Monday, September 29, 2008

A Political Fairy Tale

One day, dear children, many years ago in America (in the 1960s and 1970s), due to culteral shifts in concepts of social freedom, rich white men saw that blacks and women (and some gays) were going to be elected to power positions. So rich white men backed off and let them get elected. Can't fight Mother Nature.

But rich white men made sure that they would still pull the strings on elected officials by letting women and black election 'reformers' create new campaign laws that SEEMED to reform election $$$$ contibutions, but, in reality, made $$$$ critical in getting anybody elected.

The result: women and blacks and other reformers who now wanted (and were) elected in greater and greater numbers; but still had to go to rich white men for $$$$ to run campaigns.

So now, in 2008, we have black Representative _____ and female Senator/Governeor ________ kissing rich white men's $$$ asses for money...and thereby now rich whte men still run the government, only now from behind the scenes as opposed to before, right up front. Or in those cigar filled rooms eveyone bitched about.

The more everything changes the more everything remains the same.

PS: By the you think they'll (the new diversity officials and we Americans) will live happily ever after?

Obama versus Palin

The diiference between Obama and Palin is that, while they both say nothing, Obama, having been educated at Harvard, says it better.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

A Prayer to Israel

Oh Israel, Look east, not west. Your future lies--like your geography--with the Middle East, not with Europe and America. Forget your Ashkenazim past, look to your Sephardi future. If anyone can understand your desires for a religious state (run by Jews), it is the Islamic run countries of the Middle East. They--like you--accept the centrality of God/Allah in their national affairs.

Assure Arabs and others that that a secure Israel can help them make their post-oil deserts bloom,; as you did yours. Your people are educated, energetic, compassionate. Tell them you will be willing to be placed place at Middle East disposal. Renew your common historical/geographic past; talk of a common future.

Be a neighbor; and a friend. Stop living your new diaspora, a life lived within defined boundaries; yet still looking over your shoulder at each and every turn, your atomic bomb, the jewel in your arsenal, your only survival tactic?

Ask Islam for that one small piece of desert land; to forgive and forget the 1948 UN mandates which thrust your existence onto them. Share with them your terrorist past agaist the British. They understand the need for terrorism. Preach and make real your Holocaust to them; they understand pain and suffering. They have endured under Christianity for centuries as well.

End once and for all your 3000 year journey.

The Allure of Sarah Palin

Her eyes do not reflect anger (at men, at feminist circumstance, at glass ceilings, etc.). Instead she exudes conviction, feisty-ness and strength. She seems tough but not furious, assertive without burdened with the baggage of perceived injustice; competitive without being cruelly and revengefully combative. She is not a member of the revolution but the product of the revolution.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

America, the Ivy League and $$$$

The pipeline of US political leaders from the Ivy League, (Yale and Harvard and Princeton and even Dartmouth...Henry Paulson, the present savior/Treasury Secretary, among others), has been huge and flowing in the last two decades: Bush I, Clinton (both) and many of his/her advisers (Rubin, Reich, etc.), Bush II, Obama were all Ivy Leaguers, Yale and Harvard in fact...

Is there any correlation between these Eastern Establishment education power centers grooming these new leaders and the fact that this country has been overwhelmed with finance during this time (finance doubling its proportion of GNP over a similar period)?

Has money been so central in the American lifestyle (King Credit ruling over all US debt slaves, and lobbyists/$$$$ ruling over the election campaigns and the legislative functioning) that the only way to eventually enter the upper echelon of power is to be introduced to it (it being $$$$) in college. Are these colleges guilty of forming students at 18+ basic into networks of power brokers early...with no career advancement possible later on without an early Ivy League roll-a-dex (or now email) list...a Facebook for Future Financiers?

Is the financial crisis we're in today a product of too much inbreeding, future decision makers all learning from the same textbooks and financial PC thinking, and later patting themselves on the back at future social clubs and forums for agreeing with each other so fervently? Is Wall Street really the Ivy League alumni club; 2-, 4- and 6-year changes in government merely a series of class (pun intended) reunions?

Is it a co-incidence that the Ivy League institutions have the greatest funded endowments, can thereby generate the biggest scholarships to skim of the cream of the US's youthful intellectual elite, and thereby introduce those bright young flexible minds, rich and poor alike, to the basic idea of rich?

Could it be that we have all been co-opted by $$$$ in the last couple of decades by being led and nurtured in this credit/financial/debt thinking by a cadre Eastern-trained Elite irrespective of political party?

Is that the real challenge--and appeal--(and Eastern/New York Times horror) posed by McCain and Palin? They are Westerners and not Eastern intellectuals/elite, at least by training and class criteria, but rather common, average, and non-Ivy League, in manners, attitudes and connections?

John McCain earned his money the old-fashioned way: by marrying into it; and Sarah Palin is still cooking meals for the family.

Is rough-hewn, common-sense-oriented, rebellious (non Establishment) America trying to raise its ugly head once again in national politics: Reagan, Truman, Lincoln, Jackson?

More importantly, will the Ivy League get its collective eye off of maintaining the flow of endowment $$$$ and go back to its preeminence in training our future thinkers and intellectuals and not just our future investment bankers?

Sunday, September 14, 2008

A Day at the Beach

Like a lover who wakes up one morning suddenly to find the closets and dresser drawers empty and a goodbye note on the pillow case, my lifelong friend and partner 'ambition' left me yesterday.

I was seated on a bench on a beautiful day at the beach in Santa Monica, reading a book, and watching bikers and walkers move by, when I felt it; literally. My body transformed. Ambition was gone. In its place was a deep, physical sense of loneliness, of apartness, of distance from myself. It was a magnificently calming experience.

For a moment, a feeling of betrayal swept over me. Was I no longer being true to myself?

You see, ambition has been my friend, my constant companion all my life. As a boy walking down the street, if anyone was on the same block as me, either side of the street, I was always energized to beat them to the next corner. I would do whatever it took to succeed, whether walking fast, jogging or running pell-mell to the next curb. I had to win. Ambition was a condition of my youth. In my grammar school graduation yearbook, I wanted to be President of the US. In my high school yearbook, I wanted to be head of the UN.

Yet on this balmy day in Santa Monica, the 'now' only had meaning: life or death, poverty or pain, or future was irrelevant; only the sun, the breeze, the enjoyment of a good book mattered. I cared little of the world, of family, of friends, of work.

A silence engulfed me. I smiled at nearby pigeons, winked at children, nodded at mothers; but they were not really a part of my world. They were shadows, passing me silently, like many huge solar systems in an infinite universe, beyond each other's meaningful pull of gravity. I could smile because they were with me but no longer of me.

Reality intrudes.

My bladder brought me back to the present. The present meant a past, and a past dictated a future: places to go and see; and things to do: bathroom, car, traffic and home.

Betrayal ended. Ambition returned. However, my old friend since youth returned in a new form: I care not now who walks on the other side of the street, or whether one of us travellers gets to the curb first. I just want to live and walk forever. Preferably at the beach.

Friday, September 12, 2008

An hour's vacation a day keeps the doctor away.

Monday, September 08, 2008

My Heart


A hole appeared in my heart two weeks ago. It started as a small pin prick in the lower left ventricle, on the side which my granddaughter Sofia used to stand and hold my hand when we walked together along the beach during her visit this summer; it started the day she left for the airport.

The hole is somewhat painful, but it has not resulted in a subsequent shortness of breath, or interior bleeding, or higher or lower blood pressure. The only obvious symptoms are a daily increase in long, deep sighing, and a small moistening behind both eyes; especially whenever I think of her saying: "I love you, Grandpa."


The visit by her and her beautiful Mommy-- my daughter, Mishi, started on July 15, 2008. It lasted a whole month.

My wife and I were waiting at Los Angeles airport in Terminal 6 to greet them. I had written the arrival information on a piece of paper. Virgin America; arrival time, 7:25PM. We found a seat off from the descending elevator and waited; of course given my faulty attention span, we missed them. After fifteen minutes of worry and confusion, I finally went to the arrival board; it said the plane had landed. I went to luggage to see if they were there. They were. I hastened toward Mishi and Sofia. Sofia looked at me, smiling in recognition but incomplete in feeling. "Where's Grammy?" I gestured behind me. Grammy appeared with a smile and youthful squeal equalling Sofia's.

I instantly saw that Sofia was no longer a toddler; she had grown into a little girl. After hugging Grammy tightly, she hugged me. I hugged her. I said to her: "You're three years old now, right?" "Four and a half," she snappily pronounced. She was offended. She looked to her mother. Mommy's smile seemed to assure her my mistake was forgivable. Thus began my playing clown to her Queen; and her acceptance of my loving grandfatherly foolishness.


Mishi wanted Sofia to learn to swim. Grammy had already scheduled lessons every Tuesday and Thursday at a Swarthmore Avenue private pool with a teacher (Grammy was 'on the case' with vacation planning a whole month before they arrived). Grammy had also planned weekly visits with Grammy and Grandpa at the Rustic Canyon pool. (The deepest portion of Rustic Canyon pool is 4 feet.)

At Rustic Canyon pool, Grammy would squat in the water (I said 'good for Grammy's thighs'), while Sofia would hold onto Grammy's neck and kick her legs and show us how teacher taught her to scoop the water with her hands. I would stand or sit nearby, resting my thighs, watching and glowing with Grandfatherly pleasure and pride.


"I don't like you young, Grandpa"

(The night before, Sofia had been looking at some pictures of me on the wall in my study, and her Mommy had told her earlier in the evening they were Grandpa when he was a young actor. Now we were looking at them together, scrutinizing them. She was frowning.)

"Are those pictures you?"
"I don't like you young."
"The were taken when I was acting. I was a young man. Everybody is young once."

She didn't respond.

"Aren't you young now? I was young then. And sometimes young Sofia makes sad faces, and angry faces, and happy faces, I made faces then. I was young. And I was an actor."

She considered that for a moment. She stared at me. Troubled.

"I don't like you young."

I looked at her. She was truly, deeply troubled. I looked deeply into her eyes.

"I promise you I will never be young again."

"Good. I want you the way you are."


There is a portion of Santa Monica Beach, south of the Santa Monica pier, that has become Sofia's favorite stretch of sand. The year before, at the same beach, shy of the water, she had run away from each wave, barely getting her feet wet. This year Grammy had to save her from drowning. Sofia was in the waves and half way to the mid-Pacific when Grammy stopped her.

We went to the beach many times. Sofia would build sand castles at the water's edge, and run after pigeons. One day she enticed me into chasing her and I actually ran. I mean, I lifted my legs, pounded the sand, actual running. I remember being amazed that I still knew how to run, after so many years. Both of us were amazed. Her eyes, and mine, were wide with shock when I caught up with her; and tumbled her to the sand. Actual, real, running!


"Baryshnikov is my Prince Charming," she said one day. She was not allowed to watch much TV while she was in California. Moreover, she was only allowed to bring a few of her favorite DVDs to California. "There is too much to do in California," her mother had said before leaving home. "Besides, you're getting too big to watch a lot of TV."

Mommy had decided to put Sofia on a TV diet. So only two DVDs, "Dumbo" and "The Nutcracker", were brought along on the trip.

One day, seated on the big bed--as a special treat (more probably to an exhausted set of Grandparents than to Sofia)--Grammy sat on one side and I on the other, and Sofia sat in the middle. We watched Baryshnikov's version of "The Nutcracker".

Sofia's back was straight. her eyes unwaveringly focused on the screen. During the tenderest pas de deux between the lovers, she announced again: "Baryshnikov is my Prince Charming."


"Do you speak Spanish?" she asked. "No," I said. "Only English." She paused a moment and said, a fact more than a boast, "I speak Spanish and English." That is true. She is linguistically a third of the way to her Daddy, who speaks six; and two thirds of the way to her Mommy, who speaks three. "I am still trying to master English," I explained to Sofia. "Poor Grandpa is still working on that."


One night Sofia and I could not find the moon. It was a game we had played the year before. We would go out to the patio, or to street in front of the house, search the nighttime sky for the moon and if we could not find it (generally because it was behind the hills or tall buildings), We would get in the car and she and I would "chase the moon"; I would drive to ever higher and higher locations until we found the moon. I promised her I would always find the moon for her.

One night during this visit the moon was no apparent we went to 'chase the moon'. The canyon I live in obliterated a view of the moon (or so I thought) and so we went to chase it once again. This time it was just the two of us. She was only dressed in her pajamas and slippers. But no matter how high we drove in the car, or the distance we travelled, we could not find the moon. (Stupidly, I had not consulted the weather map that day: the moon was not scheduled to appear in the skies of Los Angeles for another week!)

But I was relentless in my ignorance; after all my reputation as 'moon chaser' was at stake.

We drove all over West LA, finally arriving at the Santa Monica pier; I thought it would have the most unobstructed view of the nighttime sky. I paid $7 to park right on the pier. Still no moon. But...the pier did have bright lights, and the Ferris wheel, and the bumper cars, and the honky-tonk music.

We got out of the car and joined the crowds. It was 9:30 at night, warm and balmy, and families were everywhere. Into the midst of them trod I and Sofia, her eyes wide and shiny like new silver dollars, moving happily hand-in-hand with Grandpa, through crowds and music and festivities.

We deposited a few coins for a few mild rides on the little cars in front of the Pier casino, and we walked the pier to the edge and looked down at the lights as they played across the breaking waves off the side of the pier.

Finally good sense hit me. Her Mommy would kill me if I didn't get Sofia home soon. Sofia felt my hand leading her away from the fencing. She leaned over the bar one last time, stared at the lighted water, smiled up at me, and we trundled back to the car, still hand in hand. Not finding the moon had been forgotten.

Every time during all the subsequent days of vacation, when we past the pier on our various family outings, Sofia's eyes would widen and she would proclaim: "There's the Pier, Grandpa!"


Ten days later, late at night, arriving home from somewhere, I opened the car door, Sofia disembarked, and pointed to the sky. "The moon." And there it was: ten days late, but the moon had appeared in the Los Angeles nighttime sky once again, and I reclaimed my 'moon chaser' reputation.


We bought Sofia two DVDs during her visit: "Cinderella"; and also "The Wizard of Oz". (Mommy's TV diet had to be modified a bit.)

Watching them, her mind and heart were enraptured in fairytale magic, especially by "The Wizard of Oz". Each time she viewed it, her eyes grew in size like when we went to the pier. They seemed not to blink. They drew in the Tin Man, the Cowardly Lion, and the Scarecrow, into the deep well of her imagination...and most especially Dorothy and her red shoes. "Follow the Yellow Brick road; Follow the Yellow Brick road..." we sang all week.


After dinner, after dark, we often played Monster-in-the-room. She and I would go to the big bed, she would turn out all the lights, and I would lay on the bed, quiver and cry, frightened, as she would return to the bed and hold me and tell me not to be afraid.


"Grandpa, tonight I'll read to you." "Okay," I said. Sofia read to me. Six books, with pages turning and words memorized.

Grammy read to her on the next evening: outside, on the patio, both covered in a blanket, as the pages were illuminated by a solo flashlight. It became an even more focused wonderful mystery of reading.


The night before Sofia and her her Mommy were scheduled to leave, Grammy and Grandpa seemed unable to leave her room. Goodbyes lingered, and Grandpa had to lie and the bed and get one last long hug. Sofia rolled over on him, and rocked back and forth. "Oh, Grandpa...I love you so much. I'll miss you. You know [she emphasized 'KNOW'] if I didn't have to see my Daddy back in Washington, DC, and my friends Anya, Josie and Nathanial, and get ready for pre-K [pre-kindergarten], I'd stay with you forever." She rocked again and said: "Oh, Grandpa, you've got to let me go." I looked at my daughter standing at the end of the bed. She looked at me. "It's in the genes," she said, a reference to my lifetime as an actor.


At the airport, she ascended the escalator hand in hand with her beloved Mommy. As they were about to disappear in to anonymity of the security lines, she turned and waved one last time. The lady next to me said: "Is that your Granddaughter?"
"Yes," I said. "She's so beautiful." "Yes," I sighed.


How does one fill a hole that has gotten so large in so short a time?

With the same material that created the hole in the first place: Memories. God's greatest gift (and curse) to humankind.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Too many times recently I feel like a tourist in my own country.