Tuesday, March 28, 2017

The Eulogy

Yesterday was my mom's funeral. I was preternaturally calm in a way that was shocking to me. I had envisioned myself, exhausted by a decade of pain and sadness, having spasmodic episodes of grief. My sister was in an emotionally fragile state and I felt if she wobbled I might fall.

But she was valiant in her effort and, with the exception of a moment or two of difficult reflection, she held together unbelievably well. 

As for her eulogy, and those of her husband, her children, my children and finally me, I think they were uniformly remarkable. One more touching, humorous, insightful, soaring than the next. Each part of a beautiful tapestry that, woven together, provided a wondrous portrait of my mom. 

I was fortunate enough, or maybe unfortunate enough, to be the last of the seven family members who spoke. Having to follow such brave and meaningful tales was, in some respects, an unenviable task as the audience may have been wrung a little dry emotionally.

But my words seemed eagerly accepted and when I concluded by singing a Sinatra song, Young at Heart, to my mom, it turned out to be the perfect closing number.

In analyzing my words, and those of all the others, with the assembled mourners later in the day, it struck me that funerals are in some manner, like a Broadway show. "Ben Brantley of the New York Times raved: "It was the equal of Hamilton. I laughed, I cried. I was swept away in a tidal wave of emotion. The portrait of Dorothy Nussbaum was spectacular, as this woman who lived to almost 100, seemed brought back to life by glorious tales of her splendor. She was a marvelous woman and you will end your evening longing for more. If you have but one funeral to witness this season, make it hers."'

Funerals can thus be hits or flops, the perfect blend of emotions,  the right mixture of happy and sad, or merely a messy jumble, unforgettable and a little unwatchable, like a performance not ready for the bright lights.

I would like to believe that my mom made our work incredibly easy, that the glow from her existence radiated on its own and that we were but conduits, vessels expressing her magnificence. She was surely a special person, filling all those she touched along her journey with a wondrous awe. Maybe all we had to do was not screw it up and she would take care of the rest. 

But the truth is we could have fallen flat on our collective faces, for a life must be portrayed with the right hues and impeccable tone to be appreciated like the finest of paintings. And my mom had the great good fortune to have been the matriarch of a family who paid attention to detail, who understood her essence and who could convey its meaning with all the grace, dignity, laughter and tears it so richly deserved.

With every fiber of my being, and with the blessing of my mom, I thank you. Thank you to my spectacular sister Gail, my brother in law Jim, my nephew Brett, my niece Lindsay, my son Richie and my daughter Alex for being brilliant storytellers. Thank you for showing the world that the heart of Dorothy Nussbaum still beats in all of us. Thank you for making this day one that I will look back upon not with unrelenting sorrow, but with lasting joy that all of you gave Mom a perfect sendoff. Thank you for bringing those gathered to their emotional feet, with a silent standing ovation for the magnificence that was Dorothy Nussbaum.

Thank you for making this day a hit. Mom deserved nothing less.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Saying Goodbye (My Mom, Dorothy Nussbaum, passed away yesterday, March 25, 2017)

The rabbi was a big, burly figure and he took up almost all of the space by the side of my mom's bed. I was annoyed because I was unable to reach my mom to greet her, to give her a kiss.

My mom is dying, the hospice nurse advising my sister earlier in the day that it looked as if she would pass away in the next day or two. She lay in her bed, still and placid. I wondered if the heavier dose of morphine had been responsible for softening the look in her face, bringing a gentle calm before my mom decided it was to be time to finally let go.

After spending almost a decade mourning the loss of the person who once was my mom, watching in pain as the dementia caused her to recede further and further away until there was almost nothing left except the body that housed her, I thought that this moment would come as one of relief. Finally, finally, finally she could rest in peace.

But though the mom I once knew had long since vanished from this planet, the thought that my physical connection to this living being would soon end, filled me with a sudden wave of uncontrollable sadness. My belief that I had long since finished grieving was a mere lie. Saying goodbye is really hard.

The rabbi began to explain the meaning of what he was about to recite to my mom, but I could absorb little of his words. I had been standing shoulder to shoulder with my sister, both of us staring intently towards the bed. I moved several feet away now, hoping the distance would somehow keep my tears from flowing down my sister's face.

This bed was the only home my mom had known for the past six weeks or so.  She was unable to even be lifted into her wheelchair to sit in the dining area and feel the warmth of the afternoon sun on her face. This bedroom had been her entire universe, two hospital beds pushed next to one another, a third bed, hers so many years ago, now housing her incredible caretaker.  I had been in this room thousands and thousands of times during my mom's long day's journey into night and each atom it contained had been forever etched into my head.

I watched my mom's breathing intently to see if it was reporting any news to me.  The sheets moved gently up and down, in perfect rhythm. No, there was no clue here of anything imminent. There was talk of the physical signs on my mom's body that she was shutting down. But neither my sister or I could pull the covers back, even ever so slightly, to verify the details. It seemed a gruesome task, with no purpose other than to multiply our sorrow.

As the rabbi finished his prayers and his explanations, he moved back, allowing the space I needed to reach the top of the bed and my mom's face. As I have for nearly ten years, I asked her how her day had been, if there was anything new she wanted to report to me, if she had made any plans. I thought I saw her eyes open, just briefly. I even made myself believe she was trying to talk to me, that her mouth was forming a shape to speak. Over the next few minutes, as the room emptied, I would once more sing to her, in my nasal most peculiar voice that only a mother, only this mother could love.

It was time for me to say goodbye, the longest of all goodbyes now finally so near. I kissed my mom on the forehead for what could be the last time, and walked out of the bedroom to the rest of a world that today held no meaning for me.

Behind me, my mother lay calm, blissful and unaware of the meaning of the tear that had just fallen on her face.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Crazy Like a Fox or Just Crazy

("Tweeting Toward Oblivion")

Mr. Bruno writes as if Mr. Trump is in full control of his faculties and assumes he can turn off his tweets as easily as one turns off the water to a flowing tap.

The reality is we have elected a man who is filled with paranoid delusions, who many would suggest is crazy like a fox, but whom I perceive as just crazy. His tweets are not principally a manifestation of attempted political maneuvering but rather evidence of a mind unable to be at rest, unable to find a stasis, unable to work through the clutter to determine where his thoughts end and the truth begins.

Mr. Trump stop his lies, stop his obsessive compulsion to arise in the middle of the night and put forth yet one more damaging, reality denying 140 character heat seeking missile? This spigot is broken and the water will continue to gush, unchecked and unmoored.

Friday, March 17, 2017

This Land's Not Your Land, This Land is My Land

This land's not your land, this land is my land
From Mar-a-Lago to the high rise I've planned
From denuded forest to my Gulfstream ordered
This land was made for only me.

As I went walking round 1600
Have trouble sleeping, must get a new bed
Thought "this is my place, I'll decorate it"
This land was made for only me

And I went slashing,  get rid of dead wood
Cut out those damn arts, cause I said I could
And then I'll chop down all regulation
This land was made for only me

I'll build that big wall and they can't stop me
I'll call it Trump's wall, no one can top me
And they'll all shut up, they can't say nothing
This land was made for only me

My son comes asking, how did you do it
I say to Barron, I'm a great steward
That smog descending is just illusion
This land was (cough, cough) made for only me

This land's not your land, this land is my land
From Mar-a-Lago to the high rise I've planned
From denuded forest to my Gulfstream ordered
This land was made for only me.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Questioning the Question

("Trolling the Press Corps")

What could be more perfect complement to fake news than real news conferences with fake reporters?

Mr. Spicer's tongue is tied up in knots every time he has to provide cover for one of President Trump's off the cuff or off the rails remarks. Seemingly confused of his own accord, Spicer is clearly no Kellyanne Conway, the master at misdirection and deflection. He is overmatched and overwhelmed. And he is in desperate need of help.

The pure glee that Mr. Wintrich and Mr. Hoft exhibited as they contemplated best how to distance themselves from any shred of journalistic integrity is but unadulterated extension of Mr. Trump's avowed intent to destroy forces aligned against him. On the campaign trail, some "adversarial" press corps members,  like Katy Tur, were maligned and scorned, treated more like enemy combatants than people taking a serious job, seriously. 

Mr. Trump's press conference had the feel of a mockumentary, a satire of what a Trump press conference would look like. But at a moment in time when the line between fake and real is blurred almost to the point of extinction, when Melissa McCarthy sounds more like Sean Spicer than does Sean Spicer, the President of the United States can, without hint of irony or self-recrimination, look for a question from a "friendly reporter."
Your reference to the President's exchange with Jake Turx, the Jewish reporter, is perfect example of what we may expect now and in the foreseeable future. "See, he said he was going to ask a very simple question, easy question and it was not." Contending that the inquiry on how he intended to respond to the rash of anti-Semetic activity around the nation, was not a "fair question" Mr. Trump twice requested Mr. Turx to "sit down."
And to that response, those like Mr. Wintrich and Mr. Hoft, rise to their feet to applaud, ready, willing and able to play the required game of softball with their leader.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

The Unaffordable Care Act

("24 Million Fewer Could Receive Health Coverage")

The unaffordable care act.

It is larceny in broad daylight, stealing from the poor to satiate the rich,  stripping Medicaid, making coverage unattainable for those most in danger, treating misery as a pre-existing condition, holding the only self evident truth, the only mandate, is insuring that insurance is once more a privilege and not a right.
For the vast portion of the population who stand to lose the most, many of whom sought comfort in the arms of the Republican party, it is far past time to end the delusion that this President and those in control in this Congress are in your corner.
The President will rely on his standard bag of tricks, crying foul that the figures from the CBO are without basis, that this agency, like his intelligence agencies, are filled with incompetents, that numbers lie (except when they support him), that everyone in the fictional land of Trump will live happily ever after.
Except we know better (or worse). We know that millions will suffer unnecessarily if this plan become reality, that we will have taken yet another giant step backward in our journey to reach the moral high ground, that we will be complicit in a crime of staggering magnitude.
There would be some who might think, for selfish political purposes, that the Democrats should put up a fight but then step aside to allow the Republicans to orchestrate their own political demise. But that cannot be adequate response. The only acceptable reply is to stand resolute and unbending, to push as hard and as long as possible, to give those who require our aid the most, assurance if not insurance they will not be abandoned in their hour of desperate need.

On Dying Young

The piece she wrote for the Times in the days before her death ("You May Want to Marry My Husband") was unique in its intimate view of a life at it's conclusion. Her family ripped from her arms, her husband to become a widower far, far too soon. And Ms. Rosenthal, with not an ounce of self pity, with her humor and intellect still intact and her dignity and purpose still preserved, gave us not merely a dating website to peruse but her own eulogy. We were provided a front row seat to a woman of courage and great fortitude.

None of us envision dying young, with so many promises still to be fulfilled and so many memories still to be created. But if I should pass before my self contemplated expiration date, I hope I do so with even a small portion of the grace that Ms. Rosenthal exhibited.

While she may have written her words intending to extol the virtues of her husband, Amy Krouse Rosenthal also left us with her own unforgettable character to admire.

Monday, March 13, 2017

An Afternoon with Chris Thile

The sweetest music runs through his veins
Like the feel of a gentle warm summer rain
Like the taste of a cherished vintage champagne
Like a truth that no one can possibly feign  
His fingers move as instrument to his soul
His eyes alive as those of a new born foal
His body in a pulsing dance to and fro
His beating heart and his song halves of a whole
It is the sound of unadulterated joy at play
It is the sight of new bloom on the first spring day
It is the smell of a field of freshly mowed hay
It is love pure and simple as any ever made
He is in concert with us and too with his art
He mingles with us, old friends from the start
He laughs, we smile, for he's captured our heart
He plays on in our head long after we part

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Mr. Trump and the Office of the CYA - A Story of "Unintelligence"

("How Trump Undermines Intelligence Gathering")

The essence of Donald Trump is to reach conclusions and then search for the evidence to justify and confirm. This makes the task of an intelligence agency an impossible one, and their value, in the eyes of their President, limited to providing truth to lies.

In such a universe a President can denounce those who gather the information upon which the most critical decisions are founded as a useless disgrace or accuse them of being complicit in an illegal wiretap. 

Mr. Trump may well have run his business enterprise by making those in his employ uncomfortable, uncertain of their standing and unsure how best to please their boss. And maybe that was, in Mr. Trump's estimation, a key to his success. But it does not translate into how to run a country, it does not lead to the discipline to detail and fixed focus on letting the facts direct the decisions that is a mandate for effective and efficient government.

No one in this bizarre universe of Mr. Trump is immune from criticism or attack. When the only rule is to follow his lead, strange suddenly becomes the ordinary.

And head shaking, hand wringing and ducking for cover become key components of your job.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Of Impetigo, Andrew Bogut and Me - A Tale of Broken Parts and Shattered Dreams

I read that Andrew Bogut, who had just joined the Cleveland Cavaliers, broke his leg less than 60 seconds into his first game with the team. He and I now have an immutable bond.

Almost 50 years ago, I was to begin my senior year as captain and left wing on my high school soccer team. Junior season had ended after four games. A little rash under my chin turned out to be impetigo, a seemingly benign skin issue. But exercising extreme caution (kind of the equivalent of Trump's extreme vetting) and the haunting warning of the school nurse that this could spread to my brain if left untreated (where was that diploma on her wall), I sat out the entire balance of the schedule.

Meanwhile, the team won the league championship, the goalie made the "people in the news" section of Sports Illustrated and life generally proceeded along surprisingly well in my extended absence.

So, like Bogut who came to the Cavs with something to prove, I was ready to show the soccer world that my 5 goals before my "illness" had not been a fluke.

Still I was not in the best physical condition, lazy my perpetual state of being. In our first practice, we had to run the 3.1 mile cross country course at Van Cortlandt Park. I started briskly and then, hidden from sight by a large hill, abruptly stopped, gasping for air. As the rest of the team ran ahead, I pulled a Rosie Ruiz, cutting through the trees and brush and emerging, still out of sight of our coaches, near the finish. So I am not perfect. Sue me.

Our first game of the season was being played in Brooklyn. The field was particularly dusty, swirling gusts clouding my eyes and choking my airways. Just before the first whistle I began a sneezing fit which continued, unabated, for several minutes. Meanwhile, to my great chagrin, 22 players took the field and began the contest without me. My return to glory had gotten off to a decidedly inauspicious start.

About 6 minutes in a ball was kicked out of bounds past the goal line. My sneezing subsided, I triumphantly entered the fray. As the free kick made its parabolic journey towards me I readied for my first action in nearly a year. I rose to meet the ball in mid air, to "trap" it with my chest and then show off my exquisite footwork and powerful left leg.

I don't recall seeing the player who contested this space and knocked me, off balance, back to earth. In the next instant my 10 second season, and my career in soccer, was over.

I remember being placed in the back of my dad's car for the trip to the hospital in New Jersey. I think I passed out (maybe slept is the more accurate term) on the way there. My ankle broken,  the only picture of the team and me from that lost senior season showing me in my full cast.

I consider Mr. Bogut my blood brother. A gifted athlete ready to demonstrate his immense talents on the big stage only to be cut down in mere seconds by cruel fate. Left only with possibilities, broken parts and shattered dreams
Andrew, I feel your pain.

P.S. - the team won the league championship again my senior year without any help from me.

Monday, March 6, 2017

Hair Today, Gone Tomorrow

 ("About Clint Frazier's Lush Locks, Will the Yankees Let Their Hair Down?")

It was not always this way in the Bronx. For those who were not alive in the BS era (before Steinbrenner), you missed the unforgettable sight of Oscar Gamble trying to stuff a glorious mountain of hair underneath a cap that looked as if it had as much chance of staying on his head while Oscar was legging out a triple as Alec Baldwin now has of receiving a tweet of appreciation from Donald Trump.
And even though the 4th of July born King George made all his Samsons shear off their locks before they were locked into their contracts, he could not keep all the personalities under his command buttoned up, even as they cleaned up.
Reggie Jackson may have cut his hair but he did not shut his mouth as he, the Boss and the brat of the Brat Pack, Billy Martin had a never ending high profile, high volume feud. And even though Dave Winfield was neatly coiffed, he still managed to get into the head and under the skin of Mr. Steinbrenner.
Do the multi-million dollar players of this era feel stifled by their inability to express their first amendment right of freedom of hairstyle? Would Samson now play for the Yankees if they offered him enough money? Did the Oakland A's in the 70's, or more recently the San Francisco Giants, prove victorious because of their dedication and devotion to growing great mustaches and beards or rather growing great farm systems?
Yankee Stadium has been filled over the past decades not because of short hair or long, but because of short relievers and long. Not due to big hair, but big salaries, not owing to freedom from constraints but free agency.
As for me, I shaved my head accidentally yesterday (that is another story), and maybe this is nothing more than my tale of follicle envy. But the bottom line is that if Mr. Frazier does not make the team ("down goes Frazier" should be the headline) it will not be because of his lack of flaming red hair, but merely a lack of ability to catch up with a flaming fastball.

Chasing Shadows

("F.B.I. Chief Pushes for Justice Dept. to Refute Trump")

He is the president of disinformation, the chief purveyor of bogus, the master of through the looking glass speech. Donald Trump has us chasing after shadows even as we know his tweets are filled not with truths but with hot air.

Jeff Sessions is today scheduled to "amend" his testimony before Congress, but the fact that the attorney general of the United States is compelled to try to unlie a lie is not today's headline. What should be the lead is instead buried beneath the manufactured suspicion that Mr. Obama orchestrated an illegal investigation into Mr. Trump's head.

In fact, based on multiple reliable sources, I can report that such an investigation did occur and, despite a thorough and exhaustive effort, nothing was located. Let me repeat, nothing was found, for Mr. Trump's brain is completely empty. Not a single thought representative of Mr. Trump's elevated station was located. All that was uncovered was a bunch of loose marbles rolling around aimlessly.

Mr. Trump is not armed with knowledge, with understanding, with intellect or integrity. But he is equipped with an immense capacity to deflect and defuse. It is his greatest, and truly his only weapon and he used it to decimate his Republican rivals and to semi-defeat Ms. Clinton. Whenever he feels cornered, Mr. Trump's best defense is to be extremely offensive. And attacking Mr. Obama's non-existent actions is nothing if not extremely offensive.

So, as we head down yet another rabbit hole we must stop and ask ourselves: who is the fool, Mr. Trump for his brazen falsehoods, or us for continuing to follow them to their inevitable dead end.

Saturday, March 4, 2017

Brother Can You Spare a Dime?

( "The Pope on Panhandling, Give Without Worry")

I have been told that I could not live in the city. That the homelessness that is pervasive would be too hard on me. That I cannot feel a personal pain for each suffering soul I pass on the street, that I cannot reach into my pocket for a dollar for every sad story, every difficult life. That to be living in the midst of these personal tragedies requires some distance, for the sake of my own well being. I understand the harsh reality and inevitable truth in that advice.

Several months ago I was in New York attending an annual memorial service honoring the mostly nameless who had perished in the streets of the city that past year. As I surveyed those gathered, I tried to determine who among the assembled were the homeless. Who would leave this room and return to a darkness I could never understand. And who looked at me, sitting alone, and saw what they believed was the face of a homeless person.

I listened to the speeches, some which recalled a friend or loved one and spoke of that person's humanity, dignity or grace. How could we not be impacted by their lives, how could we dare to feel somehow more entitled to life's bounties?
And yet I must admit my own failing. Far too often I pass by a fallen soul without a glance, a nod, a hello or a dollar. I tell myself I am too busy, it is too crowded, I cannot take my wallet out in public. I now apologize to each person I have treated with indifference or even worse, with deliberate inattention.

 I am sorry. You deserved better of me.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

The President's VOICE

I wish to use this post to compliment Mr. Trump: he is getting better at teleprompter reading.

But even beyond that he is wonderful at giving VOICE to our hatreds and prejudices. As he surveyed a nation of 330 million he found that we are in collective pain, victims of immigrants. We have been mauled and murdered, minimized and marginalized, traumatized and terrorized. And we could be sanitized and our safety secured by purging ourselves of a mythical plague in our midst.

For a President who has spent a month not living up to his biggest lies, like replace and repeal of Obamacare or building his magical wall at another's expense, who we have come to know best through his tweeting out his insecurities and, let us be honest, his insanity, who is constitutionally challenged and continually confounded, for all of this Mr. Trump last night took us on a fantasy ride of non-existent accomplishments and nonsensical goals, plans that will be funded and attainable only through the actual pain and suffering of so many of those among us.

It was a worthy effort of the President's speechwriters to distort and distract. And of course, to find the villains among us. For Mr. Trump to survive he must always be able to rail against a villain. And give VOICE to our worst instincts. Congratulations Mr. Trump on a bad job well done.