Monday, December 30, 2013

Bread Eaten in Secret is Pleasant

You've heard of “death by chocolate”? Well, I think my wife is trying to kill me with another tasty food: Homemade breads. Not the type that come out of a bread machine. Rather, crusty manna she makes from scratch. Last night it was puffy popovers like the ones you get at BLT Steak. Smothered in butter. Yum.

Those who know me and Gilda might be slightly confused. Weren't we, after all, practitioners, acolytes and advocates of the Atkins diet, the regimen that proscribes carbohydrate-laden foods like bread and pasta? True. 

Back in 1998, during our first trip to Prague, I thought Gilda was trying to kill me by suggesting I swear off bread and pastries in favor of eggs, bacon, sausage and as many other meats and proteins as I like. Carbs, she told me, just made me hungry for snacks during the day that my body would convert to sugar. A protein-packed diet would not encourage frequent stops at bakeries. Moreover, the Atkins diet would help reduce and control my cholesterol and triglycerides (don’t ask for the science behind this. It’s like a minus times a minus equals a plus.)

The first breakfast in Prague was anxiety-filled. I had not eaten a breakfast egg for several years. But there I was loading my plate with scrambled eggs, a couple of pieces of bacon and sausage and more than a little bit of wonder, wondering whether Gilda was trying to kill me. 

Some people lose wait with the Atkins diet. I didn’t have to, so I modified it by eating at least one starch, such as potatoes, with one meal. Sure enough, my weight maintained, my blood test numbers improved. But I really missed bread. So did Gilda, who also followed the Atkins diet.

A couple of years ago we started to loosen up. We’d look forward to eating bread when dining out. Gilda wanted to consume less meat, so we added more pasta dinners at home. I retrieved the bread machine we had given to Dan and Allison, but soon lost interest in making bread. Instead, once a week I was bringing home a loaf from Whole Foods for salmon and tuna fish salads.

A few weeks ago Gilda, who despite becoming a fantastic cook never considered herself an expert baker, decided to try her hand at bread. She began with a recipe for no-knead bread. It emerged from a Dutch oven a perfect circle, in the words of Mark Bittman of The New York Times, “to nearly duplicate an artisan bakery loaf, with a crackling crust, open-holed crumb, light texture, and fantastic flavor.” The bread equaled if not surpassed breads served in the best restaurants (here’s a link to the recipe—

Tonight Gilda said next week she will try baking biscuits. Is there no end to her devilish plan? And yet, as is written in the Book of Job, “Bread eaten in secret is pleasant.”

Thursday, December 26, 2013

The Wolf I Did Not See

Did you see a good movie on Christmas Day? I did. American Hustle, a fictionalized account of the Abscam scandal. But that's not the film that inspired today's blog. That movie was The Wolf of Wall Street, like American Hustle, another ripped-from-the-pages-of-history flick, this one a depiction of manipulative penny stock traders. So here goes my linked-in story of Wall Street penny-ante riches.

The call to my office came out of the blue. A cold call by an eager young broker from Thomas James Associates trolling for dollars, pushing penny stocks. I knew better than to invest in these high risk shares, but he reached me at a moment of vulnerability. I had just received an unexpected windfall of several thousand dollars. With Gilda's assent, I gambled $2,000 on a company that promised big returns in the then embryonic laser eye surgery field.

It was hard to follow the stock. Penny stocks weren't usually reported in The New York Times or The Wall Street Journal. Plus, my eager-beaver of a broker didn't call back once my check cleared. I assumed my investment was as flighty as my erstwhile broker, an assumption reinforced in my mind when six months later another cold call came from Thomas James Associates informing me my broker had departed the company and was being replaced by the gentleman now on the phone.

He wanted to know how happy I was  with my investment. I was ignorant to its value, so I casually said, “Not too much,” to which he responded, somewhat incredulously, that he had never come across anyone less enthusiastic by a tenfold return on principal. My $2,000 investment had increased to $20,000!

I stammered some explanation for my passivity. He then confronted me with a challenge. What did I want to do with my $20,000?  We agreed to cash out half of it and invest the rest in a different penny stock, Holiday RV, as in recreational vehicles. Baby boomers like me would be taking to the open road in land cruisers once they retired, he pitched. Now would be a good time to get in on the ground floor. 

What the heck? Let's spin the wheel a second time. Oy! This time it ended in a crash. I got out after losing half the pot. The rest went in some other speculative investments. All in all, I netted $8,000 and a lesson in the risky business of penny stocks. One more thing. Thomas James Associates wound up being sued for fraud. I seem to recall receiving a small sum from a class action lawsuit against the firm and its successor, but nowhere near the value of the education I learned to stay away from penny stocks.

PS—Christmas Eve dinner was Chinese. We ate Indian after the movie Christmas Day.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Tonight, Will It Be Chinese or Indian?

The oft repeated joke is that Jews spend Christmas Eve enjoying a dinner of Chinese food.

Guilty, though our family sometimes substitutes Indian cuisine. When I speak of family, I mean the one Gilda and I created together. When I grew up in Brooklyn, we spent Christmas Eve at home, eating a regular home cooked meal. It was, after all, just an ordinary evening. If Christmas fell on a weekday, as it does this year, it meant the evening before was simply the evening before a school day, with homework to be done. My Hebrew elementary school held classes Christmas Week so as not to confuse us about, or give credence to, the holiday of another religion. My Hebrew high school was more liberating. It freed us from school during the week between Christmas and New Year’s. I suspect it had to do with the secular studies teachers who taught in public high schools and were off that week.

Anyway, returning to Christmas Eve, Gilda, the kids and I also enjoyed riding around looking at Christmas decorations. Which brings me to one of my favorite stories about the innocence of children.

A little more than 25 years ago our friends Michael and Sandy were preparing to move from their co-op in Eastchester to White Plains. A few days before the relocation they bundled their two young boys in the car to look at their new residence. At first enthusiastic to make the move, the older boy, Aaron, burst out in tears when they drove by their soon to be home. He was inconsolable.

It took prolonged prodding but the cause of Aaron's tantrum finally revealed itself. Seems a holly wreath hung from the front door of the house. Four- or five-year-old Aaron was upset because he presumed he and his family could no longer be Jewish if they wanted to live behind that door. 

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Lockerbie: An Example of Why I Write This Blog

Since I started writing this blog four years ago, I’ve tried to tie historical and current events to incidents and people in my own life. Today is no exception. Today marks the 25th anniversary of the bombing of Pan Am Flight 103 over the skies of Lockerbie, Scotland. Among the 259 passengers who perished aboard that fateful airplane was one of my cousins, Mark Alan Rein (another 11 Scottish innocents died on the ground).

Alan, as he was commonly known, was the treasurer of Salomon Bros., the Wall Street firm. A 1965 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, my cousin was just 44 years old, married, the father of two children, Nicole, 12, and Alexander, 9. He was returning from a trip to England before going on a vacation with his wife, Denice, to celebrate their 15th wedding anniversary.

In truth, though Alan was just five years older, I have few memories of him. His father, Moe, was my father’s first cousin. I recall going to Alan’s bar mitzvah, but our families rarely socialized. One memory I have is visiting their apartment, as Alan’s mother suffered from multiple sclerosis. I also remember being proud I had a cousin attending Annapolis.

Alan’s funeral was held at Temple Emanu-El in Manhattan. It was the first and only time I have been inside this edifice, considered the largest and one of the most beautiful synagogues in the world. Almost all of its 2,500 seats were occupied. Alan’s older brother, Bert, delivered a eulogy. Bert is a well-connected Washington lawyer who frequently appears before the U.S. Supreme Court representing conservative and business interests.

I am forever amazed at the single degree of separation I have to many events and people in the news. 

Friday, December 20, 2013

Screw It: My Sister Tried to Get Me a Date and a Job

It's not uncommon for friends and relatives to help out when you're looking for a job. Or someone to love. It's also not uncommon for their best laid plans to backfire.

My sister Lee twice misfired when it came to helping me.

Before I started dating Gilda I was not seeing anyone. Always the considerate older sister, Lee thought she had stumbled across the perfect person for me to call, a girl whom I had gone out with in summer camp when we were both all of 13.

Our conversation was short, awkward and embarrassing, at least on my end when I called her. When I asked what she was up to these days, she said she was to be married in a few weeks. A quick mazel tov ended the conversation, followed by another call to my sister remonstrating her that the next time she thinks to set me up with a girl it might be wise to first check the young lady's ring finger.

Not content to try to improve my love life, Lee next tried to help me find a journalism job. In the early 1970s, she was a social worker at New York City’s Bureau of Child Welfare in lower Manhattan. With two co-workers she went to lunch one day. Seated next to their table were two men in their  30s. They started talking. She remembered one had long hair. He said he was a publisher of a magazine. 

Saying her brother recently graduated with a masters degree in journalism, she wondered if he might have a job for me. Maybe, he answered. She asked him the name of his magazine. He gave her his business card—Al Goldstein, publisher of Screw. Lee had no idea what Screw was. I did. “ARE YOUR CRAZY? I'm not going to work for a f-ing pornographic magazine,” I screamed at her when she excitedly told me about her referral.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

From Dilbert to Gainsharing to a Bonsai Tree

Last Wednesday while driving around Yonkers delivering food to the elderly I heard part of a Leonard Lopate public radio interview with Scott Adams, the creator of the Dilbert comic strip which lampoons corporate America. Adams chided managements that religiously bring in consultants to improve productivity and workplace environment. They are hired in an almost flavor-of-the-month ritual.

Which got me to thinking how my former employer practiced a similar wistful approach. My memory was honed by the recent passing of the vice president recruited to handle our strategic planning and other management enhancement practices. The charming reality of it all was that Harry was hired to be our in-house expert after our president attended one of his strategic planning seminars in Pittsburgh, I believe. That had to be the ultimate consultant’s dream: Impress someone in your audience so much they offer you a full-time gig.

Not that Harry didn't do a bang-up job getting us to focus more on strengths and weaknesses as we prepared to tackle the future. It's just that sometimes we wound up doing some pretty absurd and contradictory things.

We were always looking for ways to grow the company while also reducing expenses. To that end, we were given a book whose actual title eludes me but sounded something like “A Zap to the Side of the Head.” It advocated gainsharing, the concept of rewarding staff members for ideas and actions that contributed to a thicker bottom line. 

I embraced the idea. Actually, I had already been practicing it by giving editors more money for writing special reports and supplements, many of which they had created and helped pitch to sponsors. These were $60,000-$100,000 projects during a time when our average account spent about $30,000 a year. I thought  it right to reward the editors with extra funds considering that without their input we usually would not have sold the projects which they then had to write on top of their regular assignments. Yet, I was continually questioned about the wisdom of paying the editors more money. I'd reply, to mostly deaf ears, that “Zap” advocated gainsharing.

I was tapped to be part of a Big Idea committee. We were charged with rewarding suggestions to generate more revenue, with a top prize of $25,000. For expense-saving ideas, the award would be 10% of first-year savings. Ideas poured in. The most enticing was to start a new magazine. We handed out the $25,000 but never launched the book. Somehow, in formalizing the Big Idea rules, senior management forgot to include the requirement that the idea be put into practice.

A little while later corporate thinking channeled along the lines of a “string of pearls.” Consultant Janice sold us the notion that monetary rewards were not what employees wanted. Instead, they preferred small rewards, no more than $25 in value, that showed we cared about them as individuals. To that end, everyone had to fill out lists of what they liked, such as a diet soda or cafe latte or a dozen roses. Each time a worker would receive a reward it would be like adding a pearl to a necklace they were wearing around their neck, Janice explained.

A few weeks later all managers met to hear Janice extol the program. She described how a production department staffer devised a new system to print business cards that would save the company $10,000 in the first year. Checking the worker’s list of rewards, her manager discovered she liked plants, so a $25 desk plant was presented to her. Janice was beside herself, she was so happy.

Never one to let sleeping dogs lie, I’m more likely to blurt out the emperor is walking around nude. So, naturally I couldn't take it any longer. I rose and said words to the effect, “Let me understand this. A year ago, when we had the Big Idea committee, she would have received 10% of the savings, or $1,000. Now, she gets a $25 plant. What would she get if she saved us $50,000? A bonsai tree?”

For a moment there was silence. Then laughter erupted throughout the room. From everyone save Janice and Harry. They were not happy, not with everyone’s reaction to my comment and especially not with me. In that second moment I wondered what my fate would be, but to my good fortune and surprise, the senior vice president of the company, Jim, a person with whom I did not share any values, came to my defense. 

Janice lasted another year or two as a consultant to our company. I stayed another 19 years until my retirement. 

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Abilene, The End of the Chisholm Trail

After driving at speeds as high as 80 mph through Kansas on my way to catch a plane back to New York, I almost got a speeding ticket for going 25 miles per hour in a 15 mph zone at the Wichita International Airport. It’s the airport Terry Loewen allegedly wanted to blow up, for which he was arrested last week. Our run-ins with the authorities were separated by three decades, but the convergence of activity there provides reason to recall travel to Kansas.

A mostly flat state with rolling hills in the eastern portion near Wichita, Kansas was “dry” back then. That meant you couldn’t buy liquor for on-premises consumption in any restaurant. There were no saloons, either. Drinking was a purely social affair, done either in your home or country club. Or, in the case of executives from Duckwall-ALCO, a chain of variety and discount stores based in Abilene, in the friendly confines of the chief executive officer’s office.

I had gone to Abilene to do some off-the-record training, to learn some of the hands-on details of retailing. After visiting with several vice presidents during the day, my last interview was with Bob Soelter, the CEO. Bob was among the nicest gentlemen I ever met during my retail reporting career. In fact, the whole executive team were friendly, good people. Our meeting lasted a little past 5 pm when in walked the rest of the executive team. It was time for their daily “shoot.” One of them opened the door of a cabinet and took out a bottle of whiskey. For the next 30 minutes they casually discussed the day’s events, both internal and external news. 

Abilene, they told me, was once a big-time town. When the railroad came there after the Civil War, it was the destination point for Texas cattle drives. Red River, the 1948 western directed by Howard Hawks, starring John Wayne and Montgomery Clift, dramatized the first of those epic endeavors from south Texas along the Chisholm Trail. But Abilene, Kansas, soon lost its attraction to Texas cattlemen. As the railroad pushed deeper into Texas, the ranchers found in their own state a shorter transit point to eastern and northern markets. It was meant as a compliment, but the new railroad junction that stunted the growth of Abilene, Kansas, was named Abilene, as well. 

Abilene, Kansas, has one other historic footnote in our nation’s history. Dwight D. Eisenhower lived in Abilene from the time he was two until he graduated high school in 1909. The Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library and Museum in Abilene is the burial site of President Eisenhower, his wife, Mamie, and their first-born son, Doud Dwight.

Having had a warm and educational experience during my training exercise, I sent one of my new writers there for retail indoctrination the following year. Charlie Humphrey looked like a gnome. Short, wiry, with a full, bushy, reddish blond beard, Charlie was soft-spoken and at first meeting, quite shy. Another point of interest about Charlie was that he and his then wife, Deirdre, had been featured in a magazine article about couples who were the same size and thus able to share androgynous clothing.

The last thing Charlie wanted was to draw attention to himself, but as he arrived at Duckwall-ALCO’s headquarters he saw that was not going to be possible. Outside the main entrance a huge billboard announced, “Welcome Charlie Humphrey, Chain Store Age.” He gingerly entered the front office, not wanting to call attention to himself, but the excitement of his visit preceded him. As soon as he told the receptionist who he was, she shouted to any and all within earshot that Charlie Humphrey had arrived. That brought out several vice presidents, including the head of personnel who told him matter of factly that the group had already assembled and all they’d need was about 20 minutes of his thoughts on the state of retailing.

Whoa! Charlie had been on staff for all of a week, and though he had previously covered the automotive aftermarket, he hardly considered himself an expert on retailing. He had, after all, traveled to Abilene to learn, not teach. There was, however, no way to get out of this command performance in front of newly promoted assistant store managers from across the chain. 

After he returned to New York Charlie told me he did his best to recall some of the trends he had read in a few of the recent issues of Chain Store Age. He did not embarrass himself, the magazine or our company. Charlie would eventually be named my executive editor and then chief editor of one of our company’s other books before becoming a key executive at Ziff and CMP Media. Unlike many other variety and discount store retailers, Duckwall-ALCO, now known simply as ALCO Stores, continues to operate, with more than 200 stores in 23 states, mostly in the Midwest.  

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Biting My Tongue and Making Me Handsome, Again

So there I was in the waiting room of a Mohs surgeon late Thursday morning. Two elderly ladies (and that’s coming from a 64-1/2 year old) were sitting at a table across the room. One was filling out Christmas cards when she turned to the other, apparently a nun because the nurses kept referring to her as Sister Mary, and asked her to pick between two Christmas cards to send to a mixed marriage family with a Jewish father. She refused to compromise and get a Happy Holidays card. The nun scrutinized the cards and said neither would be appropriate. I resisted offering my advice.

They continued talking. The card bearer said the husband was a wonderful man. Sister Mary responded that Jewish people are nice, it's just that they stopped believing in the most wonderful person their religion produced. Again, I bit my tongue. She did, after all, acknowledge that Jesus was Jewish. Too many people don't realize this.

They talked a little longer about the couple’s child, a seventh grader in a Catholic school in Manhattan, a very bright girl who receives three hours of homework every night, six hours over the weekend. The girl was being pressed to take some SAT courses and she's just in seventh grade, but I say nothing, the card lady said. To the nun, however, she worried that all that work might turn the girl off from school.

They retreated into silence. I kept quiet. I’m not sure which was more of a challenge, staying silent or sitting through four and a half hours of Mohs surgery, enduring progressive slicing into my nose. Three times. 

The procedure wasn't painful. Indeed, the total time under the scalpel was probably less than five minutes. The rest of the ordeal was waiting for each slice to be analyzed to determine if any more basal cells resided in my schnozzle. When no more offensive corpuscles showed their colors, the surgeon said it was time to “make you look handsome again.” I thanked him for using the word “again.” 

At Gilda’s prodding I took a selfie of my nose, pre-surgery. I took another after the bandage was put on, along with another bandage in the area between my left ear and sideburn where the doctor nipped off a piece of skin for a graft for my nose. Be thankful the policy of this blog is not to include pictures.

More Medical News: Didn’t tell you about this last week, but I’ve apparently pulled a muscle in my left leg. As I don’t exercise, and didn’t play tennis last Wednesday, I really cannot tell you how I did this. Only thing I know is that after driving into the city last Friday and parking the car, I felt a sharp pain in my left calf within two blocks of walking. After that, until even today, I have been limping along.

In temple on Saturday, concerned congregants (mis)diagnosed me. Do I take statins?, they asked. Yes. Then for sure you have a condition called myopathy and need to take Coenzyme Q10. As I had a previously scheduled appointment with my internist on Wednesday I resisted following any of their advice. 

My internist diagnosed the leg pain as a plantaris muscle strain or pull. There’s dispute about how important the plantaris muscle is, but one thing’s for sure, he said—injury is not related to taking statins.

On another note, daughter-in-law Allison reminded me that not everyone should ingest nuts. Those with allergies, such as OUR GRANDSON FINLEY, should avoid all things nutty. Yeah, I forgot to update y’all that his allergy tests revealed he’s allergic to nuts. 

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Nuts to You

Tonight’s poker game at my house has been postponed because of the snow and late scheduling conflicts by three players who previously committed to show up. If I were a vindictive man, I’d name names. But in this time of Mandela inspired forgiveness, I’ll follow Madiba’s example and not hold a grudge.

Which brings me to the real reason behind this post, inspired by the time a few years ago during another hosting of my group’s poker games when a friend got up to get a beer and was stunned by the vast quantity of nuts arrayed across the second shelf of the refrigerator. He joked about our house being inhabited by squirrels. 

Truth is, on that second shelf we have regular almonds and dry roasted almonds, slithered almonds, cashews, pecans, shelled and unshelled pistachios, pine nuts, brazil nuts, sunflower seeds, peanuts, chocolate covered peanuts, and trail mix packs. A true squirrel heaven. We have such a wide array of nuts because most mornings my breakfast consists of almonds and cashews combined with assorted fruit, all smothered in whipped cream. Gilda usually takes dry roasted almonds, brazil nuts and some pecans for snacking during the day. 

You might be scratching your head wondering if we’re eating the wrong stuff, but you wouldn’t be if you read Jane Brody’s column in Tuesday’s NY Times ( Once considered bad for you, nuts are now a first line of defense against such illnesses as cancer, heart and respiratory disease. 

Despite their high fat content nuts are said to reduce bad cholesterol. They also can lower triglycerides. Unfortunately, I started my nut regimen way after my triglycerides topped the four digit level. They’re under control now, most notably from a changed diet along with a supercharged omega-3 fish oil capsule, Lovaza. You have to be careful with Lovaza, or any fish oil capsule, for that matter. If one of the pills leaks, the others in the bottle are infused with an overwhelming fish smell. That apparently happened with my most recent Lovaza prescription. I couldn’t get the fish oil smell off my hands despite repeated washings with soap and water and a spritz of Purel. It got so bad I had to call the mail order pharmacy to complain. I suspect I wasn’t the first to do so as the pharmacist was quite apologetic and accommodating, agreeing to send out a replacement order ASAP.  

Monday, December 9, 2013

Transformative Week: Person of the Year and 50 Years of Mustang

Who would you pick as the Person of the Year? Before you start to rack your brain for a worthy choice, here is Time magazine’s 10 finalists for the declaration it will make Wednesday. Listed alphabetically, they are:

Bashar Assad, President of Syria;
Jeff Bezos, Amazon Founder;
Ted Cruz, Texas Senator;
Miley Cyrus, Singer;
Pope Francis, Leader of the Catholic Church;
Barack Obama, President of the United States;
Hassan Rouhani, President of Iran;
Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of Health and Human Services;
Edward Snowden, N.S.A. Leaker;
Edith Windsor, Gay rights activist.

Keep in mind that to be the Person of the Year a candidate need not be a do-gooder. Evil can win as well, and I’m not referring to Barack Obama in the eyes of too many deranged-thinking folks.

Hands down, in my opinion, the winner will be Pope Francis. I’m not a Catholic, but he has transformed in his short reign the way the Catholic Church is perceived, or should be perceived. True, he retains some of the more rigid dogmas, such as being anti-abortion and against women as priests. But he has instilled a renewed sense of purpose to aid the needy and not be overly materialistic. His influence travels well beyond his papacy. 

My second choice would be Jeff Bezos. Retailing, one of my mentors (David Mahler) taught me, has been a continual evolution in streamlining the distribution of goods, from the individual shop to the five and dime to the mail order house to the department store to the discount store, the specialty store, the shopping mall, the category killer store, to the Internet. With, Bezos has set the gold standard for Web retailing. Amazon won’t destroy store retailing, much as Wal-Mart did not wipe all other stores off the retail landscape. But Bezos has been a transformational thinker in the way product is distributed, not just in the United States but abroad, as well. 

All the others on the list, except for Obama, are temporary figures on the scene of current events. 

Only Mustang Makes It Happen: Back in 1968, I drove a fire engine red Mustang. It was a 1966 model, but I identified with the snappy advertising lyric hyping the current year model:

Only Mustang makes it happen,
Only Mustang makes life great!
Mustang warms you, and transforms you.
Mustang, Mustang, '68!

The car that transformed the Ford Motor Company under Lee Iacocca will be 50 years old Thursday. Last April I wrote about my red Mustang, so I’ll just provide a link ( and instead tell you about the last time I drove a Mustang, an aquamarine convertible rental on the island of Maui, some 20-plus years ago. 

Gilda and I traveled to Maui for the annual convention of the National Association of Chain Drug Stores. Normally, just one editor from my staff, Marianne, covered the event, which alternated between Hawaii and Palm Beach. We’d already been to Palm Beach, but not Maui, so I asserted some executive privilege and we accompanied Marianne. The NACDS, at that time under the direction of Ron Ziegler, President Richard Nixon’s former press secretary, spent lots of money on their annual get-together. The convention feature appearances by William Safire of The New York Times, Benizar Bhutto, the former prime minister of Pakistan, Liza Minnelli and Bob Hope.

But I didn’t need a car to see them. The Mustang was to get around the island, especially to drive up the road to Hāna, known for spectacular waterfalls along the 52 mile highway, and beyond Hāna to visit the gravesite of Charles Lindbergh. The climb to Hāna passes through tropical rainforest. Its mostly a switchback single-lane road, with some 620 curves. Without traffic it takes almost three hours to get to Hāna.

Our trip turned out to be an excursion to hell and back. On the way up the mountain we got stuck behind slow moving cars we could not pass because of the numerous curves. Maui had been suffering from a drought. Ergo, there were no waterfalls to behold. There also were no restaurants along the way, no rest stops to relieve ourselves. We finally arrived in Hāna a few minutes before 2 pm. We had hoped to eat lunch in the only sit-down restaurant in Hāna, but discovered it closed sharply at 2. The only open food shop was a greasy spoon shack we reluctantly patronized. 

We had to get back to our hotel for the conference evening event so we had to forego visiting Lindbergh’s grave. On the way down the mountain, Gilda and Marianne got car sick from all the sharp turns mixing with our greasy lunch. On numerous occasions they opted out of the car to walk a half mile or so in the mist that was now swooping in off the coast. We didn’t get stuck behind any cars or trucks, but our pace going down was significantly slower than when we went up to Hāna. Happiness was reaching the straightaway at the bottom of the road and opening up the throttle of the Mustang to whisk us back to our hotel. 

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Front Row Seating and a Farewell to Cano

I showered twice Saturday, once of my own choosing, once not. My morning shower was part of my daily ablutions. Nothing unusual about that.

My second shower took place shortly after 8 pm as I sat in the first row of the Playwrights Horizons main stage theater on 42nd Street in Manhattan. Last week, you may recall, I recounted one of the hazards of front row theater seats when Rosencrantz, or was it Guildenstern, slipped off the stage onto my lap during a performance of Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead.

Saturday night I was initiated into another peril of Row A seating. One of the actors was particularly energetic in his vocalizations. He projected more than just words. I was shocked the first time he appeared before me and sprayed forth from the lip of the stage. I was more or less ready the next time he stood before me. I cowered in my seat to reduce my exposure.

Fortunately, he next chose to deliver a long, excitable monologue from the center of the edge of the stage, affording me a profile scan of his features and an arced view of his projectile strength. To those sitting before him it must have felt as if they had a front row seat at Sea World without the benefit of plastic raincoats to protect them from Shamu’s exuberance.

It's an unfortunate byproduct of elocution for some actors. Indeed, in one scene where the sprayer and another thespian held drinks as they stood face to face, I observed the second actor place his right hand across the mouth of his glass to shield it from any more liquid enhancing his drink.

All in all, just another night at the theater.

It was a New York Yankees baseball cap like many others, different only in that it was a promotional hat embroidered with the name of the sponsor—Canon—across the center of the back. Its potential struck me immediately. I gifted the hat to our daughter-in-law Allison who realized right away that with a little deft unstitching she could change the Canon hat into an homage to her favorite Yankee, Robinson Cano. 

Despite living in the Boston area for the last 16 years, Allison remains a die-hard Yankees fan. I tried to text or call whenever Cano made a highlight reel play, in the field or at bat, that contributed to a Yankees win. There won’t be anymore of those calls now that Cano has opted to sign a free agency deal with the Seattle Mariners for 10 years and a reported $240 million. 

I’ll miss seeing Cano turn double plays with seemingly little effort, race into short right field with his back to the diamond to basket catch a fly ball as it dropped over his shoulder, range far to his right to snare a hot shot up the middle and accurately cannonball a throw to first base to deny a batter a base hit. I’ll miss how easily he could flick his bat and deposit a single or double to left field, or when the team really needed it, pull a pitch into the right field seats for a home run. I wish him success, though not when he’s facing the Yankees.   

I can’t blame him for turning down the New York proposal of seven years for $175 million. Nor can I fault the Yankees for not matching the Mariners’ offer. Baseball is a business. Cano is a superstar. But even before Cano was a superstar, before he made his first million-dollar-a-year salary, Cano revealed the true measure of his impact as a human being. Cano bought an ambulance for his impoverished home town in the Dominican Republic. He has since donated eight ambulances, medical supplies, paramedic crew training and children's toys and has plans to finance and build a hospital. 

Monday, December 2, 2013

Exorcised Over Slimming Down

I was lying in bed one morning last week (I’m really not a morning person; I can lounge in bed for hours after I wake, though this morning, feeling guilty for all the great food I ingested over the weekend, I pushed the covers aside, got up and reluctantly exercised for 30 minutes, though it turned out I hadn’t gained an ounce). Anyway, as I lay in bed last week the phone rang. 

I didn’t recognize the caller ID number. Often, I’ll disdain answering, fearing another robo-calling telemarketer sales come-on, despite our number being on the so-called “Do Not Call Registry,” which seems to have lost its efficacy this past year. Anyway (second time I’ve used that term), I answered and was rewarded with a call from a former business partner with whom my magazine produced several conferences. Though he knew I had retired from the publication several years ago, he was seeking answers. Why, he wanted to know, had his most recent issue floated down to his desk when dropped instead of making the thud it would previously generate from freefall?

It was a painful discussion, details of which I will not catalog for you. Instead, I refer you to the front page of Monday’s New York Times for an article on the decision of New York magazine to reduce the frequency of its publishing cycle( And when Gilda came home tonight, she lamented how thin Country Living and her other magazines had become. I tell you, it’s not a pleasant time to be a print journalist. I get exorcised over the forced reduction in size—page-wise and staff-wise—that has afflicted my profession.

As if I didn’t need anything more to discourage me, Thanksgiving weekend shopping proved to be lackluster. I’m still a student of retailing, so the shortfall did not please me, though I will admit I am not a fan of stores that chose to open on the Thursday holiday. Nor am I a fan of Black Friday doorbuster sales that reduce our collective dignity. Yet, when you read or hear about fast-food and retail workers who have difficulty providing for their families based on their low hourly wages, it is easy to understand why many are desperate to work these hours and why others in similar financial straits are eager to grab these “bargains.” 

It also makes you supportive of the $15 an hour wage fast-food workers are seeking. I’ve written before that it is a red herring argument to assert restaurants would close down or lay off workers if the minimum wage is raised. Yes, prices may have to rise, but only by a few pennies. Wouldn’t it be worth it to be able to look a counter worker in the eyes when ordering a Big Mac and fries?

Our country has evolved into a service-oriented economy. We cannot afford to let the service class fall into a state of servitude. For more on this issue, read Paul Krugman’s column (

Monday’s mail brought a flyer for a new production of Tom Stoppard’s first smash play, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead. As I wrote back in 2011 when Stoppard was a guest of Leonard Lopate of NPR, I had a special moment when I saw the play in the summer of 1968. On a day off from summer camp, my friends and I scored front row seats to a matinee.

Rosencrantz, or was it Guildenstern?, fell into my lap during the performance. They were standing near the edge of the stage apron bantering their Stoppard lines when all of a sudden Rosencrantz, or was it Guildenstern?, lost his footing and tumbled towards me. My reflexes were only 19-years-old at the time so I managed to thrust out my arms to cushion his fall, and save myself, and the actor, from agony. I quickly pushed him back on stage, without so much as a thank you from Rosencrantz, or was it Guildenstern?

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Let the Gift-Giving Begin

With the lighting of the first Hanukkah candle tonight, the annual gift-giving holiday season officially begins, not to end until Kwanza arrives one day after Christmas. Our material world seemingly knows no bounds.

I’m no innocent in this gorgefest of trinkets, toys and trifles. I have a primal need to acquire, though I must say that since retirement I have vastly curtailed my personal material gluttony. I used to enjoy visiting stores not just because it was part of my job but also because I would go on a quest to find something to indulge my desires. Now I mostly relieve my bank account of extra cash by buying “stuff” for our kids and their mates, our grandchildren, grand nieces and grand nephews. 

We overindulge Finley and Dagny, buying eight days’ worth of presents for each for Hanukkah. To be honest, it’s a lot easier choosing presents—clothing aside— for four-year-old Finley than 17-month-old Dagny. Aside from buying for the second child who already has access to Finley’s stash of goods, it’s tough tiptoeing through the minefield of gender neutrality when it comes to toys for a young girl. 

If you haven't been following it, most recently spurred by Goldieblox’s controversial use of a parody of the Beastie Boys song “Girls” (, there's been quite a lively discussion on gender neutrality when raising a child. It's part of the overall debate on whether environment or heredity has more sway in a child's development. Last December, The NY Times ran an Op-Ed piece on gender-based toy marketing (, followed by an interesting Letter to the Editor from a woman from Tarpon Springs, FL, which I will reproduce here: 

“I once thought that biological gender preferences were ‘ridiculous’ until I raised a girl and a boy born in 1983 and 1990, respectively. I raised my children — to the best of my feminist knowledge — without stereotypes and with a minimum of television.        

“But as a toddler, my daughter would mostly ignore the cars and trucks and spend hours with the dolls, while my son, seven years later, would discard within minutes his sister’s leftover dolls and find the cars and trucks — and most disconcertingly, form a gun with his pointer and thumb and shoot at things. His drive for toy guns, swords and light sabers knew no bounds, yet he has always been sweet and gentle.        

“The fact that toy marketers tap into biological preferences does not necessarily mean that we are being pushed back into an ‘unequal past’ or homophobia or ‘gender conformity.’

Our experience in raising Ellie parallels the author’s. Gilda was determined to avoid imprinting any feminist mystique into Ellie’s brain. She’d be raised as gender neutral as we could. No Cinderella or Sleeping Beauty stories for her, nothing to suggest that it would take a Prince Charming to fulfill her destiny. Ellie could play with any of her older brother’s toys, be they trucks or blocks, balls or Legos. She would not be given dolls, for sure no Barbies. 

Ellie did play with Dan’s toys, but it was obvious to Gilda’s friends she lacked a certain joie de vivre. At Ellie’s third birthday they took matters into their own hands, bestowing on her a torrent of dolls and frilly accessories. Ellie immediately transformed into a happy princess.   

Friday, November 22, 2013

Fifty Years Ago Today

I was sitting in art class on Friday, November 22, 1963. Mrs. Franzblau was the teacher. No doubt, my high school sophomore classmates were like most of our predecessors. We made fun of her. We paid little attention to her. We giggled a lot and bantered a lot during the art exercises she tried to get us to master.

Suddenly, the loud speaker on the wall at the front of the room crackled with static. It was a few minutes after one pm. An announcement was made that the president had been shot in Dallas. All students were to return to their home rooms for subsequent early dismissal.

I'm an early baby boomer, born three years into the population explosion of 1946-1964 when more than 76 million gained entry onto the nation’s census rolls. I'm therefore bemused when the John Fitzgerald Kennedy assassination is portrayed as one of the defining moments of my cohorts. Truly, few of them were old enough to fully comprehend its significance. Bill Flanagan, born in 1955, a contributor to CBS Sunday Morning, said the death of JFK resonated so powerfully with those who were kids at the time because “it was the moment our parents went from believing in all the great things that were going to be, to regretting what might have been.”

It’s a nice turn of phrase, but I’m too basic a person to wallow in the psychology of the moment. I can’t say I remember my parents moping about the assassination, though they were deeply disturbed by it. It didn’t stop my father and mother from working hard in their small manufacturing business, from prodding their three children to excel in school. Like most families that fateful weekend, we watched the round-the-clock network coverage. I seem to recall being home from school Monday and watching the funeral on television. Yet it would not be until 1968, when Martin Luther King and Robert F. Kennedy were felled by assassins’ bullets, that sudden, unimaginable tragedy struck a more intimate chord within me. By then I was 19, a sophomore in college this time, old enough to recognize and fully comprehend racism, intolerance and inequality, old enough to worry about the war in Vietnam and what the prolonged conflict might mean to me, personally, if I were drafted when my college deferment expired. 

That’s not to say I was oblivious to national and international events as a younger teenager. I can recall watching Kennedy’s press conferences, at least the ones he held late in the afternoon after I returned home from school. I remember watching on television our United Nations ambassador, Adlai Stevenson, use aerial photographs to expose the buildup of Russian missiles in Cuba. Did I think the world was about to come to an end? Probably not. It was more like a war game being played out before our very eyes as we saw our navy intercept Russian freighters on the high seas. It was only later we learned how close to the brink of annihilation the world had come.

A wasted world is what is lamented at the end of Camelot, the Lerner and Loewe musical of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table that opened on Broadway in December 1960, a month after Kennedy’s election victory over Richard Nixon (the show closed January 5, 1963, 11 months before the president’s fateful trip to Dallas, and, coincidentally, my father’s birthday). 

Jacqueline Kennedy depicted her husband’s presidency with lyrics from the last song of Camelot, “a brief shining moment.” Just months after it opened, I saw the original Broadway production of Camelot, starring Richard Burton, Julie Andrews, Robert Goulet and Roddy McDowall. Each year my parents, usually our mother, would take my brother, sister and me, individually, to a Broadway musical. I loved Camelot. My mother gave it mixed reviews. The next year we saw Kean, about the life and loves of Edmund Kean, the noted 19th century Shakespearean actor. I hated it. My mother loved it, partly because it starred Broadway legend Alfred Drake. I remember my mother favorably comparing Kean to Camelot. The public agreed with me. Kean closed after 92 performances, Camelot after 873. 

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Detonate the Nuclear Option

It's time Democrats faced reality. It's time they detonated the so-called Nuclear Option in the U.S. Senate by changing the rules to eliminate the ability of a minority—even one senator—to thwart the will of the majority. The nuclear option would empower a simple majority of senators to pass legislation or affirm presidential appointments ( 

Under current rules, it takes 60 votes to cut off debate, to end a filibuster. As neither party has 60 members in its caucus, even one senator can hold the government hostage. For example, Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) has held up presidential appointments until he is satisfied he has all the information he wants on the Benghazi affair. Similarly, Republicans have stymied President Obama’s efforts to appoint three judges to the federal Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

Democrats have threatened before to change the rules. They demurred because they feared what would happen if Republicans ever gained control of the Senate. Here's what would happen: The GOP would not hesitate to employ the nuclear option. Any party that already has shut down the government, toyed with defaulting on the national debt, and blatantly said its mission is to thwart anything the president does would not hesitate to change the rules and emasculate a Democratic minority. Just look at actions Republicans have taken in state legislatures. They repeatedly have passed measures dear to Democrats. They have enacted laws to stifle voting opportunities for minorities, have curtailed a woman’s right to choose, have diluted the rights of unions, and have redrawn (gerrymandered) voting districts to ensure GOP majorities until after the next census in 2020. 

It is foolish to think the Yahoos in the Republican Party would not opt for nuclear political warfare should they succeed in securing a majority in the Senate. 

Haven’t the Democrats learned anything over the last five years of Obama’s presidency? It might have been nice to try to work with Republicans during the first two or three years, but being nice has merely emboldened Republicans. Perhaps, if Obama and Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nevada) had shown some backbone the GOP would have sought common ground. As it stands now, Republicans have no problem testing the limits of their power, limits that Obama and Reid have not strongly enough delineated for them. 

Bottom line: Democrats have nothing to lose. Start the countdown now: 10, 9, 8, ... 

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

If it's broken fix it ... If it's Not broken ...

Update on Gilda’s injured wrist: It’s not broken. She appreciates everyone’s concern and has been following the doctor’s advice to wear a brace to keep her wrist locked while it heals. She jettisoned the brace Monday, except while sleeping. We’re hoping there are no setbacks.

Speaking of setbacks, one of my archly conservative friends sent me this note with the text for my first Christmas card of this year: 

“I love Christmas lights! They remind me of...
‘the people who voted for Obama...’
They all hang together; half of them don't work,
and the ones that do, aren't all that bright!”

It made me chuckle and somewhat relieved that it wasn’t more vituperative against President Obama and the health care fiasco. Of course, my relief was short lived as another email arrived within minutes from him proclaiming one of the Affordable Care Act navigators in eastern Kansas had a history of financial problems and an outstanding arrest warrant, not the type of person you’d want to have access to personal information from Obamacare applicants.

I’m too beaten down to check the veracity of the claim, which cited local newspapers. Let’s face it—the rollout has been a big joke. It hasn’t killed anyone, like the weapons of mass destruction lie, or the failure to protect New Orleans residents during Hurricane Katrina, but the cumulative effect might well damage the underpinning of the social contract progressives believe exists between a government and its citizens. 

I believe the problems will eventually (who knows how long “eventually” truly means) be fixed. Most complex legislation undergoes a shakedown period. Congress often smoothes out the wrinkles in new laws. But this Congress, and here I’m referring to the Republicans, hardly seems open to resolving any inadequacies in Obamacare short of scrapping the whole enterprise, and that is ridiculous. 

Ok, the rollout is a bust. Fodder for GOP grievance. But no one can honestly argue the coverage provided is bad or not necessary. Bottom line is that millions of Americans will have health insurance they didn't have before. It might be a rough ride during the rollout period but let's hope that a year from now the snafus will be nothing more than cocktail party conversation, a prelude to many an addendum about a health problem resolved because a friend or family member who previously would not have had insurance is now alive and solvent, not destitute nor bankrupt, or worse, dead.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Remembering Birthdays Past

Spent the weekend in Massachusetts for Finley’s fourth birthday. Twenty-two kiddies, more than half girls, and about 20 adults entertained by a guitar playing children's singer. Outdoor play followed by the music, birthday cake and then free play in a carpeted basement with more trucks and trains than Ford, GM and Chrysler combined. A fun time for all, but as Gilda presciently noted, probably the last time until Finley’s bar mitzvah there will be so many girls at the annual festivities.

I can't remember all of Dan’s birthday parties though several of them stand out in my memory. There was the one when he was five, in our old house. Dan wasn't the most adventurous of small children when it came to animals beyond our three cats. So I was a little bemused when Gilda booked a visit by a menagerie from the Greenburgh Nature Center. The highlight was when Dan was somehow talked into permitting a snake to slither around his body. 

Before his next birthday we moved to our current home. One year we engaged one of his baby sitters, the son of a United Nations official from either Nigeria or Ghana. Whatever. The point is, the lad was a budding magician. Poor fellow ran into a most unappreciative, even disruptive, audience of boys. Whenever he’d attempt to do a trick, at least one youngster would cry out he knew the trick and its secret. They were so dismissive that we had to stop the performance in midstream.

We had to fill time till the parents came to retrieve their Dennis the Menaces, so Gilda took them outside for a good old-fashioned tug-of-war. As luck would have it, the ground was moist. The losing team was dragged through the mud. Most parents went with the flow when they arrived to find their “darlings” in soiled clothing. One father, however, would not let his son into his new Cadillac unless he was wrapped in towels. 

Dan’s most memorable birthday party was his 11th. He asked if he and six of his friends could have an “all-nighter” on Saturday. We agreed, reasoning to ourselves the boys would surely fall asleep by 2 am. We’d take turns staying awake till then. 

A good plan goes awry when the “party-of-the-second-part” (that is, the boys) do no adhere to your script. They did not fall asleep at 2 am. Nor at 3 am, 4 am, or 5 am. By 6 am, Gilda decided she’d make lemonade out of this lemon of an idea and take the half dozen boys on a trek in nearby Saxon Woods Park. (I, by the way, had gone to sleep at 2 am. Gilda had pity on me and never woke me up for my watch, not even when she took them on the hike.) 

The boys came back shortly before their parents arrived to take them home, exhilarated by their achievement and ready to impolre their respective mothers and fathers for a similar experience. We heard later than one set of parents enforced a 2 am curfew on their son’s “all-nighter.”

Dan’s birthday triumph did not end when his friends went home. An hour later he was to start in goal for the first time for his traveling all-star soccer team. The weekend before, when Dan was a defenseman, the team played a tournament in Yonkers. In each of the four games they had surrendered more than 10 goals. Now they were to play a strong team from Rye, led by the coach’s son whose name (not sure if it was his first or last name) was Winchester. 

I worried how Dan would respond to the new challenge, especially since he had not slept since Saturday morning. The game was tense. Each time Rye controlled the ball, its coach would be screaming for Winchester to make a play. Midway through the second half, Winchester blocked a ball at midfield and took off in pursuit of the sphere as it bounced toward the White Plains goal. There was no one between him and Dan. 

Time for a slight digression. You should know that as a defenseman, Dan had been among the most polite. If he and an opponent contested a ball, he was generally content to allow the other team to come away with it, reasoning, no doubt, that someone else on his team would get the ball back before a goal could be scored. Of course, by the scores of the previous games, that usually did not happen. 

But now, he was the only one standing between Winchester and the goal. He made a decision not to stand his ground. He charged at the ball. Like two knights on horseback charging at each other, Dan and Winchester converged, crunching together. The slightly larger Winchester kept going straight toward the goal, but Dan had succeeded in diverting the ball to the sideline. Though he had been run over, he had saved a goal. 

I don’t recall, seriously, I don’t remember, if Dan’s team won that game, but it was that play that transformed him into an all-star goalie in more than name only. 

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Wrist Shot

Gilda woke up in the middle of the night with excruciating pain in her left wrist, a remnant of a fall she took over the summer as she descended a friend’s sloped driveway. She's been suffering off and on, made all the more inconvenient because she's a lefty. She's going to see a hand specialist this week. Until then she's been wearing a wrist brace at night, a souvenir of one of my bicycling misfortunes.

We were out in Uniondale for a weekend soccer tournament for Dan’s traveling all star team. We took our bikes with us as we knew there'd be lots of down time between and after games. Uniondale is next to Garden City where we rode.

The end of our family jaunt was on Stewart Avenue, a major roadway. I’d recently learned to ride a two-wheeler (shortly after I turned 40), so I wasn’t too comfortable riding on a busy thoroughfare. I suggested we bike on the sidewalk. Gilda said it would be safer in the street as the roadway was better maintained than the sidewalk. Fearful of cars, I insisted on the sidewalk. While Gilda, Dan and Ellie rode on the street, I pedaled along on the sidewalk. 

As we approached a massive tree with a low hanging branch, Dan said he would try to reach up to touch it. I turned my head to tell him not to, in so doing steered my bike directly into the tree trunk. I crashed, breaking my fall with my right forearm. X-rays from a midnight trip to the emergency room revealed no broken bones, but the wrist took months to heal, less time than it took my ego to admit Gilda was right about where to ride.

Now, careful readers should have noted Gilda hurt her left wrist, I hurt my right. Thus, she could not possibly be using the brace from my fall in Garden City. Correct! She’s wearing the brace from the fall I took the next summer on a charity bicycle ride along the shore in Norwalk, Conn. On a hairpin turn a car came, in my view, perilously close to knocking me over. I panicked and tumbled to my left, breaking the fall with my left wrist. 

I was lucky. I escaped both times with no more than a bone bruise, no torn ligaments, no hairline fracture. It was inconvenient trying to type while wearing the brace, but I survived. We’re really hoping Gilda is at least equally fortunate.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Jon Stewart Should Cover Up

Jon Stewart needs better, that is, higher, socks. 

In a segment Tuesday night, the host of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart lampooned CNN for making its morning anchors “go to the couch” to present some features. During one of his more uproariest tirades, Stewart kicked up his heels, and revealed ... skin of his shin ( Now, it was only for an instant, but it’s my firm belief that any male worthy of public exposure should not expose his legs, at least while wearing business or formal attire. 

You might recall that one of my first blogs, the tenth one in fact, back on September 21, 2009, excoriated President Obama for displaying his shins during an interview on This Week with George Stephanopoulus of ABC News. Under the title, "Shins of the President," I wrote, “Sitting with his legs crossed, Obama showed viewers several inches of bare skin where his pants leg did not meet the top of his socks. 

“It is inexcusable, it’s a fashion faux pas, especially considering his wife’s keen fashion sense, that the commander-in-chief of the United States does not wear knee-high socks when he is dressed up.

“Indeed, anyone, anyone who is in politics, in business or in any way in a public situation, should wear knee-high socks. There is nothing appealing or sexy about seeing a man’s shin-bone skin.”

Someone in the White House, perhaps his fashion-conscious wife, must have noticed because Obama has been more properly attired since that faux pas. Stewart would do well to follow the president’s lead. Buy the knee-highs. Cover up, please. 

(For those wondering how a journalist writing under a no-socks-needed-anymore banner could demand proper hosiery, let me point out that one, going sockless is a sign I no longer need to dress corporately, and two, I really hate not wearing socks.) 

As long as we’re talking about The Daily Show, have you noticed the Mass Mutual ad that runs on the program picturing a father and son eating out. When the bill comes there’s an awkward moment when each contemplates who is the proper person to pay. I had such a moment with my father.

It was back before our children were born. It was Father’s Day, so Gilda and I took my parents to a restaurant in Greenwich Village. When the bill came I reached for the check. My father said he would pay. I said it was Father’s Day, let me pay. He reiterated he would pay. I said no. My father reached across the table ... and grabbed the tie I was wearing, choking me. Okay, Dad, if you want to pay that much, be my guest.  

Now that Bill de Blasio has been elected mayor of New York City, we’re in for non-stop pictures of his son Dante and his Afro, which I must say, is quite impressive.

Each morning as I coif my hair, I reach into a bathroom drawer to take out a Black Power steel hair pick I bought back in 1974 in New Haven when Gilda convinced me to shed my old-fashioned hairdo in favor of a more modern look. For years I had been trying to deal with my naturally curly hair by brushing it to the left while wet and then violently brushing it to the right. My barber in Brooklyn gave me razor cuts to weed out the curls, which, according to my recollection, showed up when I was about three years old after letting my sister Lee play hairdresser on my locks. I’ve never forgiven her. 

Anyway, Gilda importuned me to change. We had just moved into New Haven from nearby Seymour. Walking around the Westville neighborhood, we passed a unisex hair salon. It took all of her persuasive powers to get me inside, especially when I discovered a woman would be cutting my hair (remember, this was almost 40 years ago when I was but 25, so cut me some slack, please. For the record, my haircutter for the last 30 or so years has been a woman, Rosie.). 

To get back to the story, from the get-go I liked my Afro. One of Gilda’s favorite pictures of me was taken shortly thereafter in the newsroom of The New Haven Register. I’m sitting, my left knee akimbo atop the plane of the desktop, my head flush with a bushy Afro. Not as well-cropped and rounded as Dante’s, but as much a statement of my liberation from my childhood years as any I could make. 

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Time to Party Up, Support Obamacare and Feed the Hungry

Today marks the end of the latest cycle of robo calls and, at least in my case, coming home to a porch littered with multiple copies of campaign literature beseeching me to vote for Noam Bramson for county executive of Westchester. Interestingly, nowhere on the flyers does it indicate Bramson’s party affiliation. Am I supposed to know the absence of any red color on the flyer means Bramson is a Democrat through and through? 

Why is it that almost all election literature, particularly those annoying road signs, and all radio and television ads fail to identify a candidate’s political party? It’s a real bugaboo of mine. Candidates should be proud of their party endorsement. It should be mandatory to include on all campaign material.

Simply Put, We Can't Start Over Again: No self-respecting Democrat can be happy with the launch of the Affordable Care Act. The Obamacare rollout is making it difficult to watch The Daily Show with Jon Stewart and The Colbert Report. The humor in the foul-up of the launch is painful to watch. At least no one is dying because of the screw-up. No country is being bombed back to the Stone Age or into the arms of al-Qaeda.

The only reason I’m not in favor of scrapping the program and beginning anew is that Republicans would never cooperate in drafting a more workable and still comprehensive bill that would care for tens of millions of Americans who need medical coverage. That’s a given, given the reluctance of numerous GOP-controlled state governments to enter into the federal program. They have refused to expand Medicaid eligibility. They have placed stumbling blocks before the navigators who are supposed to help citizens sign up for Obamacare. They have continually tried to defund enactment of the law. 

So we’re stuck with what we have. It’s not perfect. But it’s better than the “you’re-on-your-own” Republican plan for medical coverage.

How’s He Doing? Based on a Saturday Night Live skit three days ago, it turns out I have much in common with Afro-Americans. In a skit entitled “How’s He Doing,” black performers repeatedly affirmed their allegiance to President Obama despite missteps with Obamacare and the National Security Agency wiretapping scandal, as well as hypothetical questions about his possible conversion to another religion and his choice of an all white all-star basketball team to play with him against a Russian team assembled by Vladimir Putin. 

The tone of the skit was set when the host of the faux talk show asked, was there any time in the last month when you wished you would have voted for Mitt Romney? Uncontrollable laughter was the response. See for yourself:

Did you eat well today? Yesterday? The day before? Millions of your fellow citizens did not. On top of their hunger they had to swallow a sizable cut in the food stamp assistance program with Republicans threatening even deeper more emaciating reductions.

Waiting to oust GOP congressmen is impractical. We need to act individually to reap a collective response to hunger in America. Do at least what I do every month. Donate food to your local food bank. Don't just send a check, though money is always welcome. Don't just drop off groceries at your church or synagogue once a year. Go to Costco or some other low-cost provider and buy food for the hungry. $50 a month, or more if you can afford it. Take the food yourself to the food bank. Talk with the volunteers. Educate yourself to the needs of your neighbors. It will wind up being among your most worthy activities of the month.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Park Avenue Memories

I wouldn’t swear to it but I’m almost certain The NY Times ran a picture Monday of the office building where I formerly worked on Park Avenue in Manhattan. The picture was large, running across five columns and was 7-1/4 inches deep. It accompanied an article on the legal battle between Major League Baseball and Alex Rodriguez over his alleged use of performance enhancing drugs. My personal office was on the sixth floor, at various times overlooking Park Avenue, or East 55th Street or East 56th (the picture on page three of the online story, by comparison, is postage size: 

It was a great location for an office building. When you’re walking on Park Avenue north of Grand Central Terminal it’s a different world from the rest of Manhattan. Not as gritty. Often the esplanade in the middle of the avenue is adorned with flowers or works of art. There are few commercial establishments along the way, no hole-in-the-wall delis to grease up the street, though there are some fruit and vegetable carts and hot dog stands along some of the cross streets. Luxury car dealers, such as Mercedes and BMW, located showrooms on the avenue.  

Except for often seeing celebrities on my jaunts to and from the office and Metro North station, or being inconvenienced by the many movie, TV and commercial scenes shot along Park Avenue, especially around St. Bartholomew’s Church or the Seagram Building, nothing too exciting ever happened along the way. Except one year, about three decades ago, during the time the South African embassy was located in our building. At the time my window looked out on Park Avenue. Early one afternoon everyone was told we could not leave the building. There was a bomb scare, a suspicious package at the door of what is now a Staples Express. We were told to stay away from the windows, not to look out, as a bomb blast could send shrapnel and debris as high as the sixth floor, where we were. Of course we ignored that advice. Turned out it was nothing more than an abandoned briefcase. 

Another time, when my office faced East 55th Street toward Lexington Avenue, I missed by a few minutes watching a spectacular fire at the Central Synagogue on the corner of Lex and 55th. It was about 4:30 on a Friday. I left work early. Just minutes later the fire began. Roofers had not properly put away a piece of equipment that set the roof of the historic synagogue on fire. The roof eventually collapsed into the sanctuary which was completely gutted. 

To fight the blaze firemen carrying hoses went into an adjacent apartment building. They entered---that is, they knocked down—the door of an apartment with windows overlooking the burning structure. I tell you this because of the only-in-New York coincidence that this apartment was the home of one of the doctors in Gilda’s medical practice at Beth Israel Hospital.   

My office home for 32 years, 425 Park Avenue, is scheduled to be torn down sometime after April 2015. About 10 years ago an electrical fire fried all the circuitry in the building one weekend. Some tenants were displaced for months until a temporary fix could be wired. 

It should be a lot easier finding new space for my former company. Instead of room for close to 150, just 35-50 spots are needed. It’s been a tough half-dozen years for the publishing industry in general, my company in particular. One of the benefits of early retirement is I don’t have to angst over the relocation process. A creature of habit, I couldn’t imagine commuting to anywhere but 425 Park Avenue.  

Friday, November 1, 2013

Allianz Is Back in My News Views

The latest New York edition of The Jewish Week arrived Thursday. Once more I was thrust—anonymously, but still the party responsible—into the debate on when, if ever, Allianz and its executives should no longer be held accountable for a role in insuring Nazi death camps and for a refusal to issue timely compensation or full compensation to Holocaust survivors or their heirs.

The lead story in The Jewish Week began, “When the German insurance company Allianz bid for the naming rights to the Meadowlands stadium in 2008, there was such an outcry over the company’s past complicity with the Nazis that the talks were called off” (for the full article click on this link:

You might recall it was my Letter to the Editor of The NY Times five years ago that first exposed this controversy which, by week’s end, ended in Allianz withdrawing its bid for naming rights of what is now known as MetLife Stadium, the home field of the NY Giants and Jets.

This time the controversy takes on a human face. It's not a corporate entity seeking to imprint its name (surely, not its history) on the public in our increasingly commercialized, branded world. Rather, it is about a decision by a Jewish organization to honor an individual employed by an Allianz subsidiary.  

Peter Lefkin is a senior vice president of Allianz North America, who, by all accounts, is an upstanding citizen, an American who was not part of Allianz’s ignoble activities undertaken years before he was associated with the financial services and insurance company. Lefkin has been chosen by the Jewish Foundation for the Righteous to receive its Recognition of Goodness award on December 3 in New York. 

“The Jewish Foundation for the Righteous provides financial support to more than 600 non-Jews who rescued Jews during the Holocaust and preserves their legacy through a national education program,” according to its Web site. Lefkin is too young to have personally saved lives during World War II. The dinner also will “reunite Czeslaw Polziec, a Righteous Gentile from Poland, with Leon Gersten, the Jewish boy he and his family saved.” 

So the question becomes, is it seemly or unseemly to honor Lefkin for his support of the JFR and other Jewish causes, or does his association with Allianz forever bar him, and any of his colleagues, from positive recognition for their good deeds? 

The linked article provides point/counterpoint arguments, as does The Jewish Week’s editorial ( I won’t go into them here. I’m more absorbed by my personal reaction. 

I consider my revelation of Allianz’s history a cherished accomplishment. Had I not seen a short article about the pending purchase of the naming rights in the marketing section of the sports pages of The Times there is a good possibility the Allianz name would be prominently displayed on the stadium, a visual reminder and affront many Holocaust survivors and their families would see each time they drove along the New Jersey Turnpike past the Meadowlands. The Times article merely referred to Allianz as a German “financial services company.” My Letter to the Editor alerted The Times and other media to the full Allianz story. 

To be fair, Allianz does not hide its sordid past. Its Web site provides details. Yet, it was wrong for the Giants, Jets and Allianz to consider the naming rights proposal without first publicly taking into account the sentiments of Holocaust families. The swift scuttling of the deal was affirmation that not all was kosher with the transaction.

The current conflict has Holocaust survivor community members upset. They were surprised by Lefkin’s selection. They see no difference between the company and the man. Sorry, I cannot agree. Absent a history of prejudice, Peter Lefkin appears to be a worthy recipient of the award to be bestowed by the Jewish Foundation for the Righteous. 

Tuesday, October 29, 2013

More from Saratoga, Basal Cells and the Baby Carriage

My brother called when we were in Saratoga Springs last week. He had a bone to pick about one of my blogs. I thought he would be upset upon reading I might not return his old baseball glove after I cleaned it up (or even before). Nah. He was more concerned about his reputation, piqued about my implication that he did not have an outdoorsman’s gene.

He wanted to set the record straight—back in his college days he drove cross-country with his friend Marty for six weeks, staying in hotels for no more than a combined week’s worth of days. The rest of the time they slept in tents or under the skies. They trekked down and up the Grand Canyon. 

And, after he married Annette, he took her on camping trips, as well. I seem to recall this, but I’m waiting for confirmation from Annette.

Bernie reached me while I was in the parking lot of a Price Chopper supermarket in Lake George, about to go in to purchase a turkey sandwich. The town was virtually closed down for the fall and winter seasons. Even the McDonald’s had a chain across its driveway with a “see you next year” sign.

Along the Northway they’ve updated the rest stop road signs. Now the signs read “Text Stop. Rest Stop.”

It’s easy to tell the locals from the tourists up north. With temperatures hovering in the 40s, tourists like me bundled up in down jackets, sometimes over fleece vests. Locals, meanwhile, scampered about in sweatshirts and even just the occasional T-shirt. 

The local newspaper, The Saratogian, has transitioned to a mostly on-line news source. Its old building on Lake Street has been sold. The Saratogian’s staff awaits a new home. 

One thing I learned is The Saratogian is now owned by Journal Register Company, part of Digital First Media, the same outfit that owns The New Haven Register where I started my journalism career in 1972.

Mohs Update: It’s confirmed, I have another basal cell carcinoma on my nose. Seeing a surgeon on Friday to schedule removal. 

Third Life: The baby carriage Gilda’s sister gave us that I used to transport wood, that I put out to pasture (bulk garbage pickup) last week, apparently has a new life. Someone came to our cul-de-sac and liberated the conveyance before the sanitation engineers showed up. I haven’t seen it around our neighborhood carrying any babies, or wood.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Remembering the Amazin' Mazer and a Return to Saratoga

Bill Mazer died last week. His funeral was Sunday. He was 92. A New York, mostly radio, personality, Mazer was part of Gilda's and my large sphere of associations. Mazer and his wife Dutch, really Dora but everyone called her Dutch, were members of our temple. Before Gilda returned to full time work she often would attend functions hosted by Dutch at the Mazer home in Scarsdale.

My link to Mazer goes back to the beginning of his tenure as the dean, perhaps the originator, of sports-talk radio. A Brooklyn native, Mazer returned to New York City in 1964 to host an afternoon sports show on WNBC-AM. My friends Jerry and Stanley were smitten with his broadcast. They became obsessed with getting on the air with him to ask a question that could stump his vast knowledge of sports, which hardly ever happened and for which he would become known as the Amazin’. I suggested we ask if he knew of Eddie Giacomin, at the time a minor league goaltender but soon to become a Hall of Fame netminder for the NY Rangers. We got through the screening. I asked my question which Mazer quickly devoured. That was 50 years ago. Wow.

We could not attend Mazer’s funeral. We were in Saratoga Springs, NY, for a nurse practitioners conference for Gilda. More than 50 years ago, 56 to be exact, Gilda moved from Saratoga to Brooklyn.

We spent four days in Saratoga where Gilda was born and lived her first eight years. Back then, her family owned a three-story home (with a basement that was a stop on the Underground Railroad for runaway slaves in the mid-19th century) and two hotels at the north end of Broadway, the Empire and the Brooklyn. In the early 1970s the city obtained the home and hotels through eminent domain. It built the City Center convention and conference hall and an adjoining hotel, now a Hilton, on the property. 

The conference was at the City Center and the Hilton, so we stayed at the hotel. Inside the City Center, Gilda noticed the original Hotel Brooklyn sign hanging on a wall. Saturday night we tried to eat at the Olde Bryan Inn on Maple Street at the rear of her family's former property, but a 90 minute wait—no reservations taken—defused that idea. A well known restaurant these days, the inn served as the hotels’ laundry during Gilda's years in Saratoga.

We've been to Saratoga many times, partly because Ellie attended Skidmore College there and for several years we attended an annual conference in the town produced by one of my magazine’s business partners, David Deutsch. 

This wasn't the first time we stayed at this hotel. About 10 years ago we spent a weekend there with our friends Linda and Jacob who had never been to Saratoga. We arrived around 7 pm. The hotel was sold out, but we had guaranteed reservations. As Linda registered for her room, however, the desk clerk apologized that the only accommodation available was a smoking room. She shrugged and accepted the room.

I overheard this exchange from my spot on the adjacent line. I expected similar treatment, only to be told the last available room they could give me was the 2,000-square foot presidential suite. Would that be okay? 

You could have driven a truck through Linda’s dropped jaw when she heard that. I felt a momentary tinge of guilt, but it quickly passed.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Making the Right Call

While Gilda tried to fall asleep beside me Saturday night, I watched the end of the third game of the World Series with the sound off. As the last play of the tie game in the bottom of the ninth inning unfolded, I said to myself, “Runner interference should be called.” I was wrong. It wasn't interference. Rather, it was obstruction. The umpires ruled the Boston Red Sox third baseman impeded the St. Louis Cardinal runner from advancing unobstructed toward home. It didn't matter if he did it inadvertently or with intent. The rule book makes no distinction.

The result—the Cardinals edged the Boston Red Sox 5-4, taking a 2-1 lead in games in the best of seven series. It was unfortunate timing for Boston, but a clear case of obstruction. Despite what Bosox diehards believe, the umps had to make the call. (For those not familiar with the disputed play, read about it or watch any newscast today. It no doubt will be shown.)

I can sympathize and empathize with the umpires’ plight of having to decide the outcome of a game rather than letting the players determine it outright. I, too, made a critical call during a game I was refereeing that cost Dan’s basketball team a victory.

Dan was 12, playing on a school squad of fifth and sixth graders. As fate would have it, the paid referee failed to show up for a game. Having reffed some while a counselor in summer camp two decades earlier, I volunteered my services. As both coaches knew me, my integrity and ability to be impartial as a ref were not questioned.

The game was a nail biter. With just seconds to go Dan’s team led by one point. The other team’s best player had the ball near the foul line. He faked a shot and started to drive toward the basket. He shot, and missed, but I had blown my whistle. He had been fouled in the act of shooting. Parents of Dan’s team, my wife included, went ballistic. How could I call such a foul with only a few seconds left on the clock?

The ride home after the shooter made both free throws to propel his team to a one point victory was not a pleasant one. No amount of explaining could console Dan or reassure him and Gilda that a foul is a foul no matter when it occurs and it is the obligation of the ref to call it. 

Later that season the same two teams played for the league championship. I didn't ref that game. Dan’s team won.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Mohs the Merrier. Not Really, But Better than the Alternative

The dermatologist shaved off another portion of my nose Tuesday, the first step in confirming my fourth basal cell carcinoma, the third on my proboscis (the fourth was on my forehead). At this rate no one will be able to tease me about having a big nose.

This time I suspected the worst. I had a slight bump at the flare of my left nostril. When I touched it my nose would sting. Initially, the doctor thought it was just a pimple, but upon deeper examination he agreed with my suspicion. So off to the lab went a piece of my schnozzola. Assuming it is a basal cell I'll undergo a Mohs procedure.

Some 20 years ago I was surprised when my first basal cell revealed itself. I had noticed some blood along the ridge of my nose after I showered and toweled dry. When it happened a second time I visited the dermatologist. A biopsy confirmed the carcinoma.

For those not familiar with basal cells they are the mildest form of skin cancer, usually contracted through exposure to the sun, often during one’s youth. Though I am careful when I go out these days, usually wearing a hat, during my childhood and throughout my teenage years I spent many hours each summer playing outdoors, often without wearing a shirt or hat or any sunscreen. Untreated, or if all the cells are not entirely removed, they can bore deeply into your body. When finally treated a face can be left with a disfigured nose, cheek or ear. A visit to a dermatological surgeon’s office can be like a walk past a circus freak show aisle.

Until the Mohs procedure was developed surgeons could not be certain how deep to make their incisions to extract all the basal cells. Using Mohs, doctors take off thin slivers of skin, each layer studied to determine if more carving is required. It takes about 15 seconds, if that long, to slice. You wait about 45 minutes for the evaluation. My first nose job I was lucky. One cut. Next time, not so lucky. Three cuts. A plastic surgeon had to sow up the area of that second excavation, shifting skin around from one part of my nose to the affected area. 

You might be wondering why I'm relating these private details. First, it's to imprint on you the need for annual check ups with a dermatologist. Basal cells generally won't kill you but other types of skin cancer, like melanoma, can if not discovered and treated in a timely manner.

Second, it's to educate you to the process which really begins with self examinations. This is one medical condition you can proactively monitor and combat. 

Third, as whimpy as it may appear, wear hats when the sun’s out, even during winter or when it’s cloudy. The sun’s rays penetrate the clouds. And don’t forget to slather your children and grandchildren with sunscreen. They might not appreciate it when they’re young but trust me, they’ll thank you by the time they get to be my age.