Sunday, July 29, 2012

Hoof In Mouth Disease

 ("Mitt's Olympic Meddle")

This process involving Mitt Romney is not so much about running for office as it is running away from himself. He religiously avoids discussing anything Mormon, he is bankrupt relating to personal financial revelations and he avoids like the plague discussing his health care legislation in Massachusetts.

The gaffe in England is but the latest in a series of forgettable and regrettable remarks when he strays from the formula of saying nothing about everything. His candidacy is remarkable for its long periods of vacuousness, punctuated by occasional hoof in mouth disease (the horse people now being another crowd he studiously avoids, feigning lack of interest in his family's quest for equestrian gold).

His remarks about failing to permit review of his tax returns (they could open him up to unrelenting criticism from his opponents) is in keeping his universal theme of non-disclosure.

In stark contrast to the glory and the poetry that our nation and the world heard from the Democratic candidate for President on foreign soil 4 years ago, we are left to ponder the ordinary and small image that Romney projects. There was nothing Olympian in his words or his vision., even as he stood in the midst of greatness. He is far less than he should be, and far less than what our country deserves. He is, by his own doing, nothing.

Friday, July 27, 2012

The Bad Son

I think I may be a bad son.

As my mom struggles to make any meaningful contact with our universe, I find myself not dissatisfied with her current state. The worst of her unrelenting back discomfort having now subsided, I look upon what remains with something between acceptance and a perverse gratitude.

She has much trouble even sitting properly, half-sliding from her wheelchair, her empty gaze fixed skyward.. She often fights to undo the seat belt, not knowing why it has entrapped her.

She doesn't go out anymore for the car rides that used to fill the hours. It is too dangerous now, as she tried on several occasions to get out of the moving car.

My phone calls to her are much less frequent. Screaming at the top of my lungs to ask questions that she doesn't hear, and if she does, mostly cannot process, is not a ritual that does either of us any good. The routine is now to call her caretaker to make sure that my mom is, within the definition assigned to her, doing ok.

The visits, which occur on most days, are shorter in duration. They feel almost reflexive, a kind of ritual dance. I hold my mom's hands, stroke her cheek, kiss her forehead, as I tell her of my what was and soon will be. After a few minutes, I search my brain for something else to say. I grasp her arm, and tell her how pretty she is looking. Then, almost as quickly as I appear, I find reason to vacate.

Despite all of this, there are positives. The hallucinations seem to have subsided. The calls she made to the police, when still able to dial the phone, are but historical footnote. She has stopped getting ready, always ready, to travel to Lodi and resume her childhood. The discomfort with her surroundings has dissipated. She is, if less aware, at least more at ease.

I no longer feel compelled to rush home to take her out to dinner, because that is now an impossibility. The patterns that were difficult to be subjected to, like the endless mantra that I did not eat enough, are part of a vocabulary she no longer is able to retrieve. By the very nature of her present state she requires and desires less from me, while the burdens on the caretaker are multiplied.

I think I may be a bad son because what is left does not trouble me more. I should, I think be in more pain.  I should, I think not be so comfortable with my reduced role. I should be more than I am, as my mom becomes less and less of what she was. I think I may be a bad son.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Feeling Neglected

("Negative Ads Hit at Identity to Shape Race")

It was reported in the New York Times in December of 2008 that $2.6 billion had been spent on television and radio political advertising that year, a new record. Of that amount, most ($2 billion) was paid for local television time, $400 million on radio and local cable broadcasts, and only $200 million on national cable and TV. Thanks to Citizens United, the floodgates are now wide open. Medill Reports recently projected that the spending for the 2012 election cycle will be $5.64 billion at broadcast stations and another $938 million on cable. Sheldon Adelson has announced that he alone (more precisely, with his wife) intends to spend up to $100 million to make sure that the next president is ABO (anyone but Obama).

Almost every article references that this vast flow of dollars is being directed at the battleground swing states and their undecided voters. Ohio, Florida, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Nevada, Colorado, Virginia and a few others get all the money and attention. As you now advise, if you live in Richmond you recently had over 4,500 opportunities in less than 2 weeks to learn why both the democratic and republican candidates were wholly unqualified to be your representative. Residing in New Jersey, I don't get the chance to view nearly as much of this endless mind numbing rhetoric.

Can you name the second largest television market for political advertisement in 2012? If you said Cleveland, you were correct. The eighth largest is Columbus, Ohio. Your article today states that only 8% of those who will cast ballots approximately 100 days from now remain uncertain of their choice. Less than 130 million people came out to vote in 2008, and that was in a year where there was decidedly more fervor than at present.. Even projecting the same figures, there are only about 10 million in total in all 50 states who have not already determined the villain and the hero in this year's long running drama. The money being spent to make a few in Columbus and Cleveland pull the correct lever is staggering.

I am not being bombarded with constant reminders of how bad things are, how un-American the other guy is. I don't hear the many half truths and total lies meant to indoctrinate me. I feel like I am missing the show playing in a small part of our country. However, if I were there, I am fairly certain I would pull the plug, or at least turn the channel to the local baseball game and hope to hear a solicitation from a refreshingly forthright used car salesman.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Weapons of Mass Destruction

 ("6,000 Bullets")

Policy reform stands no chance against political reality. Both the President and his putative Republican challenger remain mute in the wake of yet another senseless tragedy. Platitudes of sorrow are soon replaced by the discouraging statement of Mr. Romney that now, in the heat of the moment, is not the time to discuss gun control. While bullets continue to fly, and blood flows, even the hint of reform is nowhere in evidence.

The conversation is about swing state votes and the power of the NRA,  not of slowing the proliferation of weapons intended only for mass destruction. With each succeeding tragedy, the outrage should multiply, but the discussions become, if anything, more muted and the voices in opposition more irrelevant and harder to locate. It is an abdication of responsibility and a loss of moral compass.

I wonder what Gabby Giffords must be thinking.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Parallel Parking

"Holy shit. Holy shit."  I bolted out the door and ran down the driveway, unbelieving what my eyes were reporting.

You have to understand that my incompetence is permanently attached to me. Night and day, hot or cold, here, there and everywhere I am but a heartbeat away from self imposed disaster. And today that heartbeat almost exploded from my chest.

There are certain givens in the universe. Immutable truths that neither time nor circumstance effect. One of those is that a body in motion stays in motion while a body at rest stays where you put it.

There is a steep incline to my friend's driveway. It measures approximately 50 feet in length, and is two cars wide. The plan was to leave my car at my friend's house for the weekend, while he drove me and our spouses up to the Berkshires. Looking from the top of this hill, there was a small grove of trees at the bottom, just off to the right,  immediately before the intersecting street. A straight journey down would eventually lead to a house, with its cars, and swimming pool, directly across that street.

Among the many constant reminders I receive from my wife or children is never to park my manual transmission automobile in neutral. "Yes, yes, a thousand times yes, I completely understand."  And no, no, no, this never really reached that part of my brain that translates words into meaning. There was, in my mind, unnecessary duplication when the emergency brake was fully engaged.

I walked into my friend's house to do a little work, and graze on a bagel with butter and lox before our journey began. Next to my car, at the top of this steep hill, was the Jeep that was to transport us to Great Barrington. Life looked very normal, plates on the table, sink in the kitchen, computer where it always was. Nothing gave me warning.

Then I looked out the window in the kitchen. For a brief second, I stared at the car resting at the funny angle by the curb and thought to myself that it looked amazingly like the one parked at the top of the driveway. " Holy shit, Holy shit."

It was almost inconceivable. The car had apparently drifted down the driveway, veered slightly to the right, crossed over part of the lawn, barely missed the trees and the telephone pole next to it, made a sharp right hand turn when it reached the road and almost perfectly parallel parked itself . Only one tire had jumped the small curb and was resting just a few inches on the grass. It had actually done a better job of parking than I would have if I was behind the wheel.

Over 25 years ago, these same friends had witnessed, and videotaped me showing my posterior to those in attendance. For that small sin, I have been told I could never hold public office. I have been held as a kind of hostage to this tape ever since. Do my friends wrong, and I would be exposed in multiple ways. Today they told me that this long ago incident no longer would be the basis for their blackmail. No, this stupidity was second to none.

I can only make fun of myself now because of the incredible good fortune that I did not find my vehicle in the neighbor's living room, or imbedded in one their cars, sinking in their swimming pool, or worse. I think the car took mercy on an idiot and decided it would have to take care of itself since I was clearly not capable of protecting it, or much of anything else in my world.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Conversations from the Bathroom

It is a building of distinction.  Mostly hidden from the street by stately trees, the landscape numbered in acres and impeccably maintained.  20 units sit,  in an L configuration. 10 apartments at ground level, and 10 duplex apartments above. Built in the 1980's on the site of an old hotel, it is a place of great charm and beauty. And in one those upper story units, you will often find me and my family.

To get to our apartment, one must climb a flight of stairs. At the top, there is a landing, which services both our apartment and one immediately to our left (looking up). And oh, one more fact of note.  Next to the front door, and within inches of where one stands to gain entrance, is the downstairs bathroom.

The window of that bathroom opens to the outside world and the events that transpire on that landing.  Thus, on a typical day,  while showering, shaving or performing the functions for which this room is most often intended,  one might be engaged in discussion on topics as diverse as the weather or the political climate. The separation of universes, and the barrier between them, is often only theoretical.

But, that is not the only avenue of dialogue from one's perch on the throne.  When this unit was acquired by us, outside the bathroom was a small alcove,  wedged between the bathroom and the den/guest bedroom. In this area was a sink and vanity, with a row of light bulbs above, meant to illuminate one's physical shortcomings.  This space, seemed both to myself and my wife, to be improperly utilized. And so, the sink and vanity were removed, and in its stead an office was created.

For the most part, this works without issue. For me, or for a guest who may be in this "suite", there is a comfortable and defined area to spread out. The downside occurs when bathroom requirements and computer needs coincide.

This past weekend, we had a friend staying with us, who was in the midst of battles with his internal being. He had rushed himself to a hospital, but a few days earlier, fearing he was suffering from an appendicitis attack. While that self diagnosis proved faulty, he was on a course of treatment for his remaining symptoms when he arrived. The cypro he was taking left him in an even more altered state than usual. And of course, care in his choice of words has never been a great priority.

Emerging from the bathroom, he announced to all within earshot that he had a complaint.  Prefacing his remarks with overall praise for his accommodations, he announced,  "I can't fart when I am in that bathroom. I could almost tell what was being typed on the computer." While his point was rather obtuse, I thought I understood this to be a small criticism of the fact that I could virtually unroll his toilet paper while still sitting at my desk.

My wife agreed with his assessment, and stressed that we had all been given strict instructions to stay away from the offending area while someone was on the crapper.

But I find this bathroom to be a great conversation piece, literally and figuratively. It adds character and  uniqueness to our home. And I know that I for one never like being in a situation where I might be removed from a discussion in which I want to impart some wisdom. Our downstairs bathroom allows one to be in private and public space, all at once. And for that, I think it is the ultimate in a multi-purpose room. Just be sure not to visit us when you are feeling a bit inside out.

Monday, July 16, 2012

A Losing Battle

"The Insidious Enemy" (More U.S. Soldiers Have Killed Themselves Than Have Died in the Afghan War. Why Can't the Army Win the War on Suicide?)

The common thread binding all branches of the military is the mantra that the individual is stronger, mentally and physically, than the problem. Weakness is not accepted or tolerated. Failure is not an option.

In such an uncompromising environment, it cannot be a surprise that when this immutable truth dissolves, many consider themselves unworthy of continued existence.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Denounce, Denigrate and Define

("Romney Faces Call to Deliver Counterpunch")

It is ironic that Republicans, who are the masters of shaping the dialogue, are so concerned that the Democrats are busy defining their putative candidate.

The plain truth is that Mr. Romney has assiduously avoided defining himself, continuously morphing his positions on a whole range of issues (the latest fiasco being the "tax" versus "penalty" ramblings). He has proven himself a chameleon, changing to fit whatever is expedient at the moment.

Throughout the primary fight, he moved further and further to the right. The thrust of the theory coming from his camp was that he would disavow much of what he was saying during this portion of the campaign and move more to his true self in the his battle with the President. The effect was to make politics, not policy, his master.

He has repeatedly distanced himself from one of his own signature achievements. His Massachusetts plan for healthcare served, in large part, as the template for "Obamacare" which he now vigorously attacks and decrees he will undo his first day in office.

This week, he has ludicrously suggested to the NAACP that his vision for the path of this country would be more favorable to the black community than that of his opponent. That will never happen in the universe according to Mitt, which gives not one morsel to the poor and underprivileged.

There is no there there in Mr. Romney. He lacks any true convictions or holds any seemingly immutable beliefs. As such, he is and will continue to be an easy target for the Democrats to denounce, denigrate and define.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Of Baseball Cards and a Pot of Gold

My dad was born in 1918 and, as a young boy, spent several summers in camp. Without that experience I would not be writing this, or at least this form of me would not.  It was there that he and my mother met and fell in love. Yet this is not a tale of budding romance, but something much more mundane: baseball cards.

Within a few minutes this morning, I received, from both my wife and a friend, a copy of an article in today's paper.A representative of an estate, in cleaning out a house, had recently made a great find. Like the discoveries of an archeological dig, while rummaging through an attic, there in pristine condition were century old images of Cobb, Hornsby and other baseball immortals. The pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.

Growing up, my dad collected newspaper clippings of the accomplishments of his favorite athletes. They were compiled in the pages of a brown -covered notebook.  Underneath the words and images were neatly written comments of my father, ranging from "The Great Bambino, Babe Ruth" to "Andy Cohn Best 2nd Base in Intl. League, Newark" or "George Pippgras and Charles Ruffing, now the mainstays of the Yankee Pitching Staff". As far as I can gather, the year was 1931. 

One of my dad's counselors at Camp Harley must have known of his passion for sports, and maybe of this notebook.  Beginning in the late 1800's 'cigarette cards' came into being. Their  principal purpose was to stiffen cigarette packaging.  Actresses, military heroes, boxers, and baseball players were the subjects involved.  And  one summer, by gift from counselor to camper, my dad came into possession of a collection of  post card sized pictures of heavyweight champions and heavyweight hitters.

The front cover of this assemblage of sports legends and of some lesser lights has long since vanished. The inside page, in what must be the script of the unknown counselor, reads "Sports Scrap Book 1923- 1924". As I scroll through, I view the cards of Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb and a myriad of others pasted into yellowing pages. Below the images, are status reports, circa 1926, like "St.Louis, NL" or "out of baseball". There is a photo of the great John L. Sullivan, now an old man, with big, bushy mustache, dressed in a tuxedo. "George H. "Babe"Ruth , outfielder AML" waits, hands on knees, ready to chase a fly ball. And  there is even a card for a ballplayer  known only as "Fletcher". 

My wife is a world class cleaner. When we sold our house and moved to a relatively small apartment, almost everything found its way into the trash. I think I barely made the cut when she was deciding what would survive. But among the possessions never in jeopardy  were these pieces of my father's childhood.

As it turns out, what was given to my dad that day might not really have much value. For these were not cards of the vintage discovered in that attic in Ohio. What is contained in these books that have traveled with me for my entire life is not gold, at least on one level. But for anyone who knows what it is like to search for memories of a parent, and to feel that person come alive in front of your eyes,  what exists on these pages  are treasures of  indescribable worth.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Beware The Bogeyman

"I hate you." "I hate you." I directed that phrase at my daughter at least a dozen times in short order. With each additional attack, her smile only grew larger.

This problem began almost 25 years ago. At that time, I was the undisputed king of sport in my household. Of course, my son was barely of school age, my daughter still in diapers, and my wife, while a natural athlete, cared little for the physical undertakings of import to me. That all changed when skiing entered our collective universe.

First, it was my daughter who flew by me, literally and figuratively, while I struggled to pick my way down the slope. Next, my son began to make beautiful, rhythmic deep carving turns, the likes of which I could only dream of completing. But I felt safe for many years that at least my wife would never meet or exceed my accomplishments. Then, about 3 or 4 years ago, the speed of her  downhill descent increased, her weight distribution improved dramatically, and the sense that I was about to fall to the very bottom of this family tree began to overtake me. And in the succeeding years, that reality has emerged.

But, there was always one spot that gave me refuge from the family storm. The golf course was, I announced almost religiously to my family,  the place they should stay as far away from as possible. It was an ugly desolate universe, filled with the bogeyman and even worse, the doublebogey man. It was not where anyone with any common sense would ever voluntarily wander. And so, there were no golf lessons, no trips to the driving range, and unlike skiing, no humiliation in watching as one after another passed me by..

Sure, there were the occasional journeys by my wife to this dark and terrible place. But after I skulked and sulked, meandered and cursed under my breath, she found little reason to join me again.. And so, even though she showed a good swing and the possibility of excellence, she  headed to the swimming pool, or on to her bicycle and left my fiefdom intact.

Earlier this season, really by mistake, my son found himself with me on the driving range. As I have chronicled, he showed a remarkable level of talent for one who had previously believed this sport was only slightly more interesting than spending an afternoon removing lint from a bellybutton. Recent returns to the range have been encouraging for him (and discouraging for me). I fear, in the not too distant future, I will be applauding (and cursing) his feats on the fairway.

Which brings me to today and my daughter. It wasn't enough that she should, by the age of 6 or 7,  fly by me on the mountain. No, she has now decided to humiliate me at the place I have called home for over 5 decades. She had played a total of 18 holes in her life before she began today's round.  Using a set of left handed clubs given to her by one of my male golfing buddies, she had little concept of stance and no idea at all of what to think about when swinging. And so, at least for the first few holes, she achieved little of note.

But then came the ninth hole, a par 3 of about 135 yards.  She took out the 3 wood. I hoped she would somehow be able to keep the ball in flight long enough to get over the water. When the club struck the ball, my heart sank. The shot went straight and true, with a little draw and was still climbing when it went over the green. It was now a foregone conclusion that my reign as king was over..

And throughout the back nine there were constant reminders of my demise. 3 irons hit crisply, drive after drive on the fairway, some almost 175 yards from the tee. 9 iron chip shots that had perfect distance, and a putting stroke that was accurate if not always true. It made my stomach turn.

When we reached the last hole and another drive flew off her club-face (only slightly off line), I let my daughter know once more just how much she was aggravating me. She just turned and acknowledged my defeat.

Once at home, she regaled her mother with tales of her glory, began practicing her swing and asking for pointers. She wondered whether we could go back to the range before our plans for the evening. She called her boyfriend's father to see if she could be included in their foursome this Saturday. I don't  know whether to hate or pity her. Once golf gets in your blood, you are doomed forever.