THE NEW CIVIL WAR:

My emotional and rational selves have been at odds for 2 years. I am angry yet try to remain calm. I try as much as possible to avoid the bombardment of hatred and outrage. It’s impossible. I skim read articles instead of attacking them. I try to calm people down.

I have joined BETTER ANGELS (www.better-angels.org), a group devoted to bringing “red and Blues together to hear each other, have civil discourse, and hopefully spread that idea to those on their political sides. I think I have lost a similar number of friends on either end of the political spectrum because neither group can deal with rational thought. They respond 100% emotionally. I may lose more by saying that. This is what President Trump has done to us.

Until recently I felt that, “This too will pass”. However recent events have changed me. Twelve bombs mailed to various blue leaders, celebrities and journalists. A Synagogue shot up in Pittsburg. This is serious shit. It is too similar to what happened in Bloody Kansas in the 1850’s…just before the Civil War exploded. We must figure out how to stop this.

Tuesday was election day. I was optimistic about a blue wave, not a tsunami, as some overzealous fellow blues keep saying would happen. Yes, Democrats took the House. But they lost Senate seats as well.

The House may continue to be more representative of those areas while the Senate will continue to unequally represent rural states with entire populations less than 2 million (Wyoming, Alaska, Montana, Idaho, Utah, North and South Dakota, Vermont, Delaware, Nebraska, West Virginia, Hawaii, New Hampshire, and Maine). Those 28 senator’s votes far outweigh the 8senators from states with at least 10 times that population (Florida, NY, California and Texas).

Geographic divisions are getting more entrenched. In the 21stcentury the division is between mostly blue urban/ suburban areas and mostly red rural.

b96b2-popudensityvs_party2

Seventy percent of Americans live in areas of 500, 000 or more. Thirty-one cities have populations greater than the entire state of Wyoming (@573,000). The top ten most populous cites each have greater populations than 7 entire states. This is a big divide. Few issues unite them, especially today.

What will be the result of the now Democratically controlled House and now even more Republican controlled Senate?  A split Congress will perhaps be more active and effective. Or not, in this highly partisan world. They will have a shot at conversation and compromise, but I doubt it. Urban/Suburban vs rural will be the rule of thumb.

Now add the president to this split. Trump may up as bad as James Buchanan, primarily blamed for the Civil War. His continued stoking of the R/US divide what I prefer to now call Red/Blue has already set off a new civility war.

The celebrity apprentice president will keep doing what he is doing. He will enrage and enflame. He will sign executive orders whether or not they can actually do anything. He will mangle the English language, much to the chagrin of most blues and howls of “Yeah Baby” from many reds. He will continue to be Con-man in Chief. He will continue to divide us. That is the reason he is the least presidential president ever in our history. He will be the worst.

There is nothing wrong with a powerful president, even with their faults. We have many examples of strong presidents; Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, Wilson, both Roosevelts, even LBJ, who (even with faults) who made us a better nation. That is very different from this president who sees himself as a president of a family business, to be run as he likes, not the United States, to be run as the Constitution demands.

It is not enough to appeal to one’s base. It is not presidential to purposely use language that separates, that ignites, that leads to violent acts. You must lead “the whole people”.

Even John Adams, President during the extremely contentious late 1790s and during election of 1800, the most controversial of them all said, “The people cannot be too careful in the choice of their presidents.”

Harry Truman, who has risen in the presidential ranks to #6 this past February, has said about presidents, “You can’t divide the country up into sections…and you can’t encourage people’s prejudices. You have to appeal to people’s best instincts, not their worst ones.”

Truman also said, “The country has to awaken every now and then to the fact that the people are responsible for the government they get, and when they elect a man to the presidency who doesn’t take care of the job, they’ve got nobody to blame but themselves.” 

We can only blame ourselves. We were not careful enough in 2018. It will be harder now.

As a former history teacher, I tend to take the long view about our crazy time and look back at what was worse: The Civil War. The Great Depression. World Wars 1 and 2. My long view has said we will bounce back, just as we have done in the past. But even my faith has slipped.

I keep trying to hear Lincoln’s pre-Civil War plea,

We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained, it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory will swell when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.”

In 1861, that did not happen. It MUST now.

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It’s the Id and Ego, Stupid!

What the hell is going on?superego-ego-id

What has happened to civility? Compromise? Common sense, discussion? Listening? I have come to the conclusion that this craziness is not based on policy. Rather it is based on our emotional connections to policies and policy makers. We simply cannot admit we are wrong, we haven’t done our homework, the other side has some valid points, or that we have been conned by one of the most successful celebrity con men in our history.

If we stop to take a breath and look at ourselves in the mirror, what might we find? Our egos will not let us admit the errors of our ways. Ego prevents us from listening. It stokes our anger. It enrages rather than calms. It allows our Id to run amok.

What has happened to our individual and collective Super-ego. It is supposed to internalize cultural rules and organize our thoughts rationally. It works in contradiction to the Id. The Super-ego wants us to act in a socially appropriate manner. The Super-ego controls our sense of right and wrong and guilt. It helps us fit into society by getting us to act in socially acceptable ways. That is what we have lost.

According to David Brooks, “The chief struggle of the day is sociological and psychological, not ideological or economic. The substrate layer of American society — the network of relationships and connection and trust that everything else relies upon — is failing. And the results are as bloody as any war. And here’s the hard part of the war: It’s not between one group of good people and another group of bad people. The war runs down the middle of every heart. It is the battle between Id/Ego and Superego. Most of us are part of the problem we complain about.”

Most of us live in insular media and social bubbles that affirm our own moral superiority, thus congratulating our Id. Our Ego is pleased.

The good news is that most of us are part of the solution as well. Most of us can balance the battle between Id and Superego. All we have to do is convince our Ego.

Let your Super-ego determine how you vote November 6thand in 2020.

Let it make you join groups like http://www.better-angels.org

SOCIAL CLASS AND SCHOOLS

What does available evidence tell us about the relationship between social class and schools in The US of A?

IMG_0313

Sean Reardon of Stanford showed a widening class gap in both math and reading test scores. “The achievement gap between children from high and low income families is roughly 30-40 percent larger among students born in 2001 than among those born 25 years earlier.”

 

He also found that schools themselves ARE NOT THE CULPRITS! The opportunity gap is already large by the time they enter kindergarten and does not grow appreciably through school. James Heckman expands that by saying that the gaps in cognitive achievement are most predicted by the level of maternal educationas early at the age of six, and that schooling… as unequal as it is in the US… plays only a minor role in alleviating or crating test score gaps.

 

What’s the real culprit? Residential sorting! Americans are increasing living in separate neighborhoods, unintegrated by class, income, or race, especially over the past 30- 40 years. Regardless of their own family background, kids do better where the other kids come from affluent, educated homes. This is universal, not just in the US.

 

 

DONALD NETANYAHU

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The Donald doesn’t want to be a dictator. He doesn’t want us to become a dictatorship as we know them. He tells us how he adores Kim and Putin, but they are not his real hero. His real love is Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu. Supported by the Christian right even though he is far from a religious person, The Donald admires Bibi’s power and strength. He and his followers want the US to become a Christian version of Israel.

Take for example the “we are always under attack” and “we must do whatever we can to defend ourselves” philosophies. Don’t trust anyone who isn’t “our kind”? Build a wall? Israel had one first.

We all know Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East. We support it wholeheartedly, sometimes even when its policies don’t agree with ours. We always have. Now something new has been added: the idea that Israel is a model for a Trumpian version of a “Demotheocracy”.

The Donald admires that although Netanyahu has now been under investigation for more than a year, he seems to be more popular than ever even while running the government with a coalition of parties and not a real majority. He admires the Knesset’s (Israeli Congress) coalition of conservative religious folk who have turned Israel into a Theocratic Democracy devoted to only those who are “chosen”. He admires the power to take a very split populous politically to make the power of the government speak ONLY for approximately half of the population. Israeli political polls show this approximate 40/40/10 split on most issues.

Consider this current situation. In January, Israel blacklisted 20 organizations, including a Jewish group in the US, whose leaders it has barred from entering the country for supporting an economic, cultural and academic boycott of Israel.The list was drawn up under a nearly year-old law enacted to combat the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement.

“We have shifted from defense to offense,” said Gilad Erdan, the minister of strategic affairs, whose office drew up the list, according to an article in Ha’aretz, an Israeli newspaper. “The boycott organizations need to know that the State of Israel will act against them” and not allow them to “enter its territory to harm its citizens.” “These people are trying to exploit the law and our hospitality to act against Israel and to defame the country,” Interior Minister Aryeh Deri, who is responsible for enforcing the ban.

In March the Knesset passed another law barring entry to foreigners who have publicly supported the boycott Israel movement. The vote came as the Israeli government’s conservative majority been emboldened by President Trump and his love forPrime Minister Netanyahu.

Dov Hanin, who voted against the legislation, said that at a time when boycotts against settlements are being promoted around the world, the law “is really a law to boycott the world.” “A country that boycotts the world is basically isolating and boycotting itself,” he continued.

What can we say about a nation which aims to portray itself to the world as liberal and democratic, blacklists activists dedicated to nonviolent organizing and dissent? Isn’t that what we fear will happen under the Donald?

As RabbiRick Jacobs, the president of the Union for Reform Judaism, the largest Jewish movement in North America, said in a telephone interview from Jerusalem: “It’s going to be a giant sign up by the door of the Jewish state: ‘Don’t come unless you agree with everything we’re doing here.’ I don’t know what kind of democracy makes that statement.” Most US Jews are reform, as am I.

And now this: An American was barred from entering Israel after she was accepted for study for a master’s in human rights law at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. She landed on the night of Oct. 2 with a one-year student visa issued by the Israeli Consulate in Miami. Why? Because she was one of 19 University of Florida Students to launch a boycott an Israeli brand of hummus.

Does all of this sound familiar? Aren’t these the types of laws limiting freedom of speech we are afraid may be passed here?

Is this The Donald’s and the Conservative Religious Right’s real goal, to model the new US Democracy after Israel’s? We all know how much The Donald and the Bibi love each other.

MIDDAY WITH COFFEE SPOONS:

spoons1What is it that makes me just a little bit queasy?
There’s a breeze that makes my breathing not so easy
I’ve had my lungs checked out with X rays
I’ve smelled the hospital hallways


Maybe if I could do a play-by-playback
I could change the test results that I will get back
I’ve watched the summer evenings pass by
I’ve heard the rattle in my bronchi…


Someday I’ll have a disappearing hairline
Someday I’ll wear pajamas in the daytime…

Afternoons will be measured out
Measured out, measured with
Coffee spoons and T.S. Eliot

Paul loves that Crash Test Dummy’s song.

 

He had no idea that today’s talk would be to a geriatric chorus that would be right at home singing that song. He expected an older group at this “Food for Thought” meeting at a local Temple. After all he knew his book appealed most to old Jews who could identify; he had done two similar talks in the spring, but when the first octogenarian came into the room and asked him how much lunch would be, he had a feeling.

 

About 30 chairs had been set up with tables on the side for the post talk lunch that was to be served. Five minutes before the talk was supposed to begin, eight wheelchairs and walkers outnumbered the six members of the audience. By the time the young Rabbi introduced him the number of wheelchairs and walkers was only 40 % of the audience of 10. He gauged the average age as 85.

 

As he looked out at what could have been an assisted living activity room, he hoped he would not have to use his CPR skills, or that a 911 call would not stop him in his tracks. But he went onward. It didn’t take more than 30 seconds for the first question to be raised.

 

“Is your name really Paul Gordon? I know three other people by that name, including my grandson.” “Thank you, Mam,” Paul replied, “but it was changed to Gordon by my father, from Grodowski, which was my grandfather’s last name.”

 

About three sentences later the oldest appearing person in the room, who introduced himself as, “David, and I am a WW2 veteran”, shouted out “what college” when Paul mentioned the word.

Paul was happy no one feel asleep although he could see one woman was fighting it. Eyes were mostly bright and curious. Heads affirmatively nodded. There was less laughter at what lines he thought would get at least some, but in general they were politely attentive. As Paul predicted to himself, there would be no more questions.  At the talk’s end, there was, instead, a polite thank you from a woman who seemed to be their spokesperson… followed by nodding heads.

 

Only one woman came up to him and purchased two of his books. The Rabbi reappeared and led the group in a rendition of Happy birthday to one of the younger looking women. They then shuffled to the side of the room where the soft, precut, half sandwiches were located, sat down, and ate as if Paul was gone.  He grabbed half a sandwich and chatted at a separate table with the Rabbi.

 

Before he left, Paul went to the birthday girl’s table. He told her she looked no more than 55. She responded that she was actually 99. Paul couldn’t believe it. He thought she was maybe 75 tops. He looked for confirmation and he got it.

 

She was indeed 99. She told a story that a plastic surgeon wanted to have her come see him to put lines ON her face. They all laughed….

 

It was, after all, now …

 

An afternoon being measured out,
Measured out, measured with
Coffee spoons and T.S. Eliot

LOOKING FOR WASPS part 3

Paul looked at the I-pad. it was barely 7:30 AM. “Why can’t I sleep?” He tried to force his eyes shut but couldn’t, so he got up and got ready for morning ritual. Shit, shower, and shave. No shave this morning though. He dressed to drive home and had his diet breakfast again; non-fat yogurt with fresh blueberries, half a banana, and a protein shake.   He had enough time for one last beach walk.

It seemed a bit hotter and more humid going down the stairs. He crossed the street to see beautiful silky-smooth water, and at high tide, a yoga group Yogabeachon the beach facing the water. He smiled. Then, for some reason, “goat yoga” and altered the serene image in his head. Now he was seeing goats walking among and on some of them. “What if they leave goat bites, or goat hoof marks, or… goat droppings?” He shook his head and continued walking. He really needed more sleep.

He turned to walk the length of the boardwalk.  It is 8:45 and no one is at the beach Silver Sands Park really is beautiful at this hour.

Walking back, he saw that the huge Pink Flamingo float was still there. He pulled out his I-phone and holding it at knee height, took some low-level shots, so the sand’s wet reflection would glimmer.Flamingo

Some random guy from the closest beach house holding a coffee mug as Paul was figuring out how to shoot this bird stumbled over to him and mumbled. Paul turned to him, “Imagine if a drunk woke up on the beach at 4 am, opened his eyes and saw that hovering right over him? That’s something I would pay to see.”  The guy side eyed Paul, hesitated, then turned and walked away. “Maybe, chuckled Paul, “he thought I was talking about him.”.

Before he hit the road, Paul went back to Scratch Bakery. It had a far better “capp” there but when he drove up to it he saw the line was out the door. He drove the extra 3 blocks to the much quieter Café Atlantique where he was the day before. He heard the barista tell another customer the same thing he was told two days earlier at Scratch. “Why is does it take 20 minutes to prepare food here too?” Too hot for a “Capp”, he bought an iced cold brew.

He drove, incident free, back to the apartment.  He checked that he left nothing behind, loaded the car, and tried not to run into the dragon lady killer nurse landlady again.  He lowered his six-four frame to climb in, closed the door, and was just about to turn the key…

“Why do we still use that expression when cars now are button pressed to start?” he thought to himself when suddenly the dragon lady magically appeared. “How the fuck does she do that?” “How did she know I was here?”

He and she had the usual end of Air B&B stay chat. “Gimme a good review.”  are her final words. “Are we on Broadway?”  “Was she viewing me in the room?” “I wonder if she reviewed my morning routine.” Now that was creepy.

“What could happen next?”

Paul pulls out of the drive way and goes the half a block to swing around to get outta town and suddenly he sees a guy standing in the middle of the street pulling back a hunter’s bow and arrow and shooting it up a driveway.

“Holy Shit.” He put his foot down and drove a bit faster than he had planned.

He checked WAZE and was shocked to see it said it would only take 1:04 to get home using the usually traffic jammed I-95. “Good. Now I don’t have to get slowed down by the Merritt Parkway Fools on the Hills.” Until that is, he got stuck in non-traffic traffic. Once again WAZE told him there would now be delays. Paul wondered if the app could say what it really means…

“Stupid people drive slowest in the far left passing lane. It is faster passing everyone in the right lane. You have been transported to the UK.”

“Stupid people drive slower as soon as they see any orange construction related sign whether or not there is construction.” “Stupid people will resume speed at the ROAD WORK ENDED sign.”

 Then Paul thought he heard WAZE say, “God help you.”

LOOKING FOR WASPS part 2

Fuck,” Paul mumbled as he got up at 5:45 AM because he promised himself he would take some sunrise shots. “Oh well, might as well. I did promise myself to try different ISO settings.” He pulled on his shorts and tee shirt from the day before, grabbed the tripoded Nikon and set out across the street. The idea is to set up way before sunrise to catch the pre-sunrise aurora.

“The beach is so much nicer with no one here”, he thought. It was now 5:55. He set up the camera and took a few shots from different vantage points with different ISO settings as the clouds turned purple and pink, then orange and yellow. sunrise 3Some of these may be sales worthy, wondering how much better they would be than if he used his I-phone.

Waiting patiently for the scheduled 6:11 ball of light, he sent off some really good Instagrams of his tripoded Nikon looking at the soon to happen sunrise. tripodedOnly it didn’t happen. The sun was supposed to rise over the opposite shore of the low tided bay, but this lucky morning it was shrouded in fog and there was nothing to capture. “For this I got up so early?” He pulled his shit together and headed back across the street, around the back of the house, up the what now seemed like too long a staircase, and back into his room. He closed the blinds and went back to sleep.

It’s 8:30 at Café Atlantique, the place Paul couldn’t find the day before. Nice place. Good croissant. Decent cappuccino. Good table by the window to gaze at the railroad trestle, pink real estate agency, and whatever cars drive by. Diagonally across the street is a huge Caldwell Banker Real Estate billboard with pictures of each of its local agents and in the center, the manager. Having nothing better to do, Paul counts them. Forty-three. Of the forty -three, eight are male. Of the forty-three one is African American. The manager is an older white guy. Yep this is Connecticut.

Inside, the banter between the two millenials at the counter and one customer/friend with green and purple hair with way too many tattoos is too reminiscent of the bar from last night. Green hair tells them about a fat dog that couldn’t walk 50 feet without laying down and what fat means. Paul couldn’t help laughing to himself while seeing that she was, dressed in obligatory overstretched leggings that were way too small, what fat means. Do people really not see themselves?

Did Harvey Fierstein just come in? Nope. That’s an actual woman. Paul asks himself, “Let me just finish this croissant and cap and get outta here. The cap in the other place was better anyway.”

As he gets into his car Paul decides to find Connecticut in Milford, so he makes a right turn instead of left to go back to the apartment. Lo and behold, about three blocks away, the world turned green and colonial red brick, punctuated by a white portico capped with a similarly white steeple. Next to this truly New England scene was a river with, of all things, a waterfall running through it. Paul found a parking spot, pulled out his Nikon, marched across the street, traversed the green while hopefully dodging the goose shit

waterfall

and started shooting
… photographs, that is.

Invigorated, Paul drove back to the beachfront property, climbed the steps and entered… forgetting to take off his shoes. The he noticed the goose shit shot rug. “I gotta clean this shit up,” he said aloud to himself. He went to the bathroom, grabbed a wash cloth, dampened it and added some Dial hand soap, then blotted the carpet clean. That made him wonder, “If Dial cleans that mess up, what does that do to your skin?”

Paul figured he would save the little Greek Spot 2 doors down for his last meal in town, so he went for lunch at what he thought was the most WASP looking restaurant in town, Stonebridge. Stonebridge is in a beautiful old white house right in the middle of town overlooking a stone bridge crossing the Housatonic River its way to the Long Island Sound. This is the Milford of Paul’s imagination.

A male whale greets him as he downshifts into the parking lot. “How is this guy going to get in my car, let alone park it?” But wait. He isn’t’ a valet. He is a “spotter.” He just walks you to a parking spot. “Can’t WASPS find their own parking spots?” Paul spots a woman leaving a spot nearer to him and motions to Mr. manatee that he will simply take this one.

As he enters, to the right is a dining room with a bar and buffet with very white older men with Brooks Brothers jackets and even whiter women in Talbot dresses. BULLS EYE. WASPS!  The next all white room, decorated in floral arrangements, has a bridal shower for “Michelle”. The hostess asks if Paul prefers to sit inside or out. “Out, of course.” The restaurant is huge and has other rooms he could not see or, were not open. She then walks Paul through a casual pub like seating area with a bar. Apparently, the rooms are segregated by class.

Maybe because of how he is waspily dressed, Paul is given an outside table with a beautiful, unobstructed view of the river and the bridge, but he chose the chair that also affords views of the clientele.  Paul had hoped to take some I-phone portraits without people noticing. He finds he captures people as they truly are that way, but no one stood out to him among the smattering of floral patterned dresses with visors and the appropriate number of Nautica and Land’s End polos.

His sparkling water with lime fits this place. He orders his glass of Sancerre, and a “Cajun Cod” burger with sweet potato fries, knowing that he won’t taste any “Cajun” style heat on his food here in WASP land. The food was good, not great, but he hadn’t come for that.

Far more interesting was the family that was soon seated next to him. It was a black family, right out of the movie, “Get Out”. They were light skinned, waspily dressed, with a young daughter, maybe 5 years old dressed in similar style. “Is Jordan Peele nearby?”

Occasionally he looked up at them waiting for the right shot. Finally, he saw the photo. The little girl had ordered apple slices and calamari. Her Finding Nemo sippy cups were perfectly placed next to her hot pink framed cartoon filled I-pad.

And sitting in the chair across from her, seemingly also having lunch, facing Paul, was her teddy bear like puppy. A perfect image. puppy lunchNeither the child nor her parents were in the image, just her lunch and guest. He smiled to himself. As Paul walked back out, he noticed the parking lot was now virtually empty and wondered if Mr. Manatee still did his thing.

Paul went back to his room and played with some pics as he wrote accompanying notes. Maybe this will be a photo essay. As the late afternoon sun lowered, Paul decided to go back out but wanted to wait to take photos until just before sunset again. There would be a better sky. The fluffy and scattered clouds would morph into pink and purple flora and fauna as the sun set below the horizon.

When he went out at 4:30, he found the quiet beach at low tide with the sand bar to Charles Island fully exposed. When it is, you can actually walk the mile off shore on that narrow strip of sand to the island that usually seems to just float there. He just lounged and enjoyed the view.

An hour and a half later he rose. Gathering himself, he showered and changed. At 7:30, with his tripod mounted camera mounted to his shoulder, he walked the quarter mile to the spot he had already chosen to get his twilight shots with blurry images of people as they paraded down the boardwalk.

Silver Sands 1

Paul was hungry, so he pulled his gear together and walked back to put it away, then walked the two houses over to the Greek Spot for a nice al fresco dinner. It was the type of beach place you ordered food from the kitchen and brought it out to your own table. As he got there Paul saw the staff starting to bring in the tables and chairs. It was just 8:00 PM. “Huh?”

“If you want anything you have to order it now and take it to go only. We are closing.” Paul contemplated his options. “Now that sucks. I waited until my last supper to eat here and now I have to eat it up in my room?” “I don’t feel like driving to one of those barstaurants.” He felt another disappointment but, c’est la vie. It could have been interesting watching the people walk by on the beach strip and avoiding the older pony tailed ex hippy eating his baklava sunday. Yes, a baklava sunday. He ordered his stuffed cabbage and spanakopita, went back up to his room, had a lonely, viewless dinner, watched a little TV and went to bed. But before that he went out to shoot the beach at night. Moonscape

Check out is 11:00 AM tomorrow.

LOOKING FOR WASPS part 1

Paul was once again duped by the promise the Merritt Parkway always breaks. It is one of the most beautiful highways in the nation, tree lined, and curvy enough for his 6 speed 228i. That is until it breaks its promise. WAZE said the drive to Milford was to be one hour and 13 minutes. Then exactly four times during the drive, WAZE dinged. The female British voice said there would be a 5-minute delay because “traffic was building up ahead.”  What it should have said is, “Paul, you should have known that the “, fool on a hill” fuckers will brake as soon as they see a hill …,” or “Sorry Paul, your exit has a curve that scares the idiots.” Still, it’s better than the dreaded and seriously ugly, I-95

Milford’s old, but not architecturally curious houses don’t make him downshift. Finally, he hits a main drag while looking for a place he found online for a light lunch, but he can’t find it. Optimistically, he drives on figuring he can scope out this top 5 coastal Connecticut town. He eventually finds Broad street, a boulevard with a broad green median. “Not very creative.” There he finds a place called Scratch Bakery.  “Odd name. Bedbugs? Ticks?”

Curious and hungry, Paul parks and enters. “Ok.” Inside there isn’t much seating but a long open kitchen with 4 busy worker bees.” A few people are waiting for their orders yet there are a few open tables inside and out. He steps up to the register to order a simple and quick BLT. “Hello?” The closest worker bee is so busy working she doesn’t notice him as she finishes a coffee order and brings it to a table.

Paul turns around, and notices a woman behind him, also waiting. He shrugs. The busy bee comes back to the register and just as he opens his mouth to order she makes eye contact with the woman behind him who gives her order. “What? “Paul thinks, then politely says while waving his hands magicianlike in front of his 6’4” frame, “Hi, Am I invisible?”

The woman behind him says, “Oh I’m sorry I thought you ordered, and were waiting.” The nice Paul replies, “That’s alright.” Inside the real Paul is saying, “What the fuck? How about a simple ‘Are you waiting’ BEFORE you order with me standing in directly front of you?” The worker hardly mumbled an apology. She knew he hadn’t ordered. Paul breathes deeply and simply orders his BLT.

The busy barista bee now tells him, “Oh that will take about 20 minutes.” Rather than pull the New Yorker schtick, Paul says, “Just give me a croissant and a large cappuccino with an extra shot.” To himself he mumbles, “Count to 10 slowly… Breath.”

Croissant in hand, he grabs a table and picks up his much-needed triple shot cappuccino. Disposable cup in hand, “What, no real cups?” he sits to relax and enjoy his “lunch”. He feels a tap on the shoulder and turns to see this grizzled oldster pointing to his sneaker that somehow slithered next to his uttering, “My sneakers are nicer.”  Paul’s immediate retort to rid himself of this intrusion was, “Mine are bigger. I wear a size 13.”   That didn’t work. “Shit, is this old dude trying to pick me up and measuring cock sizes by comparing foot size?” Paul changes the subject. “It’s harder to pack at my size, because everything is twice the length of everyone else’s.” Paul caught himself too late.

Luckily, the footster started jabbering away about learning to pack in the Navy. “Oh, Paul thought, “This old coot just wants to chat with someone. I hope that’s not me in fifteen years.”  He cordially replied, “I know how to do that. Roll things, but the math and physics of it still says my clothes take up more room so I’ll get half as much as you in because you are half my size. Anyway, I have to run.”

The drive through town to the Air B&B to meet landlady, Susana, is even less impressive. Trip Advisor, Fake news flash. This cannot be one of top five cute CT towns.  East Broadway turns out to be a typical beach town beach road but without Mc Mansions. It’s surely not the Hamptons. It’s more Jersey shore.

It turns out my host, Susana, is a hard to understand thickly accented Chinese woman. Paul’s mind wanders. “Is she the presurgical killer nurse from Columbia Presbyterian.” As she walks him around back and up the stairs to the private entrance, he still wasn’t sure. The room looks just like the pictures on Air B&B. Simple. Clean.

In their correspondence Paul told her he was a photographer. Paul asks, “What are good spots in town for photos? I didn’t see any driving in.” Weakly, she says, “None.” “Any parks?” “You may have to drive around.” “Any interesting old buildings?” “Nope.” “It isn’t a very pretty town.”

Yeah, too late now.  She knew why Paul was coming. He had been at many Air B&Bs before with lots of brochures or a notebook full of options for food, drink, activities and highlights of the area. He figured she figured that people just came to her place for the beach.  Still.

She left. He unpacked, put on his red Tommy Bahama trunks with the blue swordfish, and took her beach chair and umbrella across the street to the little beach.  This is obviously the value of this place. Where are the WASPS? Paul felt like it was more Staten Island or Jersey than Connecticut. He expected more people wearing whales. Instead he saw more whales wearing bathing suits they should not be wearing.Beachday 1

Peaceful. Calm water.  An island floats not far off shore.  Sailboats cruise as power boats rip up the smooth surface of the water. A woman walks backwards across the darkened sand as the tide goes out.  She is still walking backwards.  “Hope she sees the jetty out of her rear-view eyes.  Damn.  She did.”

Paul tried to look suave as he put the umbrella in the sand.  Of course, it wouldn’t go deep enough to stay firm even with no breeze.  It was old. It didn’t have a screw in bottom like the new ones that drill a hole deep enough in the sand so they don’t get blown over.  The one Paul brought had it …but was still in the trunk.

Paul felt eyes on him. He was new to these parts.  He didn’t want to look like a beach newbie. He, had, after all spent a great deal of time on beaches, albeit without a dumbass umbrella. This “Tommy Bahama” would have worked except for the fact that the umbrella wouldn’t lock in place.  It kept slipping into the 60˚ angle position. Rather than look even more idiotic, he decided to just soak up the sun. Down came the umbrella.

That’s when the under suited whale (manatee?) looked up at him and asked, “Do you need sun block?”  Thoughts of manatee flippers spreading liberal amounts of creasy goo on his skin made him shudder, so he responded “Ha, ha. Thank you, I already put some on in my apartment.”

Hoping Ms. Manatee didn’t come talk to him, Paul settled in listening to his Apple Music. Deodato.  Desposito. Then he noticed the Keb -Mo/Taj Mahal song.  Laughing to himself, he realizes, that it is, “Please Don’t Leave Me Here.”An omen Next song?   “Keep On Waiting For The World To Change.”Pleeease’, he thought.  “How long do I have to wait?”

Note. Paul looked around and noticed that several houses were recently rebuilt or are being rebuilt on stilts.  Sandy? Across the little Bay up on a cliff, are the real Big Ass Houses.  “Bet the WASPS are there and the beaches are private.”

WASPs at 4 o’clock …. time and direction. Paul spotted an 80 something couple setting up their chairs and umbrella as the sun gets lower and less intense.  He’s wearing black shorts and a white tee with matching black suspenders stretched over his expanded gut. Paul chuckles to himself.  “Oh shit, there’s a dog squatting in the water.” The sign entering the beach said “NO ANIMALS!”

“I can’t find where I put that $200”, a woman shouts as she walks to her friend.  So nonplussed. Paul thinks, “I’d be shouting, Shit. What happened to my 200?” She doesn’t seem to care as she sits and lights up a smoke.  An ambulance slowly cruises by behind us.

“Medication” by Steven and Damian Marley.  Ganja music.  Paul wishes he had.  That floating 12-foot-long and 10-foot-high pink flamingo anchored at the edge of the water would be even more far out than it is. Uh, oh! The surgical killer nurse and 3 other older Chinese women are walking to the water with a cooler, pails, and shovels. “Are they digging for dinner or recovering a corpse?”

Paul packed his stuff and went back upstairs to shower, change, and go to dinner after sunset.  There is, a block or so away from the Air B&B, a beautiful boardwalk, through dunes, tall grasses, and long willowy reeds. Paul took his gear and took about a dozen pictures, hoping for the best when he gets to his computer after dinner.  “Time to go. Better not to be alone. He doesn’t know where killer landlady is hiding.

Paul chose to have dinner at a place called SBC. It looked good on “The Google”. The place was too full so he at sat at the bar to watch the Giants – Jets game. To his right sat an annoying high pitch voiced millennial who could not get over the nails of one of the bartenders. Paul’s barkeep took his order and calls him Bud. Paul hates “Bud” … and the beer of the same name.

Paul ordered a pulled pork quesadilla, with crispy sweet potato fries and 2 Sam Adams’s… one at a time.   The Giants are doing well. Paul is a big fan.  Then another shoulder tap. “Is that old guy here and checking sizes again?” Nope. A scrawny, bearded, tattooed, short of a full set of teeth 20 something wearing, of all things, an Eagles jersey asks Paul if he can move over, so he can squeeze in another chair for his companion.  Of course, he added insult to injury by calling Paul Sir. Paul slides over and gets back to his food, drink, and the Giants game.

It turns out Paul got lucky. When Paul asked for the check, his barkeep told him he got the last pulled pork quesadilla. Paul told him thanks and when he asked if Paul wanted dessert, Paul said “I am both done and full.” while thinking, “These other people will never say that.” Paul had already taken out his cell phone and snuck a “portrait” of a tattooed, food slurping manatee. barstaurant

Tattoos and beards to the left of him. Tattoos and beards to the right of him.  And that’s just the women.  “Is this really Connecticut?”“Wonder what would happen if I yelled Trump sucks?”

As Paul gazes around the “barstaurant” the crowds have disappeared and it’s only 8:45. But never fail. More tattooed beards just walked in. Paul would soon be taking up valuable bar space. He decides not to give up his stool until halftime.

THE WEDDING

The minute he walked in the joint,
He could see several men of “distinction”,
Some real big spenders,
Bad looking…not refined.
Wouldn’t you like to know what’s going on in his mind?

(with humble apologies to Shirley Bassey)

“What’s it been?” Howard asked…. “Too long”. Paul cordially replied. “How have you been?” Feigning humor, Paul told him, “Ok, except for the heart operations.” Marlene followed with the usual, “You look great.” “Bull shit”, thought Paul, I am balding and greying and have a bubble wrap I can’t get rid of.” …“Thanks, so do you.”

Paul looked around the room, and from his 6’4” vantage point, saw a sea of grey, balding guys like him with women trying not look their ages. They strut around the room like elderly peacocks working way too hard to show off their distinctions. Sprinkled in among the social security set were a few millenials…siblings and friends of the bride and groom.

He usually loved events weddings with good food – especially the apps – and good music. Dancing all night. But that wasn’t to be this night.

The ceremony on the Hudson, at sunset, should have been filled with gorgeous yellow and orange tones, but with a grey and foreboding sky, the evening’s tone was dark. Grey sky on grey water over grey buildings overlooking all that grey hair. The black ceiling made the dark and drab room even more tomb like. He watched the joyously smiling parents and siblings watch a not so handsome bride and groom finally get married off after too many years of waiting. They gave the syrupy, typed, hand written vows. The rabbi happily sauntered though his role with old jokes until we heard the sound of the groom smashing the glass. He honestly thought the groom might miss, or was that just his darkness thinking out loud?

The short, but happy, families walked back up the aisle. As they disappeared, a black and white flood of penguin like men and sequined female salamanders descended on the bar and even more so, the food stations like a scrum of huddled omnivores.  This was a Jewish wedding after all.

Scanning over the tops of the far shorter populous, Paul first tried to find the groom, his parents, (his friends), or his siblings, or anyone he knew, but to no avail. He couldn’t even find the food stations. Still looking, he turned as Jane exclaimed, “Oh look, finally, there is a waiter with h’ordeurves.” “Too late”, he replied.  “That waiter was attacked. The others were swallowed up by a pod of Orcas.” “You’re gonna need a bigger boat.” He cracked himself up.

Fishing for food with glasses of Sauvignon in their hands, Paul and Jane ran into the three couples they knew in this small New York wedding of 250 family members and close friends. Their hopes of maybe sitting with Stan and Lorie at table 22, where they were assigned, were soon dashed while eating some shrimp concoction on a napkin.

The hall’s penguin keepers then instructed the guests to find their eating troughs numbered 1-23. Half were fenced off from the musicians and dance floor on the western, Hudson side, and the other half were also fenced off, next to the bathrooms and exit to the parking lot. At least that would provide an exit for the lucky ones.

Everyone crept around trying to find the small, poorly placed table numbers hiding among the table flowers and place settings, each with 2 wine glasses – red and white- already poured champagne and water, 2 plates, and silverware that blindly merged each place setting with the next.

Finally, Paul shouted across the room to Jane that he had found their table. They, Dean, and Carol, were seated at the far end of the room from Stan and Lorie, who would not be seen again.  Only Bob and Alice were at their table. Paul barely knew them. He had some business contact with Bob and Jane knew them from growing up in her old neighborhood. Things were not improving.

Paul, now among the lucky ones nearest the bathroom and exit, was already scheming. But while planning his exit strategy something more insidious was unfolding. You know how table seats are not assigned at many of these events, yet somehow, they are?

By the time he looked up, his seat was given to him, facing the wrong direction. To watch the festivities, he would have to either stand, or swivel his head like the kid in the “Exorcist”.

To his left was Jane. To her left were Bob and Alice. It would be hard to converse with them through Jane, even if there was something in common with them to talk about. That was pretty much used up foraging for food during the cocktail fortnight. To Paul’s right was the only other couple at the table. To their right were three guys, and to their right, and to the left beyond Bob and Alice, were four women. So much for the man-woman-man arrangement. Who was with whom? Were those seven singles. It was that table…the table of… where do we put those people?

Over the din of everyone at every table trying to talk over everyone else, the strangers strained to introduce themselves to each other. Paul could have introduced himself as Elmer Fudd and would have gotten the perfunctory handshake and bouncing head nod. Maybe that’s what they said. He didn’t care.

One woman at the table, Mary, had heard about Paul’s first book and wanted to talk to him about it and how he could help develop a program at an education foundation she was soooo deeply involved with. Turns out her Sutton Place hubby was Chairman of the Board. They spoke briefly. Paul thought, “Will she call me? I doubt it.” Maybe she just is attracted to tall guys.

Paul then spoke briefly with Bob and Alice. Bob is a major magazine publisher who helped him get an essay published 4 years ago based on his first book but can’t help with the new one. Paul sensed a little embarrassment about that. Bob’s a nice guy. He was seated gobbled up by the conversation between Jane and Alice. Because of the seating, Paul felt excluded, so he had a brief conversation with the people to his right who were from California and from the bride’s side. Wow, were they misplaced. Somewhere between salad and dinner, they disappeared. Their exit strategy worked.

At each course, Paul observed the table scene. The three men and 4 women were each engaged in their own conversations. “What the f… are they talking about? Paul wished he could say out loud.  Then he turned to the dance floor scene for the next toast.

Speaking of toasts, that is a tradition that needs to be reexamined. You shouldn’t force 250 people to suffer through 6 speeches from people who can’t write, can’t speak, and don’t know when to stop talking.

So, it was to Paul’s surprise that the highlight of the evening was a toast, or roast as it turned out to be, by the groom’s tall, slim yet still very Jewish brother, who, now at 30, incredibly reminded him of fabulously funny John Mulaney doing a stand-up set.

One of the highlights of any wedding for Paul is the music. He loves great musicians. You can’t stop him from playing every part on every air instrument.  In fact, He claims to be a virtuoso at bass, drums, guitar, keyboards, percussions, and any and all instruments in the horn section…all while dancing his feet off. Usually.

But not this night. The 12-piece band included a horn section and 4 vocalists. “Wow”, thought Paul, “the harmonies are going to be great.” Unfortunately, whoever picked the play list knew more about golf or their real estate jobs than music. To add to the problem, unless you were directly in front of the band you couldn’t hear the lyrics. Too often he couldn’t even recognize the song.

Jane kept asking Paul to dance. He kept saying, “Not to this shit”.  After the opening traditions of The Jewish Hula, the Horah, they played songs from the famous Jewish musical groups… The Temptations and 4 Tops. He danced to those thinking, “This shows my age.” But then the music got way too white.

Totally frustrated, Paul slipped to the railings that surrounded the dance floor and watched a sea of mostly portly penguins and sequined salamanders squirm around the floor as if they were trapped in a fishing net. It was downright ugly. Seeing his despair, and glancing at her watch, Jane said, “It’s getting late. Let’s say our goodbyes.”

Then they retreated to the well-placed bathrooms and exit.

THE PITCH

conference-presentationIf it was sunny he would have gone to the Conference, just off Washington Square Park earlier, strolled around and had lunch at The Spotted Pig, especially after the Batali accusation. Why is it these NY abusers like Batali and Weinstein actually look like spotted pigs, or like Anthony Weiner, a porcine product?

The crappy May day meant he would just drive in do his 2 minute pitch for his overwhelmingly underselling book to the representatives of over 100 Jewish groups looking for speakers. At least the weather let up. Out of the garage and – boom – a downpour. Rain jacket on, hood up, the cold wind driven rain pelted his face and pants. “God, I hope I dry off before I have to meet anyone.” “Maybe I should have gotten here at 2 when registration started.” He didn’t want to be there longer than necessary. No one knows how shy Paul is when in new situations. He puts up a good front.

Finally, he reached the doors of the Hebrew Union College.  Water dripping off his jacket, he followed the 5 women ahead of him and, as he always does, observed what they did, so he could “do the right thing” when it was his turn to get in. They waved paper tickets and ID’s, so he figured they were members showing their tickets and membership ID’s. “I don’t need that” he thought, “I’m a presenter.”

The chunky security guard looked up at him, “ID?” “I don’t have one. I’m not a member, I’m a presenter,” Paul replied confidently. The guard asked again. Paul smiled and replied again, figuring the guard didn’t hear him. “I don’t have one. I’m not a member, I’m a presenter,” The guard asked again. “ID?”

“Fuck, what is he asking me for? “Duh… He means a photo ID, a driver’s license.” “What an idiot I am.” Aware of the line building behind him, Paul sheepishly said, “Oh, I misunderstood…. Ha, ha, ha …. Here you are.” He pulled out his ugly NYS driver’s license photo hoping no one behind him noticed his screw up. “So far, no good. First the rain then this embarrassment. Let me go register”, he mumbled to himself. At least he got on the correct line for presenters.

While he mulled over the crappy start to this long shot of a day, he was asked his name and handed a yellow name tag dangling from a too long nylon string. The generically faceless woman seated far below him mumbled something about a coat room, the restrooms, a sanctuary, and to hang around a half hour before the 3 PM indoctrination. The actual pitches would start at 4. He took his tag and headed to the coat room to hang up his dripping rain jacket. He went to the men’s room and dried himself the best he could with the cheap paper towels that crumbled when wet. He decided to come back and pee. At his age, timing urination was not only an art and science, it was a necessity. You didn’t want to be stuck in a room doing the one knee bounce and the seated butterfly dance.

No food, just some gallon sized jugs of water on a table next to the sanctuary. Nothing would be allowed in. Drink here. Deposit your garbage in the trash. “What is this, the Negev?”

He grabbed a cup, filled it with luke cool water and found a chair. As soon as he sat, he felt it. “What moron spilled water on the seat and didn’t wipe it off? I just dried off. I hope no on sees my wet ass.” It reminded him of his last wet ass.

Two years earlier Paul was in pre-op for a routine aortic valve replacement. Arriving at 5:00 AM to hurry up and wait, he was finally taken in by a pre-op nurse whose Chinese accent was impossible to understand as she questioned him to fill out the pre-op form.  She led him to a zip locked enclosure where he was instructed to sit on a gurney. That’s when his ass felt wet. “I don’t have the shits” he thought.” “What could that be?” He stood up and felt his now wet, gown covered behind.

Jane screamed, “It’s blood!” The Chinese nurse came over and said, “You bleeding. You bleeding.” He went to change to another gown.  On his return, he sat back on the gurney and felt wet again. The Chinese nurse Ratchet screamed again. Paul calmly raised his voice to intimidation level eight and lowered it to the deep bass he can be when it’s time to scare the shit out of people. The nurse was the recipient.

“Don’t touch me.”

Jane lunged at the gurney and pressed on the wet spot just as Paul was ushered into the operating room by his surgeon and anesthesiologist.  Blood oozed up and covered the sheet. At least that ended well. The hospital was so embarrassed he was upgraded to a private room and the “good” meals.

“This is not a good omen,” thought Paul. But off to the bathroom he went to dry off. “Thank goodness they don’t just have those stupid blow dryers. What would I do? Bend over and blow my ass goodbye?”

2:55. Not finding anyone who would make eye contact and chat, he went to pee and grabbed his last glass of water before entering the desert sanctuary. He was escorted to his alphabetically arranged seat on which he found a thick directory the size of a prayer book opened to his author page. He sat, put his pitch under his chair, and flipped through the book with the 253 other authors with whom he was competing. “Fuck.”

He glanced around the room. This session’s 45 authors were split, seated along the side walls. Between the two sides was the bimah… one of those extra wide ones in temples for the unscrolling of the Torah and the hiding of the fat. A mike on an elbow stand was on the right. Facing it were 200 or so seats.

Some authors knew each other. They had done this before or knew each other through NY Times or freelance gigs. Paul glanced through the directory and noticed quite a few award winning authors as well. “Could I just slip out now before anyone noticed.” He started some small talk with the authors next to him until they were interrupted by a voice at the mike who needed that extra wide podium.

Susan Swan, or some alliteration like that, went on and on for about 15 minutes before Andrea, the mistress of ceremonies, “Does one call her Mistress?” told them about the day’s procedures. Andrea would call the “next up” author to sit beside her as the author who was “up” was introduced to speak. “At least this sounds well organized.” They already knew they had NO MORE THAN 2 minutes to speak. They would be timed and apparently shamed if they went over. “Yes Mistress.”

First up would be two “surprise” pitchers who had to leave early… “Why?”

It dawned on him that this was looking more and more like a slave auction and as he leaned over to one of the authors he thought would appreciate a good joke, the woman leaned to him and said, “I think they’ll be checking our teeth as we go up.” Paul laughed and was grateful she said it first.

Mistress Andrea said they could test the mike to adjust its height and check the volume. Although Paul didn’t need to because he was familiar with mikes and his voice didn’t need one in a room that size, he’d have to adjust it up to his far greater height than anyone, so he went to look at the hardware. While waiting, a woman tried to adjust it, but it kept slipping. Another author tried to help but gravity rules if you don’t turn the knob at the elbow to lock it in place.  Paul nudged his way forward to demonstrate. At least he felt good about that.

“Stretch your legs. Be back at 3:45 when we open the doors for the audience. DO NOT BE LATE.” “Yes, Mistress.” Paul found a place to practice his 2 minutes pitch. “OK.” Then it was time for clockwork urination, get one more swig of swag swill, and return to the sanctuary of the sacrificial scribes.

Paul counted the authors before him. He would be thirteenth. “Ugh.”

Oddly, the orange name tagged audience would not make eye contact. Maybe they were under strict instructions not to. They had been given those directories to peruse days earlier. Perhaps they had already made up their minds? Lyle Lovett popped into his head.

“Because she’s already made up her mind.

She’s already made up her mind.”

First up? Dr. Ruth?

She grabbed the mike out of the stand and stood before the bimah. No one would have seen her if she was behind it. She spoke longer than 2 minutes, but who cuts off Dr. Ruth? … Sex would end.

She pitched a graphic children’s book “about the Holocaust, not sex” she dryly noted, in her still heavy eastern European accent after all her years in the US. Next up was a Simpson’s writer, whose book was about writing the Simpsons and its Jewish actors and writers. “I have to compete against them?”

Then came the normal authors. Some were boring, some overly dramatic, and a few were damn good. Paul, hoping not to seem rude, glanced down at his script when possible. Finally, he was called.  “Next up”. He noticed no one had yet adjusted the height of the mike and that there were a few seconds to do so. He figured he would use that time to lighten up the audience a bit.

He walked to the bimah barely hearing his introduction. Mistress Andrea returned to her seat to start the clock as he raised the mike almost a foot higher and said, “Sorry for this technical interruption but the last time I was up at a Bimah… I was Dr. Ruth’s height.”

He heard some laughter but supposed many were not paying attention and that a few snowflakes thought he was insulting Dr. Ruth, not joking about his own height. Two minutes later he returned to his seat. “Whew.”

During the two hour session there were pitches for cookbooks, children’s books, novels, self-help books, memoirs, and an art book. One cookbook was pitched by a famous chef he had actually met. He would have to go over and say hello after the session. There was even one absurd pitch about a book about seltzer. It was funny… too funny.

“At least there weren’t any like mine. That’s encouraging. Maybe there are some folks who would want me because I come cheap.”

Session done, Paul went to the reception followed by the audience members who decided to mingle. Paul took a selfie with Chef Shaya and reminded him about their visit in New Orleans. He spoke briefly to a couple of other authors and an organizer who Jane said to say hello to for her dermatologist. He found a woman from Albuquerque and hoped she knew an old friend from the Bronx. She did. He would have to contact Gail and tell her to pitch him to this woman.

Noshing on latkes, mini egg rolls, and pigs in a blanket as if at a cheap Bar Mitzvah, he hoped one or two audience members would approach him feigning at least some interest… Not one.

He tried placing himself around the room in almost unavoidable or hard not to notice spots… to no avail.

A few authors had some groupies, one of whom was his chef buddy. He glanced around the room for a last time… no eye contact.

Then, as was his custom, he quietly slipped out and went home.