Wednesday, November 28, 2012

New York & Weirdness

New York is an especially weird place during the Christmas holidays.  You noticed I said, especially.  There was a protest in Times Square today.  It wasn’t the usual run of the mill protest,  with chanting and marching.  Oh no,  this time hundreds of Albanians gathered on the red stairs in Greeley Square. Those steps are at the heart of Broadway, Aside from all the “On Broadway” theaters, right underneath the steps are the TKTS booths.  That’s where they sell half price tickets for shows on and off Broadway.  My hope is that this is not the start of a new way to corral media attention.   It’s not that I don’t love a good protest, or a good march, (although I do not like being in the middle of a crowd), it’s fun to stand on the sidelines and just watch.  But protests should send a message – and a big part of the message is the place where the protest takes place.  A human rights demonstration at the Lincoln Memorial, an Arab protest outside an Israeli Embassy, Earth Day in a park.  Now these make sense.  And I could be wrong, but I don’t remember Albanians being denied tickets to “Wicked” or even “Annie”.  So what is that about.  Maybe they chose the steps for their color.  The Albanian flag is mostly red, with a little black.  It’s just part of the “weird” in the city. 

It’s a time when tourists, most of whom don’t speak more than a few words of English, and who are negotiating the largest subway system in the world –which is not easy, even if you speak perfect English, can be found at Rockefeller Center waiting for the annual Christmas tree lighting.  They begin to line up at about 2:00pm.  The lighting ceremony begins at 7pm.  From about 4pm the police start to shut down the streets.  It is unlikely that there would be any terrorist attacks at the Christmas tree lighting, because it is so crowded that you cannot move your hands away from your body.  In addition, if you line up within “range,” you would have to be on site by 1pm.  By the time there was a crowd, any terrorist, male, female, big or small, would have to go to the bathroom. And if you leave you can’t get back in.  From my perspective, being confined like a rat in a trap, would be the last way I would want to spend a pleasant evening – especially if it was going to be my last evening on earth. (catch up, I’m making a joke about suicide, which under the best of circumstances isn’t easy.)

After I hurried out of the Albanian protest, and out of the mess in Rockefeller Center, I proceeded cross town. I thought the East side would be less chaotic than the West side – but we have Bloomingdales and the newest attraction, “Sprinkles”, a trendy cupcake bakery.  Cupcakes have become the rage in NY and LA and probably a great many big cities.  It happens that my favorite bakery is “Crumbs.”  Not only are their cupcakes delicious and unusual, their pastries (oye, the almond croissant) are worth the calories—which have to be listed by law in NY. Talk about, in your face.  Anyway my most reliable food source, (my cousin Debbie), told me I needed to go to “Sprinkles.”  The cupcakes are also delicious.  However, remember the weirdness I mentioned earlier.  In most bakeries you wait in line and the server takes your order, packs your order, and turns you over to the cashier.  And on to the next customer.  Not at “Sprinkles”.  One person takes your order, one person packs your order and another person takes your money.  You might think this would move things along. It doesn’t. If you want to change your order, add to it or subtract, and the person who took your order is waiting on the next customer, the staff get confused. And it’s New York, so of course you want to change your order half way through the process.. Or, if you are cashing out, but you ask a question about the itty bitty cupcakes for your dog, the cashier gets confused about what to do, answer or make change.  Anyway, there is inevitably going to be a longer line than necessary.  But here was the weirdest part, the salted caramel cupcakes, that Debbie suggested, were divine.  In fact, almost every other  customer bought one.  The woman behind me, who was originally in front of me, but she had questions, asked if any of the cupcakes were being discontinued.  “Yes”, said the server also acting or not acting like the trouble shooter, answered.  “The salted caramel are being discontinued.”  The customer was shocked.  “Isn’t that your biggest seller?”, she said.  “Oh yes, but we said we were going to discontinue them before the holidays and we kept extending their little lives.  So now we have no choice but to stop making them.”

 Recently added to the Endangered Species list, this SPRINKLES Salted Carmel Cupcake
Maybe it’s me, but if my customers loved something, I’d probably rethink getting rid of it.  And that’s what I mean.  Protests on the red steps, people waiting in the cold to see a tree lighting they could certainly be more comfortable watching on TV, (all the entertainment is prerecorded), and taking the life of a cupcake when it has proven it’s value to the business.  It’s just weird.  We’re just sayin’… Iris

Monday, November 26, 2012

Lincoln, and the Business of Washington

Today we went to see a 1:00pm “Lincoln,” which we thought would be empty.  People go to church and out for brunch on  Sunday.  Who goes to a movie at 1pm?  Turns out, enough people that there was not an empty seat in the theater.  It was a terrific film and surprisingly time specific.  Not about Lincoln’s whole life, no tales of him saving a muddy pig on the way to the State house, but about the period of time when, through complicated political strategy and negotiations, he tried to end the Civil War and pass the 13th Amendment to the Constitution. We are introduced to Machiavellian operatives and the President’s willingness to reach out to those who disagree with his policies, in order to rid the nation of slavery.  It was an enlightening three hours. President Obama should see this movie and learn a lesson. 

There is a reason that when people plan an event in Washington DC, it begins as early as 5 and it ends around 9—never much later.  It is because all the business of Washington gets done at a reception, a dinner, or any number of social occasions.  If you are an event planner who doesn’t know this, chances are your event will be a dud.  Truth be told, there is hardly ever a “social” event when the Congress, the White House, or lobbyists are involved.

There was a reason Eisenhower played a great deal of golf.  Eisenhower used the golf course to do business with especially selected invited guests.  If he wanted to get something done, he knew the best way to do business with reluctant adversaries, was in a pleasant social environment. There was a reason VP Gore hosted a Halloween press party every year. It wasn’t because he loved the media.  On the contrary, he wanted the media to like him.  Or at least give him the benefit of a doubt if there were some contentious highly visible issue for which the White House needed public support.  The guest list was, of course, not all the press, just those who were influential enough to make a difference. 

Parties and golf outings are only two of many ways to reach out in order to make policy.  There are a million Washington ways to achieve political goals. There are invitations to eat, sleep, or dance, at the White House – be it a State Dinner, or lunch in the White House Mess.  The President can invite people over to the residence for a drink, to watch the fireworks on July 4th, or celebrate the Christmas tree lighting.  If you use your imagination you could design any number of perks to help move a political agenda forward.  Lincoln knew this. Eisenhower understood. Every smart, savvy, successful President used all the powers and perks of the Presidency to get a deal done.  Obama did not do this in his first term.  He played golf with his inner circle, and did not extend social invitations to Republicans, or Democrats for that matter.  He likes to “have time with the kids” is his excuse.  But one does not have to negate the other.

The country is about to fall off some kind of steep cliff.  My guess is that even Republicans and members of the ridiculous Tea Party have kids who would like to have Sunday brunch with the President and his family.  There is always a way to get something done in DC.  If after four years the President still doesn’t get it, then we all need to be putting on those parachutes.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Memory Lane, Northwest

It was years before my son finally confessed that he did love our house and the life he had when we lived at Dupont Circle in Washington, D.C.  Yesterday, when he found out we were staying in the old neighborhood, he asked me to take a walk down his memory lane by taking pictures of some of his favorite spots.
the view of 17th street, with some autumnal touches still present

Of course, my memories were mixed with his, but with a mother’s eye, instead of a child’s.  His favorite response to most of our adventures --like the first time he saw a bank ATM cash machine, and when it was raining so hard I hit a guy running across the street – was “holy shit ma!”  The exclamation, when the cash came out of the machine, was finished with “We’re rich Ma!”  And when I ran over the pedestrian, it was, “I think you killed that guy Ma, let’s run for it.”  We didn’t run for it and he wasn’t dead.  In fact the only thing about which he was upset, was that the clothes he was wearing to work, were beyond wet.
front steps at 1715, where many a refreshing beverage and accompanying conversation were served

We are staying on N Street, right around the corner from the infamous 1979-85  “1715 Q Street Salon.”  Almost every weekend included at least one or two events – and they weren’t necessarily planned.  One weekend Doug Coulter had a party but for some reason, no one ate any of the fabulous food he had prepared.  So we called out the troops, picked up the food, and had another Coulter party, but it was moved to 1715 Q.  Or, for some worthy cause,  we would auction off the place and our incredible advance and serving expertise to host some gala event. 
if we'd only known how much those parking  spots would fetch, we'd have kept them

When Seth came to stay, holidays and summers, it was especially wonderful because there were so few friends with children, his presence was always welcomed and special.  He spent lots of time at the White house. Whether it was for the Easter Egg Roll, July 4th fireworks, or the Christmas tree lighting and parties, the Carter’s were always generous with those of us who had families. This generosity expanded to entertainment at the Kennedy Center, tours at other government buildings,  and special events where organizations wanted a White House presence. 
now its all fancy imported wines, but in the 80s it there was a LOT of Thunderbird

But for Seth, the most fun was walking out the back door and down the alley to the McDonalds.  He always wanted to go by himself, so I would watch at the door, and the guys who hung out at the liquor store would walk him back and forth across the street.  I was always concerned about him walking anywhere because I was never sure if he knew enough to look both ways when he crossed the street.  But the one time I was late at the camp bus stop, he walked all the way home by himself.  He was so proud. I was totally traumatized and stupidly, instead of praising him I screamed about how he disobeyed my instructions.  Luckily, David intervened and eventually I realized how stupid I was, but first children always bear the brunt of their parents’ paranoia. 
even then, we were "Lovin It"

The Carter days were way different than what the tone of the Congress and White House are today.  We were all friends, not only with people in the Administration, but with the Press, the Security people and yes, even Republican elected officials.  Loyalty was expected, not a nice surprise.  Public Service was a respected profession. And we had fun, whether it was at work or play –frequently they overlapped.

There are too many stories to tell and too much life to remember, but we loved that house and those years.  It has taken me 25 years and a request from Seth to revisit those memorable places.  But it was well worth it.  As I passed the little Safeway grocery where we shopped, I can so remember when the cashier would inform me that my husband was home.  “How do you know?” I would say.  And with a big smile she would say, “He’s the only man in the neighborhood who comes here in a purple skirt.” Those were the days when he wore a sarong and the neighborhood was remarkably straight.  It remains a place I’d love to live again, and 27 years after leaving, it’s a very welcome feeling to come back again for a few days.   We’re just sayin’…  Iris Burnett

Tuesday, November 13, 2012


When I was born my parents lived in a large one family house that was big enough for two families.  From the day I was born, until I was six years old, my cousin Stevie, two weeks my senior, and I lived in the same space, like we were twins. Our parents (my mom and her sister,and their husbands) were careful not to deny either of us, so we always had two birthday parties, two weeks apart.  And in fact, we never thought we were having two separate parties, we just thought is was one continuous celebration.
 StevieIris, age 1

And that’s the way our lives were.  We were inseparable. He was Kaufman and I was Groman, and when anything was alphabetical we inevitably sat together. He was always in trouble and I was goodie two-shoes, so it evened us out.  We were the StevieIris character.  No one thought of us as individuals until we were six.  At that point our parents  decided to build their own homes.  My mother was pregnant and Stevie’s sister was three. Without thinking about what we might suffer in terms of tearing us apart, we all moved to different spaces. 

It was a traumatic time for the StevieIris character.  We did not understand why we no longer lived together.  We thought we would always be together. It never occurred to us that we had different parents. We just assumed everyone had four parents.  It just wasn’t an issue with which we ever thought we had to deal.

But, our parents were totally clueless.  Since they never said goodbye, they assumed we realized that we would all be connected forever. And we were, but not because they explained it to us. Because you cannot separate twins…regardless of distance.  Which brings me to my blob point.  The StevieIris character, although distant for so many years – he was sent away to school when we were in high school – always existed. It couldn’t be dismissed or irrelevant.   It’s who we would always be, despite the years of  being strangers. 

I am about to celebrate the birthday he celebrated two weeks ago. I had a wonderful evening with other cousins. He wasn’t there, with me, at dinner.  But it doesn’t matter. Whatever happens in our lives, there is no way to break our years and years of connection.  It gives me great pleasure to keep those memories alive.  We have secrets no one else can share. And we don’t even remember what they are nor the why nor wherefore. Again, you cannot share a Winky Dink* screen and ever operate as a singular personality.
StevieIris age More than 1

It’s almost my birthday and all I can think about is….."I wish we could still ride Whitey."    We’re just sayin’… Iris

*Winkie Dink:  Look it up!

Friday, November 09, 2012

Mea Culpa, You-a Culpa

The good news is, it wasn’t a blow out.  The better news is that the people who voted for Obama looked like America. (Which was part of what Bill Clinton insisted we do when we were staffing the Departments and Agencies in 1992.)  “The political appointees in the US Government,” we were told, “need to look like America.” 

I admit I bought into the bullpucky about how women would vote their purses rather than their personal rights. And I was wrong.  Well, not exactly wrong, but not exactly right.   Women did vote their purses and they felt that President Obama was more likely to understand their needs and frustrations. (As did Black and Hispanic Americans.)  But here’s where I underestimated both young and women voters. 

Because there was no great outrage or outcry when Murdock talked about rape and Ryan talked about abortion,  for those of us who remember the days of dirty backroom illegal abortions, we could not imagine going back.  But for young and poor women, who have never lived through those days, who have always had access to professional medical guidance, I thought they might not realize the consequences of turning back the clock.  Personal freedoms, whether access to medical care, respect for individual differences or same sex marriage, are important to people who think that the Government has no business in the personal decisions we make.

It is encouraging for those of us who worked so hard for civil rights, women’s rights, (human rights), that this next generation is not going to give up.  It’s kind of like, if you have never been in a car accident, you don’t see the need to wear seat belts and air bags – until someone hits you and totals your car and you live to talk about it.

Our reality in terms of “rights,” especially having to do with abortion, is two-fold.  The technology has so greatly improved that a baby born at 6 or 7 months, now has a chance to survive.  Maybe with many medical problems and at great expense to loving parents, but it is still a human being. The other discussion has to be, about the parents’ ability to care for a child.  Is it better to carry a child (sometimes as a consequence of incest or rape or the mother’s health) into a world of poverty and rejection, or does it make more sense to take the morning after pill. 

There are those who would say making more sense is not the issue.  No, the issue is to make personal decisions about your own personal body, without government regulation or interference.  The people who voted in this last election, were not intimidated by the lies or threats or stupidity of some elected officials.  The whole political discussion should have been about the economy, not about regulating person freedom.  If that had happened, maybe Mr. Romney would not have had to compromise what he really felt in order to have Party support.  And if that had happened, who knows.

Thankfully, the President was reelected and now that the Republicans realize he’s not going away, they all will put the welfare of the country first.  (That’ll be a First!)  There will be compromise and progress.  And the best news is that we don’t have to waste six months on another painful government transition.  Which is actually what I wanted to blob about.  We’re just sayin’... Iris

Monday, November 05, 2012

How Do You Spell BLOW OUT?

But what if it’s a blow out?  It could happen. All the media coverage about how close the race is going to be could just be hype.  Or it could be that people who are polled are lying.  Or it could be that the questions that are asked by a pollster are skewed in favor of one candidate.  Or it could be that one of the campaigns is using the poll, is a persuasive tool rather than an information gathering tool.  For example, you get a call that asks the question:   Would you vote for someone who promised change but only made things worse?

Or,  Would you vote for someone who’s religion is the antithesis of Christianity?  The questions don’t have to be accurate, because the pollster doesn’t care about anything but subtly convincing someone that they shouldn’t vote for the opposition. Like,  Would you vote for someone who may not have been born in the U.S?  Or,  Would you vote for a candidate who has changed his position on abortion, more than ten times?

There are legitimate pollsters, and  Anna Greenberg is among the best of them.  She looks at trends as well as numbers.  She actually understands the impact of issues on an election in terms of priorities. But not all pollsters are actually pollsters.  They are campaign staff.

But that’s not what I wanted to blob about.  Let’s get back to the potential blow out. 
In New Jersey, they are going to allow people to vote by e-mail. (Which sounds a bit sketchy since so many people don’t have power and how do you authenticate that vote.)
Additionally, there is supposed to be another storm on Tuesday.  Who cares about voting when your entire life has been destroyed?

Here’s a “We’re Just Sayin”  prediction.  The Congress will look almost exactly the same.  The incumbents will get reelected and the paralysis that has prevented anything from happening in government, will continue.  All the talk about how dangerous the Tea Party candidates have become, will be silenced by the frustration of an apathetic electorate. But who will be the President?  The guy who claims “Real Change” or the guy who insists we “Go Forward.”  It will be the candidate who people want to believe is telling the truth.  The one who, as I have said before, they think will “just fix it.”  Which, as I think about it, would make a terrific campaign slogan.  Vote for ME and I will “just fix it”.  No need to be specific.

Bill Clinton is out campaigning.  He loves it.  It’s a pleasure to watch him with a crowd. Anne and Michelle are baking cookies, and voicing opinion. ? (Both of those cookie recipes sound pretty good.)  So who will have any impact on the outcome of the election, and who will win?    Certainly you don’t expect me to tell you (yes, of course I know)!  But I will tell you this much – it’s going to be a blow out.  At least that would help us all to understand that no one (not pollsters, talking heads, or political experts) knows anything more than you.  We’re just sayin’….Iris

Friday, November 02, 2012

Sandy, Ya Betrayed Me!

There is a little bit of tension in NYC.  People are losing their patience, tired of being without their precious subway system, having no electricity, heat, and now water, and no one is feeling like there is a need for bonding or hugs with their neighbors. (Climbing 37 flights of stairs in the dark will do that). While it is true that NJ, (almost all of it), Staten Island, Ct. and upstate NY, took a much bigger hit in terms of damage, people crowded together without being able to go to work, without being able to open their businesses, and without cell or wifi service, are simply not happy.  Horns are honking in the paralyzed traffic, and there is an occasional frustrated scream from someone on the street who can bear it no longer.

The other day I thought one of the benefits of this terrible disaster, was that you could get any ticket on Broadway, but Broadway was dark.  So, I was wrong.  It’s happened (rarely but see what a big person I am to admit it.) Turns out the real benefit for me is that some of my best pals,  who are from Ca. but visiting NY, were evacuated from downtown, and are staying with me in my mid town apartment – we never lost power.  For years we have been talking about how our visits are always so rushed and we wish we could spend more time together.  It comes as no surprise that we are having fun. Such a good time that we were feeling a little guilty.  But then we think, why should we feel guilty about rediscovering a distant friendship that remains, not only in tact, but has grown over the years.  What a gift.

David, never one for missing a good time, made his way into the City last night.  And then we were five (people in a small space – our nephew, a refugee from college in Staten Island is here, too.)   It helps me to understand how it was for my mom and her siblings, parents and grandparents, (12 people in two bedrooms), when they were growing up. We all think that sharing a small space is difficult, especially when there are big personalities involved, but turns out, it’s not.  Maybe if we had to do it for years, it would be a bit more complicated. I don’t know.  But it helps you to understand how that close proximity,  that kind of intimacy, can be a powerfully great thing.   Certainly I now know why, when we grew up, we had one giant parent as opposed to eight individuals. They were so close when they grew up, that, different as they each were, they were all a part of one another.  What you learn about yourself and the things that really matter are worth whatever slight inconvenience you may suffer.  And, it doesn’t feel like a hardship – it feels like an adventure. 

Thankfully, all our friends and family in the Sandy path, are fine.  When we look out our window it’s like nothing unusual happened. The fortitude of the people in these areas that were hard hit is something to behold.  They have to decide on where they want to spend the rest of their lives. Do they rebuild, do they move on, do they persevere.  These are issues with which we do not have to contend.  We have experienced  robberies and minor flooding. I can’t imagine what it would be like to return to a devastated home which contained all the memories and possessions you collected over the years, and they just don’t exist anymore,  I’m not sure what I would do. Hopefully, we will never have to make that decision.  I’m likely to persevere, but there would be lot’s of whining. Years ago we spent a couple of great weeks in a rented house in Tuscany.  The house came complete with a set of Italian cats,  the youngest and most impish of which was a post-adolescent which we named Sandy because of his color.  He seemed to like us as much as we liked him.  One afternoon David was heating milk in saucepan for coffee, and as he did so, admonished Sandy to stay clear of the stove.  He left for a quick second and when he came back into the kitchen, there was Sandy, paws on the edge of the pan, trying to lick his way into warmed Milk-oblivion.  David, in his best imitation of Long John Silver, bellowed, “Sandy, ya Betrayed me!”   Sandy leapt from the stove and ran out to the freedom of the pooldeck, but the phrase “Sandy, ya Betrayed me!” has stayed with us.   It wasn’t until this week that we had another opportunity to bellow that phrase.  For surely Sandy has betrayed us.   We’re just sayin’… Iris