Friday, March 31, 2017

Remembering a Respected Teacher

If you looked at him during class, every so often you would see him wince. His eyes would squint ever so slightly. A sour crease would envelope his lips. Sometimes he would rub the side of his head with his fingertips. One side of his brow, the right side if I remember correctly, had about a one inch square indentation, as if a chisel had been taken to his skull.

Amnon Haramati was different from all the other Hebrew studies teachers I encountered during my 12 years of parochial school education at Yeshiva Rambam and Yeshivah of Flatbush High School in Brooklyn. Unlike the others, he would not let us address him as Rabbi or Rav Hamarati. It was Mar (mister) Hamarati, though in later years he did acquire the title of rabbi. Unlike the others, his accent was not eastern European. It was Israeli. He was clean shaven. He stood tall. Erect. Defiant in stature and status. He embodied a dignity that commanded respect. No student ever made fun of Amnon Hamarati. You only wanted to secure his recognition for a job well done.

I was pretty good at Judaic studies. But some time during my high school years I began having trouble completing sentences entirely in Hebrew. My mouth could not keep up with my brain. So I would throw in the occasional English word to round out my thoughts. Amnon Haramati was not amused. He would demand I speak slower. In Hebrew. Only in Hebrew.

He was younger in age and temperament than the other Hebrew studies male teachers, just 18 years older than my classmates and me. He had a sense of humor. One of his pet theories was the belief that the Hebrew Bible contained references to everything ever created. We would challenge him to prove it. Show us, we would demand, where the telephone or television were in the Bible. Amused at our simple request, he would cite the revelation at Mount Sinai, God speaking to the people of Israel and appearing before them not in a black and white broadcast but in living color.

His only vulnerability, that occasional wince. There were rumors his skull harbored a metal plate, a souvenir of Israel’s war of independence. I never heard him talk about it not in class at Flatbush nor earlier, during the summers before high school when I saw him at Camp Massad Aleph where he counselored an older age group than mine.

More than 20 years ago, in his short but moving acceptance speech of the 1994 Covenant Award as an outstanding Jewish educator, he related in third person testimony the tale of a soldier so severely wounded in the head during the battle for Jerusalem in 1948 that doctors pronounced him dead, only to be reclassified as barely alive but blind after a nurse heard him moan, only to be told he should not consider pursuing academic studies after another nurse discovered he was not sightless (

Word came Thursday that Amnon Haramati passed away. He was 86. 

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Car Talk: Time to Check Your Automotive IQ

Just back from a 2,000 mile road trip with Gilda down to St. Augustine, FL, with stops along the way in Rockville, MD, Charleston and Hilton Head, SC, and Savannah, GA. Seeing all those cars on the road got me to thinking about the nameplates of many of our vehicles over the last century, so I decided to create a little quiz for your edification (actually mine, but you get to enjoy it, too).

Score one point for identifying a car name from the clue and another point for identifying the division of the parent company manufacturer. For example, if the clue is Theater, the answer would be Ford for both the car name and the division of the parent company. 

Top score including bonus points is 118. Answers will be published a few days from now.

(Try not to look up any answers on the Internet.)

Pirate sword.  
Trail of Tears nation.
Unbroken horse. 
Coastal town.
Tv science show.
Sharp-toothed fish.
You can’t fly without one. 
Texas border town. 
Nickname for Prince Henry of Portugal.
Mediterranean island.
Native American chief.
Wisconsin city. 
Zodiac sign. 
African leaper.
Old Movie detective.
Kitchen Cleaner.
Wino’s libation. 
Automotive scion.
Long trip.
California city. 
Princess of Argos.
Shofar source.
Mountain lion.
Prince of comics.
Mischievous creature.
Unsafe at any speed. 
Zodiac sign.
Fighter plane.
Actress Ruehl.
Conquistador’s quest.
Free roaming steed.
French explorer.
Spanish explorer.
Australian region.
Novelist C. S. ??? 
Metro-North station.
Famous rock.
Fast cat.
Naval ship.
Manhattan street. 
Los Angeles suburb.
Jamaican bay.
Miami boulevard.
Resort lake.

Extra Credit: 
Legendary Arthurian island.
Fifth brightest star at night.
Shakespeare play.
French Auto race.
Space shuttle.
Pregnancy casualty.
Half a tech duo.
Downton Abbey actor.

European principality.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Two Week Vacation Without Blogging Leaves Me Asking, Is He Still President?

Is he still president? I took two weeks off from blogging for a road trip down south with Gilda. No newspapers. Few views of Scott Pelley on CBS. Some NPR on Sirius during the hours-long stretches to Washington then Charleston, Hilton Head, Savannah, St. Augustine and back. No blogging for two weeks. 

Two weeks of Obamacare repeal and replace drama. Two weeks of Russian election interference intrigue. Two weeks of Trump Tower tapping tumult. Two weeks of Supreme Court vetting and posturing. Two weeks of immigration insecurities. Two weeks of Trump children antics. 

Two weeks of freedom from blogging. 

So I ask again, is he still president? Or more appropriately, why is he still president? And why do his common folk supporters still believe in him? After he promised a better health care program, how could they support the Trumpcare version which would have, according to The New York Times, eliminated coverage for pre-existing health conditions, removed the ability of people to remain on their parents’ health care plans up to age 26, allowed insurers to set different rates for men and women, permitted annual or lifetime limits on benefits, and lifted the requirement that insurers must spend at least 80% of premium revenue on medical care?

As Representative Jim McGovern, Democrat of Massachusetts observed. “The Republican bill would return us to the day when insurers sold woefully inadequate policies with few protections. This back-room deal will kill the requirement for insurance companies to offer essential health benefits such as emergency services, maternity care, mental health care, substance addiction treatment, pediatric services, prescription drugs and many other basic essential services.”

Even with that breach of promise that Trumpcare would be better than Obamacare, would cost less and offer more coverage, his diehards still support him. Of course he is still sleeping in government-provided accommodations. Or his now government-protected luxury pads. Maybe, however, he is tossing and turning more now that he has come face to face with the reality that enacting legislation is more difficult and more hard work than merely spouting one syllable derisions during campaign rallies or early morning tweets. 

But there are more “of courses” to keep in mind. The disruptor-in-chief can wield a pen to unleash executive orders of prejudice and economic or environmental destruction. I fear that with the initial defeat of Trumpcare vengeance will be an even greater motivating force behind any executive action. Anything President Obama favored through legislation or executive action Trump will be wont to undo as he has just undone to much of his predecessor’s environmental protection legacy. 

And I am not convinced we have seen the last of Trumpcare. Weeks or maybe months from now after stealth work to turn nays into ayes Republicans will try again to pass Trumpcare without support from Democrats. The Donald doesn’t like to lose. He doesn’t like to show vulnerability or the need for assistance. He can’t wait to gloat that in the end he fulfilled his pledge to repeal and replace Obamacare. 

Trump is a linear thinker. He doesn’t connect the dots of one action to the consequences of another. He is willing to shed health care coverage at the same time he is making the planet a more dangerous place by pushing coal production, a relaxation of vehicle fuel economy standards and clean water safeguards.

Rare is the real estate developer whose concern for the environment outweighs his greed for the biggest return on investment. Trump is not that rare breed. 

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Stella Disappointed in Impact But Still Provided a Snow Day and Memories

Stella, the blizzard of ’17, didn’t quite make it into the record books, and for that we are all grateful for we got a snow day (Gilda was able to work from home) with not as much pain and travail as forecast, though I did feel bad for those who traveled into Manhattan by train only to learn too late that Metro-North was cancelling afternoon outbound service from Grand Central Terminal. How they would get home bewildered me.

The snow dump evoked memories of two 20-inch storms back in 1978 that remain with me as lessons in commuting that nobody should experience. They were the reasons I developed a well-deserved reputation for taking snow days at the drop of a snowflake.

In January of that year, after a 20-inch snowstorm, I trudged to the train station from our apartment in downtown White Plains in plenty time for the 8:18 am transport. The train arrived on time. I sat down for the usual 35-minute commute. Four hours later, the train pooped out in the tunnel beneath Park Avenue. Snow had fallen through the grates, blocking all trains from entering Grand Central Terminal.

We couldn’t move forward or back up. Metro-North decided our only exit was vertical. All on board had to carefully climb down onto the tracks and ascend one of the emergency staircases, taking us up to Park Avenue and 72nd Street. From there I walked 15 blocks to my office at 425 Park Avenue. When I got there I discovered the office was closed. After a few minutes to thaw out, I was back on the street, slogging my way down to Grand Central, 13 blocks to the south, all the way hoping there would be a train back to White Plains.

I was lucky. Double lucky. A train was set to depart momentarily, and I had secured a seat. Four hours later it pulled into White Plains. I had spent more than nine hours commuting in the snow. I vowed to be more circumspect in future snowstorms.

I had my chance two weeks later when another 20-inch storm struck. This time I sought assurance our office would be open. I called our VP administration who, by coincidence, commuted on my same train each day. He daily drove down to White Plains from Ridgefield, Conn. If anyone would be a no-show, Mike surely would lead the pack. But his wife cheerfully reported Mike had set off for work. I reasoned I had better show up, as well.

Once again, I trudged down to the station. The 8:18 am train again arrived on time. I sat down. Once again, the trip south took four hours. This time, though, it made it all the way into Grand Central. I engaged a pay telephone (this was pre-cell phone days), called the office and discovered it was, once again, closed!

Once again, I was lucky. Double lucky. A train was set to depart momentarily, and I had secured a seat. Once again, four hours later it pulled into White Plains. Once again, I had spent more than a full work day commuting in the snow. This time, I came to the realization that snow was God’s way of telling me to slow down, that work could be done at home just as easily as in the office. I soon garnered my well-deserved reputation for taking a snow day for anything more than a dusting.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

A Journey Four Decades in the Making

March 14, 1977, 40 years ago today, only it was a Monday not a Tuesday, I emerged from the Conrail train, now called Metro-North, from New Haven at Grand Central Terminal, took the escalator up into the Pan Am, now called MetLife, Building, followed the throng as it marched through the eastern corridor of the New York General, now called the Helmsley, Building and walked briskly up Park Avenue past the Waldorf-Astoria, St. Bartholomew’s Church and the Seagram Building with the iconic Four Seasons and Brasserie restaurants flanking, respectively, its southern and northern sides, until I arrived at 425 Park Avenue occupying the full block between East 55th and East 56th streets. Across Park Avenue I had passed equally renowned structures, the historic and landmarked Racquet and Tennis Club and Lever House. I took the elevator to the sixth floor to begin a 32-year career at Lebhar-Friedman, publisher back then of Nation’s Restaurant News, my first year’s assignment, and still publisher of Chain Store Age, my professional home for the following 31 years.

After deducting weekends, vacations, and travel days for those 32 years, I figure I walked up and down Park Avenue more than 12,000 times, never once considering 425 Park Avenue as anything more than my home-away-from-home for eight or nine hours Mondays through Fridays. Never once did I wonder how 425 Park Avenue fit into the development pattern of one of the great boulevards of Manhattan. To me, 425 Park Avenue was just a destination, the finish line for the secret races I fast-walked every day with other pedestrians oblivious to their inclusion in my mind game. 

I would pick out businessmen—yes, I mostly raced against men, partly because there were more imaginary competitors to choose from and partly because if a woman was not wearing athletic shoes it was too much of a disadvantage to her to compete in heels. I’d pick out someone usually about half a block ahead of me. As long as I kept them in the dark about our race I felt the least I could do was provide them a head start to the finish line. 

My rivals and I were not trudging along. We weren’t shuffling off to work or slinking back home. We were intent on crossing against the light if it meant getting to work, or the train back home, faster. 

Those walks, usually accomplished at the fastest pace I could maintain, were the best parts of my work day. With no interruptions during those 10-12 minute jaunts in the morning, I would think about the upcoming day’s tasks. The trek back to Grand Central provided the contemplative freedom to think through new editorial or marketing projects.

My three decades-long walk up and down Park Avenue provided personal evidence of global warming. I would be so cold during the first decade I wound up buying a Neoprene face mask to keep warm. I never used to wear a hat, but I soon bought a Russian-style rabbit fur hat at the now defunct B. Altman’s in White Plains. By the time I retired I had retired the rabbit as well as the face mask, only sometimes donning a baseball hat and earmuffs to keep warm. 

Lebhar-Friedman no longer has office space at 425 Park Avenue. No one does. In 2015 the owners of the 30-story building began a massive renovation to transform it into a modern 47-story structure, a quite fitting future for a building once considered a trendsetter when it opened in 1957. 425 Park Avenue and the architects who designed it, Kahn & Jacobs, were prominent players in a fascinating history of skyscraper development in Manhattan. 

Who knew? Follow the accompanying link to find out more: 

Monday, March 13, 2017

When Illness Suddenly Turns Deadly

I am not a fatalist but every time I read obituaries or hear about the death of a famous person I quickly and instinctively do the math. Quick count: Eighty-year-old Mary Tyler Moore died. Stephen P. Cohen, who secretly advanced the course of peace in the Middle East, died at 71. Allman Brothers band drummer Butch Trucks dead at 69.

Last week I celebrated my 68th birthday. Do the math.

Gilda and many of my friends think I’m a hypochondriac. They may be right as I’m always complaining about aches and pains. But never about anything really important. No heart issues. No migraines. Nothing that has the potential to impinge or alter my daily life. My blood pressure, cholesterol and triglycerides are under control, albeit with daily pill popping, but nothing too excessive. A recent colonoscopy found me clean as a whistle. My prostate’s enlarged but not terribly inconvenient. I don’t smoke or drink to excess.

In other words, I have no reason to outwardly worry or compare myself to the departed souls on the obituary page.

I don’t angst over the inevitable. I do, however, project into the future: How old will I be at my grandchildren’s bar and bat mitzvahs? Their high school graduations? Their college graduations? Will I be at their weddings?

Please do not conflate this musing with despair or depression. It is what I believe is a natural, rational observation and analysis of life’s ultimate frailty.

I started this blog post several weeks ago. It was a distant, even impersonal, reaction to the passing of famous people. I left it in the queue of unfinished blogs.

Last week my friends and I were shocked by the sudden, untimely death of one of our cohort. In hushed tones in small groups we reflected on how we were startled into thinking of our collective mortality. Even our rabbi, one of our cohort who in the last 22 years has presided over way too many funerals of the old and even the young, suffered an unusual spasm of sorrow in his voice during his eulogy for our mutual friend.

Bill’s death was a reminder, as if we needed one, that the end of life can come quickly without warning. That the old aphorism to “live life fully at all times” is a truism to be neglected at one’s peril and misfortune. And regret.

Bill wasn’t the first of our friends to pass. Twenty-six years ago Michael, whose summer camp counselor I had been during our respective adolescences, departed after battling spine tumors for nearly a decade.

Three years ago Neil left his family and friends less than two years after a prostate cancer diagnosis.

It took but a handful of days for sepsis and subsequent heart failure to end Bill’s life last Monday. He died on my birthday.

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Trump and GOP Leave Me Full of Questions

Here’s a question. Or two, or more.  How is it that Donald Trump can claim no knowledge any of his associates met with the Russian ambassador? Did none of them talk with him about their meetings? Do they purposely keep him in the dark? Are they involved in some shadow government?

Why would anyone, or any country, believe anything Trump or his administration says after:

With no proof, Trump for years questioned the birthright and therefore the legitimacy of Barack Obama’s presidency?;

With no proof, Trump has claimed three to five million illegal votes were cast for Hillary Clinton, thus depriving him of the popular vote victory?;

Contrary to easily accessible official records, Trump claimed the largest Electoral College victory total since Ronald Reagan?;

With no proof, Trump has claimed thousands of Massachusetts voters were bused across the border into New Hampshire to tip the U.S. Senate election to the Democratic candidate and to vote for Clinton for president?;
Contrary to government statistics, Trump had repeatedly claimed the murder rate is the highest in decades?;

Citing no proof, Trump now alleges Obama had Trump Tower wiretapped before the election?;

Trump falsely claimed Muslim immigrants had made Sweden unsafe?;

Trump has expressed compassion for Dreamers brought to this country illegally as children by their parents but he has set his immigration police on a mission to round up and deport them ASAP?

With these contradictions, and many more, the question remains, why would anyone believe anything he says?

Conservative radio talk show host Charlie Sykes, appearing on Real Time with Bill Maher last Friday, wanted to know if any of the people who talked with the Russians asked them to stop hacking our election. Apparently not. Or they didn’t listen.

Of course not. For his part, Trump, you may recall, invited the Russians to hack Clinton’s email server. No matter. Trump doesn’t believe the Russians hacked the Democratic National Committee or Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta’s files.

He does believe, without citing any specific source, that Obama ordered the wiretapping of Trump Tower telephones prior to the election. Naturally, Obama’s people are denying it, as do intelligence and law enforcement officials including the FBI.

Trump’s latest outrageous claim leaves one wondering, when will Republicans grow a spine and stand up to the conspiracy-theorist-in-chief masquerading as a legitimate president?

One further wonders what it will take for Trump voters to reach their boiling point? They need not worry—election results won’t be overturned. If Trump abdicates or is removed, a Republican will continue to reside in the White House in the form of vice president Mike Pence who may be more, or at least as, radical a reactionary as Trump. But Pence is not certifiably loony. I hope.

Question: How do you control the volume of scientific information that underpins the reality of climate change and global warming?

Answer—by turning off the spigot. In Washington terms that is done by defunding scientific research. Trump’s proposed budget hacks away funding for the basic foundation data that verify global warming
collected by the Environmental Protection Agency and other government departments.

Which raises an even more important question: When did Republicans become the anti-science party?

Even the military believes in global warming and is planning strategies and equipment needs to counter its effects. Yet Republicans, long-time military boosters, reject the science, probably because Big Business wants the shackles of environmental protection laws removed or at least loosened.

Creationism theory has found a home within the Republican mind, no doubt placed there by evangelicals who cannot accept the theory of evolution.

And too many GOP leaders, including Trump, assign credibility to the anti-vaccination crowd that believes autism could result in children despite overwhelming scientific studies to the contrary and the positive effects of immunizations.

What’s next for Republican skepticism? Will they give credence to those who question whether the earth is round? Or if we really landed astronauts on the moon? Or if the remains of extra-terrestrials can be found in Area 51 in Nevada?

I can’t pinpoint an exact date their disbelief in science began but it surely came shortly after Republicans realized the potent combination of Big Business and the religious right.

Postal Note:  In the post office parking lot the other day a car next to mine had three campaign bumper stickers, one for Obama, another for Jill Stein 2016 and a third for Bernie Sanders.

I was too timid to ask the man getting into the car if he was happy now that Trump is in office. I wonder, just how repentant any of Jill and Bernie’s supporters are these days?

Southward Bound: Earlier this week General Motors announced it is moving production of its GMC Acadia SUV from Michigan to Tennessee. D’ya think the 1,100 laid off Michigan workers feel any better that their jobs didn’t go to Mexico? I wonder what Trump thinks about the move considering Michigan is more in play to his reelection bid than Tennessee?

Feeling Old? Not really, though I turned 68 on Monday. I will tell you what does make me feel old. Not the “love you grandpa” messages from Finley, Dagny and CJ. Rather, it is the “Uncle Murray” notes from my nephews and nieces. Uncle just seems like such an old salutation. Uncle Murray seems downright ancient.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Which President Will Show Up Over the Next Four Years?

WASHINGTON — There’s a new sheriff, er, president, in town. Maybe.

Observers of Tuesday night’s presidential address to a joint session of Congress were left wondering which one would henceforth occupy the most potent seat in the land, the new one or the old one? 

The new guy wants civil rights for all. The old guy had his Justice Department drop its pursuit of voting rights protections for minorities in Texas while his attorney general has indicated the administration would stop aggressively policing police departments accused of harassing minorities and violating their civil rights.

The new guy wants the nation to enjoy clean air and clean water. But the old guy just permitted coal companies to dump their waste into rivers. And he is bullish on reviving the coal industry which pollutes the air. He’s also looking to demonstrably cut back regulations issued by the Environmental Protection Agency.

The new guy wants health care for all. He wants “to invest in women’s health.” But the old guy wants to defund Planned Parenthood which often is the only affordable health care provider to low income women.

The new guy blasts the Obama administration for racking up huge deficits but then outlines a Santa Claus wish list of military and infrastructure investments coupled with lower taxes that will further deepen the national debt.

The new guy wants to work with Congress, wants Republicans and Democrats to work together with him. The old guy bragged that he alone could fix the nation’s problems, that he received a mandate from the American people even though he lost the popular vote by more than three million votes.

The new guy says he wants to “drain the swamp” of Washington insiders. The old guy stacked his administration with fat cats and Washington insiders.

The new guy decried anti-Semitic acts and a killing of a in Kansas last week (but without noting the victim was a legal immigrant from India or calling it an act of domestic terrorism). The old guy’s rhetoric saying some illegal immigrants take American jobs and many are violent criminals emboldened bigots and racists to step out of the shadows and take violent actions against non Christian and non white residents.

The new guy said he wants to rid the country of bad illegals, those that commit violent crimes. The old guy sicced his enforcement goons on all illegals, even those who merely had traffic violations and other nonviolent infractions.

The new guy blamed illegal immigrants for a wave of violent crimes. So did the old guy. Both guys are wrong based on statistics that illegal immigrants perpetrate fewer crimes than native-born Americans.

The new guy appeared presidential. The old guy was clownish, vulgar, disrespectful, inarticulate, a bully, mean-spirited, divisive, ill-informed.

The new guy kept his suit jacket buttoned. The old guy’s stomach protruded out from his unbuttoned jacket.

So which one will it be? Will we live in an alternative universe of alternative facts for the next four years or will we finally find normalcy in the Oval Office?