Friday, February 27, 2015

Volleyball's Been Very Good to Me

Spent Friday rearranging Ellie’s bedroom furniture in anticipation of Donny and her visiting after delivering our third grandchild in the next month or so. It’s another transition mark. Last week I reluctantly accepted that a link to part of my athletic past had to be discarded to make way for solar power equipment monitors inside our garage: I threw out my volleyball net and eight foot poles.

Since my teenage years volleyball has been an important part of my life. From the ages of 14 through 22, I played in intense, invitation-only games every Saturday afternoon at summer camp. More significantly, I courted my wife playing volleyball, or rather she courted me.

Gilda and I formally met late spring 1969 at a meeting of incoming presidents of various Brooklyn College house plans. She was the next president of Russell House and one of, if not the first, female representatives on student government council. Aside from being the newly elected president of Knight House I was the editor-in-chief of Calling Card, the House Plan Association newspaper. We agreed that night she would contribute articles on the happenings of student government.

But she had her sights on more athletic happenings, as well. Russell was known for its beauty, not brawn. Gilda wanted to expand Russell’s appeal. Her goal was to hook up with Knight House during the fall co-ed volleyball season. I was part of the Knight House team that was a powerhouse in men’s intramurals and co-ed play. Gilda, on the other hand, was a gamer but not a very good player. Indeed, during one game, after she took a hard spike to the chest, I benched her, and not just for her own safety. 

Nevertheless, our mutual affection for each other grew during the season. We started dating when Gilda asked me to accompany her to a Christmas party at the Brooklyn Heights home of one of her political science professors. 

During my years on Chain Store Age I played on our company’s co-ed team in the publishing division of the corporate volleyball league at LaGuardia High School on Tenth Avenue. I was, admittedly, no longer as springy a jumper back then. I adapted from being a spiker to set-up man, mostly for Dan Bagan and John Kenlon. Together with Milford Prewitt, Roni Iszak Townson and Crystal Broomes-Deane, we won the championship once, maybe even twice. For many years I sported a two and a half foot tall trophy on top of a cabinet behind my desk. 

After our family moved to our current house in 1984, I turned our side yard into a regulation-sized volleyball court for staff parties and get-togethers with friends. Gilda’s garden and an expanded patio cut into the court size, but what really killed off playtime was … age. I could no longer jump, twist and turn. The poles and net were relegated to hang along the wall of the garage for a decade or longer. They’re gone now, but not the memories. 

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

A Career Based on Talent and Good Fortune

I turned the car radio to ESPN Wednesday afternoon just as Michael Kay and his sidekicks were discussing the impact of talent and luck on their respective successful careers.

One day I turned left instead of right, was the way Kay, the play-by-play television announcer of the New York Yankees, rationalized his good fortune. I readily identified with that explanation of how luck, just plain dumb luck, can differentiate equally skilled job applicants. 

As I wrote five years ago, it also doesn’t hurt to have fortuitous timing and shared background with the person who hires you. Take my first job, for example. Murray Farber, managing editor administration of The New Haven Register, hired me. Murray grew up in Brooklyn, as I did. Though he attended BTA High School, rival of my alma mater, Flatbush, Murray didn’t hold that against me. Much as blood is thicker than water, “Murraydom” trumps any reservations.

Yet, if it weren’t for Donna Doherty I would never have met Murray Farber.

Donna Doherty was the quintessential shiksa (Gentile woman) of every Jewish man’s dreams. Tall, lithe, beautiful and blonde—really blonde—, Donna Doherty entered my life as a fellow graduate student at Syracuse University. My friend Steve Kreinberg and I drooled over her, from afar mind you, considering that Steve was married and I was engaged. Donna Doherty hardly knew we existed. She left Syracuse before graduation in 1972 and headed back home to Branford, Conn., just east of New Haven.

A few months later, armed with a master’s degree in newspaper journalism, I started visiting newspapers in search of that first job. I’d cold call managing editors of papers from northern Virginia through northern Massachusetts. They lauded my moxie. They all told me they had no job openings.

July 14, 1972, I arranged a day trip from Brooklyn to five papers in southwest Connecticut. At each stop the same result—the managing editor was away attending a publishing conference in Arizona. Around noon I found myself in Ansonia, at the proverbial fork in the road. Right headed toward Bridgeport, left toward New Haven. Ah, New Haven. Wasn’t that close to Donna Doherty’s home town?, I thought. It would mean a longer ride home, but there was no question in my mind which direction I’d head.

Thirty minutes later I was inside The Register building at 367 Orange Street. Depressed with my earlier failures to meet any managing editors, I sheepishly allowed the receptionist to steer me to the head of personnel without even trying to see if the ME was present. Robert E. Lee (yes, that really was his name) gave me the standard response. No, there weren’t any openings. Yes, I’ll take your résumé just in case something happens. After all, you never know.

And then his phone rang. Yes, I have someone sitting across my desk this very moment, he said into the handset. I perked up. He sent me up to the third floor newsroom. Just my luck, The Register had two managing editors, one for news, one for administration. The ME-News was in Arizona, but the ME-Administration, Murray Farber, was in New Haven looking after the business and having to deal with a sudden resignation. I started the job two months later, September 14, 1972, thanks in no small measure to persistence, luck, timing, Donna Doherty and Murray Farber.

I left The Register four years later to be a press secretary in an unsuccessful congressional campaign. From November to early March 1977 I was jobless, unable to secure a newspaper position. Gilda said she’d move anywhere but back to New York. 

As luck would have it, a copy of the Sunday New York Times I bought in a Cumberland Farms store included Classified ads, a section not usually distributed in New Haven back then. I knew the job ads were for Manhattan-based companies, and were for trade publications, not traditional newspapers, but our bank account dictated some compromise. I answered two ads, both, it turned out, for the same spot, that of field editor on Nation’s Restaurant News. I got the job and we moved back to New York.

Luck played a part even when I didn’t get a job. A year later I was one of two candidates under consideration to be the top editor of the magazine of the Automotive After Parts Association in Washington, DC. A local candidate was chosen, but six months later the association called to say it made a mistake. I thanked them for their belated offer but in those same six months I told them I had received two promotions and was now the editorial head of Chain Store Age, a title I would not relinquish for the next 30 years. 

Lest you get the impression my success came solely from the proper alignment of the stars, let me assure you talent played a significant role, as well. Within two years I became one of six bureau chiefs on The Register’s staff of 100 reporters. 

I earned numerous accolades on Nation’s Restaurant News and Chain Store Age, including a Jesse H. Neal Award, considered the Pulitzer Prize of business to business journalism. 

Talent, however, can get you only so far. It’s far better to combine talent with a measure of luck. 

Monday, February 23, 2015

Blame Me for Saturday's Snow and Other Observations

Most of you in the Northeast are probably pretty tired of all the snow this season. I can’t say I’m happy about it but I have to reluctantly acknowledge some responsibility for this weekend’s dumping. You see, snow seems to fall wherever I am when I celebrate the anniversary of my bar mitzvah. 

Even before this February of perpetual snow I could have told you February 21 would be a snow day. February 21 commemorates the Jewish calendar date of my bar mitzvah 53 years ago. The Saturday in Brooklyn in 1962 that I became a man I awoke to snow, maybe three to six inches deep. When I decided to celebrate my bar mitzvah 30 years later in White Plains it snowed 20 inches. 

I had not planned to celebrate my bar mitzvah this year but my brother Bernie intervened. He turns 70 on Tuesday; late last year he decided to commemorate the 57th anniversary of his bar mitzvah on Saturday, February 21. Naturally, Gilda and I traveled down to his home in Rockville, MD, to share the moment, which you might recall from the second paragraph, was actually the true anniversary of my coming of age. Bernie’s real date is next Saturday, but as to why he chose to push up the celebration that’s a story for another time. 

Anyway, snow fell in the Northeast, a dusting in most places except six to 10 inches across the DC metro, where I was, effectively shutting down the region. For those who favor long-term planning for future years, keep in mind my bar mitzvah falls on the portion of the Torah reading titled Terumah (Exodus 25-27). 

Some observations that have been on my mind lately:

New York drivers are becoming more lawless and dangerous. Based on my six times a week drive to and from Manhattan I can report more motorists are going through red lights and more are making left turns from the right lane …

News stations were agog Sunday and Monday with reports the Islamic extremist  group Al Shabaab of Somalia is encouraging attacks on American shopping centers, particularly the Mall of America in Minnesota, similar to what its adherents did at an enclosed mall in Nairobi, Kenya, in 2013. 

Security, naturally, has been heightened, but I wonder if Al Shabaab will pick its targets based on the concealed weapons laws of each state? NRA members no doubt are locking and loading in anticipation of defending the homeland ...

The debate over gay marriage rights elicited a petition against homosexual unions by the Alabama Policy Institute, a group dedicated to “free markets, limited government and strong families,” and the Alabama Citizens Action Program, which promotes an “ethical, moral and responsible lifestyle based on biblical standards.” 

Biblical standards? Does that mean polygamy is okay? Or the public stoning of adulterers? Or arranged marriages only? Or not eating pork? 

Do those groups realize biblical standards often parallel sharia law? 

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

One Person's Clutter Is the Next Person's Treasure

There’s lots of talk, and gnashing of teeth, no doubt, about clutter ( Every so often—not as often as Gilda would like, more often than I can calmly take—the woman I live with feels compelled to lighten our load. No matter how attached I might be to an object she’s determined to make room.

Our most recent bout was over a wood cutting board. Admittedly, neither of us had used the slab, in say, more than a decade, since we redid our kitchen. But I still saw value in it. Some background: I prefer thin boards sized about 8x10 inches. Gilda favors a mix of thicker boards, large and small. The board in question matched my preference. I reluctantly permitted it to be removed from the cutting board drawer last evening. I could not find it this morning. I thought she had surreptitiously thrown it out. Later today she confessed to stashing it near the microwave.

I admit, I’m a pack rat. Objects stay in my closet long after their useful life has passed. I’ve got numerous suits, sports jackets and dress pants hanging in my closets (note the plural, not on suits, for goodness sake, but on closets necessary to store my wardrobe) despite the fact that since I retired nearly six years ago I have worn a suit or sports jacket but a few times a year. I can’t explain why I keep them. It’s not as if I am preserving them for my next job.

I’ve got stuff in the attic waiting for my kids and their spouses to come around to my taste in home furnishings. Ha!

Most hard liquor doesn’t spoil. Good thing. Inside our liquor cabinet is a bottle of gin left over from Dan’s bris party 36 years ago!

Gilda and I try to adhere to the buy one-dump one strategy. We are somewhat successful, gauging from the charity deduction we take each year. But proper hoarding, neatly packed and labeled stuff, can be an asset.

Take Legos, for example. We packed up Dan’s Legos in his early teens. They slumbered (I’m using a humanizing verb because of all the small Lego people stored away, people who are now worth quite a bit more than when we bought them some 25-30 years ago). They were hibernating in the attic until a year ago when Finley was old enough to appreciate the saved and now resuscitated treasure trove of people and interlocking pieces. Legos have supplanted a riding front loader as the first toy he runs to when he visits.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Doing Our Part to Save the Planet

There was snow on our roof but that didn’t stop the field crew from installing solar panels on our house last week, Gilda’s and my latest attempt to be responsible citizens of the world.

According to our provider, SolarCity, during the course of our 20-year, no money down, lease we will offset 381,219 pounds of carbon dioxide. That’s the equivalent of driving a car 409,434 miles, or the CO2 absorbed by 206 trees, or the use of 96,134 gallons of water to make electricity.

Of course, we also will save thousands of dollars we would ordinarily be sending to ConEd during the next two decades. SolarCity estimates the panels on our southern facing roof and on the east-west sides of the garage will produce 87% of our power needs. 

We are waiting for final White Plains Building Department inspection and approval before we go live, sometime in the next few weeks I hope.

Solar panels are the latest artillery in our battle to live a more ecologically healthy life. We’ve reduced by about 50% our garbage production, and thus landfill contribution, by composting almost every bit of natural, uncooked waste from fruits and vegetables. Last year I built two compost pens at the side of our yard while Gilda bought a compost bin at a Westchester County-sponsored environmental event at Croton Point Park.

Raw produce is mixed with leaves I shred each fall. Like people you see collecting discarded empty cans and bottles, I scavenge our neighborhood, scooping up leaves piled up in the street, usually about 16 33-gallons bags each foray. I chop them up in a funnel-shaped shredder bought from Craig’s List before putting them in the compost piles where the mixture will eventually turn into black gold for Gilda’s garden.

I’ve previously written about Gilda’s hybrid car, a Ford C-Max that even in this frigid winter is conveying us at 44.2 miles per gallon.

Coupled with lower thermostat settings during the day—yes, I wear extra layers indoors, sometimes even a baseball hat to keep warmth inside my body—and a more energy efficient oil burner that replaced a 35-year-old unit, we are burning less fuel to heat our home. We also replaced most incandescent bulbs with LEDs or fluorescents.

A final healthful tactic is more personal than environmental. As much as possible we have eliminated plastic containers, even ones claiming to be BPA-free, replacing them with glass. That includes how I quench my soda habit. I now buy Diet Coke in 8-oz. glass bottles which has the added benefit of influencing me to reduce my consumption of soda with each meal. 

Friday, February 13, 2015

Departures and Deaths: It's Been a Lousy Week for Journalism

What a lousy week this has been for journalism.

A fall from grace. Brian Williams. A graceful though painful abdication. Jon Stewart. A senseless, too early death of an eloquent brave voice. Bob Simon. A died-with-his boots-on moment for a muse of the grey lady of journalism. David Carr.

I hardly ever watched Brian Williams deliver the news. Marketing experts will tell you brand allegiance often can be bequeathed by one’s parents. In our house in Brooklyn we watched Walter Cronkite on CBS. So I’ve stayed loyal to the Tiffany network through Dan Rather, Katie Couric and Scott Pelley, with the occasional Bob Schieffer, Roger Mudd and assorted others thrown into the media mix.

Brian Williams just seemed a little too plastic for me. A little too glib. Too perfect. I’m not happy he has been upended by Iraq war story illusions of his own making. I’ve read analyses of how the mind can trick one into believing events transpired different from reality. Often my brother but usually my sister will contradict my telling of a family story. If you want it told your way, I retort, write your own blog or post a comment on mine. Until then, my version will be passed down to the next generation as Forseter lore.

NBC placed Williams on six-month suspension without pay, but it is hard to believe his truthiness will allow him to be seated again in the network’s anchor chair. He is not the only media casualty of the ill-conceived and duplicitously reasoned invasion of Iraq. We went to war under false pretenses. Too many journalists failed to reveal the truth obscured by politicians. 

Williams created his own combat legend. No one died because of his creative yarn. But his obfuscation tarnished NBC and all media outlets. As Jon Stewart, a Williams fan/friend wryly noted, “Finally, someone is being held to account for misleading America about the Iraq war.”

Tuesday afternoon I had mentioned to Gilda how much I missed Stephen Colbert’s nightly skewering of the powerful and righteous on The Colbert Report. Naturally I was stunned by Stewart’s sudden abdication of a platform that during his 17 year tenure as host of The Daily Show redefined the focus of TV journalism. 

Virtually alone in the practice, he showcased the shifting, contradictory positions of politicians and media to suit immediate needs and circumstances. His revelations left the viewer wondering why a comedy show and not their local and national newscasts or newspapers detailed the mendacity and dishonesty of elected officials and pundits.

How could Stewart leave us right before the 2016 election? Has he no civic responsibility to shepherd us through all the lying and deceit scheduled to come our way? 

Have I no faith in his replacement, whomever that might be? After all, John Oliver, a Daily Show alumnus, is producing stellar commentary on his new show, Last Week Tonight. But that’s a new franchise. 

I am not sanguine about The Daily Show’s future. Consider Fashion Police, a decadent indulgence Gilda and I enjoy. After Joan Rivers died tragically, I correctly predicted Kathy Griffin would succeed her as leader of the panel. But she has not succeeded in being as over-the-top funny as Rivers. What’s saving the show for us is the contributions of Brad Goreski, who replaced George Kotsiopoulos, and more liberated commentary from Giuliana Rancic.

I suspect the first time I became aware of Bob Simon was during his stint covering the Yom Kippur War in 1973 for CBS. Battlefields seemingly drew him into expanding spheres of combat worldwide. He delivered stories of human suffering amid the turmoil. But he also spotlighted human achievements, especially during his 60 Minutes years. The 60 Minutes Simon piece Scott Pelley re-aired Thursday on the Congo Kimbanquist Symphony Orchestra was among my favorites.  

After more than 40 years covering conflicts and catastrophes around the world, Simon perished in Manhattan, in a car crash of the town car he was riding in on the West Side Highway. He wasn’t wearing a seat belt. We’ll never know if he would have survived the wreckage had he been belted in. We do know hours before he had finished working on his latest 60 Minutes segment. It will be broadcast Sunday.

David Carr of The New York Times was a media insider, probably known to few outside the New York-Los Angeles-Washington industry axis. He died shortly after moderating a panel discussion of CitizenFour. That’s the Oscar-nominated documentary about Edward Snowden who leaked National Security Agency secrets. On the panel were Snowden, via live video feed from his perch in Russia; Glenn Greenwald, the journalist who published Snowden’s material; and Laura Poitras, the director of CitizenFour. 

Carr was not handsome like Williams, or Stewart, or the young and even old Simon. In his last years he appeared gaunt, sickly, several sizes too small for his clothing. A life that overcame drug addiction, alcoholism, cancer, ended Thursday night in a place he revered more than almost any other—the newsroom of The New York Times.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

A Breakfast Tradition of Challah French Toast

I cooked challah French toast Saturday morning during a quick weekend trip with Gilda to see Dan, Allison and the grandchildren. The paterfamilias cooking weekend breakfast is a Forseter tradition dating back at least 60 years. I don’t know if my grandfather back in Ottynia, Poland (now part of Ukraine), delighted his five children with French toast but my father treated his three young offspring to a delectable breakfast on many a weekend morning.

Dad rarely ventured into the kitchen of our Brooklyn row house. At least not to cook. To be truthful, my mom didn’t cook too often when we were young, either, as she worked in the office of my father’s lingerie factory. They came home too late for her to start making meals, so our dinners Monday through Friday were prepared by a succession of housekeepers, the most memorable and long-lasting being Bertha, then Virginia. They were good cooks. Bertha was an especially proficient baker. Her pound cake was to die for. I’ve never tasted its equal.

Lest you get the wrong impression, my mother was a good, very good, cook, though she tended to overcook vegetables. She produced extraordinary multi-course holiday fare, all the more remarkable because of the small kitchen and limited appliances she had at her command. Among her specialties, and my favorites, were sautéed sweetbreads, sweet and sour lambs’ tongues, crown roasts, breaded veal cutlets, matzo ball soup, gefilte fish, and kreplach. It’s making me too hungry to expand the list further. But to get back to the matzo ball soup, that became one of Dan’s favorites, as well. He still enjoys it, thanks to Gilda’s culinary talents. Sadly, Finley and Dagny have yet to cultivate a taste for soup.

Dan and Ellie also knew intuitively when my parents would be coming for a visit. Miraculously, it seemed, cake would grace our kitchen table. They quickly realized cake was a signal grandparents were soon to be guests requiring sweets with their coffee. My telltale signs of pending grandparent arrival are Fuji apples, Diet Coke and a can of whipped cream.

Anyway, to return to my father, his cooking usually was accompanied by loud commentary as he coaxed my brother, sister and me to set the table, get out the Log Cabin syrup and prepare ourselves for breakfast. 

Breakfast wasn’t always French toast. Sometimes he would cook what he called “army eggs,” fried eggs surrounding thin circles of fried salami. He did serve about a year in the stateside army during World War II, but I have no way of knowing if army eggs were standard fare in the military back then.

It is not unusual to remember a mother through the meals she prepared. I do, but I also recall my father and his food habits. He required every dinner to begin either with a half grapefruit or a slice of melon (if the melon tasted “like a potato” he would complain that our fruit and vegetable man was stealing our money). He drank one beer with dinner, usually a Schlitz. He’d leave the dregs at the bottom of the bottle for us kids to swig. Dessert would be some canned Del Monte fruit cocktail or Bartlett pears. About an hour later, after a nap, he’d have coffee and cake, or chocolate pudding topped with whipped cream. Or a scoop of ice cream. When we’d go to the delicatessen he’d more often than not order “specials” and beans. Specials were wide frankfurters, usually boiled. In restaurants, especially at Seniors on Nostrand Avenue near Avenue Y, he’d eat broiled fish. With me, he never ate in an Italian restaurant, and didn’t eat Chinese unless it was in a kosher eatery. Why he insisted on it being kosher I can’t tell you, as he didn’t require it for any other meal outside his home. 

I ate thousands of meals with my father, but the ones that resonated the most with me were our weekend breakfasts of challah French toast or army eggs. I guess that’s why I eagerly and happily continue the tradition.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Malcolm in the Middle Super Bowl Hero

Malcolm Butler is a Super Bowl hero. Deservedly so, but not just for intercepting a goal line pass from Russell Wilson in the middle of the field that would have catapulted the Seattle Seahawks into football dynasty territory with a second straight Super Bowl victory. Instead, the New England Patriots are NFL champions for a fourth time in the Bill Belichick-Tom Brady era over the last 14 years.

Butler jumped in front of Ricardo Lockette to snare the ball and save the Patriots’ day. But in truth, it was his second save of the game, the first having come just two plays before the “catch,” the play of the game, that is, until Butler’s interception. 

The catch I refer to was Jermaine Kearse’s remarkable, unbelievable, mind- boggling, juggling snatch of a ball defended and deflected by Butler, what at first appeared to be a superb defensive play by the unheralded, undrafted small college defensive back. But if you followed the play to its conclusion, what most if not all reporters and commentators have ignored, is that the play did not end when Kearse eventually caught the ball lying flat on his back around New England’s eight yard line. He got up and would have scored if not for Butler’s presence of mind to scramble up from the turf and push Kearse out of bounds at the five yard line.

One more thing of note about Malcolm Butler: In all the interviews I read and saw Butler never thanked God. Oh, he said he was blessed, but he didn’t follow that with the trite trope of thanking God, as many athletes do, as if God somehow favored the Patriots and didn’t care about the Seahawks.

And for those who didn’t come across this analysis of Butler’s interception, it was made possible because his teammate, Brandon Browner, wouldn’t allow himself to be pushed back by Kearse, which would have blocked Butler’s direct path to the ball. Browner is the unsung hero of Butler’s heroics. 

Here’s how Tuesday’s New York Times described it, though in truth I heard ESPN analyst and former head coach Herman Edwards break it down on Monday ( 

I also heard an ESPN analyst explain that in forcefully going for the ball Butler legally banged into Lockette’s arms, effectively pushing them up and away from any chance of catching the pass from Wilson. 

Perhaps most fatefully, Butler caught the ball. If he had just knocked it down, Seattle would have had two more chances to punch the ball across the goal line, no doubt by either handing off to Marshawn Lynch or by Wilson bootlegging it into the end zone.