that the wicked “ticketer” might appear to increase city revenue by $65.

The Bumble Bee, at a Secure Undisclosed Location
“It was stupid not to wait,” I said. “I could have listened to a book on tape or read the newspaper.” He agreed. As we were walking around the corner we happened upon some workmen who were delivering sheet rock to a customer. They were occupying at least one space which they would likely be vacating later in the day. “Let’s just ask”. I said to David. Richie, the workman, said that they would be leaving around 4 and if I wanted the space he would wait for me. “You have the Mini, right?” I have no idea how he guessed that, but I confessed I did and thanked him in advance.

It occurs to me that these negotiations are not unlike those happening in Washington. While it is true that parking a car is not getting a job in the Government, ‘who you know’ and ‘being in the right place at the right time’ is critical to your success. For example, there was good news from the White House-elect this morning. Pete Souza, a talented and experienced photographer, is going to be the Official Obama photographer. Pete did a great book on Reagan and covered Obama from the time he went to Congress. He was the right person, who had done the right things, for the right guy. He will have to put an office together. That means he will have to select from hundreds of people, those who will get positions in the White House photo office. There is, to be sure, not uncomplicated maneuvering among all the prospective photo staffers. To be sure, people who know people are calling those people to make a case. This office is no different from any other. “Who do you know?” and “Who have you spoken to?” Are those the sentences of the times?

Last week I got four calls from acquaintances inquiring about if I was going back ‘in.’ That’s how people from Washington talk about a job in government. Like you’re about to serve some kind of sentence in an institution. When I tell them I’m not, that doesn’t end the conversation. “Well then, who have you talked to about what’s going on, and will you call so and so and see if they can help me?” Hard as it is for me to admit, and I share this, I can’t really be of any help because other than Hillary, I don’t know anyone in charge of anything. Although until yesterday my best shot was Bill Richardson. “So can you call Hillary?” they ask. “Absolutely not,” I reply in the kindest possible way. The politics are much too complicated and not unlike the car. This Secretary of State has to consider all the people who worked in her Senate Office, all her campaign people, all the Obama people who gave money and have expertise, and all the people who gave her money who have people they want to have jobs.

The State Department is no different anywhere in the new Government, but those people who were part of the Washington scene have a bit more pressure because they have people who live in Washington who expect to be compensated, (often for no reason other than they have geographic proximity) so it’s a bit more immediate because they are in your face.

To be sure, transitions in government, like finding a parking space, are not my favorite activities. They both bring out the worst in people. I much prefer parking in my cousin’s garage (the Aston-Martin remains in my space—but that’s another blob), or being in charge of hiring people. It seems to me that there are better ways to spend one’s time than waiting for someone else to move a car or make a decision about a position – but it’s all a part of a not uncomplicated logistical game. We’re just sayin’….Iris

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Black Eyed Peas

Black eyed peas have always been an unlikely celebratory dish because, let’s face it, they taste like dirt. The first time I went to a New Year’s Day party it was hosted by friends from Georgia. They served ham, cheese biscuits grits, cream cheese with pepper jelly (another dish I had never even thought about trying because I had never heard of pepper jelly – and the only thing we ate with mounds of cream cheese was a bagel). And then there were black eyed pea’s, cooked forever in pork fat (probably), and served in a silver turene. Despite the lengthy preparation and elegance in delivery, they still tasted like dirt. For years I went to New Year’s, and other Southern celebrations hoping to develop a taste for the little white beans with a black dot, but it never happened. People often develop a taste for unfamiliar foods like Gefilte Fish, bacalau, or octopus, (maybe it’s about the fish), but no matter how often the attempt to savor the flavor, they still make me choke.

This year was the first time in many years that we didn’t have to think about how we were going to spend it. A dear friend got married and decided to do it with friends, music and overlooking the skyline of New York.

David and Karen, as the Rabbi reads the Ketubah
For a long time we hosted a party for close pals and anyone who had no place to go. But then, a few years ago, we started losing friends (we knew where they went, but we didn’t want to go) and my heart just wasn’t in big celebration anymore. Last year we were in Northern California staying at the Tuscan-like villa at long time friends. We joined their children for a great dinner with a few of their pals. There was great wine (he owns a vineyard called the Alpha Omega Winery—be sure to look them up), wonderful food and mostly nice people. I mean that in the kindest possible way because there was one guy who was incredibly obnoxious and in our morning wrap up, our gracious host could not remember why he had extended that invitation. But we had a good time.

Dress up......

Dress down...
Try as we might we can’t remember what we did two years ago – we know where we were but not what we were doing. Three years ago, Jordan decided to come home with her then boyfriend to have a “real” Washington celebration. We made arrangements to have dinner, dancing, and fireworks at the Kennedy Center. At about 6pm we mutually decided we were not in the mood to go. We rushed out to the market (by then there was not much food left on the shelves) bought the last tenderloin in Arlington and surrounded it with some elegant vegetables and potatoes. We dressed in formal garb for the dinner and changed into pajamas for dancing and welcoming in the new year. It doesn’t take much more than good food and good company to do any welcoming.

And speaking of good food and the New Year. Last night we joined friends at a Greek restaurant they always liked before it moved – recently -- to a larger location. We thought it sounded terrific and was worth a try—besides we love spending time with these people so food is never an issue. The restaurant is called Kefi on the west side of NYC. The good news is that the food was excellent and pretty reasonable. Of course, we had four desserts and two bottles of wine so reasonable is relative. The bad news is that it was noisy and they squeezed as many people into a small space as was possible. The place isn’t small but there two tables in a space big enough for one. But even that was workable—we were willing to stand to give people access to their tables and we used our utensils with arms at our sides. Admittedly, we were having a great time catching up on our kids, our work, and just life in general when our waiter (a competent attentive server) came over an told us that the manager, maybe owner, Kosta, needed our table and wanted us to wrap it up. He was courteous, and maybe he didn’t say it exactly that way, but that was the essence. We were astounded. When we made the reservation no one said that we could arrive at 7:15 but they needed the table back by 9 or 9:30. When we go out for an evening, we hardly ever think about putting a time limit on our fun. Howard (a most intelligent, articulate and eloquent fellow who does not suffer stupidity very well), was most logical when he talked to Kosta with our complaint. “ Do you accept the idea that at a certain point you don’t take anymore reservations or you don’t tell customers you have anymore space.” With a shrug of shoulders, Kosta agreed, but agreeing and actually caring are two different things. Kosta had dollar signs flashing in his eyes and for him, old customers who had lingered too long at a table he wanted to turn over, were just not that important. It was a genuinely lovely evening that ended on a bit of a disagreeable note. And although we agreed we probably would go back on an evening that was not so busy, we are not rushing and if there is an alternative we are more likely to do that.

Enough of Kosta and his less than diplomatic approach to good customers and back to New Year’s celebrations. They are over. I haven’t yet signed a check with the year 2009 but that will happen soon enough. It would be difficult to celebrate New Years Eve on a day other than December 31st (as we do with other holidays). Oh, we could simply skip it and go directly to Chinese New Year—which always has excellent food—but the New Year is a time that is so “in your face” it’s impossible to avoid. Maybe because it is a reflective time or maybe because it is a time when we are all hopeful about the year to come, but it is nearly impossible to skip or move it. Every year I like to think about how I want to spend my time and how I can make a difference in the universe. That lasts for about a week and then I usually just make a bread instead of an impact. But this year I am resolved to explore anything about which I am passionate – whether it be personal or professional. And if everyone I know did that – well, we would certainly have more smiles. We’re just sayin’… Iris