Friday, February 29, 2008

February 29, 2008--Snowbirding: Among the Living Dead

The young man, with arms bursting from steroids and the venom of tattoo ink, looked at me as if I were one of the living dead.

He was here to snake out the drain in our sink which was clogged with hair.

I knew he was regarding me this way. As also from among them. I knew that look well after only six weeks in south Florida, and I had become familiar with that ugly phrase—the Living Dead. One of the regulars at the Green Owl, Troy, who is in the towing business, does very well cleaning up the wrecks of the doddering, who are still allowed to drive, and the very young, who careen around jacked up on medicinal and mechanical speed. This is Florida after all and the municipalities and merchants are willing to overlook the infirmities of the aging and the recklessness of the young—many livelihoods depend on each.

But every time Troy’s beeper goes off, pulling him away from his fourth cup of coffee and summoning him to a rear-ender on North Federal Highway, he says, with a sigh and a shrug, “I’m off again to the Land of the Living Dead.” And when I shoot him a look about his too-close-for-my-comfort political incorrectness, for my sake, as he darts off, he adds, “Well, it’s a living. . . . No pun, of course, intended.”

But who needs this attitude from the Roto-Rooter guy? Or the cracks I hear all the time that the name “Florida” is from 16th century Spanish which means “waiting to die.” What does that have to do with me? Don’t they see how vital and youthful I am?

Florida is one of those states where you can not only personalize your license plate—Gone Fishin, Re-Tired, Go Dolphins—but there are also dozens of Sunshine State generic plates that memorialize the Challenger Astronauts, call for saving the Manatees or the Everglades, promote citrus, display support for the Miami Heat, indicate you’re a golfer, or even defend the Right to Life. But there are none that say anything about aging, illness, dying, or death. Florida’s true growth industries.

Why just this morning, when visiting my mother in the rehab center where she is recovering from a small stroke, the bulletin board at the nurses’ station had a flyer posted that advertised a seminar, at $25 a participant, on the alliterative subject of “Bowels and Bladders.”

Thursday, February 28, 2008

February 28, 2008--Day Off

Snowbirding returns on Friday--"Among the Living Dead."

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

February 27, 2008--"Shame On You"

What happened to Hillary Clinton’s inevitability? A mere two months ago, which has turned out to be a political lifetime for her, Hillary Clinton lead by up to 20 percentage points in all national polls and by at least that much in every key primary state. Now she is fighting for her political life.

Pundits are pondering what happened to her candidacy which once seemed so certain.

Some feel that things turned during the campaign in South Carolina when Bill Clinton played the race card, which not only impelled virtually all African Americans to support Barack Obama, but also upset enough white voters to tip the state to Obama.

Others say that because of arrogance derived from the feeling that the primary season would in effect be an victory lap for Hillary before she turned to the general election, she did not plan for a campaign past Super Tuesday—she had no Plan B to mount a ground game in states that now are crucial to her ability to continue—Texas and Ohio. And since she saw her campaign anschluss as a domestic version of Shock and Awe they did not have the capacity to raise money after February 5th since they wouldn’t need to.

Some say that the wheels came off her campaign bus because Barack Obama turned out to be a remarkable candidate in his own right and quickly stood apart from the rest of the Democratic field—he was no Joe Biden or Bill Richardson or Chris Dodd. Obama’s soaring and intoxicating rhetoric inspired people to be audacious enough to have hope again.

And everything, every tactic, every attack that Senator Clinton mounted could not undercut the public’s support and infatuation for the charismatic senator from Illinois. In fact, her criticisms of him seemed only to make him seem more attractive.

Of course, the media didn’t help. The Clintons have for decades claimed that the media do not treat them fairly. They, to quote her from an early debate, “join in the piling on.” They give Obama a “free ride,” not “vetting” him as closely as they scrutinize Hillary Clinton’s record.

This was on display during last night’s debate when Clinton asserted that the moderators in all the debates have been unfair to her by always asking her the first question. She even referred to a Saturday Night Live skit in which one of the questioners, swooning at Obama, asked if he was comfortable in his chair and that perhaps he would like another pillow.

This didn’t work either and in fact became the most quoted sound bite during this morning’s debate postmortems. We could see it replayed over and over again whereas we heard not a word about her sharp answers about why her heathcare plan is truly “universal” whereas Senator Obama’s “leaves 15 million Americans uncovered.”

More controversial, but to me more persuasive, was Pat Buchanan’s politically-incorrect point that Hillary Clinton is slipping behind Obama because more and more men can’t stand the sound of her voice.

Sexist as this may sound or even be, he may very well be right.

Case in point: after her moving and eloquent final comments at last week’s debate, when she spoke so authentically and movingly about how crises had shaped her life and how she (and Obama) will be all right regardless of what happens when they compare themselves with the too many Americans who have suffered during their lifetimes, after engendering so much good will and perhaps revealing another, more attractive side to her personality, within 48 hours she was seen to be literally raging about a brochure that Obama’s campaign was distributing that she claimed was telling lies about her positions on healthcare and NAFTA.

Literally blue-in-the face, there is no other way to put this, she screamed—“Shame on you Barack Obama . . . for using techniques right out of Karl Rove’s playbook.”

This moment caught on videotape may go down as the final straw in her campaign. It not only called into question her ability to remain cool in (political) combat, raising not-so-subliminal questions about how she might behave if she were president and faced a real crisis, but it also set off so many bells and whistles for those who had been publicly humiliated by an out-of-control fifth-grade teacher or, forgive me, an angry spouse.

Admittedly, this is difficult to talk about for fear of being excoriated for being unfair to women in general, but in truth it’s not about how all men react to all women but how this particular woman can get under the skin of so many and why her “disapproval ratings” have continued to hover at the 50 percent level even among Democrats.

And lest you think that only women can make men crazy by their oratorical style, let’s recall that Howard Dean did a version of the same thing back in 2004 when his candidacy also seemed inevitable. He effectively destroyed himself after losing the Iowa caucus by screeching how he would not be deterred:

Not only are we going to New Hampshire, we're going to South Carolina and Oklahoma and Arizona and North Dakota and New Mexico, and we're going to California and Texas and New York … And we're going to South Dakota and Oregon and Washington and Michigan, and then we're going to Washington, D.C., to take back the White House! YeaAHah!!!

So much for Howard Dean.

We also saw and were turned off just last week when Bill Clinton lost it with a heckler and, with arteries bulging, raged at him. Again, as with Dean it was not so much the content as the style. And both are men.

Does it then come down to who you’d rather have a beer with? All else being sort of equal, it may very well be. It also helps explain George W. Bush.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

February 26, 2008--Mother Care

No blogging today--need to visit my mother who is under the weather. Typing resumes tomorrow.

Monday, February 25, 2008

February 25, 2008--Snowbirding: Death & Tomatoes (Concluded)

Back in 1971, Michele _____ , a nice-Jewish-girl from Long Island, visited her sister, who was a junior at the University of Miami. It was the middle of a brutal winter in New York and after basking in the warmth of south Florida, Michele decided that there was no reason to return home. Ever.

And she never did. Except through the years for occasional visits, there was not much reason to. She was an indifferent student; had few friends; was not dating anyone seriously; and, most important, as a teenager, had recently nursed her mother through the last stages of cancer. He father had died suddenly a few years earlier and her sister was all the family and security she had. From her tragic and lonely experiences, she had come at an early age to realize that life could be sadly short. So after graduating from high school, she packed up her belongings and headed south.

Within months she joined her sister at the University of Miami. It was an era during which the U of M was not regarded for its academic rigor—in fact the University was best known for the half-truth that one could major there in Underwater Basket Weaving. Though Michele did not join that major, she was known more for having fun in the ways typical of students in the 1970s than for haunting the library. Assuming that the University even had one at the time.

But eventually she did find a direction for her life. She became a Thanatologist. Considering her life’s circumstances it is not surprising that she would have embarked upon the academic study of death.

In her newfound interdisciplinary studies, Michele investigated the circumstances surrounding a person's death, the grief experienced by the deceased's loved ones, and the larger social attitudes towards death such as he roles of ritual and memorialization. And once she completed her various internships and clinical training, she found meaningful work counseling the dying and then those left behind.

She did this for many years in hospital settings, with hospice workers, and eventually in private practice. Along the way, she married a local Miami boy and had a son, who is now 28 and about to marry someone Michele calls “a lovely girl.”

“There she is,” Michele says, “Over there by the cash register.” We looked to our left across shelves piled high with locally-grown produce, and saw her behind the counter helping a customer unload a shopping basket full of red and yellow tomatoes, various varieties of peppers, hand-pressed Spanish olive oil, organic ginger, Ruby Red Grapefruits, and home-baked bread.

You see, Rona and I are up in Boynton Beach at the Woolbright Farmers Market. It is owned by Michele. She says that she and her husband opened it about 15 years ago since she needed something else in her life besides illness, dying, and death. Though she quickly points out with a gesture, “See, I even managed to locate it right across from a cemetery!” And sure enough the Boynton Beach Memorial Park is right across the road.

“But I don’t know. I’m not optimistic about he future of this place.” Michele was speaking in a distant way, pausing in mid-sentence to greet customers, every one by name. “So nice to see you, Helen. When did you arrive? You drove all the way from Michigan? So that must mean Peter is doing better. It’s such a long drive with his condition. I’m glad to know he was feeling up to it. And don’t forget to look over there where I have the first of the season’s fresh corn. I know how much Peter loves corn. He’ll love these. That I promise you. They’re organic.”

Michele turned back to us. “I mean, we established this place as a way to push back against the relentlessness of illness and death. I had so much of it in my life. All day, every day. I needed something to balance that. That would be life-affirming. But, now, Im feeling that this too is on life-support.”

But before we could ask why or what was happening she darted across the barn-wood floor to embrace another familiar customer who also had just appeared for the winter season from somewhere else up north. The Farmers Market is a small place, more a place that had evolved from a roadside stand, and so it was difficult not to eavesdrop.

“Oh my, I’m so saddened to hear that. I know how he had been suffering.” Michele was cradling an elderly woman in her arms. “You know, I am sure, that it was all for the best. You didn’t want to have him linger that way. I know that. You said that so often.” She was informally practicing her profession near the case that contained the lettuces! Or rather, Michele was just being a good friend.

“And you also will be fine. You know that too, don’t you? He is finally at peace. If you like, we can talk more about it. Yes, I will come to see you. We’re closed here on Sundays and Mondays. If it’s all right with you, I’ll come for coffee Monday afternoon. Does that sound good?” She was rocking her friend in her arms and we could see that she was nodding her head in assent on Michele’s shoulder. “And I promise to bring you one of those strawberry pies that you both love so much. I have some coming in tomorrow. I remember how much Edward looked forward to when I had those pies. Even toward the end. It will be a good way to remember him and for you to begin your new way of living. Because you know that what’s you need to do, don’t you—to keep living. And not just for the sake of your children and grandchildren. But for you as well.”

Michele made her way back to us. “You know my favorite thing about this place?” I thought it might be to have the kinds of relationships we had just witnessed or, as she had already expressed it, as something to balance her work as a Thanatologist. But though I was eager to learn more about why she was concerned about the future of the market, we were also pleased that she had changed the subject to something more optimistic. “This may surprise you because this after all is still a business, but it’s the things I have in the shop that no one buys.” She smiled up at me and winked. Michele is tiny.

“That’s interesting,” Rona said, “But with limited shelf space doesn't that feel like a business extravagance? I mean . . . ”

“No, no. You’re right. It makes no sense at all from that perspective; but as I told you, we started this place not so much to make money, though with my son about to marry and take over, that will be increasingly important, but as, how shall I put this, as a gesture in the face of impermanence. I know that sounds a bit pretentious,” she checked at herself, “but I know, if you were to be honest with me you’ll say, ‘What’s so impermanent about a store? Much less a farmers market?’ And of course you would be right.” She had read my mind.

“But don’t we all need things to distract us from the natural processes of life? If we spent all our time contemplating such things wouldn’t we all go crazy? Wasn’t it Freud who spoke about ‘the denial of death’? I think so. And though I’m not that much of a Freudian, wasn’t he right about that?”

Just as she was completing this thought she again raced away. Another regular customer had come in and was gently sorting through the bushels of tomatoes. Again we could easily hear their conversation. This time with considerable eagerness, considering the other one we had overheard. To tell the truth, pretending to be sorting through the local honeys and jams, since they were speaking softly, we drifted closer to them.

“Isn’t that wonderful to hear. I had been wondering about Jerry. Good for him. And also good for you and Sid. I mean, for so many years you had been worrying about him. And now you know. Doesn’t that feel good? He can at last be happy. And so can you. Yes? You are all right with this, aren’t you? I’m not sensing too much uncertainty. Am I? Let me look at you.” Michele had stepped back from the 50-something woman who was lithe and elegant in what I took to be a Dina Merrill, Palm-Beach way.

“You do seem fine. I’m so happy about that. Not every parent is as happy as you seem to be when their son, for the first time, brings home his partner. But Jerry did that last week? And you and Sid were fine with that? In your hearts you knew, didn’t you? So you were prepared? Good. I can’t tell you how please I am with your news, that you like his young man, and by the fact that you are all still a family.”

With that Michele danced back to us. “Sorry, I keep running away. I can’t seem to complete a story much less even a sentence. Where were we? Oh, yes, why I like so much the things I stock that no one buys.”

“If you would, please give us an example of something of this kind.” Rona jabbed me in the ribs knowing this might lead to another tangent.

“Take that Spanish olive oil over there. Right behind you. No one every buys a bottle. First of all it’s $12. That’s the one. It’s called Zoe, which you can see from the label means Life. At least that’s what they say. I never checked to see if it’s true. But,” she winked again, “as a death therapist I like anything that’s about Life. And it’s wonderful oil too. Did I say it’s from Spain? It doesn’t sell in part because everyone wants Italian olive oil, thinking it’s the best. But Spanish oil is better.”

“I understand the Zoe-Life thing,” Rona was now shooting me impatient looks, “but what about other things that don’t sell? Do they too have this kind of meaning?”

“No, not at all. I like them because it’s as if they are my secrets out in public view. This place is also a private passion for me. But that passion is also there to be discovered. If anyone cares to search for it they can find it in the things that are here just for me. They can be uncovered, obviously, if anyone cares to try. But for the most part secrets are best when they remain private. Though I find it alluring that they can also be discovered. That’s just me, I guess.”

Though intrigued by this as well as all that we had witnessed and overheard, Rona couldn’t resist bringing Michele back to what she had alluded to as a threat to the market’s existence. “Earlier, you were saying that . . . ”

“Oh that. Yes of course.” It was getting late. We had been there for well over an hour; though, in truth, both of us wanted to learn more about the fate of her market. “Let me put it to you this way. Let me tell you about my tomatoes. That’s why at least half my customers come here. For the tomatoes. I have three local suppliers who grow them nearby, let them ripen on the vine, and then hire the same people years after year to pick them. Because picking tomatoes is not as easy and unskilled as you might think. But this is not full-time work. For generations migrant workers have come here to work the fields. Some just the tomato fields.

“You follow the news about farm workers and how it is believed that many of them are illegal immigrants. Well, who was the governor of Florida until recently? Jeb Bush. And you know about him. The Bushes. He made a big thing about rounding up these workers and sending the out of the state. Claiming they were taking work away from legal Floridians. I don’t know if these workers were documented or not; but, tell me, do you know anyone, any young people, Americans, who wants to work 12 hours a day in these scorching fields?” We indicated that we didn’t.

“So as a result more and more of the local farms are going out of business. They’re being sold and turned into gated communities.” We had been hearing about that. “And furthermore,” Michele said, “there’s no lobby for tomatoes. There’s a lobby for corn and wheat and soybeans and of course tobacco. But none for tomatoes. In fact, because of this the Department of Agriculture is about to require that all tomatoes must have those little stick-on labels. You’ve seen these on avocadoes and bananas and apples. Well, they say, tomatoes are also fruit and they need to have them. But the machines that do that will damage any real tomatoes. So in addition to growing tomatoes that can be picked by machine, with skins so tough you have to spit them out, those that you get that have no taste and have to be gassed to make them red, there will no longer be any vine-ripened, locally-grown tomatoes of the kind that I have here.”

Tears began to well up in her eyes. And in ours as well. We had been so much enjoyed these luscious tropical fruits. To think that if we came back next winter we might not be able to get any . . .

Michele had regathered herself. We were sadly getting her point and figuring out some of the connections and interconnections in her life—those that were evident as well as a few that were secret.

She said, “And so you see,” she gestured again toward the cemetery and this time also at the baskets of tomatoes that were glowing radiantly in the sunlight and which had by then attracted quite a crowd of her friends.

Again, she did not complete her sentence, turning away once more to embrace someone else she hadn’t seen since last April when the Snowbirds head back north. But we felt able to complete it for her.

Friday, February 22, 2008

February 22, 2008--Snowbirding: Death & Tomatoes

Back in 1971, Michele _____ , a nice-Jewish-girl from Long Island, visited her sister, who was a junior at the University of Miami. It was the middle of a brutal winter in New York and after basking in the warmth of south Florida, Michele decided that there was no reason to return home. Ever.

And she never did. Except through the years for occasional visits. There was not much reason to. She was an indifferent student; had few friends; was not dating anyone seriously; and, most important, had recently nursed her mother through the last stages of cancer. He father had died suddenly a few years earlier and her sister was all the family and security she had. From her tragic and lonely experiences, she had come at an early age to realize that life could be sadly short. So after graduating from high school, she packed up her belongings and headed south.

Within months she joined her sister at the University of Miami. It was an era during which the U of M was not regarded for its academic rigor—in fact the University was best known for the half-truth that one could major there in Underwater Basket Weaving. Though Michele did not join that major, she was known more for having fun in the ways typical of students in the 1970s than for haunting the library. Assuming that the University even had one at the time.

But eventually she did find a direction for her life. She became a Thanoatologist. Considering her life’s circumstances it is not entirely surprising that she would have embarked upon the academic study of death.

In her newfound interdisciplinary studeis, Michele investigated the circumstances surrounding a person's death, the grief experienced by the deceased's loved ones, and the larger social attitudes towards death such as ritual and memorialization. And once she completed her various internships and clinical training, she found meaningful work counseling the dying and then those left behind.

She did this for many years in hospital settings, with hospice workers, and eventually in private practice. Along the way, she married a local boy and had a son, who is now 28 and about to marry someone Michele calls “a lovely girl.”

“There she is,” Michele says, “Over there by the cash register.” We look to our left across shelves piled high with locally-grown produce, and see her behind the counter helping a customer unload a shopping basket full of red and yellow tomatoes, various varieties of peppers, hand-pressed Spanish olive oil, organic ginger, Ruby Red Grapefruits, and home-baked bread.

You see, we are up in Boynton Beach at the Woolbright Farmers Market. Owned by Michele, she says that she and her husband opened it about 15 years ago since she needed something else in her life besides illness, dying, and death. Though she quickly points out with a gesture, “See how I managed to locate it right across from a cemetery.” And sure enough the Boynton Beach cemetery is right across Woolbright Road!

Concluded on Monday . . .

Thursday, February 21, 2008

February 21, 2008--Not A Bimbo Eruption

The story in today’s NY Times about John McCain is not principally about a Bill-Clinton-like Bimbo Eruption. True, the lead paragraph suggests that it is and the media are reporting about the Times’ reporting as if it is all about his “inappropriate relationship” with a media lobbyist hotty. And McCain is ironically making it appear that 40 year-old Vicki Iseman is in fact his Paula Jones by hiring Bob Bennett as his lawyer, the same hired-gun who Clinton engaged to defend him.

The Times piece, with the very careful headline, “For McCain, Self-Confidence On Ethics Poses Its Own Risk,” easily could have more appropriately been—“McCain’s Self-Righteousness About Ethics Undermined By His Own Hypocritical Behavior”—because revealing his own ethical inconsistencies is really what is at the heart of the investigative report. (Article liked below.)

The right-wing media and pundits are right now busy attacking the NY Times, claiming that the story is a liberal smear job. These are the very same folks who until two weeks ago were attacking McCain as a pseudo-conservative. Conveniently forgetting that the Times endorsed the same McCain for the Republican nomination the week before Super Tuesday. So now they’re smearing their own preferred candidate??

Though whatever the true nature of the relationship (was is love or sex or friendship—as McCain claimed this morning) is less important than his role during the notorious savings and loan debacle (he was one of the infamous Keating Five who essentially were bag men for Keating’s bank—McCain was formally reprimanded by the Senate Ethics Committee for his role in that sordid affair). And even more significant what he did as Senate Chairman of the powerful Commerce Committee which dealt with issues that Vicki Iseman brought to his attention—either in his office (it appears she had the run of it) or during more intimate moments.

If Senator Holier-Than-Thou inappropriately represented her clients’ interests before the FCC that counts more than anything else that might have been inappropriate.

And it appears that he did. The chairman of the FCC on a number of occasions “rebuked” McCain for his overzealous and inappropriate representations to them on Ms. Iseman’s behalf.

We also learn in the NY Times article that McCain frequently used corporate jets provided for him by Vicki Iseman’s corporate honchos, and he also accepted tens of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from them.

And, somewhat tangentially but also about his situational ethics, since early this week he and his wife Cindy jumped all over Michelle Obama when she made that unfortunate comment about how “for the first time in her adult life she is proud of America,” why now wouldn’t it be fair to take as close a critical look at Cindy McCain?

We would learn that she was an investor in various Keating enterprises; and we also would discover that back in the early 1990s she became a Percoset addict and that to get her fix she stole drugs from the not-for-profit program she set up to provide medical services in developing countries. She was arrested but it was covered up because of the power and influence of McCain and her wealthy family, and it only came to light after a disgruntled employee who she fired blew the whistle on her. (Just Google her to verify what I am reporting.)

What is it that they say about throwing stones . . . ?

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

February 20, 2008--Briefly Noted

Under time and obligation pressure, a few quick things:

• We now have our two nominees. The race will feature not just the first African-American candidate and a tortured POW but also the widest age and generational gap in electoral history. Obama is a youthful 46 and McCain a whatever 71. That's a difference of 25 years. What this will mean through the summer and into the fall was on vivid display last night in the contrast between their two speeches and who was in the audience at both venues.

• This also suggested the themes of the inevitable campaign--young and naive versus old and world-weary. Obama used the word "old" at least 26 times.

• Spouses and gender again made their sad appearance. Bill got caught on camera screaming at a heckler; and Michelle got captured on YouTube saying, "This is the first time I feel proud about being an American." The pundits deconstructed both missteps--if Hillary can't rein in Bill how will she be able to rein in Ahmadinejad? And if Barack can't control his wife how is he going to stand up to the bullies in Congress? I'm beginning to more and more like the way they handle husbands, wives, and mistresses in France.

• If you are pretending to care about men and women who have to work three jobs just to get by, don't claim that you too "work the night shift" when all that means is that you put in long hours in the Senate. Do not even imply that you've been working as a waitress in the local diner. It only shows, after you give your own campaign $5.0 million, that you must have been stealing from the tip jar. And it reveals your contempt for the intelligence of voters when you to try to pass yourself off as one of "them." We see from the results in Wisconsin where that gets you--17 points behind your rival.

• And, at the risk of getting myself into very deep trouble, there are lessons for women who aspire to break through the presidential, and other glass ceilings--Don't do it as Mrs. Fill-in-the-Blank. It doesn't work to try to have it both ways. You can't ride along and up as your husband's wife and then claim to be authentic and ready to be in charge.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

February 19, 2008--Pitchers & Catchers

Down here in Florida, baseball pitchers and catchers showed up last week for spring training. While we should be learning about how the Mets’ new acquisition, Johan Santana, is faring with his new team or how the three Yankee rookie pitchers who will enter the starting rotation on opening day are looking, all we are hearing about is Roger Clemens’ appearance before a committee of the House of Representatives and whether or not he is lying about taking steroids and human growth hormone.

His former teammate and workout partner, Andy Petitte, also accused of using HGH, gave a news conference yesterday in which he came clean, though he did not give up his pal. (NY Times article linked below.) So, please, can we move on?

It’s been a long winter, the economy sucks, Fidel Castro is no more, Paris Hilton just turned 27, and even Barack Obama has been exposed as having filched words from his pal, Massachusetts governor Duval Patrick. So it’s time to forget about these kinds of things and play ball.

But I’m having trouble putting the steroid-HGH stuff behind me. The fact that so many players have been cheating in this way has stolen the last shards of my innocence. The crack of the bat, the roar of the crowd, the smell of hot dogs and cheap mustard, the relentless sun, and endless games are as evocative to me of things past (temps perdu) as Proust’s madeleines.

I’m so confused, for example, about what to think about the single-season homerun record. I grew up with Babe Ruth’s 60 looming as something magical and unassailable. My faith in certainty and the purity of numbers was challenged in 1961 when Roger Maris hit 61, but in a season that included more games than in the Babe’s day. And thus the famous asterisks. I could thus cling still to thinking bout Ruth as the eternal Sultan of Swat.

What then to make of Mark McGwire’s 70 in 1998? Or later yet of Barry Bonds’ 73 homers in the tragic year 2001? Both obviously the results of McGwire and Bonds getting steroided up—if you need proof, just take a look at the size of their heads.

So much, then, for history, which from forever has been one of the appeals of the National Pastime. Who cared about the French and Indian War and Appomattox when every kid who grew up on a street corner in Brooklyn or the Bronx could argue endlessly, by citing the historical record, about who was the best center fielder—Willie Mays, Duke Snider, or Mickey Mantle.

And so much for the mythic history that surrounded the game, richer to these same kids than being dragged though the fabled elements in Homer and Virgil. Archetypal stories about father and sons. Field of Dreams stuff. How Mantle’s father, nicknamed Mutt, a former semipro player, dying of cancer, in rural Commerce, Oklahoma, taught little Mickey, barely out of diapers, how to switch-hit while dodging tornadoes in the yard back of the house. The rest, as they say, is history. To kids like me—the real history.

That’s all gone now. Swept away in the glare of the media’s and Congress’ klieg lights. There’s nothing left of this kind to cling to in a perilous world. Baseball helped folks get through WW II and Korea and even Vietnam. Now, who or what’s going to get us through the War Against Terror?

OK, I hear you. “Grow up,” you say. And though I really don’t want to, you’re right. “What else is new,” you add. “Didn’t the Yankees build a stadium with a short right field fence to make it easier for Ruth’s fly balls to be transformed into homeruns? And didn’t Major League Baseball, after realizing that more fans would but tickets and five- buck hotdogs, liven up the baseball so more shots would jump out of the park and land in the bleachers? And didn’t they turn their backs on the rampant use of steroids and HGH because they knew more fans would watch baseball on TV if the players began to resemble the pumped-up cartoon characters who have made professional wrestling so popular?”

“I hear you. I hear you,” I say. And confess, “What’s so different about using ‘illegal’ drugs to improve performance when it’s all right for pitchers to have Tommy John surgery? Isn’t that an operation in which they take a ligament from your leg or foot and stitch it into your elbow and as a result you become a better pitcher? I hear that they even use ligaments from cadavers. Talk about ‘external substances.’ This procedure is so OK that it is not uncommon for fathers of Little Leaguers to have these bionic operations done on their kids.

“Hell, Andy Petitte yesterday confessed that his father was one of his suppliers of human growth hormone. I didn’t hear much about how they played catch together at the back of the house. Now the pops are their sons’ connections.”

So, at the moment, Obama’s “plagiarism” is not looking that bad. Or Hillary poaching some of Bill’s and Obama’s best lines.

Anything new about Britney Spears?

Monday, February 18, 2008

February 18, 2008--Snowbirding: Shopping

I hate malls. I’m a city person and love walking the streets and stumbling on shops that I hadn’t noticed before, rummaging around in them for things I don’t need. Like shoes that look good in the store but don’t fit right when I have them in my closet. Or odd pieces of Bisque pottery which now reside undisplayed in bubble wrap in our basement storage locker.

Malls, with their piped in air and Muzak give me the willies. They make me feel as if I’m an alien visiting another planet or the aliens themselves have taken over this huge parking lot on my planet and plopped this structure full of ersatz shops right in the middle of it.

Not that I’ve been in that many malls, but my impression is that they are carbon copies of each other—every one includes at least one Sunglass Hut, a Gap, a Sharper Image store, a mini-Barney’s, a version of the real Tiffany’s, a Macy’s-Bloomingdales-Neiman-Marcus-Nodstrom, and at least a dozen places to poison oneself in something called Food Courts. I prefer overeating in actual restaurants.

Parking at malls, though, is easy; but to find your car after an hour of aimless wandering around in hundred-acre, 100 degree parking lots can easily take at least another hour. But then of course you have to have a car and spend 40 bucks to fill the tank. Neither of these things, to me, is in any way desirable.

And, to tell the truth, I hate to shop even in a real city. Sure there are these out-of-the-way places to discover, but I don’t have the patience to sort through the racks or poke among dusty shelves in search of stuff that will then sit in my closet. There is nothing ideological here—a resistance to consumption. It’s simply that I’m not a shopper. I can wear the same two shirts and pairs of pants until they need to be discarded. I own just one pair of shoes that I actually wear—the others are just waiting to be donated to Saint Vincent de Paul. When things are undeniably wearing out, I can get myself mobilized to replace them. But recreational shopping just doesn’t do it for me. I’d rather go for a physical in spite of the fact that I also hate doctors.

Something, though, has changed since we have been wintering in Florida.

It all began when Rona’s sister Sharon bought her an early-retirement gift. She knew Rona had taken up horseback riding and to acknowledge that as well as wish her well as she “rode off into the future,” Sharon sent Rona a terrific riding hat from Neiman-Marcus. It was a thoughtful and even witty gift except for one thing—Rona has a very big head and N-M did not have a hat in her size. So with Sharon’s permission, Rona returned it and received a very generous store credit.

Since there is no Neiman-Marcus in New York City Rona brought the credit with her to Florida feeling certain she would locate one here. And sure enough, in the endless Sawgrass Mills Mall there is huge Neiman-Marcus store called the Last Call. A place, we learned, to which all the Neiman-Marcuses on the east coast send their unsold goods to be offered to eager customers at rock-bottom discount prices. Sales where you take 20 percent off the lowest price on the tag, which is already 50 percent off the original price and then, if it’s Presidents Day Weekend you deduct another 20 percent; and finally, if you open a Neiman-Marcus credit card account, they give you a further 10 percent discount. I’m not good at this sort of math an should have paid more attention in elementary school when they aught us about percentages, but this pricing means you get great bargains on, what we soon discovered, terrific merchandise.

And so, after a surprisingly good lunch at Paul’s, a faux French bistro right next to N-M, we ventured into the Last Call. It is at least two acres in size and filled, from wall to wall, with racks of designer clothes. Thousands and thousands of dresses, suits, slacks, shirts and blouses, shoes, coats, everything—enough to keep even a shopaholic sated for months and months. Or, as it turned out, Rona and me for hours and hours.

Before we knew it, we had two dressing rooms exploding with clothes to try on. The salesperson who helped us was dancing with glee as she contemplated at least a day’s worth of commissions. With my help Rona had about a dozen dresses set aside, as many pants, three pairs of shoes, at least a half dozen tops, and a jacket or twoor three.

While passing through the men’s section on the way to the women’s department, I pulled two top coats off the racks, three sport jackets, five shirts, and four pairs of trousers. Just from the few racks that lined both sides of the aisle! We were both ravenous. As if we had awakened from a long fast. I could barely carry all the items that we accumulated during the first 15 minutes of hunting and gathering. Ana, the saleswoman, raced back and forth to the dressing rooms to unburden us. Other less-crazed shoppers stopped in their tracks to watch us in our feeding frenzy.

What inner forces had been so unleashed? What had been pent up in us all these years that was now bursting free beyond our control? Was it the unaccustomed sun and warmth when we had been used to struggling against the cold during our typical winters in the north? Was it having time on her hands, living here now somewhat released from decades of responsibility? Was it the wine we had at lunch that had so uninhibited us? Or are we just cheap and couldn’t resist an incredible bargain—10 percent of 20 percent of 20 percent of 50 percent means, doesn’t it, that something from Armani that was originally $1,200, if we use our new N-M card, is, what, free??

* * *

After we calmed down and tried on what between us felt like more than 100 garments, Rona bought “only” eight things (six of them pants) and I purchased five—one pair of trousers, three shirts, a winter coat (as if I’ll ever again need one), and a pair of sandals—with our haul we stumbled back out into the boiling parking lot and miraculously managed to locate our car in less than 20 minutes.

With a literal hangover from over-indulging, we turned cautiously back onto Sunrise Boulevard. When I felt recovered enough from the intoxication, I said, “You know, I overheard Ana say that they get new shipments from their east coast stores every Saturday.”


“Well, maybe we should then plan to come here every Monday.”


“You said you liked the smoked salmon on baguette at Paul’s. And then there’s always . . .”

Thursday, February 14, 2008

February 15, 2008--Putting the Blame on Patti

Yesterday, someone very close to me said that she was certain that Hillary, if elected, "would make a great president." I asked how she could be so certain and she said that Clinton had had 35 years of "effective experience." That she saw that experience as effective impressed me since most who cite the senator's experience usually speak about it quantitatively—they talk primarily about the number of years rather than what she accomplished during that time.

Since I have been skeptical about the quality of that experience, I often challenge those who mention it as the reason to vote for Hillary Clinton to give me a specific list of her actual accomplishments as opposed to things she has advocated. Most have not been able to do that; but, in spite of this, they still say that they plan to vote for her.

But, if one wants to get a current look at how effective Senator Clinton is when she is the CEO of something, all they need to do is take a close look at how she has run her campaign. After all, she is in full command of it and is thus responsible for how well it is managed and run. It could serve, then, as a fair microcosmic window through which to judge how successful she has been when in charge of a huge operation with thousands of employees. This might give us a clue as to how she might do if she becomes CEO of the USA.

According to a report in yesterday' NY Times (linked below), her campaign is nothing short of a managerial disaster.

Let me cite a few examples since I think this may very well be the most important story to emerge from her campaign in regard to the quality of her experience because it reveals a great deal about her ability to run something complicated.

It is clear that all along Clinton assumed she would be the inevitable winner with the nomination sowed up no later than Super Tuesday. Thus she deployed virtually all of her resources in the early states, primarily Iowa, New Hampshire, and a few of the Super Tuesday primaries. Virtually all of her money, staff, and her own attention were devoted to them. She did not set aside funds or staff capacity for an extended campaign. To quote one of her supporters, Governor Ed Rendell of the now-crucial state of Pennsylvania, “It sure didn’t look like they had a game plan for after Super Tuesday.”

Time Magazine this week said that this short-cited strategy indicates an “arrogant” approach: Clinton underestimated the power and velocity of the Obama campaign and when he did begin to roll up victories and surged in the delegate count the Clinton campaign has not been able, up to this point, to respond. There was no Plan B.

Having a Plan B and a Plan C and a D is Management 101 stuff. They are thus now having to scramble to ply catch-up.

Further, the Times reports, Hillary Clinton did not make provisions for a robust ground game in all but a handful of states. With Texas and Ohio now looming as do-or-die for her, her campaign is just this week beginning to open offices and round up the volunteers and paid workers needed to mobilize voters in the just two and a half weeks before those critical primaries.

In contrast, if you want to see how well the CEO of the Obama campaign has exerted leadership (Obama himself), the Times quotes Lawrence Jacobs, a political scientist at the University of Michigan, as saying that Senator Obama “has developed almost a new style of campaigning. He merges modern campaign technology—he has the list of names, the follow-up effort, all the literature distribution--with these phenomenal rock-arena political revivals. In a caucus state it’s formidable.”

In Idaho, to take one example, not a state one would normally think of as an Obama state, he set up offices almost a year before February 5th. By the day of the caucus he had five offices there with 20 paid employees. His appearance in Boise attracted 14,000 to the Taco Bell Arena, the largest political rally in Idaho history. Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, had a surrogate, Senator Maria Cantwell of Washington State, drop in for less than a day right before the caucus. The candidate herself never set foot in the state.

CEOs are supposed to have the vision needed for success, hire the best people to carry out that vision, and ultimately take responsibility for the outcomes. They are then rewarded if things go well and when they don’t are expected to take responsibility and fix things.

So when the Clinton campaign began to falter, what did Senator Clinton do? Rather than step up and take responsibility for the evident fact that her leadership had not produced the desired results, she got her long-time confidant and senior assistant, who had also been her campaign manager for years, Patti Solis Doyle (referred to by many as her “adopted daughter” because of the closeness of the relationship), to take the hit for her. If Patti, rather than Hillary, had been so at fault, a real CEO-type would have fired her. That’s what we expect of commanders in chief.

Rona says, “Since Chelsea has been her mother’s surrogate in Wisconsin and Hawaii, if Hillary loses there, she may be in danger of joining her adopted sister in limbo.”

February 14, 2008--The Richest Country in History

My mother had a small stroke on Saturday (she is doing well) and from what we have been experiencing during the week in emergency rooms, ICUs, and now in rehab, I can see up close and personal the sorry state of our healthcare system and why all candidates seeking their parties’ nominations have placed so much emphasis on it.

We all know this, but unless you have spent 24 hours in an emergency room you cannot have the full visceral sense of how ERs have taken the place of family doctors for the poor and uninsured. While waiting for my mother to be moved to a bed in the ICU, she spent almost a full day and night on a gurney in the crowded ER corridor. Most who were wheeled in were not true emergencies but rather parents with kids and the elderly who had flu-like symptoms.

It was difficult not to feel rage about the fact that in what we all refer to as “the richest country in the history of the world,” while every other Western democracy and a few totalitarian states have medical systems that cover everyone, we as yet do not. And in spite of the promises of our candidates we are unlikely ever to see our most vulnerable citizens covered. There is just too much profit in the medical business for much to change.

When you witness so many people who are frankly victims of corporate and political greed, when the suffering is so palpable and unfair, it is understandable why improving our broken health system is such a priority. What is not understandable is why we haven’t placed anything resembling an equal priority on, say, fixing our equally broken education system. That too is a fixable problem with many models both domestic and foreign to draw upon.

Barack Obama does at least mention it in his stump speech, talking about tuition credits for college students with the requirement that they will pay it back by engaging in a few years of public service once they graduate. But even for him it is a passing reference. Hillary Clinton does have proposals among her campaign white papers for education reform, but we never hear about them from her. The Democrats have debated 18 times and, literally, there has not been one question posed to them about education. I think it was Chis Dodd in what seemed like 100 years ago who asked the moderators, “Don’t you have a question about education?” He was ignored. They didn’t.

Yes, we must do something about heath care, but we also must improve our public schools. If this election is about the future, what is more important to that future than providing a world-class education to our children?

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

February 13, 2008--Sick Call

My nearly-100-year-old mother need some tending to so I will not be typing today. Back tomorrow.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

February 12, 2008--The NY Times Plays the Race Card

During the run-up to the South Carolina primary, Hillary Clinton's surrogates slyly pulled out the race card.

Most egregious was what Robert Johnson, founder of the Black Entertainment Network, with a leer had to say--how he didn't know what Barack Obama was up to "in the neighborhood" when he was a community organizer in Chicago. Wink, wink.

Most disgraceful was what the aspiring First Laddie had to say. How when the polls there began to shift he shrugged his ample shoulders and offered that sure Obama would win in SC, after all there are all those black folks living there. And a day or two later he added that Obama was just like that really scary black dude, Jessie Jackson.

To underline the point, even the candidate herself got into the act, brushing Obama aside while elevating herself when she implied that he was just a "talker" like Martin Luther King and the people who actually get the job done are white presidents such as Lyndon Johnson and, who else, herself.

And it worked! From South Carolina onward Obama reversed the percentage of African Americans who had previously voted for both Clintons. He then and subsequently has been getting about 80 percent of the black vote. This on the surface sounds good, if you are an Obama supporter. But it has also served to marginalize him--note how it is claimed now, even by the media pundits, that he is only a candidate of blacks, young people (who don't vote anyway), and the well-educated (and how many of them are there after all). This is not a winning combination.

Now the New York Times is getting into the act. Last week on the front page they ran a story about Obama's youthful drug use. Though it came to the conclusion that he used fewer drugs than he acknowledged in his autobiography (!), nonetheless resurrecting it this prominently served to remind voters that Obama was a “druggy.”

So today our nation’s newspaper of record, which has endorsed Hilary Clinton's candidacy, featured a story that in effect corroborates the assertions that Obama is in fact the “black candidate.” (Article linked below).

What’s the big deal then that he won South Carolina, Georgia, and soon DC, Virginia, and Maryland? This was to be expected. Forget that two months ago he was trailing Hillary Clinton by at least 20 points in each of these places. Forget that he also won in Iowa, Maine, Washington State, Kansas, Nebraska, Idaho, Montana, etc. and that none of these states are home to that many African Americans.

Oh, I forgot, some of these states vote via caucuses and that gave Obama an unfair advantage. Why? Because he was a better fund raiser? Because he was able to inspire and motivate people? Because he has a better organized and more disciplined campaign?

All good reasons, incidentally, to suggest that many of these skills might translate into his being an effective president.

Monday, February 11, 2008

February 8, 2008--Family Focus Group

If you want to know why Barack Obama is having a tough time attracting 65-year-old white Democratic voters, you should have been with me the other evening.

After all the food ordering and catching up with each other about ___’s colonoscopy and ____’s pacemaker, after gulping down the bean curd soup, all talk turned to politics.

“You know, the reason I’m having trouble voting for Obama is because of the 114 times he voted ‘Present.’” This from Cousin _____ .

That he tracks these things carefully should be evident by the 114, but at first I was confused about what he was referring to. I had had by then a bottle or two of Tsingtao and wasn’t fully compos mentis. Thus I asked, a chow fun noodle dangling from my chopsticks, “114 what?”

“You know, he voted that way that many times when he was in the Illinois State Legislature.”

“Oh that,” I said, confident I could quickly clear that one up and thus convince him that Obama was worthy of his support. “You see, in Illinois, that’s the way legislators show disagreement with a piece of legislation or an amendment introduced by their party’s leader. So as to indicate opposition without actually voting against it. It’s sort of a courtesy and doesn’t indicate Obama wanted to duck responsibility for making tough decisions.”

“You mean,” he came back at me, “like what John Kerry said four years ago about his vote to authorize the war in Iraq—how he was against it before he was for it before he was against it?”

“Sort of,” I had to admit. And thought maybe voting Present isn’t the easiest thing to explain away, but that’s how the system works, sort of, in the US Congress and in Springfield, Illinois. I wasn’t at all sure that my argument had convinced my cousin to lean in Obama’s direction. I was, therefore, thankful that he isn't a Super Delegate.

While I pondered this, one of my other cousins offered, “I’ll tell you why I’m for Hillary. It’s because of her experience. She has 35 years of it and is ready to be president from Day One.”

I thought, who else has been using that Day One phrase? You can see what Chinese beer does to you.

“Obama is too inexperienced. It’s a dangerous world and I want someone experienced to be Commander in Chief.”

“I understand that,” I said, thinking if I agreed with her I might more easily get her to see things my way. So, I tried something that I think I heard a politician say—I also forgot which one: “But shouldn’t we be looking for Judgment? You know, someone who was against the war from the before the beginning? Someone who had the Judgment to oppose it then and didn’t have to change his or her position just to get elected? [I emphasized the her.] Obama had the Judgment.”

She clearly wasn’t biting on this one, so I added, “OK, let’s take a look at her experience. Yes, she has been in the public eye for 35 years. True. But tell me then, just what has she actually accomplished during that time? Please, give me a specific list of the legislation she introduced that got passed.”

That should have been persuasive enough but I couldn’t stop myself from adding, “Like McCain-Feingold, for example.” Realizing that by allowing this to slip out, who knows, maybe she’ll become a McCain supporter.

She dodged my challenge and offered one of her own: “What about all those overseas trips she took while she was First Lady? She visited, what, more than 82 countries.”

Again, where had I heard that “more than 82”? Wouldn’t you have thought that whichever candidate had provided that number would have more authentically said, “more than 80”? But I let that one go and said, with a smirk, “You mean all those trips to foreign countries Hillary Clinton took during school vacations so that Chelsea could see the world, ride on elephants in India, go on safaris in Africa, all at taxpayer expense?”

“No, I mean while Senator Clinton took those trips she met with dozens of foreign leaders. So if she becomes president she can resume her relationships with then.”

I had her there: “Tell me, which of those foreign leaders who she met seven or ten years ago are still in office? Dictators-for-life aside. Every head of state from that time in Europe and Asia and Latin America is no longer in office. Tony Blair is raking in millions of pounds and Boris Yeltsin is dead. At least I think he is. Even Putin is stepping aside this week, in a manner of speaking.” She remained silent so I moved in with the crusher, “To tell you the truth, in these terms, both Obama and Clinton are equally inexperienced. So I’m going to go with Judgment.”

Just as I was feeling satisfied with myself and basking in my rhetorical victory, a third cousin, in a soft whisper said, “All I want in a president is someone who will make me feel safe.” At this, my other two cousins nodded in silent but deeply-felt agreement.

For this I had no rejoinder. And so, down here among the Senior Set, John McCain could be looking very strong.

Friday, February 08, 2008

February 8, 2008--Fanaticism XCXI: Murder By Media

The impending murder of Britney Spears has now moved to primetime on the mainstream media.

They are no longer merely covering-the-coverage. Which is the traditional beard for the New York Times, CNN, and such. A posture that allows them to pretend to stand aloof from the tabloids and E News and Entertainment Tonight. By doing this they manage to slip in a dose of gossip while pretending to contemplate the larger, loftier, social meanings of her rise and fall.

But now, as Britney’s death is imminent, some of them have stepped fully out of the closet.

Example. Last night, after returning from celebrating the Chinese New Year by, what else, banqueting, I turned on CNN to get the latest news about Mitt Romney’s dropping out of the race for the Republican nomination—for the sake of the party and the country (sure)—the status of the economic stimulus package—the Democrats in the Senate once again caving—and maybe even half a word about the war in Iraq—remember that one?

Instead, on Anderson Cooper 360, it was all Britney-all-the-time. Not only did they show endless loops of video from the TMZ gossip channel (the usual form of covering what other, trashier outlets are up to), but also this time they had a panel of “experts” commenting on her mental and legal status.

There was a representative of an advocacy group that supports parents’ rights to intervene in the lives of their “disturbed” children when they are legal adults. And there was CNN’s and the New Yorker’s chief legal correspondent, Jeffery Toobin opining as if the Supreme Court had just overturned Roe v. Wade, about the intricacies of this kind of situation. Very complicated he said. In addition to taking us through the legal thicket, he did not fail to mention, with a glowing smile, that the judge adjudicating the Spears’ case was none other than a former O. J. Simpson prosecutor--just to make sure folks who follow these kinds of things know all the delicious combinations and permutations.

Rising to my own loftier, reflective posture I ask—what the hell is going on here??

What is this endless fascination, no obsession, with what the tabloids refer to as the Pop Tart? (Today’s NY Post headline—“Britney Out of Nut House.”) Most of the people who are following her every hospitalization, her every failure to show up for a court appearance, her every drunken escapade, her newly acquired British accent—you see I’m up on the details—most have never see her perform, watched one of her videos, or even heard one of her songs. She’s arguably the most famous unknown person ever. And yet there she is all over the so-called news.

Of course we know where this is headed. With the paparazzi and press swarming around her day and night like a wolf pack—she can’t even go to a 7-11 without at least 20 of these predators sticking cameras in her face--she’s likely to be dead before spring. And that will produce endless gnashing of teeth and crocodile tears by the very same people who are now in on the kill.

And let’s be clear about this—this is a murder in progress. In plain sight. 24-7.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

February 7, 2008--Snowbirding--Money, Money

Yesterday, at the Owl, while sitting at the counter waiting for our breakfast orders to arrive, while still attempting to distill meaning and direction from Super Tuesday’s election results, slipping onto the stool to Rona’s left was Danny ____ , Delray Beach’s most successful optician. Which means that he makes lots of money from his eyeglass store in the Delray Plaza Mall.

Without even a nod of hello, he launched into a monologue about his frustrations. “Look,” he said, “you think I like what I do?” Without waiting for a response, which for us was fine since we hadn’t yet inhaled much caffeine and were half asleep after having stayed up half the night to get the results from New Mexico, “I hate it. Sure I’m makin’ lots of money. I have a nice four bedroom house on the Intracoastal, three kids in private school, I pay for my father who’s in the old age home, and my wife doesn’t work.”

He was all sweated up at 8:30 in the morning he was so agitated. Rona tried to get an empathetic word in edgewise, but he ignored her gesture and ranted on. “What am I doin’ this for? So I can be the richest guy in the cemetery? And, by the way, that’ll never be me. Though you can make good money selling eyeglasses to old ladies, you never can do as well as those hedge fund guys with their mansions over there on the beach. Why there’s one guy buildin’ a palace, 20,000 square feet or whatever, just north of Atlantic Beach. But don’t get me wrong, he’s a nice guy. Coaches my son’s baseball team, bought all of them uniforms, and the best equipment. If he was sittin’ here on this chair right next to you,” he gestured toward me, “you wouldn’t know he’s worth, what, $200 million.”

I whispered, “That sounds like how much he made this year”; but Danny ignored me too.

“Can you believe it? If you got the time you’ll understand in a minute what I mean and why I’m so crazy that I could move in with my father who has dementia, or whatever they call it. The lucky bastard. He hasn’t a clue as to what’s goin’ on in the world. To tell you the truth I could use some of that.”

Our orders had arrived and both Rona and I took to trying to ignore him. We like to think of ourselves as sympathetic people, but we didn’t want our food to get cold. He didn’t seem to notice or care. Ignoring our new focus on the poached eggs on toast, he pressed on. “What I mean to say is that I’ve had it with these people.” I wasn’t sure if he was referring to the Owl’s regulars. If so, we would not want to be seen to be too sympathetic to this blanket condemnation. Thus we, as if choreographed, simultaneously lowered our heads even closer to our plates and stared directly into the yokes of the eggs.

“Let me tell you something.” He leaned close to Rona so he wouldn’t be overheard though he had been speaking so loudly that all other conversation at the breakfast counter had come to a halt. All eyes, I suspected, were riveted on Danny.

“Yesterday, just yesterday, I had a store full of people, all of which were complaining to me about why sunglasses have to cost $300, and I was tryin’ to explain to them about how well made those are that come from Italy and how the dollar has declined and it costs me more to buy the frames. I’m halfway into convincing this fat guy from one of the gated communities, when this hundred-year-old woman with her walker pushes her way up to me and breaks right into my pitch as if I’m not talkin’ to somebody.

“She whines in my face, ‘My husband died last week and we just buried him yesterday.’ This I need to hear when I’m working on a big sale. ‘You remember him, Phil Wallace? He was such a sweet little thing.’ To tell you the truth, they all look alike to me. So I just ignored her hoping she would wait her turn, or better go away. I didn’t need to hear any of the gory details. She just planted her husband in the ground and I knew she wouldn’t be buying sunglasses for herself. Believe me, I know these people.

“‘I see you don’t remember him,’ she wouldn’t go away, ‘but he was in here less than three months ago, just before they took him to the hospital, and he bought these eyeglasses from you.’ She pulled a pair from her pocketbook. They were a cheap pair, maybe I charged him a hundred and a half for the frames.

“‘He hardly ever used them. He was so sick before he died. We didn’t even take them with us to the hospital. With a stroke like the one he had he wouldn’t be doing too much reading. Oh, how he loved the New York Times,’ she said as if I new or cared.

“I was growing exasperated with the whole thing and knew soon I’d be hearing his whole life story. I thought I’d throw up if she pulled out pictures of her great-grandchildren. I’ve sent hem all. So I said, to tell you the truth to get rid of her, ‘OK, what can I do for you, Mrs. Walters?’ ‘Wallace,’ she said, correctly me all school-teachery. ‘Walters, Wallace. It’s all the same to me.’ I was getting fed up with her already. My customer, when he heard about the stroke and the hospital and the cemetery, he drifted away from me and I thought in a second he would be headin’ for the door and then stumble around in the parking lot for hour tryin’ to find his car. Let me tell you, he wasn’t in the greatest shape either. I got a big monthly nut here, what with my three kids and crazy father and a wife that trolls the malls all day. I can’t be runnin’ therapy sessions.

“So I said to her, ‘Tell me, then, what can I do for you?’ ‘I want to return Phil’s glasses.’ ‘You what?’ I think I musta screamed that. I was besides myself. She wants to return this dead guy’s glasses? What was I supposed to do with them? Sell them to another half-blind hundred-year-old? ‘I want to return them and get my money back. Look, I have the receipt. He bought them back in November, right before Thanksgiving. They cost, let me see, $242 with the tax.’

She was lookin’ to get her money back from her dead husband’s reading glasses! My store was emptying out. I had all these bills to pay. I was having this nightmare that the word would spread around all the condos in Delray and Boca and I would be out of business because all these cheap old folks would think I’m sellin’ them glasses offa cadavers. I’d have to put my father out on the street or move in with him.

“So I said, loud enough for all my customers who were still there to hear, ‘I’ve never heard of such a terrible thing. It’s against the Health Department rules,’ I made that up—down here you could probably get away with selling the cadavers themselves if you know the right people. If you know what I mean.” He jabbed me in the ribs and winked. I kept shoveling the eggs into my mouth. But did glance over to the table where the mayor and his cronies always sit with their coffee to see if they heard that. Like all the other customers they too were starring incredulously over at Danny.

“You know,” Danny was now confiding to me all of his accumulated mercantile wisdom, “down here in Florida, no matter how much money people have, they want to keep every penny of it. What with two-for-one sales, early bird dinners, and always clipping supermarket coupons. To tell you the truth, the biggest millionaires are the worst. I could tell you a hundred more stories if I had the time; but I gotta go. I have to open early today. We’re havin’ a sale. If you’re lookin’ to replace those Ray Bans of yours, come by later today. I can take real good care of you. And I promise, they never belonged to nobody else. Living or dead!

He roared with laughter at his own joke as he pushed his way out onto the street.

And, to tell you the truth, he’s more or less right. Why just the other day when Rona and I were in Publix because we needed hotdog rolls for our Super Bowl dinner when we saw that if you bought one package of Arnolds new whole-wheat frankfurter rolls you get one bag of their soft sandwich rolls--for free!—we didn’t hesitate. Who could resist that! So we tossed both packages into our shopping cart and all this week have been trying to figure out what to do with all our rolls.

We are making progress. The last thing we want to do is not use all of them. After all, we did get them for a good price.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

February 6, 2008--Jump Ball

Back from the dead, John McCain last night just about sewed up the Republican nomination. That, my friends, after Super Tuesday, is the only thing that is certain.

Now everyone will be focusing on how soon Mitt Romney will drop out (to be a good sport as Ronald Reagan was in 1976) in order to live another day so he can run again four years from now. By then, since his personality, religion, and hair appear to have been the impediments to his winning the nomination, in the spirit of flip-floppery—sorry, evolving—we can expect to see him seeking out Mike Huckabee’s ministering, taking likeability lessons from Hillary Clinton, and making an appointment with John Edwards’ (remember him?) hair cutter—that wet-look has got to go.

And, there is also rampant speculation about who McCain will choose to be his running mate. If Huckabee behaves himself and doesn’t get any crazy ideas that he might actually win the nomination after his strong regional showing yesterday and thus decides to challenge McCain as opposed to sucking up to him, will McCain put a real conservative on his ticket? Though, if he feels the need to do so, he could always turn to Rush Limbaugh or, if with Hillary looming, he feels he has a gender problem, Laura Ingraham.

Have you been listening to these two lately? They have been excoriating John McCain as if his real name were Cain from the Old Testament. Which to them, along with the New, should be the Republican Party’s platform.

The biggest applause lines for all of the Republican candidates are when they talk about the “unborn,” the “sanctity of marriage,” and immigration. With the world in the miserable shape it’s in, with the economy tanking, the one thing that makes their hearts beat fast are these critical issues. I must be living on another planet.

For the Democrats, the biggest applause lines are about health care. This is truly a wonky party. Acknowledging that, to see folks getting so excited about what your definition of “universal” is or what constitutes a “mandate” brings tears to my eyes. And to Hillary Clinton’s too, though she promised n Monday that she will stop the “tearing up” on days preceding significant primaries.

One thing we know is that if this election is about the future and change, having as many Kennedys as possible standing behind you on the platform will not get the job done. Last night was a version of a dead heat largely because Obama couldn’t overcome Clinton’s early lead in Massachusetts and they certainly didn’t deliver the Latino vote in California. It would have been better to have rounded up J.Lo and Marc Anthony.

If you don’t want to appear to be building a Bridge to the Past (to turn Bill Clinton’s line against Bob Dole against Hillary Clinton) connecting to the Kennedys, who half the young folks you’re reaching out to never even heard of, though glamorous to the media, this can be counterproductive. Which it indeed might have been.

So don’t expect to see too much more of Teddy and Carolyn and Maria. Nor will you be seeing too much of Bill Clinton. Thanks to him, Mrs. Clinton had a near-death experience. And by the way, to which secret location has Al Shapton been sequestered?

As the Republicans sort things out and quickly come to realize that either Obama or Clinton are more the Antichrist than McCain, where do things stand with the Democrats?

It’s a tie game, though if one’s memory reaches back just a week or two, it could easily be argued that Hillary had a big night. She won the mega states, in total secured more popular votes, and garnered the most delegates—the real ballgame.

But if your memory extends back a month or two, Barack was the clear winner. Back then he was trailing Clinton in the national polls by at least 20 points and in some of the states that he lost yesterday by more than that. He, for example, cut his deficit in half in Massachusetts in just a few weeks. Enough to suggest that maybe there is some magic still accruing to the Kennedys. To have in effect “caught up” to Hillary looks like real progress.

And the primary and caucus calendar over the next month or two favors Obama. He may win in Washington state, Virginia, Maryland, DC, Ohio, Pennsylvania, etc. Effectively shutting Clinton out of mojo-type media headlines. That will then bring things to Texas and, yes, back to Florida. It could turn out to be a version of the 2000 presidential election where Florida was the decider. Actually the Renquist-Scalia-Thomas Supreme Court.

There was an uncertified primary here. The Democratic candidates agreed not to campaign, but many Florida Democrats voted anyway. And Hillary won, getting about 60 percent of the condo vote. But no delegates were officially selected. But if we have a dead heat by convention time, what ill happen with Florida? The Dems can’t disenfranchise one of the country’s largest and most diverse states.

This kind of thing has happened before with the Mississippi Freedom Party which almost succeeded in getting seated in place of a segregated delegation at the Democratic convention in 1964.

What will the Democratic Party do in 2008 when they convene in Denver? Keep an eye on the so-called Super Delegates. They are party officials and elected officeholders. The Democrats have 796 of them. This is a significant number in itself since it takes “only” 2,025 to win the nomination. But besides playing that significant role, they may very well be critical to determining what to do when it comes to Florida.

That is unless the dispute winds up in the Supreme Court.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

February 5, 2008--Super Tuesday

I'm taking the day off to vote. Actually, I'm resting so I can stay up all night to get the results.

Remember to vote early and often.

Monday, February 04, 2008

February 4, 2008--Old Dixie Highway

My first visit to Florida was back in the late 1950s. My Aunt Fannie and Uncle Harry had moved to Miami from New York, like so many others who headed south, to seek a new beginning. He had struggled with his business up north and had heard that opportunities abounded down here.

I came on my own. It was also my first plane flight. You can only imagine my excitement! My world centered around the neighborhood in Brooklyn where I grew up, surrounded by my extended family and my friends from school who lived on our block. I had never been further west than New Jersey and had only once made it south as far as Washington, DC on a school trip.

My aunt had learned to drive and was eager to show me around while Uncle Harry was at work. With a friend of the family he had bought a gas station and auto repair shop. He had been trained as an accountant and I had no idea what he knew about repairing cars. Pumping gas was another matter. But from all reports he was making a decent living.

She said, “Would you like to see Miami Beach? It’s beautiful there. It’s on the ocean but not t all like Coney Island.” She made a face at that reference. “There are restaurants and hotels and wonderful parks with palm trees and all kinds of tropical plants. One day I saw a parrot in a tree. We have exotic birds like that here. Not like the ones in New York.” Again, she scrunched up her nose as if she had smelled something noxious.

I of course was eager to see the beach and the hotels; and, especially, if there was any chance of seeing that parrot, well that would be something to write home about. Can you imagine, a parrot not in a cage!

We crossed the MacArthur Causeway—a seamless road that hopped the many islands that spanned Biscayne Bay, connecting the city of Miami with the radiant strip on land that formed the fabled Miami Beach.

It was a glorious day. Warm and sunny and full of color. It resembled nothing I had left behind in New York the previous day where everything was gray and raw and cold.

When we arrived at the Beach we drove up Collins Avenue where a progression of one fantasy of a hotel surpassed the one that had been built the previous year. My aunt told me how the developers did that—wanting to outdo the competition by building the “latest” place, where anyone who was anyone, would clamor to get a reservation. So the first hotels in South Miami Beach were no more than four or five stories tall whereas the succeeding ones became towers of delight. “Wait,” she said, as she saw me with my mouth literally agape, “Wait until we get to the Fontainebleau. That one you will not believe. It is like something out of the Arabian Nights.”

And it was. And she was right: I had never seen anything like it. Not even the Eden Roc or the Versailles which were just a few streets south and thus the confections of the previous two years. This had to be the ultimate hotel. There was no way that even an architect as imaginative as Morris Lapidus, who had designed most of the more recent hotels, famous for having said, “More is not enough,” not even he could top himself next year. At the Fontainebleau, we had reached the ultimate pleasure palace.

“Would you like to have lunch here?” I had the car door half open even before Aunt Fannie had brought the car to a halt. I was that overwhelmed and excited.

It was a magnificent lunch which lasted more than two hours. When we had more than fully satisfied ourselves—it was a Morris Lapidus kind of lunch of more and then even more—my aunt said we could drive a little further north to that park I told you about. The one where I saw the parrot.” And sure enough, when we got there and found a place to park, it was still to be seen busy making a nest for his mate. I was already in my head composing my letter to my parents: “You’ll never know what I saw this afternoon . . . ”

The sun was beginning to lower in the sky and Aunt Fannie said it was time to head back to Miami. She was a new driver and did not want to be out after dark.

We retraced our route back down Collins, passing the string of hotel which were now etched in my memory. I was sorry I didn’t have a camera with me. I sensed none of my friends would believe what I had to report without the hard evidence of photographs.

Then I began to notice something very different. On the left side of the car were the hotels, even more resplendent in the flat light of the setting sun. But on the right, at bus stops I hadn’t noticed earlier, were gathering crowds of workers from these hotels. I assumed their shift was over and they were heading home.

This in itself was not unexpected. What was was that all who were queued up were Negroes. “Aunt Fannie, isn’t it strange who’s waiting for the bus?”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean all the people are black. Everyone is. Isn’t that strange.”

“I guess you’re old enough now to know about these things.”

“What do you mean?” I was truly puzzled and anxious because of the ominous tone of her voice.”

“You see, darling, it’s a terrible thing and very different than up north; but down here in the south Negroes are treated very differently.”

“I understand that,” I said, “We did study about slavery in school. But President Lincoln freed the slaves.”

“He did. That is true, but still here Negroes are not allowed to be on Miami Beach after dark. They have to be bused back to the mainland.” Her voice trailed off. “It’s a terrible thing,” she repeated, but this time as if to herself.

“Look at that,” she said a bit later as we were recrossing the Causeway. She pointed to something on her left. Though the light had faded, I could see a small beach that fronted on the bay, and its sign--For Coloreds.

That was then. Much of course has changed. But of course not everything. Or enough.

Yesterday afternoon we drove to Troy’s Barbeque, a roadside place we had heard about that was supposed to have the best ribs in Florida. Perfect food for when watching the Super Bowl. On Old Dixie Highway. As we got closer we realized it was in the center of one of many the African-American neighborhoods in the area. This boded well for the potential authenticity of the food.

As we got deeper into the neighborhood, what I had so naively seen back in the 50s was not so different than what we were seeing just yesterday. We were back in time with men listlessly standing around on street corners, boarded-up shops, run down bungalows, all permeated with deep feelings of hopelessness and despair. For certain there was also evidence of community pride, many houses were well maintained with carefully planted gardens, and younger kids, all smiles, were rampaging joyously on their bicycles. Things did feel safe to us—clearly outsiders who were a little lost as we searched for Troy’s.

At one corner, where we stopped for help, when they heard where we were headed, a couple of the men were eager to tell us about other places where good southern food is available. “If you like Troy’s you’ll also like Parkers back in Delray; and also, don’t forget to go to Wilson’s. They make a mean slow-cooked chicken. But if you want the best ribs, you’re heading in the right direction. Just go down two more streets and make a right. Troy’ll be waitin’ for you.”

And he was. And his ribs were the best ever. And then there were our Giants!

Friday, February 01, 2008

February 1, 2008--Amor Vincit Omnia

As John McCain moves inexorably closer to the Republican nomination, many of the mainstream leaders on the right are not only giving him a second look—they have up to now been suspicious of him (he said, for example, when President Bush nominated Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court, that he was “too conservative”)—they are now finding a way to fall in love with him.

Tony Perkins, a widely-followed Christian evangelical who in the past frequently excoriated McCain, now says, “I have no residual issues with him.” (See NY Times article linked below.)

This can be for only two reasons—(1) Hillary Clinton; and (2) Hillary Clinton.

Oh, there is a third: if McCain actually finds a way to get elected president Tony and anti-taxer Grover Norquist and Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Convention all want to be sure they are welcome in the McCain White House.

When all else fails, be sure not to screw up your access to power and goodies. What is it that Virgil said--amor vincit omnia. Or was it sucking-up that does the conquering?

For the moment, the only prominent right-wing holdouts are James C. Dobson, the legendary protector of America’s families (just say no to sex, drugs, and rock and roll) and Rush Limbaugh, who has at least managed to say “no” to two out of three of these.

It should, though, take only another four or five days before James and Rush feel their hearts beating faster. After all, my friends, it took fewer days than that for Rudy and Arnold to show up arm-in-arm with McCain on Jay Leno.

* * *

Meanwhile, among the Dems there is also considerable thrashing about. Both Obama and Clinton are courting John Edwards who thus far has not made an endorsement. One would think that if he makes one it would be for the candidate who represents fundamental change; but my money is on Clinton, who never fails to tell us that she is the true “change agent.” How would Edwards be able to spin that one? By claiming that she is more of a fighter and that’s what we need to stand up to the corporations and lobbyists.

What he won’t say is that she is likely to get the nomination so why waste an endorsement on someone who will not be able to appoint him Attorney General.

But then there is the drama surrounding the one endorsement (other than Oprah’s) that really counts—Ted and especially Carolyn Kennedy’s. This one is really killing Bill Clinton who, recall, sees himself as not just the first black president but also JFK’s doppelganger. Remember that incredible photo of him as a 16-year-old Boy Scout shaking hands with John Kennedy? It was included in virtually every TV ad that Clinton ran during his bid for the presidency. Now he has to watch TV spots for Obama that feature Carolyn and images of JFK morphing into BHO.

This got under the skin of the newly-reined-in Bill Clinton just as much as he got under Obama’s skin during the South Carolina primary. So much so that the parvenu from Hope, Arkansas who spent many a day trying to ingratiate himself into America’s royal family (even taking the helm of Teddy’s sailboat one time when vacationing on Martha’s Vineyard) that he attacked, actually mocked Senator Kennedy yesterday by linking him directly to President Bush. Over his support for the education bill, No Child Left Behind.

I suspect we’ll be hearing today about Chappaquiddick and Mary Jo Kopechne