Thursday, May 29, 2014

Ellen's Story: A Tale of Adoption

New Jersey governor Chris Christie signed into law Tuesday a bill to allow adopted children to obtain their birth certificates without first securing a court order ( The ability to find out information about a natural parent brought to mind the story of Ellen, one of our dearest friends from our time in Connecticut back in the 1970s.

While in college in the 1960s, Ellen had a child out of wedlock. Neither she nor the father wanted to wed, so the baby girl was placed for adoption with Catholic Charities. Several years later, after Ellen had married and had told her husband and their two sons about the daughter she had given up, she advised the charity she would be open to meeting her daughter should the girl ever seek her out.

Twenty-four years after her birth, the girl approached Catholic Charities, which reconfirmed Ellen's willingness to be contacted. When they met, Ellen was amazed at how much she resembled her natural father. In addition, the girl was an accountant; her father had been an accounting major in college. Turned out, she had been placed with a lovely family that lived near Ellen’s home. During their initial meeting, Ellen told her she was her birth mother but that the woman who raised her was her real mom.

Her daughter asked where her father was. Ellen said they had not been in contact since her birth but that she knew where his family lived. She found his family in a phone book of his home town. When Ellen called, a woman answered. Ellen asked for him, but was told he didn't live there anymore. The woman said she was his sister. 

Ellen identified herself as a college friend. The woman recognized Ellen's name. Her brother had told the family all about her and their child. She then told Ellen that he had served in Vietnam, had suffered from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, had overcome it, and was now a counselor for veterans similarly afflicted. In fact, she related, he was about to go to Russia from his home in California to counsel soldiers affected by PTSD from their tours in Afghanistan. He was to make a stopover at JFK Airport in New York in a few days.

They had a satisfying reunion at the airport.  

Her private past now almost completely public, Ellen had one more revelation to make. She had never told her mother, a religious Catholic, about the daughter born 24 years earlier. She needn’t have worried. Her mother lovingly accepted her into their family.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Curse of the Lottery Lifted, Cultural Literacy, Kutsher's Revisited

I checked my lottery tickets Tuesday. Won $2 on Mega Ball which I promptly parlayed into a Power Ball ticket for Wednesday night. Hey, you never know, and the next Power Ball prize is a cool $152 million. 

Even better, new research has lifted the veil of doom and gloom previously thought to have engulfed jackpot winners.  According to an article in Tuesday’s NY Times, the “curse” of the lottery has been debunked. Winners no more are assumed to end up “divorced, depressed destitute or dead,” in the short term, at least (

Several studies found the stress levels of winners declined over two years while positive feelings increased. 

All I can say is, come on 4, 5, 35, 43, 49 and PB 35!

Uh, Oh, I’ve been exposed. Outed. No, not in a sexual orientation way, but rather in the context of cultural literacy. 

“Faking cultural literacy” was an article in the Sunday Review section of The Times. The subhead suggested “social media lets us pretend to know something about everything,” to which I’d say that my more than casual knowledge of grammar tells me that “social media” is a plural (media is the plural form of medium), so the correct verb would be “let” not “lets.” Tsk, Tsk, NY Times copy editor (

But seriously, I’m a typical reporter at heart, a jack of all trades, master of none. Which means I’m glib and opinionated. But am I knowledgeable? Am I intelligent, or merely informed (note I wrote informed, not well-informed)?

My aversion to traditional-learning began during my teenage years. I hardly ever read an assigned book in high school. Like the author of the essay, I found Cliff Notes or the Hollywood version of the classics more than adequate to slide through classes. My feel for American history derived more from movies such as Drums Along the Mohawk, Allegheny Uprising and The Last of the Mohicans than any textbook. Still, I scored a 98% on the American History Regents, highest in my grade (I maintain I should have earned a 100% but the teacher took off two points because he did not know one of the facts I included in my essay. He dismissed the proof I showed him, saying I should be content with a 98.)

Seven years later, as a novice newspaper reporter, I found being the silent observer an inscrutable way of not revealing my intelligence level. Any subject I was not familiar with I would casually inquire of another journalist. I recall at my first Board of Selectmen’s meeting in Seymour, Conn., being stumped when the discussion turned to “mill rates.” Journalism school had never touched on mill rates, which turned out to be the basis of all local taxation in the Nutmeg State, as a kindly, grandmotherly reporter from The Ansonia Sentinel enlightened me. We might have been competitors but we were part of the same “family” of scribes.

 I can’t say I am more culturally attuned these days. Whenever I watch shows like Entertainment Tonight or Fashion Police I am in the dark about most of the celebs profiled. Good thing my iPhone is at hand to google whatever or whoever confounds me so I can pretend to know what I’m talking about. 

Borscht-Belted, Again: Wednesday morning I heard a WCBS Sports Radio commentary by Boomer Esiason about the pending demolition of Kutsher’s, the Catskills resort. Kutsher’s attracted professional ball players to hobnob with its mostly Jewish clientele. Wilt Chamberlain worked there as a bellboy before becoming a professional basketball player.

I never stayed at Kutsher’s but I did accompany my parents to many of the other Catskills hotels. Gilda, on the other hand, never experienced the Catskills. She was intent on doing so when our children were young and not home. For an encore report on our visit to Kutsher’s, read on:

In 1988, when our son, Dan, was 9, he went to sleepaway camp for the first time for eight weeks. With the assistance of a neighbor who agreed to watch the then 6-1/2 year old Ellie, Gilda planned a romantic weekend getaway for us. Having never experienced a Catskills resort when growing up, Gilda craved the experience. She had seen an article in The Times describing a renovation of Kutsher’s in Monticello. She made a reservation and sent a $50 deposit.

Now, I had accompanied my parents to many Catskills hotels when growing up. They were generally pleasant, but by 1988 I had been exposed to, shall we say, a more refined world. I traveled across the country for my job, staying in many first class hotels and resorts. Gilda had often shared the resort trips with me as they centered around conferences where the presence of a spouse was a definite advantage in meeting and mingling with sources. Despite Kutsher’s renovations as described in The Times, I was less than enthusiastic about trekking off to the Catskills. Having just mastered riding a bicycle at age 39 (a subject of a future blog), I was happy to learn Kutsher’s had it own bike trail around its lake and provided bikes free of charge.

The fateful weekend in early July came. I admit I did not muster much enthusiasm. Gilda was rightfully upset with my attitude. As we pulled onto the hotel driveway, the same canopy depicted in the picture in last Friday’s paper appeared. It was not the equal to the Del Coronado outside San Diego. Or the Boca Raton Country Club. Or the Arizona Biltmore, the Scottsdale Princess or the Fontainebleau in Miami Beach, all hotels Gilda and I, often with our children, had enjoyed. I sensed her trepidation as we entered the small registration desk just inside the front door.

She wanted to see the room before we officially checked in. The registration clerk asked why. Just to be sure. We didn’t want a room with double beds. Reluctantly she agreed to show us the room. As we walked across the lobby, I detected a strange odor. It reminded me of a used kitty litter box. I suggested perhaps the carpet was mildewed and was immediately rebuffed. It was new flooring, I was told. New or old, I said, the carpet smelled.

I glanced out the picture window and saw the “lake” with the bike path surrounding it. It appeared to be about a half acre in size. Yes, bikes were available, but they couldn’t be ridden anywhere off the paved path around the lake. So much for any biking expedition.

We arrived at our room and stepped into the 1950s. It had separate beds; the carpeting was a long shag of deep orange. We demanded a different room. Reluctantly Kutsher’s agreed. We asked to see it. Again the clerk was less than enthusiastic. The second room had a single bed and decent carpeting. But its only window was higher than six feet from the ground. Standing on the bed I could see out the window. If I craned my neck I could see part of the pool. But most visible was the building next door. Had I wanted to see a building when I looked out the window, I told the clerk, I would have stayed in Brooklyn.

Gilda was now convinced Kutsher’s was not going to be part of our weekend escape. We were prepared to forfeit the $50 deposit, but amazingly Kutsher’s refunded it. We weren’t ready to return home, so we decided to check out the Concord in Kiamesha Lake. Before registering, however, we opted to scope out the hotel. It seemed acceptable until we came upon a yoga class in progress. How can I say this delicately? The yoga instructor could be a contestant on the show,The Biggest Loser. No way, Gilda said, was she staying in a hotel that disrespected its clientele with such an instructor.

Disappointed, we headed homeward till I remembered about the Inn at Lake Waramaug in Litchfield County, Conn. It’s a beautiful setting, with individual cottages. No TVs. No phones. Just the opportunity to commune with nature. That is, unless it’s pouring rain, which started to fall right after we arrived and kept coming down well into Saturday morning, by which time we decided that White Plains wasn’t too bad a place to spend a romantic weekend by ourselves, with Ellie down the street playing with Issa and her mother, Angeles.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Pope Francis Calls The Wrong Leaders To Rome

I don't want to be a Debbie Downer, or should I say a Maudlin Murray, but I had to ironically smile when I read these two paragraphs in the Sunday New York Times story on Pope Francis’ first day in the Holy Land and his invitation to the presidents of Israel and the Palestinian Authority to come to Rome to pray with him for peace:

“Father Jamal Khader, head of the Latin Patriarchate Seminary in Beit Jala and a local spokesman for the pope’s visit, said the invitation to a joint prayer was ‘taking the negotiations to another level – a meeting in front of God.’

“He said the idea was for inter-religious dialogue, to ‘make religion part of trying to find a solution instead of it being seen as a negative and a complication.’” 

To believe that these secular politicians, Shimon Peres and Mahmoud Abbas, can have sway over religious fanatics is truly laugh inducing. Hamas, Hezbollah, Islamic Jihad etc., etc., and so forth, are intolerant religionists dedicated to the annihilation of Israel. The pope would have an easier time mending the thousand-year blood feud between Sunnis and Shias than inviting two leaders who have no influence on their religious brothers to talk peace, especially when one of them, Peres, is slated to leave office shortly and the other has repeatedly threatened to resign. If Francis truly wanted an “inter-religious dialogue” he should have extended an invitation to the rabbis and imams whose rantings foment much of the loathing, intolerance and violence indigenous to the region.

On the Israeli side, hard core Orthodox sects are spewing hatred not just against gentiles living in the ancient “promised land” but also against other Jewish denominations such as Masorti, the Conservative movement’s Israel-based wing. They have sprayed graffiti on churches, mosques and synagogues. They have attacked Palestinians. They have vandalized military equipment. At least  for now they have not attacked other Jews.

From this cauldron of rising intolerance Francis hopes to stir up a potion of peace from a prince of peace in whose name wars, genocide and enslavement have been waged over millennia and whose adherents are as fractured as those of Mohammed and the Torah.

It is to sadly laugh.

I applaud Francis for his crazy optimism. That is, after all, one of the basic job functions of any pope, to give hope to those who otherwise live in the bleakest of worlds. Let's hope Francis can pull out a miracle from under his papal frock. But let's not be deluded into believing god, in whose name too many atrocities are perpetrated, will finally hear the outcries of his children and send them salvation, or at least a path to a solution to an intractable problem.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Facebook Posting Saddens Two Dates

I go on Facebook sporadically, mostly to inform when I’ve posted a new blog entry. On those occasions I scroll down to see if any friends or relatives have anything interesting to say or show. A cousin in France, Laura, writes in French, naturally;  sometimes Facebook offers translation services. One of those times was Thursday, and though I am intrigued by what she wrote, it no doubt will sadden me for years to come.

Laura has been on a mission of more than 20 years to research her family history. Her maternal grandparents and some of her extended family emigrated to France in the 1930s from Dora, a shtetl in the Galicia region of Poland, not too far from my father’s home town of Ottynia. They settled in Lens, in northern France. Before Nazi Germany’s invasion, Laura’s grandfather urged his relatives to move south. Only his immediate family went with him to Lyons. But they weren’t safe there, either. 

Warned they might be picked up in a roundup of Jews, Laura’s grandparents and their two daughters fled to the border with Switzerland. (The younger girl, Bonnie, is Laura’s mother.) Because Bonnie was a baby, the Swiss allowed the family to enter, but they were placed in three separate refugee camps, one for the father, one for seven-year-old Miriam, and the third for Bonnie and her mother. 

Miriam was able to see her mother from time to time during their three years of internment. An enduring memory was receiving food thrown by Swiss children over the camp fence. One of those children grew up to become her husband. Yes, it’s a story that sounds stranger than fiction, but it’s true, so real life, in fact, that like so many couples, Miriam and her husband couldn’t sustain their marriage. 

After the war ended the family re-united. They returned to Lyons. But their family in Lens were gone. Their fate was the subject of Laura’s Facebook post.

The Nazis rounded up the Jews from Lens on September 11th, 1942. It was Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year. Among them were Laura’s grandmother’s elder sister, Rosalie, and her daughter Betty. They were sent to Belgium, to a place called Kazerne Dossin (now a memorial, museum and documentation center on Holocaust and Human Rights in Mechelen, Flanders) where they waited two days before being shipped out on Transport 10, arriving in Auschwitz-Birkenau on September 17. 

There is no archival record of how or when Rosalie died, but official papers show Betty was selected as a forced worker. She died of unknown circumstances on October 20, 1942. Portraits of Rosalie Fursetzer and her daughter Betty Mohr are part of the memorial and the Memorial Wall at the barracks of Kazerne Dossin.

According to Kazerne Dossin, “X Transport included 1,048 deportees, including 229 children less than 15 years … The youngest was Josef Jozefowicz, aged one month and a half.”  Only 17 survived the war. 

A remarkable but not that unique story, given the annals of Holocaust experiences. So why will I be sad? Because of two dates: September 11, already a date forever scarred, and October 20. October 20 has been one of the happiest days for our family. Dan was born that day in1978. Going forward, however, I will always also remember October 20 as the day my cousin Betty died during the Holocaust.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

A Fashionista Four Decades Ahead of the Trend

My mother used to keep clothing in her closet for decades, reasoning that eventually all fashion repeats itself. Of course, she didn't always wait for a particular style to return to vogue, but she was correct that designers revive the past. 

So it was with a little bit of a smirky “been there, done that” attitude that I noticed the lead article of Thursday’s Styles section of The NY Times described how blue is the new black when it comes to tuxedos ( Yours truly was a fashionista four decades ahead of the trend. My wedding tuxedo back in 1973 was midnight blue, worn with a powder blue ruffled shirt and oversized velvet blue bow tie. 

I wore that tuxedo for more than a dozen years, until the waistline of the pants could be let out no more to accommodate my expanded tummy. I even had midnight blue shoes, a pair of Soldini Italian loafers with tassels I found in Macon, GA, at the opening of an Aim for the Best store. 

You've never heard of Aim for the Best? Not surprising. It was an effort by T.G. & Y. Stores of Oklahoma City, an old-fashioned variety and discount store chain of some 930 units and $1.9 billion in sales, to go upscale in the early 1980s. It was a beautiful store but required more discipline to operate than the good people at T.G. & Y. could muster on a consistent basis. Aim for the Best didn't last too long. For that matter T.G. & Y. didn't last too much longer either, a casualty of Wal-Mart’s conquest of middle America.

I loved those blue loafers even though my boss John made fun of them. After a resoling in the mid-90’s, the shoes felt tight. It broke my heart to give them away. I didn't realize it at the time but my discomfort had nothing to do with the shoes. It was an early warning sign of peripheral neuropathy in my feet.

Getting back to the tuxedo, I found a discrepancy between The Times article and Downton Abbey concerning the timing of when a dinner jacket with black tie and pants supplanted the more formal white tie and tails men of a certain social standing customarily wore in the evening. 

The Times dated the introduction of the tuxedo to no later than 1886, while Downton Abbey implied that a full 30 years later, during World War I, standards of dress became more lax and commonplace ( Personally, my comfort level remains blue, as in blue jeans. Sometimes worn with a casual sports jacket. 

Monday, May 19, 2014

Look to the News for Inspiration

Whenever I lack inspiration for a blog post all I need do is read the newspaper or listen to the news on TV or radio. Some cases in point:

Watching CBS Sunday Morning on Sunday I couldn’t help but be thrilled by the show’s choice of Santa Fe as the backdrop for its annual special edition on design. Gilda and I will shortly be visiting the colorful capital of New Mexico, though not as a replacement for our previously planned and now scrapped cruise of the Black Sea with stops in Odessa, Yalta, Sevastopol and Sochi. 

CBS Sunday Morning also ran a feature on tennis great Venus Williams and her apparel company. She named it “Eleven,” a number dear to Gilda’s and my heart (among other reasons, we were born 11 days apart 65 years ago and our house number is 11). I liked Williams’ reasoning behind her name choice: “Eleven stands for being better than a 10.”

A third tie-in appeared, courtesy of a piece on treadmill desks (for the uninformed, these are raised desks you work at while walking on a treadmill underneath at roughly two miles per hour). 

Joanna Coles, editor in chief of Cosmopolitan, shown in the segment walking on her treadmill desk, said, “I’m more contemplative on the treadmill desk. I find the action of walking helps me think better.”

Steelcase manager of health and wellness Carlene Stevens explained, “As we exercise we send endorphins to our brain which then kind of increases our innovation, creativity and it could increase productivity, as well.”

Which might explain why some of my best ideas came to me as I walked up and down Park Avenue on my way to and from Grand Central Terminal and work.

Road Trip: The Travel section of the Sunday New York Times carried an article entitled “To Campuses Without a Campus.” I was hooked by the first sentence: “The last thing a dad gets to really teach his daughter is how to drive a car.” (

It reminded me of a trip Ellie and I took to Oberlin College in Ohio when she was 16 and recently licensed to drive. On our way home along Interstate 80, I felt sufficiently comfortable to let her drive across half of Pennsylvania and all of New Jersey while I dozed in the shotgun seat. Before nodding off I told her, just go straight, no turns. 

I awoke as we passed the toll booth for the George Washington Bridge. I panicked as I realized Ellie had never crossed a bridge and as soon as she entered Manhattan she would be an illegal, underage driver on a highway. The alternatives were frightening—proceed straight onto the heavily trafficked Cross Bronx Expressway or take the exit ramp from the bridge onto the Henry Hudson Parkway North, with some of the most belly-churning curves in the region. 

We chose the latter with Ellie trying to calm me down. Only, we didn’t go north, we wound up going south, while all I could do was loudly tell her to get off at the first exit. Ellie successfully maneuvered us off the highway. 

Ellie chose not to apply to Oberlin.

Recycling: The Sunday Business section depicted how cities and companies are trying to minimize food waste by encouraging composting ( 

Gilda and I have been doing our fair share. For the last 18 months we’ve been placing uncooked organic waste in a countertop compost bin. When full, we dump the contents into an outdoor plastic garbage can aerated by holes I drilled into the sides and cover. The food is mixed with dry leaves I process in the fall in a leaf shredder I purchased for $25 off of Craig’s List.  

When the garbage can is full we transfer the contents to an outdoor compost heap. Last weekend we went to Croton Point Park for Earth Day celebration and picked up a plastic compost bin. 

Gilda the Gardener is thrilled. She considers her home made compost to be black gold.

In case you’re wondering, the organic compost does not smell.

Nail-Biting Time: Finally, the Workologist column of The Times dealt with a thorny problem of office etiquette, namely, what to do when co-workers cut their fingernails in public.

True confession time—until I was 28 I bit my nails. I couldn’t stop. Like smoking, I was addicted. But the day I started working in Manhattan 37 years ago I stopped. Cold turkey. 

That day I also began carrying a nail clipper wherever I went. It turned out to be among the most useful tools I could ever imagine. I prefer a nail clipper with a small file, the kind the Transportation Security Administration at first deemed a weapon and wouldn’t permit you to carry onto a plane in the months after September 11. I’ve used a nail clipper to cut those pesky strings that tie shoes together in stores. To slice through package wrappings. To cut a nail that I would otherwise bite off.  

But I try to never cut my nails in public. 

Friday, May 16, 2014

Ordinary Lives Lived by Extraordinary Women

They live ordinary lives. Three are special education teachers, one an elementary school instructor. Another practices Chinese medicine. One’s a retired nurse. A seventh a midwife. The eighth is an occupational therapist. They are women of modest professions, living modest, ordinary lives.

And then an airplane or a helicopter flies overhead and they wonder if an attack is imminent. Or they hear, make that feel, an explosion that rattles the foundation of their homes. Was it a rocket or the vibrations from a powerful Egyptian charge meant to destroy an underground Palestinian tunnel from the Gaza Strip into the Sinai?

They're home now, back on the kibbutzim delicately nesting next to the southern tip of Gaza, on the border with Egypt. For the two weeks spanning the end of April and the beginning of May, these eight women came to America as guests of Shalom Yisrael. Why? For some well-deserved rest and relaxation, for aside from their ordinary day jobs, they are trauma care first responders when the ordinary lives of their fellow kibbutzniks become anything but ordinary when bombs and rockets hail from across the border. 

Most everyone who met them, including Congresswoman Nita Lowey, wanted to know why they lived on the edge of peril, why not in a more secure spot in Israel. The Eshkol Regional Council from which they come is the most targeted land area in Israel. When rockets are launched from Gaza, they have perhaps 15 seconds to seek shelter, assuming an alert is sounded. They are too close to Gaza to be protected by the Iron Dome missile defense system. Houses are being retrofitted with safe rooms. 

Yet, they do not dream of leaving. Their response echoed what we have heard time and again from people in our own country. Their choice is no different than that made by Americans living in tornado alley or along the Gulf Coast ravaged annually by hurricanes or the Rockies that even in the second week of May was treated by Mother Nature to globs of snow. Or those who warily watch waters rise above levies each year to wash away homes. They live there because it is their home, whether they grew up there or recently relocated. It is beautiful, they said. With a real sense of community. That helps explain why the population of the Eshkol region has grown 35% over the past five years. 

The region is important agriculturally. Sixty percent of Israel’s produce is grown in the 32 communities of the council that shares a 24-mile border with the Gaza Strip and a seven-mile border with Egypt. They live 90 minutes south of Tel Aviv but don’t lack for culture. Within the 190,000 acres of the Eshkol Regional Council, its 14,000 residents enjoy 10 art galleries and museums, nature and heritage sites, youth and elderly recreation centers, and a 930-seat cultural hall. 

They strive to live a normal life in an abnormal place. Sometimes, neighbors hear voices from under their homes. Quickly they call the military. Tunnels from the Gaza Strip are a constant concern. It took a few days, but the women soon acclimated to the sounds most Americans take for granted. They realized they didn’t have to look up when a jet streaked overhead, though, to be honest, even Americans twist their heads at the whop-whop whirring of helicopter blades. 

For five years I have been involved with Shalom Yisrael, a volunteer organization that for 29 years has hosted Israelis during the spring, at first soldiers and victims of terror, but for half a decade ladies such as these, women of valor and determination who leave their families when danger erupts to tend to the needs of their community. 

And yet, of the 40 women I have met, I can think of none who does not crave peace and friendship with their Palestinian neighbors, who does not want a return to the time before Hamas seized control of Gaza and put an end to commerce between the two peoples, to visits to beaches reputedly among the most beautiful in the eastern Mediterranean. 

Living as they do on the precipice of conflict, as targets of terror, they are nevertheless dovish citizens of Israel. Not for them are Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu’s and his cohorts’ hawkish demeanor. They don’t have a solution. They just hope one can be found. 

The ladies returned to Israel last Sunday, Mother’s Day. Normalcy has returned to my routine. What passes for normalcy in the Eshkol Regional Council awaited them. 

The addresses below are links to previous posts about the visits sponsored by Shalom Yisrael and my visit in 2011 to the Sha’ar Hanegev region just north of the Eshkol region: 

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Catching Up on News and Views

With the exception of Monday’s blog, I’ve been mostly silent during the last two weeks, part of which I was pre-occupied with visitors from Israel here for  the annual Shalom Yisrael hosting of first responder-trauma care providers from the area next to the Gaza Strip. (More about them in an upcoming blog.) So let me now take this opportunity to catch up on some of the news and views stored up in my notebook, on scraps of paper and on clippings from the newspaper.

I can report that last Wednesday I demonstrated extreme tact and restraint. While sitting with the Israelis in the congressional dining room eating lunch with Congresswoman Nita Lowey, my ears perked up at the sound of an obsequiously rich baritone voice. In my direct vision, buttering a roll at the adjacent table, Grover Norquist held forth. He of the “no new taxes” pledge. He who is largely responsible for stymieing the government into uncompromising inaction, thereby subsidizing the bifurcation of society into haves and have-nots by inhibiting the development of programs to help the less fortunate while the fortunate become richer and more insulated. 

How fitting to see him eating at the public trough, bending the ear of a congressman I did not recognize. But, as I said, I was a model of decorum. Aside from pointing him out to a colleague seated next to me, and texting my sighting to Gilda and a friend, I sat there stoically silent. I'm grateful the NRA’s Wayne LaPierre wasn't with him or I wouldn't have been able to restrain myself.

The trip to Washington reinforced an old truism I had encountered during three decades of criss-crossing this great country of ours and, for that matter, much of the rest of the civilized world. Namely, the best showers often can be found not in expensive hotels but in moderately priced abodes. I was vigorously refreshed by the shower in my room at the Holiday Inn of Alexandria, VA, reminding me of a stay in the Anatole Hotel in Dallas a decade ago. 

As head of a convention that brought 1,200 guests to the Anatole, the hotel placed me in the presidential suite, 20-plus floors above ground. Beautiful accommodations. But when I sought the cleansing refreshment of a shower, I was startled. The water cycled between hot and cold every 30 seconds. And, most disappointing, the flow was, shall we say, less powerful than an elderly man’s discharge. When I complained to the concierge, I was told the problems resulted from a system that required hot water to be pumped up to the twentieth floor and above. So why did the hotel put the presidential suite on such a high floor?, I asked. Did they not like George W. Bush? He was a Texan, after all. 

As you might expect, aside from voicing my displeasure, I received no satisfaction.

Blessed Passing: More and more I’m feeling the world is passing me by, especially when it comes to technology and the inculcation of terms and figures of speech into the vernacular of everyday life. Until a May 4 article in The NY Times (“They Feel ‘Blessed’”) I wasn’t aware “blessed” had become a standard form of expression and thereby a problem for many, though not to me because of my ignorance, which is a blessing, really (

Legs to Die For: I have legs most any woman would die for. Long. Thin. Not overly muscular. Pinched in at the ankles. What I don’t have are legs most men would die for.

So I have been particularly amused by the fixation some celebrities and fashion designers have displayed lately by dressing up (or down, in my opinion) in dress shorts and sockless ankles. It came to a head at the Academy Awards in the personage of Pharrell Williams ( 

Perhaps in Silicon Valley and Silicon Alley offices shorts could pass as acceptable business attire, but I’m an old fogey for any other formal occasion, and I still believe business counts as a formal occasion. If you’ve read this far, you probably won’t mind my reprising an incident from some 30 years ago.

As an offshoot to my publication, we had launched a separate apparel magazine, staffed with its own publisher, editorial and sales teams. The publisher traveled to Los Angeles to make calls with his new resident salesman. They planned to visit Ocean Pacific the first day. OP was an emerging brand at the time.

Carl, the publisher, showed up at our LA office in our standard corporate uniform, meaning a suit. Not even a sports jacket and slacks was acceptable back then. His salesman, on the other hand, came dressed in a T-shirt, cutoff shorts and flip-flops. The contrast could not have been greater. The salesman explained that when they arrived at Ocean Pacific Carl would see that casual was the norm, that Carl would be the one whose dress would stand out from the crowd.

Sure enough, the salesman was correct. The next day Carl fired him. He had been guilty of either failing to properly uphold our corporate profile on a business call, or failing to properly communicate in advance the appropriate dress code to Carl for the OP call. Either way, he was history, one of the shortest-tenured salespeople in our company’s history.

Bird Watching: A team from the Cornell Lab of Ornithology won last Saturday’s World Series of Birding in New Jersey. The six-member team identified 218 species during the 24-hour competition. 

I have more modest expectations. My side yard bird feeders draw 10 types beyond the usual sparrows, mourning doves and black birds: blue jay, female cardinal, red-bellied woodpecker, male cardinal, downy woodpecker, cedar waxwing, chickadee, goldfinch, western tanager and nuthatch. Occasionally a migrating hummingbird stops by. 

It’s About Time: The Times finally got around to noting this past Sunday that unrest in Ukraine has prompted cancellations of vacation travel to the region. As I reported two months earlier, on March 3, Gilda’s and my Black Sea summer cruise, including stops in Odessa, Yalta and Sevastopol, was scrapped.  

Monday, May 12, 2014

"Nothing Is Dearer Than a Daughter"—Euripides

Every pundit is talking about the inevitability of a Hillary Clinton Democratic party presidential run, if not election, so I thought I might as well give my take on her chances of securing the nomination and who would be her Republican opponent. 

With Euripides’ quote in mind, that “to a father waxing old, nothing is dearer than a daughter,” I researched the offspring of the last 12 presidents. During the 2012 election cycle, I determined that candidates with daughter(s) had greater opportunities to sit behind the desk in the Oval Office ( Six of the last 12 presidents, including the last three, restricted their fatherhood to daughters. Only Dwight D. Eisenhower had exclusively male progeny. It was thus a no-brainer to predict Mitt Romney, father of five boys, would fail in 2012 to unseat Barack Obama and send him and his two daughters, along with Michelle, back to Chicago. 

Hillary has only one daughter, Chelsea, whose magic might have been used up to elect her father in 1992, leaving her mother to be double-teamed in the 2008 primaries by Malia and Sasha Obama. 

Fast forward to 2016: Now, Hillary faces the prospect of running against the three daughters (no sons) of Andrew Cuomo and the two daughters (plus two sons) of Joe Biden. My money, nonetheless, remains on Hillary, especially if Chelsea rewards her with a granddaughter later this year (it wouldn’t hurt Chelsea’s own chances in, say, 2036, if she delivers a girl).

Clinton, Biden and Cuomo have the early star power, but if they falter or choose not to run, pundits see these other Democratic wannabes: Maryland governor Martin O’Malley, two girls, two boys; Virginia senator Mark Warner, three daughters; Massachusetts senator Elizabeth Warren, one daughter, one son; New York senator Kirstin Gillibrand, two sons; and Minnesota senator Amy Klobucher, one daughter. 

Clearly Warner has the advantage in the second tier grouping. 

On the GOP side, Rand Paul strikes out. Not one of his three children is a girl. And my dark horse candidate of retired general Stanley McChrystal comes up short. He has but one son. 

For sheer numbers of offspring, Rick Santorum can’t be beat. Nine, count ’em, nine children, four of whom are girls. But Santorum’s a wacko only the far right, besides his wife, can love, which doesn’t automatically eliminate him from primary contention but surely does from the general, thinking, electorate, assuming there still is a majority of those voters around in a sufficient number of states to electorally elect Hillary.

Another wacko, with one daughter out of two spawns, is Rick Perry. No “sane Republican” (hopefully, that is not yet an oxymoron) could vote for him. 

With one daughter out of their respective three children, Congressman Paul Ryan, ex-Florida governor Jeb Bush, Louisiana governor Bobby Jindal and former Arkansas governor and current talk show host Mike Huckabee just didn’t try hard enough during their family formative years. 

Chris Christie and Marco Rubio each have two girls among their respective four children. They could be serious contenders for the Republican nomination and the general election. But the clear, focused winner for the nomination is Texas senator Ted Cruz. Cruz’s cruise missile twice bombarded his wife with Y-chromosomes. The result: Two daughters.

So there you have it—it’ll be Hillary Clinton vs. Ted Cruz, a pairing that will make both sides shutter at the possibilities.