Sunday, May 16, 2021

Old Friends

 He sat there, the center of this universe. Diet coke, his weapon of choice, held firmly in his grasp. He said little, but he ruled with a smile, the occasional laugh, or an almost imperceptible nod of approval for some tale brought before him.

We were here in celebration of his birthday. In recognition of our many, many years of friendship. Knowing he was navigating, a bit unsteadily, through turbulent waters. Knowing that there were struggles already written in stone for all his tomorrow's .

But there was not a hint of sorrow in this place. Only joy in all of us recounting the same stories we have always told, those that we knew brought him happiness. Grateful for these hours together, these hours that until recently had been stolen from all of us. Pleasure in us knowing this was a good day for him. A really good day.

It is hard watching, even from a distance. Even from here the cracks in his armor bring silent sadness. Yet, for a sliver of time, we are able to provide salve for his wounds. We are not capable of more, but in this spot, gathered in a circle around him, as his lieges, it is more than enough.

We got a note from his daughter after we had all gone our separate ways, recounting her dad's comment on what had just transpired. "You know, I think the thing I've done best in my life is finding amazing friends."

My friend, my friend, my friend. 

May each of your days be filled with dignity. May each of your hours be bathed in love. May each touch bring you warmth. May each thought bring a smile to your face. 

With all I have to offer, your humble servant, your now and forever friend.

Saturday, May 15, 2021

Touching the Heavens

 ("Claiming the Summit Without Reaching the Top")

Mr. Branch does not speak of any Rosie Ruiz moments among the 44. At most, it appears a matter of definition, not intention, that would separate success from something possibly deemed less.

Should accomplishment really be subject to such scrutiny? These are men and women who tested the boundaries of endurance, of inner fortitude and set their sights not merely on some now triangulated mathematical pinnacle, but on the infinite limit of the human spirit, of the soul's boundless capacity.

It seems an unworthy undertaking to be speaking of a few feet or inches in such context. So what if completing these eight climbs  does not have the meaning now affixed by the nit-pickers. Can that really diminish the magnitude of what transpired?

Rosie Ruiz recently passed away, her obituary leading with the recollection of her having cheated her way to greatness and fame. Shame having followed her as a lifetime companion from that day on the subway and streets of Boston to the grave. Let there not be a hint of failure, of sleight of hand that attaches to the feats of the 44. They do not deserve anything but our praise and our thanks for showing that we can indeed touch the heavens while still residing on earth.

Wednesday, May 12, 2021

The Party With No Clothes

 ("The Trump G.O.P.'s Plot Against Liz Cheney- and Our Democracy")

This is now the party with no clothes, fully exposed. No longer hiding behind subterfuge, no more insinuation, no need for interpretation. Naked in its obvious contempt for the basic precepts of truth, of justice. Unadulterated, full throated in its embrace of a new version of the American way.

Donald Trump is not the catalyst but the excuse. Donald Trump is not the ends but the means. Donald Trump is not the why but merely the smokescreen for why not.

This iteration of the G.O.P. cares not whether Mr. Trump won or lost. It is only interested in how one plays the game. And it has decided that a field tilted in its direction is just fine, thank you.

Liz Cheney, your pledge of allegiance to something you long ago abandoned, is far too little and way too late. You and your fellow leaders in the House and Senate are Dr. Frankenstein. Your monster has been unleashed. You created it. You own it.

Sunday, May 9, 2021

Liz Cheney - Open the Damn Window

 ("Is Liz Cheney a Martyr - or Just a Hack in Holy Drag")

Kudos for Liz Cheney? Don't go there.

Do you want political courage? Denounce, renounce the party. Take a real stand, tell them this not what you signed up for, does not represent values that you can support, does not have an ounce of decency, of moral clarity remaining.

Give up your position of power voluntarily and gladly. Tell them you no longer consider yourself a Republican, that you will think and vote as an Independent. That you are not abandoning politics, you are just moving away from a group that attaches itself to Mr. Trump and the beliefs he espouses.

But of course none of this will happen. Because none of that holds true for Liz Cheney. She is rooted in Republican orthodoxy, notwithstanding this flicker of revolt. And whether this signals the undoing of her career or not is of no moment.

I wait for one Republican with true courage, one who says too much is enough, one who does not back away but stands toe to toe for as long as it takes to bring this aberration, this abomination of a party to its knees.

"Go the window, open it wide and shout at the top of your lungs I'm mad as Hell and I can't take it anymore." 

Liz, the window is still shut. You have to open the window Liz. Liz, open the damn window.

Saturday, May 8, 2021

Round Pegs and Square Holes

 ('Belonging Is Stronger than Facts': the Age of Misinformation)

When you start the process with conclusions and work backwards from there, it takes no effort to fill in the void with untruths.

If one begins with premise that Barack Obama is not to be trusted, then how difficult is it to believe he was not born in the United States despite any and all proofs to the contrary?

Conversely, if Donald Trump is perceived as a straight shooting outsider willing to expose the government for all its faults, then finding the 2020 election results was the product of fraud does not require any evidence that can withstand the light of day.

And yes, echo chambers amplify that noise a thousandfold. Being greeted, bombarded, with the fodder for your pre-ordained result provides easy sustenance for the mind and the soul. If Fox News had never been, if Rupert Murdoch had never found financial success in manufacturing means to justify the ends, then who knows whether truth might have stood a better chance of survival. 

And, oh yes, facts do have a liberal bias. Some answers remain real, even in the age of illusion.

Friday, May 7, 2021

Peanuts, Crackerjacks and a Vaccine


The Yankees and Mets will offer free tickets to spectators who get vaccinated against COVID-19 at sites set up right at the game.

Fully vaccinated spectators will also be able to attend Yankees and Mets games in sections designated for 100% capacity starting this month, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo announced on Wednesday. Separate sections for unvaccinated guests will still enforce six feet of social distancing between parties, at 33% of total capacity.   

The changes will go into effect on May 19


Wait a minute. I could have gotten an upgrade to more legroom and a free ticket to another game if only I had decided not to be vaccinated until I combined it with some peanuts and crackerjacks?

Is it a scarlet letter or a badge of honor to be seated in the "do not come near" section of the Stadium?

Should they not have held out until the Yankees were giving away chances to go on a socially distanced road trip with the team?

Who said it doesn't pay to delay?

I know I should be more forgiving, more understanding of those who may have myriad reason for vaccine hesitancy. But please don't try to tell me there won't be at least a smattering among the scattered who accept their booty with a wink, a smile and a feeling that they have snookered the rest of us. We who are massed together in our less spacious environs with our double vaccinations and double lattes.

This is a deadly serious, DEADLY serious issue and every person shot is potentially a life, or many lives, saved. So, I get that we as a society must do everything within our power, in as many ways as we can conceive, to inoculate those who wait so they can join the crowd in the sections where you have to stand  shoulder to shoulder on lines for half an hour to get an overpriced not too tasty hot dog on a stale bun.

Or maybe that is not the most effective way to entice them.

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Poor Rudy

 ("Guiliani's Legal Bills Are Growing. His Allies Want Trump to Pay Them")

Poor Rudy.

The man who tried to rebuild a moribund career by playing sycophant to a morally bankrupt President, by outdoing his leader (a seemingly impossible task) in defining "how low can you go", now finds himself Michael Cohened by a mafia Don sitting on hundreds of millions of post election booty. Water, water everywhere and not a drop to drink for Rudy.

When you lie down with dogs what can you expect? In the dictionary, if one were to look up "it couldn't happen to a nicer guy" the image appearing would be of Mr. Guiliani's squirming unhappiness in now awakening on the wrong end of the prosecutor's gaze.

Maybe Mr. Trump will be persuaded to throw some of his ill gotten funds in the direction of his once, and possibly future, lackey. But Rudy should not count on Mr. Trump's generosity of spirit to keep the former NYC  mayor's coffers from becoming as empty as Donald's campaign promises to drain the swamp.

You see Rudy, in Donald Trump's universe you pay for your own mistakes. And his. 

Just another stiffed contractor.

Sunday, May 2, 2021

The Wedding

We greeted each other with unspoken, almost unbelieving, relief. The scene bathed in the sensation of deja vu. BC (before Covid) deja vu.  

As we had driven up to the venue, we were first stopped, our temperature taken, questions we had become all too familiar with, posed. We had to submit proof of having been fully vaccinated before permission was granted to proceed. We were given strict instructions of when and where we were allowed to facially disrobe. There were those walking these grounds who would gently remind us to comply.

It was a moment of birth and rebirth. The celebration of the union of two people and a simultaneous reunion of almost 150, none of whom, in the midst of the worst storm of our lives, could have ever anticipated we would be able to spend the first day of May, 2021 gathered like this.  

It is hard to even contemplate that number without mentally trembling. The past year having scarred all of us so. Having taught us to fear the very thought of mass assembly.

The ceremony took place embraced by the warm hands of the late afternoon sun, with immaculate blue sky, surrounded by massive rolling hills of green, the wind which had howled so fiercely having gently laid down its sword.

As I took my seat, I looked for familiar faces, at least as much of those faces that were not hidden. I wondered if my broad smile could somehow be seen, or at least felt, by those whose eyes I was able to capture with my gaze.

The chairs were arranged in rows, social distancing not mandated for this part of the day. Still, even with this sudden reintroduction to "normal", even as we all shared an immunity, or at least as much as these vaccines afforded us, there was a lingering sense, a hint of a warning, to be careful. It is just part of my DNA now.

When was the last event you attended where, upon entry, you were offered face masks with the initials of the bride and groom? Throughout this crowd, those who had not dressed with masks to coordinate with their outfits donned these identical attire. 

I don't remember my first words of reintroduction to my friend who I  walked over to greet. It is strange, because I would have thought that would be seared in my brain. I think the collective, universal struggle was an unspoken given. Within seconds, conversation took on a familiar pattern. We talked of where we had ridden out the storm, what contact we had been able to have with our children, with our grandchildren. If there was one overriding theme in our words throughout this evening, it was of how grateful those of us were who had been able to be around family, to watch our grandchildren in the intimate hours, days and months that permitted us this strange luxury of enormous amounts of time with those we loved the most.

We were assigned pods for the evening, a group of eight with whom we were to share our table for the duration of this event. Dinner served in a very open air tent.

And while there was clearly an overlay of the surreal, so much of what unfolded over the next few hours was  remarkably ordinary. The ceremony itself short and touching, with no mention of the enormous good fortune that permitted us to be there. The speeches over the course of the night echoed in tone all that was familiar in other similar settings BC. At our table, the same bad jokes still wafting through the air, the same considerations about the food as we had discussed a lifetime ago before the world caught fire. The same contemplations of the hour as the meal ended, some among us considering when, politely, they could say good night.

Masks were off at the dinner table, in myriad meaning. And, if you didn't know better, if you hadn't just lived through a year in Hell, you might find that nothing about this scene struck you as anything extraordinary. Just a typical, if glorious, passage of time.

There was though one final reminder that we were emerging from a wholly different universe. In the dancing, when we were to unleash all we had bottled up for a seeming eternity, each pod was assigned its own small rectangular space in which to gyrate. Markings on the floor delineating the outside limits of your individual contortions. By this point in the night, this was only honored in theory, not execution, as the sense of collective safety seemed the overriding sentiment. 

As we said our goodbyes to our hosts and headed to our cars and the different reality that awaited, I focused on just what it meant to have the privilege to enjoy an evening that had forever seemed our inherited right. Our erroneous assumption that life's terrible tragedies would fall outside our bubble. That we had taken so much for granted, that we had believed ourselves protected, shielded from the miseries and traumas that somehow we perceived belonged only to someone else, somewhere else.

I am so grateful for the gift of the ordinary. For the beauty of everyday existence. For the return of a smile no longer hidden behind a wall of our pain. For a time when everything old is suddenly new again. For life.

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

The Disappearing "Op-Ed"

 (Why We're Retiring the Term "Op-Ed")

So now I will be compelled to respond to "Guest Essays"? As though opinions are not members of your family, but outsiders who have popped in for a moment? As if their words were reflective of something apart from, not a part of the very fabric and fiber of what makes the New York Times the New York Times.

What then be my letters to you? Let us come up with a different definition. Maybe, "ruminations" or "vivid suggestions". 

I fear your change is far too clever by half. If it ain't broke don't fix it. Digital, shmigital. "Op-Ed" has significance far greater than where it is located. 

You have indeed made much ado about nothing. Take two aspirin and call me in the morning. When I will be reading the Op-eds.

Saturday, April 24, 2021


 It's not you it's me. So, the rejections begin.

Recently, in the middle of the night, as is my unfortunate habit, I awoke with a phrase running through my feeble cranium. Unable to turn this trickle aside, an hour later I was putting the final touches on yet another stroke of something likely far less than genius. But maybe, just maybe, this one has as many legs as a centipede.

I decided in that moment that this Seuss-like poem could indeed stand up to the light of day. And so, I am deeply sorry to advise, I have kept this tale tucked away from all but a handful of you. This one, if it were to find a larger audience, requires a smaller one for now. 

My problem is that I lack the focus and energy to sustain almost anything. Lazy is too kind a term for what ails me. Thus, faced with the daunting task of turning my early morning gem into an every day classic, I was in unfamiliar territory. Hard work and patience are to me what kryptonite is to Superman.

But, determined for once not to fold at the first hint of trauma, these past weeks have been spent trying to gain an education on the do's and mostly dont's of the process of finding a publisher willing to engage my thoughts with something other than a sneer.

The first step, find an agent. And so, I formulated a query letter, a kind of pep talk guaranteeing the reader that I would be the guy to make their day. Only there are more child story agents than there are grains of sand on the beach. And most are seemingly shut down for the likes of me tighter than Melania  when Donald gets that frisky look on his face.

I have however muddled through, so far able to send my piece, along with my all too positive cover note, to a half dozen or so of those who represent the first hurdle in the Mt.Olympus sized struggle before me.

Don't call us, we'll call you is what their universal message is on their websites. We are very busy and if we don't get back to you before you die, awfully good try.

This week, the first two replies appeared, much sooner than anticipated. "Not a good fit for me" read the first, as though I was a pair of shoes that had come in the wrong size. The other was crueler, finding mine a wonderful story that she just couldn't "connect with", as if my deodorant was not working as advertised.

I am trying not to be discouraged.  I know my chance of success is smaller than the probability I will dunk a basketball this afternoon, or spontaneously grow a full head of hair on the airplane landing strip on top of my head. But I feel strangely compelled to soldier on.

 Maybe it is a response to the title of my work, "The Land of Not." Maybe it is in its message that positive thought can turn bad into good. Maybe it is just that the reality of the futility of this exercise has not fully penetrated my skull.

But for now at least, I have not waved the white flag. I apologize for keeping you in the dark about this tale, but I will keep you informed as events unfold. And maybe, just maybe, we will all read "The Land of Not" together one day when it is not the subject of rejection but praise.

 By the way, I definitely see some new hair protruding from my scalp this morning.