Saturday, May 29, 2010

Deepwater Still Runs

As we move deep into the second month of the Deepwater disaster, we watch with increasing horror. It is as though we are witnessing the sins of the industry washing up not just on our shores, but on us. We are like wildlife in its path, being covered, head to toe, with slime. It makes it hard for us to breathe, and endangers our way of life.

The worst part of what has occurred is the feeling of helplessness to eradicate the problems that continue to move relentlessly forward. Can anyone suggest that the financial giants, whether they control the flow of money on Wall Street, or the flow of oil in the Gulf, are going to fade from power? While we spout words of anger and condemnation, they serve only as dispersants on the surface. Underneath we know that there are massive plumes that remain unaffected.

We have a government that appears capable of only being reactive to the problems that come pouring out. Following an era of deregulation and lack of oversight, we are now trying to reign in the lords of industry with tires and mud. One day soon we hope that a solution to this latest crisis emerges. But, while we may cement over the well, and breathe easier for the moment, we still sense that the next eruption may come gushing forth without warning.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Jack Bauer

He left not with a whimper but with a bang, many bangs to be exact. Jack Bauer had spent most of a decade in our homes asking the same basic questions about our moral compass in moments of extraordinary stress. In the end, he may have outstayed his welcome, but the questions he posed unfortunately never lost their relevance.

It proved almost impossible for the show to be a one trick pony for 192 hours (24 x8). Plot lines became repetitive, often outlandish, and cartoonish. Who knew that one afternoon of good sex could prove to be the Kryptonite for Jack's fragile psyche? After years of teetering on the brink of madness, once Renee Walker was ripped from his arms, Jack went into a killing frenzy worthy of the best, or worst, of the vigilante sprees of old. "Make my day" had nothing on the final hours of the final year.

In a world where "R" ratings may well attach to movies for showing characters smoking cigarettes, it is hard to fathom how the gutting of an enemy is not deemed just a wee bit excessive for viewing in prime time. The television universe that made a national crisis over the half- second exposure of a breast, had no trouble reconciling this with its acceptance of the depiction of this level of violence. But that is a story for another day. For now, let me get back to Jack.

Like other stories that have left the small screen, what remains is an uncertain future for our protagonist. Tony Soprano faded to a blank screen, his life hanging in limbo. Jack Bauer was seen fleeing from virtually the entire world, given a head start on a movie version of himself. Much like the Fugitive, he will now make a run and try to lay low, likely to appear in some future world with long hair a beard and a fierce determination to leave the stewardship of the world to others.

But, we won't let Jack alone. Like the Godfather, we will drag him back to confront his demons and ours. I did not say goodbye to Jack Bauer last night, only "until we meet again". I will be waiting for you in the theater, with my bag of popcorn and my soda. 24 will soon become 2, and I will one day settle into my seat to welcome an old acquaintance back into my life. Until then, get a little rest. You need it.

Friday, May 21, 2010

The Story of Ben, Revised

David Brooks creates a very touching character in his gentle Ben, the angry voter. But let us, for a moment, take Ben's life down a different path.

In early 2001, Ben watched as Al Gore raised his arms in triumph. The hanging chads were unhung, the Florida miscount was recounted and the 8 years of Bush never happened. Gore and the Democrats did not lead us into disasters in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. Wall Street was not allowed to run unfettered, and we were not misled down a path to near depression. Government was not the problem, but the solution.

It is not governing that is the issue. It is bad governing that precipitated our decline. Bad choices and bad motives left the world that Barack Obama inherited a nightmare in plain sight.

Ben may have a short memory as to why the Republicans were left for dead in the 2008 elections. The Ben we encounter today, had the Democrat taken the Presidency in 2001, is not an angry young man, but one in support of a government that protected him throughout the first decade of the new millenium, in ways he hardly could imagine.

To the Ben of Mr. Brooks' creation, be angry, but direct that anger at those who cared little for you, who failed to protect your interests, and who left you disillusioned and distressed. Cast that vote with your head, and do not respond as George Bush did, from your gut.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Out in the Cold

It was not a night to be outside. Only those who were foolhardy would venture into a combination of wind, rain and temperatures that seemed more like early March than mid-May. But, I was meeting my much loved daughter at a Yankee- Red Sox game. Rational thought gave way to emotion. I was going to the game.

Turtleneck, check. Fleece, check. Rain gear, check. Hat, check. I stepped into the elements and was immediately intensely uncomfortable. It was that combination of conditions that seems to attach to your skin, penetrate your pores. This unwanted companion would spend the evening in my company. That much was a given.

Once I reached the parking lot outside the Stadium and found Alex we made our way inside. It was but a few minutes before game time, but we both knew the reality. This game would be delayed, and we would have to find ways to amuse and shelter ourselves for an indefinite period. As we stared out at the tarp, still covering the infield, and still being pelted by the rain, we looked for alternatives.

This is not as easy as one would think, not in this Stadium. Have you ever been to a first class establishment and been made to feel like a second class citizen? Welcome to the new and improved home of the 27 Time World Champions. This place reeks not so much of class but class warfare. It is bad enough that entry to the better seats is guarded like the crown jewels. On a night where only those whose love for the game dictated their presence, you would have hoped that the powers that be would have shown the huddled masses some compassion in the city where Lady Liberty shines her welcoming beacon. Not a chance.

And what about all those diners who escaped the cold and were laughing and chatting in the dining establishment on the ground level? Surely, as I stood outside its glass windows looking in, I could join this gathering. Don't even think about it. Those empty tables would remain that way, unless you proved worthy (by the price of your ticket) to pass the royal guard that stood watch.

An hour later, the game began. Alex and I, after having been unsuccessful in seeking to 'upgrade' our seats, made our way to the top level of the Stadium, looking not for the best seat, but the best place to avoid being overwhelmed by the piercing wind. Our first stop, at the very, very top of the stadium behind home plate, proved an unwise selection. I held up the towel that I had used to wipe my seat dry, and watched as the wind whipped it to and fro.We had placed ourselves directly in the wind's path. We made our exit from this locale in haste.

It would be almost a full inning before we ended up past the flagpole in the outfield, in the upper reaches of the upper deck. At least here there would be some protection from the elements. As the game moved on in the far distance, barely making an impression upon us, we started to discuss when it would be appropriate to leave.

Each of us presented our position. Work obligations early in the morning, things we had still to accomplish at our respective homes this evening. It all made perfect sense. And in addition, it was a typical Yankee- Red Sox game, moving at the pace of some of my writing (very slowly).

By the end of the third inning, we departed the Stadium. I do not even remember what the score was at that point. It seemed irrelevant. As the giant spit us out from its belly, we emerged into the continuing mist and whipping wind. It was decided that we would walk to the car, that I would then drive Alex home to her apartment at the bottom of the city,and thereafter make a return to my home in Fort Lee.

Given that it was a Yankee- Red Sox game, all my travel was finished and I was removing the chill from my bones in the warmth of my living room before the end of the 5th inning.

As it turned out, there was a late game meltdown by Joba and Mo and the Red Sox ended up stealing a victory. It was an unsatisfying end to a difficult night.

I am, at my core, a Yankee fan. I am, with every ounce of my being, one who cherishes time with my children. Would I repeat the idiocy of this evening again? If my daughter called and said, as she did that night, "Dad, I wouldn't go normally, but this is the Red Sox", I would be out the door in a heartbeat.


Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Hand in Hand

As we cuddle with Karzai, we must face the ugly reality that foreign policy in an imperfect world is, in a word, imperfect. Difficult situations across the globe lead to harsh, and often, distressing compromises.

In our ongoing efforts in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan it appears that we are in an endless chess game, trading off playing pieces. Every day brings moves which make many of us uncomfortable and unhappy. Making nice with the President of Afghanistan so he doesn't partner up with the Taliban is but the latest of these. For those in the administration who are forced to walk hand in hand with Mr. Karzai, I have but one piece of advice: Be sure to wash thoroughly afterward.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010


There should be a warning label attached to every purchase. "Acquiring this product can be hazardous to your health. Past performance is not an indicator of future results. Known side effects include delusions, palpitations, nausea, tantrums, fits of crying, depression, and in rare instances, bankruptcy, divorce and thoughts of suicide. This product may be addictive."

We started out when we were younger taking small doses. We called our dealer and put in our orders. A little of this, and a drop of that. We were masters of ourselves and of our universe.

As we got older, we became more and more dependent on our fix. We started giving increasing amounts of our hard earned money to the man. When the fix worked, we felt wonderful. When the good times ended, and our money failed to buy us what we wanted, we got scared and angry.

Like any addict, we seem to be the last ones to understand and recognize our disease. We control nothing, least of all our own destiny.

This past week, it appeared for a moment that we were heading into the abyss. All eyes were fixed on a wildly fluctuating monitor of a patient in the middle of a heart attack. "Doctor, I think he is about to flat-line"..."Step back everyone and give an enormous injection, stat"...."We have stabilization, and there is color coming back into the patient's face".

The drug that has seduced us and confused us, is legal and sold over the counter. It is called investing in the stock market.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Hail, Locust and Boils

It has the feel of the 10 plagues that descended on Egypt. That biblical tale spoke of horrors inflicted, including hail mixing with fire and of water turning to blood killing all the fish and wild life. Today's story is of spewing ash from volcanoes and of massive oil spills that threaten everything in its wake. While the Torah spoke of the Angel of death passing through Egypt killing first-borns, we almost came face to face with a very human version in Times Square this week.

When these calamaties, man-made or not, are accompanied by the probability of imminent financial collapse in Greece and the possibility of economic ruin spreading through much of Europe, we are left in a state of very heightened anxiety. It is no wonder then that we witnessed 16 minutes of sheer panic in the stock market yesterday, propelled it seems by one errant press of a button. Having trust in anything, least of all the stock market, requires a faith that is today in very short supply. One misguided finger is all it took to push us over the edge.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Hawaiian Chicken

Another Mother's Day will shortly be upon us and I continue to struggle with the indignities thrust upon my mom. She tries so hard but even she finds it increasingly difficult to put up a good facade for my sister and me. Most often she can't even muster up a fake 'everything is fine'. I know she rails internally against the fate that has robbed her of almost all that made life pleasurable. The joys of friendship, of meaningless and meaningful banter with those she has known for years, are gone. In its place is mostly emptiness. Time has become her enemy.

Gail and I find our weeks involved comparing notes as to who will spend part of his or her day in mom's company. Gail is able to get mom to tag along with her on many of her activities, and so can fill up a few hours with 'chores'. My sister constantly worries and frets about what she can do to keep mom occupied. Often, after having spent hours in her company, Gail is exhausted emotionally and physically.

I do not have the capacity to fill up as much space in mom's life. She is not comfortable being a guest in our apartment as this seems to mean that she has just traded one set of walls for another. Nothing there seems capable of capturing her attention or relieving her restlessness. She has to feel the energy of the world, and see it with her own eyes. I am definitely not a shopper, so, my mom and I have become very frequent lunch and dinner companions.

Try as I might, it is impossible to find a restaurant, apart from one overpriced and noisy steak house, that my mom really enjoys. I think she only finds that one acceptable because it is overpriced. Most lunches, at least during the week, are at old familiar places in Teaneck where we have been dining my entire life.

One of the abilities that has deserted my mom is the capacity to decipher a menu, and decide on a choice of food. Thus, my sister or I end up telling her what 'she likes' and ordering for her. Grilled cheese on whole wheat has become a staple for lunch.

Another recurring theme concerns the amount of food on her plate. Too much will cause her agitation. Now, there is always an extra plate to funnel off the excess. You can see mom breathe easier when this happens. She seems to push her food around, and takes no joy in the exercise of eating.

As little interest as my mom can muster up for what is before her, is how much she can focus her attention on your food. Her query, "have you eaten enough", or some minor variation on that theme, is a repetitive drumbeat that accompanies every dining experience.

I swear I put on 10 pounds in the last year just trying to be certain that my mom won't complain about my level of consumption. Sometimes I make the mistake of eating my meal too quickly. Because my mom is not able to retain real time events in her mind, she will forget what I just swallowed and remind me repeatedly that I ate no food. I often pleadingly give multiple recitals of chapter and verse of every morsel that entered my mouth, but to no avail.

The 3 way relationship of food, my mom and me has seemingly always had its traumas. I cannot look at a leg of lamb without recoiling in horror, remembering the overcooked little chop that sat on my plate seemingly throughout my childhood. No matter how much mint jelly I tried to coat that piece of meat with, it was never edible.

There was however, one notable exception. My mom's Hawaiian chicken required 2 days to complete. The chicken was cooked one day, then fried the next (or so I remember it almost a half century later). Dole pineapple was thrown into the mix, and then the entire concoction was set over a bed of white rice. This meal seemed to me more than about food. It was a feast of perfection and a declaration of my mom's love.

Those days are in another time and another world. They seem like they could have happened in another life. Today is filled with grilled cheese sandwiches and extra plates for food. Yet, I try every day to recall that my mom is not the lost person before me, but forever that person standing in the kitchen preparing my favorite Hawaiian chicken. The memories of those long ago days may be faint, but the feelings they evoke are real and ever present.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Glory Days

and so the conversation continued. Much as we had 30 years ago, 6 of us huddled around the table, all telling tales to amuse and involve. But boy, how the stories have changed.

No longer were there fables of sex, drugs and rock and roll. Now there were joking references to bedtime stories, the only drugs were the ones being used to try to lessen the aches and pains, and the rock and roll was being performed by our children at ungodly hours. Life does require adjustments.

and adjustments were what the evening was really about. We had all, some more than others, felt the sting of the last few years. Expectations met realities that cared not at all about should have been. It was how to adjust to the 'is' that was the challenge that had to be faced. how not to be defined by the circumstances of the present.

It was the men in the group who dominated the conversation, because we needed to. I took on the role of philosophical guru, dispensing positive platitudes that I want to believe are self-evident truths. There can be a fine line between Buddhist and Bullshit. I am not sure where my mantra falls.

and so this evening, as all others, came to an end. It was really one where, as 30 years ago, laughter and smiles dominated. This is just a moment where the permutations of existence cast a shadow. Tomorrow, the shadows may be gone, and we will all be gathering once more, laughing and telling tales of new glory days.