Sunday, August 31, 2014

The Deep Sleep

("When Whites Just Don't Get It" and "Are Police Bigoted?")

There is an all too familiar narrative, an arc of Rip Van Winkle slumber followed by a moment of frenzied activity and then the inevitable slide back into oblivion for those issues that we are unwilling to address except for the briefest periods at the most cataclysmic of times.

We have witnessed it in the arena of gun control, only voicing our outrage in  immediate, visceral reply to the most overwhelming of horrors and tragedies . We have been advocates for immigration reform, in one instant believing there was a national referendum for change and in the next putting any chance of meaningful movement back into hibernation.

And now, we awaken to the notion that race relations really have not vastly improved, and that change is not an option but a mandate. But, as soon as the initial wave has receded,  the conversation turns once more to predictable notions that there is more fallacy than fact in these pronouncements and that the world is doing just fine the way it is.

In today's New York Times  we read of a study which found that some whites considered themselves, not blacks, the true victims of racism, and another where police officers in one city, wary of repercussions for shooting blacks are actually less likely to fire their weapons at a person of color. No matter how ridiculous the concept, fallacious positions such as these always surface in response to the harsh light of exposure of the depth of our worst failings.

It is all part of the inexorable march of our nation back into deep sleep, where the most profound dilemmas of today remain an equally entrenched part of our fabric tomorrow.  Fox News is now tired of hearing about the problems of blacks. I guess if they tell us it is time to move on, then on we go.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Summer's Flight Path

It seems an annual ritual, much like the reporting of pitchers and catchers to spring training, or the sight of birds in a "v" formation heading south for the winter. I have now, on more than one occasion, heard myself mouth that entirely forgettable and utterly nonsensical phrase: "I can't believe how summer flew by this year.."

Most often my analysis is met with a knowing nod, a confirmation that somehow time has moved in a wholly unexpected manner, and the laws of nature are not as immutable as scholars have suggested. On occasion, I am given verbal assurances that this summer roared past with the speed of a seventeen year old driver.

Now I could understand this if I had recently moved to a locale where summer was actually nothing more than an abstract concept, where the only noticeable change in the seasons was that the thermal underwear went into hiding for a few weeks. But I have lived in the northeast of the US, in the same state, in the same county, and within the same 10 mile radius, for virtually my entire existence, now in its seventh decade. There are four distinct seasons here, and as far as I can tell, August still remains the month after July. How surprised could I actually be?

I have tried to reconstruct the events of the past several months in my mind. The real dilemma is that I seem to be staring at an almost blank canvas. Maybe the hands of the clock are moving so quickly because the space between the melting of the last snow and the impending fall foliage appears to have shrunken to the size of the head of a pin, unencumbered by memories of distinct events. I remember waking up one morning and looking out at the frozen ice on the Hudson River, and I know I am sitting here at this computer, but what happened to virtually everything in between?

I think, for us on the wrong side of the memory spectrum, time really does have a different feeling. I don't mean this in the sense that we recognize our mortality and that every tick of the clock (if any clocks still tick) brings us one instant closer to a very cold and dark winter, but rather in recognition of the fact that our minds have gotten too cluttered and we are now starting to discard rather than accumulate. And so, we have difficulty cramming in anything more into our overwhelmed craniums.

As I concentrate intently, images are starting to flash by.. I now recall a wedding I attended in late May,  the sounds of James Taylor on July 4th, a bluegrass festival where a woman hula hooped for hours on end, and that trip to Alaska featuring the truly unforgettable sight of my friend standing over a mountain of bear poop on the sixth fairway.

I will try my best to temper my reflective instinct to mouth the lament that summer has passed by in less time than it took for you to wander down to this sentence. I know that the laws of physics are not subject to random fluctuations. I know that 24 hours still contains 1440 minutes and that each day has been filled with endless opportunities to be amazed, distressed, overjoyed or saddened. I know that September's looming presence only means that all of these events have touched down upon me over the course of the past months..

No, summer has not flown by this year, or in any other. Maybe for the young, those who now find themselves moving inexorably closer to the first day of returning to another school year, this season always ends prematurely. However, that is a lament related  solely to impending realities.

But until the day when the earth stops revolving around the sun, until the moment when democrats and republicans form one unified party, until the polar ice caps begin to melt (oh wait, I better not use that as an example), until nature and everything we know to be true is no longer, until that instant I must come to the irrefutable conclusion that summer did not move with any more rapidity this season than in the ones before.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Reply to "The Golf Address"

("The Golf Address")

Four score and seven years hence, your descendants will hopefully not bring forth on the pages of your most esteemed newspaper a new document, conceived by a writer, and dedicated to the proposition that all presidents, man or woman, are created equally constrained from making double bogeys.

Now we are engaged in a not so great civil debate, questioning whether this President, or any other, so dedicated to playing a round of golf, can long endure. We are met on the battlefield of this make believe war. We have come to bear witness to the actions of this paper, wishing it the final resting place for those who devote a column that this question may live. It is neither altogether fitting nor proper that they should do this.

We cannot condone, we cannot allow, we cannot sully this paper with such argument. The presidents, living and dead, who struggled to deal with the daily trauma and tragedy associated with the office of POTUS have a deep understanding of the weight of this duty far above our poor power to add or subtract. The world should little note, nor long remember, what was said here or in the oped to which this replies. But it should never forget what the dictates of the hardest job on the planet require. It is for us, the readers, rather to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which this president has fought to advance. It is for us here to be dedicated to dealing with the greater tasks that remain before us- that from this president we take increased devotion to that cause for which he offers our full measure of devotion, that we highly resolve that those like Mr. Foley shall not have died in vain, and that this country shall have a rebirth of energy- and that our government shall once again be of the people, by the people and for the people.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

The President's Vacation and Mr. Foley

Mr. Obama's timing may have been disturbing, but his outrage for the barbaric acts of ISIS and the pain he expressed for the family of Mr. Foley are not diminished by the jarring juxtaposition of his actions.

The pressures on the President are constant and omnipresent.  There is no place to hide, not even a golf course. There is not a solitary day in his presidency or others before him, where critics would not level the most severe of attacks for our Nero fiddling while Rome burns. But Mr. Obama is neither heartless nor irresponsible.

Israel and Hamas, Syria and Iraq ,ISIS, Putin, Ukraine, Ferguson. We must forgive the president his trespasses on Martha's Vineyard as he tries to find a moment's comfort from the storm.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

A Mirage

It was a mirage, an image that never existed. We spoke of a post-racial nation on that November night in 2008, casting aside the realities of the moment.

In the years since, we have witnessed a land in which a frightening number of blacks have lost their liberty, where their ability to participate in our election process has been disintegrating piece by piece, where employment opportunities have been scarce and poverty has been declared a self fulfilling prophecy.

The promise of that November night  has only served to fuel the anger and the disappointment. And with the deaths of Trayvon Martin,  Eric Garner and Michael Brown the fires of resentment and betrayal threaten to burn out of control.

The mirage is no more and the images we now see inform us that we are in too many ways closer to 1963 then we dare to admit.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

My Semi- Appointed Round

I have spent most of my golf life in a perpetual state of near unhappiness. Never more than a moment's notice from casting myself as the unfortunate victim in some Shakespearean tragedy. Not today.

Steve and I arrived 10 minutes before our scheduled tee off. It was 7:50 on a Saturday morning in mid August. The place was deserted.

When was the last time the proprietor of the pro shop took your shoe, brought it over to a rack filled with galoshes, and fit it to your specifications?

Welcome to Haines Alaska

In 56 years of innumerable swings and questionable results I can't ever recall being bent over double in laughter. That statement no longer is true.

As I prepared for my first shot with my rental clubs, I clutched at my very tender left side. On a hike the day before I had  impaled myself on a small but extremely stubborn tree limb. But neither rain, sleet nor pain could keep me from this semi appointed round. Not that the weather was to be an impediment, as I peered out at the snow capped mountain seemingly no more than a good drive and five iron from where I readied myself.

We were advised to take a dozen golf balls between the two of us for our nine hole undertaking. The first of the 12 disappeared into the brush no more than 10 yards from where I took my very tentative swipe. The proprietor now also served as temporary guide, carefully explaining the particulars of the layout. Once both Steve and I had driven to places where our golf balls could possibly live to see another day, our host helped us in our search, before leaving us to make our own way in this very different world.

From the beginning, our day was concerned most of all with survival. Not in the golf sense of "that course was so difficult I barely survived" but in the dead versus alive kind of meaning. We were two boys from New York, hearing and seeing danger at every moment, the unmistakable bear droppings here, the wolf or coyote sighting there.

We were not counting strokes, both of us having long since abandoned any pretense that our endeavor had anything remotely to do with numbers on a page. We were part of something infinitely more interesting. It was the first time I had truly felt free while involved in this often futile exercise.

The sixth is the signature hole. As each of us teed off,  our partner snapped away furiously. Click, the river showed just to our left. Click, the mountain was framing our image. Click, we were peering out onto a world we had never seen before. Click, we were making certain a bear was not applauding, or more likely laughing in the background.

On several holes we played from the "whites" having gauged that danger lurked too close to the "blues". Too close to the trees, not because we could hook or slice a shot there, but fearing we could be hooked or sliced. The path from the eighth green to ninth tee was particularly unnerving, maybe 50 yards of narrow opening between two dense areas of trees and brush. I had never before complimented a partner on a good drive when referring to his capacity to handle the cart.

There was a shotgun tournament that morning (maybe shotgun wasn't the best way to describe this, given our surroundings). Steve and I were asked to participate but gently declined, as we were expected elsewhere in short order. But I would leave very reluctantly.

I have played at Pebble Beach and well recall the camera trying to capture the moment that had little to do with three putts, shanks and double bogeys. But as I stepped off the last of the artificial greens I felt that the past two hours had been the happiest and most satisfying I had ever spent chasing a little white ball from here to there. Actually not THERE, because I think I see something moving in the brush. Maybe just here in a kind of make believe universe where there are no marshals, no clubs being thrown and the warning is not "fore" but "whoa bear."

Thursday, August 14, 2014

A bear, a moose and a priest

"So a bear, a moose and a priest walk into a bar." I then finished the joke for my friend Steve: "and the bear and the moose walk out.".

I am writing all this down while sitting on the toilet at 4 AM in the middle of a national park in a place whose name I can only recall as Gus Davis, Alaska. I am a little worried that a bear can smell the remnants of the apple cinnamon bar that lays in the wastepaper basket but a few feet from where I am busy cogitating. I think I should arise and shut the window. That's better. Sorry for the interruption.

I never take guided tours. Too pedestrian. Too slow. Too much for my lazy brain to handle. But yesterday, after checking in to this lodge, Steve, Judy, Jo and I found ourselves with a group of about 10, listening not so intently to a tale of a place that had been home to a glacier but a few nano seconds earlier in the time continuum.

"So what do you do if you spot a bear" (hopefully before it spots you, I was thinking). "Definitely DON'T RUN" was the first critical command.

Our leader, after giving a much fuller description of how to respond, then focused on the other significant inhabitant of the woods.

"If a moose is coming at you, RUN."

It was too big an opening for my feeble brain to hold back. "What do you do if a moose and a bear are running at you at the same time?" "Pray" was the response that seemed most suitable.

This is a place inhabited by the most rugged individuals. People who live off of the land, who rely on their own resources, who brook no nonsense, take no prisoners. And into this world I arrived, filled with almost unimaginable trepidation.

I had grown up, no strike that, I had lived my entire life surrounded by nothing more fearsome than the noise generated by two angry drivers fighting over one parking space.

There was a different mentality, a different ethos here. Here, other guests stripped down and jumped into 38 degree waters, for fun. Five minutes in those icy conditions might be enough to bring disaster. There was a better chance of my becoming President than sticking a toe into the frigid river.

We were told there was safety in numbers. So, after the lesson was over, it was my self imposed mandate that all four of us remain virtually tethered as we took a short walk on the path.

As we were advised that the sounds of the human voice tended to keep bears at bay, Steve began a non-stop crooning. For my part, I yelled if the distance between us grew large enough that a bear's tablecloth could fit in the open space.

Suddenly, just behind me and to my right, there was a rustling in the woods. I let out an involuntary high pitched sound, reaching a note I had not been able to find since puberty. I clutched Steve's sleeve so tightly I must have cut off the circulation in his arm.

In an instant, Jo and Judy turned to investigate. The porcupine scurried deeper into the brush, probably terrified by the awful sound that had just penetrated the early evening air.

I would look up the definition of emasculating if I thought it would do any good, but it wouldn't. If I were a groundhog, I would without a shadow of a doubt be headed back from whence I came as soon as I spotted an alter image of myself. I am surprised a permanent yellow streak is not located directly down my spine.

On the rest of the trail hike, I could see Jo and Judy alternating between giggling and guffawing as we jointly discussed in detail my act of bravery.

The lore of this piece of rugged terrain will no doubt be amended someday to recite the incredible tale of the porcupine and the almost unimaginable squeal.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

My Anniversary Card to My Wife

37 years. 37 years. 37 years.

Let me try to put that in perspective. No, on second thought that is impossible. You have to be there to understand what it means.

As my wife rests peacefully in the next room, she will soon awaken to the fact that she is beginning the 38th year of a life sentence. One simple "I do", two little words, three little letters (by the way, there is nothing smaller in the language than a complete sentence containing a noun and a verb and only three letters).

She has stirred and walked into the room where I now am writing this love note to her. When I repeat my first line, she replies that it sounds like fingers scratching across a chalkboard. She then exits stage left. She has made her point.

I wonder the universe she envisioned 37 years ago. Did it include a person like me, with all the fractures and foibles, bad puns and worse voice? Did she notice even at the beginning that my toenails were starting to turn strange colors, my hairline was making a retreat faster than an overwhelmed army and my sense of humor made sense only to me?

I know she tries her best to tolerate my eccentricities and embrace the different way that I stumble through each day. It is not easy having to put Humpty Dumpty back together again and again and again. It can become cumbersome.

With all due respect to Ryan O'Neill and Erich Segal (for the few of you old enough to remember those names) love often means having to say you are sorry. for the shortcomings, the disappointments, the visions that never became reality.

But marriage at least my marriage, is a very flexible, pliable being. It can absorb the worst of moments and come out unbowed, unbroken. It can find the morsels, the hidden gems, the little pieces that only she and I fully comprehend. Like the remark about the chalkboard. An inside joke, even though only two of us hear it.

It is 6:30 AM on the first day of the 38th year of our marriage. As I exercise my brain with my ramblings, and I know that my wife would dearly love if one morning, just one, I was the one who got up to do the laundry, she now puts in the second load of wash. Like I said, I am not perfect. We all have our strong suits, and our many weaknesses. I know what she is thinking if she is reading these words. And it is not particularly funny.

So how do I make this sound like the happy anniversary greeting that it is intended? How do I tell my wife that I love her and hope, as strange as she may think it is, that we have as many days together in front of us, and are now in our rearview mirror? Maybe I can start by getting out of this chair and helping her separate the whites from the darks.  Gotta go.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014

James Brady


("Taking a Bullet, Gaining a Cause")

Every day for the last 33 years of his life, James Brady served as a stark reminder of  our failed attempts to bring reason to our gun control policy. Advocate as he might, the legislative victories gained by him through the years have seemingly all been blunted, while we recoil in horror from the mass tragedies that darken our horizon with such alarming frequency.

The shooting of Congressman Giffords, the Newtown massacre, the events that should shock any civilized society to respond, have been cast aside as we succumb to the incessant drumbeat to arm ourselves. We have not developed rational policy but rather a western frontier mentality where our holsters are no longer even left at the saloon door.

Mr. Brady's death once again brings into sharp focus the sad reality of how many lives we have allowed to be altered or ended by needless disaster.  We all mourn Mr. Brady's passing as well as the evident demise of the cause for which he battled.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

The Very Clever President and the Unsuspecting Public

("The Impeachment Game")

So we are supposed to understand:
this is all some kind of Machiavellian plot orchestrated by a diabolically clever President, assisted by dimwits masquerading as MSNBC talking heads, to allow governing by fiat by a dictatorial overlord;

that a Republican party which treats governing as a four letter word is somehow not the root cause of this disaster and

that it is not somehow a logical conclusion predicated on the unending drumbeat of character assassinations to which Mr. Obama has been subjected since his first day in office that impeachment is within the realm of possibility.

I am sorry to disappoint, but while this fairy tale might play well at Fox, which really is nothing more than a second home for Republican talking points, it does not ring true for those among us who have been paying attention.

How My Mother Ruined My Life

To the editors of  Chicken Soup for the Soul "Thanks to My Mom", 101 Stories of Gratitude, Love and Lessons":

Your solicitation will undoubtedly elicit thousands of heartwarming tales of the beauty, grace, elegance, charm, devotion and caring of the matriarchs who have guided and shaped our lives. This story is not one of them.

Upon reading the title for the forthcoming book, my wife and son, almost in unison, instructed me to start my piece by informing the readers that my mom had ruined my life. What a horrible, terrible, no good, very bad thing to say about a woman who, now almost 97, has been such a compellingly wonderful person and has shown nothing but unfettered warmth and attention towards me. Aye, there's the rub.

I was a spoiled 1950's and 1960's child, growing up in an idyllic setting, with a mom and dad right out of the television shows of that era. My sister and I knew a universe where the dad worked hard,  the mom stayed home and attended to our needs, and we were blessed with a housekeeper who assisted in making certain that life was pristine and easy.

My dad, a natural athlete and a completely involved parent, was not, as far as I can recall, one for whom work around the house was a calling. In the far recesses of my mind, I can see him performing some chores, but it was anything but second nature for him to pick up a hammer or perform other household tasks beyond cutting the grass. My dad was not lazy, he was merely placed in a role that required relatively little of him once he walked through the door after a day at work. I don't know that I ever saw my dad cook a meal.

Hawaiian chicken. If you really want to know my expectations in childhood, this would be a perfect example. I particularly liked this dish but it would take two days of preparation by my mom to meander through the various steps to present the finished product on the table. But, if I said I was in the mood for this dish, as certain as the sun sets in the west, it would be ready for consumption within 48 hours.

I know my friend Neal thought I was spoiled, and that his life, so like mine in so many ways, did not include the same kind of coddling. I never noticed the distinction and thought little of the irreparable damage my mother was inflicting.

I don't know that this can all be laid at the relatively small feet of my mom. There must have been some wires that were crossed in my head at birth which have prevented me from performing even the simplest of tasks to aid my beleaguered spouse. My son says that I hold a dish in my hand at the sink like a foreign object to be treated with fear and confusion. Loading a dishwasher, separating colors from lights at a washing machine, screwing in a light-bulb, folding shirts, lighting an oven, boiling water, even moving furniture, all remain mysteries far beyond my grasp. And for all of this, it is suggested that my mother's handiwork is almost entirely to blame.

We are all supposed to be examples to our children of the way things are intended. From the manner in which we treat strangers, to the attitude we present in our voice to our spouse when we are tired, irritated, drained or just bored, from what we do to make ourselves and others around us better to how we hold our forks and cut our meat, everything that happens around our children has consequence and meaning. And so, how much, or how little was demanded of us growing up, how much we were called upon to use our own resources instead of relying on others, how hard rather than how easy, how independent we are forced to be, it is in all these areas that my downfall was preordained by my mother's single minded focus on not allowing the bad and the difficult, or even the almost bad and the maybe difficult to penetrate into our domain.

For making love so easy to obtain, for giving approval with such ease, for not allowing hardship to darken my door or ruin my day,  for protecting me and making me feel warm and safe, adored and pampered, for being the absolute kindest and sweetest and most attentive mom she could be, my mom failed me miserably.

And worse, I fear I have been just as bad a parent to my children.

Damn you, I mean thank you, mom.