Wednesday, April 30, 2008

April 30, 2008--Day Off

Catching up with things. See you Thursday

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

April 29, 2008--Snowbirding: Until Next Winter . . .

We received a call from the woman who owns the apartment we are renting. She told us she received an inquiry from someone who was interested in it for next February. We think that because we are neat and do not disturb her finicky neighbors, she likes us as tenants and therefore offered us the right of first refusal. We assumed this had nothing to do with the fact that, without bargaining in a declining real estate market, we are paying top dollar. And on time.

Rona and I absorbed the news in a state of panic—what would happen if we lost access to this, our modest toehold in paradise? What would we do next February, much less for the rest of the winter? What would happen to us if we were cast out?

So it took but a moment to tell her that, yes, we want to come back in February. In fact, not just in February, but also in December and January and March and maybe even for April.

We held our breath until she revealed, after noisily rattling the papers on which she had her notes, that she had not committed the apartment to anyone for those other months; and, therefore, if we wanted it, and would decide right then and there, she would reserve it for us. That it would be ours! So, without consulting each other, we impetuously said, “Yes we want it for at least those four months.” And after we heard what might have been a sigh of relief at her end, it would likely not be easy to rent places of this kind next year, we raced out to our favorite restaurant, Veri Amici of course, and ordered a bottle of their best Tuscan to accompany our favorite pasta and veal dishes.

When we were down to our last scraps and glass, after glancing up at the moon which hung directly above our street front table, tipsily we peered deeply into each other's eye and wondered, What has become of us? We never before liked it here. We came in the past not to visit Florida but to see my mother and the rest of the family who had moved south years ago. We loved seeing them but loved getting back to New York even more. But here we were now celebrating the fact that we would be able to spend four or five months back here next winter. What had happened? What had become of us to bring about such a change in our state of being?

We always thought of ourselves as so cosmopolitan, so New York, so je ne sais quos . . . Downtown. Now we were relieved and joyous that we would be returning to this world of Earlybird Specials, shopping malls, super markets, top-ten movies, alta cockas, watery coffee, and where much that is located west of our precariously situated barrier island town is so culturally--how to put this gently--uninspiring and, because of the population density of Seniors, so medicalized.

So unlike our Gotham.

After a wistful moment of recognizing that we were in the process of perhaps giving up life as we have known it, we leaned toward each other and, after a soulful kiss, accepted the idea of what we had become . . . Snowbirds.

We went home and, after a night of amore, rose early to pack up and head to the airport. Feeling a little less blue about leaving with the certain knowledge that by December—later this very year—we would be able to return and everything would be the same. Assuming all will not have been destroyed by a new Hurricane Andrew.

With these comforting thoughts and in anticipation of what was to come, the flight home was blissful. We barely heard all the whining and crying children or noticed how cramped we were back in coach. I even managed to drift off into a sweet sleep, which was uninterrupted by my usual anxious dreams about finding our apartment in New York under a foot of water in spite of the fact that we live on the 14th and top floor.

But before we had completely unpacked, in spite of the fact that by the next morning it was a beautiful spring day in Manhattan and all the trees were in full bloom and our remaining friends still remembered who we were and didn’t give us too much attitude about having escaped for the entire winter while they had to remain behind, lucky at best to have been able to escape to the sun for a long weekend or two, in less than 24 hours, though I will soon be fine, I had already begun to miss . . .

The daily pelican migrations. The same seventeen flying south shortly after sunrise in a perfect V-shaped wedge to better negotiate the shifting thermals only to return later in the day like clockwork with bellies gorged from diving along the ocean margins for Grouper and other bait fish.

After the pelicans, that sunrise igniting my writing table, the sky so distracting with its opulent display of pastel ribbons that, in spite of my colorblindness, interupts my thoughts in mid sentence.

The far-off call of the 6:00 a.m. freight from west of the Intracostal borne east on the trade winds as the boxcars rattle up the coast stuffed with produce and cheap goods from Latin America.

Learning from Dennis who tends the grounds—I can see him sitting by the water’s edge with the first of his many coffees also watching the sun hoist itself above the ocean horizon--the lore of hurricane survival. How he has for eighteen years protected these buildings. He tells us, no instructs us what to do when the sirens sound. As he assures us they will. “Get out. Just get out. And fast. It’s that simple. I’ll take care of things. These places will be here when you return. But you don’t want to be here. No, no. It’s not exciting. That’s the wrong way to think about them. They’ll just kill you. I’ve seen that too. But things will be all right here. I’ve lived through ‘em all. And I don’t look no worse for wear now do I?” We decide not to answer, leaving it just at that.

I already miss those we meet every morning for breakfast at the Green Owl. We need to hear how Traci’s 15 year-old son Sean is doing. He busted his lip last week, which required twenty-two stitches—about each of them he is very proud—but they are due to come out on Monday and we won’t be there to get an early report on how he did—just fine I’m certain—and how he’ll look—still drop-dead handsome as he already is. But we want to know and to see him when he comes in on Saturday to help Traci out with her waitressing.

Has Christian made any progress in putting the money together to get him to Australia in August? He has the promise of a job there, in the botanical garden, but needs another $500 for the airfare and to tide him over. He busses the counter in the Owl but his side business, working on PCs is doing well and he should be able to accumulate what he needs.

Joe’s 22 month-old first son is showing signs of being uncommonly bright so we spent some time trying to locate a pre-school for him where he would be sufficiently stimulated and challenged. We found a couple of possibilities but would so much like to be there to help Joe ask the right questions. We’ll do our best by mail. But that little Joe-Joe is some special kid and we’ll miss his second birthday. Rona’s already thinking about what to send.

With gas prices at about $4.00 a gallon and people doing less driving, Troy’s towing business is not what it once was. He’s getting a lot of attitude from his customers complaining about his having to add a surcharge to each job to pay for the gas. Everyone’s bent out of shape about this and no one knows where things are heading. But folks down there are real worried.

Megan’s pregnancy is going well. So well in fact that the 3D pictures she brought in of her late second-semester daughter-to-be were so vivid that we could tell that the kid already looks just like Megan. Which is a good thing. Dave is a handsome-enough guy, but Megan is gorgeous. She’s due in June so I guess we’ll have to be OK with just seeing more pictures.

Then Tom’s got this new Internet business going. We don’t think he needs the money. He’s doing it we speculate for the action. Which in many cases is more important. He’s got a neat Website and we hope to learn that next month he takes in more than the $63 he grossed in March. But again, it’s not about the money. Though most times it is.

On Sunday we’ll be thinking about our 94 year-old neighbor, Ticket M___ (that’s her name), the matriarch of our compound, who drives her big Mercury over to the Owl every Sunday—she’s been doing it for more than twenty-five years--is the first to be seated when they open the doors at 7:30, secures her regular table, orders her same two scrambled eggs with grits and bacon, splashes hot sauce all over the eggs, and with her feet up on the chair opposite, sits for at least an hour reading every single page of the New York Post, lingering especially, it would appear, over the latest equally spicy items on Page Six.

Jack will be full of stories about the basketball playoffs. He’s still in mourning that his beloved North Carolina Tarheels didn’t make it to the NCAA finals, but by now he’ll be almost equally pumped up about what’s going on with the pros who are in their first round. Also, he’ll know about how Tiger’s recovering from his knee operation and why the Marlins got off to such a good start. Some days he’s so worked up that Christian has to give us the five minute bell to let us know there are people out on the street waiting for a place at the counter so it’s time for us, really Jack, to begin to wrap things up. So we get right up but continue to listen to his stories and concerns as we amble together up Atlantic Avenue over to see Bruce who for twenty-eight years had owned the hole-in-the-wall Trouser Shop.

He’s always in good form. He never seems to mind that we stop by to catch up on the latest town gossip. Especially what the Chamber of Commerce is up to. Some new scheme to slow down traffic that Bruce thinks will only make things worse. He’s seen how those big plans worked out in the past so he never hesitates to pause in wheeling out onto the sidewalk his jam-packed display racks of pants and shirts to tell us a story or two about what happened back then or just last week. He knows we are smitten with Delray and wants us to know all about its history and attractions. “Why fourteen years ago, or was it thirteen—I forget, right here at this corner of Atlantic and Fifth, a car was speeding south and the driver must have been distracted by something and jumped up on that curb over there. And where there’s now that restaurant, it was a bank back then, he crashed it through their big plate glass window so when the tellers showed up for work he was already in line waiting to make a withdrawal.” We believe every word of this but then his wry smile gives him away and we realize he’s been doing a little exaggerating. Things are pretty quiet on the streets most mornings and he is so eager for us to like it here that he often tries to infuse things with enough excitement to appeal to us New Yorkers who he must think miss the big city action. Though we’re fine, just fine, just hanging out with him. That’s enough action for us.

And how will we be without getting our latest lessons about living generously offered by a new friend who is dying? At about age 60 she began to experience disturbing symptoms and learned that she had S____ M____ . And though she almost immediately lost her hearing (it came back miraculously after six months of experimental treatment) and the coordination of her right leg, she is the most consistently joyous and optimistic person we’ve ever met. “It’s not about feeling sorry for yourself,” she buoyantly keeps insisting, and by example demonstrates, “It’s about not doing that so that every minute will count.” And then never fails to remind us, “It’s a beautiful day so you need to not be lazy and take a long walk on the beach. And be sure to hold hands. It’s much better that way.” Rona and I assure her that’s a big part of our plan for the day. Her husband, S___ nods his head at that, smiling at her all the time.

Later that day, when we’re wandering down toward Highland Beach where the condos begin to rise out of the sand, our turnaround point, when we separate for a moment to bend over to retrieve a coral or seashell oddity that was tossed up onto the beach by last night’s tide, when Rona races back to excitedly to show me a sea stone that was transformed by the relentless grinding of the surf into the shape of a Valentine heart, saying, “It’s for you. Made expressly for you by the ocean,” we remember what J___ advised and again take each other’s hand. And as she knew, it is much better that way.

Then when we get back to our compound, Bermuda High some developer named it likely thinking the places would sell better if folks from up north would fancy it to be more exotic than what basic Delray could provide back then, Rona noticed that while we were wandering the morning sun, which had finally migrated north enough as spring deepened to strike full-on the hibiscus plantings that dot our grounds. And that sunlight, or its heat, had burst the hundreds of swollen buds so that in that short hour there had been a silent explosion of lurid color. As if to welcome us back from our beach walk.

So will the same thing happen next year? Will we be able to depend on the hibiscus while so much else in the world continues to rage on unpredictably? Will there still be summer tomatoes in February? Later-summer fresh corn in March? Will Jeanine over at Grangers still be making her incandescent key lime pies? Will Jack have any news about why Phil collapsed again at the Doral? And what about his Tarheels? Will Christian still be in Australia or will Delray exert its pull on him, as on us, so that we’ll find him back at the Owl? Megan we know will be there with her baby girl. And hopefully things will be going a little better for Troy. Ticket needs to have a hernia repaired, which is a dangerous thing for someone her age; but we are convinced that she is so sufficiently fortified by all that Sunday hot sauce that we’ll find her propped up at her usual place. She too knows J___ very well and like J___ has no plans to leave us anytime soon. Bruce will for sure have a few sly stories waiting for us. I know we can count on that as we can that the Spinner Sharks with be heading north in March unless one or two decide, when in their feeding frenzy they get pitched up onto the beach, to linger a while as I know we will.

It’s not so bad here one of them might think and thus might, just outside our window, I can almost see it from where I’m now sitting, they just might decide to begin again that long 385 million-year journey that brought us here. To a beach somewhere. Perhaps this very one.

Monday, April 28, 2008

April 28, 2008--Case Closed

The last I left you, Virgilio Cintron was allegedly dead and his two best friends had him strapped into a computer chair on wheels and were pushing him through the streets of Manhattan's Hell’s Kitchen to the neighborhood Pay-O-Matic check-cashing store where they attempted to cash poor Virgilio's $355 Social Security check.

But their plans were thwarted and they were arrested and brought up on charges of larceny and forgery. The scheme failed because right next to the Pay-O-Matic is a coffee shop and at the counter was a detective having a cup of coffee. Through the window, he later testified, he saw James O’Hare and David Daloia dragging the chair through the streets with Mr. Cintron already showing signs of rigor mortis—he was flopping around in the chair and his feet, in the words of the detective, were “bouncing off the edge of the sidewalk.” The detective recalled thinking to himself, “Well, this is a dead guy,” and so he got up off the stool at the counter and proceeded to arrest O’Hare and Daloia.

Open and shut, right? Not exactly since everything in the Big Apple is more complicated than it seems. In this case—when in fact, beyond a reasonable doubt, did Virgilio Cintron die? Before his friends put him in the chair? While pushing him through the streets? Before getting to the check-cashing store? Or after they slipped the endorsed check to the clerk? If the latter, they walk. If any other time, the judge who tried the case would have to find them guilty.

According to the NY Times, which has been covering every aspect of this case—they have done so I suspect because it is a metaphor for what remains of the forgotten side of the otherwise glittering life that is coming to dominate this once down-and-out neighborhood where West Side Story was set—looking as best she could at all the facts, Judge Evelyn Laporte ruled that O’Hare and Daloia were not guilty because the medical examiner could not determine the exact time of death. All he could swear to was that Cintron was dead for less than 24 hours. Thus, case dismissed. (See linked article.)

How sad, one could understandably feel, that to survive in this town with real estate and other prices still soaring, how sad that a couple of guys have to resort to this kind of hustle in order to just get by.

Well, it appears, when Mr. Cintron was alive the three friends did all they could, including pooling their resources, to make it. They cared for each other and when Cintron sank deeper and deeper into the final stages of Parkinson’s, as he weakened and couldn’t fend for himself, O’Hare and Daloia shared their food with him and nursed him through his last days.

As someone said, “They grew old together. The friendship doesn’t end if one of them is needy.” That’s the real metaphor.

Friday, April 25, 2008

April 25, 2008--What's She's Really Up to At 3:00 a.m.

According to Hillary Clinton’s New Math, after Pennsylvania she is now ahead in the aggregate popular vote. Being ahead in this aspect of the contest is one of Barack Obama’s strongest pitches to the Super Delegates—she may have won most of the so-called big states but I’ve won more total states, have by far the most elected delegates, and am still ahead by about 400,000 popular votes. Hillary, with a straight face, is claiming, on this crucial latter point, that that is not true—she’s leading. (See NY Times story linked below.)

To get to that popular vote total you have to give her the votes she received in the phantom Florida primary and all those she garnered in the Soviet-style Michigan primary where Barack Obama wasn’t even on the ballot. That is unless you contend that those who voted “Undecided” were really voting for him.

The real point here is the straight-face thing. How Hilary seems to tell these kinds of whoppers with that kind of face and, most significantly, why she appears to be getting away with it.

In truth both candidates have credibility problems—the recent debate on ABC tore mainly at Obama’s scabs--but Hillary’s and Bill’s and her surrogates’ make Obama’s look like semi-innocent fibs and misspeakings.

Why then is she getting away with this and perhaps regaining enough momentum to make it likely that she will win in Indiana and, who knows, maybe even in North Carolina? If that happens, I suspect she will go on to win the nomination and then . . . look out John McCain. And look out America and the rest of the world. From what she’s been saying recently in her Hillary Doctrine we may soon be seeing nuclear clouds all over Iran.

I suspect that her renewed momentum is the result of a complex double perspective that the public is developing about her:

On the one hand even many of her supporters are turned off by her lack of trustworthiness, her grating personality (i.e., what the pollsters call “likeability”), and her negative campaigning (in Pennsylvania, for example, about two-thirds of the voters, including most who voted for her, in exit polls said she was most responsible for “unfairly attacking her opponent). But still they voted for her.

What is more interesting to me, since if you’re inclined to vote for someone you are willing to overlook her or his perceived faults, is an emerging begrudging respect for Hillary among even those who most dislike her and who are either undecided or support Obama.

It is a respect for her dogged tenacity. Her unwillingness to give up in the face of seemingly hopeless odds. Simply put--she refuses to lose. To give in to the seemingly inexorable numbers from the Old Math.

OK, that could simply be a form of respect for the bloody loser who put up a good fight. But I suspect it’s much more than that and ultimately might prove fatal to Obama’ prospects. Because I’m sensing that among those not inclined to support her yet, underlining the yet part, they may be feeling that Obama’s cool, thoughtful approach (some might call it detachment) is not the kind of quality that succeeds in the nasty world of Washington or beyond.

These folks may be coming to think that Hillary isn’t just waiting at 3:00 o’clock in the morning for the Red Phone to ring but would as president be rattling around in the White House thinking and scheming and plotting and kicking and scratching and lying about how to take the bark off members of Congress in order to get her healthcare plan approved or figuring out how to scare the piss out of Ahmadinijad and the world’s other bad guys.

Because that Red Phone is also connected to the Pentagon and she as president has her hands on the Red Button. Just what we need to have our president doing, they might be thinking, in the ugly world in which we are trying to survive.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

April 24, 2008--And The Winner Is . . . Bill Clinton!

At the time it seemed like a slip of the tongue. Or more profoundly that he was slipping. That he had lost his legendary deft political touch--Bill Clinton was sounding like a racist.

It began during the South Carolina primary. Bill Clinton’s effort to turn Barack Obama into the black candidate. And it worked!

From then on, as Obama ran up an impressive series of post-Super Tuesday primary victories, he did so more and more as a black candidate, gaining, with each state, an increasing percentage of the African-American vote. We were fooled by the results in Wisconsin, as we were after the Potomac primaries, because he also remained a favorite of well-educated, affluent whites.

But in other parts of the country, where the economy as particularly distressed, a mini-backlash was building.

By the time they got to Texas and especially Ohio, Obama topped out in the percentage of white votes he was attracting and that number then began to decline until yesterday in Pennsylvania where he won just 38 percent of the white vote. We can attribute some of this to self-generated problems, notably his complex relationship with Reverend Jeremiah White and his now infamous “bitter” comments, which surely turned off many working-class white voters. Or gave them socially-acceptable cover to vote against him for these reasons and not because of his race. Though his race, for them, remained his primary deficit. (See NY Times article linked below.)

But no matter what Senator Obama did to harm himself during the past month, this piece of political jujitsu really began in South Carolina when the former president and aspiring First Man dealt the first of the lurid race cards.

Though he got caught in an out-and-out lie the other day when he claimed that the Obama people “played the race card on me” and then within 24 hour denied he said it, in fact Bill Clinton’s comparing Barack Obama to Jessie Jackson, his own former minister during the Monica Lewinsky affair, began to mobilize the very cross patterns of racial resentment that Obama spoke so eloquently about in his More Perfect Union speech. Which though full of difficult truths and inspiring language, ironically reminded many that he was in fact black. In case they hadn’t already noticed!

Before then, polling showed that Hillary Clinton was favored by upwards of 80 percent of black voters, a residue of being the wife of our “first black president,” so why would her husband begin the process of causing the leeching of those voters in Obama’s direction? At the time, if it was a conscious strategy, it seemed like a losing one. As the results on Super Tuesday and thereafter showed. Obama did better and better, piling up leads in the number of states won, elected delegates, and the popular vote.

It may, though, turn out to be a winning strategy. Conceived by Bill Clinton in at least two stages—during the current 2008 election season or, if that fails, for 2012. Here’s how I see it to be working:

Bill Clinton knew that after Obama’s surprise victory in Iowa and in spite of Hillary’s comeback in New Hampshire, he knew that this gave Obama’s candidacy credibility and, whatever he and Hillary did, the vast majority of black voters would migrate to Obama. Thus there was no political risk in alienating them further.

Hillary’s lot had to be cast with older women voters. White ones.

No matter how this may have made them feel, for the sake of winning at all costs, they had to forget about black folks. Even if this got them labeled racist. If Hillary was to have a future she had to become the Great White Hope. So enter her White Knight. And thus began a series of subtle, coded, and not so subtle race-based moves.

The first were the Jessie Jackson comments. At their essence Bill Clinton did more than just mention Obama and Jackson in the same sentence. Cleverer, and more untrue, in effect he said that of course, as a black man, like my good friend Jessie, in a state like South Carolina, Obama will win (wink, wink—blacks will vote for “one of their own”); but further, like Jackson, he will fail to win the nomination because Jackson, even though he won in SC, lost the nomination. (wink again—because he’s black). If this had not been an intended racist comment, Bill Clinton, good political historian that he is, would have noted that this was also true for Pat Buchanan and John Edwards—both of whom won in SC but did not go on to receive the nomination.

This was followed by what surely looked like an orchestrated series of race cards played by Bill himself, gallantly sacrificing his own reputation among his former African-American constituency, as well as by surrogates such as Mark Penn (who more than implied that Obama was a drug dealer during his university days) and Robert Johnson, CEO of Black Entertainment Television, who did some winking of his own about what Barack was really up to back in the ‘hood.

Of course Reverend Wright didn’t help, nor did Michelle Obama’s “proud-to-be-an-American” comments. These when coupled with the insinuations endlessly repeated by the media—which did not want to see the race ended and their ratings plummet—and egged on by the continued smears of the Clintons, from these bits and pieces, voters were putting together a mosaic portrait of Barack Obama: in spite of his brilliance and charisma and eloquence and biraciality and ability to mobilize young and well-educated voters of all races, the picture that came into focus for them was that of a 2008 version of Willie Horton (recall the Clinton campaign in one of its TV commercials darkened Obama’s skin color to make him look blacker and more sinister).

In classic Lee Atwater-Karl Rove fashion, Bill Clinton took the lead in defining Barack Obama as a contemporary version of a black militant. Which successfully scared the hell out of a vast majority of white people in Ohio six weeks ago and on Tuesday in the Friendship State.

But, the pundits are saying, Hillary is still way behind in delegates and popular votes; and it is nearly impossible with the primaries that remain, at least half of which Obama will win, for her to secure the nomination unless the Super Delegates “steal” it from Obama.

Well she wins in three ways—

First, there’s a miracle: in two weeks she wins in Indiana (watch out for white voters there) and pulls off an upset in North Carolina. This convinces enough Super Delegates that Obama has lost his appeal and momentum and can’t win in November. They thus start to flow toward Clinton.

Second and more likely, Obama manages to hang on and wins the nomination; and then largely because the Bill Clinton race strategy has been so effective, he loses to McCain in November.

So third, after a failed McCain presidency, coupled with his advanced age, in 2012 McCain loses his reelection bid to his Democratic opponent—Hillary Rodham Clinton.

Bottom line—

The projected winner is . . . Bill Clinton!

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

April 23, 2008--Snowbirding: Mothercare (Concluded)

Thus the first kind of comforting I was able to bring involved trying to help raise my mother from her depression while she was still in the ICU—she needed to be there for the careful monitoring it provided—in the hope that she would agree to eat something. Anything. This was extremely important, I was told, since the IV feeding was insufficient to help maintain her weight, which would be subsequently important if, in the felicitous words of one of the nurses, “She makes it [i.e., lives long enough] to rehab.”

It is never easy to convince or cajole anyone that hospital food is anything but abysmal and even unhealthy. That they must view it as essential to their recovery as their almost equally unpleasant medications. It is a wonder that even a happy and optimistic patient—one, for example, who has just had a rejuvenating facelift—could mobilize any interest in overcooked vegetables or pot roast that is indistinguishable from those limp greens. Thus, to get someone in the ICU who has just had a stroke to think about eating that tasteless mush, even a forkful or two of it, is a challenge. It’s doubly difficult to feel motivated about eating when the screen that endlessly displays vital signs is constantly and alarmingly flashing and beeping and buzzing. Especially when on occasion, when the power surges, it goes terrifyingly flat line. And it is additionally difficult to think about eating if that stroke, as it did with my mother, results in even a small deficit in manual dexterity. Her continuously quivering right hand clear evidence of this.

Thus, you have a picture of my mother two days after the onset of her stroke. The ICU nurses reported that she hadn’t eaten a thing. Not even the Ensure supplement, which was prescribed to make up for any nutritional gaps in her “intake”—along with “output” another felicitous piece of hospital jargon.

Wanting to avoid the Ensure I understood. During one of my own hospitalizations, where the food was even worse that what the Florida Medical Center served up, they had tried to get me to down some. I made a valiant effort, but choked on the chalky taste that managed to penetrate the chocolate flavor that was meant to mask it. So I didn’t even try to get my mother to drink any, I knew better than that, concentrating instead of what looked like it might have once been chicken that was lying, untouched, on her tray that second evening when we visited.

Trying to be upbeat and chipper in spite of her unaccustomed immobility and the look on her face that could not hide the fact that she realized the trouble she was still very much in—it is difficult in an ICU to distract yourself from feeling dangerously vulnerable (the man in the bed to her left, in a “room” that was separated from hers by only a curtain so she and we could easily hear, though we did not want to, the doctors telling family members that he had only hours to live)—in the face of how I found my mother, and not being very good myself at pretending that all was well when I knew it wasn’t, still I tired, in the spirit of knowing that my assignment in this was to bring comfort, I said, “You’re looking better than you seemed this morning.”

Nothing came back to me from my mother so I chirped on, “But I see that you didn’t touch any of your food.” To this she grunted and, with eyes closed as if to put the tepid food out of sight, she agitatedly shook her head from side to side. I was glad to see she had the capacity to do that. I took it as a sign that she was in fact doing better than the morning when moving her head or just smiling seemed beyond her abilities.

“Did you try any? The nurse told me it’s very important to eat. I know the food’s not good, but . . .”

“Salty,” my mother grumbled and resumed shaking her head violently side to side. I knew she hated salty food.

I looked over at the tray and saw that the chicken, as it cooled, appeared to be growing a crust. But still I said, “I know it’s salty,” almost adding and drying out, “but you need to try to eat. You won’t get better if you don’t.” To this, with great effort, she raised her left hand and, letting it tremble, drew attention to the fact that an IV line was inserted in the crook of that arm; and, by looking up at the plastic bag that was connected to the line, showed me in that way that she was getting nutrition.

“Yes,” I said, “you do get some benefit from that but not enough. You still need to eat. Food.” She continued shaking her head back and forth. I was beginning to worry that by doing this she might bring about another stroke. This couldn’t be good for the blood flow to the back of her brain where the clot had formed. So, to try to stop her and to get some, such as it was, real food into her, I said, “How about if I help you.” Immediately the head shaking stopped. “You know, what if I cut up the food into little pieces and I feed you?” She made a humming sound which I took to be assent.

Taking advantage of that, before she could change her mind and resume her head shaking, I rolled to her bed the adjustable table on which the tray had been placed and cranked it up so it would fit comfortably over her. I then raised the top of the bed so that she was more or less in a sitting position. Rona adjusted her pillows to make her more comfortable. And while she was doing that I cut the slab of now room-temperature chicken into tiny pieces. Blow the plastic line that brought oxygen to her nostrils, my mother appeared to be smiling.

“Here are some mashed potatoes. I know you like them.” (But you won’t like these, I thought.) “Now open wide.” I brought the fork with a small amount of the potatoes to her mouth while cupping my other hand under her chin to catch whatever might fall off.

“That’s good,” I said encouragingly as she strained to lift her head from the pillow and, as I had instructed, opened her mouth.

“That’s good,” I said as she sucked in some of the potatoes while the rest fell into my waiting hand. “That’s a good girl.”

A good what? Had I said girl? To my mother? I called her a girl?

Indeed I had. And, I realized, I had been talking to her as if she were not only a girl but a very little one.

As I heard myself—especially my deliberate cadence and tone—from some deep almost prehensile part of myself--I recognized the echo of these words and this intonation as the very ones my mother had employed with me many decades ago when I was her little boy, sick at home with the chicken pox or measles, as she, in the ICU, had become my little girl.

* * *

But even with my mother there, connected to a forest of life-sustaining IV tubes and monitor lines, with the diagnosis still uncertain, with her not as yet out of danger, and with her rapidly approaching 100th birthday, still, in spite of all these signs of frailty and the evidence of her impending mortality, I continued to need to believe that she was capable of rising from that bed and unhooking herself so she could be available to nurture and love me. As she has been through the decades when I had the croup or my tonsils needed to be removed or when I came home bloodied from the schoolyard or, much later, when I faced intestinal surgery. Because, though our roles have to some extent been reversed as a consequence of aging and illness, I still need my mother to be my mommy.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

July 22, 2009--Earth Day

I'm taking the day off to walk the beach and think about the planet.

Monday, April 21, 2008

April 21, 2008--Snowbirding: Mothercare

Though you hope that when your time comes you will be ready, there is in fact nothing that can adequately prepare you for when your mother has a life-threatening illness. As did mine two months ago.

All your experience with your mother and sickness is from when you were stricken and she was selflessly there and, you thought, would be, eternally to care of and protect you from treat and danger. So my first sight of her in the emergency room and then a day later in the Intensive Care Unit to which she had been transferred shook me at the center of my mortal being.

There were four phone messages from my brother when we returned from breakfast. This is never a good sign. We of course feared the worst. The last time there had been so many voicemails in such a short period of time was three years ago when my cousin Chuck died suddenly while exercising in the gym. We are not a family that does that much telephoning or leaves messages unless . . .

In actuarial terms, my mother, just a few months short of 100, is the last survivor from her generation and is thus, by every expectation, euphemistically next in line. Though Chuck’s premature passing disrupted that protective sense of security and unleashed shock waves of anxiety among all the grieving and surviving cousins.

It was thus with fear for some version of the worst that I returned my brother’s call.

He is a cardiologist in South Miami and, though he is used to medical crises, I could tell from his voice that he was calling as a brother and not a physician. “What is it?” I managed to ask. “Something bad I assume.”

“I just got a call from the paramedics. They have mom and are taking her to the Florida Medical Center.”

“Is she . . . ?”

“Yes.” He knew what I was asking. “But I don’t know her condition. From what they told me I think she had a heart attack or a stroke. But she’s conscious. Which is good, but at her age . . .”

I knew enough about medical emergencies for someone of her age not to need to have my brother complete the sentence.

“We’re on our way there right now. They’ll take her to the ER.”

“We’re on our way too. We’ll see you in about half an hour.”

I didn’t need driving directions. I knew how to get there. My father had died in the same hospital more than ten years ago. And I thought, Isn’t it a good thing we’re here snowbirding in Florida. Next I thought, I hope I see her before . . . And, even more personally, What will I do now if . . ? This latter thought was the first fearful inkling I allowed myself to feel of what ultimately, if after Chuck we returned to “proceeding” in order, what my life would be like if . . .

* * *

We arrived at the entrance to the ER just as the ambulance that had brought my mother to the hospital was about to pull away. I peered into the faces of the paramedics to search for any hints that would yield about the status of her condition. I was neither calmed nor made more anxious by their noncommittal look. They had obviously seen worse. And, I tremblingly imagined, better. They were busy changing the sheets on the gurney, readying themselves for the call that would summon them to their next run; and by professionally ignoring me they signaled that it was not their responsibility, or in my best interest, for them to share or for me to receive medical information from them. It was probably that bad.

They had completed their job—they delivered her there alive (how alive is what I was desperate to know) and in one piece. Still I leaned beseechfully in their direction. But before I could approach them, knowing they would have little to offer beyond what my bother had reported, still eager for any shred of news, their radio crackled and, as if liberated from me, they jumped into the front seats, pulled the doors shut, and raced off. For them another day at the office. For me . . .

And then the first of the waitings began. First to be admitted to the ER itself. They had a strict policy that only two family members at a time are allowed to visit with patients. Since we were told to take seats among the parents with small children, most of whom appeared to have the flu, we knew that my brother had already arrived. And since he was the doctor in the family, this was good news. It would assure that my mother would be the beneficiary of whatever professional courtesy was offered in even a rough-and-tumble ER. And, truth be told, I still needed more time, after the wild drive down the Turnpike, to collect my thoughts and prepare a face to present to my mother that would communicate concern and love and strength she could depend upon while masking the anxiety and fear I was experiencing.

My brother came out through a side door and said that it would be all right for us to bypass the rules—things were quiet in the ER and we wouldn’t be in the way of the staff (the first of the small but welcome courtesies)—and could therefore come in to see mom. Though they still hadn’t run all the tests that they would through the next few hours, he reported, to our great relief, that she was indeed conscious and, by his assessment, because of the symptoms he had observed—a slight slurring of speech--had more than likely had a small stroke. Again saying, “But at her age, no stroke, if it turns out to be that, is ‘small.’” And added, “So don’t dawdle.” With his trained and experienced eye he had undoubtedly noticed I was lagging behind Rona. “She’ll be comforted to see you.”

I took that as my mantra during the next two months. Lacking any medical expertise, I came to learn that what comfort I might be able to bring as she moved from ER to the ICU to a regular hospital room to rehab, as she worked her way up the chain of care and restoration, could also be restorative. And so I did my best to do so—to bring comfort. And came to feel, which she confirmed in many subtle and direct ways, that this kind of involvement is an essential complement to all the testing, medications, and other treatments others were well trained to administer.

But I’m getting ahead of myself, though I do so intentionally in order to remove any false drama from this account. I want you to know that my mother is well, back home, living independently, and has no lingering effects of what in fact turned out to be a “small” stroke. So much so that she is right now taking an active lead in planning the ways in which she wants in late June to celebrate her centenary.

Having said this, trying to offer comfort to a mother who for some weeks was dangerously ill was not as benign for me as I had imagined it would be when my brother in effect said—You will bring her comfort.

One of the frequent side effects of a stroke is depression. Not just for the obvious reason that one had just had a potentially life-threatening physiological event (doctors I learned called these things that—“events”), and who after that wouldn’t feel depressed; but there is clinical evidence that the depression also can be just as physiological as the stroke itself.

Thus the first kind of comforting I was able to bring involved trying to help raise my mother from her understandable or metabolic depression while she was still in the ICU—she needed to be there for the careful monitoring it provided—so that she would agree to eat something. This was extremely important, I was told, since the IV feeding was insufficient to help maintain her weight, which would be subsequently important if, in the felicitous words of one of the nurses, “She makes it [i.e., lives long enough] to rehab.”

To Be Continued . . .

Friday, April 18, 2008

April 18, 2008--Media Bashing

I haven't done much media bashing in a while; but after the other evening's Democratic presidential debate on ABC News, I can't contian myself.

Some, including the New York Times, called this "arguably Barack Obama's worst debate." (See article linked below.)

That may be true, but inarguably it was the media's worst performance. The first 45 minutes were devoted almost exclusively to gossipy, tabloid-level kinds of questions. Most of which have been sliced and diced during the past month. Almost all of these low-ball questions, or accusations, were hurled at Senator Obama, but we also heard more about Senator Clinton's Bosnia sniper-fire "misspeaking."

It was clear that Senator Obama was made uncomfortable by this. It's hard to know precisely why. Probably a combination of not wanting endlessly to have to deal with questions about his former pastor. But I suspect he was agitated as well for other reasons. At least I hope so.

Thus, if the latter is true, I pass along here what he might say when he finds himself in similar circumstances. Which he certainly will as long as Hillary Clinton remains in the race and if he is nominated and has to face the Republican Attack Machine.

After about 30-35 minutes, Barck Obama, when asked another question about Reverend Wright or whatever, should visibly look at his watch and say:

"Charlie, George, Tim, Kati, Brian I suspect you and the viewers may be sensing my frustration.

It is true--I am very frustrated. But not by the tenor of your questions. After all you are free to ask me and Senator Clinton anything you want. That's what the Free Press is all about. And though, to be honest, I'm not happy with these questions it's not for the reasons you may be thinking.

It's because we've been debating now for nearly ___ minutes and thus far you haven't asked either of us anything about education, healthcare, the environment, the mortgage crisis, jobs, trade, the wars in Iraq or Afghanistan, or terrorism.

I've been traveling this country for 16 months and these are the things that are on people's minds. Yes, they are concerned about both of our truthfulness, experience, character, and personal history. But not as much and not with the same sense of priorites as the nature and extent of your questioning here would suggest.

I think we've had about 20 debates. This is the 21st. If you add up all the time we've debated it comes to ___ hours. I asked my staff the other day to make a chart for me about how much time has been devoted to critical issues such as the environment and education. To use just those two subjects as examples. Issues voters across this country keep asking both Senator Clinton and me about. They told me that we were asked only ___ questions about the envirnoment and we took up only ___ minutes discussing that. And just ___ questions about education. We spent ___ minutes talking about that. This out of nearly ___ hours of debating.

So that's why I'm frustrated. Because you and your colleagues have posed so few questions to us about these vital issues that are critical to our nation's future, to the world's future, but which have been substantially ignored during all these many debates.

I am running for the presidency to try to begin to change all that. Let me be clear--not to tell the press and the media what to focus on. As an old teacher of constitutional law I know that your freedom is one of our most cherished. But if and when I'm nominated, and if I am elected president, I will spend a lot of my time, energy, and political capital trying to get us to talk about jobs, the environment, education, healthcare, the war against terror, and our place in the world. Things of that sort.

I'll leave the rest of this stuff to others.

So now you know why I've been shifting back and forth on my feet and looking frustrated. It's because I am.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

April 17, 2008--It's the Money, Stupid

And all along I thought it was the economy.

I naïvely thought that the reason hedge fund managers get special tax treatment was rationalized by the government because while having the potential to make lots of money for themselves and their investors, this income is not just of individual benefit but also helps lift the larger, macro economy.

In the language of tax lawyers, hedge funds are subject “to favorable treatment” by the U.S. Tax Code in order “to minimize the tax burden on investors.” This is because the income hedge fund managers generate is considered not to be personal income, which can be taxed up to 35 percent, but rather capital gains, or investment income, which has a top tax rate of just 15 percent.

In other words, it’s thought to trickle down.

Well guess what--it doesn't look as if it does.

To help understand this let's first take a quick look at what a few of last fiscal year's most successful hedge fund managers invested in. Were the investments that yielded each of them billions in personal income bets that would finance new business formation and thereby create thousands of new jobs for Americans, or Taiwanese and Indians for that matter? Did their investments help businesses expand or develop new products and services that would yield profits for shareholders and again lead to more hiring?

Let's check what John Paulson was up to to justify his $3.7 billion in income for 2007. Or James Simons and George Soros, each of whom earned almost $3.0 billion.

According to the New York Times (story linked below) how they deployed the money they controlled had very little effect on the larger economy. And though understanding some of this is far beyond my expertise, it looks to me like the fellas who made out best benefited greatly from the misfortunes of others. Particularly from those Americans who had sub-prime mortgages and who are now seeing their savings wiped out as the real estate bubble bursts.

To many in the hedge fund world it was like shooting fish in a barrel. There was so much of this kind of money lying around to be scooped up at bargain basement prices that that funky liberal philanthropist, George Soros, who made most of his initial billions by manipulating the British Pound, came out of retirement to get in on the action. His Madallion Fund rose 73 a nifty percent last year.

In 2005 Mr. Paulson’s began betting that various kinds of sub-prime mortgages would decline in value and set up two funds to take advantage of this. One returned nearly 600 percent last year and the other “just” 350 percent—all because of the good news for Paulson and company that this sector of the mortgage economy imploded.

He lives modestly in his $15 million apartment on New York’s Upper Eastside. George Soros has given away some of his billions to various good causes. But others in the Billion-A-Year Bottom-Feeders Club have been buying even larger apartments, Hamptons mansions, super-yachts, and fueling the market for Modern Master paintings. Hedge fund managers were perceived to have bid up to record levels last year prices on assorted Picassos and Warhols and Johns.

I’m not an economist but I do not see how any of these staggering profits have been of benefit to anyone other than the hedge funds’ investors. Few trickle-down jobs are created through the sale of $30 million coops or at auctions at Sotheby. And fewer still when folks get tossed out of their homes and onto the street.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

April 16, 2008--John McCain: Fill 'er Up!

Born-again tax cutter John McCain unveiled his tax reduction plan yesterday. It was timed to take political advantage of the April 15th tax-filing deadline and to remind everyone with any shred of long-term memory that though he was a fierce opponent of Ronald Reagan’s tax cut legislation he now favors it, and then some.

Sort of like John Kerry who voted against it before he voted for it before he voted against it.

He continued to call for making the Bush tax cuts permanent, claiming that it is legitimate and good economic policy to provide tax relief (if this is the proper way to put it) for the wealthiest two or three percent because they use the money they save in taxes to stimulate the economy for the rest of us. Trickle-down—remember that?

And he also called for reducing corporate taxes from 35 to 25 percent. Trickle-down again.

But at the political center of his proposals, since none of these others directly touch “average” Americans, and because he does not want to appear to “condescend” to them if he wants to avoid looking as if he is “out of touch” with working folks or an “elitist,” for Joe-Six-Pack there is McCain’s call for the suspension of the federal gasoline tax from Memorial Day through Labor Day. To make it possible for regular folks pushing around campers and SUVs to get a little more bang out of their summer vacation dollars.

When I mentioned this to a friend this morning he said that it sounds good. That’s why he is thinking about voting for McCain. This shows how much he cares about “the little people.” Why, he said, this tax moratorium would save him twenty, thirty bucks every time he filled up.

“How do you get to that number?” I asked.

“Well, at about $2.00 a gallon for taxes, if I add say 10-15 gallons to my tank every week that’s real money.”

“Oh, really,” I said. “Do you know that the federal tax on gas is only 18.4 cents a gallon?”

“Jeez. I thought it was much more than that.”

“That’s the number. Take a look. It’s right here in the NY Times.”

He peered over my shoulder. “You could have fooled me.” I resisted saying that’s sort of the point—to fool you.

“Let me think,” he said taking out his pen and writing some numbers on my paper. “If I add 15 gallons to my tank, at a tax savings of 18.4 cents, that’s, what, about $2.75?”

“$2.76.” I couldn’t hold back from tweaking him. Every penny counts when it comes to tax cuts for ordinary citizens.

“OK, I stand corrected. But what does it add up to for the whole summer?”

“Let’s say you fill up once a week for all 12 weeks.”

He ran the number and said, “So that would total a little more than $33 in savings.” He shrugged his shoulders and with an edge added, “So McCain’s a shit too. What else is new?”

His having said that unleashed me, “One thing you can say about Senator Straight Talk is that he didn’t pander to voters by calling for this tax suspension to extend to Election Day. That much I’ll give him credit for.” My friend was nodding.

“For a guy who pretends to care about working people it sure took him a while to realize that he’d better say something about providing relief for people facing foreclosure on their mortgages. Just telling us he’d keep an eye on the situation if he were president wasn’t going to cut it with voters so he shifted his position pretty fast.”

I sensed that I was making headway when my friend sarcastically said, “Yeah, and when is he going to release his own tax forms the way the other two did? I’ll bet with his wife’s inheritance income they made as much as the Clintons.”

About that I wasn’t sure. Raking in $105.0 million during the last few years, and who knows how much Bill Clinton made in 2007 (they filed an extension so we won’t know until after the Democratic convention), is for certain a lot more than the McCain’s income.

Though I’m sure it will be much, much more than the elitist Obamas earned. So the good news in all of this is that maybe Michelle and Barack can use McCain’s $33.00 to help pay off the last of their student loans.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

April 15, 2008--Bittergate: Comrade Barack

Barack Obama is in trouble for clumsily telling the truth.

About 10 days ago, at a fundraiser in San Francisco he made his now infamous “bitter” comments. Attempting to explain why he is having difficulty appealing to white, working class voters he said it’s because they are culturally out of step with what they perceive to be some of his views. Because they have slipped behind economically and been lied to by their government for decades they have become frustrated and thus:

“It’s not surprising then that they get bitter, they cling to guns or religion or antipathy to people who aren’t like them or anti-immigrant sentiment or anti-trade sentiment as a way to explain their frustration.”

Not only have his political rivals pounced on this, accusing him of being “out of touch” with working people but also “elitist,” “patronizing,” and “condescending.” A mouthful of epithets.

But on the further right, he’s being called a Marxist. Literally. If you doubt this, read linked below NY Times op-ed columnist and Fox News “contributor” William Kristol’s piece in which he side-by-side quotes Marx and Comrade Obama.

Kristol reminds us that Marx wrote:

“Religious suffering is at the same time an expression of real suffering. Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the sentiment of a heartless world, and the soul of a soulless condition.”

And then he adds that most famous of Marxist pull-quotes:

Religion “is the opium of the people.”

So there you finally have it—proof that Barack Hussein Obama is not only an Islamo-Fascist and, of course, a Black Guy but also a Commie.

Putting aside which of out three candidates is more in touch with “average” people—McCain who comes from a long line of admirals, went to the Naval Academy as a legacy, and is married to a mega-millionairess; or Hillary Clinton who grew up decidedly middle class, went to Wellesley and Yale, and is now with her husband also a mega-millionaire; or Barack Obama who was raised by a single mother and grandmother, began his working life as a community organizer, and with his wife has assets that total “only” slightly more than $1.0 million—forget this for a moment and think about the content of what Obama said in California.

For a smart and articulate fellow he for certain chose politically careless words. Referring to the working poor as “they” is not much better than referring to black folks or any group that way. And the “clinging to” language is in fact demeaning to the depth of many people’s faith.

But, but for the media to focus so exclusively on this—as if it is a window into Obama’s true self (though he brought this on himself)--blunts another opportunity that his unique candidacy provides: to not only talk about race in America but now to have a national debate about class. Which in this country is perhaps an even hotter topic.

It would have been politically smarter for him to have kept quiet about the links between economic inequality and the frustrations and behaviors it engenders, but it is a conversation the American people need to have if we are ever going to get free of the demagoguery that manipulates people who struggle to blame their problems on “the other” and not on either government policies or, worse, the structural flaws in our economic system.

This is incendiary stuff and craven political and corporate players, in tandem, have devised various wedge issues to keep us fighting among ourselves rather than demanding fundamental change. What's more important--gay marriage or the widening gap between rich and poor?

Thus we have Kristol and McCain and Clinton and the media not only taking understandable political advantage of Obama’s misspeaking but also they are playing with the idea that he may be something much worse than just a political opponent.

Here's to-the-manor-born Kristol again: If quoting Marx once in English translation is good, than how much better is it to quote him a second time in the original, “foreign” German?

Which he shamelessly does:

Die Religion . . . ist das Opium des Volkes.”

Hoping, perhaps, that we little Volkes will not know that die in German is the required article which essentially means “the” and not what it might appear to be to the unenlightened—“Religion should die.”

If only Obama had only said that, then we’d really have him.

Monday, April 14, 2008

April 14, 2008: Snowbirding: Claude Kelly, Frank, & JFK (Concluded)

For the first time Claude seemed to notice that he had interrupted our lunch. “Oh, I’m sorry. I’m bothering you. I was just making a joke when I said you looked rich. I was only tryin’ to break the ice.” We both shook our heads to indicate that we were now very happy he had “bothered” us. “I really meant to say that you looked like nice people.” We both smiled back at him.

“And, oh, I’m not just Claude, I’m also Claude Kelly. No relation to Grace. But still Irish, you see. Though I was born here.” He laughed again and without us inviting him or having any objections at all—in fact feeling just the opposite now that we realized who and how interesting he was—he pulled up a chair, lowered himself carefully into it, saying, “It’s those damn strokes.” He slapped at one of his legs, which was jumping around, not under his control.

“But enough about that. Life’s too short to worry about these kinds of things.” With a shrug he pointed at his right foot whose random tapping was finally beginning to subside. He relaxed back into his seat as if to indicate he had a lot he wanted to pass along. “If you’ve got the time, I can tell you about the Kennedys. I knew them from my Palm Beach days. They had a big house up there. Actually a compound of houses. The old man made a lot of dough. We were very close. Especially Jack and me. Do you have a few minutes for a couple of stories?”

We assured him we did. Who cared any more about the pitas? They couldn’t compete with anything he might tell us about JFK. In fact Kimberly, the waitress, had taken our dishes away. She knew Claude. He came to the Friendly Greek quite often, and she winked at us since she knew we were in for a good time.

“Any time he was in Palm Beach he’d drive over to the Breakers. Usually at about 9:00 and usually with Jackie. Sometimes alone. She was something to see. You couldn’t really appreciate her unless you saw her in person. Quite a girl she was.” Again, he looked away as he were peering back in time to conjure up a remembered image of Jackie Kennedy.

“Back in those day even the president could drive his own car. It was a beauty. A Lincoln Continental convertible. I’m not sure that the Secret Service came along with him. Especially when he came in on his own. I assume you know what I mean.” He gestured as if to jab Rona gently in the ribs with his elbow. We nodded, not wanting to interrupt him.

“They liked to dance—Jack and Jackie. He was real smooth on the floor. Just like you saw him on television at those press conferences. Elegant. We’ve lost that, haven’t we? Class, I mean. He had that in spades. Every one who was in the house knew them personally. For the folks who had houses on the beach it was still a small town. Though the old-money folks didn’t like Jack's old man, Joe Senior—called him a bootlegger. And worse. Believe me. Remember I’m Irish so I know what I’m talkin’ about. They were just their neighbors, not the President and First Lady. Nothing like that. Some even called him ‘Jack.’ They let them be themselves. Just like any other couple out on a Saturday night. And when they’d come by I’d play all their favorite tunes. Mostly Cole Porter. I think Jackie’s father knew Cole from Paris days.

“They especially liked “I Get a Kick Out of You” and “Just One of Those Things.” And every time they were about to leave I’d play “What Is This Thing called Love?” Which was sort of their song and I guess in the words it contained a lot of truth. I know what folks say now, but to me it looked like they loved each other. In their own way. And, isn’t it the truth, is there any other way?”

He leaned forward and for the first time lowered his voice as if to take us into his confidence. Up to that point anyone else eating at the Friendly Greek could easily have listened in on his stories. Though his stroke had slowed him down, his voice boomed and could have been heard above the traffic across to the other side of US 1. No one seemed to care though. All were too intent on gulping down the last of their Horiatiki Salads and their Pastitsios.

“It was on those nights when he came alone that things got really interesting. He was a man after all. And a powerful one at that. And every gal was throwing herself at him. Of course, not when Jackie was around. That’s for sure. But when he was alone it was quite a different story. I don’t want to tell any tales out of school, but there was this one night when Ava Gardner was there. With Frank. Frank was still in with the Kennedy’s—before they excommunicated him because of the Mafia thing-- and though they had gotten divorced a few years before, he was still crazy over Ava and on occasion they went around together. I think at the time he was married Mia Farrow. But that didn’t matter. Not to Frank. He was a very bad boy.

“Anyway, they were all there. Frank had too much to drink and sat there all night long looking googly-eyed at Ava. She was something special at that time. And shameless. She ignored Frank the whole time. She had one thing in mind--Jack. She was all over him for God’s sake! Right in front of Frank. And everyone else. And to tell you the truth Jack was just as interested in her. They danced a couple of times. No one even looked at them. I was careful not to play any tune that Jackie liked. I tried to keep those kinds of things separate. In my business you had to know how to do that. Why everyone knew that Frank had a thing going with Jackie. That’s the way things were then. Folks did what they wanted and everyone left them alone. Not like today. That’s for sure. Should anyone have cared about what Bill Clinton was up to? What ever happened to us? We think we’ve made so much progress? Well I can tell you we used to be much more sophisticated.”

A cloud passed overhead, blocking the sun; and it was as if that changed and darkened Claude’s mood. “Then of course Jack got shot.” At the memory of that he seemed to be gulping for air. Rona slid her glass of water over to him and Claude took it up and drank down most of what remained. “His mother [‘Rose,’ I said]. Yes Rose. She was never the same after that. I also knew her very well. Sometimes they’d have a party over at the house on the beach and she’d ask me to bring four or five fellas with me to play for them. That was about as good as it ever got.” He looked up the road toward Palm Beach.

“She had had her problems to be sure. What with Joe Junior getting shot down and killed and having one retarded daughter. And her husband wasn’t that much of a comfort to her. Or much of a husband either for that matter. So she turned to people like me. She could talk to us. I don’t know if you noticed but I’ve never been interested in women. In that way.” I had thought so but didn’t say anything. I didn’t want to interrupt or distract him. I was eager to hear more about the Kennedys.

“I could listen to her, to Mrs. Kennedy, and not be interested in any of that funny stuff. So after he was killed she would call me to come over and we’d sit and talk for hours. I mean she’d talk and I’d listen. I do a lot of talking as you can see, but I’d rather keep the things we talked about to myself. If that’s OK with you.” In truth I would have loved to have heard what he could tell; but with some effort indicated I respected his and Rose Kennedy’s privacy.

“Though they have me on tape, and what I had to say about those times and what Rose told me is I think in Jack’s library up in Massachusetts. Some day, when the family allows it, if you’re around, and I’m sure you will be,” he glanced in Rona’s direction, “you’ll hear the rest of my stories.”

“I hope we will,” Rona said, remembering to include me. “That would be wonderful. Our having met you would make it even more interesting.”

“You see, I was right. You are nice!” He clearly meant that for Rona since he sensed I would rather have had him break his vow to Rose Kennedy right then and there and told all.

“There is one more thing I can tell you. You remember that I said about Jack’s car? And how he drove himself around in it? Well Rose let me have that car.”

She did?” I couldn’t contain myself. To learn this was at least some compensation for not hearing more about his private times with JFK’s mother.

“Well, she let me buy it. She was a Kennedy after all. She said Jack would have wanted me to have it. But she did charge me for it. Not what it was worth. I don’t mean to a collector but to a used car dealer. Not that they would have sold Jack’s car to a used car dealer.” The very thought of this tickled him and, chuckling to himself, returned to his more familiar ebullient self. “She sold it to me at less than market value is what I mean. For a token amount. I forget—maybe two, three thousand dollars.”

“And do you still have it?” I asked. “It must be worth a fortune by now. When they auction off a JFK cigar lighter it goes for tens of thousands.”

“Well, to tell you the truth, I only kept it six or seven years. Living here right by the ocean, it began to get rust spots so I sold it to a guy from upstate New York. For $28,000. I felt a little guilty making a profit off of it, but I was a little hard up at the time. He has a collection of cars of that kind. The guy I sold it to. Even one of Hitler’s cars. You can go see it. Jack’s I mean. It’s somewhere up there. I forgot just where. But he taped me too. So I’m told if you go to the museum and stand next to that old Lincoln you can here what I had to say.

“At my age, I can’t remember what it was that I told him. I should go there myself to see it again and to listen to myself. To see if I told the truth.” This made him laugh again. And it caused me to wonder if he had been telling me and Rona the truth.

As if reading my mind, he said, “But since I like the two of you. You too,” he said looking directly at me, “Everything I told you is the God’s-honest truth. I didn’t even stretch anything." I chose to believe him.

“If you have the time,” he said, painfully raising himself from the chair. I jumped up to help him. He was shaky and very fragile feeling. “Watch those hands of yours, big fella,” he chortled. On of my hands had slipped to his hip. “If you come by again before you leave you’ll likely find me here. That is if I don’t drop dead ‘tween now and then. But I’ll be back. I love this place. I can’t get enough of George’s Mousaka. And maybe if I see you again I’ll spill some more beans. Maybe even some about Onassis. I knew him too. After he married Jackie.” He winked as he shuffled inside.

We had only ten days left before we had to head north but agreed we’d be certain to get back to the Friendly Greek before then. With Claude one could not be sure he'd be at his usual table come next December, and I was still hoping to hear a little more about what Rose had told him.

Friday, April 11, 2008

April 11, 2008--Snowbirding: Claude Kelly, Frank, & JKF

It was a beautiful day and we wanted to have a bite of lunch. Pretty much anywhere so long as it was outdoors. It was that nice.

You won’t catch anyone at any of our favorite lunch places referring to this as al fresco dining. They just call it eating outside. Which is fine with us as long as the food is authentic and good. No franchises or restaurants with themes. Like where the waiters are all wearing pirate outfits, which you have no problem finding in many parts of Florida.

None of the places we had in mind has much of a view. What you get to look out on are the other customers’ cars, hastily pulled up and left straddling two parking places while their owners race in to catch a quick something. Some are in such a hurry that they leave the engines running. We’re careful how we park and don’t do much rushing around since these days we have lots of time. The ultimate luxury.

Most of our restaurants are scattered among the gas stations and ramshackle motels that dot the old Federal Highway, US 1, a 2,000 mile stretch of road that begins up in Fort Kent, Maine and runs all the way down to Key West. From Boston to New York City it’s called the Boston Post Road; from New York to Philly the Lincoln Highway; and once you hit Georgia the rest of it is called the Dixie Highway. You get the picture.

No one running for president has a problem with this. Not like with the Confederate flag since pretty much no one ever drives very far along this road. It’s too slow compared to the Interstate, I-95. And most of these folks don’t care much about voting. Why half of them are here illegally! So why would they grumble about what it’s called?

But those who rip along I-95 at 75 MPH, sure they my make good time, are missing all the rich texture of life that still remains spread along the old road. Mainly vestiges from a more innocent time. Though not too far from here there are a couple of Gentlemen’s Clubs, one called the Platinum Lounge, with their $100 a half-hour VIP Rooms, set down right by the few remaining hot-sheet motels.

There’s a Greek place, the aptly-named Friendly Greek, we like to go to on sunny days right on the Dixie Highway up in Lantana, a hardscrabble part of South Florida situated about halfway between the glittering Boca Raton and Palm Beach. If there ever was a town that was made to be bisected by US 1 Lantana is it. Back where most folks from Lantana originally came from, a road like this would be considered a superhighway. So no one we ever met at the Greek or up there is anything but happy about what they found in this, their part of America.

People need their lawns tended to, their roofs fixed, their old people looked after; and so there’s lot’s of work for them. And thus there’s lots of energy and optimism in these parts. So in Lantana and along other parts of the Federal Highway you can still find evidence that the Dream is alive and not just a rhetorical national myth. The kids are all in school, dressed nice and clean each morning, and somehow, struggling yes, most of them and their parents are making it work.

Therefore, at The Friendly Greek, in addition to being able to get their delicious grilled chicken on fresh pita, which they make themselves and which is suffused with just the right amount of garlic and stuffed with perfect minced mid-summer tomatoes from nearby fields—though it’s still early spring according to northern calendars—all of which in turn is saturated with their homemade yogurt-based Tzatziki sauce, for six fifty, plus two more for an icy beer, in addition to this, you can also feel good about America by just looking around at who’s passing by while getting your face all smeared up with the oozings from about the best version of a Souvlaki sandwich you’ll ever be able to find anywhere along the Federal Highway. Or even in the ethnic heart of Queens up in New York, where Broadway is literally our piece of US 1.

The other day, just as we were beginning to make a merry mess of things—the table top, our napkins, our shirts--wobbling in from the parking lot was an old geezer who looked as if he already had had a few belts and would be lucky to make it up onto the deck where we were hunched over our pitas.

He threw us a big smile and a shaky wave, which we tried to ignore. We were otherwise occupied and didn’t want to have to put down our sloppy handfuls and get distracted by someone from way over the hill. But though we ignored him he decidedly did not take the hint because after he, with great effort, finally managed to haul himself up the two steps from the asphalt to the porch he shook and jiggled his way over to us; tipped his baseball cap as best he could; stuck out his bony hand, which was trembling out of control; and, flashing his cheap false teeth, introduced himself thusly, “I’m from Ireland and what about you? Were are you from?” We kept chomping away at what remained of our pitas. Not deterred he continued, “Are you the owners of this establishment?” We didn’t even look up. “Because you look rich!” At this he rocked back and forth laughing, totally loving his own attempt at humor. We kept on chewing.

And with that, he staggered over to us; and when he came to a halt next to our table wound up standing between us and the sun, which was another reason why we were there—to have our bite in the afternoon sun. Rona, clearly not happy with that, shot him a look, still not letting go of the remains of her Souvlaki, as if to say, “What’s your problem?”

“I’m Claude. Strange name for an Irishman, isn’t it?” We were almost done and eager to get back to Delray for our afternoon nap. I began to wipe the Tzatziki off my hands since it was inevitable I would have to make at least a gesture to shake his still-extended hand in order to get him to leave us alone. And since it was twitching so hard I felt some urgency to do so so he could at least let his hand drop, regain his equilibrium, and avoid collapsing in a heap from the strain. We didn’t need any more experience with 911 and emergency rooms.

Still quivering he asked, “Where’re you from? Not that I’m from Ireland, mind you, I’m really from New York. Forest hills. Ever hear of it?”

This got to me. How did he know I had spent a decade near there, working at Queens College? “I do,” I said, not really wanting to encourage him further. But in spite of myself added, “I used to work there.” It had been a good time in my life.

“Whaja do there?” he stammered. He had obviously already had so much to drink that he was slurring his words even though it was only 1:30 in the afternoon. Poor guy, I thought.

“I know I talk kind of funny. It’s not because I’m stupid or anything. I had two strokes, you know. That’s my problem. They left me sounding like this.” He pointed at his mouth. Which was still smiling at us. I wondered if that too was the result of his strokes—that he couldn’t get his face muscles to relax enough so he could stop grinning all the time.

“You sound fine to me.” It was Rona. He had found a way to get to her too. Anything medical was certain to rouse and engage her. Especially anything having to do with anyone old who had suffered some significant medical incident.

“Well, I can’t play anymore.” As if to illustrate he again held out his hand and showed Rona how spastic it was.

“Play what?” Golf? Chess? Canasta?

“You know, a clarinet. A saxophone. I used to play both of those.”

“In a band?” Rona was now excited. She too was very musical.

“Yes. I had one of my own.”

“A band?”

“Fourteen pieces. We spend five months a year playin’ out west at Harrah’s in Lake Tahoe and five right up there in Palm Beach.” He was pointing as best he could up the Dixie Highway.

“We were the Breakers Hotel house band. You know, one of those Big Bands. That’s what they were called back then. It was not a bad life. But look at me now.” He once again showed us his trembling fingers.

“I do know about them.” Rona now was really interested. The remains of her Souvlaki were leaking out onto her plate. “Big Bands, I mean. That must have been something back then.”

“It was. When I was a kid, after I ran away with the King Brothers Circus—I’ll spare you the details since you’re eating--I played in the Tommy Dorsey Band.”


“Yes with him. I remember the first time I went to see them at the Paramount. Up there in New York.” He again gestured at US 1. “I was so excited that after they finished a set I raced toward the stage, which was electrical and was being lowered into the pit. And guess what? I fell right into it. Can you believe that? I was still a kid to tell you the truth. And guess who I fell on top of.”

“The drummer?” Rona was guessing. “Was that Buddy Rich?”

“No not him, but I have some stories about him too. He was a nasty son-of-a-you-know-what. Had me beat up one time. No, no it was Frank Sinatra.”

Frank . . . ?” Rona’s mouth literally dropped open.

“In the flesh. Not that he had too much of that on him. He was sittin’ in a chair and I tumbled into the pit right on top of him.”

“That must have made him mad.”

“No, no. Not the least bit. He was a great guy. At least at that time. He just laughed and laughed. But I got to know him pretty well because, you see, to make a long story short, though that’s not my style, Dorsey hired me and I played with him for a few years. Before I went out on my own. Travelin’ all over the world. Especially South America. Those were some days.” He looked off as if wistfully reliving them.

We, though, wanted him to get back to Sinatra. Which, unasked, he did. “Well, Frank was no longer with Tommy all the time, he too took off on his won. But whenever they were in the same town he would come by and join the band to sing a half dozen of the old songs. It was quite an education for me. Frank, you know, was not only a great singer, he was also a great musician. Everything I know about rhythm and timing I learned from him.

“He always took time out to teach me a new trick or two. To not rush things. To be patient. To give the music enough time to have its way with the audience. That’s not easy to do. ‘Specially for a young guy like me. That was me then—always impatient, rushing things. But Frank taught me how to take my time.” He chuckled, “Which is my specialty now, what with the strokes and having nothing much to do but talk to folks like you. Time. That’s what I have now in spades. That is until you-know-what happens.”

He looked up to the heavens and laughed to himself at that reference; and for the first time seemed to notice that he had interrupted our lunch. “Oh, I’m sorry. I’m bothering you. I was just making a joke when I said you looked rich. I was just tryin’ to break the ice.” We both shook our heads to indicate that we were now very happy he had “bothered” us. “I really meant to say that you looked like nice people. And, oh, I’m not just Claude, I’m also Claude Kelly. Irish, you see. As I said. Though I was born here.”

He laughed again and without us inviting him or having any objections at all—in fact feeling just the opposite—he pulled up a chair, lowered himself carefully into it, and said, “It’s those damn strokes.” He slapped at one of his legs, which was jumping around, not behaving itself.

“But enough about that. If you’ve got the time, let me tell you about the Kennedys. I knew them from my Palm Beach days. They had a big house up there. Actually a compound of houses. The old man had a lot of dough. We were very close. Especially Jack and me. Do you have a few minutes for a couple of stories?”

Which we assured him we did. Who cared any more about the pitas. In fact Kimberly, the waitress, had taken them away. She knew Claude. He came to the Friendly quite often, and she winked at us since she knew we were in for a treat.

To be continued . . .

Thursday, April 10, 2008

April 10, 2008--Torched

I haven't "gotten" the Olympics for at least 20 years.

After the Cold War ended it lost most of its appeal. No longer do I care much about the medal count which in the past was thought to reveal the comparative strengths of Capitalism and Communism. No longer do we have the nasty pleasure of wondering if the gold-medal-winning Romanian shot putter was really a woman or was simply jazzed up on testosterone or had an extra X or Y chromosome.

Since then the Olympics reverted to what its modern incarnation had been all about--making money. For individual athletes (any semblance of amateurism has long since vanished) and the host countries.

The athletes of the world, though, still do put on a good show--especially during the opening and closing ceremonies, which on TV are the highest rated of all Olympic events. Not my thing--for this sort of entertainment I myself prefer Dancing With the Stars--but there you are. Millions tune in to watch all the banner and flag waving and to OD on the latest version of John Williams’ overwrought music.

But what I really don't get about the Olympics is the Torch. The obsession with it I mean.

I know that in ancient times a flame was kept burning during the time the games were underway and that this was thought to commemorate Prometheus’ theft of fire from Zeus. Good and meaningful stuff for the ancient Greeks, for whom, in addition to its religious significance, the fire had its practical side since the athletes competed while naked and the heat from it might also have helped keep them warm during chilly evenings. Unless, that is, something better was available to serve the same purpose.

However, what they now do with the Olympic Flame, which reappeared during the 1928 games, is pure marketing. And the fact that the flame relay was invented by the Nazi officials who hosted the notorious 1936 Summer Games makes the whole torch thing very suspect.

As I understand it, host country officials go to the place in Greece where this all began and from sunlight ignite kindling by using a parabolic mirror. From this they light a torch which is then passed to the first in a series of runners who spend months trundling it around the globe, touching down on all continents except, I assume, Antarctica, which as far as I know does not as yet have an Olympic team.

(How they get a lit flame on an airplane to fly it from Europe to the United States or Australia is another matter that I won't get into here since I am thinking about how many ounces of shampoo we’ll be allowed to take on the plane with us when we return to New York from Florida.)

Now of course, since the Olympics have become such a commercial success, it is also a place where politics is front and center. There is no better global showcase to put a wide range of issues before the media and thus the public. Case in point the current torch relay preceding the upcoming Summer Games in Beijing.

Human rights advocates, anti-globalization groups, and environmentalists are gearing up as diligently as the athletes are training since the global flame relay is an ideal opportunity to get their views into the headlines. Thus, when the flame arrived in San Francisco earlier this week it brought out an assortment of protestors. At least seven thousand at last count. One group, knowing their ancient Olympic tradition, did their protesting while in the buff. Many were so worked up that the Olympic Committee is considering eliminating the international part of the relay, confining it entirely to China—excluding Tibet of course.

To give you some idea of the kind of fervor surrounding this, here are the opening sentences from yesterday’s report in the NY Times. Note especially how the torch is made to sound almost human, as if it has a life of its own (italics added):

“The Olympic torch arrived from Paris in the wee hours Tuesday morning, exited out a side door and was escorted by motorcade to a downtown hotel. There it took a well-deserved break in a room complete with cable TV, room service and views of the Union Square shopping district.” (Full article linked below.)

And the protesting is working. French President Nicolas Sarkozy has indicated that he will not attend the opening ceremony, thus saving himself an endless evening; and even George Bush may not show up—the festivities wrap up way past his bedtime. But he has to be careful since all the debt he has run up during his presidency has been scooped up by the Chinese and the last thing he wants to see happen is for them to call it in before a Democrat is in the White House so he or she can be blamed for the full collapse of the dollar. There is serious talk that If he boycotts the opening ceremony the Chinese might decide to boycott the next multi-billion dollar T Bill auction.

The fact that I’m talking in this economically apocalyptical way is not a good thing. The Olympics are supposed to be about fun and games. Not global economic catastrophe. So why don't we just leave the poor torchbearers alone. We're in enough trouble as it is. And who knows, if the flame manages to make it to China unextinguished (something some of the protestors are attempting to do) and if he behaves himself the Chinese might let President Bush light the Olympic Flame in the big stadium. After all, it would be a way of thanking him since he had US taxpayers pay for its construction.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

April 9, 2008--Day Off

Racing around. No time for typing. Back on Thursday.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

April 8, 2008--No Sex Please, We're British

Though the sun may have long ago set on the British Empire, when it comes to public sex scandals, no one does it better than the Brits.

Yes, we have our occasional Senator Larry Craig who is no longer best known for his fierce opposition to same-sex marriage but for tapping his feet in Gay Code in men’s rooms all over America or Tom Foley who had a thing for young Congressional pages or Governor Eliot Spitzer who as Client Number Nine was fortunate to have come from a wealthy New York real estate family so he could afford to be an Emperor’s Club VIP.

By comparison to the British--boring. When they step out, they do it in a really big way.

Case in point—Max Mosley, president of the governing body of grand prix motor racing, the Federation Internationale de l’Autombile. Last week a video showed up of him participating (if that’s the right word) in a sadomasochistic orgy with five prostitutes in a London sex dungeon.

I know you are skeptical so please be sure to read the entire NY Times article linked below. Written by John Burns who was for years the Times bureau chief in Iraq. In other words, a sober and reliable reporter.

By British standards this might not even have made the front pages in the racy and competitive world of tabloids. They, after all, had more Princess Diana “news” to report. What made the Mosley affair all the more titillating was its link to the Nazis.

Not just that in the scenes shown in the video had Nazi themes—two of the women wore striped prisoners uniforms while Max was heard to bark, “Eins! Zwei! Drei! Vier! Funf!” (one, two, three, four, five) as he whipped another of the women. “She needs more of ze punishment,” he cried out in cartoon-like accented English.

Not only was he seen lying bound and naked on a bench while one of the women pretended to search for lice in his hair and the other lashed him more than 20 times.

No big deal by British sex scandals. What really turned this into a big story was the fact that Mosley’s father back in the 1930s, Sir. Oswald Mosley, was the British leader of England’s Nazi-sympathizing Blackshirts. His dad, who was married to a Mitford, the beautiful and fascistic Diana in Berlin in 1936 in a secret ceremony at the home of Joseph Goebbels with Hitler himself there as the guest of honor, dear-old dad clearly inspired and fired his son’s imagination. And this Nazi connection is what got the British public’s juices really flowing. (Though the video images themselves, if you like that sort of stuff, are quite . . . how shall I put this?)

And as if competing for the chutzpah of the year award, while attempting to wiggle out of this compromising situation, Max Mosley, who has been married to the same woman for 48 years, claimed that whatever he did was a private matter and that he should thus not have to leave his position with the F.I.A. In fact, he reminds us, some of the organization’s chief sponsors, BMW and Daimler Benz used slave labor during the Nazi era to build touring cars for Hitler and his henchmen while also supplying the German army and Luftwaffe with fighter planes, bombers, and tanks. Talk about hypocrisy, he opined.

Meanwhile we also learn that Mosley paid the six women the equivalent of $5,000 in cash for the five, yes five, hour session! Compared to what Eliot Spitzer shelled out to one working girl for one hour Mosley got quite a bargain. But then again, the British Pound is very strong these days.

Monday, April 07, 2008

April 7, 2008--15, 30, 40, Deuce

I like tennis. It’s one of the very few sports, like baseball, where time is not the decisive factor. As Yogi said, “It ain't over ‘til it’s over.” Which means that you may be four runs behind, you’re batting in the bottom of the ninth inning, no one’s on base, there are two outs, and the count is against you—no balls and two strikes. You’re one strike away from losing. But until that last strike there is still hope. Not much. But it’s not over.

In tennis it’s pretty much the same thing. You lost the first set 6-1 and are down two breaks in the second. Your opponent is serving. If she holds her serve she will win the set and the match. The score in the potentially decisive game is 40-Love, which means she only has to score one more point to win. But, but there is no clock ticking away the time as in football or basketball; and thus there is still hope. Slim hope, but it isn’t over.

One of the appealing things about baseball and tennis is that they are metaphorically not at all like life. Life where the Big Existential Clock begins ticking the moment you are born.

So when the world is disintegrating around you, when your job is in jeopardy, when that chest pain reminds you of you know what, it’s good to be able to grab a cold beer, turn on the tube, zone out, and watch the Yankees or . . . Or tune in to ESPN and watch the Sony Ericcson tennis tournament that just concluded on Key Biscayne in Miami.

My guy, Rafael Nadal lost. But not because time ran out on him. He just played poorly and his Russian opponent, Nikolay Davydenko, was on his game. It wasn’t over for Rafa until it in fact was over. Not thankfully like life itself. (See NY Times article linked below.)

Tennis holds other fascinations. Among other things because it's difficult to fathom the scoring system and some of its nomenclature. Why are points in a service game not 1, 2, 3, 4 but rather 15, 30, 40, Game? What’s this Love business? And Deuce? What’s that about? And why when a player serves, places the ball in play, is it called Serving?

No one is really sure about any of this. Which is part of the fun. There is even no consensus about why tennis is called "tennis." It may be because there is evidence that the game originated in the Egyptian city of Tanis, or in Arabic Tinnis. I like that idea.

The scoring of a game may reflect some propitious medieval numerological system. Sixty was an special number back then when tennis may have had its origin. Kind of like the way 100 feels complete to us. So counting each of the four points required to win a service game as if each of them totaled 15, means that 15, 30, 45, 60 would make a version of sense to any one living during the Middle Ages. Or, less interesting, according to others, it may be that the 15, 30, 45, 60 sequence reflects the basic way in which we divide a clock face. Though I have no idea how that would work on a tennis court.

And neither explanation tells us why 40 came to replace 45 as the way the third point is tallied. Some tennis historians (and these do exist) speculate that it’s easier to say forty than forty-five. So much for the propitousness of ancient numerology. Or why, if you were tampering with the original system wouldn't you go all the way to something even easier to say--1, 2, 3, 4, as some have thus far unsuccessfully argued?

Since a version of tennis as we know it, or jeu de paumme, became popular in France more than 200 years ago, especially in the monasteries and the royal court, Deuce and perhaps Love are easier to explain. But this too is speculation.

When the score is tied at 40 All, it is called Deuce because two consecutive points must be scored by one of the players in order to win the game. And thus Deuce may be derived from à deux, two.

Love also may have come from the French. In this case from l’oeuf. L'oeuf mispronounced became "love," perhaps meaning zero in tennis because eggs are sort of round. But Love itself has not been free from controversy. When has it ever been? Back in 1907 a group of American tennis enthusiasts argued for it to be changed to Zero since to them Love as a sports term was insufficiently masculine. How sad. Isn’t it good that we’ve come a long way baby?

Then finally what about Service? This one is my favorite. French royals who became obsessed with tennis, or as it was called in French, the Game of the Palm since the ball was hit back and forth with one’s palm before the racquet was developed, thought that placing the ball in play was too menial for them. So they had their servants do it for them. Thus today’s Service.

Though what was so royal about running around wearing who-knows-what while getting all lathered up smacking the wooden ball back and forth with the palms of their delicate hands? I myself prefer a racket--which is how the English spell it.