Sunday, January 31, 2016

Poets in Residence

Is Donald Trump's a campaign in poetry? Is Bernie Sanders'? The answer to these questions is an unequivocal yes.

For all of the teeth grating, mind numbing language of the gutter from Mr. Trump, there is his underlying (overriding) message that we can, we will, be great again.  Forget the path, just know the result. And Mr. Sanders provides a vision, even if economically and politically unattainable of an America that is different and better tomorrow.

These candidates do not dwell on the realities of building the Great Wall or keeping all Syrian refugees in harm's way, of the costs of single payer healthcare or bringing Wall Street to its knees. Those are worries for another day, for the time when one must govern in prose.

For those like Hillary Clinton, or even a John Kasich, who speak of the political process, of the small steps and the hard climbs, there is detriment and deficit in trying to compete with those who dream the impossible dreams. 

From both ends of the political spectrum and with nothing like the soaring rhetoric and vision of Barack Obama,  Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders  share the title of this season's poets in residence.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

We Are Gathered Here Together


("How to Speak of the Dead")

Immediately before reading this piece, I was reviewing the second eulogy I have written this month.
While the public-private distinction is considered in your article, the private world is where the grieving and the comments reside for most of us.

And in that world we should airbrush out the foibles and inadequacies that exist in those who have left us to consider their former being. It is one thing to kick a man when he is down and wholly another to do so when he is forever out. 

There will be time in later days and years to paint a fuller image, to bring back in the warts and the scars on the  face of our departed friend or relative. But there is that moment where they deserve their peace, not a piece of your mind.

So, my words are of the best I can offer of each of those I speak. And for you who find Glenn Frey unworthy of your praise, take a few days off and consider the possibility that silence is sometimes golden.

Thursday, January 28, 2016

New York, New York

("For Bloomberg, Ambition Vies with Caution")

For a country which seems so disenchanted with New York and all its implications from Wall Street abuses to enormous income disparity to cultural snobbishness it is more than a little ironic that this election could be a contest among three New Yorkers of great (Clinton) or enormous (Trump and Bloomberg) wealth and a gaping chasm of distance in so many ways from so many voters.

While the attempt of Mr. Cruz to disparage Mr. Trump with his "New York" comment fared poorly due to Mr. Trump's Rudy Guiliani like response, there is indeed a wide held perception that this city is at the heart of what ails this nation. And should Mr. Bloomberg throw his large, three termed ego into the ring, we would face a choice of former senator, former mayor or once and forever self proclaimed real estate king of this city and of this state.

It would be the clash of the titans of industry and politics, the largest of the large figures to emerge from within the boiling cauldron that is New York. While nothing is clear at present, as Ms. Clinton tries to fend off Mr. Sanders, Mr. Trump and his empty chair battle Mr. Cruz, and Mr. Bloomberg does a Bill Clinton like triangulation, there is the delicious possibility of a New York centric summer in this nation.

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

The Empty Chair

("Donald Trump's Campaign Says He'll Skip Debate")

Is this like a very extended version of Hillary spending too much time doing you know what in the you know where? An empty podium in the center of the Republican wrestling match would actually be a most refreshing change.

If Mr. Trump were running for President of his high school class, such shenanigans would not be tolerated. The "I am only doing this if I get the respect I deserve" mantra is better served in pre- K.

He has seemed from day one like a person secretly plotting his exit, as his outrageous remarks directed at Mexicans, a war hero, women, the disabled, beleaguered refugees and befuddled opponents, would, in a saner world, long ago have relegated him to the status of builder, golf course owner, television personality and world class egomaniac.

Is Mr. Trump unable to find the proper strategy to get the hell out of Dodge, or is he simply a genius at making counter-intuitive moves which raise his omnipresent poll numbers ever higher?

Is Mr. Cruz, much like Clint Eastwood, going to be having a conversation with an empty chair?

Since virtually all of what Mr. Trump says and does seems a spur of the moment outburst, there is a significant likelihood that he will tomorrow announce yet another reconciliation with Fox, and we will have the misfortune of being subjected to more "great" remarks from the great and wonderful Oz of the Republicans.

Mr. Trump is a train wreck waiting to happen, but somehow, no matter how twisted the track, he manages to remain on his own bewildering course.

Monday, January 25, 2016

Hillary's Fault Line

("Hillary Clinton Stumbles")

"You campaign in poetry. You govern in prose." The problem for Hillary Clinton is that there is no poetry in her words. Everything she says seems dictated not by the heart but by the head. 

Bernie Sanders exudes the energy and passion so sorely lacking in Ms. Clinton. She is thoroughly well versed and undoubtedly able but that is not what captures the attention of voters.

Barack Obama spoke in lofty goals and aspirational tones. In "yes we can" and in the language of hope. Bernie Sanders universal health care plan may be DOA but that does not mean he is. 

Ms. Clinton could well learn from the thoughts of Governor Cuomo, before she is once more on the outside looking in. Stop attacking Bernie's "faults" and instead start attacking your own.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Make America Grate Again

("Donald Trump or Ted Cruz: Republicans Argue Over Who Is Greater Threat")

Dear Mr. Trump: 

Remember when you said you would run as an independent, before you said you wouldn't? Remember you talked about respect from your party?

Well, now is the time to make a preemptive strike. We know your pledge of unfettered loyalty was only made under duress, when they held a second Amendment gun to your head. Now, some "true conservatives" are plotting against you, like so many Brutus to your Caesar. They want to make you look dangerous to the future of the party.

Now is the time to run, not for the Republican nomination but for the exit. Build that Mexican wall between you and those who would plot your demise. Embrace the independents, for what are you in truth but your own man not fealty bound to frenemies, not tied to party platform but only to the world according to Trump. Not now, or ever, compelled to be politically correct.

Donald Trump, a very independent candidate for President. It is who you are.

Your true friends (the Democrats)

PS - I have the perfect campaign slogan for you already : "Make America Grate Again"

Sunday, January 17, 2016

The Fiction of Nikki Haley

Nikki Haley as the voice of reason for the Republican party: whoever suggests the same may have listened to her speech but ignored her record. 

This Sarah Palin Tea Party pick, this anti Medicaid expansion Obamacare hater, this anti-immigration leader who signed into legislation the equivalent of stop and frisk deportation, this Governor who found no fault in the waving Confederate flag on state grounds until it became politically expedient, politically necessary to champion its removal. This Nikki Haley is the one who masqueraded as someone who believed in tolerance and inclusion, who found grave fault in the extreme views of her party and its leaders.

Nikki Haley gave a wonderful speech in response to the State of the Union but while the words may have come from her mouth, the sentiments belonged to someone else, someone far better, far more reasonable in tone and practice than the person who governs South Carolina. She was a wolf in sheep's clothing for the evening and her star should not be illuminated by virtue of her one act play.

Saturday, January 16, 2016

The Unforgettable Johnny Chung

This is my response to an article about a  hoax played in 1941 on the New York Times and other newspapers  concerning a fictional college football team and its star player.


 I read with great interest your story on Johnny Chung and his exploits while at Plainfield Teacher's College. I had the privilege of knowing Mr. Chung in his later years. He rarely spoke of his college  football days and his only memento was a small plaque setting forth his accomplishments as a 1941 All American, the 1236 yards gained, the 22 touchdowns.

Mr. Chung was far too modest to reveal this information to me, but I discovered that in the last game of that unforgettable season, Johnny Chung was in serious pain from an injury suffered on the second play. Despite his distress, he ran for 314 yards and 5 touchdowns. It was later revealed that he had shattered the record for most rushing yards in one game while playing with a severely fractured tibia. Out of this almost mythic tale, came the saying repeated millions of time since: "break a leg".

Mr. Chung became a teacher at Plainfield High, never leaving the community that had welcomed him with such open arms. He taught English and was most remembered for his inspiring lectures on the great American fiction writers of the 20th century.

When he retired from teaching in 1991, he was honored by the town for his many unbelievable accomplishments. But being the ever reluctant hero, he refused to take the stage when his name was called. It took 10 minutes and the pleading of a young disabled girl who Johnny visited each week, before he finally appeared. At that moment, she yelled out "Here's Johnny". The rest, as we all know, is history.

He was a man of great warmth and humor. He once told me he had gone to Plainfield to put the team on the map but that nobody could ever find it, as though he, and it, didn't even exist.

When he died in 2007 at the age of 86, he left behind a legacy that bordered on fairy tale, a great sports star, educator, inventor of the fantasy football league and devoted fan of everything Walter Mitty. 

In the annals of sports, there are those revered who are far from deserving, and those long forgotten who should be forever etched into our minds. One couldn't have imagined someone more worthy of our worship than the phantom of Plainfield.

I am so glad that your paper has reintroduced the legend of Johnny Chung into our collective consciousness. Long may he live in our hearts and our heads. He was almost too good to be true.

Friday, January 15, 2016

A Dog Meets the Co-op Board

This post also appears in the New York Times' Metropolitan Diary this week.

For those fortunate enough to attempt to acquire a co-op in Manhattan, the process can be daunting. For the right to overpay for the privilege of calling the city your own, there is relief and a sense of pride that you have outlasted and outbid the unworthy.

But money alone cannot ensure you will ultimately claim your prize. First, you must run the gantlet of prying eyes and piercing glances by the co-op board.

At Thanksgiving dinner, I asked one of the assembled how the sale of her co-op was going. She replied that she was nervous because her buyers were appearing for their interview in the coming week. Along with their dog. Yes, their dog.

There was a 15-page application, which I would assume required submission in duplicate, pertaining to the pedigree of the pup. Name, rank and serial number would not be sufficient. No, Fido would have to present him or herself for poking and prodding.

What if the dog was having a bad day? Or didn’t like the tone of the inquisition? What if he had a stomach ache and, you know, acted like a dog? What if he could not roll over and play dead on command, if “Sit” or “Down” were not mandates but suggestions, if the dog was in heat and humped the leg of the examiner?

Who, after all, wants to get into an elevator with an animal that considers humans nothing more than chew toys? What if the buyer passed muster but the animal passed gas?

The fate of two families rests on one bark, one growl, one sniff in the wrong part of the anatomy at the wrong time. It seems a story worthy of Shakespeare. Triumph or tragedy hanging by a thread, or more accurately, a wagging tail.

The Petulant Child

A "feckless weakling." A "petulant child." A person who will soon be subject to a rear end booting out of his house.  These are but the latest of insults leveled at President Obama, courtesy of the one time king of street bullies, Chris Christie.

Even in a land dominated by crudeness thanks to Mr. Trump, the disrespect towards a sitting President is still and forever shocking. Somehow, the Republican party has decided it appropriate and politically correct over the course of the two terms of the Obama presidency to be petulant and provocative towards the elected leader of our country.

From Mr. Trump's "show me your papers", to the "you lie" shout out, from the finger pointing Jan Brewer to the John Boehner refusal to meet with the President, the lack of respect has been startling.

In the sea of noise that is a Republican presidential debate, the remarks of Mr. Christie may well be lost. It is understood that last night's stage was one made for hyperbole and theatrics, for finding some space to fit in between Mr. Trump and Mr. Cruz, for being noticed. But is there nothing that this party won't do or say anymore in the name of headline grabbing?

Just when we believed the nadir had been reached, thanks to Mr. Christie the bar has been lowered even further.

Friday, January 8, 2016

The Worst Happy Birthday Greeting, EVER

This was the most mean spirited birthday greeting my mom ever received. After perfunctory well wishes, the note proceeded to set forth a litany of suggestions regarding my mom's alleged imperfections. She should consider, among a long list of possibilities set forth, undergoing obesity counseling, alcohol misuse counseling, depression screening, and even, get this, a PAP test.

I understand that my mom has a very bad sweet tooth and, in recent years given her very minimal level of activity,  that she has put on a few extra pounds. Well, ok, maybe a few is a bit on the light end of the scale. And I do recall moments, on very rare occasion, when she would take a drink or two more than she should and ended up "indisposed" for a few hours, but that hasn't happened in at least 40 years. Nobody should have a black mark for that long for such infrequent indiscretion. And while she may be very quiet with eyes closed on most days, often remote and sometimes cranky for a few minutes, she is not depressed, not even close to it. And what the hell is this about cancer screening?

My mom turns 98 today, having been born while the first World War was not considered the first because it was the only one. Her best days have long since left the room and what remains is, well there is no real polite word for the state she has had to endure almost a decade.

Today, my mom's friends at Medicare sent her emailed well wishes for the day. They surely know how old my mom is, as they informed her that she has been eligible, through them, for a PAP test since January 1, 1983. I think it would have little value to her at this juncture, and while I appreciate the thought, I will, on my mom's behalf respectfully decline.

As to the other services for which she is eligible, my mom has been a lifelong member of Weight Watchers. Never more than a few pounds above her 'playing weight", she struggled, as we all do, with looking her absolute best at all times. But remarkably, she remains, if not as beautiful as in her youth, still attractive. And at her age, that is an amazing accomplishment. Her face is still pretty and on the right day she is indeed beautiful.

If she had a drink or two, would could blame her? I haven't seen her drink anything stronger than Ensure since about the turn of the millennium, but if she wanted a "stiff"vodka nothing would make me happier.

And if she doesn't smile so much anymore on the outside, I know inside she is still happy to see me and my sister, and nearly ecstatic when her grandchildren are in her presence. I never remember a day when I was growing up that my mom appeared depressed or even unhappy. And she is not ready, as she nears her 100th year, to change her stripes now.

Thus, while I am grateful that there are those who send salutations recognizing my mom is still here, I am hoping next year my mom's friends at Medicare can soften their tone. Maybe they can merely congratulate her for having spent another 365 days among us, still the same thin(ish), fun loving, joyful and, considering the alternative, healthy person who they remember with great fondness starting with the days before Prohibition.

And, I should let them know, if they send a card with a few dollars in it, that would be most appreciated.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

The Certainty in Uncertain Times of Being Donald Trump



Politics, is at it's very heart uncertain. Negotiations to be undertaken, deals to be made, compromises to be accepted. There is none of this in the language or the very being that is Donald Trump. 

We live in uncomfortable times, from economic stagnation at home to economic disintegration abroad; from disturbing scenes of death on our streets to demonic beheadings on our screens; from Syria to Iran;  from Paris to San Bernardino; from  Assad to Putin ; from one environmental calamity to the next. Many yearn for simple answers to problems of staggering complexity.

And while Mr. Kasich may lay claim to political acumen and savvy, none of that can resolve the fears and anxieties of an increasingly bewildered and frustrated public.  To be a politician in today's Republican party, to even contemplate alternatives, is akin to admitting defeat. 

So, unless the world shifts on it's axis in the next 30 days, Mr. Kasich, and his grown up in the room mantra, will find himself very far on the outside looking in. Instead, Mr. Trump, with all his theatrics, with his Great Wall and his barrier to refugees, with his promise to create order out of chaos, with his ability to rile up and calm down in the same thought, will stand triumphant.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

The Gum Epidemic

This was a major breaking story that almost all media outlets somehow missed

President Obama today announced his war on gums, by making a series of executive orders aimed at curbing the ever burgeoning gum epidemic.

Reaction from the Republican presidential candidates was swift and unanimous. 

"We have a Constitution in this country and only a foreign born Muslim would take away our guaranteed rights. I chew gum religiously and am packing some even as we speak." With that Mr. Trump lifted up his jacket to reveal a  concealed 45 of Juicy Fruit. "Once I am President, my first order will be to undo every order of this President, even his weekly take out of Mexican food."

Ted Cruz promised to filibuster until the order was rescinded, bringing every Dr. Seuss book into the halls of Congress and reciting the entire script of Princess Bride backwards. 

Carly Fiorina declared " Hillary Clinton is responsible for this despicable act and I welcome the opportunity, when I am the Republican candidate, to make her eat her words and a stick of sugar filled gum."

Ben Carson and Rand Paul issued a rare joint statement condemning the President for unnecessary medical intervention. "As doctors, we were called upon to make life or death decisions every day. No Democratic candidate can make such a statement and Mr. Obama is not medically qualified to render such an order adversely impacting hard working Americans."

Chris Christie challenged the President, advising that as a former prosecutor he had faced down many terrorists but never one as despicable as the man in the Oval office. "When I am President I will assure that every American is fully protected and that those who would do harm to our liberties are dealt with in swift and certain fashion." 

Marco Rubio remembered his mother and father telling him stories of chewing gum as soon as they came to America.  "This is a great land, one in which we can choose our own path, tell our own story. Chewing sugared gum is an honored American tradition and I will not stand by idly while our hopes and dreams are destroyed."

An exasperated John Kasich forcefully exclaimed "I balanced a budget, people, and I am certainly able to protect the needs of the fine citizens of this country. I am the only grown up here, and I understand that grown ups are entitled to their gum." No one in the crowd seemed to react. "Is my mic on? Isn't anyone listening to me?"

Only Jeb Bush, among the major Republican candidates, did not make a public comment. Apparently he was napping.

Saturday, January 2, 2016

A Thousand Pieces


It lays out like a brain that has been scrambled. A thousand piece jumble that takes more time, energy and focus than I have capacity. A jigsaw puzzle is like putting Humpty Dumpty back together again. 

On a table in our den there lays fragments of the answer. We have collectively been attacking it throughout the Christmas weekend. Many advanced degrees assembled yet the image remains elusive. It needs the arrival of the expert to unlock its mysteries. He will be here soon.

Zack is autistic. Much of what we take for granted he cannot reach. I have watched his struggles for over two decades. That handsome face wanting to express itself in ways it cannot. The words tantalizingly close but forever out of reach.

Almost always when we visit his home, a jigsaw puzzle lays on the dining room table in its own form of disarray. But to Zack everything is apparent. He walks over, studies it for but a few seconds and then makes his first move. Like a chess master, like the Bobby Fischer of this undertaking. It is clear he can see things I cannot.

Zack can stand there for long periods, analyzing, investigating and solving the riddle. He works with an intensity and single mindedness of purpose. All extraneous thoughts have been swept aside. What must it be like for him, for the same body to both betray and bless.

There are glimpses of unique ability sprinkled throughout his days. Outside there is a basketball hoop and with metronomic precision Zack puts one shot after another exactly where intended. Or the tennis court, where he can act as human backboard.

Not all of his days, all of his life, are on the extremes. He holds a job at Applebee's; is an active member of his household, emptying dishes, setting tables and generally being far more helpful than helpless; resides in a home of absolute "foodies" where the kitchen is the center of the universe, and where he makes salads worthy of a five star Michelin resort and, each Sunday, prepares a mean French toast. He is a more than adequate texter, advising in cryptic notes of the particulars of the moment and served, in earlier times, as a guide for his twin sister who would inevitably lose her way in the woods behind their home.

In so many ways and in various routines, a veneer of normalcy applies. But it is those all or nothing aspects, those parts of the experience of Zack which are so uniquely him, it is here that the starkness captures one's eye and attention.

I have suggested to my friends that they take a picture of each triumph that lays on that dining room table. Something to serve as lasting reminder of what has been accomplished. 

I don't know how Zack will react if asked to straighten out the mess that lays before us. Does he have to paint his own masterpiece from first brushstroke to last, or can he act as collaborator and teacher?

On New Year's Eve he should provide us his reply. Until then, our puzzle lays out before us, mocking our shortcomings. And waiting for the master.


He walks through the front door and gives a truncated, "Richie, Robert, Joanne" to acknowledge our presence. And then he moves silently to the den, where he can somehow sense there is a task awaiting.

There must be 75 pieces strewn about, asking for a home. They are the last, and hardest for the rest of us to match up to the evolving image. Yet, almost at once, Zack's hands are in motion. The bottom right hand corner which has proved  an enigma is inadequate foil for Zack's magical talents. Within a few minutes the image of a stack of newspapers is fully formed.

We have other plans for the evening and the fear is that we will have to pull Zack away before his task is done. We need not have worried. In less than half an hour there are no more orphans. Every piece is tucked in its place, every question now laid to rest.

Zack gives no indication that he is aware of the skill he has shown, of his pure genius at this undertaking. He simply walks out of the den. having completed his task and goes forward into the arms of an uncertain night.

As we head into the beginning of another year, there are assuredly dreams by all who have gathered to celebrate, but mostly and forever by his parents, fervently hoping tomorrow Zack will awaken and somehow find the day that lays before him is as clear and discernible as the pieces of that jigsaw puzzle.

Friday, January 1, 2016


Don Carter, Ray Bluth, Carmen Salvino, Dick Weber, Andy Varipapa. Ask me what I ate for breakfast or the name of the movie I just walked out of and you are likely as not to get an empty stare as a reply. But I recalled the names of those bowling legends of a half century past in a (7-10) split second.

To me, Hebrew school on Sunday mornings was like giving birth every week. Very painful. So my cousin, also an unwilling participant, and I were bribed to assure our attendance. Our reward for our troubles was 3 games at Feibel's.  With a dollar and a dream, I would slip into those shoes recently worn by countless hordes (maybe that is why my toenails now resemble a 10 car pileup on the freeway), and pretend to be like one of the greats. Sure, Mickey Mantle was my hero, but these guys were on the black and white most weekends, and they would serve well as momentary galactic stars.

The years passed and my interest, like the sport itself, waned almost to the point of extinction. But last night, New Year's Eve, brought me back to the alley. In large part, it was as though time stood still. This was not Feibel's, which had long since burned to the ground, but the shoes looked almost unchanged, the bar in the backroom could have been resurrected from Feibel's ashes, and even the lanes made me consider whether I was still residing in the days of crew cuts and milkshakes. Only the computerized score that flashed overhead made this a scene from the 21st century.

Actually, there were other tell tale signs of difference. After two games my whole body ached. I think I pulled a thigh muscle, my wrist was weak, my fingers hardly able to hold a pencil. So, I did not roll a third game, nor did my wife.  And when I turned in those Velcro shoes and reached for the credit card, the four games and the shoe rental cost almost as much as a mortgage payment when Don Carter ruled the lanes.

I have long since grown weary of the normal New Year's Eve nonsense. Maybe this can become the new normal. My mom is no longer able to drive me to the alley, my bar mitzvah marked the end of my formal Jewish education and Don Carter and most of the others are now merely creating thunder in the sky, but I still have dreams.

Next year I will go as far as my aging body and limited bank account will allow.