Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Chips off the old block

Today is our youngest son’s thirty-first birthday. Stuart was born in the labor room, rather than the delivery room, of the hospital and for that you can blame me, as my wife, Judy, still does.

Three years earlier, when our other son, Ben, was born, Judy was in labor for what seemed like days. We left for the hospital at 8 p.m. on Thursday. Ben wasn’t born until a few minutes before midnight on Saturday.

So, the night before Stuart’s birth, when my wife said it was time to go to the hospital, I assumed that, based on her previous drawn-out labor, it would be a long, long time before we saw the inside of the delivery room. As planned, we dropped Ben off with friends, Barry and Debbie, then headed to the hospital. The doctor on duty informed Judy she wasn’t in labor, wasn’t likely to go into labor anytime within the next week, and told us to go home.

Ben was asleep when we got to Barry’s and Debbie’s house, so we decided to leave him there. I told Barry and Debbie I’d come in the morning to pick him up.

Exhausted from all the hoop-de-do, I immediately fell asleep when we got home, but Judy didn’t. She lay awake all night, convinced she was, despite what the doctor had said, in labor.

When, at 6:30 a.m., she shook me awake and said we had to leave for the hospital that very minute, I felt no sense of urgency. Just hours before, after all, the doctor had said we were at least a week away from D-day. I took a shower, walked and fed the dogs, helped her into the back seat of the car, and headed for the hospital, four miles away, at a leisurely pace.

About a mile from the hospital, I finally got the message loud and clear: she wasn’t joking. The kid was about to be born. Moments after I dropped her off in front of the ER – I had just come in from parking the car – Stuart arrived. Had we had left home five minutes later he would have been born in a Volvo station wagon and we could have named him Sven.

I got to Barry and Debbie’s house shortly before noon to find that Ben wasn’t there. Barry had taken him to the supermarket. When they arrived, Barry was carrying several bags of food, including a giant bag of potato chips.

I took Ben onto the sun porch off Barry and Debbie’s living room and told him, “You know that baby in mommy’s tummy? It came out this morning and it’s a boy! You are a big brother! What do you have to say about that?”

Ben’s response, delivered in a monotone only a single-minded three-year-old can muster, will forever be legendary not only within our family but within Barry’s and Debbie’s, who were listening at the door: “I’m hungry for potato chips.”

Twenty-eight years later, moments after Teddy, Ben’s first son, was born, I texted Stuart to tell him he was an uncle. Stuart texted back, “I’m hungry for potato chips.”

Logging on to my email this morning, I found a note from Ben, an attorney at a DC law firm. It contained a link to an article he had written about oligarchy pricing within the airline industry that was published today in a prestigious law journal. Ben told us last month the article had been accepted for publication. When I read the draft I insisted he send at that time, I had to read it s-l-o-w-l-y to absorb the gist of it, which is that five index funds now own roughly 80 percent of the shares of publicly traded airlines which is why some economists have opined – not necessarily correctly, Ben asserts – that airline fares have increased over the last few years. While I don’t even pretend to understand antitrust law, Ben's specialty, I do understand the airline industry because I spent much of my career working within it.

Wanting to read the article again, I went to the pantry to find something to eat as I savored every word along with my morning coffee.

Two days ago, Judy and I returned from D.C., where both sons now live, on JetBlue. We had flown up for the weekend to attend a birthday party for Teddy, who turned three, and his brother Isaac, who turned one the day after. 

There in the pantry was a single-serve bag of Terra Blue potato chips, JetBlue’s signature snack. Judy wasn’t hungry when the flight attendant came around with her basket of goodies, so she had tucked the chips into her handbag and brought them home.

They were, on this fine and beautiful Florida morning, particularly delicious.

Friday, March 10, 2017

America's (un)civil war

Americans are engaged in a second civil war, a war of words that plays out every day in a million little skirmishes that add up to the equivalent of an atomic bomb being dropped on our national psyche.

Much of it is related to politics and hatred of Trump:

·      A man returning from the inauguration sits next to a woman on a plane who tells him. “You make me sick. Don’t talk to me. Don’t look at me. Don’t you dare even put your arm on that rest. You disgust me. You should be ashamed of yourself. You’re a bigot. You should get off this plane.”

·      Former West Wing actor Brad Whitford, in response to a plea for religious tolerance from Ivanka Trump following the desecration of a Jewish cemetery, tweets, “Your father is a racist birther. Steve Bannon an anti-Semitic opportunist. You and your husband are enabling hatred. Fuck your shoes.”

·      A friend and colleague whose intelligence and level-headedness I have always admired makes three or four Facebook posts a day calling Trump "dickbreath.” 

·      Madonna tells a crowd she has thought about blowing up the White House.

And how does the president, who is presiding over our tinderbox of a country, respond? He throws fuel on the fire with a nonstop barrage of tweets calling his detractors losers, failures, stupid, dopey and clueless.

Politics aren’t the only trigger for our collective anger. Read the comments under any news story about virtually any topic and you’ll see responses so cruel and hateful they will take your breath away. For instance, this morning’s Yahoo News reports that Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, are expecting another child, and includes a photo of his family. Some random comments: "God, his wife is ugly." "It's a shame they let this guy spread his seed on another person. Please stop him from procreating anymore." "Why does his wife go by the name of Chan? The jerk is a billionaire and all she could do is laundry and Chinese take-out."

Little wonder most news sites have disabled reader comments.

All this unhinged anger isn’t confined to any specific age group. Here in Southwest Florida, where a substantial percentage of residents are over 50, even my fellow oldsters are becoming nasty to each other:

·      At the meeting of the board of directors of my community association, members of a group that want the board to join a lawsuit they’ve filed against the developer scream “sit down” and “shut up” to homeowners speaking against their plan.

·      In a supermarket parking lot outside the entrance to my development, a 61-year old woman gets out of her car, storms up to the driver of the vehicle ahead of her who is waiting for traffic to clear before turning, and slaps him, screaming he is going too slowly. He calls the police. Newscasters interview the woman’s neighbors who say she always seemed nice.

·      Country club members are sent an anonymous email attacking the integrity of another member. The club’s management, in response, sends an email saying, “We are better than this.”

What’s the catalyst for all this anger?

Drugs? Alcohol? Because social media and the web enable people to anonymously post comments they would never make in public? Because we see so much hatred expressed online that it spills over into our everyday behavior? Because we are no longer able to distinguish “news” from “opinion?” Because we are angry with the media? Or Republicans? Or Democrats? Is it due to religion – too much or too little?  Racism? Jealousy of those who are successful? Disgust for those who aren’t? Hatred for those who are different? Arrogance? Undereducation? Overeducation? Because we now give people trophies just for showing up, so they don’t know to handle disappointment? Have we Americans always had this much anger bottled up inside but most of us weren’t aware of it because, until recently, we didn’t have cable TV and the Internet to feed us news about it 24/7?

Beats me, but we need to get a grip because all this anger, all this nastiness, is diminishing us, beating us down. Emerson said it well: "For every minute you are angry, you lose sixty seconds of happiness." 

Now, get the fuck off your computer and go out and be kind to someone, you dickbreath loser.