Monday, June 25, 2018

June 25, 2018--Arthur MacArthur & Queen Hope

My friend Boyce Martin died two years ago and his wife and my great friend, Anne Ogden, knowing that I too am a history buff invited me to rummage through his shelves of books, thinking correctly that I might like to have a few of Boyce's books. After all, I wear his Kentucky hat every day.

As our reading interests are similar many of the books he had read were among those I had devoured. But I did find a few that I knew would interest me that I hadn't known about, including one devoted to the middle years of Winston Churchill's career (Young Titan: The Making of Winston Churchill) and the breathlessly titled, The Most Dangerous Man In America: The Making of Douglas MacArthur.

I had a peripheral connection to General MacArthur because his only child, Arthur MacArthur IV, was a college classmate and friend. A fellow literature major. We both sat and studied at the feet of the mesmerizing Lionel Trilling.

Though we were friends, Arthur was very private, which I understood, considering the endless controversies that swirled around his father, even years after he was fired by President Truman for insubordination during the Korean War, and his failed attempt in 1952 to secure the Republican nomination for president. Ironically, losing it to his former aide, General Dwight Eisenhower. 

And there was the relentless interest the media of the time had in all things MacArthur, including Arthur. There had even been a 1942 Life magazine cover story about him as a four-year-old that reported on his life with his parents in Brisbane, Australia, where they resided, having sought safety after escaping from the Japanese invasion of the Philippines. Life told about little Arthur's "curiously mixed-up accent," his kindergarten routine, and his new tricycle.

In contrast, at that time, in East Flatbush, I spoke Brooklynese and made a scooter out of an old orange crate and a disassembled roller-skate.

As an unlikely couple, we read and discussed Dostoevsky and Kafka and Conrad together, but during those years Arthur never said a word about his early life, though I did know he was born in the Philippines the same year I was in Brooklyn, and he and his parents had barely escaped with their lives when the Japanese overran the archipelago. 

I assumed from knowing a little about the military careers of generations of MacArthurs that there must have been unimanageable pressure on him, the general's only child, named for many heroic MacArthur "Arthurs," including his grandfather, to fulfill the family military destiny. But he was as unlike a warrior as anyone I knew and it must have taken a different kind of courage, psychological courage, to want to be at Columbia studying Proust, rather than at West Point immersed in Napoleon's campaigns.

Now, with The Most Dangerous Man In America in hand, enough new details about Arthur's life were included to have me searching the Internet to see what I could learn about him. Including, is he still alive!

He is and appears to have continued to lead a hermetic life, including evidence that he changed his name after his father was relieved of his command by President Truman as there were apparently threats on Arthur's life.

No one, though, knows the name he assumed nor where he lives. Most likely in Greenwich Village, where I too reside, though I suspect if we passed each other on the street, which we likely have, that neither one of us would recognize the other. But once back in the City I will be looking around more than usual as I would like to pick up our college discussions as well as belatedly get to know more about him and how he has been faring.

One additional curiosity--

From reading the little that is available about Arthur it appears that during the late 1960s he was considered, within certain elevated social circles, a very eligible bachelor. (I suspect this is not true since the Arthur I knew had no interest whatsoever in dating.) 

In fact, he had no inclination to date Hope Cooke, who, rejected by him, in 1963, married the crown prince of Sikkim and two years later, when he became king, became, as she was known in the tabloids, "Queen Hope." But before that, in spite of Arthur's lack of interest, she was apparently quite interested in him.

She never converted to Buddhism but, as Henry Kissinger noted, she was "more Buddhist than the population of Sikkim." 

As it turns out I knew Hope rather well as she was a classmate and close friend at Sarah Lawrence of my first wife's and, at the time, we found it more than amusing that by this marriage, the daughter of a San Francisco flight instructor, transformed herself into a Queen. 

Since Hope does not live as privately as Arthur (in 1975 her husband-king was deposed and five years later she divorced him and moved back to New York City), we do occasionally run into her. The last time on an escalator in Bloomingdale's. We were descending, she of course was going up.

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Friday, June 22, 2018

June 22, 2108--Beyonce & the Mona Lisa

Rona said, "Isn't this the stupidest thing you've ever seen in the New York Times"?

She read from last Sunday's Magazine--
Every week the magazine publishes the results of a study conducted online last June by the New York Times's research-and-analytics department, reflecting the opinions of 2,903 subscribers who chose to participate.
"Doesn't sound uninteresting," I said, "It would be nice to know what Times readers have to say about Russia or the Middle East."

Having said this, to be honest, I tuned out as I was deep into the Sports section, trying to make heads or tails of what was going on with the soccer World Cup.

"Not even close," Rona said. "Here's the question they sought opinions about." Again she read from the NYT--
Dear Reader: If you were invited to lick the 'Mona Lisa,' would you do it?
"What?" I said, now paying attention.

"Listen to the results."

"You mean there were actual results?"

"Ninety-seven percent said no, 2% said maybe, and 1% said yes."

"You probably could get 1% to say they'd slash the canvas with a linoleum knife."

"I agree," Rona said, "But isn't it incredible the lengths the Times will go to try to be relevant?"

"Maybe they asked this question because Beyonce and Jay-Z recently shot a video in the Louvre, in the room where the Mona Lisa is, for their latest self-indulgent album."

"What?" It was Rona's chance to be incredulous.

"I saw a piece about it last week, also in the Times. Nothing inscrutable about that. Though of course this isn't quite the same thing as licking it."

"I give up," Rona said.

"You started this," I said.

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Thursday, June 21, 2018

June 21, 2018--Jack's Secret

"You know, Jack, I'm so disgusted by what Trump and the Republicans are up to that I don't want to have anything to do with them or, for that matter, you."

"Here I popped in to share a cup of coffee with you and you're giving me all sorts of grief. What did I do this time to get under your skin?"

"Are you kidding me? Did you just get back from Mars? Even if you did I assume they have Fox News there."

"On Mars?"

"Don't try to wiggle out of this by pretending to be cute and innocent  You know what's going on. You know how despicable you and your people have been. I'm so angry about what you are doing at the border with Mexico that I don't want to see your face much less sit together and pretend nothing is going on."

Jack remained standing in place in the middle of the diner. 

"For years I tried to talk with you rationally. Even respectfully. To hear your views. To try to understand where you were coming from. How you could possibly think Trump would be a good president. Why you thought he could be elected and when he won, as much of a hallucination as that was, I listened to you talk about about how he would surprise me and get all sorts of good things done. That he wasn't a monster. How he might even be a closet Democrat. You remember how he was going to clean out the swamp, which I agreed needing doing? Tell me about that now. Among others, he and his family have taken over the swamp." 

Jack remained fixed where he was.

I paused to catch my breath. It felt as if I was going to have a heart attack. "But then this. This. You remember at the beginning of the campaign how he out of the blue savagely attacked John McCain? How he blasted him because he had been captured during the war in Vietnam? Trump the draft dodger said he liked winners, not people who were taken prisoner. Saying this about McCain, who was shot down flying a bombing mission, I thought for sure would doom Trump's candidacy. But he rose in the polls as he did after he claimed he could shoot someone dead on Fifth Avenue and get away with it. Any normal candidate saying that would have been ridden out of office. But no, his poll numbers continued to rise. Well, he's just topped himself again. What he's up to would politically doom anyone else. This one you're going to have to explain to me."

"Can I . . . ?"

"No. Stay right where you are, or yet better, leave." I had never talked to Jack this way.

"And to think I came in this morning to share a secret with you."

Not finished, I ignored him. "Tell me one thing and after that I'll see if I ever again want to have anything to do with you."

"Shoot," he caught himself, "Forgive me, I know you don't believe in guns. Please continue."

"I don't need your permission. Stay where you are. I have a few other things to get off my chest. Since you had the audacity to show up I do have a question for you."

Jack leaned toward where I was sitting in the booth. 

"My question is how any of your people, I mean the non-crazy ones (though there are too many of those for my taste), how do they justify what's going on with those families seeking asylum in America? I know, Trump and his most awful people want to send a message to anyone heading north from Central America and Mexico that if they show up at the border with children they will be taken away from them and the parents will be sent right back home, leaving their children behind in cages and tents without air conditioning. In the hope that this will deter others from following in their footsteps. I know we can't welcome everyone fleeing poverty and violence--that would be millions of refugees, but is what the government is now doing justified by wanting to keep immigrants, OK, undocumented immigrants out of the country? To treat children this way? Is this their perverted way of making America great again? It's making America evil again."

I raged on, "I mean, this is far from what we did to Japanese citizens during the Second World War. Citizens. What we did then was worse. We put them in 'internment' camps. A fancy word for concentration camps. We took away their property without any due process and held them for years. Years. During Roosevelt's time. During a liberal Democrat's time.  So there is plenty of blame to go around. But shouldn't we at least learn a few things from history? Minimally, what not to repeat."

"I . . ."

"Answer that for me."

"I came in to talk to you about donuts. What you been writing about . . ."

"Forget donuts. Enough about donuts. What's going on in our name, as Americans, is evil. How can anyone justify this? How can anyone . . ." I was sputtering.

"The donut thing is relevant to what you're saying."

For the moment I was out of gas, "This I have to hear."

"It may surprise you that I agree with you about separating families. About zero tolerance. We are still a nation of immigrants. We need immigrants. We don't have enough workers. And we should welcome refugees. Not all of them but as many as our cities and workforce can handle. But real refugees who are trying to escape from persecution."

I couldn't believe what I was hearing.

"We should increase the number we allow into the country legally. How can anyone feel good about having ten million here illegally? We should figure out a way to make most of them permanent residents. I don't know about paths to citizenship kinds of things. But we shouldn't be rounding them up and deporting them. And, by the way, your Obama was a pretty good deporter. And we sure as shit shouldn't be separating families. Conservatives are supposed to believe in families. And not just white ones or families who are here illegally. Families are families. That's what conservatives should believe. And liberals too. We can have our disagreements about what a family is, but we should do what we can to help people remain families."

I was stunned. Though I did know about Jack's very troubled family and his childhood.

"Which brings me back to the donuts."

"Shoot," I said.

At that he smiled the familiar Jack ironic smile and continued, "You wrote that you needed a break from the serious news and that the donuts stories--which I loved, by the way, especially the ones about your friend who comes from a longtime Maine family and the one where you and another friend thought there was a bear in the woods--that the donut stories and the bear and chipmunk story were a diversion from the awful hard news. 

"I get that," he continued, "But here's the secret--you're playing right into the hands of Trump and his people. Not that you're writing for the New York Times or are that influential, but they want all of you who are left-wingers to get so exhausted and frustrated by what's going on that you'll give up and opt out and look for things to distract yourselves. In, other words, capitulate.

"Yeah, you'll vote for Democrats in November, but not in overwhelming numbers. Which could tilt things Trump's way. They want you to get so frustrated that you come to feel that the situation is hopeless. That if you lose your enthusiasm that will be good for Trump, whose approval numbers, by the way, are creeping up. 

"One example--two nights ago, during her show, Rachel Maddow began to cry--cry--while reporting about the children who are being separated from their parents. Among other things, it revealed how exhausted she is by all of this. I assume others are feeling the same way. It could lead to many, out of self-protection, to pull back. 

"But my secret is that what Trump is up to every day, when he creates another crisis, is designed to overload the nation's circuits. He's putting it to Democrats, who are so good at talking and criticizing and writing and being smart about everything to see if they can punch back. To see if you have staying power or if you'll fold up in frustration."

I continued to stare at Jack. 

"That's it," he said.

Shrugging, after a moment he turned to leave. I made no move to stop him.

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Wednesday, June 20, 2018

June 20, 2018--Getting Through the Week

I've been attempting to get through the week without mentioning Donald Trump. Hence all the donut postings. 

But his administration's policy to separate children from parents who are desperately trying to enter the United States is so egregious, so evil that I cannot restrain myself. Nor apparently can the weaselly Senator Ted Cruz. 

And though to continue to rip children from the arms of their parents is Trump's ultimate responsibility, for which one day he will have to atone, even worse is the wide approval among Republicans for this heartless policy.

A recent Quinnipiac poll found that 55 percent of Republican voters support the president's "zero tolerance" policy. 35 percent oppose it.

Who are these people, this 55 percent? Are they living among us? Are they online ahead of us at the supermarket? Are they at the next table during dinner? Do they love their children? What could they possibly say to them or us to explain themselves? 

How does one come to endorse this shameless policy? How do they come to hate life so much that they are unmoved when they see images of these young children having their lives literally cut in half? Even before their lives have begun? 

I do not want to understand. I do not want to know about or know anyone who could be this vicious.

Yes, what to do about immigrants is roiling the Western world. The German government this week came close to collapse over Angela Merkel's empathetic immigration policies. What to do about those seeking asylum is complicated.

We cannot admit to the country everyone who seeks refuge or simply a better life. But while individual cases are being reviewed and ajudicated families can easily be kept intact. There is no policy or security purpose or justification for this so-called "family separation" policy.

It is based on fear and hatred. Even of the most innocent.

It is as simple and despicable as that.

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Tuesday, June 19, 2018

June 19, 2018--Donuts On My Chest All Day

Whenever I write about donuts I always get a big response. One email after my posting last week about the Nobleboro Village Store just said, "Yum."

One can't have enough good sources for donuts and so I am pleased to receive suggestions for other places to try. Like, from one friend, the Willow Bake Shoppe in Rockport, Maine, though I am skeptical about the authenticity of any place that spells shop shoppe.

From all these responses it must be true, as I claimed, that donuts are one of the five essential food groups. Pizza being another.

And thus I was happy to receive a note from a dear friend who is a long-time resident of this area, the Pemaquid Peninsular. Her family owned much of the land near the lighthouse and Jill Davenport comes from a long line of storytellers. She also has a wonderful sense of local history. Including about donuts.

Her Uncle Basil was a scholar, anthologist, and weaver of gothic tales. He also was a sort of pied piper to the local children of Pemiquid who loved to huddle with him as he regailed them with shimmering stories. Acting all the parts.

Her mother, Gwen Davenport was a very widely-read novelist. She was the author in 1947 of Belvedere, which formed the basis for a series of movies, including, my favorite, Mr. Belvedere Rings the Bell, and a successful TV series.

And her father, John Davenport, in 1949, in The New Yorker, published an amusing piece, "Slurvian Self-Taught.

He is an excerpt--
Listening to a Hollywood radio commentator the writer heard her say that she had just returned from a Yerpeen trip and had had a lovely time nittly. He readily understood that she had just returned from a European trip and had had a lovely time in Italy. Speaking in this manner is Slurvian. 
The writer has made a study of it and includes a number of examples, including words that when spelled as pronounced make good English words other than the ones they are supposed to be such as bean for human being, form for forum, and lore for lower. 

Then, from Jill Davenport, here is what she wrote about the local donut situation--
The great and worthy donut finds life in small New England kitchens and only faintly resembles its more modern counterpart, the puffy and overly sweet confection found in all its manifestations at Dunkin Donuts.
When I was a small child, my grandmother would sometimes take me to what is now the Seagull Shop, adjacent to the Pemiquid lighthouse, for a breakfast treat. We would sit at the counter and we had donuts. These were small, brown, modest and they ran rings around any donut I've tasted since. 
The old donut was unglazed, looked overdone and its appearance hardly generated the swiftly indrawn breath of anxious expectation which a more spectacular donut might have done. But sink your teeth into its unprepossessing surface and bear witness to a rather juicy crunch imparted by its trip through the hot grease, and to a cinnamonish flavor unequaled in today's world of fat donuts so devoid of character.  
I miss those sturdy New England donuts. 
My father once managed to charm his way onto a lobster boat for a day's fishing. He got up early and had a substantial breakfast before setting out on his adventure. He and the lobsterman spent the morning hauling pots and by noon my father was starving, but the lobsterman seemed unfazed by his long separation from nourishment. 
So my father asked him what he had eaten for breakfast. The lobsterman said, "Two donuts. They sit on my chest and nourish me all day."

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Monday, June 18, 2018

June 18, 2018--Midcoast: The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Chipmunk

Neurologist and author Oliver Sacks was an acquaintance who wrote widely for lay readers about the complex world of mental "disorders." 

I put disorders in quotation marks since in his writing he challenges many of the traditional paradigms that classify many mental conditions as abnormal and as cognitive deficits. 

In my favorite of his books, The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat, in four sections Sacks presents a series of brief case studies focused on aspects of neurology. 

In the first part he discusses neurological conditions that are usually construed to be deficits in normal brain function. Taking a very different tack, he argues that the medical community tends to define almost all divergent neurological conditions as some kind of deficit.

But, he claims, this paradigm is too narrow because it marginalizes these conditions, making it difficult to understand their full range of function, and that the traditional medical classification system also underestimates individuals' abilities to find ways of compensating for atypical mental function. 

In other words, the deficit model often leads to a lack of empathy and nuance and gets in the way of a full understanding of what is almost always characterized as illness and thus impedes effective ways of working with individuals who present unusual behaviors. Including behavior experienced by Dr. P., someone Sacks worked with for a number of years who had a rare form of "face blindness" that left him unable to distinguish between his wife's face and his hat. The man who mistook . . .

I thought about Sacks and the book late last week while standing in the road with George, a close friend, who was asking me how my PD is progressing.

"The meds seem to relieve much of the tremor in my right hand," I said, "It's my only symptom thus far. So I'm feeling optimistic about the situation."

I extended my hand to show him. "That looks pretty good," he said, "Do you notice any things that cause increased tremoring?"

"When I have any anxiety, which I am prone to have, it does increase the tremor. In fact, it's happening right now. Maybe because we're talking about it." 

To show him I extended my arm again and my right hand was shaking quite visibly. "It stops right away if I tell myself to calm down." I showed him how that works. In a few seconds my hand completely calmed down.

"Does your neurologist say what might be in the offing?"

"In fact the last time I saw him I asked about that--'How long will it be before I'm like Michael J. Fox?'"

"I like that and I like Michael J. Fox," George said.

"I do as well. The doctor asked again how old I am and when I reminded him he said, 'In your case you'll be long gone before that happens.'" Liking how that sounded he smiled. Which is unusual for him.

"So I have something to look forward to," I said.

"What's that?" he asked.

"I said, also smiling, 'Being dead.'"

"That sounds good to me," George said, playfully referring to me.

"One thing, though," I added, "There's this commercial on TV for a med that claims it can lessen the delusions and hallucinations that supposedly 50 percent of people with PD will experience. That doesn't sound so good to me."

"Again," George said,"before that happens maybe you'll be fortunate enough to be long gone." He's a good kidder, which I like about him.

"What's that?" I said to him with my hand flapping.

"What are you pointing at?"

"Down the road, all the rustling in those bushes." I indicated where with my steady hand.

"I can't see what you're referring to," he said, "It would be strange since there's no wind."

"Rona's doing a lot of pruning. Maybe that's her in those bushes." I pointed again down the road where it looked to me like she must be working. "But that would be unusual since that's really not on our property, though the owner of the log cabin, who's rarely here, likes it when she neatens things up."

George and I stood there peering at the bushes that were in rapid motion. At least they looked that way to me.

"Maybe it's a bear," George said.

"Do we have bears here?" I asked taking him seriously.

"Not usually " he said, "Though strange things happen all the time. The berries are starting to set so bears could be lurking."

With that there was increased movement in the bushes. I clutched that shovel I had with me, getting ready for I knew not what.

And just as quickly, all movement ceased and popping out from the bushes was not Rona or a bear but a chipmunk that preceded to bounce across the road.

I'm not sure what George made of all this, but I was thinking about my friend Oliver.

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Friday, June 15, 2018

June 15, 2018--Serious Donuts

If you have a serious interest in donuts (in my view they are one of the five basic food groups), you will understand my obsession with tracking down and savoring only the very best.

Rona and I have been known to fly for just the morning from New York City to Kansas City so we can gorge ourselves on LeMars etherial doughnuts. Sadly, they have since been franchised but the originals were made and sold in an old gas station. You'd wait on line to buy a dozen and then woof them down, all of them, scrunched in your car unless you had somewhere close by where you could sit more comfortably. Though I'm fine with the car.

Among other aficionados, Calvin Trillin considers LeMars America's best. Could be but we still have a few places to get to before we agree with that.

When on the road, in desperation--say you are driving east through the middle of Nebraska--you might think about pulling off to get your hands on a couple of Dunkins. But the truly obsessed resist that temptation and press on, believing that in a small town such as, say, Gretna there might be someone who gets up every morning at 3:00 am to turn out a heavenly batch of chocolate coconuts.

In fact there is--Sunrize Donuts (been there)--which, in Michelin terms, is worth a detour.

Up here in Maine we live in one of these between-places places and thus felt relief when we learned that "only" 40 miles from us, in Brunswick, there is Frosty's. It has been there for decades. They open at 4:00 (by then a short line is already formed) and close when there're out of donuts. Usually before noon. So if you want Boston creams and toasted coconuts for lunch, and are motivated to head for Brunswick, be forewarned.

But the bad news is that the family who ran it for many years about two years ago sold it and the new owners have been cutting corners on ingredients and looking to have local supermarkets carry their brand. In other words, Frosty's has gone commercial and is now not much better than a Dunkins.

When we reluctantly came to this conclusion we were distraught. We moaned--how will we be able to get through our six-month Maine season without periodic melt-in-your-mouth artisanal donuts.

We were almost tempted to think about summer rentals in Gretna, NE. 

Then, one night at a wonderful home-prepared dinner with friends we met someone they included who they thought we would like to get to know. 

She's great in all respects--very smart, very funny, as well as being a mover and shaker in Damariscotta. Among other things she knows everything about all the local businesses (she had been president of Rotary and CEO of the Chamber of Commerce), and when she heard us whining about Frosty's she asked if we had been to the Nobleboro Village Store.

We confessed we hadn't though it is close by. When she heard that she got all excited and told us there was a treat in store for us. 

"Their donuts are even better than Frosty's were in their prime. Like Frosty's, get there early," she advised, "They also sell out quickly. They make maybe a total of five dozen and some of the guys who come there every day can easily eat a dozen each. There are some very big guys in the area."

Two mornings later we got up early so we could get there by 7:00. The place is in a residential neighborhood and from its look feels like you can pass it by without regrets. It's more a general store than donut joint but it does have a small L-shaped counter with four or five chairs. Usually, a couple of local guys are there, reading the paper and joshing around while sipping a cup of coffee, eating an egg sandwich, and finishing up with a few donuts. 

Sure enough that first day the donuts were picked quite clean but there were a little more than a dozen left and, as outsiders, though in the interest of research we were tempted to buy and eat all of them, we restrained ourselves and brought only six.

We thought, just looking at them, next time we'll get here no later than 6:30 so we can buy a mixed dozen without feeling guilty.

They specialize in basic cake-style doughnuts, generally our favorites. And by now we've been there enough to have seen and sampled their full repertoire.

Plain-plain, plain sugar-coated, plain chocolate-covered, chocolate coconut (my favorite as they come with a handful of thick, clinging coconut shavings), maple crunch,  . . .  You get the picture.

If we allowed ourselves to do what we really desire we'd go there at least once a week. But since we're trying to eat a lower carb diet, we now show up about every four weeks. This past Wednesday was our once-a-month visit.

We bought and finished ten. I could have handled one or two more but resisted. "We only now come once a month and we haven't been here since last October so . . . "

Rona cut me off. She has better discipline than I and wanted to concentrate on a chat she had begun with one of their regulars. 

He was talking about how in the 1970s, though he had never ventured far from Nobleboro, seeking a little adventure  after high school, he moved for half a year to Florida where he got a job at an exclusive beach club as a bellhop and occasional chauffeur.

The other morning he was full of stories about some of the famous guests he encountered--Jackie Gleason, James Garner, Sammy Davis Junior, Frank Sinatra, Bebe Rebozo, and Richard Nixon. He told us how in his bellhop role he had delivered a message to the president who didn't tip him. And also how he met and spent some time with Henry Kissinger. Then there was . . .

So I'm thinking--I'm sitting on a backless stool at the Nobleboro Village Store, in the middle of a version of nowhere and talking with a guy who spent time in the early 70s with Henry Kissinger. All the while inhaling a half dozen of the very best donuts ever. 

I leave you with this--The place is worth a journey. As much for the likes of our new friend as for the donuts. He's an amazing storyteller. So when you get there (as early as possible) ask him to tell you about Kissinger. The best part is his dead-on version of Kissinger's heavily accented English. That alone is worth the trip.

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