Monday, December 23, 2019

A Different Look at Gun Control Laws

Now, don’t take this the wrong way, but is it politically unwise for Democrats to unequivocally support gun control laws? Hear me out—generally, the most vociferous Second Amendment advocates are hard right, militant militia members, crazies who fear they won’t have any guns around to protect themselves from left wing nuts who may take over our government. They claim they need long guns and assault rifles to combat the demise of the republic.

Far fetched, perhaps, but what if they are onto something, only in a bizarro, reverse world? What if it’s right wing conservatives—led by an orange-tinged elected president and his intolerant-Constitution-be-damned cronies—who want to strip the populace of rights after rights and liberties after liberties, leaving just leftists who want to save America? How could the left offer resistance if their right to bear powerful arms was denied them?

I’m not saying it’s going to happen, that we should all march down to our local guns and ammo store to stock up, but you have to admit, if you’re a progressive thinker, it could. Of course, we could negate the possibility by voting the orangutan out of office November 3.

So there you have it—either mark off the Democratic candidate (whomever he or she may be) on your electronic ballot, or pull down the Democratic lever on your manual voting machine, or register for firearms instruction at your local shooting range before it’s too late. America’s future is in your hands. 

(In case some of you didn’t realize it, what you have just read is a piece of satire.)

Classified Material: I opened the Sunday New York Times to find something rarely seen over the last decade or longer: pages of classified ads. Advertisements for jobs ranging from an advisory consultant at an accounting firm to vice president of a bank. Two and a half pages in tiny agate type. 

Now, the volume was nothing like it used to be, pre-Internet. It wasn’t a separate section. The ads were tucked into the back pages of the SportsSunday section. But just as Web-based retailers are opening brick and mortar stores, perhaps we are at the dawn of a rekindled age of newspaper classified ads.

I have a soft spot for “help wanted” ads in print. Between jobs back in early 1977 I answered a classified ad in The Times. We were living in New Haven. Gilda had said she would relocate anywhere but New York, but four months into my unemployment she consented to my responding to the ad. She further agreed to return to New York after a job offer was extended during my interview in Manhattan. Thus began my 32 year career with Lebhar-Friedman, publisher of Nation’s Restaurant News (my first year’s assignment as a field editor) and Chain Store Age for the remainder of my tenure. 

Section By Section: Not everyone reads the Sunday Times page by page, section by section. I surely don’t.

So this item is for those who offhandedly toss the SundayStyles section into the discard pile. Take a moment to read how the spirit of the holiday season in Washington has become another victim of the polarized political climate in the nation’s capital. It’s a humorous if not nostalgic remembrance of better, bygone days (

Gilda’s New Nickname: I have a new nickname for Gilda—Corduroy. Not the fabric. Rather, the winsome Teddy Bear now considered a classic children’s book character. 

In the second book of the series originated by Don Sussman, Corduroy notices his green corduroy overalls lack a pocket. His escapades at a laundromat endeavoring to find a pocket is a warm-hearted adventure tale that ends with Lise, his young owner, sewing some plaid material into a pocket on his right overall leg.

Around our house Gilda often wears sweat pants. Some have pockets. The ones that don’t, however, have continually frustrated her ability to keep her cell phone nearby. Until she recalled the story “A Pocket for Corduroy.”

For several hours Friday she rummaged through leftover fabric swatches, picking out a grey plaid pattern with enough material to adorn two sweat pants with pockets deep enough to hold an iPhone. Just like Corduroy’s, the pockets are angled on the right pants leg.

Monday, December 16, 2019

Personal Days Tied Into Historic Days

I number about a dozen and a half dates as important milestones in my life. Birthdays and anniversaries of family members account for most of them. Today, for example, December 16, is special as it marks the day Ellie was born in 1981. Next month, on January 28, Gilda and I will celebrate our 47th wedding anniversary.

December 16. Separated by 44 days from January 28.

Until I read the accompanying linked article I had not realized those dates were forever tied into one of the penultimate battles of World War II. On December 16 the German army launched a counteroffensive against Allied forces in Belgium and Luxembourg. It became known as the Battle of the Bulge. The battle, which resulted in a crucial victory for the Allies in the snow covered cold terrain, is said to have concluded on January 28 (

I’m sure most of you could find significant events on your milestone dates (for years I used to reference my March 6 birthday as the day the Alamo fell). So take a few moments to research how your lives have intertwined with history.

The Last Word: Exiting a Second Stage production of the “The Underlying Chris” last Thursday night I started a conversation with two women ahead of me. One asked me, “What was the last word of the play?” I did a double take. I was discombobulated for a moment, unable to answer.

It wasn’t that I didn’t know. It was because five days earlier at a Playwright Horizons production of “The Thin Place” I had uttered the last word of the play from my front row seat in the audience ( Could these ladies, strangers to me, have witnessed my off-Broadway acting debut? No, they were not there. I shortly regained my composure and to their amusement explained my momentary dumbfoundedness.

Front Row Events: My brush with stardom was the latest in front row happenings. At another Playwrights Horizons production at which I again was sitting in the first row, an actor with excellent elocution but unrestrained expectoration showered me with, er, spittle.

Some 50 years ago, during a Broadway performance of “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead,” Rosencrantz, or was it Guildenstern, tumbled off the stage and landed in my lap. I quickly eased him back onto the stage with nary a thank you from Rosencrantz, or Guildenstern.

I, on the other hand, apologized to Dick Kniss, the long-time bass player of Peter, Paul and Mary. During a concert in Saratoga Springs, also some 50 years ago, from my front row seat I made eye contact with him and caused him to miss a beat in one of the songs. As I had a college newspaper press pass at the time I managed to go backstage after the concert and expressed my regrets.

Sunday, December 15, 2019

A Voting Choice for Patriots: Live Under Authoritarian Rule or Constitutional Law

(Editor’s note: Some articles can be written days, weeks, months before an actual event occurs. This is one of them.)

And so, after years of investigation by an independent counsel, impeachment by a Democratic controlled House of Representatives and acquittal by a Republican controlled Senate, Donald Trump’s future, nay America’s future, will finally be decided November 3 by the people. John Q. and Jane Public finally will be given the opportunity to express their values over and above what they registered in the 2018 congressional elections.

Will they vote for the founding principles of the greatest land on earth, or will they choose to reward an egotistical autocracy because the economy jumpstarted by Barack Obama continued to surge under Trump? Equally important, will they vote at all, or will they take their freedoms for granted even as they are slowly but inexorably whittled away? 

There is no denying more people are working (though the type of jobs they have often are not the high wage ones that instill financial security); the stock market flirts with record after record highs (though the benefit accrued from such heady heights is limited to the already well-off); corporations have reported top flight earnings (though they did not reward their employees with higher pay and they did not widely invest in capital expansion).

It is also true that the national debt has soared, tax revenue has shrunk, air and water quality has deteriorated because of reduced or eliminated environmental safeguards, and consumer protections have been watered down.

The gap between the haves and have-nots has widened.

The gap between truth and falsehoods is now a chasm dug deeper every day by a huckster-president and his sycophantic followers.

Will the public at large acquiesce to Mitch McConnell’s transformation of the Senate from “the world’s greatest deliberative body” into a “chamber of death” where forward-thinking legislation passed in the House dies upon arrival, without even the courtesy of debate?

The Democratic standard bearer (regardless of who it will be) surely is not the favorite of many party faithful. But if we have learned anything from past elections, when Democrats splintered their votes to whimsical third party candidates or simply chose not to vote at all, it is that every ballot counts. Democrats must bury the hatchet in Trump, not in their own party’s back. Trump became president because he won three key states—Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania—by less than 80,000 votes. His claim of a mandate was hyperbole, but it still allowed him to appoint two conservative Supreme Court judges while packing lower federal courts with equally regressive jurists.

It is often said voting is everyone’s patriotic duty. A patriot puts the country’s interests above their own. A patriot looks beyond personal financial gain, focusing instead on the government’s capacity to lift the downtrodden from educational and fiscal poverty. A patriot invests in the industry and defense of the nation while recognizing the obligation of America to act fairly as part of the family of nations. A patriot cherishes the values enshrined in our Constitution and does not accept the notion that a president can be above the law, that a president becomes our sovereign. A patriot believes in a viable, legitimate checks and balances system of executive, legislative and judicial bodies of government.

We have already witnessed the abandonment of principles by party poobahs cowed by fear or enraptured by allegiance to a false messiah. Trump’s coterie in Washington and capitals across the land is based on their lust for power and the monetary bounty that can be reaped from political office.

To what end has he corrupted the values of America’s citizenry? Will they recall the civics lessons of their youth on the choices made by our Founding Fathers to reject authoritarian rule in favor of living under a nation of laws equally applied, even to our highest official?

A patriot votes. Here’s hoping patriots come out in droves November 3.

Friday, December 13, 2019

Impeachment, Even Acquittal Are Good Outcomes

I have a confession. Political junkie though I may be, I stopped watching the impeachment inquiry marathon after the initial testimonies during the hearings conducted by the House Intelligence Committee. No need to listen further to each side drone on. They were not deliberating. They were not changing any minds. They were posing for sound bites to flash back home and, in the case of Republicans, to beam into the White House where the TV-fanatic-in-chief monitored each presentation and tweeted accordingly.

Passage of impeachment charges by the House Judiciary Committee, and next week by the full House, along straight party lines was a foregone conclusion. As is, barring revelations from Mount Sinai, acquittal by the Republican controlled Senate.

No one should expect anything different. It is, as God found at the time of creation, “good.”

I reach that conclusion for the good of the country. House Democrats had to expose Trump’s violation of his oath of office and the Constitution. They needed to reassert the equality of the legislative branch in our tricameral system of government, even knowing that it would be a pyrrhic, incomplete victory given the outcome in the Senate.

Exposure of another kind is the “good” legacy awaiting Republicans.

Trump has challenged the limits of presidential power and propriety. His behavior and policies, while often repulsive and abhorrent, are not in themselves impeachable offenses. But soliciting foreign government involvement in our elections is. As is thwarting constitutionally empowered congressional oversight of the executive branch by refusing to respond to subpoenas and by ordering his aides not to appear before Congress or to provide requested documents.

I have heard Trump defenders say he has done nothing his predecessors did not do. Putting the veracity of that claim aside, it matters not that Congress previously gave a pass to impeachable behavior. Two, or more, wrongs do not make a right.

By condoning Trump’s actions Republicans have chosen power over principle, partisanship over patriotism. They are repudiating 230 years of constitutional government in favor of opening up our nation to abuses never before tolerated and, once Trump is found not guilty by the Senate, potentially more egregious and damaging to the republic.

It is a shame that courage and putting country over self have virtually no quarter among our political class. If there is any silver lining in this exercise of impeachment it will come from an invigorated electorate that chooses to reward honesty and bravery in government and in so doing will flush the offenders down the drain, thereby cleaning the swamp of its greatest miscreant.

Sunday, December 8, 2019

My Off Broadway Acting Debut A Telepathic Success

I made my Off Broadway acting debut Saturday night.

In a Playwrights Horizons production of “The Thin Place,” I uttered the last word of the one-act play. Without any rehearsal or advance preparation. I hit my cue. To the utter amazement of Gilda and the rest of the audience. 

It wasn’t the first time I strutted my thespian talents. When I was 13 I played Rusty Charlie in a summer camp production of “Guys and Dolls.” I knew my lines back then as well, though, to be honest, the director asked me to silently mouth the last word of the “Fugue for Tinhorns” opening song because I could not master the desired harmony.

There was no music involved Saturday night. I simply had to project one word from my seat at the extreme right of the first row of the audience.

Wait. First, a little background on “The Thin Place.” Written by Lucas Hnath who also authored “A Doll’s House, Part 2,” “Hillary and Clinton,” and the “The Christians,” “The Thin Place” deals with the possibility of an alternative universe and paranormal communication, sometimes between the living, sometimes between the living and the dead.

A young woman, Hilda, recounts how she and her grandmother would endeavor to communicate telepathically. Sitting in an armchair on a stage devoid of anything else but a narrow table lodged between a second identical armchair, Hilda said her grandmother had subsequently died. Looking directly at me she said I somehow reminded her of her grandmother. That I looked like her.  I stroked my beard in amazement, but she just continued reminiscing about her young life with her granny and her later adult life which had become entwined with Linda, a medium who acknowledged that conjuring up the dead was a trick she performed as a less expensive but more result-oriented therapy than professional medical help to relieve the anguish her customers had from some unresolved conflict with the departed.

At the end of “The Thin Place,” sitting in the chair from which she had never moved over the play’s 90 minute span, Hilda again faced me. She wanted to demonstrate telepathy, the way she did it with her grandmother. She took a pad and marker pen out of the table drawer, wrote down a word, held it to her chest and implored me to concentrate on this unknown word that she would be trying to transmit to me, her imaginary grandmother.

I thought “meatloaf” would be an appropriate homey memory but when she looked at me and asked what I had heard in my head, just behind my forehead, I replied, too softly at first for her, let alone for the audience, to hear. Louder, I said, “Umbrella.” Turning the pad toward the audience she revealed what she had written—Umbrella. The audience gasped. The stage went dark. The audience clapped.

Immediately my 15 minutes of Off Broadway stardom began. Audience members approached me to ask, Did I really receive a telepathic message? Had I been primed by the theater staff prior to the performance to say umbrella? Was I an actor planted in the audience?

No, on all counts. Just before I was ready to say “meatloaf,” I heard a faint but distinct metallic voice say, “Umbrella.” I quickly processed my role, though to be sure I at first whispered “umbrella,” hoping Hilda could read my lips. With her encouragement I repeated aloud the last word of the play.

Seated next to me, Gilda was the most confounded. She had not heard the electronic transmission. I checked around my seat. No receiver or speaker anywhere. My seat was no different than anyone else’s.

My 15 minutes of fame was nearly up, we were already standing outside the theater when I recalled retailers have sometimes used narrowcasting technology to direct messages to workers or shoppers in specific locations so as not to alert or bother customers or staff throughout a store. Messages such as a special sale for those currently in the housewares department. Or staff should clean up a spill in aisle eight. 

The theater must have targeted a narrowcast to my seat alone. I couldn’t prove it but it is the only rational explanation. I was, after all, not Hilda’s grandmother. And though “meatloaf” would have been a much better word, I had no license to alter the playwright’s dialogue. So with a smile as my umbrella, I uttered the last word of the play. 

Friday, December 6, 2019

Impeachment Charges, Biden Lets Loose and Historic Facts

Here’s an example of what one of my graduate school journalism professors called a “nothing new” headline:

“House Impeaches Trump.”

Here’s another example:

“Senate Acquits Trump.”

It doesn’t take a genius to know as sure as the first headline will be realized before Christmas, the second will follow in short order, possibly before the end of January.

Unless Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has an epiphany and switches his allegiance from the autocratic orangeman in the White House to the U.S. Constitution there is scant expectation Trump will face any penalty greater than history’s assessment of his guilt. 

However, in the debate over what charges the House of Representatives should level against the nasty-man-in-chief, there is an important bit of politics that must be played out. Should Trump be charged merely with abusing the power of his office for personal and political gain through an attempted bribery of the president of Ukraine to investigate Joe and Hunter Biden in return for arranging a White House meeting and unfreezing Congressionally approved military aid, or should the House lay out a laundry list of offenses including obstruction of justice? 

Those in favor of the former argue it would be a more focused indictment, easier for the public to wrap its mind around. That argument, however, presumes the possibility of a conviction. 

Ha! It will never happen (not “would never happen” which implies “maybe;” under McConnell it is a certainty the Senate will not convict).

The Democratically controlled House, therefore, should engage Republican hands by throwing the kitchen sink at Trump, forcing GOP senators to go on the record to condone each and every behavior that is injurious to American interests and constitutional norms. Make each senator run on his or her compliance with actions they would never tolerate if a Democratic president undertook them. 

A Biden Bite: A show of raw emotion was just what Joe Biden needed to spark his candidacy. But I would suggest the former vice president should not have called an Iowa farmer a “damn liar” during a campaign stop Thursday for regurgitating Trump and Fox News charges that he sold access to the Obama presidency and helped his son Hunter obtain a lucrative job with an energy company in Ukraine, a position for which he had no experience.

Instead of directly insulting the 83-year-old retired farmer, Biden should have countered thusly: “You’re repeating falsehoods, lies, that were created by Russia and Vladimir Putin and promulgated by his corrupt ‘useful idiot’ in the White House and his unscrupulous supporters in the House and Senate. You’re repeating a false narrative which is undermining our democracy.”

Biden took a more in-your-face response. It displayed fire in the belly that has been lacking and, if he is fortunate enough to secure the Democratic Party nomination, will be required if he is to successfully confront Trump.

Historic Facts: Just when you thought the public could not get any crazier, here are two stories that boggle the mind:

A majority of Republicans believe Trump is a greater president than Abraham Lincoln ( I’ll let you parse that one without further reflection on my part.

Here’s the Mideast Problem in Brief: In a speech in November, Riyad Al-Aileh, a Palestinian political science lecturer at Al-Azhar University, said Jews only came to the region “as invaders 70 years ago.” Another Palestinian “intellectual,” Abir Zayyad, an archaeologist and member of Fatah’s Jerusalem branch, asserted “We have no archaeological evidence of the presence of the children of Israel in Palestine in this historical period 3,000 years ago, neither in Jerusalem, nor in all of Palestine.” 

So there you have it—A rejection not only of Jewish heritage in the land of Israel but also, by inference, of the existence of Jesus, his visit to the temple in Jerusalem and his later return to the city, his trial and crucifixion. A rejection of Roman historical records. It makes one wonder how any peace can be achieved when one side is so delusional. 

Monday, December 2, 2019

139: Memories of the Draft Lottery 50 Years Ago

Fifty years ago today, December 2, I walked into Brooklyn College’s Boylan Hall cafeteria a depressed senior. The night before, my birth date, March 6, had been selected as the 139th number drawn in a televised national draft lottery. With my educational deferment set to expire in six months I sadly expected a letter inviting me to a physical examination to assess my fitness for assignment to Vietnam. We had 549,000 soldiers stationed there in 1969.

As I sat commiserating with friends at the Knight House table, Ronnie Sperber (now Tokatlilar) set up shop a few tables away. She was selling yellow buttons with large brown numbers, lottery numbers, on them. The daughter of one of my father’s landsleit from Ottynia, Poland, Ronnie cheerfully handed me a 139 button, no charge. I wore it through May of 1970 when the expected letter from my local Selective Service board arrived. I had 10 days to report to Fort Hamilton for my physical.

I immediately sprang into action. I had not wasted those six months. I had researched ways to beat the draft. Flunking the intelligence test was not an option, eventually confirmed by the sergeant who administered the exam. Merely correctly filling out one’s name assured a passing grade, he advised.

As the military could keep you for three days after your physical the idea of doing something to momentarily alter blood pressure or blood sugar level was not feasible. I also rejected enrolling in divinity school, a path chosen by some of my friends. Nor, for practical reason, could I seek further deferment by registering for medical school—I still had another half year of undergraduate classes before I would earn my degree as I had changed majors too many times. Uncle Sam didn’t care. My 2S college deferment status expired after four years, not when I received my sheepskin.

My only hope was found inside the pamphlet “1001 Ways to Beat the Draft.” Or so I thought all these years until I scrolled through a PDF copy last night and couldn’t find the relevant section ( What I do remember is discovering my escape plan while sifting through a similarly named book in the college bookstore located just yards away from the Knight House cafeteria table.

Inside that blessed book was a table defining height and corresponding weight acceptable for admission into the armed forces. Anyone 6-foot tall had to weigh at least 131 pounds.

I stood 72 inches tall when the Selective Service Board letter arrived. I tipped the scales at 134 pounds. I had spent 21 years trying to put meat on my bones. To no avail I had swilled milk shakes laced with raw eggs. I had been threatened with being sent to a special summer camp where they would fatten me up. I had, to put it bluntly, made my mother sick with anxiety over my skinny malink physique.

The letter transformed her. Oh, she continued to dote over how much I ate. But her mission now was to reduce, not increase, my consumption. She became a partner in my plan to beat the draft by adhering to the Stillman Water Diet to lose 10 pounds in 10 days.

Dr. Stillman’s diet permitted only proteins. No starches, fats or carbohydrates. No fruit. No vegetables. Only meats, poultry, fish, hard boiled eggs, all accompanied by 80 ounces of water a day.

On the day of my physical—May 6, 1970—I weighed 124 pounds. A seven pound cushion in case the military chose to keep me for three days to fatten me up. Today, I am still a six footer. I weigh 165 pounds. I think I am skinny. Just imagine how I must have looked 40 pounds lighter.

I received a one year 1Y physical deferment. The Army didn’t keep me for three days. To celebrate, I walked over to the mess hall for a truly delicious meal of breaded veal cutlet, corn niblets, mashed potatoes, rye bread, banana cream pie, Coca-Cola. 

Lottery number 139 never came up again in the military’s need for more fodder in Vietnam. I’m forever indebted to Dr. Stillman. He died in 1975. He was 79. Ronnie is still adorning people—she designs and sells her own jewelry.