Monday, August 27, 2012

The tin man was on to something

This piece was originally published in September, 2002.  If you or someone you know have a son or daughter heading off to college for the first time, you may find it helpful.

At the end of The Wizard of Oz, as Dorothy is telling her friends goodbye, the Tin Man says something most men would never willingly admit.

He says he knows for sure he has a heart because it’s breaking.

Of course, he wasn’t real. He was tin.

While it’s perfectly acceptable for women to wear their hearts on their sleeves, men rarely do. We’re strong. We’re tough. A man doesn’t acknowledge what’s in his heart, only whatever might be clogging the arteries that feed it.

So it came as a surprise to be reminded on August 30, 2001, the day I delivered our first-born to college, that I have something in common with the Tin Man.

All summer we had been encouraging Ben to get ready, to go to the mall for stuff like sheets, towels and reading lamps. As teenage boys do, he kept putting it off.

Finally, two days before he was to leave, we prevailed. He went shopping, and started packing. Seeing those open duffel bags on his bed, it hit me like a ton of bricks. He wasn’t going off to camp. He was going off to college.

Sure, he would be home for holidays and vacations, but never again would he be a permanent resident under our roof.

I suddenly felt old. And lonely, even though the house would hardly be empty.

My wife, I knew, was feeling the same way, but I couldn’t bring myself to talk with her about it.

Our younger son had soccer practice all that week, so it was decided that I would deliver Ben to college in Michigan. I went outside and sat in the car as he and his mother said their good-byes. I couldn’t watch.

It took us a day to get to our hotel outside Ann Arbor. That night, we went to a restaurant. When I opened my mouth to speak, nothing came out of it. There was a lump in my throat.

The next morning we arrived at the dorm. We made several trips up and down the stairs, carrying computer equipment, duffel bags, a canvas folding chair and his few other possessions.

Boys, I observed, are remarkably easy to move – they bring the bare necessities. Girls bring everything they own.

Once he was situated, we went to Kmart to buy a fan.

Then we had a long, mostly silent lunch – the lump was back.

We stopped at a supermarket to buy some Tide.

Finally, it was time to go.

We hugged.

Ben stepped out of the car and I pulled away quickly. I didn’t want him to see his old man cry.

At a stoplight on the edge of town, I pulled up next to an SUV with Minnesota plates and glanced over at its sole occupant, a middle-aged man. Tears were streaming down his face. We looked at each other and started laughing, two grown men, caught in the act, blubbering like babies.

Still, I was feeling pretty sorry for myself by the time I got home and it took a while to get over it.

I grieved for the Saturdays spent at the office when I should have been taking my son skiing.

I grieved for the school concerts missed because I was traveling.

I grieved for the Knicks games we hadn’t seen, the Scrabble games we never got around to playing, because I was too busy.

In retrospect, I wasn’t grieving for my son who, in phone calls home, reported he was making friends and becoming acclimated.

I was grieving for the father I had always meant to be.

The next week terrorists flew planes into the World Trade Center.

That snapped me out of my self-centered stupor big time.

I realized I was counting sorrows when I should have been counting my blessings. Not only was my son safe and well, he had done exactly what we had raised him to do -- fly away on the wings his mother and I had given him.

I hope all you fathers who are delivering your first-borns to college and who, like the Tin Man, find yourselves unexpectedly overwhelmed by the enormity of the moment, will remember that.

And let me share some reassuring news. Your son or daughter will be fine.

And so, eventually, will you.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

An interview with Congressman Todd Akin

I just returned from Missouri where, as an Important Journalist from the East,
I was invited to interview Congressman Todd Akin, the Republican nominee for U.S. Senate who, until last week, was leading his incumbent opponent, Claire McCaskill, in the polls.

That changed when Akin told an interviewer from a St. Louis television station that women who are raped rarely become pregnant because “… if it’s a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut the whole thing down.” Akin, at the time, was trying to explain why he believes abortion should be outlawed under all circumstances, including rape.

His comment provoked outrage from women and leaders of his own party withdrew support for his candidacy.  So far, he has refused to step aside.

Here’s the transcript from my interview.

TD: Congressman, if you don't believe a rape victim should be allowed to end her pregnancy, what do you propose she do with the child after it’s born?

Akin: What do you mean?

TD: If a woman who has been raped is forced to give birth to a child she doesn’t want, what provision would you make for that child?

Akin: That’s an interesting question.

TD: Would you adopt it?

Akin: I’d love to but I’m so busy serving my constituents I wouldn’t have time.
It wouldn’t be fair to the child.  

TD: Okay then, would you propose public funding for orphanages to care for children of rape?

Akin:  There may not be money to do that. Someone was saying the other day America has a budget deficit.

TD: You didn’t know that?

Akin: I am only aware of one issue in the upcoming election, and that is preventing abortion under any and all circumstances. Like the billboards along Interstate 70 say, when we get to heaven the first thing God is going to ask is, “What did you do for the unborn?”

TD: Do you think God might also ask what you did for the living?

Akin: That’s not my department. Look, I'd like to continue chatting but I have an important meeting. Have a good day.

TD: You, too.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The dangling conversation

Caller: Hello, I'm calling for Thomas Dryden.
TD: Speaking.
Caller: This is Ida from Americans United for Our Future. I'm calling to ask if you have made up your mind who you are voting for in the upcoming election.
TD: Yes I have.
Caller: Would you mind telling me who?
TD: Yes I would.
Caller: Um....OK then.

(Dial tone)

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

My evening with Helen Gurley Brown

One evening about 20 years ago I boarded a St. Louis-bound TWA 727 at LaGuardia. I was headed for a meeting in Las Vegas but, back then, I always flew TWA, which required a change of planes in St. Louis. My ad agency handled TWA’s account and I usually got upgraded to first class, so it was worth the extra hour or so the layover added to the trip.

My seat mate was an elegant older woman. I recognized her instantly. Helen Gurley Brown, editor of Cosmopolitan. I saw her on the Today Show all the time as I was getting ready for work.

She smiled. I smiled back. The plane taxied out, and took off. As I usually do when I fly, I was writing something on a legal pad.

Are you writing a speech?” she asked. “No,” I answered. “I’m in advertising. I’m writing an ad."

“How fascinating,” she said. “Do tell me what you’re writing about. I used to work for an ad agency.”

I was writing an ad for Hilton Hotels, and we discussed it for a while. She said she liked my headline.

“Do you travel a lot?” she asked. “Yes,” I replied.

"Do you work for an agency or are you on the client side?"

I said I worked for an agency.

This woman who was old enough to be my mother was, I realized, flirting with me.

“Is it your own agency or do you work for someone?”

“I run a small agency that's part of a bigger agency,” I answered, telling her the name of my agency’s parent company.

She said the CEO and his wife were dear friends and that they had dined together a few weeks before.
I stashed my legal pad in the seat pocket and we chatted for the rest of the flight. Helen Gurley Brown, believe me, knew how to talk to a man.

I wasn't sure if I should tell her I knew who she was, so I didn’t.

She said she was flying to Oklahoma to visit her sister, who was in a nursing home.

I mentioned that one of my clients was TWA. She said she always flew TWA. She had a contact in the Manhattan ticket office who always guaranteed she got upgraded to first class. “All I have to do is call him.”

She said that, as long as I knew something about airlines, she would value my opinion. She said she and her husband had won two free Singapore Airlines business class tickets that were raffled at some charity event. “I’ve never flown in business class before,” she said. “Do you think we'll be comfortable on a flight that long?”

I could hardly believe my ears. Not only was Helen Gurley Brown editor of Cosmo, her husband, I knew, because I know these things, was David Brown, producer of, among other Hollywood blockbusters, Jaws and The Sting. The Browns could have easily afforded to charter the Concorde.

“It will be fine,” I assured her. “I’ve heard Singapore is an excellent airline."

Helen said she was originally from Arkansas. That she had come to New York as a young woman and gotten a job as a secretary at an ad agency. I knew that, while she was there, she happened to write a rather famous book.

“You wrote Sex and the Single Girl while you worked at the agency, didn’t you?” I asked. “Yes,” she admitted. I think that, up to then, she had been enjoying the idea that a guy 30 years her junior, not knowing who she was, found her interesting.

“On behalf of men everywhere, thank you,” I said. She laughed at that.

I don’t remember what we had for dinner, but for dessert we were served ice cream sandwiches. Not fancy ones. TWA was bankrupt. Ordinary ones -- the kind you buy in a convenience store. “I adore ice cream sandwiches, don’t you?” she asked, eating hers with pleasure. I left mine on the tray, saying I was watching my cholesterol.

Helen said all the talk about cholesterol was ridiculous, that she ate a hard boiled egg every morning. “It’s the perfect food.”

She told me about growing up in a small town in Arkansas. I told her about growing up in a rural Missouri town. She asked if I was married and if I had kids. I said yes and yes.  She said she was worried about her sister, who was having trouble adjusting to the nursing home. That was why she was going out to see her for the weekend.

Two and a half hours after take-off, we landed during a thunderstorm. Both our connecting flights were delayed. I belonged to TWA’s private club, so I invited her to join me while we waited for our flights. She accepted. I had a cocktail. She had orange juice.

After a while, both our planes were announced and we hugged goodbye. “I hope you have a good meeting,” she said. “I hope you have a good visit with your sister,” I told her.

Helen Gurley Brown died Monday at age 90. Though she penned one of the most revolutionary books of the last 100 years, was editor of one of the world’s most successful magazines, and was married to a Hollywood mogul, there wasn’t an ounce of pretension about her. 

She was, that night, a genuine, smart lady from Arkansas, who knew how to charm a man like no woman I have ever met.  

Rest in peace sweet lady.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Out there waiting for his true companion

I write often about our dachshund, Bonnie, but rarely mention our other one,
Billy Ray. That’s because Billy is a one-person dog and that person ain’t me.
He belongs, heart and soul, to my wife.

Billy is obsessed with her to such a degree that, if he were a human, she would have long ago had to obtain a restraining order.

When she goes to the bathroom, Billy accompanies her and watches adoringly. She makes 50 trips up and down the stairs every day. His legs are so short he can’t handle stairs so he insists she carry him. That way he won’t miss anything fascinating, like her making the bed or emptying a wastepaper basket. When I conjure up an image of my wife, I no longer see just her. I see her with a black and cream long-haired dachshund tucked under her arm, and the look on his face is one of triumph -- "She's mine."

When she goes to the mailbox, he sits by the door and waits like Odysseus’ dog waited for him to return from Troy. When she comes back two minutes later, he weeps as if she had been gone 20 years. He will only eat if she’s in the room, encouraging every bite. When I try to talk to her, he begins barking and it’s impossible to continue the conversation until she picks him up, at which point he shuts up. It’s his way of telling me he controls access to her and that he’s allowing me to talk with her. This time.

When we travel back and forth between Connecticut and Florida, he sits in her lap while I'm driving. When she relieves me at the wheel, he immediately climbs into the back to let me know I’m inadequate. But then he tries sneaking back into her lap, which is dangerous, so, after an hour or so, I take over again.

She’s gone right now on an overnight trip and he is beyond distraught. Yesterday afternoon he sat by the door through which she left, shaking like a leaf. He hasn't eaten for 24 hours and I don’t think he slept, either. When I switched off the bedroom light last night, he was staring at the door, trying to will her to walk through it. When I woke up, he was still staring. This morning he keeps nodding off but then jerks awake and runs into the other room to see if she has returned. I feel sorry for him because, in his mind, she has probably been murdered and fed into a wood chipper.

She’ll be back this afternoon. Billy’s joy will know no bounds.

I love her. Our sons love her. Her mother and brother love her. But nobody will ever, ever love my wife as purely and intensely as Billy.

I have to admit I’m a bit jealous of a 10-pound wiener dog, but it is impossible not to love a little creature who can love someone like that. 

Thursday, August 9, 2012

If campaign ads were written like Burma Shave signs

I was thinking about Burma Shave advertising the other day.  Some of you know exactly what I’m talking about. For those who don’t, Burma Shave was a brand of brushless shaving cream that, until the mid-sixties, was advertised using a series of small roadside signs, in groups of four, five or six. You would read the first line on sign one … then, 100 feet or so down the road, the second line on sign two … then the third … etc.  The last sign always read, “Burma Shave.” Here's one of my favorites:

The wolf is shaved
So neat and trim
Red Riding Hood
Is Chasing
Burma Shave

The reason I was thinking about Burma Shave ads is that we are in for the dirtiest, nastiest, most depressing presidential campaign in generations. It's already started.

I sure wish Congress would pass a law limiting campaign ads to no more than 15 words, and require a rhyme to make us laugh, just like Burma Shave ads. Just think how much more civil and entertaining campaign season would be.

Here are some examples of what might be. (And for the record, I wrote five for each candidate so you don't have to count to try and figure out which one I'm for. Can’t stand either of them.)
If the wealthy 
You disdain
Remember Romney

Own a business?
It's well known
You didn't
Build it
On your own

The economy's
No longer slidin'.
Barack and

What's he doing
For the workforce,
When he's out there
On the
Golf course?

Feeling poorly?                        
Don’t despair.    
You’re covered                     

Governor Romney
has a plan
To bring
Jobs back
From Vietnam

If you’re in   
The 1%   
You can thank  

Who would have guessed
Obama could
Make Jimmy Carter
Look so

Wanna know where       
Romney’s going?          
Depends which way            
The wind            
Is blowing  

As president
Barack's unfit.
So make sure
That you vote
For Mitt

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Missourians celebrate new-found religious freedom

Here’s a shout out to the voters of my native state, Missouri, who by a margin of five to one yesterday approved an amendment to the state constitution that guarantees every Missourian freedom of religious expression.

Here’s hoping that, someday soon, residents of the Show-Me state will be able to enjoy not just one but all the basic rights those of us in the other 49 states have enjoyed for years, including the right to trial by jury, freedom from cruel and unusual punishment, and the right to bear arms. Why, I can even foresee a Missouri that someday -- probably not in my lifetime but in my children's -- will allow women to vote!

In the meantime, I look forward to exercising my freedom of religious expression next time I visit -- something I was never allowed to do in that state, which is why I left.

Monday, August 6, 2012

The ultimate Boomer memory test

Facebook was founded to enable Harvard students to keep in touch. Within a few years, it had evolved into a tool that allowed young people worldwide to stay in touch. Today, its purpose is to allow Boomers, when not busy posting photos of their grandchildren, to post pictures of obsolete gizmos like foot dimmer switches, Tupperware popsicle trays, rotary phones and drive-in movie speakers and ask their fellow old farts if they remember them.

No wonder Facebook stock is in the toilet.

I don't know about you but I'm tired of being reminded every time I log on to Facebook that I’m older than Methuselah. So here, for all you fans of the “do you remember this?” genre is what I hope will become the ultimate (e.g. last) test of its type. To make it easy – I know you’re old and your memory may need a jog -- I’ve given you a choice of answers under each photo.

1. Betcha you remember this, don't you? Of course you do! 

( ) Highlights for Children character, Gallant
( ) Page from a reading primer
( ) Comic book
( ) VD awareness poster

2, What are these school children doing?

( ) Listening to a Yoko Ono album
( ) Practicing for Armageddon
( ) Hiding from sniper
( ) Being taught evolution in a Christian school

3. You get heap-um of hoorays if you know what this is.

( ) Cover of Big Chief writing tablet
( ) Lid of box of popular children’s game, "Injun Joe"
( ) Plastic “punch out” 33 rpm record, 10 Little Indians, that was free inside specially-marked boxes of Sugar Pops 
( ) A test pattern TV stations broadcast when they were off the air

4. Who was the sponsor of the TV show that starred these fellas?

( ) Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints
( ) Lutheran Church
( ) Purina
( ) Church of Scientology

5. All we are saying ... is what the heck is this?

( ) Logo of the car Janis beseeched the Lord to buy her
( ) Peace sign
( ) '67 GTO steering wheel
( ) Logo of the company whose theme song was, "You can trust your car to the man who wears the star..." 

6. Any woman selected "Queen for a Day" had to have what in order to win?

( ) A large rack
( ) Superior domestic skills
( ) Perfect posture
( ) A miserable life

7. We read all about this guy in the Weekly Reader. What was he saying? 

( ) If the shoe fits, you must acquit
( ) These f#@&*g flies are driving me nuts
( ) We will bury you
( ) I was sad because I had no shoes, until I met a man who had no feet

8. Yummy yummy yummy!  This is a flavor of what?

( ) Boone's Farm
( ) Welch's Jam
( ) Lik-M-Aid
( ) Borden's Milk

9. What did millions of Boomers ingest using one of these? 

( ) LSD
( ) Polio vaccine
( ) Both of the above
( ) My grandkid is sitting on my lap and can read so let's move on, OK?

10. Memories are made of this. What is it?
( ) '63 Plymouth 318 V8 air cleaner
( ) Roulette wheel
( ) Kodak slide tray
( ) IBM Selectric type ball

11. Oh, the memories. Now, if I could only remember what it is!  Do you?

( ) Electronic insemination device
( ) Writing instrument
( ) Christmas tree light
( ) Elroy Jetson’s pacifier

12. Last but not least, what in the heck is this funny looking thing?

( ) Toy with which you can do many tricks, including “walk the dog”
( ) What your children insist you wear around your neck to summon help if you fall
( ) Vanilla Oreo with a string on it which makes no sense but then, not much makes sense when you're my age 
( ) Something you wear around finger so you won’t forget to log on to Facebook to see what obsolete thing your friends want to know if you remember