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Saturday, April 30, 2016

November 8, 2016- The State of Disunion in the Divided State of America


It is the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November, 2016. November 8, the latest date on which the election of the President of the United States can occur. And it is fitting for a campaign season which has seemingly lasted forever.

What is most striking about today is not who wins or loses but how the game is now played. There is an ugliness and a brutality that makes this seem more like a scene out of a video of a country in an ever descending spiral of self destruction.

As I head over to cast my vote for my candidate of choice, I am gripped with an overwhelming sense of foreboding. The President has declared a state of martial law and the National Guard is  everywhere I look. There are calls for calm but this is a nation which has been in perpetual unrest for months.

It began early this year at Donald Trump rallies where he flexed his oratorical muscles by wishing bodily harm upon those who disrupted his train of thought. As the anti Trumpers were paraded out, in a kind of perp walk through a crowd in the throes of hyperventilation, they were subjected to verbal, and in some memorable instances, physical abuse. The smiles and shouts of their now sworn enemies following their every step.

Matters only escalated as the protests moved from inside the halls where Trump spoke to the streets outside. From Georgia to Louisiana, from California to seemingly everywhere Mr. Trump appeared in the spring of 2016, there was trouble. The bitterness and the blood began to flow, the anger multiplied and the chasm grew so wide that we had to develop new language to describe what was happening. It has been the year of Armageddon, where the divided state of America was locked in an Uncivil War, where unrest and arrest has become unhappy partners in crime, where the injuries and animosities  piled up.

It is 6 PM and the last flickers of daylight are starting to recede. It is an unusually cold day, the kind where the chill refuses to leave your side. I am but two blocks from where my ballot will be cast and I dare not make eye contact with those near me, for I must not engage in conversation, no matter how polite or innocent it may seem.


The polls will close in  two  hours. Three hours from now everyone is to be off the streets. This city, normally teeming with humanity at 9PM will be eerily silent if all obey the mandate. The only movement that of men in uniform.

I walk past the shuttered up stores, the gates girding for possible onslaught, the proprietors fearing that forces beyond anyone's control will cascade down and leave in their wake physical and emotional destruction of this place and of endless cities, towns, boroughs and hamlets around this nation.
 
There are no lines as I approach my polling venue. Most have either voted before today, or have decided that the risk for being out on the street is not worth the reward. I deliberately chose to wait until now, in a kind of perverse determination to get a first hand feel and look at what we had become.


 I walk to the line for L to P. There are only two who stand in front of me, ready to check in. There is a palpable anxiety, or maybe it is just that my heart is beating at an alarmingly rapid pace. For a moment I think I might need to sit down, but I steady myself.


This is a room I have been in for the last four Presidential elections and for all the ballot casting I had done in those "off" years. But I have never noticed the peeling paint, the stains on the floor, the age that had overtaken this place. Today I am focusing on everything but the humanity around me. No small talk, no exchange of pleasantries.

I enter the booth and pull the curtain around me like armor to shield me from piercing eyes. I press my finger against the box intended and the "x" illuminates next to the name of the person I believe will soon have to try to bring calm out of this chaos. A sense of relief grips me as I feel the endless months of being held prisoner by this process are finally over.

It is almost 7PM by the time I return to my apartment. The walk back is the loneliest I can recall in all the years I have traversed this path.


There is a harsh wind blowing, filling the air with isolation and desperation. It is in the bones of this country and it has penetrated the core of our being. Our fate will be determined and our faith in this country will be tested as few times before in the coming hours and days. It is fully dark now, and as cold inside and out as I can ever recall on an Election day.

Friday, April 29, 2016

On President Obama's Economic Legacy


It takes far too much effort to follow the dots for the vast majority of Americans. Those who feel a general uneasiness, even as they know it is not as bad as it was, believe it is not as good as it used to be and blame the President for what they sense is a far too tepid recovery. 

It matters not that the Republicans orchestrated much of the slowness, that they forced austerity measures upon a nation crying for an infusion of capital. It is of little consequence that the opponents of the President would have preferred to pass sweeping legislation that, far from stimulating the economy instead would have inevitably led to a prolonged depression. It is seemingly almost forgotten that President Obama inherited an absolute economic disaster and was called upon, in the face of unrelenting Republican obstructionism, to right a sinking ship.

History will be the ultimate arbiter for this President. His immediate legacy is one that is replete with critics, left and right, that he did little, or  worse, that he was in bed with the 1%. It is a harsh and often unfair image being portrayed, but  it is almost impossible for the President to ask the public to grasp that what he avoided is, to a large degree, a measure of what he accomplished.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Making America Grate Again


When you have a sore winner can less be expected of the loser? Donald Trump began his strange odyssey by warning his own party to treat him right, or else. Even now he speaks of a "rigged system" bent on his destruction. Persecuted even in triumph. 

The absence of grace has been the centerpiece of the Republican circus. And Mr. Cruz, no stranger to antagonizing virtually everyone with whom he has contact, is a natural fit for the role of town cry(er).

As for Mr. Sanders, whining is not a natural fit, and his less truculent being will likely soon be evident as the last embers of hope burn out. 

Campaigns are most often ugly, each one seeming in the moment to redefine the depths of the process. But to lump the Democrats and Republicans in the same cesspool is to do a grave disservice. For in the end, as it was in the beginning, Mr. Trump alone has truly made America grate again.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Johnny Manziel, Burnt Out Star

AN EDITED VERSION OF THIS PIECE APPEARS IN THE SPORTS SECTION OF THE NEW YORK TIMES ON MAY 1, 2016


("In Manziel, a Draft Machine's Human Cost")

You can see the ghosts of Ryan Leaf, Art Schlicter and Todd Marinovich if you look closely enough. 
The one time shining star, burnt out. A  self destruction playing out in front of our eyes. 

Johnny Manziel is not the last, just the latest high priced over hyped commodity to fail. 

There is almost no bigger hero in sport than the successful NFL quarterback and the converse is equally true. 

For a league where it seems everything is super sized, the demise of the diminutive Mr. Manziel is now a larger than life cautionary tale.

Sunday, April 24, 2016

The Audio of My Recent Reading

For the many who did not attend my recent talk in which I discussed the art of letter writing, read a few of both my published pieces in the New York Times and various work on family and friends, here is the audio of that evening (or at least 90% of it - the last two works are not on the audio, but are linked).



Hope you take the time (about an hour) to listen and enjoy.

PS - I actually sang part of  "Now I'm 64." Be grateful that this did not find its way into the audio.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

A Larceny Of (In) The House


Somnambulism. Sleep walking. That could aptly describe the beginning of this Yankee season. 

It is a year when empty seats seem to dominate at the Stadium, when the energy level of this team seems less than Jeb Bush, when mediocrity breeds boredom.

And then, at least in the moment, at least for tonight, it changed. In less than three seconds. In the time it took Jacoby Ellsbury to steal home. On a two strike count when Brett Gardner would not have been able to let a good pitch pass, when the possibility of disaster for the runner loomed in multiple scenarios, when the sheer frustration of a slow start for the team and for himself must have propelled Mr. Ellsbury forward into highly dangerous territory. 

In a fallow period for a squad in desperate need of a jump start, when the  dust settled and the instant replay confirmed the success of the larceny, Ellsbury's run (run) was a much needed shot of adrenaline that awoke the crowd and a sleep walking team.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Me

My wife often reminds me, ever so gently, that it is not all about me. But on this night it was.

I got to the room a half hour early, putting three pieces of paper on each of the 30 or so seats that had been arranged in three neat rows, all pointing at me, me, me. The papers contained some of my writing and were meant to whet the appetite of those who would assemble to watch me preen.  David Sedaris would title one of his books, "Me Speak Pretty." Me speak pretty too.

Actually, Mr. Sedaris was the reason I would be standing before an audience this evening. When I first read his work, it sparked that part of my brain which suggested that I too could chronicle my existence in ways that were self deprecating but enormously humorous. At least I would be able to achieve the self deprecating part.

I had cajoled and coerced the social director of our apartment complex into allowing me a platform to reveal myself to my fellow dwellers. She may have thought that this event was a result of her doing but I had pushed the concept in my "oh if you think it would be fun, sure" manipulating manner.

Even though it required only an elevator ride to reach their destination, I imagined that the room would likely be filled not with those who resided around me and were eager to learn of the wonder of me, but merely cluttered with a bunch of empty chairs. And thus I enlisted my sister, my children and a few unsuspecting family members with a solicitation I titled "I know. You have a headache next Tuesday." When my children arrived at the apartment shortly before I was to speak, I knew that my feigning disinterest in their attending my opening (and closing) night performance had not fooled them.

To almost everyone in this building I am but an occasional face, attached to no name and with nary a quality in the least memorable. Just another ship passing in the night. Would this change for those who wandered into this room interested principally in whether the small blueberry muffins would be there for the taking?

I assembled the Chicken Soup for the Soul books on the small table that had been set up next to the podium. I always thought I had been published in six different anthologies, with titles ranging from something to do with golf, to dogs, to mothers and beyond, but now I could only locate five. All  topics certain to pull at the heartstrings or arouse emotional replies, for better or worse. I was an author, one of a hundred faceless authors, retired school teachers, firemen, parents or children, all blended together to form one concoction of chicken soup to ease the soul.  As a prize for each winning entry not only did I receive a stipend (it sounds so much better than $200) but 10 copies of the book in which my story appeared. Several shelves in my apartment were filled with copies which I had been unable to give away. When even your Aunt Shirley is not interested, you know you are in trouble.

But the hook for my appearance had been my repeated success in convincing the editors of the New York Times that I had something worthy to say about anything and almost everything. Next to the books lay an accumulation of single pages of the New York Times, all sharing the distinction of my having written some not very insightful words that appeared on these now yellowing sheets. The first letter had only emboldened me. Now, so many years later, I was consumed with a burning desire to feed my ego with yet another sheet which I could rip from the paper, bracket my words and place in an ever growing receptacle. All these trophies were housed in the corner of my closet, not on the walls of every room as I believed I deserved. If I wanted my marriage to survive, it would be the closet for me.

A recently installed large screen  had been placed in our lobby, scrolling through upcoming events. My face, and a few morsels about me (written of course by me) were on constant loop in the days preceding my debut. I spent a minute of two each morning and evening staring at the screen, waiting once more, and then again, to discover myself.

"I am thinking of coming. What are you talking about? Is it going to be fun?" I wanted to suggest that the inquiry as to my skill set was unnecessary, but I politely gave her a brief overview of what was planned. "Oh, ok then, maybe I will be there." She wasn't. I guess I am a lousy salesman.

Fifteen minutes before I was to begin, the room was occupied by me, my mother-in-law and the social director. It was not looking hopeful. And then, little by little, people began to arrive, heading for the coffee, the muffins, the cookies. Everything I had placed on my table seemed of no import compared to this tableau of tasty treats. It was, truth be known, the only reason I had ever attended any of the board meetings. I love those bite sized muffins.

This room also serves as our library, the walls filled with books, most of which I have never read. Was there ever a less learned person pretending to be learned?

The chairs slowly filled with the now slightly satiated and then the moment almost no one had been waiting for arrived. I launched into my role with relish, happy to be the center of this tiny, tiny universe. And I was either good or bad, funny or failing, insightful or insipid. But whatever, I had the spotlight on me. Afterwards, I got the tributes that come, whether you are good or bad, funny or failing, insightful or insipid.

The next morning I received a beautiful handwritten note extolling my virtues. Now that was more like it.  Shortly thereafter,  I ran into one of the many who had not bothered to show up. He asked me how "show and tell" had gone. Greatness is ephemeral.





All About Nothing


Donald Trump as placater and pacifier It is disingenuous, so phony, so Donald Trump. 

"I will be so Presidential." Well, Mr. Trump, wasn't that the point all along? If he can transform himself overnight as he suggests then what is he but a performer, filled not with conviction but conceit, not with principle but prestidigitation, not with vision but vanity.

To announce that tomorrow the new Mr. Trump will emerge suggests not insight but calculation. Mr. Trump making yet one more deal, this time simultaneously railing against the party process and trying to ingratiate himself as a team player. 

He is a chameleon in the worst sense and his tongue holding, if it comes to pass, should only confirm our worst suspicions about this man who is all about nothing.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

And in the End


One moment Ms Clinton looked vulnerable. After New York, she looks unstoppable. And the question becomes whether Mr. Sanders is being a good soldier by soldiering on. 

Fears of lingering damage by Mr. Sanders remaining on stage are exaggerated. What harm he has caused by peeling away the veneer of Ms. Clinton will not be exacerbated by his repeating his mantra in the coming weeks. November is far off and the minds of the public are far more likely this fall to be consumed with the arsenal Mr. Trump unloads on the Democratic front-runner, then to focus on the springtime slings and arrows of the Senator from Vermont.

Mr. Sanders was but a little while back an asterisk from a small state, a fringe player who was not even a sworn Democrat. Talk of loyalty and fealty to his one time sometime allies should not  deter him from continuing his trek. Like a one man Occupy Wall Street, he should stay the course and stay committed until he, not the party, decides the party is over.

Monday, April 18, 2016

Now I'm 64

When I was younger I lost my hair
Many years ago
Never bother sending me a valentine
Birthday greeting, I don't drink wine
If I'm awake at quarter to three
I will sleep no more
Girl you don't need this, yet you still feed this
Now I'm 64

You've regrets, a few
But if you'd said the words
I don't but you didn't and you do


I'm never handy, blowing a fuse
Now the lights are out
Your brow will knit a furrow as you watch my gaffe
Wish you could cry but you just have to laugh
No help in the garden, can't find a weed,
Who could help you less?
You really don't this, but still you feed this,
Now I'm 64

Every year you could use a nice rest
in a place I'm not
But it's not so, dear
Though you whimper some days
Here I am still on your knee
Forever your baby, my babe


Don't need to write me, or answer this post
Stating point of view
I know exactly what you'd like to say
Quite sincerely, day after day
I've got your answer, but I'm still here
Yours forevermore
Girl you don't need this, but you still feed this
Now I'm 64.