Tuesday, July 31, 2012

July 31, 2012--Carol & Alex

I sent Carol a copy of something I wrote about my mother. A piece about one of the Forest Trace "girls," Frieda who died last month.

Here's what wonderful, irrepressible Chryl wrote in return:

Hey Steve,

Imagine, 104 years old.... amazing! She is so blessed!
As always, it's great reading about your Mom and catching up with what's going on in her life. She truly is precious! 

My neighbor's boyfriends' 96-year-old mother has been staying with me since last Thursday and will spend the week before heading to a cabin in Rangley for another weeks visit with her brother. 

Truly, a character in her own right! She left Santa Fe, NM, where she lives, at 6:00 am and arrived here at 10:30 pm. After introductions and a brief house tour she was ready for bed. 

I made sure everything was just perfect but there was one thing missing. "Do you have a place for my leg?", she says! 

Hmmm... a leg stand, I must have one some where around here!!!! 

Off comes the prosthetic which she gingerly let hang from her walker,"This'll do." she says! "Nite, nite." I'm amazed at how "with it" she is! I consider it an honor to be with her and listen to her stories. Someday..... we might be there too!!!

Look forward to seeing you both soon. I'll be in touch!


Carol and [her dog] Alex

Monday, July 30, 2012

July 30, 2012--Romney Goes for Gold

I rarely agree with Mitt Romney. I don't know if he can't help himself, but he does so much flip-flopping and out-and-out dissembling that it's hard to take what comes out of his mouth seriously.

But late last week, during the first day of his visit to London--in an attempt to burnish his foreign policy cred--according to the British and American media, he stepped in it.

He, of course, is a maven when it comes to all things Olympics, having "rescued" the winter games in Salt Lake City in 2002. He cites that as well as his years at Bain Capital as evidence that he knows how to get things done. Including enriching himself. So much so that his wife has a very expensive horse competing in dressage (horse dancing) in the summer games in London, though he pretends not to know the when or where. He wants to come off as a regular guy, and regular guys don't do dressage.

But he does know about Opening Ceremonies. Though not enough to keep his mouth shut or just say a few chirpy things about the intrepid Brits and their games.

Standing in front of Number 10 Downing Street after meeting with Prime Minister David Cameron, he undiplomatically claimed that the British people aren't sufficiently into the games and that they would likely have trouble successfully pulling them of.

First he questioned if the security will be sufficient to keep things safe, but then he went on to insult the English people themselves.

He pontificated that Britons would have to unite in order to make the Olympic Games successful.  "Do they come together and celebrate the Olympic moment [my italics]? That's something which we will find out once the games actually begin."

As one might expect, the headlines in the tabloids exploded with faux outrage, calling him "Party-Pooper" and "Mitt the Twit."

But then there were the Opening Ceremonies. All four hours of them. Four hours that proved Romney right. Well, at least partly right.

I admit, I only made it through the first hour and a half--until Queen Elizabeth jumped out of the royal helicopter with the current James Bond, Daniel Craig, and descended into the Olympic stadium via a parachute emblazoned with the Union Jack. Of course it was all done with smoke and mirrors (especially smoke--there was endless smoke from endless fireworks). But really? The royal Mum? As a T shirt of mine once said, "It's All Show Biz." Even the House of Windsor.

But the stunt did provide some comic relief after a cast of thousands reenacted, interminably, the Industrial Revolution. Yes, that revolution. No mention was made of ours or, since the point of the whole thing was to bring British history to life, the British colonial empire, their role in the slave trade, or the fact that young children were prominent among the workers in the factories of the Industrial Revolution. All workers portrayed, though some had grease smeared on their faces, were adults shown to be happy to have jobs. Even 100-hour-a-week jobs. But there were no grimy eight-year-olds in sight.

Though, Rona noticed, there was a choir of children on the field all dressed in pajamas. "Why are they dressed that way?" she wondered out loud.

"Because it's past their bed time," I said. "They go right home and to bed after singing God Save the Queen."

But I was wrong. They were costumed for the next act, also celebrating one of Briton's historical accomplishments.

"Look. You're right," Rona said, raising herself from the couch. "Here come their beds."

"Their what?" I lifted myself from my chair to get a better look.

Sure enough at least 100 beds were being pushed out onto the field where in a few short days the Decathlon will be contested.

"Hospital beds!" Rona screamed gleefully. "Can you believe this? With dancing nurses. And look, trampolining on the beds are all those choir-kids in PJs."

"What in God's name is this about?" I asked.

Then there was an arial shot from the Goodyear blimp or the still hovering royal chopper and what was going on was revealed.

A huge letter N was outlined in fireworks, then an H, and finally an S.

"N-H-S," I read. "What's NHS."

"Give it some thought, silly. The hospital beds, N stands for National, and H for . . ."

"Health. I get it. And the S is for . . ."

"Service,"Rona clapped her hands. She's a very talented crossword puzzler.

"The National Health Service. Their socialized medical system. Is that's what they're celebrating with all those kids in Dr. Denton's?"

"Must be," Rona said. "Too bad Chicago didn't get the 2016 games. In Soldiers Field they could have featured Obamacare during the Opening Ceremonies."

"Can I switch channels?" I asked. "The Yankees are playing the Red Sox. I've had enough of this. What's next, Harry Potter and Mary Poppins?"

"No way. Even for them that would be too tacky. But watch anything you want. I'm taking a Motrin and going to bed."

The Yanks were way ahead of the Red Sox so I joined Rona in the bedroom.

"Good choice," she said. "I told you we should get rid of the TV while we're in Maine."

"Tomorrow," I promised. "But then swimming begins on Saturday and Michael Phelps is . . ."

Rona switched off the light.

The next morning, on TV, we heard that Mary Poppins and Lord Voldemort from Harry Potter did in fact show up. Of course. Romney knew. How could they resist.

Mary, the supper nanny, took on the terrifying villian Lord Voldermort in a fight to the finish. Actually, 30 Mary Poppins who, like the Queen, descended from the sky with iconic umbrellas as their parachutes to confront a 100-foot-tall inflatable Voldermort.

But I won't spoil the ending. You can catch it all on YouTube.

Friday, July 27, 2012

July 27, 2012--Friday Story: Prologue--Heshy's Complaint

After forty years I heard from Heshy (Big Dick) Perlmutter. I had sent him a copy in manuscript of my first novel, Dirty Jew Bastards. For his reactions and, who knows, since he appears in it, maybe his encouragement.

He said, “What’s all this shit you’re writing about me?” 

I said, “After all these years, without even a hello, this is what you have to say to me?”  To which he replied, “I read some of your stuff and none of it is true.”  I asked, “Even your nickname, Big Dick?  That’s what everyone called you because of . . . you know.” 

“Well yes, that is true; but the rest of it, as I said, is a bunch of shit.” 

“Give me some examples, please, I want to be true to our lives at that time and I did the best I could to remember things accurately.” 

After some silence, which I assumed meant he was considering whether or not to hang up on me, he said, “Well, for one thing there were no Siegel twins.  Yes, there were the Kershner twins, Irving and Bernie, but no Siegels.” 

“But,” I pressed him, “wasn’t there a pair of twin girls in sixth grade?  I just named them ‘Siegel’ because I couldn’t remember their real names.” 

“There were twin girls, I agree, but they were the Schwartz twins and they were anything but attractive.”  He raced on, “And while I’m on the subject of your so-called Siegel twins,” I could feel his contempt, “what’s all this business about me feeling them up in the coat closet?  I never did that.  You made that up, and frankly it’s defamatory.”  Now I was the one to pause, thinking, am I in trouble with this?  What happens if this book gets published?  Will just changing everyone’s names be enough to pass the publisher’s lawyer’s scrutiny?  How much will I have to fictionalize in order to stay out of court? 

“But,” I said to Heshy, “even though they weren’t that attractive you still wanted to take them into the closet, didn’t you, and feel them up?  They were by far the most developed girls in our class as you, for certain, were the most, how should I put it, well equipped.” 

“You have me there, I did think all the time about what their tits would feel like and would have loved to go into the closet with them; but the truth is that I never did it—I just thought about it.” 

“Well,” I said, groping toward an answer that would work for both Heshy and me, “that’s sort of the point and why if this thing ever does get published I want to subtitle it A Fictional Memoir.  Not just to keep the legal folks out of my few remaining hairs but because it will maybe help anyone who picks it up understand what I am attempting to do.” 

“But what does that have to do with me and the Schwartz, sorry, Siegel twins?”

His tone at least had softened and so I proceeded, “You know that after college, though I had been a pre-med like you, though you became a urologist . . .” 

“Hold on, hold on, that’s another thing--you know I’m an ophthalmologist so why do you keep referring to me in your writing as a urologist?  That really pisses me off.”  

I could hear that in his voice, so as gently as I could, said,  “You’re not getting the point—shouldn’t Big Dick have become a urologist just as he should have been the one to feel up the Siegel twins?” 

He felt calmed down again, so I continued, “As I was saying, I never went to medical school but rather went on to graduate school to study literature and then ultimately became a professor.  I always wanted to write fiction, not just teach it, and now that I am writing, I want to produce something ‘literary,’ not just tell humorous and sentimental stories from ‘the old days.’” 

He had been listening, “And so what do you mean by ‘literary?’  You know that wasn’t much of an interest of mine.” 

So I said, “At the time I was a graduate student many of my teachers and then my colleagues were interested in issues of reality and illusion.  Actually, these ideas go back to the Greeks.  And then later on, in post-modern times, that interest shifted to questions about the nature of reality itself—how even ’truth’ itself is socially constructed.” 

I felt myself lecturing him and apparently so did he, “You mean like the Siegel twins?”  I picked up his mocking tone, feeling I deserved it. 

In truth, I need to confess, I hardly knew what I was talking about when throwing around post-modern this and socially-constructed that.  I left the study of literature many years ago when I became a dean at New York University and then went on to work for the Ford Foundation as a senior director.  I had in truth drifted away from literary and cultural-studies issues.

Since I caught myself trying to take advantage of Heshy here, being entirely too glib, I acknowledged, “You’re right to make fun of me, Hesh, because what I’ve been writing is not that literary.   I’m no Proust, no Roth, Philip Roth.  That should only be.   I know what I am and especially what I’m not.  But I do want my writing to have at least a literary patina.  This is my first novel and at my age and in my state of health, who knows, it may be my last.” 

“Are you OK?”  I could hear his concern, thinking, from what I remembered about him, he must be a wonderful doctor with exceptional bed-side manner, assuming he ever sees a patient in a bed—he is after all an ophthalmologist. 

“I’m fine.  Really fine.  I did have some colon surgery a couple of years back; and though I did have to wear a bag for a while, they removed it and I’m feeling better than ever.” 

“Oh my, glad to hear that.”  

“But I do know from that,” I went on, “and from having so many people my age already having died, that I can’t assume anything.  So I want this to be as good as I can make it.  Which means that it has to be interesting on a number of levels, including the reality-illusion level.”

He remained silent so I continued in this vein, “We’ve been talking about the twins.  Let me stay with that.  I want to tell the truth about them.  This at times means the literal truth, as best I can recall it, but also the essential truth.  For me to get to that kind of truth I often have to make things up.  Embellish some, elaborate others, and at times invent things entirely.  With the Siegel twins I not only changed or forgot their actual names but I in effect made them up as well as your encounters with them.  I knew that there should have been twins like the Siegel twins at P.S. 244 (that’s not made up—that’s really where we went to school) and I knew that if there had been such a couple of twelve-year-old bombshells there they would have wanted you to go into the coat closet with them and feel them up.  But since this is not about you (though you are both a major character and in many ways my muse), it’s about a version of me—thus a memoir—and, since it is a version of me, not totally, literally, really me, it is also a fictional memoir.   I needed the Siegel twins to exist, as I have imagined them here, and for you, as my alter ego, representing things I wanted for myself, equipment front and center, you needed to exist as I imagined you.” 

“I understand now what you’re trying to do, but still have to think about it because I’m not sure I like what you’re up to with this.  I’m still feeling uncomfortable.” 

And by the way,” he added without missing a beat, “the candy store on the corner wasn’t ‘Bob’s’ but ‘Krinsky’s.’   Why did you imagine it as ‘Bob’s,’ or did you forget that too?  Like the Schwartz twins.”  Was he mocking me again?  “I mean,” he continued, “what’s wrong with ‘Krinsky’s?  Isn’t that actually a better name?”  I could feel him getting excited, sensing blood in the water, “If the store had really been called ‘Bob’s’ wouldn’t you have been getting closer to your essential truth by imagining it to be ‘Krinsky’s’ and naming it that?  That is if you are really interested in the truth about our neighborhood.”  I caught that emphasis on our, “Or for that matter the truth about your life,” I noted that emphasis as well, “and whatever meaning anyone else might take from this ‘Dirty Jew Bastards!’

I could hear him chuckling, thinking he had gotten me there.  And in truth he was right about that.  Thus, if you read on through this, when you get to the chapter “Mr. Perly’s World of Mirrors,” about Heshy’s father, where at least half is imagined, fictionalized, made up, you will see that the candy store is in fact called by its real name, Krinsky’s.

*    *    *

We rang off, promising to stay in touch, maybe even getting together for a real catch up so, among other things, our wives could meet us and each other--they both had heard so much, too much, about Heshy and me, East Flatbush, and Brooklyn.

But I was reluctant to do so too soon.  I still needed my distance from him if I was to get this right—I didn’t want too much truth to get in the way of my recollections and imaginings.  I also didn’t want to see Heshy without his full shock of electrified black hair and the bulge in his pants.  More afraid in truth of what he would not be seeing in me.

Then three days later a large brown envelop arrived with a six-page handwritten letter from Dr. Harold S. Perlmutter, M.D. in which he offered news of Stanley Futoran, Mel Lipsky, and Carol Siegelstein, saying that if this gets published he’d like me to use his real name and nickname. 

And about Carol he wrote, “Siegelstein not only lives, she just remarried--to Sammy “Bummy” Glockman, the boxer, who killed an opponent in the ring!  I saw her at the P.S. 244 reunion a few years ago and, would you believe, she looks exactly the same.”

Four days after that,  a similar envelop appeared, also containing a long handwritten note, this time Heshy enclosed a photo from the New York City Archives of Perly Glass Works, his father’s store over which they lived, in case I wanted to describe his room and needed to be reminded about how it looked.

It’s a murky photo to be sure, but if you put it under a good light and peer at it at the right angle you can see the Venetian blinds are raised just enough so you can look into that bedroom where . . .  

Thursday, July 26, 2012

July 26, 2012--Coming Attractions

I have been working on a novel made up of stories. This means that each chapter can be read on its own and that in the aggregate they constitute a novel.

My plan is to post them here each Friday for quite some time since there are a lot of them and some are long enough to be divided into two or even three parts so as not to overwhelm you, if you are inclined to read along with me.

The working title is "Dirty Jew Bastards!"

You need to trust me that this does not signal that it is an anti-Semitic tract. Rather it comes from the desperate cry of one of the characters, Jack Monahan, among the narrator's uncles, who feels (fairly) that he and his wife, Roslyn, have been family outcasts in large part because he is not Jewish and was never able to make a living. You should only know what the larger family says about them behind their backs. So, I suppose, though it is not pretty, fair is fair.

Perhaps the title is too upsetting and I will have to come up with an alternative. We'll see.

It will begin tomorrow morning with a Prologue--"Heshy's Complaint."

I hope you will take a look and let me know what you think.

And, oh, it is dedicated to Rona. Who else?

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

July 25, 2012--Pre-Existing Kidney

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office this week ran the numbers after the Supreme Court struck down a little-noticed part of the Affordable Health Care Act (Obamacare).

Most paid attention to the mandate part, the part that requires almost everyone to purchase health insurance if it is not already provided by their employer. Chief Justice Roberts was the swing vote, finding that the penalty, or fine, that anyone refusing to buy health insurance will be required to pay is not a penalty or a fine but a tax. And as such the requirement to pay that tax fell within the historic prerogative of Congress.

But the Medicaid section was deemed unconstitutional because states, the court ruled, should be allowed to make their own decisions about how to offer Medicare coverage to their poorest citizens. It is not for the federal government to require certain forms of compliance, even when it provides 100 percent of the funding.

Go figure. And that is what the CBO did.

They estimate that because of the ruling up to 3 million will be uninsured and left to their own devices. There will of course be some cost savings, and that should make the GOP feel better about all the unnecessary medical-related deaths that will be the result of this. After all, to the Tea Party (which is what the Grand Old Party has become) the unfettered free market is all about the survival of the fittest.

But much that is good managed to survive Supreme Court scrutiny. For example, insurance companies will no longer be allowed to deny coverage to people with pre-existing conditions. And because of various cost-sharing offsets in the ACA it will not cost people with, say, pre-existing cancer their life savings to buy insurance. Equally important, the Act forbids lifetime caps on the provision of care. Thus, someone in the midst of expensive chemotherapy will not be cut off when she or he reaching a stipulated dollar maximum.

But until the law takes full effect a year and a half from now, assuming Republicans are unable to defund it, situations such as the following will still pertain--

As reported in the New York Times, when 33-year-old Erika Royer lost kidney function as a side effect of lupus, unless she was able to obtain a new kidney, she was told she had only a few months to live.

Her 53-year-old father could provide a perfect match, and did--he donated one of his kidneys to his stricken daughter. As a result she is doing fine, her lupus is under control, and with one functioning kidney she was able to resume a normal life.

Her father, on the other hand, who is thus far healthy and physically active after his gift of life, has a problem. A big problem. He cannot find any insurance company willing to sell him a health care policy because he has a pre-existing condition--he has only one kidney!

If Radburn Royer can make it to January 2014, he will be able to secure health insurance. That is unless Republicans in Congress with a Mitt Romney in the White House are, as they promise, able to repeal it or, minimally, cut off its funds. Elections, as they say, have consequences. The 3 million no longer Medicaid eligible know this as will the rest of us come November.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

July 24, 2012--"Contingent Workforce"

Caterpillar Inc. is a American corporation which designs, manufactures, markets, and sells machinery and engines as well as financial products and insurance to customers via a worldwide dealer network.

It is the world's largest manufacturer of construction and mining equipment, diesel and natural gas engines, and industrial gas turbines. With more than $70 billion in assets and about 94,000 employees (about half of whom are located in the United States), Caterpillar was ranked number one in its industry and number 46 overall in the 2012 Fortune 500 and is a company about which Americans feel justifiable proud--they actually make something that is in global demand, much of it right here and not outsourced. Its stock is a component of the Dow Jones Industrial Average and its headquarters is located in Peoria, Illinois, where thousands are employed.

With profits last year at record levels--$4.9 billion--and projected to be even higher this year, it is surprising and disappointing to know that Caterpillar is seeking to force much of its U.S. workforce to contribute $1,900 a year more than at present to cover the cost of their health care coverage and to agree to a six-year wage and pension freeze. The company says it needs to do this in order to hold down labor costs so it can remain internationally competitive.

Workers at their Joliet, Illinois plant--where hydraulic parts that are essential for much of the company's earth-moving equipment are manufactured--have been on strike for 12 weeks, and Caterpillar has replaced them with lower-wage "contingency workers" (as they are called by management--the union calls them "scabs") and union members who cannot stay out of work and live on their $150 a week strike benefits.

The union says that Caterpillar workers at this plant averaged $55,000 a year in wages last year while the company made $39,000 in profit for each employee.

When asked why they are demanding these give-backs at a time when profits are at record levels, company officials say that it is to get labor costs under control in anticipation of any future downturns. The union asks--Why don't we wait and see and take corrective action if necessary if that in fact occurs?

In the meantime, Caterpillar refuses to negotiate--their position: take it or leave it. In the meantime any new workers hired--and they added 6,500 jobs over the past year--will be paid substantially less than current workers. The company instituted a two-tier system where those employees with seniority make $26 an hour while newbies receive just $12 to $19.

Thus the union suspects that the company would be happy to have senior workers leave so they could hire lower-cost replacements.

Caterpillar, incidentally, is a company Barack Obama visited back in February 2009, citing it as a noteworthy example of an American company that was creating jobs and doing right by their employees.

They are indeed doing right by their employees--some of their employees: senior exceutive who have seen their compensation soar as a result of the company's profitability. Production workers, however, are being forced to work for less.

Monday, July 23, 2012

July 23, 2012--Mi Ladder, Su Ladder; Mi Garden, Su Garden

We had heard that Mainers can be exclusive. That those whose families have been here for generations--born locally or coming here forever--do not readily welcome "flat-landers" or "cottage people."

"Be ready for one syllable grunts as responses to 'Good morning,'" we were alerted, "Or, for that matter as one side of a really one-way conversation."

We were told that if we said, "Nice day, isn't it?" we should expect to hear back, "Uh."

Or, "Yesterday's rain was good for our garden," would at best get us an "Umm."

Trying to show respect for local livelihoods, if we were to say, "Read in the paper other day [meaning the Lincoln County News] that the wholesale price of lobster's down below three dollars. Terrible thing," we probably wouldn't even elicit a disdainful grunt.

But we found quite the opposite. Not that we're entirely welcome at the lobstermen's shed in Pemaquid Harbor, but long-term residents--descendants of the town's founders as well as summer people whose families have been coming here for more than 150 years--have been quite welcoming.

Ken, who is indigenous, keeps us supplied with kindling. He drives by and if he sees our wood pile more than half depleted he drops off a couple of old milk crates full, leaving them for us on our front deck.

If we need an extension ladder, we are told about the "community ladder" by Anne and Boyce and to just come by and borrow it.

Then an evening or two ago another up-the-road neighbor, Jill, cut some lettuce from her garden and brought it over so it could accompany the steak we were grilling for dinner. It was both delicious and beautiful--a virtual salad bouquet--and, since she needs to be away for a couple of weeks, Rona took a picture of it and emailed it to her.

This is what Jill wrote back--

Thanks for the really beautiful picture of your dinner.  Please, please go to my garden and take more.  My brother is there, but I've told him that the garden is open territory.  Pretty soon cucumbers will come, and then beans galore. I will tell my brother to expect that you may come.  Boyce will water things, and he and Anne plan to use the garden as their own.  

I miss Maine.  We got back to torrid Kentucky yesterday, and now I'm effectively held hostage indoors by the crushing heat.   I'll try not to think about the sounds of gulls and of lobster boats, borne shoreward by fresh sea breezes.  

I loved that you came in for a visit last week, and I hope that you will grace my little house again with your cheerful and interesting selves.  

Cherish the cool.  

We will do that and cherish her as well.

Friday, July 20, 2012

July 20, 2012--Romney & the IRS

The Obama campaign is not letting go of its attack on Mitt Romney's time with Bain Capital and his income taxes. It is not the Obama Super PACs that are doing the heavy hitting, but ads prepared by the Obama campaign itself, with the "I-am-Barack-Obama-and-I -approved-of-this -message" included.

The ads that call into question Romney's last years at Bain, when more and more of their buy-outs included laying off American workers and out-sourcing their jobs to lower-wage countries, also include allusions to the fact that Romney has not released any tax forms from earlier than 2010.

His 2010 returns showed he made $27.1 million and paid slightly less than 15 percent in taxes, thanks in substantial part because of how much of his income was sheltered offshore in investments such as in the Cayman Islands. And he estimated that he earned $20.9 million in 2011, though we will not know if this is an accurate estimate since he will not file an actual return until after the election.

In the absence of evidence to the contrary, one is left to assume that Mitt Romney, unlike other candidates for the presidency (including his father who released 11 years worth when he ran in 1968), does not want to share any more returns since he knows that in earlier years there is information about even higher earnings than in 2010-11.

It is being speculated that as he realized he was becoming more and more a viable presidential nominee he had his tax people clean up his investment portfolio and tax returns since they were likely to be carefully scrutinized. So the more recent returns would look better than earlier ones, and that he would just stonewall about those prior to 2010. That refusing to turn over more tax returms would be a two-day story and he could get back to attacking Obama as not understanding the American economy or America itself. (Check the recent orchestrated comments from surrogates John Sununu, Michele Bachmann, and Rush Limbaugh who are once again questioning Obama's Americaness.)

Generally Obama is careful when it comes to broad campaign strategy, so it is unlikely that he would have his people, much less himself, so focused on Romney's corporate practices and personal finances unless they were feeling confident that there is fire where there is smoke.

Obama is betting the farm that once Romney is forced to release more information about his income and taxes they will reveal things about him that will more than confirm that he got rich as much in shady ways and through tax avoidance schemes as because he was a savvy entrepreneur who himself created businesses and jobs. If, on the other hand, Romney vamps for awhile and then releases, say, 10 years of tax documents and they show he earned his money the old fashioned way and paid his fair share of taxes Obama will likely lose the election.

The assumption, and hope, among Democrats (and an increasing number of even very conservative Republicans) is that he will be forced to show more and that what will potentially be most damaging is how much money he made during those 10 years.

My view is that this will not be Romney's biggest problem--that he made a bundle while most of the rest of us struggled to say solvent--but rather how little in taxes he paid.

In fact, I wouldn't be at all surprised if in 2008 and 2009 he paid no taxes at all.

Like most everyone else, even as hedged and sheltered as he was, I suspect that he had many investment loses during the years when the real estate bubble collapsed. Enough loses to offset most of his taxable income so that he owed the IRS nothing. It is even likely that during those down years he may have received tax refunds from quarterly tax "overpayments."

My own guess that he didn't do anything illegal. He didn't have to. The tax codes are set up to help people in the top one percent pay less tax in percentage terms than middle-income earners--case in point: Warren Buffett's secretary. But even if everything is legally aboveboard, the political fallout from having to reveal he paid no taxes would be substantial.

Imagine the Obama TV ads then--"While millions of Americans lost their jobs and house, Romney earned $X million and paid not one red cent in taxes. Blah, blah, blah."

One further, conspiratorial thought--Obama may have gone all-in not because he, like me, thinks there is political fodder to be gleaned from Romney's earlier tax statements. He doesn't have to think; he could easily know the specifics about Romney's filings. If Obama had some black-bag operative (or some smart computer-hacker kid) take a look at Romney's IRS file, well, it would be less like betting the farm than betting on a sure thing.

This is far from a nice thing to be suspecting--actually, it is repugnant to think Obama has his hands on this privileged information--but he wouldn't be the first president to snoop around in political opponents' IRS files. Nixon and Johnson, to keep this bipartisan, did this all the time.

Politics, after all, is not known to be pretty business.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

July 19, 2012--Summer Reading: Bernard Malamud

Thirty years ago was the last time I read anything by novelist Bernard Malamud. It was his last novel, God's Grace, not one of his best, but by then I was committed to him, devouring his books as soon as they were published.

The Natural, The Fixer, The Assistant, and his wonderful, fabulist stories collected in The Magic Barrel and Idiots First.

He was among the triumvirate of gifted Jewish-American writers--Nobel Prize winner Saul Bellow and, frequently Nobel-nominated, Philip Roth. As the most overtly Jewish of the three, Malamud had to settle for a couple of National Book Awards and a Pulitzer. He won both for The Fixer, about anti-semitism in Tsarist Russia.

So when I heard that Richard Ford was reading Malamud, obsessed as I currently am with anything having to do with Ford, I dug out my copy of Malamud's third novel, the 1961 A New Life, the story of S. Levin, a dark, bearded man (though not otherwise noted to be Jewish) with a budensome past--whose father was an imprisoned thief, whose mother committed suicide when he was 15, and who at 30, with a new masters in literature, leaves New York City and heads west to "Cascadia," in reality Oregon, to start a new life teaching freshman composition at a backwater state college. (Readers of Richard Ford's Canada, does any of this sound familiar?)

Mayhem ensues. As does profound, at times humerous insight about what constitutes a life made up of of loss, love, yet more loss, and the possibility of redemption. From the despairing, if humorous Bellow, Roth, and Malamud, the hope of redemption is about all there is to look forward to.

As a Malamud sampler, here is a passage from A New Life in which S. Levin lyrically reflects on the quality and meaning of his affair and love for the wife of one of his Cascadia State College colleagues, who happens, wouldn't you expect, to be his departmental chairman--

But if he loved her why loved he her? You are comely, my love. Your self is loveliness. You make me rich in feeling. You have grace, character. I trust you. He loved because she had one unforgettable day given herself to a city boy in a forest. And for the continuance of her generosity in bed (was he less generous?) abating desire as she made it grow, taking serious chances (did he not chance as much?). Or was he moved to love because her eyes mirrored Levin when he looked? Or to drag truth closer, he was compelled by his being to be in love with her open, honest, intelligent, clearly not very happy self? (Why do I feel I have chosen her because I am her choice?) The catechism made little difference for he knew fait accompli when accomplished. Who was he kidding, or what pretending to delay or dress in camouflage? "The truth is I love Pauline Gilley." His confession deeply moved him. What an extraordinary only human thing to be in love. What human-woven mystery. As Levin walked the streets under a pale moon he felt he had recovered everything he had ever lost. If life it not so, at least he feels it is. The world changed as he looked. He thought of his unhappy years as though they had endured only minutes, black birds long ago dissolved in the night. Gone for all time. He had made too much of past experience, not enough of possibility's new forms forever. In heaven's eye he beheld a seeing rose.  
. . .  But Levin had long ago warned himself when when he arrived at this intensity of feeling--better stop, whoa. Beware the forms of fantasy. He had been, as a youth, a luftmensch, sop of feeling, too easy to hurt because after treading on air he hit the pavement head first. Afterwards, pain-blinded, he groped for pieces of reality. "I've got to keep control of myself. I must always know where I am." He had times without number warned himself to harden, toughen, put on armor against love. 
It snowed heavily.

But yet he loved and suffered, found meaning, and a measure of happiness. But you should read it all. A New Life. Bernard Malamud.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

July 18, 2012--Stericycle

Here is a company you probably haven't heard about but soon will become well known.

it is not because Stericycle is a take-over target or that it has a new line of products or services about to be announced that will cause its fortunes to soar. But before I tell you why it is about to hit the headlines, here is little about Stericycle itself. From its Website--  

Protecting people and reducing risk is our enduring commitment to your business and our 528,000 customers worldwide.
We work with you to improve employee and customer safety, ensure regulatory compliance, and safely dispose of regulated materials.
Our services include medical waste disposal, sharps disposal management, product recalls and retrievals, OSHA compliance programs, pharmaceutical recalls and waste disposal, medical device returns, hazardous waste disposal, hospital waste stream management, mailback kits, infection-control products and patient communications services.

They are either the largest or second-largest medical waste disposal company in the world. During the AIDS epidemic, disposing of potentially contaminated sharps and other instruments and materials used to treat AIDS patients was not only a challenge but became a very profitable opportunity for companies such as Stericycle.

So profitable that it became a take-over target for Bain Capital. For $75 million Bain acquired much of Stericycle's shares in November 1999, while Mitt Romney was still CEO.

All evidence suggests that under Romney's leadership Stericycle's business grew, no jobs were outsourced, taxes were apparently paid, and everything appeared to be on the up-and-up.

That is if you are OK with one of Stericycle's core services--disposing of fetuses after abortions. One of its clients, for example, is Planned Parenthood.
Of course, back in 1999, Romney believed in a woman's right to choose. But since that was then and this is now, he will have to do some fancy dancing when trying to explain this to his Evangelical base. 

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

July 17, 2012--Coffee

With an tinge of criticism, a friend pointed out that I seem to spend a lot of time writing about coffee.


Be it of the diner kind or my newest favorite--cortaditos at the Smile on Bond Street in New York City--I begin the day with coffee. The caffeine and the chance encounters with friends and interesting strangers get my heart rate up and my mind on alert.

But up to now I have never mentioned Starbucks. Though I remember many years ago stumbling upon the original on Pike Place in Seattle, I was not that impressed with the coffee. And as a java snob I hate drinking coffee from a paper cup.

Now there are more than 11,000 Starbucks stores scattered across America and another 4,600 worldwide, including in Qatar, Cyprus, and Oman. In-sourcing, outsourcing, however you want to think about it, Starbucks is everywhere, challenging Coca Cola and McDonalds as our best known export. But still I stay away. Maybe in part because of that mass marketing.

But this may be about to change because something I read recently has made Starbucks more interesting to me.

I learned that someone is taking note of which Starbucks products are kosher enough for even orthodox Jews to drink. I've been going to the Website kosherstarbucks.com to see if my ultra-faithful brethren are allowed (or forbidden) to drink Breve Vanilla Latte or the Orange Mango Banana Vivanno.

This is of cultural not religious interest to me because I am far from kosher (yesterday morning, for example, at the Bristol Diner I had a side of bacon with my blueberry pancakes and New England Coffee); but I am interested in situations where religious practices pervade usually secular aspects of our lives. And beyond that I am interested in knowing how anything containing orange and mango might still be considered coffee. Kosher or traif not withstanding.

Uri Ort, who established and maintains the site as Starbucks keeps coming up with new concoctions, does not recommend Caramel Brulee Latte but says that Iced Salted Caramel Mocha is, as far as he can determine, kosher.

kosherstarbucks.com also enables those interested in keeping kosher, as we ungrammatically referred to it back in Brooklyn, to discuss their own concerns. For example, there is a chat-group devoted to the classic Frapucino. If you join it you will find enlightening back-and-forth about Farpucinos made with soy milk. It is apparently not kosher because the soy milk they use is reconstituted from powder and the powder is not kosher. So lactose-intolerant folks probably need to stick to basic black coffee, assuming it's available.

But even if you can handle milk products, some chat-group members raise the question as to whether or not the steam pump itself used to froth the milk needed to make Frapucinos is kosher. Maybe not, some claim, since it may not be hot enough to wash off any non-dairiness that in some way might be clinging to it; and since it is strictly forbidden to mix milk products with meat products, the steam generated may contain a mix of both milkhik and fleishik, which is as unkosher as it gets. It's more traif than lobster.

Things are even more complicated as they always are when rabbis get involved.

For example, Rabbi Sholen Fishbane, the kosher supervisor for the Chicago Rabbinical Council, has made his own careful study of Starbucks. He is a self-described Starbucks maven and to do his research visited more than 50 Starbucks in the U.S. and Japan. This resulted in his 2011"Guide to Starbucks Beverages."

He gets right to the is-it-hot-enough debate. Though Starbucks' dishwashers use water that is 180 degrees--hot enough to make things sanitary--is it hot enough to dissolve any fleishik that might somehow be clinging to Starbucks otherwise milhkik utensils or equipment?

No, he says, the fleishik might still be present; but (there is always a "but" when it comes to rabbinical findings) though there might be a tiny speck of unkosher grease on the rag used to wipe the steamer wand and it might wind up in a Skinny Cinnamon Dolce Latte, the milk is still kosher because the volume of the milk is more than 60 times the volume of the grease. A ratio which is generally deemed to be kosher enough.

Thus, my dear-departed grandparents would find it heartening to know that if I were inclined to slip into a Starbucks to sneak a Gingerbread Latte I would be keeping kosher. They can, though, remain at eternal rest since there is absolutely no chance of that ever happening. Among other things, though I crave my guilty pleasures, I'll never drink coffee with anything gingerbready in it and I insist on having my coffee in a real cup.

About the bacon the other day, well, that's another matter.

Monday, July 16, 2012

July 16, 2012--President Obama Should Apologize If . . .

Mitt Romney has been running from network to network decrying what he claims is an unfair attack by the Obama campaign on his record at Bain Capital and how he invested his hundreds of millions. He even has gone so far as to say that these attacks are "not presidential" and thus Obama owes him a personal apology.
I agree--if the Obama campaign has its facts wrong the president should apologize.
Since it is obvious that Romney was not telling the truth when he testified that he severed his involvement with Bain after allegedly leaving the firm; nor is it true that he paid taxes equivalent to what he would have owed if he had not invested tens of millions in the Cayman Islands; and it is a fact that during his tenure as CEO of Bain Capital thousands of jobs we shipped overseas; for these reasons and more, there is still lots of political hay for Obama to make.
So here is what I suggest the president do:

Go on live TV and say something like the following--

I know what it's like to be unfairly accused of breaking the law. Recall all the tumult about where I was born. It got so out of control that I authorized the release of my full Hawaiian birth certificate. Though there are still some who think it is a forgery even most of my political opponents are satisfied that I am a native-born American citizen.
Now there is this flap about Mitt Romney's years at Bain Capital and how he invested his money. There is particular concern about the appropriateness of his having tens of millions in personal wealth in off-shore investments and Swiss bank accounts.
He, like me when it came to where I was born, denies any of this is true or relevant to the presidential campaign. In truth, I too, have raised these kinds of concerns about the governor's business practices and investments.
So here's what I suggest--like me when I released my full birth certificate, Governor Romney should do a version of the same thing: authorize the release of all relevant Bain and personal financial documents. Let experts take a close look at them and after that offer an objective assessment.
If, as Governor Romney claims there is nothing to be concerned about, that everything he did was aboveboard and legal, I will come back on TV and offer him the apology he feels he deserves. 
If, on the other hand, issues remain that are of concern, I will continue to press for more information and fuller disclosure of the facts. And I will continue to raise questions as to whether or not these practices are appropriate for a potential president of the United States.

Friday, July 13, 2012

July 13, 2012--Friday

Not wanting to push my luck on Friday the 13th, I will return on Monday the 16th,

Thursday, July 12, 2012

July 12, 2012--Midcoast: Summer Reading

No surprise, everyone here is reading Richard Ford's latest novel, Canada.

It is no surprise because, though he was born and raised in Jackson, Mississippi, he and his wife and dog now reside in East Boothbay, right across the bay from us, and therefore might be considered a local author.

I joke that when I'm up at dawn and begin my own writing regimen he already has his light on as is typing away. When I feel blocked, this gets my competitive juices going. I force myself to do my own typing so as not to let him get too far ahead of me. Which in his case means a Pulitzer, a PEN/Faulkner Award, and a Guggenheim. I'm still struggling to get a first novel published so the comparison and one-sided competition, begins and ends right there--in my fantasies.

And then the cultural event of the year was last week when he came to the local bookstore to talk about writing and read the first chapter of Canada. I wasn't liking it all that much until he appeared, spoke movingly about his and my craft (there go those fantasies again), and turned on his Mississippi charm when he read. I've never listened to a book on tape, but if he does the reading, I plan to buy the CD. And then it doesn't hurt that he looks like a cross between Clint Eastwood and Henry Fonda.

Maybe tired of hearing us talk about the book and him over coffee at the Bristol Diner every morning, some of our friends tried to change the subject, including bringing in other things for us to read. To get us off the Canada-Richard Ford jag.

A friend who has a mother almost as ancient as mine and, like me, wonders out loud what will become of us if we inherited their genes and lived well past 100, brought in a book for me to read, Nicholas Delbanco's Lastings: The Art of Old Age.

"It's not one of those how-to books," he assured me when I looked glumly at it and him. "Not a 12-step program on how to deal with aging."

"So what is it then?" I asked, eager to get back to talking about Canada.

"I know it's a hokey title," he said, "Lastings. But take a look at it. It's really pretty interesting. And hopeful to people like us who may turn out to be blessed and cursed with the possibility of living well beyond our allotted four-score-and-seven."

So I thumbed through it and it does seem worth reading. It's about how artists like Leonardo and Verdi and Titian did some of their greatest work when they were older than 80.

"Sure," I said with the beginnings of a smirk, "but then there's Rimbaud who died when he was 33 and poor John Keats who didn't even make it to 30."

"True, but you already made it well past them. Way past," he added. "The point is that we won't necessarily be washed up in our 90s. Verdi, for example, wrote Falstaff when he was 80. And Titian, who lived to almost 100, painted his Pieta when he was nearly 90. And he was sick and blind to boot."

"I'm not nearly that old or blind so maybe there's hope for me," I said, winking.

"Maybe you're just a late starter." I smiled at that hopeful thought.

"What is with you guys, always talking about getting old." It was Len who is older than either of us. And as it turns out it was his birthday. "Here's something that I know you'll enjoy," he said passing a xeroxed article to me.

"What's that about?" I asked. "There's a diagram here that looks like some kind of military vehicle."

"I know you're interested in the Second World War." I nodded. "Well this here's about DUKWs. Ducks they called them back in the day. Ever hear of 'em?"

"Can't say that I do. They look like landing craft to me. You know, the type they used for the Normandy invasion."

"That's pretty close. They were built by GM to be amphibious, not to take men ashore, but to transport supplies from ship to land."

"What does DUKW stand for?" Rona was getting involved in this sharing of reading material.

"Some kind of code, I think," Len said. "You're good with the computer. Maybe you'll look it up." He knew she would and would report back the next day."

"Richard Ford's a downer who writes brilliantly but about loneliness and abandonment, abandonment and loneliness," Jack finally joined in. "And then there's all this talk about dying and death, including through world war. What is it with you guys? What you need to read is something to make you laugh. Which is why I brought this in." He slid across the table, almost knocking over my coffee cup, a book of Charles Saxon's New Yorker cartoons called Oh, Happy, Happy, Happy.

"This is what you need--a little happy.  Look at this one." He opened the book and pointed to a drawing of two guys at a cocktail party, both looking decidedly affluent, with one saying to the other, "You know it's true. Why don't you admit it? You're living a lie."

"Now that's what I call happy," he said, sitting back in the booth with a triumphal grin.

"I don't even think it's funny," Art chimed in. He hadn't brought in anything to pass around.

"Saxon can be a little subtle," Jack admitted. "So what about this one?" He had flipped the pages and was tapping on another drawing. In it a smart-aleeky guy, cocktail in hand, sitting on a sofa next to a dowager who is looking back blankly at him. Feeling good about himself, he proclaims, "Man has reason to be proud. Of all the animals, he alone asks himself, 'Whither, whence, and why.'"

"Maybe it's too early," Art said with a theatrical yawn. "I've only had two cups of coffee." John stared back at him.

Exasperated, the friend who had passed around Lastings, unsmiling said, "Read this. Here." He pointed to a page toward the beginning of the book. "Read this out loud," he said to Rona.

Without enthusiasm, clearly having had enough of all of us, she dutifully read--

"Clearly getting old and remaining supple-minded and even imaginative is a synaptical crapshoot: the body may be willing, but the mind lives its own devious life."

"Who said that?" he asked Rona.

She looked back at the book and ran her finger down the page. "Richard Ford," she said under her breath.

"Who?" he asked. "Speak up."

"Richard Ford," she said now in full voice.

"I rest my case," he said.

"What case might that be?" I asked.

Humoring me, Art said, "Now that's funny."

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

July 11, 2012--The Hamptons

I was reminded recently why we left the Hamptons.

Basically because of money.

Relatively speaking, we too had money. How else would we have been able to afford a weekend house, albeit a modest one, out there among the gilded? In comparison to Steven Spielberg and Ronald Perelman, each with multi-thousand square-foot "cottages" with hundreds of yards if not a mile of waterfront property on much-coveted Georgica Pond, our contractor's-special on the wrong side of the "highway" could have been slipped into either of their 10-car garages.

If I'm being honest, we bailed out not because of the money. If it were just that we'd have to leave the planet because there is great wealth almost everywhere. We left in large part because of the ways in which money was conspicuously consumed--in the size and vulgarity of many of the beach front houses; the designer clothes and accompanying bling; the $100,000 custom Range Rovers; the ubiquitous flaunting of plastic surgerized faces and bodies; but more than anything else, we left because of the sense of entitlement all this affluence engendered.

We should have known that it was time to get out when the News Shop in East Hampton could no longer afford the exponentially rising rent and Ralph Lauren took over, or when we had to wait on line for half an hour during the off-season to get a table at the seemingly unpretentious Sam's Pizzeria while the afore-mentioned Ralph and his daughter were whisked to a table in spite of Sam's policy of not taking reservations.

But we stayed on in part because of inertia and because our false-pride caused us to enjoy being out there among the rich and famous. Maybe, we too, we thought might one day . . . .

When we no longer could complete that thought while looking at ourselves in the mirror it was time to move on. Which 10 years ago we did.

But we do keep in touch with the goings-on on the East End, including now during the political season as the Hamptons continue to be a place where the Clintons and Obamas and now the Romneys troll among the CEOs in search of mega-contributions to their campaigns. So this is very much a bipartisan rant, though Romney's supporters last weekend surpassed any from the past in their sheer vulgarity.

Romney himself was fine in what he confided to couples who anted up $25,000 a head for some face time with him. Overheard by a reporter who managed to slip close to the tent in which he made his remarks, he said to the assembled:

"If you're here, by and large, you are doing just fine. I don't spend a lot of time worrying about those here. I spend a lot of time worrying about those that are poor and those in the middle class that are finding it hard to make a bright future for themselves."

Ah, if only that were true.

But in the meantime, those he is not worrying about made quite a spectacle of themselves.

One eager Romneyite in a blue chiffon dress arrived at the Perleman 40-room, nine fireplace cottage in a black Range Rover. There was a line of Mercedes and Bentleys lined up ahead. Impatient and not used to waiting for anything, she was seen to stick her head out of the car window, yelling, "Is there a V.I.P. entrance? We are V.I.P." She was told there was no such special entrance but was compelled to watch in frustration as Romney in a Chevy Suburban (a vehicle still being produced thanks to Obama bailing out GM) and his entourage sped by.

A fews cars back, the owner of the American Hotel in Sag Harbor, a favorite drinking hole of the corporate rich and famous, was overheard saying this about Obama, "He's a socialist. His idea is to find a problem that doesn't exist and get government to intervene." No one asked him to give an example.

Meanwhile, on the beach facing the Perleman place, protestors carried signs claiming that "Romney Has A Koch Problem." They were making a punning reference, of course, to the Koch Brother billionaires (pronounced Coke) who have been the major funders of Romney's PAC attack group. Their place in Southampton was Romney's next stop. He made quite a good haul there too. By the end of the weekend, he drove away in his Suburban with a haul of more than $4.0 million. Not quite George Clooney money, but not a bad two-days' work.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

July 10, 2012--Zwerling School of Debate

There is only one thing we did daily during the time I was growing up in Brooklyn--the four of us, my mother, younger brother, my father, and I always had dinner together.

Even if my father came home from work much later than usual and though my brother and I theatrically rubbed our stomaches and made grimacing faces in my mother's line of vision, and though she cared more about our food intake than almost anything, the almost-anything part included deferring to the family's one inviolable ritual--in my father's view, a good family always eats dinner together no matter how hungry and unhappy the children.

So my brother and I, ignoring our inner rumblings, waited for dad to arrive, clean up, leaf through the mail (muttering about the bills), and then after what felt like ages take his seat at the head of the kitchen table. My mother who had been hovering in the background would immediately begin to ladle out steaming bowls of soup to her starving boys.

"So what did you do in school?" dad would always ask.

"Nothing," I would always mumble.

"You go to school to do nothing?" I didn't look up and my brother buried his face in his soup bowl knowing he would be next to be interrogated. "If you do nothing in school you might as well get a job."  No one said anything. "What about you then?" He turned toward my brother who was making loud slurping noises in an unsuccessful attempt to hide behind a wall of sound.

"And stop making so much noise with your soup. Only peasants eat that way."

More than anything, since he knew my mother's family came from a rural shtetl in Poland, he feared that his boys would revert to being peasants and thus not do well enough in school or acquire the social graces he felt were required for us to have a better life than his. Which meant going to medical school.

A few years later, actually doing quite well in school but still not wanting to talk about it during dinner, we would as a family engage in something resembling conversation. Usually about a column in the sports pages about the Brooklyn Dodgers. My brother, particularly, would hold forth. He had great arithmetic skills and could calculate players' batting averages and pitchers' earned-run averages to five decimal points.

"With his double yesterday," my brother, smiling, would offer, "Duke Snider is batting .30426."

"Who cares," my father would growl, "Mantle's doing better and has more home runs."

"I think Mays is the best of all," I would proclaim. "He's a better fielder and has a cannon for an arm."

Our father would dismiss my comments as subjective, but was impressed by my brother's ability to run objective numbers in his head and thus derived high hopes for his medical career, which in fact my brother more than fulfilled.

In later times over dinner our talk turned to current events--almost always politics.

My father was a Republican and the rest of us quite liberal and so the conversation was invariably lively. Which is a euphemism for loud and angry. In addition, not much listening was going on and thus everyone, passionate about our differing views, talked louder and louder and all at the same time. When a high school friend of mine joined us at dinner one evening, the simultaneous expounding went on unabated in spite of his presence, and the next day he named what he had witnessed the Zwerling School of Debate.

Needless to say neither my brother nor I ever again invited a friend to dinner.

From these family dining experiences, I was eager to read an article in Sunday's New York Times, "Is the Family Dinner Overrated?"

That's an easy one, I thought.

It begins:

Dozens of studies in the past decade have found that teenagers who regularly eat dinner with their families are healthier, happier, do better in school and engage in fewer risky behaviors than teenagers who don't regularly eat family dinners. These findings have helped give dinnertime an almost magical aura and have led to no small amount of stress and guilt among busy moms and dads.

Well, I thought, my brother and I did in fact do well in school, but happier and (mentally) healthier? About me, I'm not so sure.

But in the next paragraphs, the sociologist authors reveal that their own studies, and those of others, are revising some of this conventional-wisdom, family-dinner thinking--"Our research . . . shows that the benefits of family dinners aren't as strong or as lasting as previous studies suggest."

Ah, it sounds as if they did some of their investigating on East 56th Street where I gulped down my dinner.

They came to conclude that it is not how often kids eat with their parents but how rich the relationship is among and between them that makes the difference in regard to academic achievement, happiness, and civil behavior.

It was mainly for those families in which parents also helped with homework, maintained interest in their children's daily lives, imposed discipline such as curfews, and, of course, brought more than food resources to the table that there was a measurable benefit from eating together. And, as with so much else that contributes to inequality, families with more income and having two parents in the household passed along to their children their advantages.

The Zwerlings in comparison to many much less fortunate did quite well. I do not want that to be misunderstood; but I suspect having our version of dinner together, if not viewed nostalgically, was frequently upsetting. And I am not talking just to our stomachs.

Monday, July 09, 2012

July 9, 2012--Local Warming

When I looked up Friday afternoon and noticed Rona in the garden weeding in a long-sleeve sweater and realized it was more to keep her warm than to protect against thorns on the rosa regosa, I felt guilty.

Friends in New York, Washington, and Virginia were not only struggling still with loss of power but also with oppressive heat, which, there, was above 100 degrees while here, by Johns Bay, it was only a zephyrous 71.

I claim we spend half a year here not for weather reasons but for the everyday life, the honest work in the garden and kitchen, and because of many good friends; but in truth, at times like this--with temperatures in the 100s and storms of a new sort--derechos--ripping in straight lines at least 250 miles in length (a derecho), toppling trees and power lines, guilty or not, we are here also because of weather.

When the sun in its late afternoon hours drifts toward the western horizon--across the bay from us--light pours through our living and bedroom windows and because of solarization heats the house so much that we get a taste of what it is like in New York, Washington, and Virginia.

But just a taste because invariably at the same time zephyrs become breezes and breezes cooling winds. So my guilt about our good fortune (or good planning) is only for a moment expiated.

Though during those few sultry hours in various ways I take small advantage of the languor-inducing heat.

If I haven't already had my nap there is no more ideal time to snooze away an hour on the day bed. Or, it is an ideal time to read a real (not an e-) book, balanced on my chest on that same bed. At least half the time it takes no more than 10 minutes before reading becomes napping. Especially when reading, as I had been last week, something such as Richard Ford's recent novel, Canada, which can provoke sleep even during a cool evening but does so for certain when the air is liquid.

Canada is an ideal choice for reading-dozing because, if you have seen or read it, it opens, already famously, giving away the heart of the plot in the first two sentences--

First, I'll tell about the robbery our parents committed. Then about the murders, which happened later.

So, with this disclosed, the rest of it is for contemplating not for the force of its narrative power. Of which there is rather little.

Last week, stretched out in the heat, on page 202, I read--

It's odd, though, what makes you think about the truth. [Thinking about the truth made my eyes flutter.] It's so rarely involved in the events of your life. I quit thinking about the truth for a time. [The book began to slip toward my chest.] It's finer points seemed impossible to find among the facts. If there was a hidden design, living almost never shed light on it. [A shallow nap by then was in effect. When I snapped awake, I reread--] If there was a hidden design, living never shed light on it. [And continued.] Much easier to think about chess-- [Thinking about chess always induces nodding. So I nodded off again, but briefly. It was still hot in the room when I awoke.] The true character of the [chess] men always staying the way they were intended, a higher power moving everything around. [Contemplating higher powers always makes me heavy lidded.]  I wondered, for just a moment, if we--Berner [the narrator's twin sister] and I--were like that: small, fixed figures being ordered around by forces greater than ourselves. I decided we weren't. [With that decided, I let the book slip from my hands and got in a few solid winks. Some indeterminate time later, cooler, I resumed.] Whether we liked it or even knew it, we were accountable only to ourselves now, not to some greater design. [Existentialist thoughts such as these always evoke my interest, and so, refreshed, I finished the paragraph.] If our characters were truly fixed, they would have to be revealed later.

This manner of intermittently rereading idea-rich texts has its benefits. Slowed down, each sentence, especially those as lapidariosly crafted as Ford's, get full attention--even when one is drifting in and out of sleep--and whatever ideas can be found there are more easily uncovered.

Though I think he is wrong about chessmen--yes, they move in ways that stay "the way they were intended," but can't they be moved in an almost infinite number of patterns of attack and defense? There are, aren't there, at least as many combinations and permutations possible on a chessboard as there are in life itself?

But then again who is the mover? Not the pieces themselves of course. Perhaps this is closer to Ford's point--about what his characters discover and pass along to us.

I will do more rereading. And if tomorrow proves to be another hot one, I will ket you know if there is anything else to resolve this to be found between my winks and nods.