Monday, February 22, 2016

A Broadway story


My wife and I had lunch yesterday with an old friend of her family's, Horace.

Horace lives in the small Missouri town where he was born 96 years ago but winters at his condo here in Southwest Florida where, most days, he plays 18 holes. He is in amazing shape, both physically and mentally.

Following a fender bender for which he was found responsible, Horace has become hesitant to drive long distances, so he hires someone to drive his mini-van from Missouri to Florida and back every winter. Over lunch he mentioned he has hired a driver to drive him across the state this week to visit an old friend, Lucy, who lives in Palm Beach. 

Lucy, Horace explained, grew up in a nearby town that was even smaller than Horace's hometown, which had a state teacher's college. When, in the late 1930s near the end of the Depression, it came time for Lucy to go to college, her parents asked Horace's parents if Lucy could board with them. Horace and Lucy, who are a year apart in age, lived under the same roof for three years until shortly after Pearl Harbor when Horace enlisted.

Horace said Lucy was bitten by the acting bug early on. Right after college, she took off for New York to find fame. But the only job she could find was as an usher in a Broadway theater. One of her duties, after the patrons exited, was to turn up the seats so the janitors could clean underneath them easily.

One evening Lucy found a diamond necklace that clearly belonged to a woman of means. She turned it in to the front office. The next day, the manager informed Lucy the woman had called the theater, desperate to know if her necklace had been found. When she learned Lucy had turned it in, the woman said she wanted to meet her and give her a reward.

“Oh no,” Lucy told the woman when she offered her a generous cash reward. “I was only doing what I was raised to do. All I could think about was how awful you must have felt losing something that valuable.”

The woman told Lucy that, if she wouldn’t take her money, she would find another way to repay her. She was as good as her word. Turns out she had connections on Broadway, and arranged for Lucy to audition for some bit parts … which led to bigger parts … which eventually led to supporting roles in a couple of B movies in Hollywood. It was in Hollywood that Lucy met a Broadway producer from an old New York family who had sold the rights to one of his plays. They married, adopted a daughter, and Lucy retired from acting.

Horace and his wife stayed with Lucy and her husband whenever they visited New York. He said the couple lived in grand style. Lucy's husband went on to produce some of the most successful plays ever to appear on Broadway and in London's West End. Horace and Lucy have stayed in touch over the years by phone and mail.

Lucy and her husband retired to Palm Beach twenty years ago and, a few years ago, her husband died. Horace called her the other day and she invited him to come over to see her. Lucy told him she is losing her sight. Though she lives in a condo overlooking the ocean, she can no longer see it.  She told Horace that the daughter she and her husband adopted, now in her late sixties, has turned out to the greatest blessing imaginable and takes good care of her. And she told Horace that, before her sight goes altogether, she wants to see her dear friend's face one more time. Horace says he can’t wait to see her either.

The world is complicated. Actions have consequences, but things don't necessarily work out the way one expects. Good things happen to bad people. Bad things happen to good people.

It was lovely to hear the story of a stage-struck girl who had no idea, that night nearly 75 years ago when she turned a rich woman's necklace in to the front office, that, sometimes, things can work out even better than you planned.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

None of the above


I’ve voted in every presidential election since 1972. In each, there was at least one candidate I felt could do a, if not stellar, decent job.

Not this time around.

Never in my lifetime has there been such a sad and appalling aggregation of out-and-out losers and, in some cases, certifiable lunatics vying to lead this country. I’ve watched almost all the debates, both Democrat and Republican, hoping to find one I could support. None of the candidates from either party are palatable choices. And most people I know agree with me. Recapping our choices:

Donald Trump: He’s inarticulate, brash, thin-skinned, offensive to women, African-Americans and Hispanics, and has no vision other than making “deals” to rid our country of all he says is wrong with it, the details of which are vague if they have been thought through at all. America would be at war with half the world within five minutes of him taking the oath. His base of support is working class citizens fed up with standard politicians who have brought their country to the brink of mediocrity. So was Hitler’s.

Marco Rubio: This guy can’t even manage his own family’s budget much less America’s. Think Michael Dukakis Lite.

Hillary Clinton: Want a progressive? She’s a progressive. Want a moderate? She’s a moderate. And, by the way, did you know she is a woman and that if you’re a woman and don’t vote for her there’s a warm spot in hell with your name on it? Not to mention she’s untrustworthy, corrupt, a liar and thief who, while her husband was busy issuing pardons to his political cronies on his last day of office, stole furniture and china from the White House. Even Bill and Chelsea don’t look that enthusiastic robotically clapping on stage behind her. Few genuinely like her. Many, many more despise her. As president, she would make Tricky Dick look like the Great Unifier.

Jeb Bush: While he and Hillary are polar opposites politically, they are equally arrogant in believing that, because of their last name, they are entitled to be coronated as president. The fact he actually thought anyone would support his candidacy after two failed Bush presidencies speaks volumes about Jeb’s grasp on reality.

Ted Cruz: A presidential candidate has to come across as likable to the majority of voters and he presents himself as not only cold and aloof but despicable and smug. Trump nailed it in last night’s debate – he’s a “nasty man,” perhaps the most unlikeable person ever to get this far in the primaries. Like Hillary, he is intelligent but Cruz is way, way too far to the right for a country yearning for moderation and reason. Nobody in his own party can stand him, and the few right-wingers who have endorsed him are tinfoil hat-wearers like Glenn Beck.

Bernie Sanders: Just what we don’t need – an angry, old, draft-dodging, tax-crazy, class warfare-mongering Marxist obsessed with picayune issues like paid birth leave which, considering the domestic and foreign issues facing our nation, in the scheme of things, should be near the bottom of the list of our priorities. His appeal is to an underclass that feels, not without some justification, that their birthright has been stolen by elected officials from both parties who, for years, have allowed Wall Street to control the country. He would have been an acceptable presidential candidate in the eighties. For the USSR. 

Ben Carson: Sounds stoned whenever he opens his mouth. Carson was a neurosurgeon for Chrissakes. He has no qualifications whatsoever.

John Kasich: A political hack straight from central casting. Unlike his fellow GOP contenders, he does his best to try to stay above the fray, focusing on his “accomplishments” as governor of Ohio, including a preposterous claim he created 400,000 new jobs. Like all the GOP candidates except Trump, he wears his religion on his sleeve; that’s certainly his right but it’s off-putting to many in our increasingly secular society. Plus, as my wife points out whenever she sees him, he has bad posture. He is, at this point, the only one I can imagine myself holding my nose to vote for in November but mine would be a vote against his opponent, not a vote for him.

My hope is that at this late date, someone – preferably someone accomplished, articulate, likable, inspiring and free of any political party affiliation – will come forward to throw his or her hat into the ring. People are fed up with politics as usual; hence the support for whack-jobs like Trump and Sanders. We need a president who is liberal to moderate on social issues, conservative to moderate on financial issues, a president who can keep us safe, who understands the separation of church and state, and can prioritize what we need. We need a president who will do what’s right for America rather than pandering to the people who control his or her political party in dealing with both domestic and foreign issues, and respectful enough of our Constitution to appoint Supreme Court justices who will do their jobs free of political pressure. Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg has indicated he is considering running as an independent but he is too far left for many voters and, like Ted Cruz, isn’t likable. That said, I’d vote for him. Hell, I’d vote for one of my dachshunds over any of the current candidates.

Is there anyone out there willing to step up to the plate? Anyone at all?

If so, thank you in advance from a grateful nation.  

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Saturday, February 6, 2016

Ruby and her Man-Tailored Size 16 Petite Wedding Suit

My mother, Ruby, was widowed at 52.  Fifteen years later, in a barbershop where she had taken my sister’s sons to get haircuts, she ran into a high school classmate, Bill, a retired physician whose wife had died the previous year. Ruby and Bill, who hadn’t seen each other for decades, started talking about the recent 50-year reunion of their high school class, which mom had missed.

One thing led to another and six months later, to the surprise of their children, they announced they were getting married and set the date: January 1, 1982. “It’s going to be a small wedding,” mom said. “Just our families and a handful of close friends.”

My wife, Judy, and I were living in midtown Manhattan at the time. Mom, who had spent her life in small Missouri towns, was living in Columbia, Mo.

My parents were married in 1933, the height of the Great Depression. Back then, weddings in rural Missouri were, of necessity, simple affairs. Couples often went to their local pastor or justice of the peace to get married. There were no guests, other than a few people who were often pulled off the street to witness the ceremony and sign the marriage license. Mom and dad were married by his favorite college professor who was also a justice of the peace. After the ceremony, they stopped by the tourist camp her parents owned for homemade ice cream where, next to a gas pump, the bride posed for a picture.

Ruby on her first wedding day,
June 25, 1933
“When I married your father, I had no money. I ordered my wedding dress from the J.C. Penney catalog and paid $2.98,” mom told me over the phone. “This time around, I want something nice, something from New York, a man-tailored suit.”

“You’re gonna wear pants for your wedding?” I asked. “No,” she explained. “A skirt with a jacket made from the same fabric, like the suits men wear.”  My wife said she had never heard of a man-tailored suit either – it must be a term from the thirties or forties – but understood what mom was saying.

We settled on a date for mom’s shopping trip. Ruby’s sister Betty, who lived in suburban Washington, D.C., called and said she would take the train to New York and together, the two of them could have fun shopping for mom’s wedding suit.

Ruby and Betty arrived on a Thursday evening. I was surprised to see that mom, who was five feet one tops, had packed on a little weight since I had last seen her. “You’re not pregnant, are you?” Betty teased. Mom said she and Bill had been eating in restaurants a lot and that she wasn’t happy about the weight she had gained.

 “Well, what size are you?” Betty asked.

“Sixteen Petite,” mom replied.

The next morning before we left for work, my wife drew a map to show mom and Betty the locations of department stores that were within walking distance of our apartment – Saks Fifth Avenue, Bloomingdales and Bergdorf Goodman. “You’ll find exactly what you want,” Judy assured them.

But that night, we were surprised to learn that mom and Betty, who had grown up in a tiny town with fewer than 100 people, had come all the way to New York and bought only one thing between them, a bottle of nail polish remover.

“Nobody in this town has ever heard of a man-tailored suit,” mom complained with some bitterness. “The snotty clerks looked at me like I was from outer space. The few who did understand what I was saying said their stores don’t carry anything in Sixteen Petite. One of the Bloomingdale’s clerks asked where I was from. When I told her, she said, ‘I suggest you go back to Missouri to buy your suit if they have such things out there.'”

“Don’t worry,” my wife, an expert shopper, told her. “Tomorrow I’ll take you to Macy’s Herald Square. If you don’t find what you want there, we’ll go to Lord & Taylor. One of those stores will have the suit you want.”

The next morning, for some reason, I volunteered to accompany them. “You’ll find your suit then we can have a nice lunch,” I told them.

If you’ve read this far, there’s something you need to understand. Ruby and Betty didn’t talk in normal tones when they were in each other’s presence. They YELLED, but not because they didn’t like each other, they were devoted. Their mother had lost most of her hearing by the time she was in her forties and her daughters, when they were together with their mother, spoke LOUDLY to make sure grandma didn’t keep interrupting their conversation by asking them to repeat themselves. Grandma had been gone for nearly 20 years by the time Ruby and Betty got to New York but old habits die hard. All of us had grown accustomed to NONSTOP YELLING whenever the sisters got together.

The four of us took the subway to the world’s largest department store, Macy’s Herald Square. My wife, who knew the store like the back of her hand, guided us from floor to floor, to all the departments that sold women’s suits. While they didn’t find many Sixteen Petites, mom tried on probably a dozen skirts with matching jackets that fit and looked perfectly fine to us. But none of them were acceptable to her.

After lunch, we cabbed to Lord & Taylor where, on the first floor, my wife pulled off the rack a white wool suit she and Betty convinced Ruby to try on. Judy, Betty and I agreed it was, by far, the best-looking suit we had seen and told mom that she looked beautiful in it.  Ruby said no, it wasn’t what she had in mind; she wanted to continue looking.

And so we took the escalator up and up and up, stopping off at various floors where Ruby tried on suit after suit. There was a sale on winter coats on one floor. Mom and Betty both found coats they wanted to buy.

Standing at the cashier, Betty pulled out her Lord & Taylor credit card. “HOW ARE YOU GOING TO PAY FOR YOURS?” she yelled at Ruby.

“I’M GOING TO WRITE A CHECK,” Ruby screamed back.

“I BET THEY WON’T TAKE AN OUT OF STATE CHECK,” Betty bellowed.

“SURE THEY WILL,” mom shouted in her Missouri twang.  “WHEN I WAS VISITING JERRY IN LEAVENWORTH I FOUND A DRESS IN A STORE THERE AND THEY TOOK A CHECK.”

Jerry, my brother, was an Army career officer who attended the Army’s Command and General Staff College in Ft. Leavenworth, Kansas, which also happens to be the home of a notorious federal prison with which it is often confused. The clerk’s eyebrows shot up when she heard “Leavenworth.”

“Ma’am” she said firmly. “I can’t take your check.”

“I’ll put it on my Lord & Taylor card,” my wife told Ruby. “You can write me a check.”

Ruby and Betty handed me their coats to carry and the quest for Ruby’s Sixteen Petite man-tailored suit resumed.

Mom tried on more – many, many more – suits on the upper floors that my wife, aunt and I decreed were perfectly fine, but none of them worked for Ruby who, we were convinced, was looking for something that didn’t exist.

As we were riding the escalator back to the first floor, Betty asked mom, “WHY DON’T YOU DO YOURSELF, YOUR GROOM, TOM, JUDY AND ME A FAVOR AND BUY THAT WHITE SUIT WE SAW WHEN WE CAME IN? YOU LOOKED GREAT IN IT.”

“I’LL TELL YOU WHY,” mom yelled back. “BECAUSE WHITE IS FOR VIRGINS … AND HE (pointing at me) IS PROOF IS THAT I … AM NOT … A VIRGIN.”

Every sophisticated New York head going up the up escalator and down the down escalator turned to see the non-virgin and her spawn. If the escalator had collapsed at that moment and hurled us all to our deaths it would have come as a relief.

Once we reached the first floor, we exited through the revolving door, got into a cab and went back to our apartment where I downed several stiff drinks. The girls, after a short rest, went out to visit some neighborhood boutiques but returned empty-handed.

Mom never did find the suit she had come all the way to New York to buy. She found it, as the Bloomingdale's clerk suggested she might, when she got home, a blue suit that matched her eyes. And on her wedding day, all of us agreed she looked beautiful in it.

As beautiful as any 68-year-old bride can look wearing a Sixteen Petite man-tailored suit.

Ruby's second wedding day, Jan 1, 1982


Monday, February 1, 2016

A house-hunting TV show I'd like to see



Ever watch those cable reality shows that feature people shopping around for houses? There are a number of variations but all of them pretty much follow the same formula.

A couple, with polar-opposite ideas about what they want, visits three houses with their real estate agent. At the end of the show, the couple chooses one of the houses, which hardly ever meets the criteria they told the agent they wanted in the first place.

Nobody talks like the people on these shows. And nobody could possibly be as annoying as the house-hunters complaining about picayune details while overlooking flaws that are readily apparent to viewers. The couples and their real estate agents are obviously reading from scripts. I read somewhere that in many cases, the couples have already decided on a home before taping begins, so the whole show is bogus from the get-go.

Here’s a script for an episode I’d like to see.


Joe and Joanna move to Philadelphia

Voiceover (as a map appears with a line being drawn from Montana to Philadelphia): Joe and Joanna are relocating from Butte, Montana, all the way across the country to the city of brotherly love, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

(Cut to quick shots of Joe and Joanna as they stroll hand-in-hand down Market Street in Philly, walk in to a real estate office and sit down in front of an agent. They chat animatedly as the voiceover continues...)

Eager for a place they can call their own, they have enlisted the aid of real estate agent Susie Green to find a home for their growing family that will come in within their budget of $39,200. Susie has her work cut out for her because Joe and Joanna have vastly different concepts of what their new home should be. Joe insists on an ocean view and space to display his growing collection of assault rifles. Joanna dreams of a rambling turn-of-the-century-style farmhouse with an open concept living/dining/family room and an up-to-date kitchen with industrial grade appliances in Philadelphia’s tony Rittenhouse Square neighborhood, along with an ice skating rink in the backyard for their twins, Harding and Coolidge.

(Cut to Susie, Joe and Joanna standing in front of a door)

Today Susie is taking the couple to see what she thinks might be the perfect compromise.

Susie (opening the front door, gesturing for her clients to look around): Well, what do you think?

Joanna (looking down in horror): Uhh, that turquoise carpet. It’s God-awful. I hate carpet.

Susie: There’s hardwood underneath, but I don’t know what shape it’s in.

Joe: I do like the orange walls, though. Very tropical.

Joanna: You moron, this isn’t the tropics.

Joe (turning angrily to his wife): I’m sick of being dragged all over town looking for something that exists only in your mind.

Joanna: Look who’s talking Mr. "I've Gotta Have an Ocean View Or I'll Die." The nearest ocean is in New Jersey.

Susie: Let’s check out the kitchen, shall we?

Joanna: Is that a Viking range? I love to entertain.

Joe (contemptuously): You don’t entertain on a range. You cook on it.

Joanna (smugly): Your best friend found me very entertaining on top of our Viking range back in Butte.

Susie: To answer your question, it’s the original wood-burning stove from 1879 when this place was built. A nice historical touch, don’t you think?

Joe: I like these purple cabinets. Are they wood or laminate?

Susie: Laminate but we can change those out because this place is listed for just $19,000, so there’s plenty of room in the budget for renovations.

Joe: I like the laminate. What I don’t like is having a bathtub in the kitchen.

Susie: It doubles as the sink. If you’re in a hurry, you can take a bath and wash your dirty dishes at the same time.

Joanne: How many bedrooms?

Susie: None, this is a studio apartment.

Joe: Is there a window, so I can watch the chicks in their tight bikinis as they frolic on the beach?

Susie: No, but if we can pick this up at the right price there’s money in the budget to put a window in but … it will look out on the brick wall of the building next door.  Why not tape a poster of a beach scene on the wall?

Joanna: Well, you have certainly given us something to think about. What else do you have to show us?

Susie: I think you’re really going to fall in love with the next place.


COMMERCIAL BREAK


Voiceover (with quick cuts from previous segment of couple looking at apartment)Joe and Joanna and their realtor, Susie, just looked at an historic home in Philadelphia which, while it does have a roof, doesn’t have everything else they were looking for. Today, Susie is taking them to see another house.

Susie: I think you’re really going to fall in love with the next place.

(Cut to Susie, Joe and Joanna standing outside a frame row house)

Susie: I think you’re really going to fall in love with the next place.

Joanna: What are you, stupid? That’s the third time you’ve said that.

Susie: I know. The directors never have enough material for a 21-minute show so they make us repeat ourselves again and again. Plus, they assume people who binge-watch these shows don’t remember what they just saw because they all run together after a while.

Joanna: What is this neighborhood called?

Susie: Smacktown.

Joe: Are those hypodermic needles on the sidewalk?

(Susie opens the door.)

Susie: Yes, unfortunately many people in this neighborhood have diabetes. Let’s go in, shall we?

Joanna: There’s carpet again. I told you I absolutely, positively detest carpet. Are you listening to anything I’ve said?

Susie: It could use a cleaning but the good news is, this place is $1,000 below your budget so you can have that done first thing.

Joe: Those people passed out in the front yard, do they come with the house?

Susie: I’m told they’ll be leaving soon.

Joanna (looking out window toward backyard): I don’t see a skating rink out there.

Susie: You can always put one in.

Joe: But, where’s my beach? I really don’t…

Joanna: There’s definite potential here. But we don’t want to commit until we see one more place.


COMMERCIAL BREAK


Voiceover (as Susie, Joe and Joanna get out of SUV): Today, Susie is taking Joe and Joanna to Atlantic City, New Jersey, about sixty miles east of Philadelphia, where she’ll be showing them a house that ticks all their boxes.

(Cut to Susie, Joe and Joanna standing outside a farmhouse on stilts, overlooking the ocean.)

Joanna: This place looks … interesting.

Susie: It is. Six thousand square feet, just completed by a master builder. The asking price is $12.2 million.

Joe (indicating beach in front of house where people are swimming and sunbathing): Where’s my private beach?

Susie (opening door of house): You’ll have to share this beach, but … wait till you see the private Olympic size pool out back.

(They step inside the foyer.)

Joanna: I was hoping for a skating rink for the boys.

Susie: In winter, the pool will become one if you don’t drain it.

Joanna: I love this open concept living/dining/family room and the beautiful granite kitchen equipped with industrial-grade professional appliances.

Joe: How many bedrooms?

Susie: Nine. All en-suite. 

Joanna: We only need four – one for us, one each for the boys, plus a guest room for my mother when she comes from Montana.

Susie: Believe me, you’ll have plenty of guests if you buy this house. Here’s the first of the guest rooms.

Joanna: Carpet again. I’m gonna puke.

Susie: Hand-woven in Persia just for this room. And if you don’t like it, there’s hardwood underneath, a rare mahogany from Mozambique, in a lovely herringbone pattern.

Joe: How far is this place from work?

Joanna: You haven’t worked since 1998.  

Joe: But is there an office in case I decide to?

Susie: Yes, and it has built-ins, a wet bar and, naturally, an expansive ocean view.

Joanna: But I wanted to live in the heart of the city.

Susie: Well, you’re just steps from the Boardwalk which has shopping, restaurants, muggers, everything you’d find in downtown Philly.

Joe: Looks like we have our work cut out for us.


COMMERCIAL BREAK


(Joe and Joanna in a restaurant, sipping wine)

Joe: I really liked those orange walls in house number one. House number two? I’m not so sure.

Joanna: Since the director said we have to eliminate one and act like it was an excruciating decision, I think we need to ixnay that one and look like we're agonizing as we do it. There’s no room for the boys’ skating rink.

Joe: Agreed. Let’s eliminate house number two.

(Cut to photo of house #2 as an “X” supers over it.)

Joe: What about the farmhouse by the sea?

Joanna: I can’t get past the carpet in the ninth guest bedroom.

Joe: Me neither. And it’s beyond the top range of our budget. What shall we tell Susie?

Joanna: I think we should ….


COMMERCIAL BREAK


Voiceover (as viewers see quick shots of Joe and Joanna in the three houses they have been shown): Joe and Joanna are relocating their family from Montana to Philadelphia. They’ve looked at three houses. House number one is well within in their budget but both agree it has issues. House number two is larger, but they’re not so sure about the neighborhood, plus they’ve already eliminated it but the director said I needed to fill 15 seconds so I’m telling you again. House number three has almost everything they want but, it’s in Atlantic City, sixty miles east of Philadelphia and it’s more than $12 million over budget.

(Camera closes in on Joe)
Joe: What shall we tell Susie? That we're taking house number one?

(Cut to close-in shot of Joanna)
Joanna: I think we should tell her we’re getting a divorce. I never realized what an idiot loser I was married to until I went house hunting with you.

Joe (as camera pulls back to reveal both of them): We’re not married, bitch. I never divorced my first wife.

Joanna: Well that’s good because Harding and Coolidge aren’t yours anyway. I’m taking them and going back to Montana.

Joe: Good. Haul your fat butt back to Butte and I hope I never see you again.

Joanna: Likewise, asshole.

(Joe and Joanna get up from table and go off in separate directions)

Voiceover: Joe and Joanna have decided to put their house hunt on hold for now.

(Cut to Susie at her desk)
Susie: I have to admit, I was disappointed. But I’m confident that when they decide to resume their search I can find them something they can make their own.

(Credits roll.)