Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Good Intentions

I don’t usually give thought to making New Year’s resolutions because designating merely one day a year to committing to being a better person strikes me as doing the wrong thing for the right reason. I could resolve to do the right thing, which would be to dedicate myself anew every day to being that better person (or maybe every other day), but frankly, I suspect I’d lose track either of the days or the resolutions, or both. I have a day for that: it’s called the Day of Atonement.

Caught up in the spirit of the season’s greeting cards—doves and olive branches, lambs and lions lying together, candelabras and children’s faces glowing—I thought I’d venture into “The World of Great Expectations,” the New Year’s resolution.

Feeling seasonally and strikingly beneficent this year, my first resolution, as I see it, should be to stop being so hard on the Republicans. I’ve stated that good intention before, but run into trouble adhering to it. How the hell can I… Oops, there I go! My second resolution ought to be not to be outraged when they go off half-cocked and… (breathe!) Well, after all, the Democrats have their foibles, don’t they? And while they’re not as loony as the Republicans… correction: not as oppositional… they have been known to be ornery. Not recently, not so unpatriotically, and in no way… Enough politics!

I resolve to give the gift of giving. I’m not playing with words, I mean exactly what I say and I mean to do it myself, and not just on holidays. I already put my gift where my gab is, and you can, too, via a marvelous non-profit organization,
Charity Checks. You can “Teach The Joy Of Giving” to children (as I did, joyfully), and do countless additional, affordable deeds with your funds that money alone can’t buy. That’s my holiday gift to you, and I’m feeling so good about it!

I resolve to be even more outspoken about incivility at any level in any form in any part of my life or the world. Not that I’ve ever been shy about making my feelings known—can you tell?—merely affirming more of what I think and feel, maybe louder. As a corollary to that, urging people, as an early role-model inspired me, to say what they mean and mean what they say, certainly to me.

Since these are my resolutions, I’m adding a second corollary: taking people to task for using language indiscriminately, starting with words and phrases as random and far-flung and corrupted as Nazi, fascist, socialist, Holocaust, genius, awesome, no problem, and—neither last nor least—the viral, “it sucks.”

I didn’t wait for New Year’s to resolve not to let taxi drivers off the hook when they don’t have the manners to say thank you for a tip. An actress friend gets out of the taxi and leaves the door open, but she’s diminutive and adorable, so I doubt if any driver is going to come after her. But I resolved long ago not to get punched in the nose; in fact, to try to leave this world with as much of me intact as I came into it with. So, I’ve tried waiting… just waiting… until it dawned on the driver to say thank you. I’ve tried asking, “Don’t you thank somebody when they give you something extra?” I’ve tried explaining, reasonably, “You know no one owes you anything; a tip is a way of showing appreciation for your service; a thank you is your way of showing your appreciation.” Have you noticed the change in New York taxi drivers? I haven’t either.

For years, I’ve been mentally threatening to have self-adhesive labels made up to slap on the back of the driver’s seat as I slipped out of a taxi without receiving so much as a thanks. The label would read something to the effect of: This driver doesn’t know how to say thank you. Please don’t reward him by tipping him. I’d probably be cuffed and fined for vandalism.

I resolve to keep my resolve never to watch a reality show… or Fox News… or buy a Murdoch paper.

As a final resolution, I will abstain from calling any other Republican contender but Newt Gingrich a megalomaniac. A puffy-faced, puffed-up megalomaniac. That’s not political, just an observation.

I see I’m already on the brink of breaking my first resolution.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Brown v Warren

Boy, did the Republicans show Elizabeth Warren! They denied her the leadership of the new Consumer Financial Protection Bureau in Washington—the bureau she conceived of and created—only to see her starting to run away with their Senate seat in Massachusetts. A UMass Lowell-Boston Herald poll shows her leading Republican Senator Scott Brown by a 7 percent margin, 49 to 42. According to MSNBC show host Lawrence O’Donnell, who knows politics from the inside, “That is an absolutely devastating poll for any incumbent senator. Any sitting senator running for reelection goes into full panic mode as soon as his or her polling number drops below 50 percent. The rule in politics is: an incumbent polling at 42 percent absolutely cannot win reelection…” Did they give it to her!

It’s so beautiful it positively shines. Let’s follow the bouncing balls. Scott Brown bared himself—again—this time by defying his party’s marching orders and endorsing President Obama's nominee to lead the GOP-dreaded bureau, former Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray—who was aggressively going after his state’s banks for foreclosure fraud when he was ousted by a Republican challenger—who was subsequently hired for the consumer protection bureau by Elizabeth Warren, the GOP’s bete noire who’s beating the tail off Brown and on the verge of taking Ted Kennedy’s coveted seat back from the Republicans. Now, Senator Brown, that’s what I call being hoisted on your own petard!

And why would Scott Brown do such a reckless thing? Because it wasn’t reckless, it was cynical. Both he and the GOP knew the party had the votes for a filibuster: they could easily deprive Cordray of the up-and-down vote they routinely rail about being deprived of. It’s conceivable, if not likely, that Brown’s GOP guidance counselor(s) advised him to “defy” the party to impress his constituency. See how well that’s working!

Let’s not lose sight of the fact that Elizabeth Warren hasn’t won yet, not by a long shot! Be warned, Warreniks, the Republicans have her number. You’ve got to hand it to them! They’ve already exposed the college professor who’s never run for public office for being “a Harvard elitist and an
outsider,” and what’s more, they’re “stressing that she was born and raised in Oklahoma.”

Where do I start? “Harvard Elitist?” Where’s the problem here? Is it with Harvard, or with being educated or skilled, or, truth be told, with simply not being ignorant? And if ignorance is so glorious, as it seems to have become—particularly to roughly 50% of American voters in presidential election years—aren’t the ignorant the Ignorant Elitists?

“Outsider?” With every Republican presidential candidate turning him or her self inside out to be seen as
The Washington Outsider, while in actuality none of them qualify for being anything but insiders—an incumbent congressman and congresswoman, a former congressman who was the 58th Speaker of the House of Representatives, a former senator, a former governor and a present one, and a former ambassador—how can any Republican legitimately brand and denounce Elizabeth Warren for being “an outsider”? Haven’t they heard of the advice for people who live in glass houses? Surely it ought to be part of the platform of the Ignorant Elitists.

Finally… this is not for the faint of heart… let’s not mix words, I’ll just come right out and say it… the audacious Ms. Warren is so outside she was “born and raised in Oklahoma.” “Okla-Okla-Okla-Oklahoma!” “Where the wind comes sweepin' down the plain,” or at least probably did when Warren was born and raised there. Can you get more outside than that? Take note, Massachusetts independents, undecideds and, lest we forget—Republicans. Do they ever have her nailed!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

I'm Not Giving Thanks For...

I routinely have a lot to give thanks for on Thanksgiving, and this year is certainly no exception. Last year, Thanksgiving fell on the day after my 35th and last radiation treatment—perfect timing I thought… until I sat at our Thanksgiving Day table unexpectedly unable to eat anything from the beautifully-arrayed plate of food before me. In the months to follow, I felt as if I was the roasted turkey. This year, thanks to family and friends and love, and the loving care of doctors and nurses, I will feast.

Ungracious as it may sound, today I find myself thinking contrarily of what I won’t give thanks for. Many will take that as a definitive sign that I’m feeling better. Wanting to share my skewed perspective with you tells me I am. But before I do, I want to touch on a few of the high points of Thanksgivings past.

For 37 years, we lived in an apartment with a large-as-life, premium view of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. Families, the children the guests of honor, crowded at our oversized windows as float after float and balloon after balloon floated by, so close you felt you could almost reach out and touch something or someone in the parade. One year, I did something almost as unlikely as that. The revival of “Brigadoon” was a Broadway hit and its star, Martin Vidnovic, was perched atop one of the floats. I called to Marty, only once, from my window. And through the din, he heard me, looked up and saw me, grinned and waved. “Been too long,” I called, “let’s have lunch.” “Name it,” he said. “Russian Tea Room, next Wednesday. 12:30,” I responded. “We’re on,” he shouted. Neither of us bothered to confirm and both of us showed up as planned.

In April of 1984, I brought a sizeable sampling of Thanksgiving from Manhattan to Tel Aviv via “the balloon man” and four of his towering Thanksgiving Day Parade balloons, leading to one of the most comically bizarre episodes of my life. You can read it
on this blog, but then please come back for what “I’m Not Giving Thanks For….”

As a rule, I don’t write when I have nothing to say. Too much has already been written, and, for that matter, said and sung, and if I don’t have anything new to say, or can’t think of a new way to say what may already have been said, I don’t. Having something new to say calls for passion, or something akin to it, as well as insight.

I haven’t been passionate about anything the past month except two Broadway dramas, the exceptional “Other Desert Cities” and the mercurial “Seminar.” I haven’t been angry about anything (not even anything Republican!), nor offended or indignant. In truth, the GOP has given me great pleasure this month thanks to the presidential candidates debates. I’m giving profuse thanks for them Thursday—and every day from now until election day 2012.

I’m not giving thanks for—or to—the 12 hopeless members of the failed special Congressional committee on deficit reduction. Nor, for that matter, do I have any thanks for anyone in the United States Congress. I think they should all go home for Thanksgiving and stay there.

I have no thanks in me for Texas, all of it, nor Arizona—not for the grief they’ve given us (as in U.S.). Ditto, the calcified and dividedly doctrinal Supreme Court, at least 5/9ths of it. In the larger picture, I’m not giving thanks, this year or any foreseeable year to the U.N. for what it’s become: the United Nations of Hypocrisy.

I’m not giving thanks for a living person anywhere in the world who has, in any way, betrayed the trust of children. Or for those who robotically repeat the euphemisms of journalists, jurists and sermonizers, hollow terms like endangerment, exploitation, trafficking, abuse. A child doesn’t have to be moved from one place to another for the offense to be child trafficking. Leaving a child with no choice is slavery, plain and simple.

I have not a shred of appreciation or compassion for any entity or organization that power has corrupted… or greed has infested and infected. “Corrupted” chiefly includes nightstick and pepper-spray wielding police, but doesn’t exclude unreasonably unruly mobs; autocrats, but also arrogant caucuses and sociopaths. The latter, “greed,” encompasses peddlers of gilt-edged schemes they wouldn’t sell to their mothers—in most cases. And other sociopaths.

I’m withholding thanks to professional sports organizations and outrageously-overpaid athletes until they get their Ps and Qs—profits and salary quotes—in order. Not so long ago, the Minnesota Timberwolves offered and basketball player Latrell Sprewell rejected a $21 million offer to extend his contract for three years as insufficient, because, said Sprewell, "I got a family to feed."

I’m not giving thanks to an Arab Spring that is metamorphosing into a bitter-cold Arab winter, contagious with unrest and pandemic in potential.

No thanks to or for Jon Corzine, Bernard Madoff, Mel Gibson (self-destructing is not enough), Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, talk radio hosts, or anyone named Newt.

Last, but not least: thanks but no thanks to the nation of sheep the U.S. has hastened to become. Either Erasmus, Anouilh or an English proverb (I’m not giving thanks for the lack of reliable attribution.) says, “In the country of the blind, the one-eyed man is king.” Beware the Cyclops who emerges to lead the bleating masses.

And this is me not being angry, offended or indignant. Happy Thanksgiving.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Laughter in the Can

I’ve been trying to find the culprit for the watering down of humor to sweat and spit. If “sweat and spit” suggests the last stand-up comic you saw on “Letterman” or “Leno,” we’re on the same track.

As you can see, I’ve narrowed down the guilty to television, principally late-night TV talk shows. Television created a demand far in excess of supply for people who could enter and amuse for three minutes. Formerly, comics honed their talents and their acts out of the limelight, venturing anywhere they could find an audience, spending years randomly succeeding, more often bombing, until they were ready to step up to “the big time.” Talk show TV took people who got laughs in school, whose friends and family thought they were funny, and handed them “the big time” on a silver platter. All they had to do was show up and breathe words. Their introductions would do the rest. Good old Johnny was so delighted to have them on his show and so amused by people only the show’s talent booker may—or more likely, may not—have seen in advance that he couldn’t stop laughing when he introduced them. This guy comes to us directly from… (the unemployment line, Johnny?)—and opens tomorrow at… (the Orange Room at Nedicks?) By the time the comic enters, he’s star quality: the audience is laughing before he opens his mouth. “Hi,” draws laughter. “I just flew in from…” They don’t care where from—he’s funny! Leave it to Johnny!

So five nights a week, season after season, what we had foisted upon us were callow, unfunny people. To make matters worse, they were angry or sullen, or wounded, and always at a loss to tell us why they were so unhappy. Cut to Johnny, sitting at his desk yocking it up.

Almost 30 years of “The Late Show with Johnny Carson.” 4,531 episodes. That means 4,531 3-minute comic turns. Other than the select few who earned repeat visits to Johnny, how many did anyone ever hear of again?

Mediocrity passing for better had a strong small screen precedent: before television treated audiences to the merriment, concocted or kosher, of the late-night talk show, it brought them the canned hilarity of the prime-time sitcom.

People in their living rooms couldn’t be relied upon to recognize humor. Studio audiences weren’t much better, laughing too softly or loudly, laughing unevenly or—most disconcerting to performers—in the wrong place! So a CBS engineer began to mix in prerecorded laughter with audience laughter, or the lack of, to “sweeten” what became the “laugh tracks.”

Those presumed-to-be dense dolts in living rooms across America were introduced to, or more accurately subjected to and manipulated by, the first laugh track in 1950. The bearer of manipulated tidings was a weekly sitcom. The results were in without having to be tabulated—for the folks at home, if an audience anywhere else was consistently laughing so heartily, the show had to be funny! Live audiences quickly became irrelevant as “canned laughter” became the order of the day.

While watching a TV sitcom today, has it ever entered your mind that you’re laughing with people who may have been dead for as long as sixty years?

We laugh without laugh tracks on the Internet, don’t we? Generally speaking, yes, but without being cued?—no!, we’re not allowed to; those who send us jokes, and especially those who make their own, think they have to tell us “this is funny” (just like sound engineers). Either they’re afraid they’re genuinely not funny or they underestimate us, either way resulting in the omnipresence of the digital smiley-face emoticon, the “Kilroy was here” of the 21st century, and the killjoy.

Funny isn’t so funny anymore. Not when it’s dumb and dumber. In movie theaters, the big box office fare is frat-boy humor and gross out movies—if there’s a difference. Shock humor is extinct because no one can be shocked anymore. Permeating all media is what I’ve come to think of as the caca-doodoo school of comedy. It’s naughty as only children who don’t know better can be naughty; as humor, its shock value is decidedly of schlock value; and it’s not funny.

“It’s” not funny today unless a major voice—theater critic, cult icon, PR maven—tells them it’s not only funny, but the funniest [fill in the blank] to come along since… the last funniest one! They enter laughing. It’s come full circle: in Broadway theaters—the last stand, legs trembling, for quality humor and valid wit—a live audience is the new canned laughter.

Which brings us to today’s paltry excuse for yesteryear’s achieved illustriousness in the Broadway musical—and to this season’s pretender, “The Book of Mormon.” The laughter started the moment its high-profile creative team was announced, built while it was selling out even before an audience had seen it, and crescendoed when the New York Times’ chief theater critic pronounced it tantamount to “heaven on Broadway.” In his rapture, curiously, he never used the word “funny,” or any of its synonyms—because he found it too funny for words?

“Mormon’s” audiences are laughing at everything offered to them—because they paid dearly and in most cases waited months to laugh at what the word-of-mouth that follows the critics and the hype says is funny. If you care about wit, I can save you anxiety and money—it’s completely lacking in wit. I wouldn’t give away a good joke and spoil it for anyone, but here’s a very bad one, one that gives new definition to “gag” line: the show’s running joke, “I got maggots in my scrotum.”

What has humor become, or is it what has become of humor?

Thursday, September 15, 2011

September Song

It’s not an everyday love story. A robust young man is introduced to a glamorous woman more than twice his age. Famous and adored as she is, he, being several generations behind her, has never heard of her. She, seasoned and wiser, knows a good thing when she sees it.

Asked to drive her home from the evening’s event, he finds an unexpectedly long ride engrossing, their conversation full and flowing, her laughter endearing. She hasn’t had much to laugh about lately, and he makes her happy.

She invites him to a screening, and then, again and again to somewhere. Quite soon, they’re spending most of their time together. The months between May and December fade softly from sight. They’ve fallen in love.

A few basic facts: She was 81 at the time, he, 36. Less than a year later, he moved in with her. They were inseparable, but they didn’t rush anything: they waited five years to get married. She gave herself the wedding as a birthday gift.

A few more facts: He is an opera singer whose big baritone voice has also taken him onto concert, theater and cabaret stages. She is an actress/singer who has done it all in every show business medium. He devotedly collects the tangibles of her golden memories: of winning an Oscar; appearing in 34 films, 26 Broadway shows, and countless TV shows—including her own; recording 6 albums. Now, and long overdue, he is drawing on his own wealth of unlikely experiences with a solo cabaret show aptly called, “Memories… Are Made of This.”

He and she are Mr. and Mrs. Frank Basile. She is Celeste Holm. And if you are several generations behind, go to

“Memories… Are Made of This” is an unusual amalgam of song and patter—patriotic songs that don’t sound hokey, arias that don’t sound out of place in a cabaret room, popular and romantic songs infused with warmth and humor, and anecdotes that candidly acknowledge youthful folly as well as unexpected good fortune. Frank is having fun remembering, and his memories, even the bitter ones, are sweet, delivered with an irrepressible grin that seems as if it could only have been drawn by the sweep of a cartoonist’s hand.

This would not be New York if there were not skeptics in the room, and I sensed, not for the first time, that Frank’s unabashed homage to Celeste,
radiant at 94, brought out the worst in more than one of them. Full disclosure here: Celeste and in time Frank were my neighbors and dear friends for many years, which gave me as good a chance to observe them—not always in the best of their circumstances—as anyone from the world of people looking either directly or askance at them. Let the skeptics cavil and carp about them all they want. They’re the real thing.

My favorite part of the evening? With apologies to Frank, it came after the show when his 73 year old mom, leaning down and hugging Celeste, looked up at me, her face beaming, and said, “I’m happy to be with my daughter-in-law.”
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Note: You can see Frank Basile in “Memories… Are Made of This” at the Metropolitan Room, 34 West 22nd Street, New York City. Remaining performances: September 20th and 27th at 7 p.m.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Your Tax Dollars At Work

What are you supposed to think when a policeman calls from the open window of his police van to the driver of the car you’re riding in, “Would you do me a favor and stop ahead and just pull over?”

Let’s break that down: “Would you…?” “…do me a favor” and “just pull over?!” Such courtesy… finesse… tact… coming not from just any everyday policeman, but a New York cop! “Would you…?”

Just ten seconds earlier, Mark, steering his car as we rolled north on 8th Avenue, said, “He’s going after someone.” And, seconds later, “It’s me.”

“He,” it was clear, was someone in a police car. But why? Mark hadn’t run a read light, wasn’t speeding, swerving or even changing lanes. We weren’t carrying stolen goods and couldn’t pass for drug pushers on the deadest of dog days.

Mark has a BMW. (That’s what happens when you’re making it in show business—and you’re a showman.) Bizarre as it seemed to me, I thought, but didn’t have time to suggest: Is it possible he wants to ask about the car? I went for the light joke instead: “He recognizes us! Not me, so it must be you.”

Mark’s laugh was interrupted by the deferential officer of the law pulling up next to him and asking the unusual suspect to do him a favor. “Would you… just…?”

By the time the car had come to a stop, Mark had his driver’s license in hand and was extending it to the officer, who declined it. Another police officer appeared at the window on my side of the car, asking to see my identification. If you’re noting that I’m not calling them “cops” or “New York’s finest” or anything of the like, it’s primarily because I don’t want you to read a New Yorkese-fuhgeddaboutit accent or any dialect into their words; both men spoke clearly, unaffectedly and well.

The officer on Mark’s side asked if either of us had had a radiology scan or been treated with radioactive materials. Mark, never at a loss for words, jerked his thumb toward me. Several hours earlier, I had undergone a PET/CT scan, which entailed receiving injections of radioactive materials. In effect, my insides were lit up. Both officers nodded knowingly; they were stopping me! While Mark and his officer started chatting amiably—is this too much?—mine asked what I’d been treated with. I had no idea. I described this metal cylinder that had dangled from my arm for an hour prior to the scan and the officer nodded again. Both men explained that I had been picked up by their radiation detectors. “Your tax dollars at work,” one of them said as they produced and showed us hand-held radiation devices.

“This is what you do?” I asked, wondering if the device could read my level of amazement, or how impressed I was. I think that was the second time I heard, “Your tax dollars at work.” These men ride around New York City’s streets all day, on the prowl for terrorists, saboteurs, mad bombers, malcontents and garden-variety grouches with short fuses. I didn’t fit the profile. The officer proudly showed me his detection device, roughly the size of a stone-age cell phone. As he waved it nearer and farther from me, the needle on the meter reflected higher and lower readings. I was notably radioactive.

I was also intrigued, and brimming with questions the officer seemed to enjoy answering. When it struck me that he was standing in a light rain answering them, I quickly apologized and moved to let him off the hook, but he put himself right back on it, assuring me he was fine.

At that point, we both heard the other officer telling Mark about a woman whose radioactivity uniquely triggered their detectors. Completely by chance, they had picked up alarm signals from the ground beneath their feet. They nimbly deduced the signals were emanating from the pipes submerged below the street’s paving. They followed their instincts and their meters into a nearby office building, continued to a particular floor and to the door of a ladies’ room. And waited for its occupant to emerge. When she did, they asked her, with apologies, the same line of questions they asked me. Sure enough, she’d just had a PET scan with radioactive materials. What the detectors had picked up from the pipes was the high level of radiation from her waste matter.

It only remained for them to emphasize that we are surrounded by radiation, but at safer, lower levels. It was time for our tax dollars at work to go back to work. “My” officer, becoming one of New York’s finest now in my eyes, extended his hand to me and said, “Whatever you were scanned for, I hope it comes out all right.” I’ve had mixed and many dealings with the police before, but none of them ever ended with a handshake.

Not many days from now, we will mark the 10th anniversary of 9/11. At some point over the ten years since that day, our city took a major stride toward protecting everyone in it at any random time, and took no credit for it.

Monday, August 15, 2011

The Pinch of Politics and Finance

Now they’ve done it! Now we know the legacy Republicans are leaving their children—and, indifferently, ours: the triple-A downgrading of America. So, while everyone (but other Republicans) is pointing a finger at them, I’d like to point a fist. Fie on them!

Up with the rest of us. You can’t keep a good country down, and while we don’t look, or feel, so good right now, we remain the best there is. It’s not the U.S. that’s on its way to being debased, it’s the Republicans who are already there.

I don’t know about you, but if John Boehner calls, I’m not in. An elected public servant entrusted with one of the highest offices in the land snubbing the President of the United States, ignoring the president’s calls during a crisis! Who does he think he is? A man who couldn’t keep his eyes dry during a roll call shedding nary a tear over endless weeks of events that plausibly had half of the Capitol wearing Depends! I think I know who he is, a shit in sheepish clothing—but who does he think he is?!

And wetting the pants she apparently wears in her family, glee-stricken Michele Bachmann gushed this about Uncle Sam’s shiner: “We just heard from Standard and Poors. When they dropped our credit rating. What they said is we don’t have an ability to repay our debt. That’s what the final word was from them. I was proved right in my position—we should not have raised the debt ceiling and instead we should cut government spending, which was not done, and then we needed to get our spending priorities in order.” Other than “and” and “the,” there is not a correct word in the Bachmanspeak logorrhea.

I have been asked, in “Comments” on my previous blog piece, “The Capitol Hill Compromise”: “Does this blog represent the ‘civility’ that the president asked for?” My straight-from-the-heart answer is that this blog represents the "civility" the President asked for and has never received—certainly not from the opposition, reference to whom, by any name, was omitted by the commenter. Do I have to point out again that the Speaker of the United States House of Representatives not returning his president’s phone calls was at one and the same time an egregious and a tiresomely typical example of one party’s incivility?

Civility reigns as far as I’m concerned—in my private life as well as on this blog—in all things except when it comes to the hostile politics of The Grand Obstreperous Party. My commenter continues and so will I—but civility dictates I let the commenter go first: “We are ALL Americans, my dear Ray, and if we don't all work together to seek peaceful solutions to our common goals we will be driven to civil unrest by the lunatic fringes of both parties. ( See Greece, London)” (Here, my civility obliges me to acknowledge having respectfully corrected the commenter’s misspellings. But…) I heartily agree with the observation. Well, almost heartily—I’m not sure about the streets being occupied solely by “the lunatic fringes of both parties.” Public protests and demonstrations are contagious. The Brits got the inspiration from the Arab Spring, and—“lunatic fringes” or just plain angry folks—our frightened and frustrated working class and jobless citizens, catching the fever from once-merry England, will do their damndest as well as their best to make themselves heard.

Inevitably, looting will follow, and as appalling as that prospect is, is it any worse than the looting that goes on within the walls of Wall Street? The wild market swings of the past six to eight business days were not haphazard events, nor will the predictable ones to follow be. A lot of wealthy people are getting a lot wealthier by the day, buying on the up and selling on the down, driving prices in the direction they want them to go for sport and capital gains. I don’t hear them griping about a downgrade or see signs of them stuffing money under their mattresses. The call of the wild is “To market, to market!” where they’re having a field day, every day. Mindful of a rainy day, they, along with prudent or panicked moneyed interests—and China!—are putting the “mattress money” into, of all things, S&P AA+rated U.S. Treasuries.

An investment adviser described it as “a very emotional market right now.” Brings tears to your eyes, doesn’t it?

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The Capitol Hill Compromise

Unless you were born or married on August 2nd, you have nothing to celebrate today. Unless the Tea Party is your idea of a wingding.

This is what the Republican Party has bequeathed to America, what Rush hath wrought, what Murdoch and Fox News have dished out and shoveled out wholesale—the undigested mental droppings of the untried and untrue. The Grand Old Party licked its lips, rubbed its palms together and threw open its doors for the Tea Party—it’s party-time!—and, here’s gratitude for you, they’ve snubbed its leaders, drowned out its conservatives and for all intents and ill purposes, all but high-jacked the GOP, taking the USA along for the ride (down). Whether bedecked as colonial clowns or congressmen and congresswomen, they see themselves as patriots.

I hold the Republican Party responsible for them. Now it, and we, are stuck with them—the bedbugs of politics, an infestation none of us can neatly get rid of.

Everyone in Washington, it’s become conventional to say, is at fault for the mess the country is in—a mess that neither began with the debt ceiling crisis or ended with “the deal.” Very American to distribute the blame, very noble to share it. That’s old boy, locker room, prep school nonsense. I could fault the Democrats for a lot of things that aren’t right, starting with the way the president has governed, or failed to, continuing with his advisers and the party leadership. But it’s the Republicans who kindled, stoked and fanned the debt ceiling fire, who fueled so much of what led up to it with their own prior profligacy, who paved the paths to the hell we just endured with anything but good intentions.

I wish I weren’t always so inclined to be rough on Republicans, but damn, they are so rough on the rest of us! I’m tired of them, tired of their shenanigans, their conniving, their hypocrisy. Unfounded?

Republicans keep talking about the legacy they don’t want to leave their children. But, despite being a party that doggedly opposes change, “the legacy” is never the same.

The legacy they say they don’t want to leave “our children” (No Republican answer is complete without citing “
our children.”) is, interchangeably, national debt, a welfare state, legal abortion, big government, gay marriage, et al. It’s also insistently de facto free immigration, de facto amnesty for immigrants, de facto but no statutory immigration law, “immigration” ad nauseum. In plain fact, they don’t want to leave their children with untidy immigrants.

It follows that the Party of No has effortlessly become the Party of Don’t, as well. But it’s high time to ask: what is its Do? "Cut spending" seems to be the only answer it has.

The ubiquitous
they say no one won the debt ceiling battle. That’s more conventional nonsense. The Tea Party won. Its unconscionably reckless members got what they wanted. But, get this, they’re complaining that it wasn’t enough! By giving in to them, both parties, Democrats and Republicans, have encouraged them. This ground gain isn’t an end for them, it’s just the beginning. Bedbugs don’t just run rampant, they suck blood.

In the scheme of things, it was the Democrats who capitulated because they were more reasonable. If you’re a Member of Congress and you can’t be a statesperson or a leader, you can still, at the least, be more reasonable. There is nothing wrong with being reasonable. Republicans should try it.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Life Is Too Short

Although it didn’t feel that way to me, last Tuesday was the longest day of the year. And, it follows, the shortest night. I’ve had worse of both.

Still, it got me to thinking it was precisely those “longest” days for me that found me shortest on patience. It struck me that a new phrase had attached itself to my discourse: Life is too short.

If you use, or even think, a phrase as often as I have found myself doing with this one, you have to ask yourself a few questions, starting with, “Too short for what?”

The first answer came quickly—too short for some people. You know them, we all have them in our lives. Those “when I’m gloomy you simply gotta listen to me” individuals who drain you; whom your heart goes out to again and again. And again! Those who keep coming back for more—of you. Those who thrash wildly in your seemingly still waters to dodge drowning in their turbulent psyches.

Sound harsh? I’m not talking about family, loved ones or the dearest of friends. I mean the midnight callers, the gloomy Sunday drop-ins at your door. Ask yourself if they ever heed the counsel they seek from you. No point in asking them.

Your time is too dear. Life is too short.

Before we go any further, let me assure you I didn’t come to this quality-of-life conclusion as a result of any recent illness, but decidedly while I was of sound mind and sound body. I started eliminating several exasperating people-predators from my life several years ago, and found the cutting away liberating—so blissfully so, I share the revelation enthusiastically with you.

This is not an invitation to you to share your experiences with the clingers, imposers and sturm und drangers with me. While I’d be interested in your confirming similar incidents of exasperation and exhaustion [See: “Comments”], I’d prefer to skip your grueling particulars; I have my own, and imposing yours on me would render you a second-hand predator of sorts. Writing what I have thus far has made me feel lighter by the word: you’ll undoubtedly find your own way.

It strikes me that I’m likely to be on others’ life-is-too-short lists. Maybe yours, now. Fair enough!

For me, the “too short” yardstick, still novel to me, didn’t have to stop at people. I’d sat in too many theaters shaking my head from side to side in bewilderment over what Broadway and Hollywood can foist on the unsuspecting, undiscerning or simply unconscious as entertainment.

I started considering Broadway’s offerings in terms of shows I deemed I could live without. (Fortunately, I continue to see ones I wouldn’t have wanted to have missed.) I was amazed—you might be, too—by how good it felt to be off the hook, in just one season, for “Spiderman,” "Priscilla," “The Addams Family” and “Rain.”

As for films, a brief flashback. When the venerable producer-director-playwright George Abbott was in his late eighties, he told several riveted listeners he gave a film five minutes, and if it didn’t engage him, he walked out on it. “At my age,” he explained, “I don’t have two hours to waste.” He lived to the age of 108—and seven months… and six days—at work on a new show when he died. Imagine how much time he saved, and used better, over those last two decades! Proving? At any age, life is too short to trifle away.

I took Mr. Abbott (He was that to everyone who knew him.) to heart. I estimated that if he, with six decades on me, only gave a film five minutes, I had at least twenty, but no more than thirty, minutes to give a rudderless or pointless one.

More recently, fortified by my new prescription, I learned I didn’t have to see everything within three weeks, even three months, of its opening. At a Manhattan dinner party, I don’t mind saying, “I haven’t seen that yet,” adding, “I’m in no hurry.” Even if, blasphemous as it may be to other New Yorkers, it’s a Woody Allen film.

The “short” list is as long as you dare make it. Books, the news, politics. Television, radio. E-mail and social networks, and what have you. Separate the wheat from the chaff and, to paraphrase Adlai Stevenson, don’t go with the chaff. A friend told me she was reading a book she was growing increasingly impatient with. “Why don’t you spare yourself and stop reading it?” I asked. “I always finish everything I start,” was her answer.

If you weren’t finding this piece interesting, how could I expect you to finish it? Finding it less, it’s likely I wouldn’t.

Hold on! Please, before you click me away! What you won’t find on Twitter, in government or a Woody Allen film is: Life is too short for any of us to fail to get around to saying the things we should say to each other while there’s time. I rest my case.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Up and Down Time

I won’t be going to Kenya next month. For all who didn’t know I might be going, it will come as no news at all either way.

For a safari or a smattering of Swahili, Kenya would have been a fine place to visit, but the distance between Manhattan and Nairobi is 7359 miles. And that doesn’t include the rides to and from the airports. By comparison, the subway ride from my apartment to the Bronx Zoo is 7.67 miles and 50 minutes away.

I asked others for their opinions, which varied from “You have to go!” to “Are you crazy?” To one friend, I glibly suggested the challenge of “going eye to eye with the beast,” to which he replied, “You’ve already done that this past year… you’re still recovering!” adding his refrain of the familiar, “Are you crazy?” His was the swing vote; accordingly, I
declined a costless, first-rate invitation to Africa. I’m not schlepping to the Bronx Zoo any time soon, either.

Eschewing “far away places with strange sounding names” for the past 10 months, getting away has taken on new meaning for me. I’ve been sticking to nearer-by places. Places where I can brush my teeth with the water and take or leave the animals.

Robert Frost may have chosen “the road untaken,” but the time came for me when the road of choice plainly was the one that offered a good massage around the bend.

Last Christmas, I returned to Mohonk Mountain House, an idyllic, Victorian mountaintop resort 90 miles north of New York City where my family and I spent the previous Christmas as well as many extended summer weekends over the years. I knew in advance I wouldn’t be able to ramble its hiking trails or scramble its rock paths. But I also knew what I could do at Mohonk—loll, luxuriate and heal in its spa, which, among its wide-ranging menu of massages and therapies, wisely includes informed treatments for cancer patients. I arranged in advance for three different massages by three different therapists over three consecutive days.

On the first morning, wrapped in the most luxurious spa robe my skin has ever met, I surrendered body and state of mind to the healing hands of Kelly for a Swedish Massage that included a formula of herbs, roots, flowers and fruits from Thailand (the Swedish Quarter?) and culminated with the damnedest ethereal face massage. I didn’t so much slip out of the spa as slide out of it.

On my second day of Christmas, my treatment was imaginatively more improvised than prescribed by Deborah who, while I was conscious, applied mixes of citrussy oils. Bathed in them, I basked in front of the spa’s fireplace.

All three massage therapists had been briefed on my “special” needs in advance, but by the second treatment I’d discovered that all the frills and special massages offered, no matter how seductively described, don’t come close to a massage tailored to one’s individual needs. Mine were being perceptively addressed.

The order of the third day was CranioSacral Therapy. I didn’t need a robe, or to disrobe at all, for this one. While I lay on my back, Michael, the resident CranioSacral maven of Mohonk, gently raised the back of my head between his hands and cradled it as if it were weightless. I don’t understand what he did beyond that, but 55 minutes later (while my grandchildren were adorning a graham cracker gingerbread house with candy and icing!) I was lulling in the calm of a therapy that turned my mind to gingerbread.

I’d already cleared my prior radiation-stage massages with the chief nurse at the hospital where I was treated, and had a New York City therapist with a doctorate in Applied Kinesiology, a woman who has worked in cancer care for over 30 years, ministering them to me weekly. The surprise in store for me came when I ventured beyond New York State.

Having had more than enough of last winter and aching for a warm-weather vacation, my wife and I chose a 7-day Caribbean cruise—to nowhere, as we thought of it—where “R&R” became for us “rest and recuperation.” Our relatively quaint ship, “the world’s largest yacht,” according to its captain, had four masts and… a spa! Why not a massage at sea?

When I told the manager of the spa, a young Englishman, what I was seeking from a massage, he said he wouldn’t let his therapists touch anyone who’d had cancer before five years had passed, warning how detrimental for me it would be to “move” my cells. He assured me it was what they believed in England. It took about as long to change his mind as it did for me to tell him that I’d had the green light from my medical people and countless massages since, so if he was right, it was too late at any rate. He agreed! And scheduled (“sheduled”) me. I, in turn, agreed to his choice of a “hot stones” massage, more gimmick then substance, I suspected, but felt I had to agree to something.

My therapist was a cockney lass from London. The “hot stones,” though soothing, proved to be no more than I expected from them. My massage was barely satisfactory. I found it disconcerting that my therapist fled post haste from the spa when we were finished. What business could she have that was so urgent?

In the corridor the next day, I observed a familiar-looking chamber maid entering one of the cabins. I didn’t have to be looking up from a massage table to recognize her: she was my therapist! I couldn’t find a conflict of interest in it, but come on!

Back in New York, I related what the English believe about “moving” cancer cells to my experienced-and-expert massage therapist, whose no-nonsense response was: “If you walk, exercise, stretch deeply or scratch your back, you move cells. Anything you do moves your cells. Is that inviting more cancer? And if you have to wait five years, what happens if you only wait for four years and eleven months?” I love logic.

I wonder what a Kenyan massage is like.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Up In The Air

A novel I thought I would write many years ago culminated with a human wave of Arabs coming at Israel, shoulder to shoulder, row upon row, trance-like and unstoppable. It was fiction.

Last Sunday, thousands of Arab protesters, chiefly Palestinians, marched on Israel's borders from Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, the Egypt-Gaza line and the West Bank. We can bank on their doing it again. The Arabs have learned from Madison Avenue.

Lesson One: if you can’t sell the product, change the label. Case in point: Mad Ave legend has it that Procter & Gamble, intending to capitalize on its success with “Drene,” a shampoo, and “Dreft,” a detergent, was about to mass-market a product called “Dreck” when they discovered the word was a Yiddish vulgarism for excrement. So they changed the product’s name to “Breck.” A worldly colleague, wise in the ways of both western marketing and eastern geopolitics, contends the Arabs, unable to sell despotism or monarchy to the free world, changed the labels to “freedom” and “democracy” to bask in the media-coined “Arab Spring.” Similarly, Mad-Ave-savvy Palestinians have come to recognize that “Intifada” works better for them than “terrorist attack” and “freedom fighter” beats “suicide bomber.” By a lot.

The masses in the fictional human wave I envisioned were stoic and silent, not the mob with nary a vision for tomorrow that we behold today. For all the media hero-hailing of those who brought down Egypt’s Hosni Mubarek, I’ll remind you there are swarms of others committing un-freedom-loving acts like forcibly detaining, beating and sexually assaulting an American journalist, CBS correspondent Lara Logan; freeing criminals by facilitating jail-breaks, blatantly and crudely, while Egyptian police forces cower on the sidelines in fear of them; looting, vandalizing, downing and stripping telephone lines for copper. At what price, democracy? Freedom to what? you might ask.

I was in the Soviet Union when its head of state, Mikhail Gorbachev, gave his people a gift—two gifts!—they couldn’t dream of receiving in their lifetime: glasnost and perestroika, both of which added up to newfound freedom. And what did they do with the precious “freedom” bestowed on them? Spewed venom, blamed others for their failures, did everything but endeavor to build better lives for themselves. I observed that the gift they seized hungrily without a thank you in return was the “freedom to hate,” which gifted me with the title of the documentary I was making about them.

What I see in the “Arab Spring” is the unleashing of unrestricted forces of seething resentment and long-nurtured hatred. What I don’t see—anymore—is the spontaneity that initially had us rooting for the youthful demonstrators without judgment. I fear that those braving the blows for liberation are being cynically manipulated.

Lesson Two: apply the crafty rules of game theory, in which one individual or group does better at another's expense, conscience be damned. Brush up your Machiavelli. He who flexes the most power wins.

So, let’s see, a dictator wins until the mob displaces him. The mob thinks its winning until a mob boss emerges from the mob and takes control, leaving the mob in the dirt. It’s only a matter of time until the mob boss is replaced by another boss or emerging authoritarian. It’s a round-robin game where power unvaryingly corrupts and nobody ultimately wins. The Iranian revolutionaries overthrew the Shah and got Khomeini and the rule of the Ayatollahs. We have no idea what’s in store for Egypt, but what’s far more alarming, no one in Egypt appears to know what’s in store for Egypt. What’s in store for the region, the Middle East, the rest of the world?

Lesson three: false advertising. Since there is no oversight and no accountability, lie.

The chairman of the PLO/ president of the Palestine National Authority, Mahmoud Abbas, who gradually managed to gain the respect of outsiders, some Israelis included, just lost mine. Several weeks ago, Abbas, who convincingly professed to be a man of peace, committed himself and his political party, Fatah, to joining forces with his arch-rival, Hamas, a self-described “armed resistance” faction sworn to destroy Israel. The unimaginable reconciliation was mediated by the headless leadership of Egypt! Then, only several days ago, Abbas published an op-ed piece in the New York Times that was pure—or more accurately, impure—fiction: stating his claim for the Palestinian people, he blatantly made up his own history for them. Maybe
he should be writing a novel.

If leaders deceive their people; if they manipulate them; if they calculatingly play to win at any expense, the cheap cost of lives—others lives, of course—being the winning point; if they lie without impunity; then what is to prevent them from driving their followers, like sheep, into a ravine, or wall, or fence?

Last Sunday, the occasion for thousands of Arabs to storm Israel’s borders from five sides was the “nakba,” Arabic for "catastrophe." “Nakba” is the term they use to describe the founding of the State of Israel, or their defeat in the war on Israel, launched by five Arab nations, that immediately followed Israel's founding, or their displacement in the war—or merely the continuing existence of Israel. The Huffington Post reported, “…activists were bused in from Palestinian refugee camps throughout Syria. Many of them held European passports and told interrogators they had been flown in from abroad for the march.” And, “Many came from the 12 crowded refugee camps in Lebanon where some 400,000 Palestinian refugees live.” Clearly, the spontaneous demonstration was well organized.

What happens if “the spontaneous demonstration” is organized to become a human wave? How many lives on both sides will it take? What Abbas had to say about the Palestinian side was, "Their precious blood will not be wasted. It was spilled for the sake of our nation's freedom." That word again, freedom, used so freely it threatens to become meaningless.

As for the novel I didn’t write? I intended to leave the ending—with its relentlessly-advancing human wave—up in the air. That’s the indisputably awesome point I fear we are at in the Middle East with, but in no way limited to, the Israeli-Palestinian stalemate. Up in the air.

Saturday, April 30, 2011

The Sidewalks of New York, Part Two

Overheard—a dialogue between two street people as they walked:
First man: We’re all separate individuals.
Second man: I respect that.
My ears went up when I heard “separate individuals.” The sidewalks of New York are heating up again. Not thermally, not just yet, but intrinsically, by nature of the people who drum their rhythms of life from them.

In the initial “Sidewalks of New York,” I wrote, “Everybody has a story” and told a scant few of a New Yorker’s slew of them. “A Distant Admirer” commented, “You don't have to be a New Yorker to love these stories, or your special New York. More, please?”

I didn’t have to be asked more than once. But then, curious, I couldn’t resist asking for “more” from my readers as well. Captured audiences we wry New Yorkers are, time-tested troupers of the serendipitous and the screwy dutifully reporting from the trenches, here’s the scoop:

This one starts like “The Ancient Mariner” and ends like a Quentin Tarantino film. A bedraggled fellow with a cheerful expression on his face approached Stuart Bardin. As Stuart tried not to be distracted by the pirate hat plopped on the man’s head and the stuffed parrot perched on his shoulder, he politely asked if Stuart had a minute to hear his tale of woe. Ever the gentleman, Stuart couldn’t say no, at least not fast enough. The less-than-ancient mariner proceeded to tell him that his ship had run aground in Central Park Lake and he was trying to raise enough money to "buy his crew some rum." He was awarded $10 for his creative fabrications—or, as Stuart puts it, for “the best laugh I ever had on the Sidewalks of NY.”

Overheard outside a Broadway theater:
I don’t understand what happened to this show. They loved it in Boston.
Celebrity-sighting in New York is a celebrity slighting the natives do well. You can read it directly from their five-borough body language: Who does he think he is that I should notice him? So the art of the game is to spot the illustrious one and then deliberately ignore him or her. Bernard Fox (no relation) relates the exception to the rule where his children’s godmother was concerned:

“She had just parked at a meter. She dug into her purse for quarters and found she had only large bills. Thinking for a moment about rushing to a nearby store to get change and then rushing back before her car was ticketed or towed, she spotted Woody Allen walking down the street. He was walking with a fisherman-like hat pulled way down over his head, his collar up, trying to be as inconspicuous as possible. She stood in his path and said, “I have no change for my meter, and unless you give me a quarter, I’m going to shout ‘THERE’S WOODY ALLEN!’" He gave her the quarter. And a smile.

Hey, lady, you got a hundred bucks? I wanna get out of the city.
The following happened to me. Almost twice:

On a sunny day on the cobblestone sidewalk along Central Park West, a neatly-dressed, light-skinned African-American man seemingly in his twenties approached from the opposite direction, greeting me with a happy-to-see-you smile and a warm hello. While I scrutinized his face quickly, trying to recognize him, he said, “You know my mother.” It’s not a line you can walk away from. As I stood trying to place him, trying to find the face of the woman “I knew” in his, he asked, “Who’s the black woman you know best?” My mind flashed on Blanche, a woman who helped my mother raise me when I was a child, a woman I dearly loved many years ago. Perhaps it was emotion, perhaps it was the incredibility of the situation: I barely uttered her name. It didn’t matter—he didn’t need to hear it. “I’m her son,” he said.” The incredibility of the situation predominated. “Is your mother still alive?” I inquired. He assured me she was—old, but fine, he indicated with a proud, confirming nod. I was in no position to do the math, but now I could walk away and was ready to. Careful not to repeat her name, I pointedly told him, “If she were still alive, she’d have to be over a hundred.” With another nod, he said, “Let’s step over here and discuss it.” Stepping back and saying we had nothing to discuss, I departed quickly, feeling a little foolish and a little sad—I hadn’t thought about Blanche for years, and if there were any chance she… no, impossible. My melancholy quickly turned to begrudging admiration for the young man—he was good! I wondered how many people he took in per day, per week, and how much he asked for, for money surely was his object. I thought of reporting the incident to the proper authorities, but I know New York detectives, and, in addition to the serious pursuit of more dangerous men, they have bigger fishy people to fry. Continuing on my way, I couldn’t help smiling.

I said, “almost twice.” Less than a month ago, a man coming toward me on Broadway smiled and greeted me. It was the same neatly-dressed man, and he looked none the worse for the years that had passed, five by my count. Before he could say, “You know…” I told him, “I’ve already heard your hustle.” He smiled and said, “Good to see you again,” and moved on without breaking stride.

Could you tell me how to get to Times Square, or should I just go f#!* myself?

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Elizabeth Taylor's Nine Lives

Years ago, when a million dollars could last you a very comfortable lifetime, a mega-major literary agent offered to get me a million dollars for a biography of Elizabeth Taylor. It was an offer I knew he could back up and in all likelihood already had. He was, he professed, enamored with her. I wasn’t. I had just come back from a distant trip with her that felt even longer than it was; had weathered and survived the traveling circus that was Elizabeth and Co., the center ring steadily drawing in fast-shrinking concentric circles of fans and gawkers who threatened to suffocate us in every airport, hotel lobby and public space we entered; and I was refreshing myself in the anonymous air of my New York. In one of those lucid moments when your life passes before you, in this case the future, I couldn’t see myself spending the time on her life it would take to write a book about her. Still, my lunch host had just put a million dollar offer on the table at, where else?, the Russian Tea Room. I told him I’d been invited to be her house guest in L.A. next week and said, “I’ll ask her.”

I related the agent’s offer to Elizabeth, thinking she’d have visions of sugarplum-shaped diamonds dancing in her head and foresee many more lavender dresses and shawls hanging in her vast dress closet. After musing momentarily about it, she said, “I don’t think I’ve lived my life yet.” I laughed and said, “The way I see it, you’ve lived at least eight of them.”

It was a relief for me to come up with an alternate plan. I had come to know Elizabeth as a wonderful story teller. After we were both injured in a car accident and consequently relegated to gorging ourselves on marzipan in the presidential suite at The Tel Aviv Hilton while we recovered, I managed, with simple prompting, to get her to tell me what seemed like every story she had in her. Our afternoons were like biopics: in addition to The Mike Todd Story, The Richard Burton Story and The (briefer) Eddie Fisher Story, her cast of characters and foibles included her friendships with Montgomery Clift, Rock Hudson, royalty and roués and, get this, Anwar Sadat. Telling her I was concerned about her inevitably losing track of pertinent details of her truly singular stories, I suggested she tell me any that occurred to her I hadn’t yet heard and I would write them up. We would keep them in a drawer in her house until the time came when she was ready to tell The Elizabeth Taylor Story. She welcomed the idea. Unfortunately, her life in L.A. and mine in N.Y. being what they were, we never got to another story.

In her ninth life, she befriended Michael Jackson and stuck by him when he most needed a friend. She distinguished herself by becoming an early and leading advocate and fund-raiser for AIDS research. A genuinely good person, she used her celebrity to become an effective activist wherever she believed she could help.

Wherever she is, I’m confident she’s already embarking on life number ten.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

With Gratitude

To all who have been so loving and supportive over the past six months, to all who have expressed their concern: your prayers and good wishes, heartfelt by me, have immeasurably helped medical science do what it did to heal me. Yesterday, my neck and throat were pronounced “absolutely clear” by my one-of-a-kind oncologist, Dr. Louis Harrison of Beth Israel Hospital.

To each and every one of you, THANK YOU. I wish I could have responded to you individually, but my condition at the time and your generous outpouring overwhelmed me.

Once again, my deepest thanks to you.



Monday, February 14, 2011

A Man With Daughters

There's no medicine like your children.

I have a younger daughter who calls me every morning to make sure I’ve had breakfast—I have little appetite and less memory these days—and threatens to have food delivered to me if I have not. I have an older daughter who ardently wants to prepare healthy dinners for me, but a healthy cuisine to her is raw food, so thus far I decline. It’s the love that counts.

Some days you question what you are hanging around for. Then you drop into any one of your two daughters’ three “Alice’s Tea Cup” restaurants and ease past the people waiting in line to behold a room full of the cozily-seated—or a patron exiting with a copy of your published daughters’ "Alice's Tea Cup" Cookbook (HarperCollins). Some days, down but not out, you brave the cold not as well as you braved radiation en route to a daughter’s opening night, and before the day is over, you’re basking in the glow of a rave review for her—the very same Lauren Fox!—in The New York Times. And, on some dark days, cerebrally scalped and emotionally threadbare, you ask yourself: is it worth it? And then your grandchildren burst through the door.

I vividly remember my mother, holding and rocking our firstborn, looking up at me as I entered the room and, with a beatific half-smile on her lips, telling me, “They say, ‘Your children’s children are twice your children.’” I don’t know who “they” are: I’ve never been able to find the saying or the source of it. But, for the first time I, a young father, came as close to understanding what the hitherto inexplicable (to me) ecstasy of grandparenthood was as I could ever come—until now.

I’ve learned what keeps us going is wanting to see how it all comes out. I’m beginning to see it. It’s a given and a gift that my wife is my best friend, but our daughters’ metamorphosis from children I blissfully squired around town to my two unconditional best friends was magical. The full measure of it is that there is nothing we can’t say to each other; we unwittingly shock others. It isn’t just love that conquers all, it’s love and respect, and it flows in both directions.

How it all comes out. I know what my youngest daughter Haley is going to be—she became it. She would have made a wonderful film director, but she wanted more to become a great mother and she became one of the best. Best of all, her children know it.

Lauren had to do it the hard way, the long, winding way—like everything else she’s done, in her own time. But her time is now. (And what timely medicine for me!)

A friend who hadn’t seen her since she was mugged and injured last June called me after he’d seen her show to say how distressed he was during it. The character Lauren created in “Hillbilly Women” had a crooked mouth and unevenly hunched shoulders and she maintained those distorting physical effects without let-up. She even took her first bow in character, so it wasn’t until her second bow—when she came out as herself, broad smile and relaxed body posture—that he was assured all was right in the Fox world.

For sure, what keeps us going is wanting to see how it all comes out. All is, or presently seems, right again.

When Henry Kissinger tried to fend off then-Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir’s entreaties with, “I’m an American first, Secretary of State second, and a Jew third,” she responded, “That’s all right. Here we read from right to left.” My answer is “I am a man with daughters.”