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Monday, July 24, 2017

My Son's Little Brother

15 years ago they took a picture standing together at the top of the Empire State Building. This weekend they recreated that pose. It was so much more than mere testament to the passage of time.

When my son was in college he volunteered to be a mentor for a young boy, then aged nine, from a neighboring town. The young boy's dad was very ill and would soon succumb to cancer. Throughout this period my son would try to give comfort and friendship to his new "younger brother". It was a wonderful act on my son's part and one fully in keeping with his large heart and his abiding concern for the welfare of others.

Time passed, my son graduated from college, and for so many that would mark the end of this chapter of one's life. Other matters would intercede and this would become but a bookmark to be recalled with fondness and a measure of pride. But my son is not like most others.

The years have not always treated either my son, or his younger friend with unqualified kindness. My son has struggled with health concerns that have sometimes made the simplest of activities a chore. There have been times where it would have been most understandable if he turned inward to address his own issues.  And for the boy, turned young man, who lost his father at such a young age, tough times did not end with his dad's passing. Yet through each of their travails, there was a constant: my son would never waver in his focus and attention to his "ward".

Even when circumstances prevented these two from reuniting physically, there have been the phone calls, texts and emails. My son has also remained a committed presence to his younger brother's mom, whether it be in the occasional visit to her home, now more than 200 miles from where my son resides, or in remembering a birthday or other important milestone in her life, or that of her two children.

When the young boy's dad was so sick, their family made a trip to NYC and stayed in our house. It was intended as one last vacation as a group, one final memory of time well spent. And it was on that occasion that my son and his younger brother found themselves together at the top of the Empire State Building taking a photo to memorialize the moment.

This weekend the young boy, now a handsome, strapping 24 year old, came back to town for a visit, again using the residence of my wife and myself as temporary home. This time he arrived with a different family, his girlfriend and her daughter who was virtually the same age as that of a young boy who had stayed in our house a decade and a half earlier.


During the course of these past four days, my son, now 36 years old, stood next to his now taller younger brother recreating an image from a time long since passed.

I am proud of my son in ways that he will never fully understand, of his perseverance through the trying times, of his innate goodness, his unending compassion and brilliant mind. But if there is one image that most captures his essence and is of greatest meaning to me, it is of him standing next to his younger brother at a spot that commemorates the most unlikely and enduring of relationships, and the quality of man that my son is and will forever be.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

One is the Loneliest Number

Mr. Trump has a vetting problem. He cannot distinguish between friend and foe. When he surveys the universe, it is filled only with enemies, domestic and foreign.

From those once in his good graces who have  seemingly done him wrong, Sean Spicer to James Comey, Jeff Sessions to Robert Mueller and beyond. From those in Congress who refuse to accede to his ludicrous demands on the Wall to the judges who fail to sanction his most outrageous mandates regarding immigration, to the media who refuse to treat him and his infantile tweets and proclamations as sacrosanct.

And beyond our shores, Mr. Trump's dark night is replete with those who have wronged us, or intend to do so if we are not vigilant. Not merely ISIS or North Korea, but those with whom we have joined forces,  from NATO to Germany, from our trading partners in the TPP to our G-20 allies in protecting the planet from further erosion, to those nations who formulated and executed a deal with Iran.

The problem with suggesting that Mr. Trump has a plan to save Western Civilization is that this is belied by the paranoia that is at the heart of his every action. Everywhere this man looks he sees someone or something out to destroy him, or us. He is, by dint of his internal design, unable to make judgments predicated on the nuances and signs we analyze each day in coming to rational and logical decisions.

So we are, as a nation, stuck in an endless loop of blunders, even as we fear tomorrow may be worse. For our leader is driven not by his capacity to divine, but by his inability to see beyond the fog that is the essence of Donald Trump. 

While we understand that no man is an island, it certainly seems that our leader each day recedes further into a world inhabited by no one other than himself.

Friday, July 21, 2017

What's In Your Wallet?

AN EDITED VERSION OF THIS PIECE IS SCHEDULED TO APPEAR IN THE METROPOLITAN DIARY SECTION OF THE NEW YORK TIMES

In 1970, I received a call from a friend that she was at the New York City car impound. Her car had been towed and she didn't have the money needed to retrieve it.

When I arrived, I stood on line with my friend, waiting our turn to pay and leave, with vehicle recovered. Standing in front of me was a young mom with her child. She was clearly upset and I soon learned that she too was short on cash. When I asked, I was told that $10 was all that stood between her and reuniting with her car.

I handed her the amount of the shortfall, she took my name and address, thanked me profusely and promised to return the borrowed funds at once.

I was 18 at the time, living at home and related that story to my folks at dinner that night. My mom praised me for my good deed and my faith in my fellow man (woman) but suggested I was naive if I thought that I would ever be repaid.

The next week I received a beautiful thank you note and a $10 bill. That money has remained in my wallet for 47 years.

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

An Odor Most Foul

("The Trumpcare Bonfire")

There is a stench coming from the White House, an odor of malevolence. It is the smell of the rotting carcass of the President's health care bill and it is dying its own unnatural death.

But Mr. Trump is certain to exact revenge upon those who have placed this Titanic at his feet. For he is a man of ill will and ill design and he will not take defeat lightly. And those who will suffer the most are those who have suffered the most already.

Like Mitch McConnell, the master architect of the just say no brand of ungovernment that was the siren Republican call during the Obama years, Donald Trump will do whatever his considerable power permits to bring Obamacare to its knees. He will defund, denounce and decimate in every manner possible so that he may, one day soon, chastise and criticize those who have had the audacity to challenge his vision.

And this petty, petulant, most peculiar President will perform as no one before, allowing misery to spread in a nation under his watch, merely to sooth his beleaguered soul.

His is indeed a reign most foul, and the foulness most profound is not from a dying bill but from the fetid belly of the occupant of the Oval Office himself.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Make America Great Again, Mr. Trump. Leave.

Donald Trump's slogan, "Make America Great Again" is one that helped change the course of history. Without it, maybe there is no President Trump. If, for example, he had merely suggested "I can do better", today we could have been considering the travails and triumphs of  President Clinton.

But Mr. Trump's trademark phrase was born and did capture the attention and imagination of an America unsettled and unhappy. Life, it turned out for many, was not what it should be. And so, Mr. Trump stepped in and promised emergence from the abyss. Only it didn't happen.

Instead we are riddled with an endless supply of Trump created, or Trump fueled disasters. He has estranged himself and us from virtually the entire planet, from his never to be built great wall of America to his legal barrier erected to keep those in the most distress from the warm embrace of Lady Liberty; from his bear hug with Mr. Putin to his arm wrestling with Mr. Macron; from his G-1 versus G-19 response on steps to save and protect this planet from extinction to his bumbling renunciations on trade deals; from his dismissive stance towards our NATO allies to his disregard for a multi- nation agreement on deterring Iran's nuclear capabilities; from his missteps and awkward misstatements  with China, Germany and countless others to his pathological disregard for the truth on everything from the results of the election to the secret rendezvous of his son; from his obsession with winning on health care even as it means disaster for millions of our citizens to his obsession with winning over more Twitter followers with his bizarre and often pathetic rants; from his inability or unwillingness to treat the office he inhabits with the seriousness of purpose it demands to his weekend jaunts as far away from the White House as our money will take him. For these reasons and so many more, Donald Trump is not on a path to make America great again.

Rather he is making us weak, vulnerable, almost unrecognizable. No longer a beacon of light, of hope, of strength, but a land filled with dark thoughts and dire predictions. And from all this comes the realization that Mr. Trump was not wrong in his most famous saying, not in error in plastering that thought on hats and shirts and mugs, not mistaken in having us believe in a better tomorrow. Just ahead of his time. 

For greatness you see can come to our country not in Mr. Trump's coming but his leaving, not in his ascension but his demotion, not in his leadership but in his abandoning ship. We can indeed regain our footing, Mr. Trump. Our chance will come as soon as you are gone and we can start putting the pieces back together again.

Make America Great Again, Mr. Trump. Leave.

Junior and His Father (Godfather)

AN EDITED VERSION OF THIS POST APPEARED IN LETTERS TO THE RECORD, A BERGEN COUNTY NEWSPAPER

Donald Trump is a corrupt being, without moral underpinning. From the godfather comes an implicit directive to those in his command to do and say whatever is required to obtain and maintain power. It is like watching Chris Christie and his underlings but on steroids.
 
And like Bridgegate, there is now a growing body of evidence of those who have twisted the law into pretzels in their zeal to give an offering to their leader.
 
Will the Donald Jr. imbroglio lead to the President's demise? Will this be another Watergate or merely a bad traffic tie-up for the elder Mr. Trump?
 
As the President loves to hyperbolize, so we now jump head long into a pile of words like collusion and indictment. We are in a frenzy to replace "lock her up" with "lock them up" as a kind of retribution for the terrible wrong committed by these malevolent mobsters upon this nation.

 
But wherever this may lead, we must see the forest and not merely the trees. Donald Trump, each and every day by his statements and his provocations, has his fingerprints on all that transpires under his command. 
 
Whether or not Junior delineated book and page of the Russian connection to daddy, we know that offering Hillary's head on a platter was what the godfather demanded, no questions asked.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

The Odyssey


About a dozen years ago, Dennis first put a golf club in his hand. Starting this sport at 50 is not a good idea, especially if you value your ego. This game is, at best, humbling, and often uncompromisingly harsh.

And so it has been for my good friend. Year after year the improvements have come, but with much accompanying pain. Errant shots often followed errant shots and the scorecard told a story that there were still miles to go before my friend could sleep.
 
Dennis would often appear on the first tee with the latest gadget in hand, something that clicked or in some other manner informed that one should seriously consider another endeavor. He would tell me of a golf channel tip that was certain to turn straw into gold. And, more than anything else, he would persevere.
 
If he took several ugly swipes to reach a green, he would say he could still make a bogey if he sank this 40 footer. If consecutive shots dribbled, or sliced into places unknown, he would remain resolute and gain satisfaction when the next ball took flight and stayed true to its target. He was undeterred and determined to figure this out.
 
And recently, a remarkable thing began to take shape. He was no longer on an endless quest for enlightenment.  The answers did not arrive all the time, not nearly, but sometimes, and then a little more. At the end of most rounds, the score still looked ugly, but it was no longer merely estimates on a page, but an actual count of all swings involved. On a few occasions, he could now string together a pocket of holes where the riddles of the game were solved.

This season I have sensed that a round, unlike all that came before, was lurking in the weeds. That a day would come when the damage would be minimal and the sun would shine from first swing to last.
 
Yesterday we played at West Point, a course that can be monumentally frustrating. While the scorecard would suggest that its length made this place ripe for the taking, it is not so.
 
I did not play in the same group with Dennis so I cannot fully attest to what transpired. But I was immediately behind him and was thus aware that seemingly every time I saw him he was standing in the middle of the fairway ready for his next effort. A few times we passed each other along the way and I almost always complimented him on what appeared to be yet one more excellent result.
 
I have been at this undertaking for six decades now and have on less than a handful of occasions found elation in unexpected success. The next step up the ladder in this game is not merely elusive. It is maddeningly elusive.
 
Dennis didn't say a word when I approached him after the round, but merely handed me his card. And the numbers that appeared for each nine were identical. 40, 40. My friend who had endured thousands upon thousands of miscues and nearly as many pointers from me on how to change his grip, alter his swing, modify his alignment or refine his thought process, had now arrived. Golf was no longer a four letter word or a complete mystery.

He and I both well know that tomorrow holds no guarantees in this undertaking and that one perfect swing does not necessarily beget another. But, like the tale that says we will always have Paris, Dennis will always and forever more know that he possesses within him great possibilities.
And in the end, that is all that this game really offers.
 
Congratulations my friend. 

And forget about getting all those strokes from me.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

The Bird - Part Two

My mom is buried in a cemetery in Paramus, about 20 minutes from where I reside. My dad, my Aunt Shirley and my Uncle Harold are there as well, all congregated together in death as they were in life.

I will not be visiting them anytime soon.
 
I have never been a believer in the afterlife. And I have never been moved to place some small rocks on a headstone or tell stories of the day at a spot where I am only conversing with myself. But I ask that you do not judge me harshly.
 
I hold the memory of my parents, of my aunt and uncle, of all those I loved who are no more, in my heart and my head. They are carried with me wherever I go, and, for me, that is much more fulfilling and real.
 
Or so I thought.
 
For now I have a new friend who makes me uncertain of my certainty, unclear in my clarity, uneasy with the ease at which I hold the idea of the finality of death.
 
I recently told the tale of a bird that appeared outside my window at work, pecking at a particular spot but a few feet from where I watched the world in my office chair. And I related this incident as a tongue in cheek contemplation of the return of my mom, who had only recently passed. There she was, I mused, anxious to discuss my daughter's recent wedding and other events of the moment.
 
No, really it was just a bird who, for some bizarre reason, had chosen this particular spot as a target, pecking again and again. A possible answer for this most peculiar behavior was even obtained from a friend of my son, an expert in the habits of birds. Something about attacking the reflected image it saw in the window, trying to gain control of this territory.
 
But again and again it is still happening. Day after day after day. Sometimes for many minutes, relentless, persistent and present. It is now nearly a month and there is no indication that this will end anytime soon.
 
I was on the phone yesterday while watching and listening to yet another furious attack on my window. I informed the person with whom I was chatting of what was occurring. He said he thought that the noise he was hearing was of me typing. And so I thought, was that what was happening here? Should I be getting someone in to decipher Morse code?
 
The mind is a supple piece of equipment. Tell yourself a story often enough, with enough conviction, and what you know is not true may no longer seem so false.
 
Ask those who have been coerced into confessions with memories manufactured by others and planted in their brains. Ask the President who has made most of this nation not trust what the eye sees or the ear hears. The understanding that we hold certain truths self evident, no longer so evident.
 
And so it is for me. I know that this is but some misguided, slightly demented winged creature who has chosen to attack my window, but it has become, more and more, the return of my mother. I actually look forward to its appearance every day and am saddened and disheartened if hours go by when it does not peck against the pane.
 
My wife, who works with me, will now regularly ask if Dotsy is around. And when she, I mean it, does arrive, I call out with excitement to my wife. We stop whatever our task to spend some time with my mom. Even though it can't be her.
 
Has this daily occurrence become an attack not on a window but on my belief system? Is the constant pecking intended not to break down the barrier between outside and in but the seemingly impenetrable one between the notion of life and death? Am I hallucinating or becoming enlightened?
 
All I know is that I now enjoy my visits with Dotsy. They provide a comfort that standing at a grave site has never remotely given me. And even as my mind tells me that this cannot be happening, my heart tells me that maybe it is.
 
And in the end, maybe that is the only truth that matters.

Friday, July 7, 2017

The Incomparable (as in Never Compare) Mr. Trump

("Mr. Trump and the Art of the New York Insult")

Ed Koch just rolled over in his grave.

Even a noun, a verb and 9/11, Mr. Guiliani, grating, distasteful and wrong almost every time he opens his mouth, a sicko-phant who tried to curry favor with the Donald, deserves better than this.

And New York is contemplating filing a defamation of character suit. 

Donald Trump is an island unto himself (and not, as this op-ed would suggest, the island of Manhattan).  He is not a product of this city, but merely of his own befuddled thoughts.

While Mr. Koch and Mr. Guiliani were often biting, sarcastic and downright mean, they were not 24 hour caricatures, not devoid of the basic understanding of the requirements of the job, not merely a floating tweet waiting for an enemy, real or imagined, to appear on the horizon.

It is said that no one should waste the brain cells in making comparisons with or analogies to Hitler for he was a being unlike any other. And while I fully agree with that assessment, there should be a second name added to the list of one of a kinds.

My sympathies go out to Mr. Guiliani and especially Mr. Koch. To paraphrase Lloyd Bentsen, we know Donald Trump, and you sirs are definitely no Donald Trump.

And the New York state of mind is most assuredly not that of the President.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

The Myth of the Downtrodden Republican Voter

("What's the Matter with Republicans")

David Brooks creates a portrait of the downtrodden Republican, a beleaguered being, struggling for survival against a hard universe, self-reliant and unbending. It is but a product of the imagination of Mr. Brooks, wholly unattached to the reality of the moment.
 
Why do Republicans vote against their self interest? First, many of them don't bother to vote, the inability of a large segment of our citizens to gather enough interest to appear at the polling booth a national disgrace. Second, many of those who do vote are low information voters, not casting their ballot predicated on even a rudimentary understanding of the issues that impact their everyday lives. Further, many of them are, in a word, prejudiced and, even if their vote would have some negative impact upon them, they are most concerned in depriving these benefits to others.
 
To be a Republican is not to be a sympathetic figure, not one who embraces all the qualities that we would suggest the 4th of July American should have. These are people waving the flag with one hand and simultaneously pointing a menacing finger with the other. 
 
So, Mr. Brooks, although this is a day we celebrate the red, white and blue, tomorrow we will wake up to a land that is far from perfect, with people who may do little to advance their own welfare and certainly do little to support many others in dire need. A Republican party that on our 241st birthday reveals a country of all too human failings and flaws.