Friday, October 31, 2008
The Rose Room is believed to be one of the most haunted spots in the White House. In it is Andrew Jackson's bed. People have felt his presence and say that "Old Hickory" still lives in his former bedroom.
When Mrs. Woodrow Wilson lived in the White House, she ordered gardeners to dig up the Rose Garden. Dolly Madison had planned and built the garden. As the workmen started to comply with the request of Mrs. Wilson, they saw Dolly Madison standing in front of them and ran away. The Rose Garden has bloomed for nearly two hundred years.
When Abagail Adams moved into the White House, she couldn't decide where to hang the family wash. She finally selected the warmest and driest place in that cold and damp mansion. A clothes line was strung between the walls of the East Room. It is said that to this day the ghost of Abigail Adams is seen hurrying toward the East Room -- with arms out stretched as if carrying a load of laundry.
Of course not one of those alleged White House ghosts is as terrifying as its present, living occupant. And the deeds of that current resident will haunt us for decades.
Thursday, October 30, 2008
How is it that we can use computers to do banking, buy airline tickets, donate to charity and trace the shpping on our merchandise orders, but we can't use them as a secure voting system? Why can authorities find out who is qualified to serve jury duty or whose driver's license is up for renewal with remarkable accuracy, but a person's right to vote can always be questioned? How is it, that after two presidential elections in which gross electoral fraud was discovered, the system has not been overhauled?
Mary said she hopes she's wrong and I hope she is, too. We need to watch the voting in this election very closely.
The election days of my childhood were magnificent. People who never came to our house came on those days for no reason other than the privilege of voting.
John and Frank Goodwin and Florence who was married to one of the two brothers crowded into the front of their pickup. One Armed Joe sometimes spent the entire day visiting with my father. Once he started to leave and my father reminded him that he'd come to vote. Old Mrs. Pickett came with her middle aged son who Mama said had tuberculosis. Oscar and Lillian were all business and never stayed to visit. Lillian always had something or other on the stove at home. Daddy sometimes said that it was probably one of our chickens. Mr. Kenny, who left his home in Kansas at age nineteen years because his doctor had told him he had one year left to live, arrived in his 1921 Dodge truck. I tried to always watch him crank the engine to start it after he had voted. Mr. Kenny lived to be 103 and voted in many elections before his year to live ended.
It wasn't easy for those people to come out of the desert mountains and vote and every election they showed up proud to be a part of the process.
My parents were serious, attentive business during the election days. There was no ballot tampering. Each one of those couple dozen votes was important. Polling place rules and procedures were strictly enforced by my parents.
After the elections, my brother and I got to keep some of the unused supplies -- the flags and the pens and the ink and the unused sealing wax and the sample ballots. For weeks after each election we practiced voting. We knew the sample ballots by heart. We sealed self made election envelopes with the heated wax.
For us on that isolated desert ranch, an election day was an event not to be missed. Those desert dwellers believed with all their hearts that their votes mattered. And they were never undecided.
Wednesday, October 29, 2008
Tuesday, October 28, 2008
Los Angeles is three hours earlier than New York. Jerusalem is six hours later than New York. I have an important meeting tomorrow and I have to talk to the big boss before I attend it. He isn't in Jerusalem. He is flying to Lisbon, arriving at 8:30 p.m. Portuguese time. That's 4:30 p.m. New York time. I called my boss in Los Angeles a while ago to let him know. He was at lunch. Well, of course he was. It was 1:00 p.m. in California.
Next week, the two of them and my colleague, who is usually in the office next door to me, are flying to Budapest for a conference. It will be a relief to have them all in the same time zone, even if said time zone is 5 hours ahead of me.
Oops, it's 8:43 p.m. in Lisbon. Gotta go.
Monday, October 27, 2008
Sunday, October 26, 2008
I love forensics too with all the new technologies at the disposal of experts. Step by step I enter into that fantasy land of murder and throughout the book or movie I'm trying to figure out the guilty party and in doing so, I feel like Sherlock Holmes. How the blood flows throughout my body!
It started years ago. I bought every one of Agatha Christi's mystery books. I'd read them every spare moment. Then I switched to authors like Stephen King, Dean Kuntz and Patricia Cornwell to name a few. These novels/books were in even more detail and were so interesting I had to keep on reading and couldn't hardly put them down.
Ever been to a mystery dinner party ? What fun. One party I attended was very well done. The murderer was sitting across the table from me. I knew him well, I thought, and didn't think he could hide the fact that he was the bad guy. I really thought he would give it away but, I was wrong. He actually was a very good actor. He ran around and around the room pointing a fake gun while his captor followed also holding a fake gun. Bang! Bang! He fell to the floor with fake blood oozing out from his coat.
The host keeps everyone involved and on edge stating there's a murderer in the room right now and may be sitting at one of the ten tables. Clues are placed on each table and the people at each table confer with each other hoping to solve the case. If you haven't been to one of these parties, you're really missing out on loads of fun! If you don't know of someone who's having one, have one yourself.
As a child, can you remember what impressed you the most about Halloween?
My schedule is neither so full nor so complicated that it requires the most perfect time management tool. I'm neither that busy nor that important. Nevertheless, a perfect tool is the focus of my end of October beginning of November obsession.
I generally buy my first calendar on hysterical impulse even though I know it will soon be rejected and spend its year in a desk drawer because, of course, time cannot be discarded even into the recycling bin. I will make that first purchase because my anxiety that all of the calendars will be gone within seconds of placement on the shelves will outweigh all other thoughts. That first purchase will be made at an art supply store. I will then begin prowling the calendar sections of book stores. I will probably go on line to see if other countries have better calendars than those available locally. Ultimately I will buy the same style calendar I have used for the past four years. Hopefully I will check to make certain it's for the year to come and not for the year about to be completed.
Yesterday in the check out line to pay for stage one of this predictable and completely out of control cycle, I saw a friend. She looked about as crazed as I felt. With no word of greeting she said, "I'll never find the perfect calendar. And every year I buy about a dozen of them and never like any of them."
I threw my arms around her. Misery really does love company. We were about to buy identical calendars. We'll doubtless run into each other at several book stores and office supply stores and if there are on line chats available for folks such as us we will certainly spend time with other desperate souls chatting about time and its management.
In the meantime, of course, time is slipping away.
Saturday, October 25, 2008
It was an interesting dilemma.
For months I have been gently encouraging my son to go forth in the world to find himself after he graduates from culinary school. We’ve told him our own stories of leaving one place for another, hoping he will find the strength and confidence to continue his learning wherever it might take him. My heart went out to this highly competent young woman who wore her heart on her sleeve as she pleaded her case to me. I gave her my full attention as she laughed and cried and shared with me her hopes for my son and their relationship.
"Ouch," I thought to myself. "You are so young. Work on your own life. Figure out who you are. How wonderful to be nineteen. Go out and change the world. "
That's what I wanted to say. Instead, I nodded and smiled sympathetically. I couldn’t fix this one. As I watched her leave I realized it was an act of pure frustration and desperation to seek my counsel. I wondered about her passionate and delicate heart and the woman she would become.
Friday, October 24, 2008
Hadassah's Torah reading made a huge impression on me, although I was unaware of it at the time. As my religious observance increased, as I learned how to read and chant Torah myself, as I applied for rabbinical school, and in my years as a rabbi, Hadassah's influence has stayed with me. A couple of years ago, a former Pembroke camper brought her son to the Claremont Colleges, where I was then the rabbi. She told me that Hadassah, after retiring from Camp Pembroke, had for many years taught adult Bar and Bat Mitzvah classes at her synagogue in Newton, Massachusetts. Just a year earlier, she had moved to an assisted living facility, where she taught the other residents to read Torah.
I am not entirely sure of this, but I think Hadassah died on the day of the festival of Simchat Torah. How appropriate. No one found more happiness in Torah than she did. As I attend synagogue tomorrow, and hear its opening paragraphs read, I'll be thinking of her.
Honi was an old man and someone walking by saw him planting a seedling. The passerby asked Honi why he was bothering planting something so small that would not grow tall enough in his lifetime to give him fruit or shade.
Honi didn't care. He kept planting.
And that's the one thing I am learning at fifty.
Planting seeds is probably the most powerful thing a person can do.
Thursday, October 23, 2008
"Stay in the market. Re-invest," he roared.
"I don't know what the market will do tomorrow or a year from now but I do know this. The country, the system, works."
These were the words I wanted to hear from this kind, old billionaire. But were they to be believed?
I desperately wanted to bring his message home with confidence, telling friends, clients and relatives that their 401ks and IRAs were safe and, unless (of course) they had less than five years before retirement, they should stay one hundred per cent in the game.
"No one can time the market so don't try. Buy into businesses that an idiot could run. Be fearful when people are greedy and greedy when people are fearful."
I furiously wrote down all of the icon's one-liners I could that described his philosophy of investing and of life.
He explained how the beginnings of the economic mess started in 2006 with lenders pushing their 'no money down products' to Americans who believed that home prices would continue to increase in profit year after year. Lenders didn't worry. Banks believed they would profit. And the world leveraged up and up and up.
The bubble burst. Mistrust became widespread. The system froze.
It will be sloppy to fix, he promised, but assured that it is fixable. With 80% of the money decisions made by women, he had an attentive audience. One day later as I watch the market's continual decline, I answered an email from my 23 year old son living in New York. He was worried about his 401K that he recently signed up for at work. I couldn't help laughing. With at least 32 years of financial growth ahead of him, I told him to resist the impulse to stuff it in the mattress and to stay in the game.
Senior citizens need to start shopping medications. Some pharmacies will give a 20% discount to those not insured. Big discount super markets give even bigger deals. Then there are the borders - Mexico and Canada. Pharmaceutical companies need to stop excalating costs. We need to stop filling the pockets of the CEO's of the large pharmaceutical companies. We are sick of it!
Wednesday, October 22, 2008
Tuesday, October 21, 2008
I'm hoping he's taken his first vacation in over thirty years. I'm hoping he's gone off to a nice beach condo for a month or so. I'm hoping he's sitting on a bench somewhere smiling and waving at people going by on roller blades or bicycles or on foot.
Maybe while he's there one of those people will stop and ask him his name. Maybe one of those beach people will stop and tell him how truly peaceful and comforting it is to know there's someone who just likes to smile and wave.
Instead of pulling in the driveway as we usually do, Tom kept going and we took a survey of the lawn politics in our thirty-house Claremont, California, development. We noticed that six of the eight houses that had a McCain-Palin sign also had a 'yes on eight' sign by its side. The Republican Party sadly proselytizing a fundamentalist view that places its morality on every citizen. Our faces lit up when we found a little pocket of five homes that had Obama-Biden signs. Excluding ours, that still left sixteen houses unaccounted for. I wondered where all the others stood. Were they too lazy to get a sign? Were they simply uninterested? Did they believe that politics was strictly a personal thing? Was my development filled with undecideds? I didn’t know. When we got out of the truck I noticed that Tom had stopped and was staring at the back of his vehicle. I asked him what was wrong. He didn’t say anything and then pointed to the back bumper on his Tahoe.
“Oh my God,” I said. "I wonder when this happened?” Someone earlier that day had placed a McCain/Palin bumper sticker over his Obama/Biden sticker. The thought that we had been driving around like that left us both feeling violated. For the first time in our lives we were both worried what the neighbors would think.
Monday, October 20, 2008
The suspension of this particular vehicle was not nearly as effective as that of the worst constructed Conestoga Wagon. Every pebble in the road threatened to send the van careening out of control. Sixty miles round trip I had to drive that thing and then return it with the fuel tank at least half full. The day was hot despite predictions of cool rain. I was tired and irritated when I pulled up to the Shell station. A woman appeared to be just finishing filling the tank of her subcompact car. However, she continued to sit in the driver's seat way past the point when the tank had to be full. She was sorting through papers. Twice she got out of her car to throw away papers. Each time she got out, I inched closer thinking surely she would replace the fuel nozzle, cap her tank and drive away.
Each time she got out of her vehicle we made eye contact. Perhaps she misread my expression. Perhaps she thought I was having the time of my life. Perhaps she thought that I wanted to spend way too many of my precious moments on this planet stuck in a U-Haul cargo van. Perhaps she had become mesmerized by the recorded video of a Shell guy welcoming each customer to the station.
"You know," I wanted to shout, "he's not real. He's not talking to you."
I tried to keep my face expressionless. I didn't want to inspire some sort of passive-aggressive episode during which she elected to crawl under her car and begin changing her oil.
Blessedly, she finally finished her day's filing and actually returned the nozzle, capped her tank, got in her car, and drove off.
I pulled my rattling, shaking cargo van to the pump dreaming of the Negra Modelo I would drink should I actually complete this adventure and return home. I cut off the flow of gasoline at twenty dollars and three cents hoping that I'd filled the tank to the half mark.
My vehicle luck is changing. With a tank exactly half full, I returned the U-Haul cargo van. I've been home a couple of hours. I can still feel the shaking, careening motion of that vehicle. I'm beginning to get it though. I'm no longer behind its wheel.
Today I found myself, literally, driving a mini van along California's '210 corridor'. I last sat in the driver's seat of this particular vehicle because my friend was too sick to drive it herself. I last sat in the driver's seat of this particular vehicle a little more than fifteen months ago. I'm driving this particular vehicle right now because on Saturday I ran out of all vehicles in my charge.
I wasn't looking forward to driving this particular mini van because sitting in the driver's seat, I knew, would bring back too many memories. This, though, is Southern California and not even a trip to the corner grocery store can be accomplished without some sort of vehicle. So there I was in the mini van.
Earlier I had released the hood instead of the parking brake but about half way to my day's destination I had formed a truce with my emotions.
I'm getting over a cold. I couldn't reach my handkerchief. I knew, though, that all I had to do was extend my right arm a little and I would find a box of tissue. Had I been borrowing her coat instead of her car I would know to just put my hand in the right pocket and I would find a small packet of tissue. Some things you just know.
It was that box of tissue in just the right place that allowed that mini van to work Bob's sympathetic magic. All of a sudden I felt good and content. I laughed because I knew she would be laughing at yet another episode of what she called 'Mary's Amazing Auto Ballet'.
I tuned the radio to a country station and turned the volume up to a heart pounding level. The music wasn't anything resembling the ballet but for this trip she could be in the driver's seat just one more time.
Thanks, Bob. Now I know why sometimes I just sit and hold that book you gave me.
Sunday, October 19, 2008
We were riding along, my friend and I, following that now infamous tow truck to my neighborhood garage. The mere sight of those people and their placards and their self righteous expressions immediately raised my blood pressure to an alarming level. I felt the top of my head would explode and cover them with my pulsing, angry brain. I rolled down my passenger side of the car window at first to breathe in some of California's excuse for fresh air. I didn't organize the words that flew out of my mouth in a shout the minute air entered my lungs. But there they were hurling at them -- that famous two word vulgarity involving activities done under the consent of the king and a much maligned bodily orifice. Then, apparently anticipating a complete lack of comprehension on the part of those people, I added emphasis with my index finger. My friend echoed my sentiments in an even louder voice.
Clearly the two of us had suffered an empathic breakdown in the extreme.
It wasn't my finest moment nor was it hers.
Come to think of it, though, the fact that this issue is even on the ballot does not reflect a fine moment for justice and respect and constitutional rights.
Looking back on the events that lasted no more than a few seconds, I don't even think they noticed us. Hatred, it seems, can dull all senses.
Saturday, October 18, 2008
Yesterday, my best-and-oldest friend, with whom I am living, had her Saturn towed; not an uncommon occurence here in the land where alternate side of the street parking regulations were invented. She went to reclaim it and realized that she had lost her driver's license. No license, no car, she was told, and so I came along with my valid California driver's license. We took a cab to a grim and desolate corner of Brooklyn and arrived at the NYPD Tow Yards. By this time, night had fallen and a chill had set in, just to set the mood. We walked along a path surrounded on both sides by chain link fence to a rickety building in the middle of nowhere. The line of those waiting to reclaim their cars was long and, for obvious reasons,no one was in a good mood. The walls were painted an utterly cheerless industrial blue. A long glass window separated the workers from those of us separated from our cars. Every few feet along its length, a handwritten sign warned us "Do not come to the window until you are called!! Stand behind the "T" on the floor!!" We were lucky enough to draw the window of the worker who had helped my friend earlier, and passed through quickly once I produced my license. Then we were told to wait outside. An NYPD van, flashing its police lights, pulled up, and we were both ready to get in. "Not both of you - only the driver", the cop at the wheel said. That would be me; the one with the license. I hoped I would recognize my friend's car when I saw it. And so I took off on a ride through what seemed to be the world's largest parking lot. If New York can collect on all those cars, the city's money troubles should be over.
The car was retrieved and all is well except for the outrageous parking ticket and tow fees my friend had to pay. One in car jail and the other in the repair shop. On opposite ends of the country. Bad weekend for Saturns.
My neighbor from across the street, you remember that I won't vote for her should she run for vice president, came out of her home to say hello and how are you. I told her. "No problem," said she and offered me the use of her van explaining that I'd be doing her a favor by driving it and keeping the battery charged.
"I'll just grab the keys," she said. When she returned with the keys, she couldn't open the door remotely. Why? Because her battery was already dead.
"Looks like I'm a little late in helping you keep your battery charged," I observed and she had no choice but to agree.
"What's the name of that triple A guy?"
I didn't remember.
Another friend has volunteered his extra car for my use until I either gain control of my automotive situation or until his son is old enough to drive. The son will be sixteen in February. I'm hoping that by then I will either have one of my cars back or the internal combustion engine will have become obsolete.
Friday, October 17, 2008
I bought nothing. I did not, however, feel deprived.
That Courier & Ives book over in that corner -- that's the one. I used to own not that exact book I'm sure but one just like it. I was a child and the contents of that book for me depicted far away and magical places.
And that three tiered candy dish. My grandmother might have owned something similar in a day when hospitality mattered sufficiently to take up space on the table.
What went wrong with that trip to Disneyland that Steve and Judy gave their personalized souvenir mugs to an antique dealer? Or was Disneyland not the problem but events far removed from the happiest place on earth?
We wandered for almost two hours. Then he paid for his childhood table and we left the mustiness of dusty yesterdays.
Maybe we'll go back to Antique Row some day. Until then, I don't have to lug that baggage from that past with me. Apparently neither do Steve and Judy.
Thursday, October 16, 2008
I left behind the first house I've ever owned; a house that I loved the minute I saw it, and loved more every day of the eight years I lived in it. It's rented to someone else now, but I still own it. I know that when I move back into it, however many years from now that may be, it will be home.
Far more important than the house, I left behind the person who is most important to me in my life. When I visit California, the house where she lives is my home.
The house in Brooklyn where I live now belongs to my oldest and dearest friend. She has owned it for thirty years. It is a place I have known well for that entire time, and I lived in it for two years about 15 years ago. It's definitely home.
My elderly parents live in a senior community condo in neighboring New Jersey. They bought it upon their retirement twenty three years ago, when they could still enjoy the amenities it offered - the golf course, the pool, the health club. That condo is home, too, although they bought it after I moved to California, and I have never lived there.
Yesterday, I took the bus to New Jersey to see my parents, and, when I left Brooklyn, I told my friend that I was "going home" for the day. When I left my parents' house to return to Brooklyn, I told them I was "going home". I realized that, twice in one day, I had left home to go home. In fact, almost all of the journeys I will make in the next few months will be from one home to another. It's much better to have too many homes than not enough. I'm really lucky.
So, further intruding myself into their conversation, I said, "You're saying that everyone should hold off on their life plans until they have no impact on you?"
The man paused in thought.
"I guess I was just thinking of myself." Whereupon he turned to my colleague and wished him good luck and congratulations.
That's the way it is with comings and goings. We lose track, it seems, of what is our journey and what is the journey of the other person.
Sometimes it really isn't all about us.
Wednesday, October 15, 2008
Now, look what has happened today! Most card holders are so far in debt that they can only pay the minimum amount - which, by the way, has recently been increased by law. The state of credit card debt is way out of control. Prices have increased for medical supplies and equipment as well as the necessities of life. I blame the credit card companies for a good portion of the debt and the card holders for not resisting the promotional tactics. As prices continue to increase, so will the credit card debt. It's time for us to buckle down and pull up our boot straps to walk out of that brown stuff. We've put ourselves in a deep, deep well with no one to pull the rope at the top of the well to bring the well's bucket to the surface.
Tuesday, October 14, 2008
Monday, October 13, 2008
My reputation is that of an honest person but I gotta tell you something. I'm full of stories. So are you. You, too, are sticking to your stories. That's all we've got. Our stories are our realities. Something happened. You saw it. I saw it. The event meant something to you and something completely different to me. We both have and tell our stories and both of us tell the truth -- or at least we tell our truths.
Which brings front and center the age old question of what is truth? Right now we're bombarded by stories designed to sway us to vote one way or the other.
I just saw an ad on television in favor of California's Proposition 8. The content of the ad was, to me, an outlandish distortion of my truth. If Proposition 8 does not pass, the ad claimed, same sex marriage will be forced on everyone. Come on. Really? If Proposition 8 passes men will be forced to marry men not of their own choosing and women will be forced to marry women because one of them got pregnant? People who don't love each other will marry for all of the wrong reasons because that's what they're supposed to do?
Gosh. That sounds pretty familiar.
Maybe instead of denying same sex couples the right currently enjoyed only by heterosexual couples, no one should be allowed to marry.
But what about the children, you might ask. Well, then, maybe only people who want to raise children responsibly and lovingly would commit to that life long honor and obligation.
Since marriage probably won't be outlawed completely, let's at least give same sex couples the same right to make unwise commitments currently flaunted only by self righteous, erring opposite sex couples.
That's one of my many stories. What's yours?
Sunday, October 12, 2008
Perhaps keys represent possibility or freedom. Maybe that's why I appear to be unable to discard them. Maybe I'm afraid that the minute the key is gone the lock will appear.
I'll keep trying to figure it out. In the meantime, I think I need to get a bigger plastic container. I wouldn't want to lose any of those keys.
Justice Richard N. Palmer wrote in the majority opinion that, "Interpreting our state constitutional provisions in accordance with firmly established equal protection principles leads inevitably to the conclusion that gay persons are entitled to marry the otherwise qualified same sex partner of their choice. To decide otherwise would require us to apply one set of constitutional principles to gay persons and another to all others.
Connecticut now joins California and Massachusetts in the establishment of justice for all couples who want to marry.
Let no man put asunder.
While sitting in her un-moving car, the rabbi of a local community said to me, "I don't think I'm going to/too fast."
She said those words and spoken words lack the clarity of being able to present the spelling.
It was clear to me that she wasn't going too fast because she wasn't moving. I wondered at her uncertainty. Noticing my confused expression, she continued by saying, "I'm not feeling well. If I announce to the congregation that because I'm ill I'm not going to fast, perhaps others will give themselves permission to have a cup of tea or a cracker during the day."
I got it.
Because her car was motionless, she was not going too fast.
Because she was ill, she was not going to fast.
Then she drove off in her then 'motioned' car careful to not go too fast.
During the day, she did drink some tea and ate a cracker because she had decided that she was not going to fast.
And we wonder why we have trouble communicating the really complicated matters life presents us.
Wednesday, October 8, 2008
I'm not sure what we should be calling these presidential and vice-presidential sound bite events but they certainly aren't debates.
So let's stop insulting the long and honored tradition of debate and call them something else.
And let's stop teaching the public that the art of debate is nothing more than reading from prepared cards responses having nothing to do with the critical and urgent questions and issues presented before the candidates and the public.
Give us a break.
Tuesday, October 7, 2008
Sunday, October 5, 2008
Friday, October 3, 2008
To the streets we must go and on the signs we wave we must put only three letters -- 'ing'.
It's neither cute nor persuading to deliberately destroy this language. The daughter of school teachers should know better.
She has created and run her own business. She knows a thing or two about making decisions, about hiring and firing, about multi-tasking, and about being on the executive level of something.
If she were running, I would not vote for her to become Vice President of this country and certainly not President even though I have not once -- in all of the years I've known her -- seen her wink -- even though she includes the 'g' in words ending in 'ing'. Despite those amazingly -- apparently unusual skills -- I still wouldn't vote for her.
Call me out of the loop, but I just happen to think that it takes more than across the street neighborliness to lead the free world -- to maneuver us out of a costly, unnecessary war -- to restore our lost civil liberties -- to repair our world image -- to provide health care for all -- to figure out how to stop this economic disaster. It takes seasoned experience and education and years of building consensus and 'kitchen cabinets'. It takes more than either my neighbor or I possess.
So, just in case she decides to run for Vice President, don't vote for my neighbor.
And just in case I decide to run for President, please don't vote for me, either.