Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Ole State O' the State

Maybe I am a bit biased, but of course it was a Udall who suggested that at the President’s State of the Union, Republicans and Democrat sit together. (The bias comes from having worked for the Udall Presidential campaign as part of the candidate’s personal staff – just FYI). Mo Udall was beloved by elected officials from every party and political persuasion. (OK, enough all about me.)

You would have to be deaf, or an idiot not to think this was a brilliant speech. That it was targeted, not only to liberal Democrats but conservative Republicans, there was something for everyone. It was a pep rally. While it was a list of things he expected the American people and American business to achieve. There was no extended applause. If you looked at the room you realized that there was no political comfort zone for any one person. There was a great deal of looking around to see who was clapping and who was not. Even the Vice President and the Speaker seemed less confrontational. There was no jumping up and down when the President said something they liked or with which they didn’t agree. Maybe Joe just doesn’t like to listen to anyone else speak.

The Republican response was equally mellow. This Chairman of the House Budget Committee (a good choice), was leader, father, politician, historian, philosopher, cleric, cheese head and all around nice guy. But wait. He wasn’t that nice. He went after health care, lack of job creation, and Washington interference. Oh well, the hands across America lasted for five minutes – it could have been shorter. It could have started before the speech began. Never mind, he and the President both want to go down a new path. A kind of the Robert Frost approach to change. Path is a good word. So much better than highway, or freeway. It’s more intimate and green. It doesn’t matter that we don’t know where anyone’s path is leading.

Pundits will say it was two different, very different approaches to the way Government should work. But they get paid to say things like that. And if they don’t they will have nothing to say. It all sounded pretty much the same to me. Among other issues, a five year spending freeze, cuts in domestic spending, a serious look at defense costs and health care reform were all recognized as serious concerns. The road not taken, was one where the two addresses looked for common ground, and common sense as well as common concern.

There are reasons why there are two parties. People do have different ways to achieve goals, and priorities are not all the same. Regardless of intent, I have to admit, I liked the “date night” approach to Congressional differences. Maybe, like when we were in Junior High school, the next step should be a lunch time dance. Now that would be something to see. We’re just sayin...Iris

Monday, January 24, 2011

A Case for Plan B

And speaking of Miss America (you will have to read my previous blob to see that I was), being Miss America was not ever a career goal, or something to which I aspired, however, it never occurred to me that it was not an option. That was until my mother (and my aunts) agreed that I couldn't smile for the whole show. “ What a shame,” they would say, “Such a pretty girl and such a miserable punim (face).” OK, I was a little disappointed, but only until (years and years later) my friend Deborah, who was once Miss Arkansas, shared some of the tricks of the trade, like secret places you put Vaseline, and parts of the body which needed to be secured with tape. Having to alter normal body parts was not for me. As you can guess, it was a good excuse not to care about ever entering a beauty contest.

Anyway, that is not what I wanted to blob about. Our search has ended for a Universal theme that defines Gefilte Fish Chronicles: the Musical. (GFC). It is so simple, and yet absolutely what every member of every family knows; “All Mankind is born again in the child.” Soooo cool. But that’s not what I wanted to blob about either.

There is always one someone who you need to identify in order to make something happen. Whether it be in politics, business, entertainment, or life, if you need to get an important task done (like identifying a site for a political event, getting a proposal accepted, green lighting a movie or a show, arranging to find a way to get on an overbooked flight, getting a permit to do construction on your house, or getting your cable TV to work. Sometimes you need to make 100 phone calls to get to the right place. Sometimes (if you get lucky), a person you reach early in your pursuit, will give you the exact information you need. Sometimes, your adventure will end in total frustration and you will have to find a plan B. Needless to say, there isn’t always a plan B and if there is no B, C is not usually an option.

The other day I was trying to find out who was Richard Attenborough’s agent. Why? because I miss him. Years ago, when I was in the events business I created the international premiere of the film “Gandhi.” During that time I lived in India (in a colorful hotel) with Dicky – that’s what you call him if you’re pals. We were professional pals, we did not share space. My job was to try to get the film opened, reviewed, accepted by the press and the public. While this is not complicated if you are working in the US, in India, it was a nightmare. Part of the job was to identify space for the public premiere (with an invitation list – try that when a billion people think they should be there), identify space for two Press premiere’s, (this meant moving people who lived there, out of the movie house parking lot.) Develop that invitation list – there were a billion press people who thought they should be invited. Make all the arrangements for the VIP’s (Coretta King), the celebrities (Ben Kingsley) and deal with Indira Gandhi’s government. Oh, and the British government. Oh, and UNICEF – which was the non- profit organization benefiting from the event. This is all to say, every once in a while I try to find old friends.

First, I Googled the information. Then, when I had some names, I phoned. And that was just the beginning. Too many phone calls through too many super protective assistants – none of whom was even willing to take a message. It truly was a charming time when people actually anwswered their telephones. All I wanted to do was say hello to an old friend with whom I had lost touch.

In defeat, (which generally is not my style), I stopped the search. If something happens to or with him, I guess I’ll have to read it in the paper. Just one person –the right person could have been responsible for a magnificent reunion. But alas, all I was left with were unanswered questions and an emptiness in my heart. So if anyone knows him, you could be my plan B. We’re just sayin’… Iris

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Too Much, Too Long

One of the more amusing GEICO ads on tv , and lets be honest between the “weeeeeee” piggy and the wood chucks, they have established a genre all their own, is the spot in which the question is raised, “ did it take too long for the Walton’s to say good night to each other.” The charming thing about that spot, all “goodnight John Bob” of it, is that there is the tiniest evocation of something with a little less guile and self-anointment than the country we now live in. Where am I going with this? Well, though I carry a half dozen credit cards, described myself as DBGTPJ for a few years (ah, that was DaveBurnettGlobeTrottingPhotoJournalist) I did grow up in a time when there wasn’t near the level of technological impact on our lives. No iPhone, no Droid. No flat-screen. No Remote. No laptop. No modems. In fact virtually none of the everyday appliances invented in the last thirty or so years were anything beyond an idea in the imagination of some worthy cartoonist. The Dick Tracy watch/intercom was pretty forward thinking, even if it didn’t have a built-in camera.

Last night, watching Modern Family with my sister, and her 16 year old son, this week’s episode about the kids surprising the parents in their bedroom with a breakfast tray only to see that they were making whoopee, was a far cry from what was on the air in the 1950s. My nephew joined in the fun, aware as most 16 year olds are – in some fashion – about all those things which were hidden from public discussion in the Eisenhower years, sex above all. In trying to explain the leap between his Junior year in High School and my own, I said, “hey, we watched Spin and Marty.” A staple of the daily “Mickey Mouse Club,” S&M was a show about a rich kid (with a butler) and a non-rich kid at a summer camp for young cowboys. And aside from the Snipe hunt it was pretty tame stuff. Yes, it was a different world, with expectations no less demanding, even if the circumstances we lived in seemed at the time, quite fulsome and lacking in deprivation.

Our biggest worry was that the Russians would figure out a way to fly a plane to Salt Lake, or a rocket and “drop an atom bomb” on us. There were just enough confrontations and bombastic behaviour to give those worries steam. Coming home from school (the 7th grade, I believe ) one day in 1958 my brother greeted me with the information that “we’re almost in a shooting war with the Russians” over Lebanon. It was part of the East-West post WW2 struggle which seemed an almost everyday occurrence. Happily, in most cases it remained on the order of a giant chess game. Pieces were moved around, strategies feigned, yet no single cataclysmic event actually took place, unless you consider the price of a Snickers going from a nickel to a dime cataclysmic. I probably did.

My mom wasn’t a really great cook, but she knew enough dishes to be able to get through a week without duplication, though when the gnarly old broiling pan came out, I knew we were about to be served that most challenging of youthfully eyed dishes, broiled kidneys. You wanna talk uncuttable? Even with a ‘good knife’ there was no way to tear into those puppies. We took our Unicap vitamins every day, drank a glass or two of milk, and on Fridays, especially if dad was home – not on the road selling watches – we’d get steak. The difference being that it was usually one big T-bone for the whole family, and there would be long ongoing discussions about which side of the bone you got. Dad was a master carver, and would always carve the meat in the kitchen, perfectly parallel rows of sirloin on one side and tenderloin on the other, as if cut by a jigsaw. The plaintive cry of my brother and I was that we “never get to cut the meat ourselves.” Maybe that was one of those missing bits of childhood development which would have yielded all the greater “masters of the universe” had we been forced to cut our own steak. We’ll never know.

But the one thing I think I do know is that while it wasn’t a Morton’s porterhouse the size of a small car, that steak was truly more than enough for the family of five. And the fact that we set the big dining table – no ketchup bottle on the table, thank you! and ate like a Rockwell family, seemed to imbue those dinners with something somehow lacking in today’s world. What we have today surely is the banishment of “just enough” as a way of seeing the world. Whether it’s ten million dollar mansions, hundred thousand dollar sedans, or merely the 48 ounce porter house, in so many ways we have too much, given to children too soon, and for far too long. The feelings of entitlement that today’s kids have thrown at them are surely not a fault of their own. The gamesmanship parents play to prove their own offspring somehow superiour does so little to get the children ready for life, that it is at once startling and sad. I know it has become something old hat for my generation to speak longingly of how tough we had it in the fifties and sixties, but with all the simplicity that life handed us we still ended up ok. Today, though, is one of those days when a little reflection might not be a bad thing.

My junior high school (Olympus “… with your flag of white and blue unfurled’ we re proud for all the world to see…”) was typical in that schools built in the 1950s might have had a Public Address system, and a big 16mm projector in the auditorium, but otherwise they lacked anything which we would today consider high tech. So it was, in my 9th grade gym class, on a cold January day fifty years ago (hmmm I guess just writing that number makes me want to go lie down and have a heart attack!) that Don Laursen, the coach, wheeled in a 15” black and white TV to the gymnasium. Once plugged in, we knew it must be something special, since we had never before seen a TV in school. He turned it on and tuned it to Channel 5, the strongest signal in town, and we were informed that we would be watching the Inauguration of the new President. John F Kennedy, (you always pronounced the F if you said his full name) was taking the reins from Ike, and we were there to share in the moment. And there was something transfixing about that phrase “and so my fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you…” and the fact that even in very conservative, very Mormon Salt Lake City, we were being treated to the induction of a Democratic president made it a special moment. Just two years later, when I attended Boys State in the summer of 1963 at Utah State University, we ‘Staters rubbed elbows with a bunch of college grads training for the Peace Corps, perhaps the single most idealistic concept this government has ever hatched. It all seemed to come together, and though there were those constant threats of US/Soviet tension, we did seem to feel the world was going to be our oyster.
JFK visits Salt Lake City, Sept 1963
And so today, with electronic news dissemination causing no story to have a life beyond a few minutes, no chance for reflection possible before the next barrage or hailstorm of ‘breaking news’…. Oh wait, Snooki in Florida is breaking news? Well, whatever we call it, it just keeps overwhelming our senses, our ability to think through and digest. The idea of a family of means sharing one nice steak has given way to everyone having way too much, way too soon, and for way too long. I wish there were some way to just slow things down a little. But when I see a Youtube video of a five piece band making music on a subway train using nothing but iPhones, I guess it’s pretty clear that we’re not going back to Spin and Marty. Nonetheless I commend to you, take five minutes and read that Inaugural address. It remains one of the great calls for reasonable behaviour uttered in modern times. In my life I have heard the whisper of Obama in a hall of 20000 supporters, reminding us “yes, we can.” And I suppose that like Kennedy, the reality of governance always strays far from the idealism and principles which got one elected in the first place. But to read Kennedy’s Inaugural address (or listen to it, but reading it yourself is even more powerful) you understand that inspite of all the overbearing difficulties of today’s modern world, merely taking the time to reflect has value. And while this line was written with the Soviets in mind, we would do well to remind all our own elected leaders to take it to heart: “So let us begin anew -- remembering on both sides that civility is not a sign of weakness, and sincerity is always subject to proof. Let us never negotiate out of fear, but let us never fear to negotiate.”

I find it beyond all reason to try and understand how I could have already lived long enough to have events clearly in my mind from fifty years ago. Were this 1961 right now, and my teacher Coach Laursen to have the same wistful memory, we would be talking about January 1911. Life is rolling along too quickly for my taste. Maybe it would slow down the tiniest bit if I could just do a little less, a little slower, and for a just a moment longer. We’re just sayin’….David

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Gone Phishin'

Last night I dreamt that my mother was back and staying in our old house. (Don’t worry Ro, this is not sad). She was the Rosie whose favorite activities were her service as a volunteer at the hospital, and returning things she had shopped for, probably a day or two prior to the return. “It’s my exercise,” she would say. “I walk the entire mall, at least twice every time I go.” Which may I say, was everyday that she didn’t volunteer at the hospital.

Anyway, I was driving past the old homestead and there she was, on the lawn. “Wow, Mom,” I said. “I thought you were gone.”

She just looked at me and said, “Where would I go?” We made small talk for a while and then she invited me in for tea and Vienna Finger cookies. And in I went.

The house looked different. Well of course it did. Someone else lived there. “Mom, do the new owners know you are staying here? Did you call them? You remember, we sold the house to those nice people who put Christmas lights on the bushes.”

In typical Rosie fashion she said, “Why is it their business. It’s always going to be my house”.

“But Mom, we don’t own it anymore. You remember, you moved to Victoria Mews and then out to Seattle with Jeff and Els?”

“Sure. I remember everything.” Her tone was, ‘what do you think? I am some kind of idiot?’ “But what does that have to do with the price of tea in China?”

At that point, I figured the only thing that made sense was that someone had stolen her identity. (Even when I’m dreaming I need it to make sense. Which reminds me, if anyone gets an email message from me suggesting they: need to go on a diet, buy a cosmetic product, or invest in some ridiculous real estate scheme, please assume I got phished.)

Soon enough, (in dream time), Mom got out all the gold jewelry she pretended was real. “Don’t you think this is all gorgeous.” She was clearly talking to herself. “Costume can be as nice as the real stuff.” Then I knew it was my mother, because she was the single only person west of Brussels who would say something like “this crap is to die for,” and really believe it.

We chatted for a while and when I was ready to leave I asked her if wanted me to give her some money. “Why would you ask that Darling. I’ve always had my own money. Why would I need yours?”

Then, I didn’t know what to do, but I figured honesty was the route to take. “Mom, you died and Jeffrey and I split all your money.”

“You didn’t give any to my grandchildren and great grandchildren? You made me wait long enough to be a grandma. I want them to remember that I took care of them, even if I wasn’t there.” And with that she went back into the house. All I could think about was the new house owners arriving home to find Rosie a permanent part of their lives.
Rose and Jordan Kai, 1989
When I awoke, I realized what the dream was about. Over the last few weeks, we have been talking about what to put on her headstone. The sandblaster thought it should be a duplicate of my dad’s (it’s a double headstone, which always gave me the willies).

“But Mom was her own person, and we know she would want her own inscription.”

“There has to be something in Hebrew,” Melissa, the person in charge of memorials insisted.

“Well, Jeffrey wants the Hebrew portion to say, “I never had duck”. That gave her pause.

“I’m not sure there’s a Hebrew word for duck – maybe poultry.”

“You see,” I explained, “Whenever we went to a Chinese restaurant and had a dish with duck, my Mother always said, ‘I never had duck.’ It’s kind of a family joke.”

“Ok, well we will do whatever you want us to do.” She couldn’t wait to get off the phone.

If you want to know what our final decision was you’ll have to come to the unveiling, but that’s not the reason for the blob. After months of being sad, Jeffrey and I had a fabulous laugh about whether or not there was a Hebrew word for duck. As Mom would have said, “sure, laugh at my expense.” She also would have said I could never be Miss America because I couldn’t smile for the duration of the show. But that’s another blob. We’re just sayin’…. Iris

Friday, January 14, 2011

How Does the King Speak

Before I blob about what I intend to blob about, it occurs to me that Sarah Palin is a dope and we are simply spending too much time comparing her to the President – and other credible public personalities.

If you haven’t seen ”The Kings Speech”, march right down to your local movie theater. It is a remarkable film. And in the realm of “It’s all about me” –which of course, it always is, the story revolves around a soon to be/then King and the speech teacher who taught him how to overcome his stammer. Sounds dry, right? Well, Geoffrey Rush and that adorable Colin Firth are far from dry. Their performances are brilliant, moving, hilarious. So what makes this about me, you ask, because I haven’t given you a clue. Good question, glad you asked.

With much gratitude to my Voice and Articulation Professors at Emerson College – and the number of speech improvement classes we had to take in order to graduate—regardless of major, I was able pay a substantial part of my tuition by tutoring young women who wanted to get rid of their Massachusetts accents and move from secretarial work to management careers. It was fairly lucrative and, although I was never a speech therapist, I was actually capable of helping people with simple voice and articulation problems. There were also a couple of semesters at a Catholic Middle School, where I was hired to teach public speaking in an auditorium size classroom. As you may know, having gone to 6th, 7th, or 8th grade, Middle School kids are incapable of sitting quietly. That was OK by me, because it was a public speaking class. But the Nuns wanted silence and were likely to slap knuckles with a ruler if they heard a sound. Needless to say, my career in Catholic Schools, as well as Middle Schools, was short lived.

If you have seen the film, you know how painful it is to watch someone struggle with a speech problem. And whether the problem is a stutter, or an irritating slushy ‘s’, the person who has the problem, (unless they are in total denial or they use the problem as a tool for attention), is uncomfortable every time they open their mouths.

Throughout my various careers (in politics, academia, entertainment, the corporate and non profit sector-- whew that's tiring), being able to earn some money by teaching people how to improve their speech, has been live saving. But it has also been great fun. My favorite client was Tony Snow, the editor of the “Washington Times”, the conservative Republican newspaper in DC. Tony, who is now a bright star in heaven, didn’t like the sound of his voice and he wanted to transition from pencil to electronic media. A friend of a friend suggested he contact me. Which, despite my politics, he did. Tony had no major problems, just a tight throat and his pitch was a bit high. We could have worked for a couple of weeks and he would have been fine. But we had so many laughs, we worked for six months –maybe more.

Soon after, Tony made the career transition. Every time I heard him on TV or the radio, I felt proud to have been his coach. His work with me was confidential and until this blob, no one knew that he was working on his voice. You may remember that Tony was the Bush 2 Press Secretary (talk painful). But he was also a speechwriter for Bush 1. It was during this time that he called and asked me if I would help the President with his speech problems. I was not prepared to help the Republican President deliver a message. And despite Tony’s convincing argument about the Presidency not being political – I just couldn’t. However, I loved Tony and said if he sent me tapes of the President’s speeches, I would help him to write the speeches in a way that would make it easier for the President to speak. In the case of President Bush one, he had breath control problems, so Tony just needed to write shorter sentences. Every once in a while Tony would call me for a speech “brush up”, and we remained good friends until he died.

When we were watching “The King’s Speech”, it brought back wonderful memories, of working with all those people to be more confident, about themselves and what they wanted to say. And regardless of who they were or where they were professionally, it always made me feel terrific knowing I had been able to help them succeed, even if it was just a little. We’re just sayin. Iris

Sunday, January 09, 2011

Everyone is Saddened

Everyone is saddened by the horrific shooting of Congressman Giffords and the death or injuries to the people who came to meet her or stand by her, while she met her constituents in Arizona. (Sorry Ro, this isn’t going to be happy, maybe tomorrow).

So many questions today, about what kind of a person would do this and why they felt that shooting the Congressman was an answer to solving a problem. And before anyone could answer this question, Sarah Palin aides denied any ill intended public messages sent by the great White Hunter during election season -- despite the fact that the Palin website put a bull's eye on 20 House districts, including Giffords' 8th District in Arizona. The headline read: "We've diagnosed the problem. ... Help us prescribe the solution." The website is no longer online. And with Palin’s expression of sorrow, I’m sure Palin and her people feel absolved of any guilt.

And, maybe she’s neither responsible, at fault, or guilty of any rhetoric or act that encouraged this demented young assassin to think killing a Congressman, who disagreed with him, would solve all the nations problems. Of course, at a time like this there are so many opinions about who should take responsibility for this senseless act of violence. In Washington, they would call it “the blame game”. (I hate that politicians and the media think they have to name every action).

Is is important to get answers to all our questions. Yes, it is. But not at the expense of making reasonable, sensible decisions about how to respond. Yesterday, the pundits were talking about closing the Capital – the People’s house. Why would that make any sense. The shooting happened in Arizona because an elected member of Congress wanted to share ideas. What would make much more sense is closing the mouths of those Congresspeople who do not understand the ramifications of what they say. Am I suggesting we ban freedom of speech. Of course not. I am suggesting that along with their logistical briefings about how to be a Congress man or woman they have a mandatory course in behavior and civility.

Cong. Morris K Udall, also from Tucson, Arizona, was known for his wisdom humor and civility. Two of my favorite Udall quotes are “Lord, give us the wisdom to utter words that are gentle and tender, for tomorrow we may have to eat them.” And “If you can find something everyone agrees on, it's wrong.” OK there is one more … “I have learned the difference between a cactus and a caucus. On a cactus, the pricks are on the outside.” Mo felt that while it was important to recognize the strength and weaknesses of his colleagues, he also understood the need to be collegiate and civil. He was beloved. And when he was in the Veterans Hospital dying, the person who came to visit him every week was John McCain, with whom he agreed about nothing, but still loved and respected his opinions.

Campaign and Election rhetoric has become absolutely unacceptable. The anger, hostility, lies and limited understanding of why and how someone should get elected is disgraceful. Just because a candidate agrees with some campaign advertisement, does not mean it is right or in fact, true. Candidates have become so consumed by the idea of power and the arrogance of “knowing” what’s good for the entire universe, that they no longer have the ability to make reasoned decisions, act for the good of the nation, as well as their constituencies, and operate in a civilized manner. I just don’t think increasing security or blaming one person is going to solve any problems. I think the education of an official as well as their constituency, (even if it takes some time), is the only thing that will make a difference. We're Just Sayin'... Iris

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Coach Mol...

When I talked to Rosalie yesterday I promised her I would write an upbeat happy blob today. So, I am going to try to turn what would ordinarily be a sad story into a happy, happy, contribution.

When I was in seventh grade (and yes I do remember back that far), I had a favorite teacher. He was young, incredibly energetic, and along with being a coach, he taught health. You can only imagine what it must have been like to teach health to a bunch of horny kids, who have no idea why they are horny, but he had a great sense of humor and he hardly ever hung Freddy Boringer on a hook in the front of the classroom. (Don't ask, I was just happy it wasn't my cousin Stevie who spent a great deal of time on the hook, as well.)

Anyway, Coach Mol made us all feel comfortable about bodily functions and cleanliness discussions-- not necessarily at the same time. He showed movies and gave us books and occasionally he would diagram a football or basketball play. It was not an easy time for me because my dad was losing his ability to be mobile and I spent a great deal of time in a rage -- although I didn't know why I was angry at the time. I just was. And for whatever reason, when I was in Coach Mol's class, he made me feel like someone (not in my family) who really cared about me, how I felt, what I thought.

One day we were doing some kind of project which required paper and glue. Someone dumped glue on the floor. The Coach thought it was me. It wasn't. But I thought if I didn't take the blame, Stevie or Freddie would take the blame. So, there I was wiping the floor with a dirty rag and the Coach, trying to be funny, said I wasn't doing a good job. And that's all it took for the rage to return. My pal had betrayed my good deed. "It isn't good enough!" I yelled. And then I threw the gluey rag at him and fled to the girls room. Eventually I came out and there he was waiting at the girls room door. "I didn't do it," I said.

And he said, "I know that now, and I am so sorry kid. Sometimes adults make terrible mistakes, and what's really important is for you to accept my apology -- and never give up your sense of injustice.”

It was a lesson that stuck with me my whole life. You can look for injustice wherever, but never be afraid to admit you are wrong, or to apologize for a mistake.

The coach remained my pal throughout high school. He always called me “kid” and continued to be totally supportive of whatever crazy decisions I made. He was a Marine, and a rare human being. Of late, having been sick for quite sometime, he was living with his daughter in Ohio. I spoke to him right before Christmas. “Kid”, he said, “never lose hope. I am so proud of you and I know that whatever you decide to do, you will always make a difference.”

In the sadness about his loss, I feel comforted that he was surrounded by people who loved him and that he was always spirited and upbeat about life and death.

So Ro, I am sorry I couldn’t be absolutely happy, happy, but having had the benefit of the coach’s wisdom for so many years, I can’t help but smile whenever I think about the person, how centered he was, how he influenced so many lives, and how he loved me despite my politics.