Friday, January 29, 2016

January 29, 2016--Snowbirding: The Weather

Everyone is talking about the weather. What with recent record snowfalls up and down the east coast, on TV and among family and friends the talk has been nonstop.

Down here in Florida, no matter the weather, it is always a major source of conversation. As you can see from this, written a few years ago, all that attention doesn't always sit well with our New York friends--

The Weather 
You speak to her.” 
Alice handed me the phone while I mouthed, “Who is it?”  She turned her back as I took hold of the handset and walked away.
“Yes?  This is Lloyd.  Hello.  Who’s this? ”
“Didn’t you say to me,” it was our New York friend, the novelist Peggy Samson, “that you never wanted to live in a place where the primary topic of conversation is the weather?”  I nodded and, as if she could see me, she continued, “Well, all I heard from you this winter  has been, ‘Today started out nicely but then the clouds came in and before sunset we had a thunder storm.’”
“Well, we did have many days like that and . . .“
“Also all you talked about,” there was no way to interrupt her, “was how cold it was down there during January and February, ‘When we woke up this morning, can you believe it, it was 36 degrees and there was even frost on the windows.’”
“But it was cold then.  And didn’t I also tell you that I had no right to complain?  That if we were up in New York it would have been good to have 36 as the high for the day?”
“Yes, you did say that very thing.  More times than I want to recall.”
“So?  What’s the big deal?”
“Just listen to yourself.  Do you know how boring you sound?”  I had to admit she was probably right.  “The breakfast group met at Balthazar this morning for coffee—Sharon [Short, the noted fashion editor] and George [Western, the noted interior designer] and James [Gilbertson, the noted anthropologist].  The usual regulars.  Though since you left they made the baguette portion smaller and raised the prices and no longer serve jam in ramekins, most of the time we talked about what’s become of you and Alice.”
“I can’t believe that.”
“What?  About the jam or that we spent the whole morning talking about you?”
“That you were talking about us.  I’ll manage to live with the jam situation when we get back in a few weeks.”
“None too soon.  We’ll have to do a lot of remedial work on the two of you.  And please don’t show up in green pants.”
“I don’t have green pants.  Though I did buy a pair of red ones at a local store here, Mercer-Wenzel.” I was having fun with her.  There is no way I would buy much less wear red pants.  I held back from adding, “At least not until next winter.”
I did ask, “But tell me more about the jam.  I assume they’re still serving jam with the croissants.”
“In those tiny jars that you get in first class on airplanes.”
“Do they charge for them?  That wouldn’t surprise me.”
“Not yet,” Peggy said with exasperation.
 “And what about the butter?  Is that at least still in the ramekins?”
“They now serve pats.  Wrapped in some kind of messy foil.”
“Ugh!  I hate that.  I know it’s very Euro, but you get butter all over your fingers when you unwrap them.”
“One thing that’s promising though.”
“And that is?”
“You’re sounding more like your old self.  You still have some of your New York spunk.  Maybe we have less work to do to deprogram you.  Sharon was worried sick that with your obsession with weather might have changed you so much that you’d come back full of reasons why we should feel good about the Tea Party.”
“Well, she’s sort of half right.  They do have . . .”
“This is just too much,” she screamed before I could say I was just kidding.  But she hung up on me nonetheless.
And then just last evening, Alice and I were sitting out on the lawn after our late afternoon beach walk and saw two of our neighbors who live in Massachusetts wandering toward us with cocktails in hand.  We hadn’t seen them for a while—they had been too busy with work up north to get here the past two months—and so there was a lot to catch up with.  Mainly about their health and their three children and seven grandchildren.
Everything they reported was good news, which we were very happy to hear.  
“Look,” Bill said, interrupting the updates, “that looks like a rain cloud to me.”  We all craned our heads to look to the south where he was pointing.  And sure enough, a few ominous clouds appeared to be gathering.
“For these parts, a typical mid-April, late-in-the day weather front.”  Everyone turned to Alice.  “On the Weather Channel they said we should expect this today.” We all gave her our full attention and nodded.  “But they also said there was nothing to be concerned about.  The weekend should be beautiful.  Partly cloudy with high temperatures in the mid-seventies.  And not much wind.  Just enough to keep things cool, the bugs under control, and the ocean in a nice state of agitation.  I love it when there’s some chop on the water.  Like now.”
The three of us in unison turned to the ocean, to follow Alice’s gaze, and sure enough there was just the right amount of wave action on the water.  Though there was a fly that was buzzing around my uncovered head undisturbed by the breeze.
“I should have worn my cap,” I said to no one in particular, while swatting at it.
“This breeze is just perfect,” Sally said.  “There’s a touch of humidity in the air and it takes the edge off it.  This is the best time of day.  But how was it, the weather I mean, since the last time we were here?”
“Let’s see, it’s been about five weeks, hasn’t it?”  Sally and Bill nodded.  “That was late February.  Is that right?”
“Yes, about then,” Bill said.  I could see him counting the weeks on his fingers.  “A little more than five weeks.  And we saw it was very cold during that time.  For here, I mean.”  Now Alice and I were doing the nodding.  “What was it?” he turned to Sally, “lows in the upper 30s and highs most days only in the 50s?  I think they set some weather records.  For all time lows.”
“We do remember that,” Alice said while looking toward me for confirmation, “in fact on the coldest day, the one where the high was only 49, the heater in our place stopped working.  These condo units, we learned, produce both cold and hot air but they’re really designed for air conditioning.  Not heating.  So it was probably overstressed by all the heating we were asking it to do.”
“That’s happened to us last year,” Bill said.  “And you’re right about the heating and cooling.  This is supposed to be Florida where even in the winter you have to heat the place only once in a while.  But luckily they came to fix ours right away.  It was a switching problem.  What about you?”
“The same with us,” I said.  “Fortunately.  But you know,” I quickly added, “considering the weather we missed in New York this winter, where there was a lot of cold weather and at times a great deal of snow, as I told our Florida friends who were complaining all the time about how cold it was, I kept saying to them, ‘I’m the last person to have the right to complain.  I’m so fortunate to be able to be here, to be able to afford to be here when it’s so cold and wintry up north.’  And, as you said, if we had been in New York, on many days we would have been thrilled to have 38 or 45 degrees as the high for the day.”
“Look there, look at how those clouds are forming.”  Again Bill was pointing to the south.  “I bet before too long we’ll have that rain storm Alice heard about on the Weather Channel.”  Again we all twisted in our lawn chairs to get a better look.”
“I agree,” Alice said, “I’m sensing some rain in the air.”  Sally’s chair almost tipped over from her effort to get a more direct view of the sky.
“I think I felt a drop,” I said.  “Since I’m bald on top, I’m usually the first to know when it begins to drizzle.”  I brushed at my scalp both to draw their attention to my balding and also as if to brush away the persistent fly and the beginning of the rain.
“It would be a shame if it developed into a storm,” Bill said, “We have reservations to have dinner at Veri Amici and I much prefer to sit at one of their outdoor tables.”
Always wanting to look on the bright side of things, very much including the weather, Alice reassuringly offered, “The Weather Channel promised this was going to be a passing event.”
“I hope so,” Sally said, “This is our first night here in more than a month and we were hoping for a real Floridian evening.  You know, under the stars with a gentle breeze.”
“You know, since I had that arthroscopic knee surgery, to shave my cartilage,” I added, “it’s like having a barometer in my leg.  Whenever it’s really going to rain hard, a few hours in advance it gets stiff and even painful.”  I pulled up my trouser leg to show them my repaired left knee.  “And I don’t feel a thing now.  Look.”  I flexed my leg to illustrate.  “A good range of motion and no stiffness or pain.”  I smiled at them, also to try to reassure them that they would have a lovely dinner under the stars.  “So you can count on beautiful weather later this evening.”
“But now I too am feeling raindrops,” Bill said, looking a bit deflated.  “Though the restaurant does have an awning and if it does rain there’s something nice about sitting under it and hearing the sound of it.”
In an attempt to change the subject from the weather in Florida, Alice asked, “So how was it up in Massachusetts while you were there?  From what I read, it sounded as if it wasn’t too bad.  I mean the weather.”
“And that made me comfortable about being here,” I jumped in to say, wanting to help make Sally and Bill feel better about the weather changes we were experiencing.  “I don’t like it as much when we’re down here and read about the awful weather you have up there.  I feel guilty that we’re in Florida escaping the cold and snow.”
“You shouldn’t feel that way,” Sally said.  She is the kind of person who is inclined to say things such as this to help you feel better—she is a junior high school guidance counselor back in Massachusetts and does that professionally. “You both worked hard for so many years.  You’re entitled to get away and live the good life.”  She spread her arms to take in the full expanse of the lawn and ocean as if to define further what she meant by the “good life.”
“It’s really staring to rain now,” Bill said, hunching over to keep the still gentle but intensifying rain from pelting his entire body.  “Maybe we should call it an evening.  Since Alice says it will be nice over the weekend we’ll have more time to sit out here together.  Assuming she and the Weather Channel have things under control.”  He winked at her while beginning to get up.
“But Alice’s right,” I said in support of her forecasting, “Look, look over there.  You can see the rain clouds breaking up and they’re moving east, aren’t they?  Which means that this shower will soon be over.  More important, you’ll have perfect weather for dinner tonight.”  Appreciating my confirmation, Alice was smiling and nodding enthusiastically.
Later that evening—and the weather did clear up well before Sally and Bill left for Veri Amici—Peggy called again from New York.  “Sorry I gave you such a hard time this morning,” she said, in her most contrite voice, “Do hurry back though.  We miss you.  Darling George said it’s not as much fun here with you guys out of town.  Isn’t that sweet since he’s really the one who’s always the most fun.” 
That was pure Peggy.  “And Jim, you know how political he is—almost a socialist—he said this morning, I forgot to tell you, that he’s actually interested in what you have to say about what all those smart Florida conservatives have been up to.  The only conservatives within five miles of here are the ones wanting to conserve what’s left of the original design of Washington Square Park.  But by Florida standards, even they are Commies.  Talk about boring.”
“We will be back in about three weeks,” I assured Peggy, “and we’ll be eager to fill you in on what we’ve been hearing and learning.  It is very interesting.  In fact, we spend so much time talking about politics and health care and economics that we hardly have any time to talk about the weather.”  I smiled toward Alice.
“I was just joking about that earlier today,” she said still trying to reassure me that she had only been needling us.  “Really.”  She paused then added, “Well, at least partly joking.  Talk about the weather to your heart’s content.”
Same old Peggy I was pleased to hear.  “I knew you were having fun with us.  Particularly the ‘at least partly’ part.  But, by the way, the weather,” I couldn’t help myself from adding, “has been very nice, though it was showering a couple of hours ago.  That’s Florida for you—sunny one minute, teeming the next.” 
I smiled at Alice when I read the note she had passed to me. “Enough about the weather,” it said.
“And,” Peggy laughed before she needed to hang up and race uptown to the theater, “we promise to forgive you even if you show up in those red pants.”


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Thursday, January 28, 2016

January 28, 2016--Shooting Hoops With Bernie

I knew there was something familiar about him. More than the Brooklyn accent and all the shrugging and Yiddish hand gestures.

And then it struck me.

Toward the end of Monday's Democratic town meeting, Bernie Sanders, egged on by moderator Chris Cuomo, spoke about his athletic days. How when at Madison High School he was on the track team and earlier, at PS 197, he was the center on their basketball team.

"Oh my God," I said to Rona, "Now I know where I know him."

"This should be good." She rolled her eyes.

"No, really, I went to PS 244 in East Flatbush and he went to PS 197 in Midwood, just down Kings Highway. They were our arch rivals. In fact, in the mid-50s we played against them for the PSAL Brooklyn Basketball Championship."

"Really?" I nodded, "And?"

"And, we lost. We came in second."

"You really remember him?"

"Not all that specifically, to tell you the truth. But before the championship game, our coach, Burt Ludwig, told us what to expect. He said, the main threat was their center." Looking over at me, he continued, "He's very tall. Like you. And moves well. He's also very aggressive so expect to get pounded a lot. Especially when fighting for rebounds."

"I can handle him," I said, more reflexively than from genuine self-confidence.

In truth, my main asset was that I was so tall. An overgrown 14-year-old. Already six-four. Though I was underweight and poorly coordinated. But I was scrappy. I didn't mind exchanging elbows under the backboards.

I grew up hearing the calumny that though Jews might be smart, we were not street-tough. That's why so many of us perversely admired the remnants of the Murder Incorporated gang, a gang of more-than-tough Jews who operated out of a candy store in Brownsville. Walking distance from where I grew up.

So, I was committed to the mantra, Never Again. Never again would Jews submit to violent antisemitism and this got played out in sports.

There were a number of Jewish boxing champions, including Max Baer and Jake LaMatta, and footballers such as Sid Luckman. Also baseball stars including Hank Greenberg and Sandy Koufax; as well as more than a few basketball heroes. Dolph Schayes, Red Auerbach, and Nat Holman come to mind.

And then there were Bernie Sanders of PS 197 and not-so-little Stevie Zwerling of PS 244.

The rest is Brooklyn legend.

Though we won the semifinal game fairly easily, with Bernie pushing me around while fighting for rebounds, they killed us and then went on to win the city and state championships.

(See the team picture below from the Brooklyn Eagle of, as they put it, the borough's "second best" team.)

So, Hillary, if you think you're running against mister-nice-guy, think again and watch out for those elbows.


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Wednesday, January 27, 2016

January 27, 2016--John Adams' New York Values

Ted Cruz is not the first presidential aspirant to smirk about New York values.

From this entry in John Adams' Diary on August 23, 1774, quoted in John Sedgwick's rather good dual biography, War of Two: Alexander Hamiliton, Aaron Burr, and the Duel That Stunned the Nation, it is clear that Adams was no fan of the early New York City.

And though this is from Adams at his fussiest (he could be very fussy), some of it rings true. Undoubtedly for then, but also for now. But to me, more of this is positive than disdainful.

The up-tight Adams was appalled by New Yorkers and their manners. He wrote--
With all the opulence and splendor of this city, there is very little good breeding to be found. We have been treated with an assiduous respect but I have not seen one real gentleman, one well-bred man, since I came to town. At their entertainments there is no conversation that is agreeable; there is no modesty, no attention to one another. They talk very loud, very fast and all together. If they ask you a question, before you can utter three words of your answer they will break out upon you again and talk away.
Sound like dinner with the Zwerlings.
John Adam's Diary

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Tuesday, January 26, 2016

January 26, 2016--Waiting For Bloomberg

All of a sudden there's a flurry of interest in Michael Bloomberg. About the evidence that he is exploring the possibility of running for the presidency as a third-party candidate.

Self-financed, of course. He's worth $37.2 billion. A real billionaire in comparison to Donald TRUMP. Like everything else, TRUMP exaggerates his wealth, but Forbes reports he's worth only maybe $4.0 billion with most of it tied up in real estate.

Though real money, he is a piker by Bloomberg standards. But that's half the political point.

With a real New Yorker running, it would dilute the charge that TRUMP is about New York values (actually, he is). Not noted is the fact that Bloomberg was born and raised in Boston, which I suppose is better than having been born and raised in Canada.

If opposition candidates want to rail against a possible American oligarchy, which we sort of already have, Bloomberg will take most of the heat, clearing that lane for TRUMP. And what with The Mike's Jewishness, another lane would also be cleared since probably half of TRUMP's untutored critics think that if he's from New York he must be Jewish. Or, almost as disqualifying, is a nonbeliever.

To blunt that and appeal to evangelicals, this past Sunday The Donald very publicly went to church in Iowa to show that he's really a Christian. This reminded coreligionists that, as a semi-teetotaler, it is in church where he drinks "the only wine" he imbibes. Also, that it is during Communion that he takes "my little cracker." In TRUMP World it doesn't matter that evangelicals don't participate in the Eucharist. It's all about the show.

As usual when it comes to religious matters, TRUMP has church practices all mixed up. But Teflon-candidate that he is, it probably doesn't matter.

But he did leave two $50 dollar bills in the collection basket.

No wonder TRUMP is relishing the thought that Bloomberg might get into the race. This because if he did, enough Hillary supporters would likely migrate to the former New York mayor and thus make it less likely that, if nominated, she would be elected. And since Bloomberg as a third-party candidate would have almost no chance of winning . . .  Fill in the blank.

But there are many moving pieces as Bloomberg ponders how various combinations and permutations would play out. It would depend on who's in and who's out.

I've been hearing from liberal friends who are excited about the Bloomberg possibilities. For the most part they are lukewarm Hillary supporters. Progressives, not socialists, who feel that neither Hillary nor Sanders, for that matter, would make good or effective presidents.

Here's what I wrote back to one--

I think he'd run only if Bernie looks like he's going to get the nomination. The last thing a billionaire wants is a socialist as Prez! But I don't think Bloomberg would run if Hillary looks as if she's winning (I am using the conditional tense since if B is to run he'd have to decide to do so by early March). She has already proven herself as a pal to Wall Street. 

If it's Hillary v. TRUMP and Bloomy gets in that would assure T's election since Bloomberg would likely take more voters from Hillary than T. I don't think Bloomberg prefers TRUMP to Hillary. Quite the opposite. So I see him maybe running only if Sanders and TRUMP are on route to the nominations. If Bernie manages to win big in Iowa and NH it might for Hillary be the beginning of 2008 all over again. Though Hillary's firewall is southern blacks and middle-age white women. That's why she's cynically been wrapping herself so tightly in the mantle of Barack Obama. And of course there are Demi Lovato and Chelsea.

In fact, having lived in NYC during the Bloomberg years, I'm not so fond of him. He cared primarily about Manhattan and the real estate community's interests. I guess he'd be better than most of the current candidates, but he is still more a friend to Wall Street than I'd be comfortable with. If TRUMP would be "a traitor to his class" (which I think is possible) he could be interesting and unpredictable. Just like his campaign thus far. 

Maybe we need a real jolt. Would Bernie provide one? As much as I'd like to thing so, as a socialist, would Congress allow him to govern as a socialist? There's no way Congress, for ex, would go along with Medicare-for-all. That's may be a great idea but a congressional non-starter. Ditto for his taxation proposals.



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Monday, January 25, 2016

January 25, 2016--Governor Who?

Governor Chris Christie has virtually moved to New Hampshire.

It's all-in for him up there. Unless he comes in third in the February 9th primary, he'll be forced to return to New Jersey, tail between his legs, where, it is alleged, he is still the governor.

Actually, he got a preview of life in NJ this past weekend when winter storm Jonas was set to pummel the Jersey Shore. In a deja-vu hallucination that Jonas might pack the wallop of Hurricane Sandy, though he didn't want to leave the cozy town-hallers he was getting nachas from in the Granite State, he had no choice but to return kicking and screaming to Jersey and pretend he cared about his anxious constituents.

His one caveat--no replays of his former post-Sandy bromance with Barack Obama. That was the beginning of the end for him. Closing the GW Bridge also didn't help. But some New Hampshireites were actually beginning to like him--though he is still showing up in NH polls in low single-digits--and for Christie, whose approval rating in the Garden State is almost as low as his standing in the presidential race, he had no choice. Put in an appearance in Jersey--no matter how reluctantly--and live with it.

Though maybe, just maybe, he was hoping, he would get politically lucky and the storm would reach Sandy proportions (fortunately it didn't) and he could get a lot of snow-swept, flooded-out face-time on TV, stomping around as a pretend commander in chief.

And show up in NJ he did. For just 24 hours before racing back to the comforts of New Hampshire, leaving thousands still stranded along the flooded Jersey coast.

On Saturday, the New York Times ran a story about how frequently he's been out of the state the past year--during 2015, Crispy spent 191 days in anyplace but New Jersey, most of it downing free snacks and campaigning.

But, the Times decided not to ask why, if he's at best a part-time governor, he still pulls down a full-time $175,000-a-year salary.

Actually, they could have raised the same question about many of the other candidates.

Just as the Florida Sun Sentinel called for no-show Marco Rubio to resign from the Senate. In addition to being personally underwritten by a fanatical Israel-supporter, South Florida car-dealer billionaire Norman Braham, Rubio, who has the worst attendance record in Congress, shamelessly continues to pocket the $174,000-a-year salary.

Only politicians can get away with this kind of stuff. Though maybe soon they'll be inhibited from doing so as the public continues to sour on their performance and are turning to Bernie Sanders and Donald TRUMP types in the hope that they will be able to do something to fix our festering problems, very much changing the way parasitical public "servants" behave.

I know, dream on.

Christie and Rubio among the contenders are not the only ones feeding at the government trough.

Ted Cruz, who is making quite a living as a federal employee though also not showing up for work, spends his days trashing the very system of which he and his Goldman-Sachs-employed wife are comfortable fixtures.

Then there is Rand Paul who not only ignores his day job but also finagled the Kentucky legislature to pass a special bill to allow him to double-dip--to run in November for both the Senate and the presidency. Though he won't need to worry about the latter since by March he'll no longer be at even the children's debate table but will have to slink back to KY to try to convince folks there that they should send him back to the Senate. He'll need to get on this case post haste as his reelection bid is currently imperiled.

Not to worry--one way or the other, I expect to see son-of-Ron with his own show on Fox News or back to operating on cataracts.

And while I'm at it, among the candidates who are running while on the federal payroll, the candidate who has been chowing down at public expense for the most years, for 34 to be precise, is Bernie the socialist.

I suppose his form of taxpayer-financed socialism doesn't take his decades-long ineffectiveness as a senator into consideration when the Treasury Department sends along to him each year a cool $174K.

And talk about part-time jobs, Rona wondered out loud that Hillary Clinton must be an amazing public speaker to justify her $225,000-a-pop speeches at Goldman Sachs. Too bad they were never broadcast on C-SPAN.

But here's my question--where do I sign up for one of these jobs?

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Friday, January 22, 2016

January 22, 2016--Blizzard Warning

The weather bureau has issued a blizzard warning for winter storm Jonas. It is predicted that by the time it ends on Saturday there will be a record accumulation of ice and snow in our nation's capital.

On the other hand, the storm might have been more aptly named Donald, for Donald you-know-who.

I say this because the most recent tracking polls, especially CNN's from last night, have him with a large, expanding lead in Iowa.

TRUMP 37%
Cruz 26%

Rubio 14%
Carson 6%

Even leftwing pundits are saying if TRUMP wins in Iowa, and then more certainly a week later in New Hampshire where he retains a 20 point lead, the nomination battle will in effect be over.

Or perhaps the storm should be named Bernie because the same poll shows him with big leads over Hillary in Iowa (51% to 43%) and New Hampshire (60% to 33%).

Talk about climate change.


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Thursday, January 21, 2016

January 21, 2016--TRUMP and the Palins

Sarah Palin is back and everyone is having fun with her. Or making fun of her.

Not just because her son, Track, two days ago was arrested for domestic violence and on the same day her Dancing-With-Stars daughter, Bristol Sheeran, gave birth to a second out-of-wedlock baby.

It was because she bounced up on stage in Ames, Iowa on Tuesday to give a semi-coherent speech in support of Donald TRUMP's candidacy.

Seeing her again, still looking hot, I was reminded just how much I miss Sarah and her wonderfully-named dog-patch brood. Other children of Sarah and Todd ("First Dude") are Willow Bianca Faye, Trig Paxon Van, and Piper Indy Grace. The latter named for the Indy 500.

If politics these days is about entertainment as much as policy, she's the perfect reality-show complement to The Donald.

And on the political front, she may help tip the Iowa caucuses to TRUMP, which in turn would lubricate his path to the ultimate nomination.

Pretty much all the liberals I know are chortling about the TRUMP-Palin roadshow. The jokes are flying, very much including in The New Yorker's "Borowitz Report." A humorous column that appears on-line.

The one the other day was, "Palin Endorsement Widens Trump's Lead Among Idiots," with the snarky title telling it like a lot of us think it is.

But is it?

There must be an increasing number of idiots out there among the electorate because even before the Palin encomium, TRUMP's lead among almost all demographic groups was widening. Most interestingly, according to Tuesday's New York Times, with evangelicals.

They seem to be feeling that God will take care of TRUMP's personal indiscretions (three marriages and who knows what else) but are saying that among the candidates he is most likely to bring about needed, radical change.

To my Manhattan friends this is just more evidence that there are a whole lot of idiots out there. I feel compelled to mention these friends also believe anyone who is religiously devout is by definition an idiot.

But, I wonder, are TRUMP's and Palin's supporters idiots because they are idiots or idiots because they don't agree with us?

Those of us who think of ourselves as liberals should be the first to be feeling good about widespread political participation. Haven't we traditionally been in the forefront of advocating the expansion and protection of voting rights? But, for idiots too? That's a push. But, to be consistent  . . .

Look, I've been having a lot of fun at various candidates' expense, very much including TRUMP's, but those of us who would prefer to see Bernie or Hillary elected or Jeb Bush, Joe Biden or George Pataki, in addition to enjoying the fun and scribbling of the likes of Andy Borowitz, we also had better be working hard to elect the candidates we support or we will wake up literally a year from today with Donald and Melania TRUMP in residence in the White House and Sarah Palin nominated to be Secretary of Defense.

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Wednesday, January 20, 2016

January 20, 2016--What's Playing in Somalia and On Reunion Island?

I love my Netflix.

I know there is current controversy about their ratings--the company is coy about them, which suggests they are not as high as advertised. The concern about the truth is not academic or about the truth itself but about Netflix's valuation--how much it is worth and how justifiable is its current lofty stock price.

I don't care about that except that I do have an investor's interest in the so-called FANG stocks. Facebook, Amazon, Netflix, and Google. I do not at this point in my life believe in owning that many shares of individual companies, preferring broad-based securities funds, but I do own a decent amount of Amazon stock, am thinking about buying more, and am considering making an equivalent investment in Netflix.

After all, boldly last week, the CEO of Netflix announced that they are making their streaming service available in 190 large and small countries from China to Somalia.

And just yesterday Netflix announced that they are signing up surprising numbers of subscribers in many out-of-the-way places.

Now people from Madagascar to Reunion Island can catch Orange Is the New Black and House of Cards.

"They must have pretty good Internet connections," CEO Reed Hastings joked the other day when he learned that the Reunion Island folks were among the first to subscribe.

Now Netflix is scrambling to dub their shows in dozens of languages to keep up with the already burgeoning demand.

I remember back in the day, when nation-buidling still seemed to some like a good idea, that the thought was that if we could help bring versions of Western democracy to underdeveloped places such as Iraq, Syria, and Libya young people especially would clamor for MTV and once they could tune in all would be well in the world.

We see now what that culturally imperialist and naive strategy has yielded. Among other things--ISIS.

Now here comes Netflix.

To some in Yemen, seeing the evil Kevin Spacey character, fictional U.S. president Francis Underwood ensconced in the White House, will feel that what they believe to be true about our actual president is in fact true.

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Tuesday, January 19, 2016

January 19, 2016--Mr. Cuba and His Boys

A friend and I have been having a back-and-forth about the eight films nominated for Academy Awards.

So far she's liked a number of them while grumpy me has been unhappy with most. I half-enjoyed Joy but didn't feel it worthy of Oscar designation either for best picture or for Jennifer Lawrence's phoned-in acting. I disliked The Big Short feeling it was more documentary than feature film and not that great a documentary at that.

Coming from the corporate world, my friend liked it quite a lot, which I  respect. We both liked Bridge of Spies and Brooklyn, with her decidedly feeling better about them than I. (By the way, we're both from pre-cool Brooklyn.)

I'm not sure if she has yet seen The Revenant, the only movie thus far that I feel is close to being a masterpiece. I'm eager to hear what she thinks.

Room is at the top of my list of the remaining films and I am looking forward to discussing it with her. I sense we'll be on the same page and will find it memorable.

For me, and I suspect my friend, no matter the special effects, I have no intention of seeing Mad Max. I can handle only so much post-apocalyptic violence. There's enough of that going on in the real world and I still go to the movies to escape.

Then there is Spotlight.

I thought it was considerably better than OK and though about an important and deeply disturbing subject--abuse by Catholic priests of children in their charge--for me it unintentionally gives the impression that horrendous crimes of this kind, and the institutional coverup that attempts to hide them from public attention, implies that these kinds of aberrations are confined mainly to priests and their cardinal enablers.

Mt friend disagrees, finding it's focus to be appropriate and claims, perhaps correctly, that to allude to similar forms of abuse--say by clergy from other religions or coaches--would dilute the power of the film and turn it into a miss mosh. She finds it more effective to focus solely on the Catholic church.

She's probably right, but I couldn't help writing the following e-mail to her, partly derived from my own experiences with child abuse--
To tell you the truth, it may be unfair, but I have general suspicions (until proven otherwise) about men and smaller numbers of women who are attracted to work at single-sex organizations and institutions. Priests and nuns and rabbis (I knew a few of the latter who in my old neighborhood put their hands on kids they were preparing for bar mitzvahs), boy scout masters (mine I feel certain had a thing for prepubescent boys--me included!), and teachers.  
Believe it or not, I had a "shower teacher" at PS 244--Mr. Cuba--who loved drying us off after he taught us to wash what he called--in Yiddish--our heinies. Then I went to an all-boys high school and we had a number of male teachers who had roaming hands. And forget some of the coaches I knew about and played under.
I should have but didn't add, "pun intended."

My friend took this in and responded that it was unfair and to limiting to focus so exclusively on same-sex institutions. After all, she pointed out, one of the worst recent examples of coaches taking sexual advantage of young boys happened at co-ed Penn State where assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky enticed athletes to perform sex acts with him in the shower.

Touché to that, I acknowledged, but this got me thinking again about some of my own experiences.

My bar mitzvah rabbi not only used a wooden pointer to smack us when we made mistakes while reading Hebrew (not one word of which he taught us to comprehend) but for repeat offenders, including stutterers, he would call us into is office, get us to drop our pants and underwear, and beat us with a wooden paddle.

When my turn came, after doing what this "scholar" directed, I never returned to Hebrew school and fought with my mother, hinting at what had happened, until she agreed not to force me to be bar mitzvahed. I never was.

The scout master of my East Flatbush's Boy Scout Troop 152, spent more time getting us to line up and march around the gym where we met each week than teaching us about how to administer first aid or start fires using flint and steel. And when we went on overnight hikes to Alpine, NJ, without other adult supervision, he would routinely rouse us from sleep in the middle of the night, scaring and blinding us with flashlights held six inches from our eyes, and then would fill us with stories about the dangers lurking in the surrounding woods. And then when he had us fully terrorized, he would take us, clad only in our shorts and undershirts, in his arms to protect and comfort us from these fictitious threats. Retrospectively, it is obvious what he was really up to.

My high school baseball coach, after a long and punishing practices that rendered us soaking wet from perspiration, would supervise, before we hit the showers, the gathering of our discarded shorts, T shirts, and especially jockstraps. He didn't touch any of us, as far as I know from my teammates, but it was obvious even then, in our naiveté, what turned him on.

Most perverse, though, was the mandatory Shower Class at PS 244, my elementary school.

Perhaps because most of us were children of immigrants, it was assumed that we had not been taught at home the virtues of hygienic practices available to Americans. Every mooring our homeroom teacher would check our nails to see if they had been properly cleaned and she inspected our cloth hankies to see if they were neat and clean.

And then every Tuesday after gym class, as with my Boy Scout troop a class almost entirely devoted to militaristic drills with orders barked to us as if we were in basic training--there was no dodge ball, no rope climbing--the boys were ushered off to the shower room where Mr. Cuba lurked.

We were forced to strip and then huddle together in a steamy communal shower that had at least a dozen shower heads in a row. As we cringed under that alternating cascades of hot and cold water, the administration of which Mr. Cuba supervised--to open then close skin pores, he said--he paid inordinate attention to our nether parts, barking at us to get enough soap up into our heinies and then ordered us to turn around and, while not facing him, bend over. When we all had "assumed the position," as he put it, he commanded us "spread 'em" then after we did to make sure the scalding spray would in turn wash away the soapsuds.

When we stumbled from the shower his attention turned to "teaching" us proper toweling techniques. His focus was on making sure our feet and toes were thoroughly dried--to prevent Athlete's Foot, he said. And to be sure they were, he forced us, while sitting on rows of benches, to hold our feet in the air so he could see for himself by moving down the line of shivering, naked boys.

He also made sure our crotch areas were dry, again, he insisted to prevent fungus from growing. To "assist" us he would snatch the towels from our hands and complete the job himself.

So though I get my friend's good points about Spotlight, I wish someone would make a movie about Mr. Cuba and his boys.

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Monday, January 18, 2016

June 18, 2016--Presidential Hair

Commenting about candidates for the presidency as we entered the age of campaigning on TV, my father used to say, as John Kennedy was moving to succeed Dwight Eisenhower, "Without a full head of hair like his, you don't have a chance to be elected. Ike, with just that wisp on top, would not have fared well if he had to run on television."

With that my Dad would stroke his bald pate and look, ruefully and disappointedly over at me, noting my own rapidly receding hairline, realizing he would have to settle for my becoming a surgeon (which I failed to do) and not president. His real American dream.

So what to make of our current crop of candidates' hair?

Scott Walker (remember him, the governor of Wisconsin and Koch Brothers' favorite), the establishment GOP's great white hope, faded fast and dropped out first because of hair problems. His bald spot--much like a monk's tonsure--was made more visible on HD TV by the fact that his remaining hair was dyed extra black with what could only have been shoe polish.

It didn't help his candidacy when a letter surfaced that he wrote to a Jewish constituent in which he said, "Thank you again and Molotov," when he meant Mazel tov.

Marco Rubio, already suffering from the problem that he's youthful-looking and short (sorry, vertically challenged, and thus those 2-inch lift boots he was spotted wearing last week), both of which make it hard for voters to imagine him as commander-in-chief ensconced at the head of the Situation Room table, also has a hair problem. Though artfully disguised, at only 44, he is already sporting a comb-over, which becomes apparent when on the stump in windy Iowa where he has to pay more attention to beating it back in place than repeating his over-rehersed Mr. Robot talking points.

Raphael Cruz is also working on a comb-over. Look carefully and you will spot the beginnings of serious thinning along the seam of his part.

But the three candidates who have by far the most politically interesting hair are Donald TRUMP (an easy call), Hillary Clinton, and even Bernie Sanders.

In reverse order--

Bernie's hair looks as if it's cut by his wife. No $1,250 haircuts for socialist Bernie like the one that undid poor Two-Americas John Edwards. And no hair dye either to make him look more youthful (not that he needs that--he's pretty much got all the Millennials voting for him). And certainly no hair gook. The windblown, absentminded professor look do appear to be working for him. But from time to time I've been noticing evidence of a comb-forward. A modified Chuck Todd. This alone suggests that he's thinking of himself as a viable candidate, not just Crazy Bernie.

What to make of Hillary?

During her years as First Lady she struggled almost as much with what name to adopt--Hillary Clinton, Hillary Rodham, Hillary Rodham Clinton, Eva Peron, Golda Meir--as she did with her hair.

Beyond her name shifting (really struggles about her identity) even more on her mind was her hair.

On the Internet there are people keeping track of everything going on in the world, including how many hairstyles Hillary sported while First lady. From their and my research I have counted at least 32. Thirty-two!

With even more on display during the past few months in Iowa and New Hampshire. Neither place good-hair-day territory.

Then, beyond imagining, irresistible to make fun of, is the now iconically famous whatever-it-is that The Donald does with his hair.

If there is anyone on the political circuit paying more attention to his or her hair than Hillary, it is TRUMP.

The style never varies and the color is consistently applicated. Couple that with all the sculpting, fixing, and the pumpkin-colored spray-job on his face and the chauk-white mask around his eyes and you have  a living, breathing cartoon superhero.

Counter-intuitively, all this attention to his hair and looks is stereotypically . . . feminine.

So we have big-bully Donald TRUMP coming off at least as girly as Hillary Clinton.

How this campaign continues to fascinate with its surprises.

Hillary Clinton a mass of contradictions, calling on her husband to pull her out of tough spots (as now in Iowa) while at the same time showing off her cajones as a potential commander-in-chief, while blustery tough-guy Donald Trump spends hours each day fussing with his hair.

Though, he said, if he's elected he'll be so busy in the White House that he won't have time for his hair and will get a buzz cut.

That prospect is almost enough to get me to vote for him.

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Friday, January 15, 2016

January 15, 2016--TRUMP's "New York Values"

Ted Cruz doesn't handle criticism very well.

Donald TRUMP's public ruminating about Cruz's eligibility for the presidency--he was born in Canada to an American mother and held joint citizenship until a few months ago--is clearly getting under the very junior senator's skin.

Interviewed the other day on the Howie Carr Radio Show, he snapped that TRUMP should stop playing "Born in the USA" at his rallies, a clear swipe at Cruz, and suggested he should "shift in his new rallies to playing 'New York, New York' because Donald comes from New York and he embodies New York values."

TRUMP responded immediately, counter-intuitively embracing rather than denying those values. When has it ever been good for a Republican to say anything good about the Big Satan, a favorite conservative slur about the Big Apple?

Passionately, with his New York accent dialed up, TRUMP said that he does in fact embrace those values and feels proud to do so. Also to Carr, in his words, he said--
One thing it means is energy. You know, when the World Trade Center got hit, we rebuilt that World Trade Center and we got through and very few places in this world could have gotten through what we went through. I mean, I was so proud of New York, the World Trade Center, these two massive, 110 story buildings came down. Thousands of people killed. I've never seen anything like it in my life.
He added--"Anyone who attacks New York City will have to go through me."

If TRUMP and others, including some constitutional scholars such as Lawrence Tribe, are discombobulating Cruz by questioning if he is a "natural born citizen," how will he explain away yesterday's reports in the New York Times and Wall Street Journal that he failed to report more than a million dollars in very-low-interest loans to his 2012 senatorial campaign, loans from Citibank and Goldman Sachs where his wife, Heidi, at the latter is a managing director after serving on the National Security Council under Condi Rice?

Failure to report loans of this kind, not incidentally, are not just careless mistakes, as Cruz claims, but violate federal law.

And it will not be so easy for the Princeton and Harvard-educated Supreme Court clerk Ted Cruz to point fingers at the establishment of which he and his wife have been such comfortable members.

It will also not be easy to counter his former Harvard Law School professor, Laurence Tribe, who in an op ed piece in The Boston Globe, "Under Ted Cruz's Own Logic, He's Ineligible for the White House," wrote that maybe, in spite of Cruz's assertion that his eligibility is "settled law," that it may not be after all.

Nor will it be easy for Cruz to explain why he jettisoned his Latino name, Raphael, for the more waspy Ted.

Above all, will it be hypocrisy for Cruz to continue to slip into New York City as frequently as in the past unless he learns the words to "New York, New York"?

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Thursday, January 14, 2016

January 14, 2106--Pithy

I don't know what compelled me to stay up late enough to watch all of the Golden Globes. Probably masochism.

With the exception of a few smartalecy barbs from the host, Ricky Gervais, I found it to be excruciatingly boring. And, of course, in my snarkiness, having seen only one or two of the movies and TV shows nominated, I disagreed with most of the awards.

Hung over the next morning, doing our own postmortem, ahead of the E channel's acidic Fashion Police, Rona and I, since we agreed, wondered out loud about why it was such a snore.

"I think mainly because the winners--and they have an endless series of categories including one for actors who were in a single episode of a TV series or movie made for television--in their acceptance speeches were so bland and unclever."

"Good point," Rona said, "It's almost as if their PR people told them to be intentionally bland so as to avoid controversy and not offend anyone or any 'demographic' that might then boycott their films. Like they did to Marlon Brando when he refused his Oscar to protest our treatment of Native Americans."

"For me, in the past, where I do a lot of my living, one of the things I used to look forward to were the pithy remarks of the winners. Some were even memorable like in 1974, when David Niven was presenting an Oscar, a naked man streaked across the stage. Nonplussed, Niven quipped, 'Isn't it fascinating to think that probably the only laugh that man will ever get in his life is by stripping off and showing his shortcomings.'"

"It's true, presenters and winners were often witty and pithy."

"To change the subject," I said, "Pithy is such an interesting word. It has a sound close to the way I understand its meaning. Not onomatopoetic exactly, but something close to that."

"I agree. I wonder about its etymology. For example, does it share a common root with pith helmet or a pit?"

"Google's the way to find out," I said. And sure enough it does have an ancient and interesting history. It goes back to at least the year 900 and the modern English version derives from a number of ancient languages including Proto-German and Old English. The common roots all originally meant the soft, spongy center or core of plant stems."

I rattled out, taxing Rona's patience, "And, further, Google says, as you suspected, that too explains pith helmet. It was originally made from the dried center of an Indian swamp plant, the Aeschyonomene aspera. Not to be found in your Maine garden. And pit indeed shares a similar history, as the hard core or stone found in the center of many fruits."

"So a pithy remark," Rona said with caffeine surging in her system, "pierces to the core of something."

"One more meaning of pith, which would reenforce what you said, is when it is used to describe piercing the spinal cord in order to kill."

"Ugh. I think it's time to change the subject again. It's bad enough I'm still recovering from the Golden Globes."

"Where this all began."

"On the other hand," Rona said, "Isn't the history of language and the creation of words about as interesting as it gets?"

"What did you say?" I was still fanatically googling.

"How interesting language is. Perhaps the most remarkable of human creations."

"Do you know what the 23 oldest English words are?"

"They probably include mother."

"It says right here that they may be as much as 15,000 years old. From the time of the last Ice Age."

"Is mother on the list?"

"No surprise, with a prescient nod to Martin Buber, I and thou are. And also there's we, hand, hear, bark, fire, and ashes."

"And mother?"

"Of course. Then there's spit as in to spit."

"What a life they must have had back then."

"Pretty basic. Fire and ashes."

"I wonder what Ricky Gervais would have to say about that."

"Spare me."

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Wednesday, January 13, 2016

January 13, 2016--Big Short

I was working on a piece about the recent Golden Globes awards and realized that we had seen only one of the nominated movies. So I stopped typing and we went Boca to see The Big Short.

I liked the book but hated the movie.

It's not an easy story to bring to life. So many moving parts, so much technical financial information. The book did a decent job of it, but the movie for each of us was a mess and not engaging. Perhaps we would have felt differently if we hadn't read the Michael Lewis book.

They should have hired Lewis to write the screenplay because to me that was at the heart of the problem with the film. The performances were decent, though the Christian Bale character was represented as a caricature and that's an easy task for an actor.

Also, I wish they'd take handheld cameras away from directors who use them to impart a quasi-documentary quality to their films. All the shifting and juggling makes me nauseous.

I'm sounding grumpy to myself so I'll stop. I'll finish the Golden Globes piece and post it tomorrow. A hint--I also hated that show but promise not to be too grumpy.

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Tuesday, January 12, 2016

January 12, 2016--The Art of the Deal

I didn't catch her name. On Morning Joe last week a Republican pollster, not well predisposed to Donald TRUMP, said she had spent the weekend reading Donald TRUMP's Art of the Deal.

"It was all there," she said, "Back in 1987, when it was published, he laid it all out."

"What out?" one of Joe Scarborough's other guests asked.

"How he operates. How he does his thing. To use one of his favorite words, how he wins."

"I'm not sure if I ever read it," Joe confessed.

"Well, you should," she said. "In fact, everyone in the media covering the election should. This may sound harsh, but any major media person who hasn't read it should be fired. I mean, taken off the campaign trail."

This seemed harsh, but when I related it to Rona, she said, "She was right. If you're a serious journalist, or pretending to be, you should do your homework. If not, you should be fired."

"I guess that pertains to me too," I said, not the least bit modestly. "But in my case I would have to fire myself."

"Rather than do that why don't you get the book and read it?"

Well, I did, and sure enough it's all there. What TRUMP's been up to and why he thus far has been successful beyond anyone's expectations. Except his own, of course.

To prevent nausea, I suggest reading only chapter 2, "Trump Cards: The Elements of the Deal." The rest, about his growing up and details of some of his biggest deals, do not add much insight.

And of course, in The Art he is talking primarily about real estate deals, but it's obvious that some of his maxims, insights, and urgings are applicable to other situations--such as running for president!

Since I know most of you are unlikely to read even that, here are some of the highlights that pertain to what he has been doing as candidate TRUMP since I suspect that he is playing things as if he wants to strike a deal with Americans--for them to make a deal with him to be their president.

The chapter is subdivided into 10 or so parts--

Think Big--This one goes without saying. In this case thinking big means thinking about winning the presidency.

Protect the Downside and the Upside Will Take Care of Itself--Here he reveals that he believes in the power of negative thinking. He represents himself as the opposite of a gambler, very conservative in practice, always being prepared with options and fallback positions if he can't get exactly what he wants.

Early last week, for example, when asked about the extravagance of some of his claims, he revealed with self-insight--"I can tone it down." And note that recently he has. He's even released a few position papers and promised that if he's elected he'd change his hairdo since he would not have time to tend to it since he'd be "working his ass off as president."

Maximize Your Options--This is related to the previous point. Never get painted into a corner by not having alternatives to propose. The bottom line it to get what you want directly or indirectly.

Know Your Market--Now we're getting closer to the heart of the TRUMP approach. You need to "know what the public wants and deliver it." Few would argue that he hasn't figured out what much of the voting public wants.

Use Your Leverage--Know you strengths and vulnerabilities. Use your strengths to overcome your vulnerabilities. Most important, "The worst thing you can possibly do in a deal is seem desperate to make it . . . . Leverage is having something the other guy wants."

Enhance Your Location--The ultimate cliché about real estate is that it's all about location, location, location. For TRUMP this is only partly true. Locations can be enhanced by the right kind of marketing and branding. TRUMP's name on something makes up for a less than ideal location.

A cousin of mine couldn't by a place in TRUMP Tower--the best location of all of The Donald's buildings at Fifth Avenue and 57th Street--because all the apartments were sold. But he was willing to pay the same top-dollar per-squre-foot price at TRUMP Plaza, "all the way over" on Third Avenue. A TRUMP name and amenities trumped sacrosanct physical location.

Get the Word Out--The TRUMP heart of the matter. See if any of this sounds familiar:
You need to generate interest, and you need to create excitement. . . . One thing I've learned about the press is that they're always hungry for a good story, and the more sensational the better. It's in the nature of the job, and I understand that. The point is that if you are a little different, or a little outrageous, or if you do things that are bold or controversial, the press is going to write about you. I've always done things a little differently, I don't mind controversy. . . . 
The funny thing is that even a critical story, which may be hurtful personally, can be very valuable to your business. . . .
Pay close attention to this--
The final key to the way I promote is bravado. I play to people's fantasies. People may not always think big themselves, but they can still get very excited by those who do. That's why a little hyperbole never hurts. People want to believe that something is the biggest and the greatest and the most spectacular. 
I call it truthful hyperbole. It's an innocent form of exaggeration--and a very effective form of [self] promotion.
There you have it. Direct from the source. Put out there nearly 30 years ago.

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Monday, January 11, 2016

January 11, 2016--Hi Ho Cheerios

We were working our way up and down the aisles in Publix to stock up for our stay in Delray.

Our shopping cart was overflowing with dairy products, vegetables, beverages, paper goods, and cleaning products.

"Let's get some cereal."

"Cereal? You actually want cereal?" I said to Rona who is cutting back on her intake of sugar. "Aren't they all loaded with sugar? I thought you're trying to eat healthier."

"I am, but every once in awhile I get a desire for Cheerios. And rather than deny myself and get all frustrated by not having some around and therefore winding up eating something that's even more garbagey, I prefer to satisfy myself with what I actually want. In this case Cheerios. In fact, they even have some nutritional value." She paused then acknowledged, "At least a little."

"I know what you mean. That's why I like to have some ice cream in the freezer. I try not to eat any but if occasionally I crave some, it's there and I get the carving over with."

"I find that this is the best way to eat, and if necessary diet--don't struggle unsuccessfully to avoid things you want even if they're not good for you because if you wind up with food frustrations you'll only eat lots of stuff that's actively bad for you. I say, eat a little less, but eat what you want."

"Agreed."

"Thus, my wanting to have some Cheerios around the house. Right over there--aisle number 5--Cereals." Rona swung the shopping cart sharply to the left, almost crashing into someone who had what looked like a two-foot tall box of corn flakes piled into her shopping cart.

As in all Florida supermarkets, the aisles are about 100 feet long and one side of number 5 was totally devoted to cereal.

"I haven't thought about or looked at cereals for decades," I said, amazed at the extent of the displays. "The last time I remember looking there was Kellogg's Corn Flakes, Puffed Wheat, Raisin Bran--my favorite--Rice Krispies, Shredded Wheat,  and good-old Wheaties."

"Breakfast of Champions."

"That  was pretty much it. But, of course, there were also your Cheerios. When I was a kid, they were the Lone Ranger radio show sponsor."

We passed by the Post cereals and Rona said, "Keep walking. We're only halfway there."

"I con't believe how many are so obviously full of sugar. Half the cereals feel little different than candy."

"That's why they're so popular and there are so many brands and varieties."

"Not of Cheerios, I'm sure," I said. "There's no way they'd mess with that iconic brand. What would the Cheerios Kid say?"

How wrong I turned out to be. These days there are more than a dozen varieties.

"This I really can't believe," I said, "Look at all the different kinds of your Cheerios."

"It's the 21st century," Rona reminded me. "Get used to it. You're living in a world of nostalgia."

"Sad, but true," I confessed.

And there, for 20 feet or more of shelf space, was a full array of Cheerios--

There was Honey Nut, Multi Grain, and Ancient Grains.

 "Ancient grains? What's that?" I asked.

"Flour made from classic grains of the past such as Kamut wheat and spelt."

"Spelt?"

"Just small amounts."

Also, Honey Nut Medley Crunch and Frosted.

"Frosted with what?"

"I'm afraid sugar."

Then Apple Cinnamon, Fruity, Banana Nut, Multi Grain Peanut Butter, and Dulce de Leche.

"For nursing women? You know from the La Leche League."

"You're being silly."

Next, Cinnamon Burst, Protein Cinnamon Almond, and Chocolate.

"Chocolate Cheerios? You should forgive me."

"What can I say?"

And finally, Multi Grain Dark Chocolate Crunch.

"It's not enough to have Chocolate Cheerios? Really?"

Ignoring me, Rona kept pushing the shopping cart.

Finally, we got to the classic Cheerios and she slipped a medium-size box into the cart.

Heading to the checkout line, I asked, "Speaking of nostalgia, do you remember Cheerios' original tag line?" Rona continued to avert her eyes. "The Big G Stands for Goodness."

"The Big G," Rona said, "was really for General Foods, which makes Cheerios."

I was glad she wasn't really angry with me and so I couldn't resist one last jab--"Nowadays the Big C stands for Chocolate."


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Friday, January 08, 2016

January 8, 2016--Snowbirding: Checkout at Walmart

"Them sons-of-bitches they cut me this year."

We were on the checkout line at Walmart in Boynton Beach with a cart full of staples for our place in Delray.

"Can't trust a one of 'em." Muttering to himself was a bent-in-half old man--at least 90 by the looks of him--just ahead of us with a half-filled shopping cart.

Ours contained gallon jugs of bottled water, beer, soda and juice, various paper goods, and other essentials that would help get us started during our three months in Florida. His, a few comestibles, some shirtsleeved shirts, underwear, and two six-packs of Bud.

"Sons of bitches," he said again. "Wish there'd be somethin' I could do 'bout it," he spit through missing teeth, this time in our direction.

"Like I said, they cut me."

"Cut you?" I said, with Rona signaling behind his back that I should mind my own business.

"Them bastards in Washington. My social."

"Your social?" Tired from the drive of more than seven hours from Beaufort, SC, it took me awhile to figure out what had got him so riled up.  "I get it. That is I think I do. You're talking about . . ."

Rona continued to be annoyed with me.

"Like I said, my social." He turned away from us, to Rona's relief, as by then he was first in line.

"Help me out here, would you?" he said to the cashier.

"Anything I can do," she smiled.

"How much is this one here?" He was holding up a blue plaid shirt.

"Let me scan it for you." She did. "It's on sale. It says," she pointed to the screen. "only $9.95."

"OK," he said, "You can ring that one up. Now what about this one?" This time he showed her a seven-pack of jockey shorts.

"They're on sale too. Just $4.95."

"Easy for you to say," he snapped.

"Sorry, sir. I'm just trying to be helpful." She continued to smile at him.

I could hear him grumbling, not appreciating her cheery spirit.

"Maybe we should change lines," Rona whispered to me.

"All the other lines are filled with even older people," I exaggerated. "Let's stay where we are. He's almost through."

"How much are the beers goin' for these days?" he asked, "On sale too?"

"Sorry, no. I think those are $6.95," she said. "Want me to scan 'em?"

"I'd rather you total up what I owe you this far. I mean for the shirt, the shorts, and this here beer."

"I can tell you that. It says $21.85. Not including tax. Want me to calculate that?"

"Not necessary, though what they do with the tax is beyond me. Don't do me no good. But that adds up already to more'an I got," he again spat. "Let me put the shirt back. I'll take the shorts. I'm runnin' out of underwear. That way I can get them and pay for the two six-packs." He again looked over toward me, shaking his head.

I nodded back at him. Directly to me he once more said, they cut my social, them sons-of-bitches."

"I think I know what you mean," I said. "They also cut my Social Security this year. I used to get . . ."

Rona jabbed me in the back and I shut up.

"Tell the truth, you don't look like you'll miss it. You got that cart all loaded up and she's quite a looker, your niece or whatever she is."

"My wife," I said softly.

"They're making me pay more for my Medicare and won't even pay to have these choppers fixed." He opened his mouth wide and pointed to all his missing teeth. "Can't any more eat a goddamn apple. Worked all my life and this is what they do to me. I should say, what's left of me." He paused, sighed again, and said, "Not much. Not much is left of me."

"A lot of people feel the same way you do," Rona said, breaking her silence.

"Tell the truth that's no comfort to me. Only makes things worse."

"What do you mean?" Rona asked, even more empathetically.

"Everythin's gottin' worse. For everyone. Tell the truth I don't see much hope. Maybe 'cause I'm so old and bent like a pretzel that I can't see anything good coming along. A good day for me is if I don't fall down flat on my face in the parking lot."

"I wish I could . . . ," Rona stammered.

"That's awfully nice of you ma'am.  Sorry to have upset you. It's a nice day, the sun's out, you're here to have a good time. Don't let the likes of me upset you."

"That's OK," Rona tried to assure him.

"But as I said," I thought he winked, "Them sons-of-bitches. . ."


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Thursday, January 07, 2016

January 7, 2016--On the Road: Ava Gardner Museum

One year, driving west-to-east on a back road across northern Missouri, there was a road sign that pointed toward Marceline. "The Boyhood Home of Walt Disney," it said.

"He grew up here?" Rona mused. "All I see are corn fields." Shaking her head, she said, "He grew up in a corn field?"

"Let's go and see. It's only nine miles. We're in no hurry."

As we drove, peering out the window, as if to herself, Rona said, "Nine miles of corn fields."

True, there was pretty much nothing but corn and some fields of grain. And an occasional farmhouse. Most of them battered from the weather and lack of upkeep.

"Looks pretty poor," I said. "Not much going on."

And then, down a rutted road, we were in Marceline. A proverbial one-horse town. With a single exception--downtown, if one can call a three-block main street downtown, there was a well-preserved movie theater. The Uptown Theater. Ambitiously named for such an otherwise woe-begotten place.

"Look at this," Rona said, "I wonder what's the story."

"Look. Next to the entrance there's a bronze plaque."

We pulled over and got out to take a closer look.

"No surprise," Rona said, "Walt Disney appears to have paid for its renovation and maintenance."

"And it says he came back to the Uptown in 1956 for the premier of The Great Locomotive Chase. Amazing."

"Let's see what else there is to see."

A few streets behind Main was another well-kept place also with a sign. It was in fact the boyhood home of Walt Disney. The place where at an early age he first manifested his talents. These were noted, it said, by a family friend, a retired doctor, Doc Sherwood, who gave young Walt his first commission--a crayon drawing of Doc's old horse Rupert.

The rest is history.

As we headed out, Rona said, "You know I'm not a believer, but it's as if the hand of God reached down to this place and touched Walt Disney. You don't have to grow up in Chicago or New York to be talented and successful. That can come out of anywhere. Even a seemingly forgotten place like this."

She added, "And with all this corn."


This year, earlier this week, on route to Florida, not taking many back roads this time as we wanted to get there as quickly as possible, on I 95, as we approached the Smithfield, NC exit, the road sign listed the one attraction to be seen in Smithfield--the Ava Gardner Museum, which it indicated, could be found in its downtown.

"Ava Gardner has a museum?" Rona said. "All that and Frank Sinatra too?"

"She was a great beauty. And not that bad an actress. You're too young to remember Mogambo, The Barefoot Contessa, and Bhowani Junction."

"You're right about that, but you seem to be up on your Ava Gardner."

"You had to be there. I mean back in the 1950s. And it helped if you were a lustful teenager."

"She was big enough to deserve a museum of her own? I don't know. But I suppose these days everything's showbiz. Next thing we'll know there'll be a Donald TRUMP museum in Brooklyn."

"Not a bad idea. Want to check it our?"

"Which museum are we checking out?" She was joking.

"It's only a few miles. What do we have to lose?"

And there it was again in a version of a downtown in yet another long-forgotten place.

The museum itself is sort of worth a detour. Not by Michelin standards; but considering that I 95 is a driving desert, endlessly boring with the only excitement an occasional pro-life billboard, it's worth a half hour to see Ava's movie costumes and to relive the gossip surrounding her affair and marriage to Old Blue Eyes.

And there's a Dunkin Donuts by the I 95 exit that is now serving a delicious new donut--a crunchy sour cream confection.

Now that's worth a detour! Which we did three or four time along the way.

In our hotel Tuesday night, in beautiful, historic Beaufort, SC, seven-hours north of Delray, scanning the Internet for other out-of-the-way places, I did a little googling about Smithfield and other towns where we had stayed the night or pulled off to take a brief look or get a donut or some BBQ--to check out their histories and, especially, with Ava and Walt in mind, to see who else might have been born and raised in unexpected places.

In Beaufort, for example, in addition to being the place where Harriet Tubman (soon to replace Alexander Hamilton on the 20 dollar bill?) led a Union raiding party to victory over an unsuspecting Rebel encampment at Combahee Ferry, freeing 700 slaves in the process, also born and active there were heavyweight champion Joe Frazier, actor Tom Berenger, novelist Pat Conroy (Stop Time), and Candice Glover, the American Idol season 12 winner.

In Lumberton, NC, in addition to our all time favorite breakfast place--Betty Carol's--born and active there were James Jordan, father of Michael, Dr. Johnny Hunt, president of the Southern Baptist Convention, and wouldn't you know it--at the opposite end of life experience--Carmen Hart, the pornographic actress.

And where Ava was born and grew up, also from Smithfield, were the successful Christian self-help author, John Townsend, a host of big league baseball and football players, and two professional wrestlers--one male, Gregory Helms, and one female, Amber O'Neal.

What a country.

The hand of God indeed.

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Wednesday, January 06, 2016

January 6, 2016--Landing

We are settling in in Delray and so I will not be posting very much today.

On Thursday and Friday I will report about the drive south--

Thursday, about  The Ava Gardner Museum.

Friday, about Checking Out At Publix.

But I can't resist offering a brief comment from the campaign trail--

Donald TRUMP has managed to neuter the Clintons, especially Bill.

TRUMP's response to Hillary's calling him out for being sexist was to point out that she is married to and lives with a sexual abuser.

TRUMP was right about that.

(And, by the way, how feminist was it for Hillary not dump Bill after he was caught fooling around with a 20-year-old intern?)

So Hillary announced that she is no longer going to talk about TRUMP as sexist.

Then in New Hampshire the other day, Bill, let loose to campaign, when pressed by reporters, refused to talk about TRUMP. He instead spoke blandly in support of his wife's candidacy.

How many more times do you think he will be allowed to campaign?  Certainly not in South Carolina.

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Tuesday, January 05, 2016

January 5, 2016--Snowbirding: Adieu to Balthazar (Concluded)

Early-Bird Special

Ten days later, with my mother still very much alive—actually quite recovered with many months and possibly many more years to live (so said her team of doctors)--after catching an early afternoon movie at the local Regal Multiplex, the 3:00 p.m. show of True Grit, which we were surprised to see played to a house two-thirds full of seniors with no one munching on anything and no one talking to the screen in a loud voice, still with no return tickets to New York and no plans to purchase them—Alice suggested that rather than eating leftovers at our rented condo by the ocean, maybe we should try the Chinese restaurant, the China Diner, at an adjacent shopping plaza.
“But it’s not even six o’clock,” I whined.  “No one eats dinner that early.  Other than my mother and her friends.”
“Don’t be ridiculous,” Alice said, “Half the people down here eat at this time.  You know that.  We’re hungry, right?”  I sheepishly nodded, “So stop pretending we’re back in Greenwich Village and let’s see if we can get a table.”
“There should be no trouble with that,” I offered in a mocking tone.  “It’s so ridiculously early.  For God sakes it’s still daylight.”
In fact I was quite wrong--there were no tables inside and even all the seats at the sushi-bar-like counter were occupied.  “This must be at least a decent place,” I said, “to be so busy so early.” 
Alice looked at me as if to say, “You’re so naïve.  We’ve been here long enough for even you to know about early-bird specials.” 
But there was an empty outdoor table, and even though it was situated virtually in the shopping plaza’s parking lot, and since we were in fact hungry, we slid into the last available seats. 
“I’m sure we won’t run into anyone from New York.  It would be terrible if the word got out that we’re having dinner this early,” I said, and, just in case, slipped lower in my seat and hid my face behind the plastic-sheathed menu.
“You’re being silly,” Alice said, “Just look at the specials.  They sound quite good.  There’s steamed sea bass with scallions and ginger and one of your favorites, Singapore Chow Mei Fun.  Though I wonder if they’ll use enough curry.”  She looked around at our neighbors as if to indicate that considering the age of the other diners it would likely be tamer than I would prefer and am used to when we order it at the Big Wong back in New York’s Chinatown.
The waitress appeared, smiling broadly, to ask if she could bring us something to drink.  “Just tea and ice water,” I said.  “I see you have pu erh tea.  It’s our favorite.”
When she returned with our beverages she asked, “When did you get here?”
“A few days ago,” I answered. “Why do you ask?”  It seems like a strange question.
“I mean this afternoon.  I mean here this eve-n-ing.”  She pointed at her watch and the table.
“Oh, you mean at the restaurant.  I don’t know.  Maybe 15 minutes ago.”
She smiled broadly, “That good,” she said, “Still early-bird time.  You can have soup or an egg roll with your order.  No charge.”
“But we don’t want that,” I said, “We’re interested in the steamed fish and . . .”
“It all comes.”
“What comes?”
“Before six you get soup or egg roll.  For free.  It comes.”
“Thank you.  That’s nice.  But we just want the sea bass, the Singapore noodles, and also some Chinese eggplant with mushrooms and water chestnuts.”
“No soup?”  She scrunched her face in a look of puzzlement.
“No, just that,” Alice said, sharing the responsibility for our seemingly unusual order.  Actually, our mutually-agreed-upon decision not to participate in any Florida freebies.
“You can take home later,” she persisted.
“We’ll be fine.  But thank you for suggesting that.”
The dinner turned out to be quite good.  Not exactly Chinatown quality, of course; and, as expected, the Singapore was a bit tame for me, but it was much more than just respectable.  Not what one would expect at a Chinese restaurant called the China Diner in an unprepossessing shopping mall right next door to a nail salon.
As she cleared the table, the waitress seemed happy that unlike the other customers we had eaten virtually everything on our plates with chopsticks, not forks.  Smiling broadly, she asked if we wanted the pistachio ice cream that came with the dinner.
We both rubbed our distended stomachs and simultaneously said, “No, but thank you very much.”
“You sure?” she asked, again looking puzzled, “It comes.  No charge.”
“Really, we’re stuffed,” I said.  “Just the check, please.”
As she turned to get it for us, a 70-something woman at the next table called out, “What about us?  We want our ice cream.  Pistachio.  I love pistachio.  It’s my favorite with Chinese food.”
The waitress, once more taking a long look at her watch, responded curtly, “You had the soup, yes, and the egg roll, no?  Both.  I make exception for you. You just get two. Not three.” 
The woman, ignoring that, more insistently demanded, “I want my ice cream.  Pistachio.”
“But you had egg roll and wonton soup.  I told you it comes with either one.  But you wanted both so I give to you.”
“What about them?”  She waived her bejeweled finger in our direction.  I was cringing, sorry I no longer had the menu behind which I could hide.  “You told them they could have pistachio.”
“They had no soup.  No egg roll.  Neither.  Not even one.”
The woman tapped her husband on the arm.  It looked as if he had fallen asleep over his dinner and when she poked him he jolted into consciousness, mumbling something I couldn’t make out.  In an even louder voice she broadcast, “She says they didn’t have the soup.” 
“The what?  What did you say?”
“She says they didn’t have the soup or the egg roll.  And now she says we can’t have ice cream.  Though she wants them to have theirs.  Talk to her will you.”
But before he could, to our great relief, the waitress said, “I’ll bring you two orders of ice cream.”  So as not to be misunderstood, she wiggled two fingers in their line of sight.  “Two.”
“Morris doesn’t eat ice cream.  He has cholesterol.  So bring two scoops for me.”  The waitress, expressionless, nodded and turned abruptly to get our check and their two scoops of pistachio.  She had clearly seen it all.
Witnessing this exchange, I wondered again about the wisdom of eating so early.  But the food had been excellent and I sheepishly said to Alice, “If we come back for another dinner, we should be sure to arrive after 6:30 and take our chances that they’ll still be open.” 
“And,” Alice said, “we’ll remember to ask them to make the Singapore Chow Mei Fun spicier.”
To that I wondered out loud, “But what will we tell everyone back at Balthazar?”

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