Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Getting Away From It All

Shortly after 9 p.m. on December 25th we got what our family had wished for since October—a White Christmas at Mohonk Mountain House.

Maddan, our grandson, was on the ice, showing his family his acquired prowess on skates—including his six-year-old don’t-puck-with-me hunched-over, hockey-player stance. His three-year-old sister Finley was perfectly content to sit on an adult’s lap in a chair equipped with skates while Maddan, showing his true nature, patiently propelled the chair around… and around… the rink.

What is a snowfall without gusts of wind? Compliments of nature, clusters of swirling snow occasionally blew in on us through the open walls of the wood-roofed skating pavilion, crystals of snowflakes dissolving on our faces. At one end of the pavilion, heat shimmers as flames dance and rise in a 39-foot-tall stone fireplace. Maddan and Finley huddled there for comfort, and a photo op.

It is a far cry from an open-air refrigerated ice rink to an outdoor heated mineral pool, but hours later I made the leap—into 100 degree water. And as the world slid ever further away, it snowed again. I don’t know what Maddan and Finley would have thought of my Indigo Herbal (hot) Poultice Massage earlier at the spa, serenity not being an operative word in a child’s word bag, though uppermost in mine.

Mohonk is no place for edgy politics or even for news. If you know of a breaking story, best you keep it to yourself. I surreptitiously read my New York Times. I saw to it that the front page was always folded inside.

Clearly, this is not how we holiday or idle in Manhattan. (But why not?) I asked Maddan what he liked most about our stay. He answered in his genuine, matter-of-fact style, “I liked everything.”

My only disappointment was the snowball fight with clean snow we anticipated that never happened. But I didn’t tell him that. Now we are looking forward to a white New Year’s. So we can have our snowball fight. May yours be merry and bright.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

In Holiday Spirit

I’m making a list and checking it twice. Because I have more envelopes than ever to fill with money this Christmas. Because I wish only half the Senate a Happy Holiday! Because Fox News’ commentator, Republican Strategist Noelle Nikpour, said the Jews “have twelve days of presents” for Chanukah—and I only lit candles (as I always do) for eight nights!

Making a list, it never occurred to me to include the worst Christmas song… until I unavoidably heard, “Oh, by gosh, by golly/ It's time for Mistletoe and Holly.” It doesn’t get better. “Tasty pheasants… overeating… fancy ties an' granny's pies.” Time, by gosh, by golly, for Alka-Seltzer.

Fa-la-la. La-la. Irving Berlin knew better than to put an oy into White Christmas. Jerry Herman didn’t write, “We Need a Little Mazel.” So how did it take three Christians—including Frank Sinatra, of all God-fearing people—to express their delirious joy to the world for “carols and Kris Kringle” with gosh and golly.

Scholars can debate the origin or actual date of Christmas, but you haven’t seen Christmas in all its contradictions until you’ve seen Santa and his reindeer on a sun-drenched lawn in West L.A. Through a tinted windshield. Imagine if the manger had been on Sunset Boulevard. Or the three wise men had followed a floodlight emanating from a Hollywood premier!

Not to be outdone this season, California’s sun-struck Laguna Beach Jews mounted a Surfboard Menorah from donated surfboards. Where there’s an oy there’s a vey.

From the ridiculous to the sublime: I spent two Christmas Eve’s in Bethlehem. That’s one more than You-Know-Who. The first time was while I was traveling with Elizabeth Taylor, whom I and two others “ditched” for the evening, left behind in a hotel suite in Tel Aviv because she was being such a pain in the ass. If you’re gonna find out who’s naughty or nice, there’s no place like the Church of the Nativity for the holidays. And if you want to go spiritual and festive simultaneously, tingly and tender and roused, Manger Square on Christmas Eve is that memorable place.

On my second Christmas Eve in Bethlehem, I helped escort cast members of “Beverly Hills 90210.” We met with the little town of Bethlehem’s Arab mayor, who had no idea who the actors were. Then they prayed—I saw them.

So this year, all I want for Christmas is national health care. Oh, and a stocking-stuffer—a Christmas sock to stuff in Joe Lieberman’s mouth.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

A Trojan Horse and A Horse's Ass

We thought they were the decent guys. Maybe they weren’t our candidates, didn’t represent our party or politics, but we gave them this: they were decent.

We know better now. Let’s start with the man most detested by half of the country, Senator Joe Lieberman.

Having flipped on climate control and flopped on Iraq, he’s set his jaundiced sights on health care. “It’s time to get reasonable,” Lieberman declared last Sunday on “Face the Nation,” which CBS should have appropriately renamed “Two-Face the Nation” for him. Reasonable? A member of the Democratic Caucus, he’s threatened to filibuster against health care legislation if it includes a public option, threatened to join Republicans in opposition to legislation expanding Medicare coverage to people ages 55 to 64. What will he think of threatening to do next—outlaw band-aids?

He claims to be worried about adding to “tax-payer costs” and the nation’s deficit. How did he manage to be worry free when he supported the war in Iraq?

He claims to listen to his conscience. Since his largest campaign contributions stem from insurance industry sources and industry-affiliated political action committees, that would seem to mean listening to the voices of the people he’s heavily indebted to. He “owes” them. The Independent Senator from Connecticut is anything but independent.

Which brings us back to his membership in the Democratic Caucus. Many in his own party think he’s a Benedict Arnold. Connecticut Representative Rosa DeLauro says, "No one should hold health care hostage, including Joe Lieberman, and I'll say it flat out, I think he ought to be recalled…” Writer Tom Bisky thinks he’s a mole. I think he’s a Trojan Horse. I’m for setting Barney Frank on him.

Stop this man before he kills national health care. In his own words:

“We’ve got to stop adding to the bill, we’ve gotta start subtracting some controversial things. I think the only way to get this done before Christmas is to bring in some Republicans who are open-minded on this, like Olympia Snowe. You’ve got to take out the Medicare buy-in. You’ve got to forget about the public option. You probably have to take out the Class Act…” In other words, Joe Lieberman wants to accent the negative and eliminate the positive. Which brings us to Mr. In-Between, Joe’s bosom buddy John McCain. The Republican standard-falterer says, “Republicans see Mr. Lieberman as a voice of conscience. I'm proud of him for standing up for what he believes in.”

I’m tired of John McCain. He’s a nag.

Lieberman and McCain take their rightful places with Ralph Nader, George W—[add your own choices]—on a Mt. Rushmore of disenchantment.

Monday, December 7, 2009

"No Problem" a Problem

The lab technician I called this morning to ask if he could fax a radiology report to an MD’s office in advance of my appointment said, “No problem.” The data never arrived. Did I have a problem? A taxi driver, responding to my hasty instructions to take the fastest way, said, “No problem,” and promptly turned into a gridlocked street that indicated “No Exit.” Because I was late, I practically barreled into someone on the elevator who responded to my chagrin with, “No problem”—but although I was late, the doctor’s receptionist made light of it by saying, “No problem.”

This is what language has come to: the answer to everything is “no problem.” Music is no longer loud enough to drown out our inability to communicate. Now we have to obfuscate it with a ubiquitous non-sequitur so easy on the ear you don’t have to hear it to hear it. Read my lips, it says. Or my shoulders. Don’t you speak Shrug?

What the hell does “no problem” mean? Does it mean there was a problem? If I dispute that, does it mean let’s take it outside? Does it mean if anyone has a problem, it’s you, not I. If I can’t resist saying it’s I instead of me, does it mean now we have a problem?

Is “no problem” an answer? Then what is the question? Do you come here often? How long have you been having these attacks? Are you howling because I just slammed the car door on your fingers? As a ready answer to everything, “no problem” is a problem.

Most commonly, “no problem” seems to be a way of saying, “You don’t have to apologize” or, “I don’t need to apologize.” What happened to?:
“Excuse me.” Thank you.
“Sorry to take so long.” That’s all right.
“Believe me, I wish it were me under those wheels instead of your dog.” I understand.
“I didn’t know the gun was loaded.” God forgive you.

Multiple definitions come to mind—too many for three syllables. “Just doin’ my job.” “No big deal.” “It was nothing.” Nothing? From there, it becomes a somewhat condescending dismissal. “No sweat off my back.” “Don’t blow it out of proportion.” “Buzz off.”

“No problem” is not the answer to anything except “Problem?” As in, “Is there a problem, officer?” or “You there on the ledge… do you have a problem?”

Imagine. “Houston, we have a problem.” And Houston answering, “No problem.”

Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Sound of It

Many years ago, I was in the control room of a small recording studio supervising the making of a “demo” record for a song I had written. Seated next to me was a close friend, an arranger who had told the handful of musicians what he wanted them to play rather than given them anything to read. That’s how we did things in those days. (And we thought we were sophisticated!)

In the middle of one take (a play-through of the song), a cumbersome set of metal earphones, “pots,” slipped from a violinist’s head, striking the edge of his violin before hitting the ground. Musicians routinely brought second rate instruments to sessions, so I was stunned by his reaction, which was panic. He raised his violin and started anxiously examining it from every possible angle.

“Why is he so upset?” I asked my friend. “Because it’s a Guarnerius,” he answered. “What the hell is he doing bringing a Guarnerius (a rare, precious instrument) to a recording session?” I asked. My friend answered, “He likes the sound of it.”

Months ago, in anticipation of moving from our apartment, I prepared to dispense with my large collection of LPs. To my surprise, my daughter Lauren expressed interest and began making selections for herself, first for the artwork, then for the sound. “They have more ‘pop,’” I believe she contended. In order to listen to them at her apartment, she had to buy a 33
rpm record player. Now she’s buying more LPs. I held one up and asked why. Her answer was she likes the sound of it.

I started thinking about what I like the sound of. At an impasse as I sat in silence, it struck me how much I enjoyed sitting in silence. I’ve heard some of the most beautiful strings in some of the greatest concert halls in the world. Practically swooned to Pavarotti and Ella, Chet Baker a cappella. Pounding waves and heavy breathing come to mind. The sweet cadences of Robert Frost. The sublime music of “Obama is the winner!” I still have the first cry of a baby and the angelic laughter of two little girls in my ears. But I covet silence.

Our new apartment is on a courtyard. I haven’t heard a car alarm in the five weeks we’ve been here. Like the sound of that? I feel like the dog in the old RCA logo, sitting in front of the gramophone’s horn listening for his master’s voice. I sit in front of an arched window, writing as other windows go dark. I listen for silence.

In truth, I have sounds I irresistibly cotton to—rough voices that for my ears are like the grain of sand in the oyster that produces the pearl. The extravagant seductions of Leonard Cohen and Satchmo. The melodic assault of Kurt Weill. The growling intellect of Barney Frank. The appreciative roar of Yankee fans.

An actor calls his agent’s office. The agent’s assistant says, “I’m sorry to have to tell you this, but your agent is dead.” The actor asks again to speak to his agent. The assistant says, “Look, I know it’s a shock, but your agent is dead.” Once again, the actor asks for his agent. The exasperated assistant says, “Will you it through your head? Your agent is dead!” The actor says, “I know. I just like the sound of it.”

Sunday, November 22, 2009

There Oughta Be A Law

When comic books were comic, a syndicated two-panel cartoon strip, There Oughta Be a Law, gave voice and vent to Americans’ frustrations with just about anything they thought was unfair and should be redressed by a law. Between the 1940s and the 80s, Broadway’s biggest musical, Oklahoma!—with its significant exclamation point—ran for an unprecedented five years; the Mad Ave-hyped Ford Edsel lasted for only three; but There Oughta Be a Law stayed popularly in print for four decades.

I wish “Oughta Be” were around today. I would write cartoonist-creator Harry Shorten to say there oughta be a law in New York City that states anything that isn’t good for the city is unlawful. What has me fuming right now is—brace yourself—a bedbug billboard in Times Square. That’s right, a bedbug. On a billboard. If you haven’t seen it, avert your eyes if you come to it… cover the eyes of your children (and pets)… and, by all means, do not let a visitor to New York see it. Detour, sidle past, walk backwards, but take that tourist dearest to you and to the New York economy and jay-walk the hell out of there.

A bedbug on Broadway! Mayor Bloomberg, where are you? A big, ugly, crawly bug is straddling skyscrapers half its size across a billboard sprawling above a pizza parlor! You eat pizza! The villain is an ad—a tawdry, tacky scare ad for a company called Protect-A-Bed, a crass merchant telling us, “Protect Yourself.” But who’s going to protect Broadway theaters and Manhattan hotels and city restaurants from Protect-A-Bed?

Protect-A-Bed claims its same mattress covers protect against bedwetting. Will people come from all over the world to be sobered by a display of a man pissing on a New York skyline? Above a salad bar?

I don’t believe in curtailing free speech, Mayor B., but this isn’t speech, this is visual assault. There oughta be a law! It isn’t free enterprise, it is economic depravity. Why not a bill-boarded illustration of a bedbug taking a juicy bite out of The Big Apple?!

You spent 69 million dollars—and changed a law a lot of New Yorkers thought oughta be—just to keep your job. Let your affluence do the talking. Why not buy the billboard and change it to something all New Yorkers inherently take pride in?

Curious to know what you, the reader, think there oughta be a law about. That’s what the “Comments” section below is for.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Once a New Yorker, Always...

I tell those new to New York there is a point at which you become a New Yorker. It happens either in the fifth or sixth year. Until then, you tell yourself, and try to convince others, you’re visiting or exploring the options, you’re going to school or “just taking in the scene.” According to every self-spun scenario, you’re here until you can go elsewhere.

I tell them, if you’re still here after six years you’re not going anywhere. You’re here because you belong here. Waiters, students, writers, interns—lanky women, eager tyros and wannabes—you’re stuck here. Give up the ghost of coming and going or e-mailing it in. Your adopted city has adopted you, sure as by fiat. You are no longer from anywhere else. You’re a New Yorker.

In New York, you are what you do. In Boston, you are where you went to school. In D.C., you are who you know. In LA, you are what you drive or where you live.

We live fast. It follows that we have to cut through the quick and initially get to know each other in shorthand—in a New York minute. Pass that test and likely as not you’ve made a friend for life, or at least for the life of the party, even if you never see that person again.

No one gives a damn where, or even if, you went to school—you are rigorously schooled daily and nightly by cab drivers, store clerks, waiters and doorman (from all over the world) in this city. Everybody knows someone well enough to suggest making anyone who makes trouble for him regret he did. No one who lives in Manhattan is foolish enough to maintain a car: if you drive and aren’t driven, if you use a car for any other reason than getting to the Hamptons, you’re probably a schmuck.

Once a New Yorker, you can say anything you want in the most public of places, and say it more colorfully, with a sprinkling of New York vernacular. Incomparable entertainer Mark Nadler used to hold court for fans and fellow performers Thursday nights at Sardi’s. Between songs, tinkling on the ivory keys he otherwise tickled or pounded, he would conduct running commentaries on whatever came to mind. One evening, after using a Yiddishism, Mark, originally from Waterloo, Iowa, said, “I’ve started to notice myself using more and more Yiddish words recently. I began to wonder—am I becoming more Jewish? And then it occurred to me. No, I was becoming more of a New Yorker.”

During my sixth year in New York, I was enlisted to write the lyrics for a Broadway show, “The Sign in Sidney Brustein’s Window.” The more I grasped who Sidney was, the more I realized how similar we were, culturally and politically. The audience discovers before Sidney does (if he ever does) that, fantasize as he may about leaving the city of steel and glass, New York, for the serenity of the countryside, he’s not going anywhere. During rehearsals, I discovered that while I had indulged in a similar fantasy, neither was I. Sidney and I were exactly where we belonged. For me, it’s been a love affair with the city ever since.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

This Was A Happy Home

The morning we were moving from the apartment we’d lived in for 37 years, the glass beaker of our Bodum Chambord French Press—the same glass beaker that had served me for two decades of freshly brewed tea—cracked as I poured boiling water onto the Keemun tea leaves in it. That afternoon, as our cleaning lady prepared the apartment for the buyer, the vacuum quit. Inanimate things know.

I lived in my apartment long enough. Long enough to see the trees in Central Park grow so tall with 37 springs that their leafy tops threatened to obscure my view east to Fifth Avenue. Will its new residents gaze at what I looked forward to daily?— the reflection, at sundown, of the sun setting in the west, producing a transitory bronze blaze in the panes of the windows facing us from across the park.

I lived in my apartment long enough to identify and associate the nicks in the woodwork and walls with my two daughters’ growing-up years. The ever-so-slight indentation in a baseboard from Haley’s three-wheeled bike. The brief trail of indentations in the parquet floor from Lauren’s stiletto heels (a phase that passed quickly, thank God). A faint, blunt impression in wallpaper from the impact of a ball after several schoolboy chums were unable to resist using a spacious bedroom as a playing field and played catch across it.

Lived there long enough for my mind’s eye still to be able to see the scorch under the wallpaper—from the night Lauren declared she was old enough to live on her own… but not before starting a fire in the mini-oven.

Long enough to see our children become adults. And our two grandchildren make it their own and romp through on foot, bike and scooter as if it were their park.

I lived in my apartment long enough to see the parade passing by—the Thanksgiving Day Parade, 37 times. For Jean and me to host rooms full of children and their parents at our windows. To wipe little hand prints and nose prints from the glass at the end of day.

We lived in that apartment long enough to start seeing it through other people’s eyes. It was home, our home, but its impression on other people eventually brought home to me how fortunate we were. Composer Cy Coleman, who moved around in fancier circles than any man I knew, would only live on the East Side of Manhattan. “I could never live on the West Side,” I’m told he would say—then add, with a glint in his eye, “Unless it was in Ray Fox’s apartment.” For me, that was like receiving the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval.

Our daughters insisted on a farewell bash. Their friends, many of whom felt they grew up in our apartment, were the most sentimental. Lauren and Haley made speeches. By consensus, they pronounced, “It’s not the apartment, it’s the environment the people in it created.”

As the days wound down, Lauren would drop by daily to take “one more last” lingering view of Central Park in all its glory. Haley would visit and revisit the rooms. Heartwarming to witness what I already knew—theirs was such a happy childhood.

When the apartment was completely vacant, each made it a point to take a last-look, father-daughter tour with me, and each left a few tears on my shoulder. The park’s leaves turning bright with autumn didn’t make leaving easier. On the other hand, the glaringly bare walls, stripped of their art and framed family photos, and the damned echo in every room, made it time for me to go; I’d lived in the apartment long enough. Haley joined me bright and early that last morning to see the last large item, our irreplaceable piano, crated and moved.

Many, many years ago, when Jean and I were apartment hunting, I came across a small blackboard in one of the kitchens. On it, scrawled in chalk, were words that impressed and stayed with me: This was a happy home.

This was a happy home. And now we’ve left it, with no regrets, for good. My 6-year-old grandson Maddan was the wisest about it. He said, “It’s not sad, because we take the love with us.”

Thursday, October 29, 2009

A Marathon Remembered

The 2009 New York City Marathon is this Sunday, November 1st.

I remember it as a crisp fall Sunday turned dark, an eerily unsteady day for a marathon. The day was October 23, 1983.

Author and leading animal rights activist Cleveland Amory had, in his inimitable fashion, not asked, but told me I was coming to “a little party” he was giving in his Central Park South apartment, which “practically” overlooked the finish line of the New York City Marathon.

I arrived to find Cleveland’s cozy living room, too small I believed to contain the larger than life Cleveland, filled with “big” people: Walter Cronkite, Arthur Schlesinger, Norman Mailer and Walter Anderson, the Parade Magazine chief. I was immediately informed that the U.S. Marine barracks in Lebanon had been attacked by a terrorist suicide truck bombing, killing 241 marines.

I was asked questions I wished I had answers for—I was supposed to be an authority on Lebanon—but I was as uninformed and bewildered as everyone else. You don’t venture guesses when it’s Walter Cronkite who’s doing the asking.

Cleveland had engaged a chef to prepare omelettes to order, but no one was eating. No one was interested in anything but the heartrending news. The venerable newsmen seated themselves around a television set to catch what updates they could. They talked about switching channels briefly to look in on the marathon—which one could view “live” from Cleveland’s balcony, a dozen steps away—but stayed glued to their seats and the network news. In reality, no one on TV knew enough of anything yet, and the reports became a litany of hearsay and conjecture. If you take news as something new, there was none.

Only Mailer and I took to the tiny balcony, which overlooked the final stretch immediately before the marathon’s finish line. Smitten by the display of the runners’ stamina, I said, “Look at that, Norman… 26 miles, and they look fresh as they can be!” He said, “That’s because they’re losers.” As my jaw dropped, he added, “It’s a race. They should be all out.”

Monday, October 26, 2009

The Ghost of Time Warner

If you’re wondering where I’ve been, it wasn’t China, it was waiting for service from Time Warner.

For one long week, my wife and I lived in our new apartment without the telephone, television and Internet service—“the triple package”—we ordered from Time Warner twelve days earlier. In spite of Jean’s repeated calls to customer service, her patient demeanor and sweet implorations, we had no evidence, nary a trace, of the actual existence of the world’s largest entertainment company, Time Warner Inc.

To the contrary, I began incrementally to confirm that the corridors and cubicles of the 114 billion dollar mega corp that occupies mega space in a mega building overlooking Manhattan’s Columbus Circle are occupied, as in possessed, by the Ghost of Time Warner Customer Service, an ungodly assembly of bunglers and prevaricators who swear by everything holy that you’re scheduled and they’re showing up, as they proceed to stand you up hour by hour day after day. A long week of no service call—“Someone will be there today”—and no return phone calls— “In a half hour, I promise”—for a job scheduled well in advance in a building that occupies an entire city block at an intersection so central it’s difficult to avoid. It was AOL that used to be the company everyone for good reason loved to hate. Now it’s AOL’s parent company, Time-Warner Inc., that incurs the amply-earned wrath and curses. The Ghost of Time-Warner Customer Service haunts the denizens of Manhattan. And it isn’t yet Halloween.

Sunday morning I had it with Time Warner Non-Service Inc. I called (by cell phone), coolly unloaded on Non-Service Customer Relations representative Miguel and insisted on speaking to someone who could get the job done TODAY. I emphasized, repeated and broke it down into five letters: T-O-D-A-Y. “I want someone here TODAY.”

Miguel, trying to be helpful, asked if I could go to Queens to pick up the modem the serviceman he’d yet to acquire would require for the job. I asked Miguel: “Did you ever hear of a Bad Customer Relations Department? Anywhere in the world?” Since Time Warner Non-Service Inc. apparently doesn’t teach its employees too much more than how to avoid the truth, I thought I could further Miguel’s career. “Customer Relations implies good customer relations, Miguel, not deceitful customer relations, or incapable or inept ones.” I continued the lesson by citing the obvious: "Your company has men in trucks; I, like most Manhattanites, don’t have a car. Your men are on your payroll, I am not. You’re Time-Warner and I’m…

"I’m at 79th and Broadway, 20 blocks from Time Warner headquarters. Walking distance! 79th and Broadway, Miguel. If your offices are on fire, odds are the fire-engines will pass through 79th and Broadway on their way to put out your fire, it’s that tough to avoid. I’m not calling from a farm, Miguel. Major subway and bus lines cross through here all day and night. And your installation man can’t find his way here, even by accident?"

Miguel connected me to his director, Osvaldo. In the fleeting magical moments that I had not one but two Ghosts of Time-Warner Customer Service on the phone, I told them not a single person has called back. Ever! “It must be in the manual," I said. "No matter what the problem is or what the customer says, you tell them you’ll call back in a half hour. A Footnote tells you, *Don’t bother. They’ll never be able to find you again.”

Osvaldo offered to try to get a service person for me “today” and call me back. I rationally opted to wait on the phone. Forty-five minutes later Osvaldo returned to the phone to tell me he was sorry, but he could not find anyone available “today.” To make up for it, he’d offer me two months of free service. I said we’d already been given one month of free service. And now, two more months of free service... for service we don’t have and can’t get! How can you beat that?

Before the word “tomorrow” could come out of his mouth, I asked Osvaldo to put himself in my shoes. I told him that if the situation were reversed and he need a comma or period and it were my job to supply him with punctuation, I’d leave my desk and come to his office. If no one else from Time Warner Non-Service was available, I thought either Miguel or Osvaldo should leave his desk and come to me.

Osvaldo offered again to work further on it and call me back. Having gained nothing, I had nothing left to lose.

Hours passed without a call. Naturally, I couldn’t reach Osvaldo, so I tore into the man I did reach, whose name I never heard because I was screaming over every word he uttered.

When I entered the world of having to “do business” for myself, I quickly learned that the best way to get attention—sometimes the only way—was to punctuate the important sentence with an obscenity. That’s when I learned to curse. It took me years to learn to scream. Sadly, most people don’t really hear you unless you curse or scream. (I don’t recommend doing both at the same time.) That, sadly, is the way the world works.

By and large, I gave Time Warner Non-Service Inc. the courtesy of the considered scream. Not loudly, but articulately. Yes, that’s what works: screaming articulately.

I got results.

Every story has its heroes. This one’s are Miguel and Osvaldo. Osvaldo eventually called me back. And Osvaldo delivered! All right, the day after, but he went where no one prior had tread. A service call!

I’m posting this via my newly-installed Internet service. I learned today that I have VIP status with Time Warner. Isn’t that a scream?

I want to thank Time Warner Inc., not for the service, too arduously obtained, but for the story. This will probably blow my VIP status.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009


Alfred Nobel could never have won the Nobel Peace Prize. Not, at least, in his lifetime.

Nobel, a Swedish chemist, developed nitroglycerin—not for angina, but for explosives. Having succeeded with an effective blasting oil, he resourcefully developed and patented a blasting cap—a detonator—for triggering the explosion of nitroglycerin.

After losing a brother and a factory from two separate nitroglycerin explosions, Nobel managed to stabilize his mighty explosive and give it a name that stuck—dynamite. A chemist with a head for business, he patented it. An innovator with a taste for explosion, he subsequently invented a blasting gelatin—gelignite—and a blasting powder—ballistite—to go with his blasting oil. For Nobel, who accomplished all of this and became wealthy from it in the quarter-century between 1862-1887, life was a blast.

Nobel said, “If I have a thousand ideas and only one turns out to be good, I am satisfied.” One turned out to be so good it is his undisputed legacy—the creation of a prize for “the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses.” The Nobel Peace Prize.

Gandhi didn’t win it, but Arafat did. Sartre asked that his name be withdrawn from consideration, and not only did the Nobel committee award him the prize, but also ignored his refusal of it. Vietnam’s Le Duc Tho declined it because peace had yet to come to his country, but that didn’t deter his co-awardee Henry Kissinger from accepting it.

It’s fair to say that President Obama won it for being an advocate for both “fraternity between nations” and“the holding and promotion of peace congresses.” For little more because he’s had time and opportunity to do little more. What he will do regarding “the abolition or reduction of standing armies” remains to be seen. If the committee for the Nobel Peace Prize intended to encourage him; to support his honorable endeavors; to put the best light on the worst of human conditions, war; doesn’t that only serve the public good?

Alfred Nobel envisioned a future that is yet to come. “My dynamite will sooner lead to peace than a thousand world conventions. As soon as men will find that in one instant, whole armies can be utterly destroyed, they surely will abide by golden peace.” If only.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Rx: Health Care Made in Taiwan

A health scare I experienced in Taiwan, only 1/13th the size of the United States, made me zealous for services and benefits we in this country only dream about.

While at dinner with five other American journalists in Taiwan this past June, I felt a stabbing, shooting pain in my lower left arm indicating angina. I tried to deny the pain and dismiss any significance it might have, but my companions were too knowledgeable to fool. Mindful I was going to be in the air for nineteen hours the next day, they insisted I go to a hospital before we boarded our plane for New York.

At 7:30 the next morning, accompanied by Lynn, a colleague, and our Taiwanese guide, Lily, I took a taxi to the Buddhist Tzu Chi Hospital in the coastal town of Hualien. At 8:20 a.m., we entered the emergency area, which bore none of the earmarks or anxieties customary to one. Without wait, I was able to tell a receptionist in English why I was there. I wasn’t asked to fill out any forms. All I had to write was my name, once.

In less than five minutes a young woman doctor walked over to where we were seated and began asking me questions, the right questions. After I described my symptoms of the night before, she prescribed the expected EKG and a blood test, took my blood pressure and listened via stethoscope to my chest. She said I would have the results by ten a.m. In less than another five minutes, I was asked to enter double doors behind the reception desk that led to the emergency ward.

Although I was wearing a surgical mask, I was nevertheless wary of catching something. Patients lay in rows of hospital beds. A nurse, sensing my discomfort, led me to a bed on an outside aisle where I sat facing away from the other patients as she took blood from me. I scrutinized the procedure to make sure she was using a new needle, which of course she was. But I was still uneasy. I asked if I might have the EKG in a more private area, hoping for any unoccupied corner of the room. The nurse did even better; she moved the bed into a separate chamber. I was comforted and thankful.

While I subsequently waited with Lynn and Lily in the waiting room for the test results, Lynn suggested we take a poll on what time we would have them. We all lost by overestimating it. At 9:51 the doctor emerged with the completed EKG and blood test results, which she reviewed painstakingly with me. They indicated the pain wasn’t from angina or anything threatening to the heart. They revealed I had a heart murmur I didn’t have on examination a week prior to going to China. I was offered, and gratefully accepted, print-outs of all my test records to relay to my cardiologist in New York.

When we rejoined our colleagues, they, already informed I was OK, greeted me with cheers and applause. Then, one by one, they sidled over to me, individually expressing envy. I pointed out they had relaxed at a beach while I had spent my last four hours in Taiwan anxious about whether I would be on a flight home that day or not. The response could only come from journalists: “Yes, but you got the story.” And they were right.

It’s a tale of national health care. The Taiwanese government, founded “provisionally” in 1949, faced with entering the 21st century with half its population having no insurance coverage at all, started late and got it right.

The government began by consulting experts from a dozen other countries, cherry-picking and combining their finest features for inclusion in its own nascent system. It wanted one plan that covered everyone, assuring free and equal access to doctors and hospitals for all without waiting lists or “gatekeepers.” To finance it, it opted, in 1995, for a single payer government-run national insurance fund everyone is compelled to join and contribute to based on either the ability to pay or a fixed affordable premium. No Taiwanese citizen ever has to worry again about going bankrupt due to medical bills. Working people don’t have to worry about losing their insurance if they lose or change jobs. Low income households, military conscripts and veterans are 100% subsidized.

Taiwan’s NHI (National Health Insurance) system offers comprehensive benefits you can barely recite in one breath: prescription drugs, vision and dental care, maternity and child care, psychotherapy, preventive medical services, acupuncture and traditional Chinese medicines, kidney dialysis, radiation therapy, surgery, inpatient and home care, and more. Everyone has a smart card that enables a doctor to read the patient's medical history and medications. The patient’s bill, transmitted to the government insurance office, is paid automatically. It’s no wonder Taiwan has the lowest administrative costs in the world: less than 2 percent.

The taxi rides, roughly two hours to and from the hospital, came to $10 more than my hospital visit. The entire bill for my examination and battery of tests was $56.

Back in New York, I reported my experience to my cardiologist, who recommended I have an echocardiogram. The first available appointment for me was in a month.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Lebanon, the Film

This is not a review, it is a recommendation. This Thursday and Friday, October 1 and 2, the New York Film Festival will be presenting Lebanon, a feature film that takes us—by tank—into the first 24 hours of the 1982 Lebanon war, i.e., when Israel’s troops entered Lebanon in pursuit of the PLO. For anyone who thinks war is anything less than horrific, or possibly that there is something heroic about sending young people into it, this film is obligatory.

Via one tank, one day and five soldiers, the director captures the claustrophobia and terror of the dank interior of an Israeli battle tank.

This tank stalls in war, gets lost, runs amok. It takes a hit, it takes on a captured, wounded Syrian soldier. “Treat him good,” an Israeli officer says, “He’s a war prisoner.” The tank’s driver panics, its gunner freezes at the sight of his first target, closes his eyes as he fires at the second one. Its commander has trouble controlling his men.

His men are boys. One asks a superior officer to call his home and let his mother know he’s all right.

None of this is the stuff of screenplays. In Lebanon in 1982, I saw a sign instructing Israeli soldiers to do just that. “Call Home. Call Your Parents—At Every Opportunity.” Such signs appeared with telephones installed along the Israeli-Lebanon border.

While I spoke with soldiers on Lebanon’s coastal road outside Damour, I kept an eye on a friend, a seasoned woman who was a prominent Israeli journalist, as she spoke softly with a young soldier. In the day’s twilight, I saw him help her up and then help her lower herself into a tank similar to one her son had died in during the Fourth Arab-Israeli War, the “Yom Kippur War” of 1973. When she emerged, not more than five minutes later, she seemed calmer than she had been all day. “Go ahead,” she said as she approached me, “Ask your question.” She was right, I had one. “How do you deal with it?” I asked gently as I could. She answered, “If you don’t, you go mad. Yes, I think you must go mad.”

Lebanon, an Israeli film directed by Samuel Maoz. Alice Tully Hall, Broadway at 65th Street. Thursday, October 1 at 9:30 p.m. and Friday, October 2 at 3 p.m.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

A Day of Awe

Every year at this time I ask myself the same question: why do I go to synagogue only at this time?

To my Jewish friends, I unapologetically acknowledge I’m a High Holiday Jew. To my Gentile friends I explain that in my religion it is every individual’s prerogative to worship God as he or she chooses; consequently, there are as many kinds of Judaism as there are Jews. That suits me. My way is to disqualify all meddlers and keep it between what’s in my head and what’s in my heart.

If one of my favorite aspects of Judaism is its limitless array of choices, one of my sources of wonderment is how all of its people tend always to answer a question with a question. Even one put to oneself. Why, I could ask, only at this time of year?—but I, of course, can anticipate my answer: Do you know a better time of year? Isn’t it because you always discover something new? A line in the prayer book you’ve been reading or reciting for years suddenly taking on deeper meaning? Incisive or provocative thoughts expressed in a rabbi’s sermon? Or, as happened on one momentous occasion, something so unexpected, so inordinate, so heart-rending and indelible that eight years later it’s still difficult to relate dry-eyed.

The congregation I don’t belong to but collegially join for the High Holidays is that of an American Reform synagogue. To my delight, it is traditionally free-thinking and liberal-minded. For most congregants, a half-day is sufficient to celebrate the Jewish New Year,
Rosh Hashanah, but the most solemn day of the year, the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur, requires a full day.

A full day for Upper West Siders requires a break, one hour and fifteen minutes, between morning and afternoon services. Many years ago, the synagogue introduced a novel program, the “study group,” to fill the time productively (for Upper West Siders).

On Tuesday, September 18, 2001—exactly seven days after 9/11—we reentered the synagogue to find a different kind of “study group” seated in a row of eight chairs on the
bima, the raised platform in front of the ark. Six men and two women—five rabbis and three cantors who had conducted the morning service visibly in mourning and in anguish. One of the women, a cantor, had unavoidably wept openly every time she sang.

The topic was 9/11. The rabbi in the first chair, a noted scholar, spoke in mature tones and cerebral terms. He was followed by another rabbi and another, faces troubled, voices lowered, emotions guarded. So it continued until it became the fifth man’s turn, a rabbi visiting from another congregation, middle aged, face and spectacles round, nondescript. Until he spoke the unspeakable. In sorrow and censure, one sentence. “Today I think it’s God who should apologize.”

Stunned silence. A Day of Awe.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Watching What's Wrong

Jimmy Fallon said it well: “Instead of showing President Obama’s health care speech… Fox aired… “So You Think You Can Dance.” I guess they wanted to give viewers a choice between hearing what’s wrong with our country and watching what’s wrong with our country.”

If you’ve been watching, Joe Wilson’s contemptuous interjection during President Obama’s address to congress is “what’s wrong with our country.” Kanye West’s rude insertion of himself at the MTV Video Music Awards is what’s wrong with our society. Jane Fonda is what’s wrong with mixing the water of celebrity with the oiliness of politics.

I’ve already dealt with Joe Wilson, but inadvertently neglected to include that he’s amply and ably demonstrated he’s a racist. I’m going to deal with Kanye West summarily: in my eyes, he’s a reverse racist, calling the kettle whitey, so to speak—and a blatant sexist, whose seizing of the microphone from a stunned 19-year-old Taylor Swift was crassly intimidating and cowardly.

Which brings me to Jane Fonda. Who just won’t go away. So what’s wrong with her (this time)? Choosing her customary motley company, she joined forces with Wallace Shawn, Danny Glover and David Byrne to protest the selection of Tel Aviv as this year’s spotlight selection for the Toronto International Film Festival’s annual “City to City” theme.

It’s really not much of a spotlight. According to journalist Stephanie Guttmann, “A look at the festival’s home page includes no mention of Israel at all.” But that wouldn’t stop Calamity Jane. You haven’t arrived in American politics until you’ve been boycotted by Jane Fonda.

Seldom is an acronym a synonym for the string of words it represents. But thanks to a handful of uninformed actors and disgruntled walk-ons, the acronym for the Toronto International Film Festival, TIFF, couldn’t be more appropriate, because they stirred up a lulu of a tiff with this one.

Actors should stay out of politics. That should have included Ronald Reagan, but just because it’s too late to stop him doesn’t mean the folly should continue. Alexander Pope said, “A little learning is a dangerous thing.” Some people should stick to learning their lines. I haven’t read Fonda’s biography, and won’t—I’m hereby boycotting it!— but her life isn’t exactly private, and I know of nothing in it that qualifies her for anything but acting (limited), exercise (passé) and outspokenness (unenlightened).

The subject is watching. I watched Jane in Israel in 1982. She and her husband at the time, Tom Hayden, were ostensibly there to observe “conditions.” But she mostly didn’t get off the bus. Tom did—to speak with the press, with Israeli soldiers, and one on one with me—and came off as a really nice guy. I didn’t learn until much later that he was running for the California Assembly and, here’s that uncomfortable mixture of show business and politics again, he was “back-dooring” it in Israel to get the heavy California Jewish vote. That November, he won the general election.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Two Little Words

Retired Army Reserve Colonel Joe Wilson dissed his commander in chief last night.

I can’t think of a famous one-word quote. But with two words, “You lie,” a relative non-entity, Rep. Joe Wilson of South Carolina, became deservedly infamous.

In all likelihood, his two words also made him more of a loser in 2010 than he is now. Before he could say “I’m sorry” (exactly the same number of syllables and the cadence of “jack rabbit”), Republican Party leaders were apologizing for him. Before Rush Limbaugh could say, “I was ecstatic when I heard that last night,” the campaign coffers of Wilson’s Democratic opponent in 2010, Rob Miller, had swelled from a reported $150,000 in donations in the first hour after Wilson’s outburst to $500,000 and climbing this afternoon.

Little wonder. In style and substance, by any measure of civility, Joe Wilson was outrageously out of line last night. In sharp contrast to President Obama’s mellifluousness, Representative Wilson shouted. In contrast to the president’s show of respect for all people, the congressman showed unrestrained disrespect for the president who, according to Article II, section 2 of the U.S. Constitution, is the commander in chief of the United States—therefore of Colonel Wilson, a four-year reserve colonel and eighteen-year National Guard colonel (ret.). To make matters worse for Wilson, candidate Rob Miller is a former Marine. By shooting off his mouth last night, Wilson seems not only to have shot himself in the foot, but also to have taken direct aim on the other one.

With his two little words, he may have been the one who was lying (Rush the one swearing by it). Obama denied that his health care proposal would cover illegal immigrants. Section 246 of the House Democrats' proposal H.R. 3200 limits "federal payments for affordability credits on behalf of individuals who are not lawfully present in the United States," but it’s inconclusive and still a work in progress. By no interpretation does it give anyone license to point a finger and use such pointedly strong language. Unless license is callously taken by one who deliberately intends to mislead others.

Wilson is apparently known in Congress for giving the briefest of speeches. Last night, he outdid and probably undid himself.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

A Brief Labor Day Brief

How did the GOP ever agree to a Labor Day?

In 1894, when Labor Day became a national holiday, the President of the United States, Grover Cleveland, was the only Democrat to hold the highest office in the land (twice) between the years of 1860 to 1912, a half-century of Republican Party political domination.

Legislation making Labor Day a national holiday was rushed through the 53rd U.S. Congress and signed into law by President Cleveland (
before Congress went on a “labor day” recess).

The inspiration and incentive for the creation of the national holiday was a labor strike, the 1893 Pullman Strike triggered by the railroad car company’s laying off of hundreds of employees—as it happens, a result of a dire economic downturn in the country.

Rioting, plundering and setting fire to railroad cars by unemployed union workers was matched by rioting, plundering and setting fire by mobs of non-union workers.

Seeking to quell the destruction and calm the fury, the leaders of the Central Labor Union of New York City proposed a labor’s day and saluted it with a parade and picnic. That they probably “borrowed” the idea from Canada might disturb today’s xenophobes, but no three-day-weekender from the Hamptons to Hawaii would object.

In addition to being a Federal holiday, a District of Columbia and U.S. Territories holiday, Labor Day is a State Holiday in all the 50 U.S. States. Can you imagine all 50 states agreeing on anything?

And that’s the end of my labor today.

Monday, August 31, 2009

Letting Sleeping Dogs Lie

I thought: if Congress can take a vacation for the month of August, I can too. Except, as I hope you noticed, I came in on Mondays.

This August there were five Mondays. On some of them, it was almost too steamy to get hot under the collar about anything. Almost.

Spinoza’s dictum that “Nature abhors a vacuum” wasn’t an invitation to Rush to fill the void. When Nietzsche postulated, “Man is something to be surpassed,” he meant without DeLay, two-step or goosestep notwithstanding.

In the pulpits, we have men of God who preach hatred of God’s people, but hate only some of them. God isn’t omniscient, it's a homophobic Arizona pastor who fulminates about gays in the ministry and advocates death to the President of the United States who is—and can cite 30 verses in the Bible why God hates everybody.

In communities throughout the country, the golden rule is the Second Amendment and proper schooling is aiming and firing a rifle. These schools are never out for recess.

And in the Capital, we have a majority party that always seems to be in retreat—even when its members are away on vacation—and a minority party for whom a national conversation is “No.”

Rank-and-file members of the current House and Senate pay themselves $174,000 annually. That’s $14,500 a month, including the month of August, when they don’t have to show up for work at all! Leadership receives $193,400 annually and the Speaker of the House, $223,500. (All are entitled to an annual cost-of-living-adjustment.) I don’t want to begin to tell you what kind of month I’ve had. But this being the last dog day of August, I’m letting sleeping dogs lie and laying low.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Holy Terror

In case you haven’t heard, God hates Barack Obama. That’s The Word according to Pastor Steve Anderson of the Faithful Word Baptist Church in Tempe, Arizona. In his own words:
Here’s my sermon: Why I Hate Barack Obama. That’s my sermon tonight. … And I’m going to tell you something. I HATE Barack Obama . You say, “Well you just mean you don’t like what he stands for.” No, I hate the person. “No, well you mean you just don’t like his policy.” No, I hate HIM! Now I’m going to prove this from the Bible tonight why I SHOULD hate Barack Obama, why God WANTS me to hate Barack Obama, why GOD hates Barack Obama. God doesn’t love everybody.
I can’t go on quoting him. He’s insane. But I have to.
Now turn back to Psalm 58 and let me ask you this question: why should Barack Obama melt like a snail? Why should Barack Obama die like the untimely birth of a woman?
I know, it doesn’t quite make sense, but who’s keeping score in the ward?
Why should his children be fatherless and his wife a widow as we read in this passage? Well I’ll tell you why. Because it’s Barack Obama who thinks it’s OK to use a salty solution…
At this point, he rants about abortion. Apparently, Obama is responsible.
And I’d like to see Barack Obama melt tonight. … God appointed him because that’s what this country has turned into, that’s what we deserve as a president.
If I’m keeping score, that’s one for God.
And I’d like to see Barack Obama melt like a snail tonight. Because he needs to recompense, he needs to reap what he sow[s]. He deserves to be punished for what he’s done. … Break his teeth, O God, in his mouth. … He ought to be aborted.
It’s difficult to follow the ravings of a lunatic, but I’m doing the best I can:
You say, “Why are you preaching this?” You know what? Because it makes me mad…. I'm fed up tonight…. Because I'm angered by a bunch of preachers who want to sit back and let America go to hell, let our freedoms go to hell, let the souls of Americans go to hell, and we all just sit back and just, we're comfortable, we're lazy, we're lukewarm, we're neither cold nor hot, and we want to come to church and have our ears tickled. Hey! This isn't to tickle your ears, it's to give you a swift kick in the pants!... You need to come to church and get a boot in your rear end.
But fret not, because:
There’s nothing more encouraging then the Bible!
So, is the Bible-thumping man of God encouraged to pray for his fellow man? Not if the fellow is Barack Obama.
I'm not gonna pray for his good. I'm going to pray that he dies and goes to hell. When I go to bed tonight, that's what I'm going to pray. And you say, “Are you just saying that?” No. When I go to bed tonight, Steven L. Anderson is going to pray for Barack Obama to die and go to hell.
Ask yourself what would happen if you were to utter a single one of the venomous lines above about the President of the United States. Imagine what the reaction would be if anything even close to one of them came from the mouth of a Moslem. But Pastor Anderson can continue to address his “congregation” and all the abundantly available nuts in earshot, and still be allowed to walk the streets.

So if you’re on the beach, by all means enjoy yourself—but get your head out of the sand. Tempe, Arizona isn’t far away from wherever you are.

Note: If you can bear all 20 minutes and 40 seconds (in two parts) of the pastor’s rousing sanctimony, starting with his fury about the “dikes” and “faggots” behind the pulpits of the United Methodist church, go to http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a-qr6gxIHhQ. The Obama tirade starts at 5:45 and continues with http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9-OT8_cwWC8&NR=1

Monday, August 17, 2009

Guest Contributor: Benjamin Franklin

From time to time, Son of the Cucumber King will have a guest contributor. Our first such guest is the esteemed Benjamin Franklin.

Mr. Franklin is commenting on the Iroquois Confederacy, the society and government of the Six Nations (known also as the Haudenosaunee).

We consider ourselves quite fortunate to be in possession of this tract: after the eminent newspaper of the day failed to respond to it, the writer gave it to us. Our editorial board of one recognized it for being what it is—a timely gem.

The text, modernized for easier reading, is B. Franklin’s. The bold highlighting is ours.

- - -

The Indian men, when young, are hunters and warriors, when old, counsellors; for all their government is by the counsel or advice of the sages. There is no force, there are no prisons, no officers to compel obedience or inflict punishment. Hence they generally study oratory, the best speaker having the most influence.

The Indian women till the ground, dress the food, nurse and bring up the children, and preserve and hand down to posterity the memory of public transactions....

Having frequent occasions to hold public councils, they have acquired great order and decency in conducting them. The old men sit in the foremost rank, the warriors in the next, and the women and children the hindmost.

The business of the women is to take exact notice of what passes, imprint it on their memories—for they have no writing—and communicate it to their children. They are the records of the council, and they preserve tradition of the stipulations in treaties a hundred years back, which when we compare with our writings we always find exact.

He that would speak, rises. The rest observe a profound silence. When he has finished and sits down, they leave him five or six minutes to recollect, that if he has omitted anything he intended to say or has anything to add, he may rise again and deliver it. To interrupt another, even in common conversation, is reckoned highly indecent.

How different it is from the conduct of a polite British House of Commons, where scarce a day passes without some confusion that makes the Speaker hoarse in calling to order; and how different from the mode of conversation in many polite companies of Europe, where if you do not deliver your sentence with great rapidity, you are cut off in the middle of it by the impatient loquacity of those you converse with and never allowed to finish it.

Benjamin Franklin, printer, writer, scientist, statesman. Discovered electricity. Helped draft the Constitution. Invented the Franklin Stove.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Rush Hour

Dear Rush,

I have to take issue with you. But I want to let you have your say before I have mine.
“Well, it’s right out of Adolf Hitler’s playbook. Now, what are the similarities between the Democrat Party today and the Nazi Party in Germany? Well, the Nazis were against big business. They hated big business and of course we all know that they were opposed to Jewish capitalism. They were insanely, irrationally against pollution. They were for two years mandatory voluntary service to Germany. They had a whole bunch of make-work projects to keep people working, one of which was the Autobahn. They were against cruelty and vivisection of animals, but in the radical sense of devaluing human life, they banned smoking. They were totally against that. They were for abortion and euthanasia of the undesirables, as we all know, and they were for cradle-to-grave nationalized healthcare.”

“The Obama health care logo is damn close to a Nazi swastika logo. There are far more similarities between Nancy Pelosi and Adolf Hitler than between these people showing up at town halls to protest a Hitler-like policy that’s being heralded by a Hitler-like logo. Oh, another similarity. Obama is asking citizens to rat each other out like Hitler did!”

Now that you’ve had your say, Rush, I’ll have mine:

The best thing one could say about the Nazi Party is that they were thugs. What’s the best thing to say about you? You… well...

Nothing comes to mind.

Wait! Thought of something!

The Nazis were almost as good as you at propaganda. But you’re an outright liar! You lie and you swear to it. You make it up and shovel it right onto the air. From your lips, “grass roots movement” becomes horse manure.

The Nazis weren’t against big business any more than big business was against the Nazis. Unless you consider Krupp a family store, ask someone on your staff who reads to look up who supplied the gas canisters for “Hitler’s playbook.” (Not the kind of cute little canisters you use for your home barbeque grill.)

The Nazis, you say, “were insanely, irrationally against pollution.” That sounds pretty serious to me. By the way, are you getting professional help?

“They [your Nazis] were against cruelty and vivisection of animals, but in the radical sense of devaluing human life, they banned smoking.” What in the world of rational people does this mean? Are you getting professional help?

“…and they were for cradle-to-grave nationalized healthcare.” Wow! Guess you’ve got me there. Are you getting professional help—or doesn’t your health care insurance cover it?

As far as your mad contention that “The Obama health care logo is damn close to a Nazi swastika logo” and even madder perception that there are “similarities between Nancy Pelosi and Adolf Hitler” and, alarmingly maddest of all, “Obama is asking citizens to rat each other out like Hitler did!” — Is your brain as drug-besotted as your bladder?

Time to level with you, Rush. Nothing compares to Hitler, not even a megalomaniac like you. Well, maybe Pol Pot. But try as you will keep trying, you’re not in their league. I’ll say this for you: you’ve got Goebbels beat.

Monday, August 3, 2009

A Writer's Chronicles of a Consummate New York Writer

The subtitle of this blog asserts it will be about Broadway, Hollywood, politics or the Middle East. The following tribute covers all four topics.

Sidney Zion died yesterday of bladder cancer. Sad, but no wonder. The false lips of the world pecked away at his gut all his life and the tragically unnecessary death of his eighteen-year-old daughter essentially did him in twenty-five years ago. Anyone who knew Sidney in those days watched helplessly as he drank even harder than before, and that was going some. Never one to wallow in pity for himself or anyone, Sidney started listing and slurring in heartbreaking anger.

I could say that’s not the way I want to remember Sidney, but it wouldn’t be true—it is the way I want to remember him. The combatant, the campaigner, the debunker, the buddy.

We shared two favorite topics: Israel and songs, and by songs Sidney would poke a finger (or a glass) in the air here to tell you, “I mean the great songs, the ones they don’t write anymore.” He’d mean the songs from the great American songbook.

There wasn’t anything we could teach each other about Israel, or Zionism (how perfectly named he was, I told him), but he loved discussing lyrics with me. He could taste the fine ones. Ira Gershwin and Cole Porter would roll around on his tongue. I would quote Hammerstein and Harburg, and he would nod vigorously and beam.

Never far from quoting a good lyric, he told me he found himself alone with president Anwar Sadat on the steps of his Egyptian villa, in 1979, I believe. He asked Sadat what song he would sing when he made peace with Israel. Sadat, a bit baffled, asked what he meant. “How about Irving Berlin?" Sidney suggested. "Irving Berlin! I love Irving Berlin!" Sadat said, and, in tune now, he enthused, “Blue Skies!" Sidney pronounced it a fine song, but said he had a better “Berlin” in mind.” His choice drew an embrace from Sadat. "Let's Face the Music and Dance," Sidney recounted to me with his inimitable gusto.

It’s not surprising that he was a buddy of Frank Sinatra’s. I think the world’s greatest “saloon singer” in Sidney’s eyes saw a lot of himself in Sidney’s “boisterous candor,” author Cynthia Ozick’s perfect words for him.

Sidney told me about dining in a Manhattan restaurant with Sinatra when a woman approached their table and asked for the crooner’s autograph. As nicely and gently as he could, according to Sidney, Sinatra said he’d be happy to—as soon as he finished eating. The woman, instantly outraged, fumed, “My husband said you’d be like that!” and stormed away. Sinatra looked at Sidney and said, “You can’t win.”

Looking back at Sidney, I won. My Sid Zion shelf includes one of my favorite book titles, Trust Your Mother But Cut the Cards, and one of my favorite inscriptions to me, “If I could only spell boulavourdier, I could write the next on [sic] about Ray. Best, Sid. April 12, 1988.”

Another of his books includes one my favorite dedications, “…to Johnnie Walker, without whom none of this would have happened.”

L’chaim, Sid.