Monday, December 30, 2013

Five Years A President

In 1930 shortly after the stock market crash Babe Ruth was asked how he justified his $80,000/year salary which was greater than President Hoover’s $75,000. The Babe replied that he had a better year. Ruth was the highest paid player in the game.

The MINIMUM paycheck for a major league baseball player is now $500,000. This exceeds Obama’s by $100,000. He’s also had a pretty bad year. Yet even with his low approval rating of 28% he is still the most admired man in the world according to a recent Gallup poll.

A ballplayer’s career, on average, is around six years. After that he has to find a way to live on his accumulated millions and stay out of trouble even if it is his middle name. It’s too easy to begrudge athletes their outrageous salaries. The money is there for the grabbing and we put it there by consuming what advertisers tell us to buy.

What to make of Obama’s numbers?  We must think well of the man but regard him ineffectual as chief executive. My sense is that our president will receive higher marks by historians than from our disgruntled left or maniacal right. An objective assessment requires an amplitude of vision and historical sweep.

All our presidents claim credit or bear the brunt of the times they preside over. Hoover didn’t cause the Wall St. crash though his policies after it may have exacerbated the plight of millions. Clinton accomplished very little but emerged in a positive light owing to the end of the Cold War, tech boom, sub-prime housing loans, the illusion of non-existent terrorist threats and a budget surplus. Forgotten are his de-regulation of banks, free trade agreements which contributed to the Rust Belt, tightening of welfare benefits and failure to pass healthcare reform.

Obama Inherited bank failures, oil spills, housing busts, Congressional lynch mobs, auto companies on the brink, two insupportable wars and virulent racism.

His presidency demonstrates the limits of the office.  Our overseas misadventures continue even as he pursues a policy of disengagement. The Pentagon and vast universe it contracts with seems impervious to the direction of its Commander-in-Chief. There is an untold story here.  His over-reach on security measures can be seen, in part, as a function of those forces.

The Affordable Care Act is flawed but perhaps not as much as the Social Security Act of 1935. It was defunded by filibuster (Huey Long) before it got started. There were no employment histories available at first. The Social Security Administration was housed in an old un-heated Coca Cola factory with rats running around. Woman and Blacks were virtually excluded due to state’s rights provisions in the South. And all this with a heavily Democratic Congress.

Presidential rhetoric rarely matches one’s deeds. In Obama’s case he’d have been better advised not to open his mouth at all when pitching his healthcare act or setting red lines regarding Syria. He is clearly not at ease on the Bully Pulpit. He operates without the leverage of LBJ, the charm and duplicity of FDR or the fire-in-the-belly of Theodore Roosevelt. He is, by nature, a conciliator at a time when differences are irreconcilable. My wish is that one day Obama be named to the High Court. If Hillary is elected may it be so. 

The fact that a certain athlete is currently rewarded eighty times the remuneration as the person in the Oval Office speaks volumes about our values as a nation. Even if he had a better year….. and he didn’t.

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

It's Christmas Eve, By God

Everyone loves a good story and the Jesus myth is one of the best. It deserves all those great hymns, choirs and carols. The sense of awe it creates has me thinking of my own tumultuous birth and the eleven days that shook the world. This is how the second greatest story ever told came to pass.

In the near spring of 1933 Peggy found herself in Los Angeles living with her uncle. She had been driven out here from Manhattan where she lived with another aunt. But why, I ask you, did destiny locate her in so propitious a place so far from home?  Early on a March morning she felt the earth move.  

As far as I know it never moved for Mary and Joseph. However buildings rumbled from Long Beach to Beverly Hills. It was the heralding of a momentous event. It was a 6.4. It was portentous. It was me……or rather I, being born. And grammatically correct as well.

Peggy was not yet twelve at the time; far too young to interpret the colossal significance of these Ides of March. Of course I have no pretense, no unearthly claims. I’m but an ordinary man with the milk of humble reduced fat 2% running, by the pint, in every vein. No haloes. No three wise men, except perhaps the Ink Spots singing a cappella with a messianic harmony.

Peggy returned to New York for the fall term. It would be years before the extraordinary conflation of events would become clear. Could it have been anything less than providential intervention which brought her to witness the quake that was my boisterous journey down the birth canal? Never mind that I was born in a manger-turned hospital in Queens, NYC.

Twenty-four years later we were brought together no less than six times under Peggy’s roof for a poetry group. I must have been a ghostly figure as yet not altogether materialized since she has no memory of my corporeal being. This only further demonstrates the mysterious ways of the Almighty.

Another twenty-three years would have to pass before we were brought together and in a church no less, albeit a godless Unitarian one. Shortly after, we were biblically joined. Need I say that windows broke in Pasadena and the Richter scale has never fully recovered?

Our union is no less holy than that other one of great repute, as are all such communions of love sanctified by devotion and daily renewal. We are all the stuff of legends and hallelujahs!

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Goodbye. Hello.

No rage against the dying of the light. Bring it on. Let the solstice have its day. Our occasion to shed and recede inward, to find our deep pools toward renewal. Out of the mud, a lotus.

If you don’t like it take the A train down to Santiago or Sydney where that other solstice reigns. After today in this hemisphere days elongate, bulbs underground push up a fraction and the calendar flips to another imagined number.

Goodbye 2013. We’re done with your dose of discontent, year of infamy, of fractures and dysfunction, micro, macro. Up from the nadir in their sleep skeletal trees dream of green pastures. The body’s architecture is reminded how to knit its wounds. Maybe polar parties will budge and budget their way to sense.

This is my year-end letter to myself. The children are well into their respective journeys. We have no dog that didn’t die but we did throw out a few stuffed animals, lightened our shelves of some books and assorted objet d’art. We traveled the way the bird of paradise travels with its orange beak pointing to some imagined place.

Instead we rearranged the furniture of our lives confronting the accumulated years and its demands of walker, cane, transfer chair and handicap bars to steady us in the shower.  It’s fun getting old…sort of. Our love found a new intimacy and expression in caregiving.  In the offering there is a creative burst, a new door to walk through as others close. Being there for each other and extending our reach is a gift both given and received.

So I greet 2014. Hello out there. What have you got for us? Happy New Year. Together we’ll redefine Happy and discover resources lying dormant ready to spring and flower. What more can be asked of life other than a fullness of discovery in that continent within?


Monday, December 16, 2013

Jesus, Is That You, Jesus?

First I caught a glimpse in the cottage cheese ceiling now you are here in my oatmeal. I must say you are looking better than your depictions, particularly on the cross in churches. Aren’t you a little tied up this time of the year with birthday plans, hymns, and nativity scenes? Such a fuss over a simple man!

Then there’s the Super Bowl coming up soon where both teams will be on their knees saying prayers to you before they kick the kishkes out of each other.

Jesus, how have you managed to put up with the subversion of your early words? The pope is doing all he can to restore your good message. I’ll bet you never thought you’d see a pinko pontiff what with all the opulence, suppression, embezzlement and molestation the church has been obsessed with over two millennium.

You must have done a lot of cheek-turning down through the years. And now it’s all about buying stuff. How will we ever pass through a needle’s eye with all this horsepower and apps, libations and comestibles, in the midst of famine and drought, ignorance, disease and holy wars in your name?

Then again there is all the good cheer, generosity and lights on cut trees and halls decked with strung bulbs. It’s as if our eyes were gift-wrapped and carols broke the silent night.  I can tell you, Jesus, that Santa Claus nosed you out in a recent poll. But you‘d know I just made that up.

Do you ever wish you had a brother or sister? I don’t imagine you’d have any sibling rivalry and think of the help you would have answering mail, wishes and prayers. But now I’m confusing you with Santa.

Tell me, my man, this manger myth isn’t what it’s all about, is it? Do you mind if I call it the birth, or rebirth of our lost child?  The Eden we imagined? The first wonder before the clamor and clutter? The amazement of Dick and Jane lifted off the page?

Maybe you are there just to serve as a stand-in for the unattainable; something for us to reach for but not quite grasp very long. Peace on earth. Good will and all that. Can we get past the agreed-upon lies and declare compassion, trust and forgiveness in your name? Give us a break, Jesus. Dare we declare love? 

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Early Career Paths

My ambition for public office had a short run. After an appointment as wardrobe monitor in Kindergarten I thought I was destined to be a leader among men. I had a penchant for ordering galoshes together with Mackinaws.

By first grade I moved to milk monitor, a position just a few steps away from Federal Reserve Chairman or Jamie Dimon’s seat at Morgan-Chase. Two cents got you a container of milk and a graham cracker. Even then the 1% could afford chocolate milk and chocolate grahams. It never occurred to me to abscond with the weekly loot or invest it into sub-prime mortgages. This was a tip-off that I didn’t love money enough to get ahead in this world.

By second grade I was nosed out by one vote for class president when I cast my ballot for my opponent. It seemed the gentlemanly thing to do. Runner-up was awarded vice-president but I hadn’t read Shakespeare yet and hatched no plot to overthrow Dorothy Sherashevsy.

I was glad not to carry the burden of pencil monitor the next term, much as I liked inhaling the wood shavings.  Now Peggy has me sharpen her number one’s in our electric sharpener and I can see the finesse it takes not to under or over-do the fragile point.

Clearly I had peaked early and was already in steep decline. I think there was also an ink-well monitor but that was far above my pay-grade. The thought of spillage would have stained me for life. By this time I was receding into anonymity yet to come, wearing shirts that blended in with the chair, or so I thought.

Eraser monitor was, I recall, another office, less coveted. In fact, wasn’t that the chore for undiagnosed ADD kids, staying after school with dunce caps on their heads while breathing in chalk dust?
By 7th grade they didn’t know what to do with me. I was designated as the one to accept a gift on behalf of the school traditionally left to P.S. 99 by the graduating class. The following year I was on the other side of the podium presenting a lamp or some such token of gratitude. With a little vision I could have pursued a career in the diplomatic corps, ambassador perhaps, in Equatorial Africa wearing a white suit and pith helmet while swatting mosquitoes.     

By my final year I had distinguished myself as outstandingly deficient in Music (branded a Listener), Shop (a Deconstructionist) and Art (difficulty making even stick figures). I showed some aptitude for spelling as one of the last ones standing in spelling bees but visualizing words on paper could only lead to a life of destitution while doing crossword puzzles.

How I eventually found my chosen profession could only be accounted for by failing at penmanship. An inability to make capitol D’s or S’s was a minor disgrace but awakened in me a collateral strength. Terrible hand-writing would have ensured me a place in medical school but my forte was an uncanny knack to decipher other people’s scribbles which led ultimately to my career as a pharmacist.  


Monday, December 2, 2013

Foot Notes

My baby’s got big feet / Tall, lanky, got nothing to eat / but she’s my baby / love her just the same / crazy ‘bout that woman / ‘cause Caldonia’s her name.                                            
                                                             Louis Jordan 1945

Peggy’s got big feet, too. But that’s not why I married her. Big feet, big heart, big life. As we get taller as a nation our feet grow to catch up with us. The average woman’s shoe size has doubled in the past century from 4 to 9.

Peggy wears a 10. I come in at 11 extra wide. As for a correlation between big feet and genital size I can put that fable to rest. Now it’s enough to have a large digital footprint.

I love you baby/ but your feet's too big  ...............Fats Waller                                                                                                                                                                   
Mine are nothing compared to Lincoln’s size 14, the largest on record though other web sites claim Warren Harding and still another says it was John Adams. The shortest feet belonged to Rutherford B Hayes and look what happened to him.  All this must mean something but the symbolism eludes me. If we ignore Harding we might  be on to something..

Teddy Roosevelt said to walk softly but carry a big stick. My preference would be to walk big(ly) and carry a soft stick.  George W Bush was famous for putting his foot in his mouth so it must have been no larger than a 9 ½. Obama found out that it is easier to talk the talk than it is to walk the walk.

In China up until recent years bound feet were the fate of girls supposedly to make them more desirable for marrying off. The Chinese phrase for this nonsense was, a tender young willow shoot in a spring breeze. No surer sign of societal retardation than this hideous notion.

If folks bought shoes the way stores sold them our closets would all look like Imelda Marcos's. They have running shoes and hiking shoes, jogging shoes and trotting shoes, shoes for strolling and others for moseying and a different one for loitering, shoes for mailing a letter and others for walking into the bedroom, to say nothing of shoes for every sport at every position. The last ones I bought were three years ago. I know this because the store moved about that time and I couldn't find it. It just got up and walked away presumably in special shoes.                                   

I wore my new shoes the other day. Not one of the eleven people we had over said a word. Maybe they all met afterward and couldn’t stop talking about them but I doubt it. There’s nothing quite like new shoes particularly when they fit like old shoes. When kids of my age got new shoes it was accompanied by a small dose of radiation, unbeknown to our mothers. We used to stick our feet inside a fluoroscope machine where the salesman would point out how perfectly they fit yet with room to grow.

Possibly my only talent as a young father was my super-human toes. I would delight my daughters by holding five cards between my toes. This earned me the title of Chief Big Toe. Now my nails have turned dark and unruly. Jungle rot, I suppose but I can’t recall every trudging through any jungle except at Disneyland. Not that we really need our toes. We can tap something else. In a few hundred thousand years they will probably fall off as vestigial organs. There’s no future in becoming a pedicurist.