Friday, January 30, 2015

January 30, 2015--Best of Behind: Osso Bucko

Here is another early Snowbirding story. This one from April 27, 2010. If these had subtitles, it might be called Dinner With Cousins--

If you’re looking for French food and happen upon Chez Provence, forget it.  Even a quick glance at the menu would reveal that, in spite of the place’s name, everything is Italian:  Veal Parmigiana, Chicken Parmigiana, Eggplant Parmigiana, Zitti Parmigiana, Penne Parmigiana, and Parmigiano Parmigiana.
With Parmigiano Parmigiana I am having a little fun.  But nothing else here is exaggerated. 
If you do not want something Parmigiana, there is Chicken Marsala, Chicken Picatta, Chicken Scarpiella, Chicken Marinara, and the same preparations in veal—Veal Marsala, Veal Picatta, etc.
And then there are the specials to give one hope.  Maybe there will be something lower-gluten, something Francophile, something almondine.  Trout peut-être?  But before you are able to get to the almondines section, the waitress appears to explain the pricing.
She tells you to ignore all the prices on the menu. 
“Come again?” I say.
“If you look closely you will see that everything is either $15.95 or $16.95.  And a few items say $2.00 extra.  But as I said, forget all of that.”
“You mean the listed prices?”  I was totally confused.
“Yes, those.  Except if tonight was Saturday.”
“Then the prices would be . . .?
“As they are listed.”  Our waitress was bright and beautiful and seemed to enjoy the give-and-take.  “But since today is Friday, I mean since tonight is Friday,” she broke into a broad smile, “everything is either $13.95 or $14.95.  Or if it was Monday through Thursday it would be the same.  $13.95 or $14.95.  What’s listed as $16.95 tonight is actually $15.95, and . . . ”
I interrupted her, “I get it.  And those dishes listed as $15.95 are $14.95.”
Glowing with delight she nodded, bouncing up and down.
“But what about the $2.00 extra? Is that different tonight as well? Say, $1.50?”
“Yes, it’s the same every night.”
“But what about the Mussels Marinara?  There’s no price listed next to them.  It just says ‘$2.00 extra.’”  I didn’t allow myself to point out that “Mussels” was misspelled.  On the menu it read
“Musscles.”  Sort of a hybrid mash-up spelling that combined the bivalves with the contractile tissue.
She said, “Oh, no one ever asked me about that before.  To tell you the truth, no one I waited on ever ordered them.  But I can find out for you if you want some.”
“No, thanks.  I was just asking.”  I didn’t mention that if no one had ordered them recently, in spite of them sounding French, I was not going to risk getting hepatitis by eating unfresh mussels.
Now that we had that settled, she added, “But also notice that it says right down there in the lower right-hand corner,” I slipped on my reading glasses, “It says that if you pay by credit card instead of cash, we apply a surcharge of a dollar a person.   So you can save a dollar more by paying in cash.  Then, with all the prices tonight $2.00 less than what it says on the menu and if you pay with cash, you will see that you can save $6.00 a couple.” 
Pleased with herself, she clapped her hands in triumph and her smile broadened even further so that she was now fully aglow.  “Any question?”
One of my cousins said we might have some.  Not about the pricing but maybe about some of the items on the menu.  And, turning back to the specials discussion, asked if there were any more not on the menu to tell us about.
“Oh, yes,” she said as perky as a human is capable of being, “We have some lovely ones.  But before I describe them to you I have to tell you we have to charge either $15.95 or $16.95 for them.”  Noticing our confusion she quickly added, “But that’s only because they are special.”

“How much would they be if we came back on Monday?”  Again, I was being bad.
“Like with the mussels that’s not something anyone ever asked me.  But I could find out for you if you’d like.”
“No, since we’re here and it’s Friday, that will be fine, thank you.  Just please tell us what’s special,” still hoping maybe something French.  But as it turned out the soup was Minestrone, the special pasta was with artichokes, and the fish was Livornese style.  With a tomato. onion, caper, and black olive sauce.  “The sea bass will be $16.95,” she chirped, “Fish always costs a little more.”
Then before anyone could raise another question, perhaps thinking we were concerned that the specials were $2.00 more than any of the regular items—with the exception of the mussels/musscles—she quickly added, “But everyone should know that, at no extra charge, everything comes with soup or salad, rolls and butter, of course the entrees, and coffee or tea, and dessert.  We have six very nice ones, which if you’d like I can tell you about right now.  Many of our customers like to know in advance about the desserts so they can think about what to order for their main dishes.”
Being drawn into thinking about dessert and coffee before ordering I noticed for the first time that in addition to the traditional table setting of cutlery, napkins, bread plates, salt and pepper, there were also coffee cups at each of our places.  Not a good sign I thought.  The only other places where they do this, I realized, were in the dining rooms of assisted-living facilities.  I was hoping that the food, Italian though it be, would not be of the institutional type.  A good sign was that the knives and forks were not made of plastic.
I quickly put that thought out of mind.  Though looking around Chez Provence I did notice canes and walkers stashed at most of the nearby tables. Taking note of this kept my gastronomic hopes further restrained.
But we were there for the camaraderie, not gourmet dining, and thus commenced to order.  Alice asked for the bass, which actually turned out to be fresh and well prepared; one cousin ordered the Eggplant Parmigiana, which was so massive that what he left over overflowed a large Styrofoam takeout box; Hal asked for the Veal Marsala, which arrived dry and chewy; Chicken Cacciatore was another order and when it arrived it looked indistinguishable from the Veal Marsala; and I ordered the Osso Bucco.
“The what?” the now confused and furrow-browed waitress asked.
“The Os-so Buc-co,” I said again, this time more slowly, articulating each syllable and being sure not to make things more confusing by using any of my limited restaurant Italian.  It was a busy place and quite noisy.  “You know, the veal shank.  I don’t order it often, but I do occasionally like a good Osso Bucco.”  To help her, I worked that third mention of the dish into the conversation.
“Oh,” she burst back into a radiant smile, “You mean Osso Bucko.”
Now it was my time to be puzzled.  Noticing this she took the menu from me, folded the pages back and pointed to where it was listed.  “See, Osso Bucko.”
Sure enough, in bold print there was another menu malaprop—just as she had pronounced it: Bucko, not Bucco.
It too turned out to be rather tasteless but who cared. We had a good laugh about it and everything else about the place, the food, and especially the pricing system.  And, when the bill came, we decided to pay cash and save a dollar more.

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Thursday, January 29, 2015

January 29, 2015--Recipe

Since my spicy cauliflower recipe was such a hit last week, here's one of my other favorites--stuffed baby eggplant.

If you can, get true baby eggplants, not small versions of the familiar. Though this recipe also works well with the Chinese version.

10 baby eggplants (or 5 small Chinese eggplants)
Olive oil
Salt and pepper
4 ounces of goat cheese crumbled
3 tablespoons diced sun-dried tomatoes
2 tablespoons toasted pine nuts
2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon chopped Italian parsley

Heat oven to 425 degrees
Slice eggplants lengthwise three-quarters of way through
Place eggplants on baking sheet, cut side up
Drizzle with olive oil, salt, and pepper
Roast 20 minutes then broil on high heat 5 more minutes or until skin begins to wrinkle
Combine well goat cheese and tomatoes
Remove eggplants from broiler and stuff with the cheese and tomato mix
Sprinkle pine nuts on top
Combine honey, parsley, and vinegar and then drizzle on top of cheese/tomato stuffing

This is wonderful as a side dish for lamb chops, grilled meat and firm fish of various kinds, or just as a veggie dinner unto itself.

Bon appétit.

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Wednesday, January 28, 2015

January 28, 2015--"Selma"

As award season unfolds there is controversy surrounding the film Selma. Some are asking why, if it was nominated for an Oscar for best picture, why weren't the director, Ava DuVernay, and David Oyelowo who plays Martin Luther King nominated? Could it be, it is being whispered, because of Hollywood's racism? Forgetting for the moment that last year, Twelve Years A Slave won for best picture.

An additional controversy surrounds the depiction of Lyndon Johnson, who was president at the time. In "Selma" he is represented as resisting King's efforts to secure legislation to strip away impediments to Negroes being able to register and vote in the South and is shown needing to be pressured and even forced to support this struggle.

The historical record reveals this to be untrue and thus the film presents a seriously unfair picture of LBJ and his position on voting rights. In fact, some former Johnson aides and historians are claiming that the idea to march in Selma was more LBJ's than King's and they marshall evidence from audio tapes of White House conversations between MLK and Johnson to support that view.

Here, from the transcript of a taped telephone call between King on Johnson on January 15, 1965 (two months before the King-led Selma campaign) is that evidence of LBJ's commitment and how he suggested the strategy--
JOHNSON: We take the position that every person born in this country, when he reaches a certain age, that he have the right to vote . . . whether it's a Negro, whether it's a Mexican, or who it is . . . . I think you can contribute a great deal by getting your leaders and you, yourself, taking very simple elements of discrimination; where a [black] man's got . . . to quote the first 10 Amendments [in a voter registration literacy test], . . . and some people don't have to do that, but when a Negro comes in to do it, and if we can, just repeat and repeat and repeat. 
And if you can find the worst condition that you run into in Alabama, Mississippi or Louisiana or South Carolina . . . and if you just take that one illustration and get it on radio, get it on television, get it in the pulpits, get it in the meetings, get it everyplace you can. Pretty soon the fellow that didn't do anything but drive a tractor will say, "Well, that's not right," and then that will help us on what we're going to shove through [Congress] in the end. 
KING: Yes. 
JOHNSON:  And if we do that we will break through. It will be the greatest breakthrough of anything, not even excepting this '64 [Civil Rights] Act, I think the greatest achievement of my administration.
This does not sound like LBJ needed to be dragged kicking and screaming to support the voting rights agenda.

What would have been the problem to represent King and Johnson as partners, albeit wary partners?  Let's see what the film's director had to say about this distortion of history.

When asked, Ava DuVernay said that the original screenplay needed "extensive rewriting" because it was a script for a "traditional bio-pic" that presented "antiquated and patronizing" ideas about history and the civil rights movement.

In her words--
If, in 2014, we're still making 'white-savior movies' than it's just lazy and unfortunate. We've grown up as a country and cinema should be able to reflect what's true. And what's true is that black folks are the center of their own lives and should tell their own stories from their own experiences. [My italics.]
Even if what is represented as "true" isn't.

It is a shame that this otherwise inspiring and meaningful movie is being shown to young students as a full and accurate history of that brave era. I think it might have been the Reverend King himself who many times reminded us that it is only the truth that will set us free.

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Tuesday, January 27, 2015

January 27, 2015--$3.99 for Shipping

I am completing work on a book that collects some of my Ladies of Forest Trace stories. It should be available in a month or two. I'll let you know just when so you can . . .

The publisher is calling it, Obama, Oy Vey: The Wit & Wisdom of My 107-Year-Old Mother and we have had a recent discussion about how to price it.

Since I am deferring to them--it's really their call--I thought to have some fun with it.

Some years ago Josey-Bass published my First-Generation Students: Confronting the Cultural Issues and since it is out of print it is available only via websites such as There, for some unfathomable reason, the cheapest copy is going for $362.56 plus $3.99 for shipping. There's a second copy at $424.91 plus shipping, and another for $608.86 with free shipping.

These prices are totally crazy.

If you think I'm making this up (and if I were you I would) you can double check by clicking on this link--

I am also wondering how these book sellers came up with the prices, especially the 56, 91, and 86 cents. You'd think at these stratospheric levels they'd round them off to $365, $425, and $600. But what do I know.

Again, in the spirit of play I sent the link to my editor with a note saying that these might be helpful when thinking about how to price Oy Vey.

In the same vein, she shot another link back to me, from Amazon, and, tongue in cheek, said she's been using this one to help guide her when thinking about how much to charge.

I like her thinking: this book dealer is looking to get a whopping $2,820 for the book but has the chutzpah to charge $3.99 for shipping. For nearly $3,000 you'd think they'd throw it in.

To place things in some semblance of perspective, you can get a copy of the 40th anniversary edition of To Kill a Mockingbird, signed by Harper Lee, for only $720, though you'll have to shell out $4.95 for shipping.

But fun aside, in the spirit of full disclosure, if you shop around you can find a bargain-basement copy of First-Generation Students for just $32.04 but will need to add $3.99 for shipping.

We'll see what they come up with for Oy Vey, with or without free shipping.

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Monday, January 26, 2015

January 26, 2015--Legacy Polishing

Back in September, Barack Obama explained why he was not planning to send American troops to fight ISIS in Iraq and Syria.

He said that he was modeling his strategy after our successful efforts to partner with governments in Somalia and Yemen to go after and defeat terrorists active in both countries and, especially, in Yemen where Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsular (AQAP) has its headquarters, sanctuaries, and training grounds.

Our strategy there was to have a working partnership with the countries' presidents and to use a combination of their forces and American-guided drones to defeat the terrorists who threaten us and the Western World. There would thus be no need for American boots on the ground.

On September 10th, Obama said--
This strategy of taking out terrorists who threaten us, while supporting partners on the front lines, is one that we have successful pursued in Yemen and Somalia for years. It is consistent with the approach I outlined earlier this year: to use force against anyone who threatens America's core interests, but to mobilize partners whenever possible to address broader challenges to international order.
Sounds good, if true, but minimally--that was then and this is now. The this being the rapid, unexpected-to-us collapse of the Yemeni government.  President Abdu Hadi fell to the Houthi rebels at the end of last week and they have not indicated an interest in continuing any sort of partnership with the United States. Quite the opposite.

As a result AQAP terrorists must be dancing in the desert.

One might say September is a very long time ago when it comes to changes in the region. Case in point--how our intelligence agencies were caught totally unaware of ISIS's gathering threat and rapid invasion and takeover of much of eastern Syria and northern Iraq.

But listen to what Obama said just last Tuesday in his State of the Union address--
Instead of sending large ground forces overseas, we're partnering with nations from South Asia to North Africa to deny safe haven to terrorists who threaten America. In Iraq and Syria, American leadership --including our military power--is stopping ISIL's advance. Instead of getting dragged into another ground war in the Middle East, we are leading a broad collation, including Arab nations, to degrade and ultimately destroy this terrorist group. We're also supporting a moderate opposition in Syria that can help in this effort, and assisting people everywhere who stand up to the bankrupt ideology of violent extremism.
No mention of AQAP, though I suppose the "denying-safe-haven-to-terrorists" is an indirect reference to them. I any case, that was last Tuesday and this is six days later and again the world has changed.

I understand that this next-to-last State of the Union was an opportunity for Obama, in the face of Republican majorities in both houses of Congress, to do a little understandable bragging. Especially about the freshening state of the American economy that is occurring on his watch.

And I understand that as Obama attempts to polish his legacy he does not want to be represented as a war president. By citing how our troops are coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan and terrorists are in alleged retreat, he is drawing a credible contrast between himself and his preemptive-war predecessor.

He did after all win the Nobel Peace Prize preemptively, after fewer than nine months in office, in the hope and expectation that he would be a peace president.

Peace Prize or not, peace or war president aside, we need to hear the truth from Obama and the beginnings of a well-thought-out, very longterm strategy to take on the daunting foreign policy challenges we face. A legacy based on candor will sit well with historians and ultimately be better for Americans than posturing and spin.

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Friday, January 23, 2015

January 23, 2015--Best of Behind: Left-Over Red Onion

We've been wintering in Florida for seven years and during that time I've written about 50 Snowbirding stories. Here's an early one from February 9, 2009--

It’s finally come to this—consuming thoughts about what to do with the remaining three quarters after the dish I was preparing required just one tablespoon of minced red onion.

I was making a side dish of pineapple salsa to accompany chili con carne, thinking it would work very well, its coolness a refreshing complement to the heat of the chili’s spice base. We were motivated to think about making salsa since we already had about a third of a left over fresh pineapple and some two-day old cilantro—both perfect for the salsa. But we needed a bit of red onion, which we thus bought during our next supermarket run.

I am pleased to report that both dishes worked out well, but we were left with the challenge of coming up with a recipe that would require just the amount of the red onion I had wrapped in Saran and stashed in the vegetable bin of the frig.

Quite soon a partial solution presented itself: Rona had been eating away during lunch at a rotisserie chicken we had picked up a few days ago; but at the rate she was going at it, in a day or two we would either have to toss it or think about what to do with a half of the remaining hacked-at chicken. So after a bit of a struggle about what to do I was pleased with myself when I came up with an idea to take care of not just the soon-to-be-spoiled chicken but also at least some of the onion: chicken croquettes.

They are not a fancy or very healthy dish, but almost everyone takes an occasional guilty pleasure in eating croquettes of one sort of another. Who can resist almost anything that’s pan-fried?

So I deboned the chicken and then blasted it into a sort of mush in the Cuisinart. To that I added about half a can of Campbell’s cream of mushroom soup (another guilt pleasure from the old days); a couple of fistfuls of homemade bread crumbs (from about a dozen breadsticks); half a finely chopped yellow pepper (more about the other half in a moment); and, most satisfying of all, two tablespoons of minced red onion.

I mixed everything together with my hands and from the result made four four-inch diameter patties, which I then, to solidified them, placed in the refrigerator for an hour before frying them up crispy brown in peanut oil. Some steamed fresh spinach and a side of sinful hash brown potatoes made perfect accompaniments. But again, I was left with some of that relentless red onion—a little less than a third of it, which I rewrapped in the saved Saran and once again deposited in the vegetable cooler.

With that piece of onion on my mind, two evenings later, Rona said, “We haven’t made fish for awhile.  There’s so much good fresh-caught fish here in Florida. Maybe we could buy some and you could make one of your baked fish dishes. I used to love those when we had our house in East Hampton.”

Thus the next afternoon we bought two filets of perfect-looking Key West Snapper at the Old Dixie Seafood shop and at the farmers market four medium-sized potatoes and a bunch of fresh parsley. I remembered a recipe from Long Island days that called for beginning by baking in olive oil a layer of peeled and very thinly sliced potatoes before, after they have crisped, toping them with the fish on which you scatter a half cup of bread crumbs (I had retained enough for this from the previous week) ,a drizzle of olive oil, and then bake for about 15 minutes. Simple and delicious.

But as in the past I did a bit of improvising. Why not, I thought, slice up some mushrooms to also place on top of the filets and with the remaining yellow pepper and two carrots I had retained from something I had made the week before why not also slice them very thin and insert them into the potato layer? And while I’m at that, wouldn’t this also be an opportunity to slice up and use the rest of that red onion, also depositing it among the potatoes and now peppers and carrots? Sort of like killing three left-over birds with one recipe.

It worked out very well.

We had been so good about eating at home, both enjoying the cooking and the resulting dishes, that we decided to take a break from that and did some eating out—one night at Taverna Kyma, a local Greek place that does wonderful grilling on an open wood fire (environmental laws are much laxer in the south than up north and this does wonders for certain kinds of cooking) and where the portions of charred Mediterranean fish and richly flavored lamb are so generous that inevitably there is a box of food to take home for the next day’s lunch; and a second night at Anthony’s Coal Fired Pizza where again the unregulated coal ovens turn out about the best pizza in South Florida and again where there are always at least three left-over slices to take home to freeze and out of which another lunch can be deliciously concocted; and then on a third night we . . .

Actually, on the third night we got back to cooking at home. The remaining parsley was beginning to wilt and I was eager to do something with it. But I was stumped. There wasn’t enough to use in a faux pesto sauce and too much to sprinkle on another baked fish—though by then I did have some ideas about what to do with the swordfish that was beginning to show up at Old Dixie.

Then I remembered that they had been featuring little neck clams; and since it had been some time since I had made spaghetti with white clam sauce—spaghetti vongole—which calls for a smattering of chopped parsley, well, I was happy to realize, isn’t this the solution to my parsley problem?

And, of course, if any of the olive oil saturated pasta remained, which was certain, cold leftover spaghetti is one of Rona’s favorite warm day lunches. And with the weather here finally warming after a record-breaking cold snap . . .

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Thursday, January 22, 2015

January 22, 2015--Bon Appetit

I'm an herbs and spices snob so when a friend served a savory cauliflower dish a few months ago, after asking her for the recipe, I was put off by the fact that the prime seasoning, indeed the only one is McCormick's garlic-pepper seasoning. I expected that a dish this tasty would be prepared with an exotic spice mix.

So it wasn't until last night that I finally relented, made it, and it was wonderful.

I was considerably assuaged to learn that when reading the list of McCormick ingredients (garlic, sea salt, black pepper, and red and yellow bell peppers) I discovered it was a "product of France."

Here then is the very simple recipe:

Justine's Savory Cauliflower
Preheat oven to 375-400 degrees

Cut cauliflower into small florets

Place on baking sheet

Drizzle with olive oil and a generous amount of McCormick garlic-pepper seasoning. Toss to coat.

Bake 30 minutes and bon appetit.

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Wednesday, January 21, 2015

January 21, 2015--Heroes

I half agree with Michael Moore.

He stepped in it over the weekend when he tweeted, in reference to the Clint Eastwood movie, American Sniper, that snipers are "cowards" and not "heroes."

He wrote--
My uncle killed by sniper in WW2. We were taught snipers were cowards. Will shot you in the back. Snipers aren't heroes.
I haven't as yet seen the film so I am not sure if Chris Kyle, a real-life Navy SEAL who was credited with more than 160 "kills," shot anyone in the back or if the movie even made that distinction.

Shooting someone in the back to me wouldn't make someone a coward any more than a solider killing someone during a war with an explosive grenade or with a rocket launched from a drone guided to its target remotely from the security of an operations bunkers thousands of miles from the field of battle is a coward.

War in all its forms is evil--though it may at rare times be a necessary evil (WWII comes to mind), and so applying "rules" to war to me has always had the tincture of an oxymoron about it.

But I suppose rules of war may keep people from using chemical, biological, or atomic weapons and require that POWs be held and treated humanely. I have always believed, though, that any restraints combatants apply while otherwise blowing each other to pieces (often including innocents) is because they do not want the same tortuous things done to them if the tables were turned, which often happens in all forms of warfare.

So almost all that occurs is not cowardice but more because soldiers are doing their awful job or get carried along in the flow of things. As a result, moral judgements need to be applied extra-judiciously.

On the other hand, again not having seen the movie, I doubt if director Eastwood or actor Bradley Cooper present Kyle as much of a hero.

If they do, this could be a good corrective by Moore as to what it means to be a hero and to all the overpraising we have become prone to in so many aspects of our lives--from calling all our troops heroes (politicians do this uncontrollably) to representing every poop or scribble one of our kids produces as if no one ever did anything that amazing and miraculous.

True heroism is a very special and rare quality. It should be reserved for acts of courage and sacrifice, not for anything and everything one of our soldiers does in the daily course of serving in the military.

I know this is not just a product of otherwise rampant cultural hyperbole. It is also a reaction to the ways in which soldiers who were drafted to fight in Vietnam were treated--shabbily at best--when they returned from fighting. Even genuine heroes were shamelessly spat upon.

We are being careful this time to show respect for our troop volunteers while they are fighting and when they return. But not all of them are heroes and almost none of them are cowards. Before Michael Moore uses that label maybe he should sign up and see how he does.

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Tuesday, January 20, 2015

January 20, 2105--Mitt Redux

Just as I was slipping into despair that my favorite sitcom would not return for another season--the Republican Clown Car--what with no Herman (Pokemon) Cain and no Michele (pray-away-the-gay) Bachmann, how would I spend the next two years? Stuck with House of Cards, Shark TankDancing With the Stars, and God help me, Girls? I might even have to develop a taste, I moaned, for the Home Shopping Network.

But I can calm down. Things are beginning to shape up.

No only are Bachmann and Cain making noises that they might in fact run for the 2016 nomination but there is also Rand Paul (who looks like a clown), Ted Cruz (who looks like Joseph McCarthy), Jeb Bush (who looks like George W. Bush), Scott Walker and Paul Ryan (both of whom look like Eddie Munster from the Munsters), Chris Christie (who, in spite of his lap-band surgery, still looks like he belongs more in the Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade than the White House), Donald (you're fired) Trump, and who can forget Rick (love-the-new-glasses) Perry, especially if he's on the same meds he was using in 2012 when he reminded us that the American revolution occurred during the 16th century.

Then, of course, thank you Mitt Romney who is back for a third run. Etch-A-Sketch Mitt who this time around promises to run a campaign devoted to "lifting people out of poverty." The same Mitt who three years ago called this same 47 percent of the population "takers."

I'm sure some of his Republican opponents will remind us that this is the same out-of-touch Romney who drove to Canada with the family dog strapped to the roof of his car, offered to bet Perry $10,000 about his position on health care reform, and in his new zillion-dollar California house has an elevator for one of his wife's Cadillacs.

He may have been a gaff-prone candidate (I confess to looking forward to the inevitable new ones) but every poll of likely GOP voters shows him doing much better than even Jeb Bush when it comes to a potential race against Hillary Clinton.

If Mitt and the rest of the cast of the nomination-seeking candidates don't do it for you, there is also now a new rising star--African-American neurosurgeon Ben Carson who already has a long list of fun quotes, including a recent one that claims that "Obamacare is the worst thing since slavery."

It continues to amaze me how Republicans manage to find black politicians who are as regressive on race as their GOP country-club colleagues. It's clearly a comfort to the Fat Cats and the source of mid-winter amusement to me.

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Monday, January 19, 2015

January 19, 2015--Headscarves

At his joint news conference Friday with British Prime Minister David Cameron, with unusual public candor, Barack Obama said--
Our Muslim populations, they feel themselves to be Americans. There is, you know, this incredible process of immigration and assimilation that is part of our tradition that is probably our greatest strength. There are parts of Europe in which that's not the case, and that's probably the greatest danger that Europe faces.
He could have added, getting himself into more trouble for truth-telling, that if we think about just France, which includes Europe's largest Muslim population, French ideology also contributes to the danger.

They live with the assertion and the fiction that theirs is a non-racial society. That Muslims, for example, who migrate to France from one of their former colonies are French citizens (no need to live in the shadows) with a full set of rights that derive from a belief system that claims that these rights are universal and are a natural benefit of the very fact of being human.

Thus, in an act of avoidance and social absurdity, France does not even gather statistics about how its various ethic minorities are faring--income numbers, educational-attainment levels, family size, religious affiliations, and so forth. All citizens are equally French and there is no need to make any divisive distinctions.

They do not even point out that though Muslims make up a full 10 percent of France's population, in the 577-seat French Assembly only about 10 are Muslims. And this, hypocritically (since France is supposed to be a fully secular society and data about religious affiliation is not actively gathered), is only because by recent action these seats were specifically craved out to assure at least some "minority" representation since until a few years only one member was Islamic.

And most Muslims in France, though they have documented, legal status, do in fact live in a Gallic version of shadows--in banlieues, isolated and segregated Muslim suburbs that surround all French cities where lack of education, jobs, and hope are endemic.

To make matters worse, the French authorities, by clinging to these illusions, take aggressive action to forbid any public display of ethnic or especially religious affiliation. For years controversy has raged around the issue of women wearing full veils and girls wearing headscarves (hajibs) in schools and other state institutions--l'affaire du voile. They are banned and this contributes to the tension between the Muslim and more secular French communities.

Meanwhile in Florida where immigrants legal and undocumented are not always welcome (I am trying to be kind) headscarves are common.

The other day, we needed to do some banking for my mother and at Wells Fargo, about a mile from where she lives, many of the women on line or waiting to see bank officers were wearing headscarves and seemed comfortable in the mix of Anglos and others from various Caribbean islands.

Later the same day, at Foodtown in multiethnic Davie, many of the customers and half the cashiers were wearing hajibs and, as at the bank, seemed totally assimilated in the polyglot mix.

So I think Obama had it right--many in Europe could do much better and isn't it good that we are as welcoming a society as we are. Far from perfect, but on the world stage, impressive.

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Friday, January 16, 2015

January 16, 2015--Size Matters

The one place size really matters is when it come to the size of one's apartment, condo, or house.

We're talking less about the number of bed and bath rooms (though this counts too) but square footage. And we're not talking about how much square footage one needs to be comfortable--700 per person is more than enough--but how much square footage one needs to feel, literally, like the king of the hill. In this case we could be talking about seven bedroom-seven bathroom houses ranging upwards from 10,000 to 20,000 square feet. Places that begin at $5.0 million and could set you back $75 million or more.

Mine is bigger than yours is the name of the game.

A cautionary tale--

Out in Malibu, ordinances restrict houses to no more than 11,100 square feet; and so back in 2007 when Hong Kong multi-multimillionaire Hiroshi Horiike saw one advertised by Coldwell that was 15,000 square feet and was going for only $12.25 million he plunked down cash and was a happy camper.

Happy, that is, until more recently when he wanted to add a sunroom and, after submitting plans to the county planning commission, learned that the house was not 15,000 square feet as advertised but a mere 10,000. So he is suing everyone in sight, especially the celebrity broker, Chris Cortazzo, who sold him the house. The same Cortazzo who peddled properties to Ellen DeGeneres. Pamela Anderson, Kid Rock, and other such luminaries.

I think he has a strong case and understand why he would want $5.0 million in damages; but here's what I don't understand--

Mr. Horiike seemed to like his Tuscan-style mansion enough to want to add a sunroom so why is he now so unhappy with it? Because he feels tricked? Because he feels like a fool for not having someone independently verify the square footage? Didn't he realize that real estate brokers can be a lower form of life right down there with used car salesmen?

Not for any of these understandable reasons. In his own words, according to a story in the New York Times, the house he loved when he learned it's a third smaller than he thought, he no longer loves--

"I don't love my house. It has become a bad dream. It has broken my heart and broke my dream about American people. Before I thought everything here is beautiful. And perfect."

So he didn't love the house. He love its size. Not a size that offered him enough space to roll around in and feel happy but the size itself. Or at least the idea of it.

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Thursday, January 15, 2015

January 15, 2015--Fanatics All

Do you know what happened to Angela Merkel?

I mean, I thought she was in Paris last Sunday to participate in the Je Suis Charlie march, joining governmental leaders from 40 or so other countries. (As a sidebar--not including the United States which sent the ambassador.)

I may have been hallucinating, but I thought I saw a picture of the front row of marchers with Francois Hollande, president of France in the center, locking arms with Palestinian president Mahmond Abbas on his right and Chancellor Merkel on his left.

But then when I picked up my copy of HaMevasar, the Israeli newspaper of the ultra-Orthodox, there was that same picture but no Angela Merkel.

So either I'm confused or losing it.

Before I could see if the New York Times had anything to say about this, I spoke with a friend who knows a lot about neurology to see if he thinks I'm losing it (yes and no, he said) and about the possibility that the image might have been doctored.

"Send me a link to the HaMevasar picture," he said, and within 15 minutes of my doing so he called to report, "It's obviously Photoshopped. I mean, the editor of the paper had Merkel crudely deleted from the photo. And also a few other female world leaders who were in the first two rows, making it look as if the march was an all-male affair. Just like a . . ."

"Just like an ultra-Orthodox Jewish wedding," I interjected, "where the men and the women attend and participate separately, including dancing with each other."

"Exactly," he said, "And here are a few ironic thoughts. First, they cut out the picture of the chancellor of the country that spawned the Nazis and perpetrated the Holocaust, but the country that now stamps out any manifestations of renewed anti-Jewish behavior and still pays reparations to Israel. Then the paper, HaMevasar, ranted about how the whole Hebdo massacre was about Islamic anti-Semitism, ignoring the fact that the initial victims were mainly French Christians. Finally, they completely ignored the fact that the march in Paris was about defending France's essential freedoms, very much including the right to free expression. And though HaMevasar does mention that the attack was on freedom of the press, it is in a journalistic context that is self-contradictory since by cropping the photo as they did it gives the lie to the very freedom this massacre was planned to stifle."

"Then there was Benjamin Netanyahu's reaction," I said. "On the day after the massacre he sent the French an impassioned letter of condolence that claimed, to quote him, that 'Israel is being attacked by the very same forces that attacked Europe.' As if the arrack on Charlie Hebdo was about Israel rather than about France."

"And he followed it up the next day when he linked the Paris suspects to Israel's enemies, likening the killings to the rockets fired at Israel from the Gaza Strip."

"Talk about chutzpah."

"And can you explain to me how the four Jewish victims of the kosher supermarket shootings all wound up in Israel for a ceremony and burial?"

"As I understand the situation," I said, "only one of the four had any direct connection to Israel. I think he had two chidden living there."

"The other three are either from North Africa or born in France and had no family in Israel. I don't want to be overly cynical," he said, "But it feels as if the Orthodox forces there have co-opted the situation and are representing the attacks in France as being about Israel and anti-Semitism. That is not to say that there isn't a reemergence of anti-Semitism in Western Europe, including France, though mainly from nationalistic forces, and so what Netanyahu and HaMevasar are up to is shameful."

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Wednesday, January 14, 2015

January 14, 2015--It's Not His (Obama's) Fault

My Florida friend Henry is counting the days until the end of the Obama administration.

"Only 664 to go. Days," he said jauntily the other day. "When I checked this morning on the Obama Countdown Clock that added up to 15,959 hours or 957,393 minutes. None too soon for me."

"You're pretty serious about this," I said. "I know you haven't liked him from the beginning but now you really seem to hate him. You're a smart guy otherwise, so tell me why you do."

"He's screwed everything up. In the Middle East, in race relations (and you know I'm not a racist), and especially the economy."

"The economy?" I couldn't let him get away with that. "I know you can't stand Obamacare and what you claim it means to you as a small business owner--though as I've pointed out to you through the years it's actually good for you with your staff of less than ten. But isn't the rest of the economy in pretty good shape exactly a week short of his having been in office six years?"

"Good shape? With so many still employed, salaries of middlc-class workers not growing, and all those young people still without jobs or underemployed?"

"Much of that is true. Things are far from perfect, but what do you say about his list of accomplishments--starting with gas prices. Aren't you impressed that that gas-guzzling pickup of yours is costing you at least $1,000 a year less to gas up than it did two, three years ago? You were blaming Obama for high gas prices then so does he get some credit now that they're lower?" He didn't respond.

"And what about your favorite--the stock market? When he took office it was languishing. But yesterday the S&P 500 Index closed at 2,023. That's a 145% percent increase. Not bad, yes? And a big deal for middle-class workers who have much of their retirement savings in stock funds. Does Obama get any credit for that?" Fiddling with his coffee, Henry didn't respond.

"And unemployment? The rate last week dropped to 5.6%, the lowest since 1999, the last year of the Clinton presidency. What do you think about Obama's role in that? You didn't hesitate to blame him when it was much higher so now that it's significantly lower, what do you think?" Again he ignored me.

"Then your actual favorite--inflation. You remember how five or six years ago you were touting Peter Schiff as your economist of choice who was predicted that because of Fed and Obama fiscal policies inflation would soon be at Weimar Republic levels and you were buying gold to protect yourself from the sky falling? How's the inflation rate looking to you now at 1.3 percent? These days we're actually worried about deflation. And how's your $1,900-an-ounce gold doing? The last time I checked it was way off its panicky peak and was selling for only $1,240 an ounce. And what's Schiff peddling these days? Not anything positive about the Obama Economy I suspect." More silence.

"I could go on but these are a few highlights which could also include low interest rates, a stronger dollar, how the deficit has been cut by more than a half--from $1.4 trillion annually to $514 billion-- and how America is becoming energy self-sufficient. So I guess this means you hate Obama for other reasons. Enlighten me. I'm willing to say you're not a racist, but what is it then?" He stared at his watch and said he needed to run. He had a meeting he needed to get to.

After he left Rona and I continued the conversation. She said, "One of my favorite things besides conservatives refusing to give Obama any credit for the improved economy is their explanation about why it's better. That they can't deny--that's it's better."

"I know where you're going with this."

"First, all of a sudden the leading Republican candidates for the presidential nomination are expressing concern about inequality and the plight of poor people."

"I saw that even Mitt Romney is. The same Mitt Romney who two years ago was moaning among rich people in Boca Raton about the 47 percent of Americans who are the 'takers.'"

"And then there was new Republican senate majority whip John Cornyn on Morning Joe two days ago ignoring the question about Obama's role in improving the economy while claiming that the reason things are better is because business leaders, when they saw the Republicans were about to take control of both houses of Congress, began to hire people. He suggested it was a sort of Mitch McConnell bump."

"This is so preposterous--the economy began doing better six years ago on the first day Obama took office and now Republicans are claiming that the good news is the result of the election in November, all of two months ago. I love it."

It was by then time for us to go. "One more thing," Rona said. "Is there really an Obama Countdown Clock?"

"Indeed there is. You can look it up on the Internet. In fact, you can even buy one."


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Tuesday, January 13, 2015

January 13, 2015--My Mother-In-Law

Today is the sixth anniversary of her death. Here is what I wrote about her at the time--

I’m not inclined, nor was Adele, to get religious or biblical at these ultimate times; but her life, especially the last three decades, presented a challenge to all of us who loved her to understand the meaning of all that befell her.

How could such a truly good person have so many punishing things happen to her? Rona and I, and all who loved her, spent many days trying to understand. To make some sense of it. To make sense of what seemed so senseless.

We looked for examples of equivalent unfairness to help us understand. Compared with Adele, those that we remembered from our own experience were sudden reversals of fortune or where the suffering was of relatively short duration. And so from these examples we were able to learn very little that was helpful.

But one day, while walking on the beach, which is a good place to think about daunting things, Rona suggested that the only equivalent she could think of was the relentless suffering of Job. That her mother’s life had tragically become like his—an endless series of afflictions and sufferings that took away more and more of her life.

With this insight, as her family and friends and caretakers struggled to help her endure and bring her some measure of comfort, we also have been trying, again as from Job, to find, if there are any significant meanings.

All three religions of the Book—Judaism, Christianity, and Islam—also have struggled to understand Job’s plight, asking, in their own ways, how the same God they all believe in, who is supposed to be benevolent to those he created in his own image, who is supposed to reward and not punish good men and women, how could he so willfully bring such misery to such a good man.

As is characteristic of these ancient religions their struggle is mainly to understand the nature of God. Not so much the nature of man, in this case Job, who was the sufferer.

But with Adele, with Rona’s insight, we thought not about God but about Adele; and came to conclude that from the noble way in which she dealt with her endless series of afflictions we could extract many lessons. But more important, in this way, we could, we would come to respect and honor and love her even more.

It was her dignity that was even more endless than her illnesses. And the uncomplaining nature of her struggle to get through every day as less and less of her capacity to live independently and care for herself was taken from her.

This was all the more impressive since throughout, until literally her last day, she, as she would put it, “had her mind.” She was not even granted the release of unawareness or oblivion. Not that she ever wanted it.

She took it all on directly with a touch of stubbornness, contrariness, spunk (I love spunk), tenacity, and mainly humor. Humor often with an ironic, even a sarcastic edge, which is the closest expression of anger that she would allow.

It was perhaps that humor which most sustained her. All her life she loved a good joke (in recent weeks she and I were exchanging daily jokes—mainly doctor jokes--some raunchy) and interestingly as her decline accelerated these jokes, her ironic laughter increased.

It was ultimately, I think, that irony that gave away her secret—as she, with a hint of irony, would, with a shrug, frequently ask, “What are you going to do?”

It was a question that contained its own answer, which was-- “Nothing.” But not a “nothing” full of despair. Rather a “nothing” that meant, “What are you going to do?” Answer, “Just live.”

Whatever that means and with whatever the cards dealt to you. And though during these decades she had seemingly unplayable cards, she kept playing them to the end.

You all know that for years her favorite song was the one she wrote for herself—“I Want to be Young Again.” Well, we know how in life that always works out. But maybe she had the last laugh. We always thought she was hoping for restored health and beauty—that’s what she thought being young was about. And we knew that was not to be for her or, for that matter, for any of us.

But now, maybe as another bit of meaning derived from her life, perhaps, if there is a place beyond life, she got it right. She at last found a way to achieve that dream and a place to realize that hope--the one place where she will be young again. Forever young in all its meanings.

It is her final miracle.

And in this spirit of what one might ultimately achieve, Adele achieved one more thing that she for certain now is able to smile about.

She would probably spunkally say that the best thing about what just happened is that on this coming April 30th she can now avoid having to “celebrate” the 45th anniversary of her 35th birthday. She would have hated that.

So there are all sorts of consolations even at this sad time

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Monday, January 12, 2015

January 12, 2105--1,000 Lashes

Meanwhile, in Saudi Arabia, one of our closest allies, a blogger was sentenced recently to a fine of more than $250,000, 10 years in jail, and 1,000 lashes to be administered with a cane in public over several months.

His "crime," starting a bog called Free Saudi Liberals, which in itself was enough to bring him to the attention of the country's religious establishment. Specifically, he was charged with "cybercrime," "insulting Islam," and "disobeying his father." Probably, if he had obeyed his father, they would be giving him only 500 lashes.

This punishment was considered so out of line that the United States, through the State Department, took the very rare step of criticizing the world's largest exporter of oil and one of the few Arab countries joining us in the battle against ISIS.

Saudi Arabia, recall, is really a theocracy. The House of Saud, which operates as an absolute monarchy, to get away with that and to secure the hundreds of billions of petro-dollars that flow to them, has an ongoing deal with some of the most fanatical of Islamic factions--the Wahhabis (the same group that was responsible for 9/11)--to allow the Sauds to rule in return for diverting other billions to the Wahhabi leadership and allowing them to be in charge of spiritual, judicial, and cultural life in the kingdom. Thus, the suppression and punishment of blogger Raif Badawi.

According the Amnesty International, the Saudis have already begun to administer the flogging--the first 50 lashes were carried out recently.

One glimmer of humanity--according to an article in the New York Times, Human Rights Watch reports that in Saudi Arabia floggers are supposed to distribute the lashes from the top of the back to the back of the legs without breaking the skin.

Nine-fifty to go.

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Friday, January 09, 2015

January 9, 2015--Charlie Hebdo

In solidarity, my plan for this morning was to publish one of Charlie Hebdo's covers in which there is a satirical image of the Prophet Mohammed.

I had a good one selected--a full face caricature of the Prophet in which he looked just like a lascivious Yasser Arafat, saying, "100 COUPS DE FOUET, SI VOUS N'ETES PAS MORT DE RIRE." ("100 lashes if you don't die of laughter.")

But just as I was about to hit the Publish button, I hesitated, spend an anguished hour thinking about what to do, and then took it down.

I was afraid that somehow an Islamist would track me down and . . .

I have never been more ashamed of myself.

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Thursday, January 08, 2015

January 8, 2015--Poor You

According to a recent story in the New York Times, many of the very same Harvard professors who were in such demand as advisors to the Obama administration as it fashioned the legislation that launched the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) are now whining that because of it they have to pay a little more for the health care coverage that Harvard provides faculty and staff.

Outraged by this turn of events, the Faculty of Arts and Science voted overwhelmingly to oppose those changes in Harvard policy that would have them, for example, pay an annual deductible of $250 for individuals and $750 for families. This for what everyone acknowledges is platium-level or Cadillac coverage.

Some say this is punishing the sick since for many members of the faculty and they dependents, as for the rest of us, costs really begin to accrue when one is in fact sick or in need of extensive testing and even hospitalization.

In the Times piece there is scant recognition, whatever the professors feel about having to dip a bit deeper into their wallets, of how unbelievable privileged they still are in contrast to almost every other American affected by the health care system they helped devise.

What insensitivity. What obliviousness. What hypocrisy.

To see what kind of a financial burden the new guidelines represent for Harvard faculty, I checked to see what average annual salaries are for professors.

According to the Harvard Crimson, in 2012, on average assistant professors earned $109,800 a year; associate professors $124,900; and full professors $198,400. Not noted is the fact that most faculty at places such as Harvard typically earn at least the equivalent of an additional one-quarter of their annual salaries as consultants.

And, the new Harvard health care guidelines indicate that anyone--faculty or staff--earning $90,000 or less per year (almost everyone else) will be assisted to pay their copays and deductibles.

As an NYU full professor friend, who acknowledges he is doing very well, used to say about similar circumstances, "Poor you."

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Wednesday, January 07, 2015

January 7, 2014--The Football

"You military?" he asked. I had never seen him before.

Rona and were having a sandwich and salad at the Marriott Courtyard in Florence, South Carolina. It had gotten foggy and was promising to thicken so we decided not to venture forth for dinner in unfamiliar territory so far south of the Mason-Dixon Line.

He was friendly and so I said, "Can't say that I am . . . or was."

"From the look of you, no offense, I knew it had to be was. I'm army myself. But from the look of me I know you're also thinking was." He was wearing a cap that proclaimed ARMY and I was thinking was.

"S'pose you don't know the Springer boys?"

"Can't say I do . . . or did," I said wondering what this was about.

"Went to the Academy. Both of 'em. Twins. Fine boys. Must be retired by now. Not such boys anymore. Like you and me." He chuckled, looking off in space. "Naval Academy. God, I wish one of these years before I pass we'd beat those guys. How many years it's been?" He stroked his chin trying to answer his own question. I wasn't quite sure what he was trying to figure out. "Must be 13, 14. That's how long it's been. I'm talking football. But I'm just an enlisted man. So whats it matter to me. To the Springer boys, commanders both of 'em, well, that's another thing altogether."

Sensing this was going to be a rambling monologue, I tried to pay attention to my sandwich.

"One flew transports. You know them C-20s. Big suckers. The other, Earl, well he flew fighters. From carriers. I think the last time he was on the Ticonderoga. Out there offa Vietnam. Just like the fog we got here tonight, his last night it was so foggy that when his instruments failed he had to find that rolling deck on his own and just barely made it. From that day on never flew again. Sort of cracked him up. Not even commercial for ten years after they discharged him. Honorable and all that. Flew a bunch of combat missions. He paid his dues. Suppose I did too."

"Glad to know he's OK," I squeaked, still working on my food.

"But his brother Jack, after the war, well, he had a different assignment." I didn't ask what it was. But he clearly wanted me to know, "With the football."

"With the what?" That piqued my interest.

"Not the one you're thinkin' about."

"To tell you the truth I'm not thinking about anything much having to do with football or footballs just my sandwich. But I am interested in what you're referring to since I think I may know about it."

"Well, the one I'm thinking about is the one for the atomic codes." I did know about that and nodded. "There's a heavy leather and I assume lead-lined briefcase, weighs about 30-40 pounds, that they call the football that has the codes to launch a nuclear attack that's always where the President is at. The Commander in Chief. 'Cause he's the only one has the authority to launch. There's a military man assigned to carry that football 24/7 wherever the President is. And they have another one for the Vice President because of, you know, what might happen. Though I'd hate to think of that Biden fellow with those codes."

"I'm not sure I agree about that," I said, with a mouthful of tuna salad.

"No need for us to get political," I was pleased to hear, "But let's get back to that Springer boy Jack. He had charge of the third one. Not many folks know there are two much less three footballs."

"I know about the two for the President and VP but this is the first I'm hearing about the third. It's for--?"

"It's for the Strategic Air Command in case the President and Vice President are taken out at the same time, God help us."

"Ugh," I said, "This'll ruin my night's sleep."

"Jack and the rest of his crew had that third football up in one of the airborne command posts. Just in case. Quite something, no?"

"Indeed," I said.

"Which was why I asked if you in the first place if you knew the Springer boys."

This was making less and less sense to me. About all the footballs I was in fact interested, but why he just started to talk with me about this I had no idea.

"You want to hear my favorite football story?"

"I assume we're not talking the Army-Navy game?"

"Not football but the football."

"Shoot. I mean, sure."

"Well, my second-favorite one was when Reagan got shot. Terrible thing. Loved that man. He always carried the codes on a card in his suit jacket pocket. Well, when he was in the hospital they had to cut his clothes off him and that card got lost in the shuffle. No pun intended. When one of his aides thought to ask about it they couldn't find it. You know how busy the ER is. No one knew where it was for some time. But then it turned up in one of his shoes. Scary, no?"

"This whole business scares me," I admitted, "And your favorite?" I was about ready to head up to the room. It had been a long day of driving.

"That one involved Nixon back in '73 when he was President and had the football trailing after him. He was at Camp David meeting with the Soviet leader Brezhnev, I think it was."

"It was. Leonid Brezhnev."

"Not my favorite person, but you know Nixon, always wanting to be with foreign leaders. Especially those Russians."

"That was him at his best."

"Well, that Brez fellow he loved cars. Especially American muscle cars. So Nixon gave him a present of one. Using taxpayer money of course. A big guzzler Lincoln Continental. Nixon handed him the keys and that Russian was so excited that he hustled Nixon into the car, in the passenger seat, and then he jumped in on the other side and drove away at a mile-a-minute clip." My new friend slapped his thigh he was so amused. "Well, you can imagine that the Secret Service was caught by surprise as was the poor fellow with the football. Old Brez drove out onto the highway and left everyone behind for a full 30 minutes. Thirty minutes when Nixon didn't have the nuclear codes close at hand. When you think on it, it could have been a plot by the Russians to get away with some funny business."

"Some story," I admitted. "I read a lot about that period but never heard this one before."

"You could look it up," he said. "And if you run into Jack Springer in your travels ask him. I'm sure he knows about it. Who knows, maybe he was up in one those flying command posts at the time. Wouldn't that be something'?"

"Indeed it would be," I said, ready to head upstairs."

"Did anyone ever mention," Rona asked, "that you sound just like John Wayne?"

"That's a good one," he guffawed, "Can't wait to tell the wife. She'll love it," he said and was gone as quickly as he had appeared.

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Tuesday, January 06, 2015

January 6, 2015--Snowbriding: Domestic Goddess

"You won't find anything there."

I was looking at the blackboard where breakfast specials were listed. "Why's that?" I asked the fellow sitting at a communal table with half a dozen pals who were clearly regulars at the Lamplighter, reputedly the best place for breakfast in Florence, South Carolina.

"If you look closely, you'll see they're only available Monday through Saturday. I know you haven't had your coffee yet, but today's Sunday." He said this more to his friends than to me and they slapped their considerable thighs in pleasure.

I muttered, "I know that." And then directly to him, trying to be friendly, "So what do you recommend? From what I read about this place I understand they make great biscuits."

"Read about it?' he said, mocking me. "I don't know anyone who'd do that or anyone here who could read what got written." His friends rocked back and forth as he toyed with me. "But to answer you--southern hospitality, you know--anything with country ham. And don't forget the grits. It'll cost you a little more--with the specials they give you a break on the price--but you won't get hurt too bad." He winked at me and grinned.

I rejoined Rona at our booth and told her the country ham was recommended. Looking at the menu she noticed that they served it and an egg on a biscuit. "I think I'll have that. And," she whispered, "It's only $1.90."

"We're not in New York anymore. And look, two eggs, country ham, grits, two biscuits, and coffee or tea, not on the special board, is $5.95."

"Including the coffee?"

I looked at the menu again, "That's right."

Both orders came in a flash and were delicious, Rona, who is an authority on grits declared the Lamplighter's the best she ever had.

Feeling pressure to get on the road--we had quite a distance to cover if we were to get to Ocala, Florida before dark--we asked for the ticket (how they refer to the bill or check in the South) and when it arrived Rona scrutinized it as if there was a problem. "It looks correct, but," she leaned toward me and whispered, "it's less than ten dollars. In fact less than nine. How do they make a living charging so little?"

The place was crowded. "Maybe," I offered, "they make it up in the volume. In nay case I think we pay at the cash register over by the communal table."

We gave it a wide berth and kept my eyes averted, but we weren't able to slip by unnoticed. "You folks live here?" the original fellow asked, obviously knowing from my accent that we were from up North.

"Nice of you to put it that way," Rona said. "That makes us feel welcomed about being here. But, no, we stopped here overnight on our way to Florida and heard this was the best breakfast place in town."


"And you were right," I said, "about the country ham and--"

"And grits," Rona said, "About the best I ever had."

The boys at the table exchanged glances and head nods. "Where you from then?"

"From New York," I said.

"The city part of New York?"

"That part."

"Isn't Al Sharpton from there?" he asked, sounding ominous.

I muttered something, feeling eager to pay and get out of town.

"Didn't hear that," he said, twisting his finger in his ear. "Don't hear so good these days. You know, that little fella they put on TV all the time? Sharpton?"

"I think he is," Rona said. I glared at her. "You have a problem with that?"

Before he could answer, thankfully one of his buddies said, "I know someone from up there. He's in the honey business. Sells his honey at, whatcha call it, the green market."

"There's a big one right near where we live," Rona said, "At Union Square."

"That's the place," he said.

"Did you say Union Square?" the first fellow asked, again with a mocking tone. "For the soldiers who came down here during the War of Northern Aggression?"

"The very one," I said, feeling somehow bold. Why not, I thought. What could happen? It was 2015, not 1965, and we weren't in Selma.

"We're your people from?" he asked, sounding less threatening.

"From New York."

"I mean originally."

"Oh, my mother's from Poland and my father's family--"

"From a cabin in a forrest in Poland," Rona added. "But when they got to Ellis Island they changed the family name to Mooney. So she passed for being Irish. Which helped her when she began teaching. The school system at the time was all Irish." I had no idea where all this was coming from. Maybe the caffeine. But though things seemed calmed down still I wanted to pay and leave.

"The Irish, they're the ones built America," he said, again nodding toward his companions. "Then the slaves came and they did nothing."

"Slaves?" I gasped. "Did nothing? I think you got that all backwards and wrong. I mean the Irish--"

"I'm just playin' with you, that's all," he said with the beginnings of a smile.

Taking no chances, I said, "Gotta hit the road. Nice talking to you guys. Really. And thanks again for--"

"Everyone from New York has a beard and wears something black."

"Well I--"

"And has a beautiful women with him," the fellow in a Vietnam Vet cap sitting in a wheelchair at the end of table said with a nod of appreciation.

"Thank you kindly," Rona said, with an emerging South Carolina accent. "We've been married 30 years."

"Thirty-one," I corrected her.

"Thirty, thirty-one," he said, sounding all flirty, Why she don't even look thirty-one."

"That's right nice of you," Rona said.

"A domestic goddess," he gushed, "A regular domestic goddess. You sure are lucky, boy." He meant me.

"S'pose I am," I said. "S'pose I am."

We paid and drove west to get back onto I-95.

"I like that," Rona said after a while. I knew what she was referring to.

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