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September 2008

On This Day In History....

Birthday-cake 1791 - Mozart's opera "The Magic Flute" premiered in Vienna
1927 - Babe Ruth hit his 60th home run
1946 - 22 Nazi leaders were found guilty at the Nuremberg trials
1955 - James Dean was killed in a car crash
1966 - Botswana gained independence from Great Britain
19**  - I was born

I will let the reader rank the relative importance of these events, not to mention speculate about the missing year!

Campus Activism

Sf-obama-h See this poster? I saw dozens of them this weekend, mostly hanging on college dorm room doors. When we visited The Boy this weekend, I was really struck by the political activism on campus. Now this may be because of who The Boy hangs out with. But still, several of his friends were up early on Saturday morning making calls on behalf of Obama, others were ferrying volunteers to a downtown campaign office and the lead story in the student newspaper was about an effort to "invade" the city the college is in to register voters and promote the Democratic candidates.

(I presume there are Republicans on this campus, but I didn't see even a bumper sticker for McCain or hear of any supporters.)

My own Boy was knocking on doors for Obama last week - a challenging and humbling experience as anyone who has ever done canvassing knows.

It all made me very happy - not just because these kids were supporting my candidate but because they are active and engaged in the world around them.

One caveat - I think most of them were partying during the first debate on Friday night. That said, many of them had watched it online by Saturday.

Political Theater

Svbushwideweb470x4460dv2 Today, rather than try to summarize my own limited take on the current financial and political crisis, I am just going to throw in a few quotes from the NYT. I think they speak for themselves.

"If money isn't loosened up, this sucker could go down." That's our nation's president, on the state of the economy.

And here, a scene from negotiations on Capital Hill:

"In the Roosevelt Room after the session, the Treasury secretary, Henry M. Paulson  Jr. literally bent down on one knee as he pleaded with Nancy Pelosi, the House Speaker, not to 'blow it up' by withdrawing her party's support for the package over what Ms. Pelosi derided as Republican betrayal.

    'I didn't know you were Catholic,' Ms. Pelosi said, a wry reference to Mr. Paulson's kneeling, according to someone who observed the exchange. She went on: 'It's not me blowing this up, it's the Republicans.'

    'Mr. Paulson sighed. 'I know. I know.'"

Holy Cow! I feel confident in our nation's leaders - how 'bout you?

In other news, the Weatherman and I are driving to Maine this afternoon to visit The Boy. It is storming outside and there is a category one hurricane predicted for Maine on Sunday. The Boy called last night to see if it would affect our plans. Hah! Like a small hurricane could keep me away from visiting The Boy!

Book Group Family

Books Yesterday The Boy called, asking if we had the book "Extremely Close and Incredibly Loud" by Jonathan Safran Foer in the house. (We didn't, but my friend Libbie had a copy.) The Boy has joined a newly-formed book group on his college campus and this is their first selection.

The Boy is following a family tradition. My Daughter started a book group in high school. She is currently in one in her post-college life in Manhattan. The Weatherman is actually in two book groups. And I was the original family book group member - I joined one when the kids were in elementary school. We ladies have been meeting for more than a decade, happily discussing our monthly selection over food and wine. (We do potluck dinners at our homes.)

Book groups are great for all the obvious reasons - the joy of discussing literature, being exposed to  books you would never have chosen on your own and the company of friends who love to read.

Today I started a new blog category - Books. Check it out on the right hand side of the blog. In it you will find a list of books that my group has read. But in the future, I hope to include brief reviews. Meanwhile, my book group is currently reading Junot Diaz's "The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao." So far, I like it, but it has quite a bit of Spanish in it, and I could use a vocabulary cheat sheet.

Book Group List

Books Welcome to the new category of books! I have been in a book group for more than a decade. We've read dozens of great books and several real losers. It took all the combined brains of the long-time members  to put together a list of what we've read over the years. OK, mostly it was my friend Susan who did it.

What follows is at least a partial list of what we could remember we've read. But my plans are from here on out to write a brief review of our monthly selection, possibly soliciting comments from other book group members. Enjoy!


Half of a Yellow Sun – Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Mansfield Park – Jane Austen
The Sea – John Banville
The Mezzanine – Nicholson Baker
Corelli’s Mandolin – Louis de Bernieres
Midwives - Chris Bohjalian
Disgrace – J.  M. Coetzee
The Hours – Michael Cunningham
The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao – Junot Diaz
Underworld – Don DeLillo
Out of Africa - Isak Dinesen
Chronicles – Bob Dylan
Jim the Boy – Tony Earley
Invisible Man – Ralph Ellison
For the  Relief of Unbearable Urges – Nathan Englander
The Gathering – Anne Enright
Middlesex – Jeffrey Eugenides
The Horse Whisperer - Nicholas Evans
The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down - Anne Fadiman
Gastronomical Me – MFK Fisher
Everything is Illuminated – Jonathan Safran Foer
Borrowed Finery – Paula Fox
Cold Mountain – Charles Frazier
Don't Let's Go to the Dogs Tonight - Alexandra Fuller
The Corrections – Jonathan Franzen
Eat, Pray, Love – Elizabeth Gilbert
Hypocrite in a Poufy White Dress – Susan Jane Gilman
Memoirs of a Geisha – Arthur Golden
Personal History – Katherine Graham
Autobiography of a Face – Lucy Grealy
A Map of the World - Jane Hamilton
Rookery Blues – Jon Hassler
The Fall of a Sparrow – Robert Hellenga
Practical Magic – Alice Hoffman
Kite Runner – Khaled Hosseini
Their Eyes Were Watching God – Zora Neale Hurston
Daisy Miller – Henry James
A Very Long Engagement – Sebastian Japrisot
Cherry – Mary Karr
Poisonwood Bible – Barbara Kingsolver
The History of Love – Nicole Krauss
Cod : A Biography of the Fish That Changed the World - Mark Kurlansky
Lady Chatterly’s Lover – D.H. Lawrence
Native Speaker – Chang-Rae Lee
Fall on Your Knees – Ann-Marie MacDonald
Dreams of My Russian Summers – Andre Makine
Lost in Translation – Nicole Manes
The Razor’s Edge – W. Somerset Maugham
Angela’s Ashes – Frank McCourt
Amsterdam  – Ian McEwan
Enduring Love – Ian McEwan
Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found - Suketu Mehta
The Emperor’s Children – Claire Messud
God: a Biography – Jack Miles
R L’s Dream – Walter Mosley
The Love of a Good Woman – Alice Munro
Runaway – Alice Munro
The Perfect Man – Naeem Murr
Reading Lolita in Tehran - Azar Nafisi
A House for Mr. Biswas – V. S. Naipal
Suite Francaise – Irene Nemirovsky
Dreams from my Father – Barack Obama
A Rage to Live – John O’Hara
The English Patient – Michael Ondaatje
Enormous Changes at the Last Minute – Grace Paley
Getting Mother’s Body – Suzan-Lori Parks
Bel Canto – Ann Patchett
Truth and Beauty – Ann Patchett
The Second Coming – Walker Percy
Special Topics in Calamity Physics – Marisha Pessl
The Haunted Land – Tina Rosenberg
American Pastoral – Philip Roth
The Human Stain – Philip Roth
The Plot Against America – Philip Roth
God of Small Things – Arundhati Roy
Empire Falls – Richard Russo
Baltasar and Blimunda – Jose Saramago and Giovanni Pontiero
The Lovely Bones – Alice Sebold
A Suitable Boy – Vikram Seth
Longitude – Dava Sobel
Angle of Repose – Wallace Stegner
Amy and Isabelle – Elizabeth Strout
The Bonesetter’s Daughter – Amy Tan
Ladder of Years – Anne Tyler
Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood – Rebecca Wells
The Riders – Tim Winton
To the Lighthouse – Virginia Woolf

Facebook Follies

Logo_facebook There's been a lot written about the perils of Facebook- particularly about how college admissions officers and prospective employers check out profiles. These articles tend to warn users to pull off the photos of themselves wearing nothing but underwear while downing a huge bottle of vodka. (Now, there's someone who'd be a great addition to our campus/workplace!)

But here's a new twist, not about the dangers of Facebook so much as about the site's potential as a source of fast-moving and sometimes off-base gossip.

Yesterday I got a call from someone I'll describe as "a concerned friend" asking me if my daughter was ok. "Why wouldn't she be?" I asked, somewhat startled. Well, it seems that her "relationship status" on Facebook had changed. My daughter was no longer "in a relationship with xxxx" but listed as single.

What? My daughter and her boyfriend of more than 2 years had broken up, and she hadn't told me?! I could only surmise she was so traumatized that she was incommunicado. I called my daughter at work, and couldn't get through. By now, my mind was racing - she was so upset about the breakup that she had quit her job!

I left worried messages at her office and on her cell phone and in her email. She promptly called me. Then we had one of those "who's on first?" conversations, i.e.  "Mom - what's wrong?" "Are you o.k.?" "Are you o.k.?" "I'm fine, I'm worried about you." "You called me. What's wrong?"

Anyway, it was much ado about nothing. She and her boyfriend had been fooling around with her Facebook settings, and got called away before they finished, thus leaving her as "single." When she returned to her Facebook page, she was swamped with worried posts and condolences about her supposed break-up.

My daughter was amused by the whole thing, and it was pretty funny, but it does show you the power of Facebook.

Developmentally DIsabled Team Up for Movie Scene

Published: September 19, 2008
Yorktown Heights


Rose Rothe
EXTRAS From left, Adam Stein and Yaniv Gorodischer, with Regina Healy, right, and Nicole Holofcener, their director in a movie.
TAKING THE COURT The actress Catherinie Keener, left, stars in a still-untitled Sony Pictures Classics movie that used Regina Healy, 19, and other developmentally disabled recruits from the Yorktown- based agency Sparc in a basketball scene shot in Brooklyn.

JASON KINGSLEY, cast as an extra in a major motion picture, had an idea for the director and approached her during filming.

That’s not exactly business as usual on a Hollywood set. It is even less common for a director to accept an extra’s suggestions. But Nicole Holofcener, who was directing the movie for Sony Pictures Classics, decided to try the scene the way Mr. Kingsley suggested it.

Originally, the script had the actress Catherine Keener watching a basketball game. But soon, cameras were rolling as Mr. Kingsley put his arm around Ms. Keener, walked her to a basketball hoop and showed her how to do a layup.

“I did one scene with Catherine Keener,” Mr. Kingsley said. “I wanted to make that scene touching.”

Mr. Kingsley, along with nine other men and women from Westchester ranging in age from 18 to 34, was cast as part of a basketball team with special needs. The actors themselves have developmental disabilities.

The participants were recruited from Sparc Inc., a Yorktown-based nonprofit agency that provides social, therapeutic and recreational services to people with a range of disabilities, including Down syndrome, autism and other neurological impairments. The agency’s name stands for Special Program and Resource Connection.

In the movie, which is still untitled and is scheduled to come out next year, Ms. Keener and Oliver Platt play affluent New Yorkers who have purchased the apartment next door to their own. An elderly woman is living there, and they are waiting for her to die so they can expand their apartment.

Ms. Holofcener explained the context of the basketball scene.

“Catherine’s character is trying to find the right place to volunteer to assuage her liberal guilt, and she visits the kids with Down syndrome to see about helping them out,” the director said. “When she gets there, however, she finds herself overcome with sadness and pity — something the kids neither ask for nor require. They’re fine — it’s Catherine’s character who is a mess.”

On a recent fall evening, the actors from Sparc talked about their experience making the film. Their scene was shot in one day last May, but their enthusiasm was still fresh.

“When I first heard about the movie, I got so excited,” said Yaniv Gorodischer, 30, of Hartsdale.

The professional actors “looked like regular people,” said Stephen Capurso, 24, of Peekskill, and Caroline Brescia, an 18-year-old from Somers, said that Ms. Keener was “very nice.”

Mr. Kingsley, 34, who has Down syndrome, was the only one in the group who had significant professional acting experience. As a child he appeared frequently on “Sesame Street,” and he has also been on the television programs “Touched By an Angel” and “The Fall Guy.”

“This was my first experience as a movie star,” he said.

The group talked about the hot lights, the snack buffet and the tedium of having to repeat the scene over and over. It wasn’t easy for them to take time off from their daily responsibilities; most have jobs. Raymond Frost, 30, who works at a pet store in Hartsdale, said that at first his boss did not want to let him go.

That angered Mr. Gorodischer. He said he wanted to call Mr. Frost’s boss and yell at her, but realized that might get his friend fired. Mr. Frost, Mr. Gorodischer and Mr. Kingsley are such good friends that they call themselves the Three Musketeers and have shared an apartment in Hartsdale for six years.

Mr. Frost’s boss relented — “She had never had an employee in the movies before,” he said — and everyone was able to travel to Brooklyn for the shoot.

Regina Healy, 19, who graduated last spring from Somers High School, got a speaking part. As Ms. Keener cries in a bathroom stall, Ms. Healy asks her if she is all right and if she can do anything to help.

“It took seven times,” Ms. Healy said. “I was really tired.”

Adam Stein, 18, a classmate, was also in the movie, and according to Ms. Healy he bragged about it in school. “You talked about it all day long,” she teased him. “You told people 10,000 times.”

Ms. Holofcener heard about Sparc through Mr. Kingsley’s mother, Emily Perl Kingsley, a writer for “Sesame Street” and an advocate for people with disabilities.

Rose Rothe, Sparc’s executive director, said she initially had concerns about how the group would be portrayed.

“We wanted to make sure their lives would be celebrated and not denigrated,” Ms. Rothe said.

After reading the script and talking to the director, she was reassured. “It was all about portraying the kids with dignity and respect for their lives,” she said.

The actors in the group also have strong feelings about how people with disabilities are sometimes portrayed in movies. The movie “Tropic Thunder” came under particular criticism.

“That movie, they talk about people with disabilities,” Mr. Capurso said. “Ben Stiller says something really negative about people like us. I know another one — ‘Something About Mary’ — where they use ‘the R word.’ ”

“The R word,” Mr. Kingsley said, “is for a person who is retarded.”

“It’s not right,” Mr. Frost said. “It’s not nice.”

Several of the actors said they would like to do something to fight that kind of language. They might make it a project in “Sparc on YouTube,” a program in which they conduct interviews, create fictional scripts, do movie reviews and develop skills in camera work.

Mr. Kingsley described his favorite movie, “The Hunchback of Notre Dame.”

“The reason why it’s my favorite is because Quasimodo and I both have a disability,” he said. “We live in isolation. I long to be out there and counted in the community just like Quasimodo longs to be out there.”

Mr. Kingsley is hopeful about the new film. “In the scene, I accept Catherine Keener to be a friend,” he said. “People who watch this movie, strangers, will become our friends. That message might happen.”

A Gazillion Quadrillion!

Money1 Again, one of those mornings when I am reading the financial news, and I turn to the Weatherman to ask some basic questions. Today includes, "Honey, what's a trillion?"

After all the term "trillions" keeps coming up in terms of our country's national debt, the amount of money  that taxpayers will spend to bail out the Wall Street, and that kind of thing. When we were kids, we use to throw these terms around like they were pretend words, as in, "You can't make me for a trillion zillion dollars!"

But it turns out that these are actual figures, that represent actual debt. So a trillion, my friends, is a 1000 billion. Got that?  A trillion is a thousand billion. And if you need it broken down further, a billion is a thousand million. And a million? That's chump change, baby.


060929_4_ATL_Boot_Camp Yesterday I was at the gym, taking a class ominously named "Boot Camp" (it was hard) and the instructor set up six stations. We rotated to each one, where we were meant to do different exercises - lateral raises with a body bar, crunches while holding weights on our chest, lateral jumps over a step, etc. - for a fixed amount of time.

He explained what we were supposed to do at each one and then set the clock. The problem wasn't that I couldn't perform the exercises  (though my backside this morning is making me wonder just how many squats I actually did in that class). It was that by the time I got to the third station, I couldn't remember what I was suppose to do next. My mind these days is a sieve.

Which brings me to our former poet laureate, the brilliant Billy Collins. Recently I came across this poem he wrote. It is especially dedicated to all my middle-aged friends.

Forgetfulness - Billy Collins

The name of the author is the first to go
followed obediently by the title, the plot,
the heartbreaking conclusion, the entire novel
which suddenly becomes one you have never read,
never even heard of,

as if, one by one, the memories you used to harbor
decided to retire to the southern hemisphere of the brain,
to a little fishing village where there are no phones.

Long ago you kissed the names of the nine Muses goodbye
and watched the quadratic equation pack its bag,
and even now as you memorize the order of the planets,

something else is slipping away, a state flower perhaps,
the address of an uncle, the capital of Paraguay.

Whatever it is you are struggling to remember,
it is not poised on the tip of your tongue,
not even lurking in some obscure corner of your spleen.

It has floated away down a dark mythological river
whose name begins with an L as far as you can recall,
well on your own way to oblivion where you will join those
who have even forgotten how to swim and how to ride a bicycle.

No wonder you rise in the middle of the night
to look up the date of a famous battle in a book on war.
No wonder the moon in the window seems to have drifted
out of a love poem that you used to know by heart.

Cosmetic Surgery Again

Annette_bening I have come to terms with the bizarreThewomen_jezebel.flv transformation of what was once Meg Ryan's face. But what have they done to Annette Bening? She was a beautiful woman. Now she doesn't look anything like herself. I would not have recognized her in this photo on the right from the movie "The Women." (In this scene, they must have all been looking at her before-and-after cosmetic surgery photos.)

Today, I happen to be listening to a series of interviews that NPR's Terry Gross conducted with writers. One was an interview with Fran Lebowitz, who at the time had just turned 44. Terry Gross was asking her how she felt about aging and asked if she would ever consider plastic surgery.

Lebowitz said: "I'm not morally opposed to face lifts, I just think it's better to look like an earthling, don't you?"

Dental Anxiety

Dentist Today I have a dental appointment. At what time? 2:30. Get it? Two-thirty? Tooth-hurty?
Sorry. The point being that I must be in significant dental pain to pick up the phone and make an appointment. After all, what do I have to look forward to? Pain, needles, probably drilling, saliva coursing down my numb cheek and - to top it all off - a whopper of a bill, for which I have no insurance.

Caveat - my dentist herself is a lovely person. This is nothing personal, Lori. I just dread the dentist. And I am not alone. This morning I discovered And having spent a brief time on it's support forum, I've decided that I'm actually the paragon of mental health. After all, I'm going to the dentist, and I'm not taking drugs to get there.

Here are a few discussion topics under the "support forum" : "Panic attacks," "Where do I begin?" "My Big Day Is Tomorrow," "Scared to Even Make the Phone Call" and - the most frightening: "Four In, Four Out, and a Partial." How long did that guy wait before going in? Perhaps the same amount of time as the lady who posted "Getting Dentures."

I think it may be best not to spend too much time on this site. I think I'll go floss instead...

Holy Bull.

Wall_street_bull This picture was taken about two blocks away from where my daughter works. Mercifully, her job is not on Wall Street with an investment house, but with a small consulting company that works primarily with non-profits. But of course the ripple effect of the current crisis is as yet unknown. That grant my daughter was working on from the Lehman foundation? Back-burner that one.

This morning I was reading the paper and yet again made the Weatherman explain to me about sub-prime mortgages and derivatives. I have a basic grasp of the situation that led to all this financial meltdown, but only basic. Never mind, because it's now time for me to turn my hand to the print journalism, which is in solid financial shape. Not.

The Fat Men's Club

BadgeBack in the days before being heavy was seen to be a moral failing, some people celebrated their girth. To wit - the New England Fat Men's Club. This club, begun in 1903, operated under the understanding that fat people were happy people  and therefore needed to band together.

The group generally got together in either Wells River, Vermont or Woodsville, New Hampshire. When they reunited, those who had expanded their girth were congratulated. Meetings began with a weigh in. It was competitive. One man hit 377 on the scales; he was outweighed by a gentleman from Maine, who the following year, hit 435 lbs.

There were games, like baseball (each team weighed more than a ton), tug of war and sack races. Evidently pole vaulting was abandoned for lack of an adequate pole. Needless to say, dining was a big deal. According to Upper Valley Magazine, "one nine course menu included oyster cocktail, cream of chicken soup, boiled snapper, fillet of beef with mushrooms, roast chicken, roast suckling pig, shrimp salad, steamed fruit pudding with brandy sauce, assorted cakes, cheeses and ice cream, followed by coffee and cigars."

Ah, those were the days.The  Fat Man's Club only lasted 22  years, and I think we can all speculate as to why. But I get a big kick out of their attitude, and particularly like their toast:

"A toast to us my good, kind friendsFat man
To bless the things we eat
For it has been full many a year
Since we have seen our feet
But who would lose a precious pound
By trading sweets for sours?
It takes a mighty girth indeed
To hold such hearts as ours."

It's Official - I'm Losing It

ES114-earrings Last night I traveled to Northern Westchester to cover a story about a group of young adults with Down syndrome who had been cast in a major motion picture.

As usual, I was running late, having prepared an early dinner for the Weatherman and me, raced upstairs to change my clothes into something somewhat presentable and then squinted down at my Mapquest directions while barreling up the Taconic State Parkway.

The interviews went fine, but it was somewhat stressful. First, I'm sitting in a circle with the 10 people who were in the film. They had a range of disabilities, so some people were articulate and insightful, while others had extremely limited verbal abilities. Almost all of them had a degree of difficulty in speaking, so it was sometimes hard to make out what they were saying. Group interviews are always hard to manage - giving everyone a fair chance to speak, not letting more verbal people dominate, keeping an interview flow going so that the conversation keeps progressing to new material, etc. This was especially challenging.Rectangle-computer-glasses_lg

That said, they were uniformly enthusiastic about their experience and once the group warmed up, they had a lot to say. But compounding the stress was the fact that many of their mothers were lined up against the wall, watching the whole thing. On top of that, the entire interview was being videotaped by the agency that these young people work with, because it was a big deal to be interviewed by the NYT. You can imagine how relaxing it is to try to work under somewhat challenging conditions and having it filmed at the same time.

Anyway, everyone really couldn't have been nicer, but I was frazzled anyway. (The book, the Weatherman, the kids, etc.) I kept gathering my things and misplacing them at the end of the evening.  When I got home, I went to retrieve my glasses so I could go up to bed and read the paper.
Augh! No glasses. I had left them up in Northern Westchester.

I called the director of the organization (after resurrecting some old drug store reading glasses and making out her number on my computer) and bless her heart -she had them. It was too late to retrieve them at that point, but the Weatherman says he'll pick them up for me this morning.

Already beleaguered, I went to brush my teeth. And it was when I looked in the bathroom mirror that I noticed something peculiar. I had put on some dangle earrings when I had dressed for the interview. But what the heck was that hanging down from my right ear? It seems that in my earlier rush of grabbing my earrings from the jewelery box, I hadn't noticed that a few of my earrings were tangled. So on my left ear, I wore one earring. On my right hung a contraption of two earrings, one hooked to the other, and dangling down to my shoulder.

Oy. I guess it is to the credit of all  the young people I interviewed were too polite to ask why I had that weird thing hanging off the side of my head. As to the mothers, the director of the program, the photographer I was working with - who knows? Did I mention that I was videotaped for this event? And that they also took still shots for posterity?

I. Am. Losing. It.

Getting It Write - The Literary LIfe

Quill Hope everyone likes the new fall colors of the Chronicle. It felt decidedly cooler this morning, and I thought it was time for a new look on the blog.

I'm having one of those crazy writing weeks where I keep switching from one genre to another. On Monday night, my writing group met. Most of us are working on memoir material. I started a piece on my search for my grandmother's medical records. It is very personal writing on a very personal subject.

But I can't stay in that writing voice/head  all week, because I need to work on the book proposal. That kind of writing seems to be a strange hybrid between a columnist's voice and third person reporting, all wrapped up as a sales pitch. The key is to convince publishers to pay me a lot of money to buy this book.

Then there is the NYT. Tonight I am interviewing a group of young adults with Down syndrome, who were recently cast in a major motion picture. That will be straight journalism writing, though of course it will be a feature article, not hard news.

Then there's this blog - kind of like chatting to a friend, but also remembering that it's on the Internet for anyone to see.

And last night, my book group met. We just read "Half of a Yellow Sun,"  a novel by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, set in Nigeria in the 1960s, when civil war broke out and the nation of Biafra was established. A fabulous book, though terribly sad, as you can imagine. So that was just talking about writing - just as important a literary effort as performing the actual craft.

But before I resume my writing life, I have to go pick up the phone and call The Boy. He had a stomach virus yesterday, and I want to see how he's feeling....that's the Mommy Life.

Challenge of The Week

03oj How would you like to be the lawyers selecting the jury in O.J. Simpson's trial for robbery and kidnapping? Gee, does anyone have any preconceived notions about Mr. Simpson's guilt?

This week in Las Vegas, the defense attorney wanted to ask potential jurors if they believed his client was a murderer. The judge nixed that question but did lecture the jury, saying "If you are here thinking you are going to punish Mr. Simpson for what happened in Los Angeles in 1995, this is not the case for you. If you're looking to become famous because of your service in this case, write a book, then this is not the case for you."

As the entire world knows, Simpson was found not guilty in the murder of his wife, Nicole, and her friend Ron Goldman. He is currently on trial for robbing two sports collectible dealers at gun point in Las Vegas. Simpson argued that he was just taking back what was his and that he knows nothing about any guns.

Anyway, they need 12 jurors and six alternates. So far about half of the original 500 people who were called have been eliminated. Anyone out there who is unbiased in this case?

Missing The Kids

Cats on Paul's bed Why am I still not over my empty nest syndrome? The Boy is in his sophomore year in college. My daughter has long since graduated and lives in Manhattan. But it still  doesn't feel much different this year than it did the last.

It always hits the worst on Sundays. "I miss the kids," I whine to The Weatherman over dinner. Sunday dinner was always family night - no matter how many activities the children had, we were always all home on Sunday, and we always had a family meal - usually just a "clean-out-the-refrigerator-dinner" at the kitchen table, but always by candlelight.

Monday morning usually hits me hard too. I wander desolately into the kids' rooms, which are pretty much unchanged since their high school days. My daughter's room has a canopy bed, a pretty green bed spread, and her walls are decorated with both  her own drawings and photo collages of her friends. The Boy's room is pretty much a shrine to the New York Rangers - hockey posters, autographed pictures, hockey sticks - even a hockey bedspread.

When I walked into their rooms this morning, both were eerily neat - beds made, relatively little clutter. But this photo was taken the day after The Boy left for college. As you can see, the cats, Lawson and Maddy, wasted no time in making themselves at home.

I love the kitties, but they don't exactly compensate for my son and daughter.

So What's The Point?

Viagra50mg_front A friend of mine who prefers not to be named just returned from Europe with a clip that she claims is from a very reputable London paper. Here is the first paragraph of the story (which by the way has a headline of "Fire and Forget") : "Erection pills might make intercourse so good that you can't remember it, according to the labels of Viagra and Cialis. The drugs' makers have told the US Food and Drug Administration that they are to add rare reports of transient global amnesia to their lists of possible side-effects."

Huh? Evidently the condition involves isolated bouts of memory loss and confusion in otherwise healthy people. "Victims forget where they are and who they are with," according to the article.

Well, that's a troubling piece of news. There are a million takes you could have on this, but among them is this: what is the point of having memorable sex that you can't remember? I know we're suppose to live in the moment, but come on.

(P.S.Sally, this is right in there with unsalted nuts and fat-free sour cream. What's the point?!)


Gp_republican_1006 O.M.G. Where to start? Where to stop? I'll just take on one tiny issue for today. I am thinking about Sarah Palin disparaging the "Washington elite" and all the problems with Washington.

Hello? Who do they think has been in the White House for the last eight years? The Republicans. Which candidate has been in the Senate for nearly a quarter of a century? The Republican candidate. Who, exactly, do they think the entrenched powers in Washington are? You got it - Bush, Cheney & Co.

Honest to God, I listen to some of this stuff, and it's like 1984. I mean the book. Which she probably wanted to ban.

The School Calendar

Bus90 The district school calendar arrived in the mail last Saturday. A cursory glance for today's activities include the first day of school for grades 1-12, something called "kindergarten visitation"  for the three elementary schools, lock sales (presumably for lockers?) at one of the middle schools, modified sports beginning at both middle schools, freshman fall sports beginning at the high school and an ice cream social on the high school fields starting at 2:35.

Phew! For years I would faithfully transcribe these events onto my own calendar - the parent orientation coffees, the open school nights, the book fair days. Let's not even discuss year after year of the soccer team schedules.

 This morning, from my bedroom window I could hear some of the young children  giggling as they walked towards the bus stop at the end of our street. How many years was that part of my routine? (Actually it's not hard to figure out - k-12 for two kids, though of course I stopped walking them to the bus stop after elementary school.)

Anyway, this is my second fall as an empty nester. The Boy does start class today, up in Maine at college. Please do not ask me what courses he's taking. I have a vague idea, but that's it. I presume he is settled in (he drove himself), got his books and got up for class.

The truth is, I don't really feel blue this fall. The kids are launched, apparently successfully. This morning I am going to finish up the rewrite of part one of the book proposal. I have an interview scheduled for the book this afternoon. In between I need to convince a NYT editor that the story idea I pitched really is a good one.

That said, I hope I hear from both my kids today, and if I don't, I'll call them myself.

Motherhood and Feminism

PH2008090200261 I'm struggling over Sarah Palin. Not about my support - I do not support the Republican ticket, and Palin's politics are anathema to me. No, my issue concerns whether I have a right to judge her as a mother.

I was shocked when I read that she returned to work three days after giving birth to a baby with Down syndrome. Three days? These days, men take weeks off for paternity leave, so they can be there for that crucial bonding process. This is an infant who has extra needs, not that all infants aren't completely helpless.

And as to her 17-year-old daughter's pregnancy - I'm not shocked that she has a pregnant teenager. It happens. What surprises me is that she made the choice to accept the vice presidency, thereby dragging this girl into intense public scrutiny for the rest of her pregnancy, her presumed upcoming marriage and the birth of the baby.

As a mother, I can't understand either one of these moves. They seem - ok, I'll just say it - like bad mothering.

And then as a feminist, I have to ask myself, would I hold a male candidate to the same standards? Would I be appalled that a man returned to the office (or public office) a few days after his wife gave birth ? Would I hold it against him to embark on a national campaign and in doing so, expose his pregnant teenage daughter to such scrutiny?

I'm really not sure.  Palin is running for vice president while tauting "family values." Am I holding her to a higher standard? Probably. But do I also feel like something is a little off here? I do.

Westchester Intends to Be Prepared

Published: August 29, 2008

NINE years ago, County Executive Andrew Spano was in his White Plains office when word came that Tropical Storm Floyd was hitting the northern part of Westchester pretty hard. He decided to go home, change out of his suit and head over to some of the areas that were worst affected.

Getting to his Yorktown home proved a challenge — all the main roads were flooded or blocked by trees. Mr. Spano’s driver finally made his way on back roads, dropped the county executive off at his house and departed. Mr. Spano then got on the telephone to begin coordinating the county response to the storm.

About 45 minutes later, his driver returned, soaking wet. His car had gotten caught in flooding on Underhill Road, and the man had swum out of his car window to safety. Meanwhile, Mr. Spano had lost power at his home, along with his landline phone service. He was basically running the county from his cellphone.

“It was horrendous,” Mr. Spano recalled in an interview. “When I got back in the next day, I said, ‘We’ve got to do something to be better prepared.’ There was no organization countywide, and everything was piecemeal.”

After Floyd hit Westchester in September 1999, disrupting power for thousands, leaving roads impassable and causing major flooding, the county created the Department of Emergency Services. Among the crises that come under its umbrella are hurricanes and other severe weather conditions that have the potential to bring Westchester to a standstill.

Emergency managers have been preparing for a potential major storm, one that might leave the county struggling on its own for days or even weeks before outside assistance arrived. In June, emergency responders conducted a six-day drill, simulating a major hurricane hitting the area.

“We’ve learned a lot of really valuable lessons,” said Anthony Sutton, the emergency services commissioner. “If the storm is a really widespread thing, it will be awhile before the state or the federal government can come to help, and we have to be self-sufficient, both people and the county.”

Westchester officials worked with officials from the state, New York City and Nassau and Suffolk Counties on the drill, playing out what would happen if a Category 2 hurricane made landfall on Long Island. The exercise began with a simulated briefing from the National Weather Service. Over the next few days, the drill included alerting the public, communicating with municipalities, setting up shelters, managing roads, establishing evacuation routes, coordinating county departments, including Health and Public Safety, and working with utilities like Con Edison, nonprofits like the Red Cross and several faith-based organizations.

County planners have also been working with officials from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., which endured Hurricane Andrew in 1992. Emergency planners from that city came to Westchester to monitor the drill and offer feedback.

The drill simulated a storm taking a path similar to that of the 1938 one known as the Long Island Express, a Category 3 hurricane that came ashore on Long Island and traveled up the coast of New England. All told, more than 600 people died in the storm, which produced surges of 10 to 12 feet on the coast from Long Island and Connecticut, eastward to Massachusetts.

Since Floyd, Westchester has had its share of wild weather, including a 2006 Level 2 tornado that tore through parts of the county, a powerful 2007 northeaster, severe flooding in Mamaroneck and, earlier this month, a microburst in Mount Vernon that uprooted trees and caused other damage. During the 2007 storm, one community hospital had so much flooding that it nearly had to be evacuated.

The county has purchased equipment and supplies including electric pumps to clean flooded buildings, portable traffic signs to use in power outages, barricades for traffic control, and cots, blankets, pillows, toiletries and towels to be used at emergency shelters. The county has worked with nursing homes, hospitals and other places with vulnerable populations to ensure generators are in place, as well as with municipalities to establish shelters.

Construction is also under way to allow portable fences that the police can deploy at each entrance ramp on the Bronx River Parkway. Currently, if sections of the parkway are closed, police cruisers or highway trucks act as barriers, diverting them from other tasks.

The county also wants residents to prepare for any storm. A program called “Ready Westchester” urges residents to develop a household disaster plan. That includes having on hand what is needed to survive at home for several days without electricity, as well as preparing a “go bag” should residents have to evacuate. (Lists for both are available at What emergency planners fear most is complacency.

“Our biggest concern is for people to be believers,” said Mr. Sutton, the emergency services commissioner. “We’re really trying to sell this personal preparedness.

“We don’t want people to think about this for the first time when we’re telling them to evacuate.”

Looking for Salvage in the Rubble of an Old Firehouse

The Centennial Hose Firehouse in Peekskill collapsed during an attempt to move it down the street earlier this month.

Published: August 29, 2008

LAST Sunday, members of the Centennial Hose Company gathered to lay a memorial wreath on a pile of rubble. They were commemorating a shocking loss — that of the Centennial Firehouse, a two-story red brick building built in 1890.

The firehouse collapsed on Aug. 21, as it was being maneuvered for a move down the street. It was to be restored and renovated into a museum, part of a planned historic district here. Normally, fire company members lay memorial wreaths at the graves of fallen firefighters, but to many, the loss of the building felt personal.

“To us, even though it was a building, the firehouse was like an old friend,” said Pat Esposito, president of the Centennial Hose Company. “It was our dream that it would become a museum for our town. Now that dream is ended for us.”

The 118-year-old building, which had not been used since 1980, was being moved to accommodate improvements to Route 9, which included replacing a bridge over Central Avenue. The firehouse had been nestled directly under that bridge.

It collapsed in a shower of dust and rubble after the contractor hired to move the building slid it onto a mobile platform and was attempting to rotate it so it could clear some power lines. The cause of the collapse is under investigation, but preliminary reports indicated that a hydraulic component of the platform malfunctioned.

Virtually all that was left of the building was part of one wall and a pile of bricks, many of them broken. No one was injured.

“To say we are upset over the collapse of the Centennial Hose Firehouse would be an understatement,” Mary Foster, the mayor of Peekskill, said. “This was a 19th-century building with deep roots in the community and a long history of service.”

Whatever is salvageable from the site will be recovered, city officials said. A nameplate, as well as rosette cornerstones and several shamrocks that were part of the building, were mostly intact, though the nameplate was broken. Contractors cleaning the site have also been surprised to find other memorabilia, like old bingo cards and even some furniture that had been temporarily stored on the roof, undamaged.

For now, all bricks that can be salvaged, as well as the rest of the facade pieces, are being removed and stored at the contractor’s warehouse, their future undecided. Ms. Esposito said that the company hoped to recover the facade pieces and use its own funds to build a monument at Centennial’s current headquarters on Water Street.

Ms. Foster said that she wanted to work with the company on how to preserve and maintain what is salvaged. Several other possibilities have been discussed.

Before the collapse, the firehouse was ultimately supposed to have been moved to Lincoln Plaza and placed near the old train depot, where Abraham Lincoln gave a short speech in 1861. One option now is to build a smaller building on the plaza, using the old firehouse’s bricks. Another idea is to use the bricks as part of a walkway at a memorial that Peekskill is building on the riverfront green to honor firefighters who were killed on 9/11.

The city spent more than $150,000 preparing the firehouse for the move. It had also received a $1 million state grant to rehabilitate it, and Ms. Foster said that the city was working with state officials to see how the grant money might now be used for projects that would reuse material salvaged from the site.

“We really do want the Fire Department as a whole to weigh in on how all the pieces of the historic building get incorporated into the city,” she said.

You Name It

OB-CE739_palin__NS_20080829124451 Holy Cow! No sooner are the Olympics wrapped up then the Democratic National Convention takes place. You're reeling from that coverage, and out comes John McCain with his shocker choice of Sarah Palin for VP. Now Hurricane Gustav is barreling down. What's a blogger to do?

OK, I have to go with Sarah Palin. Let's put aside for a moment the fact that she is woefully unqualified and unprepared  to step into the presidency, which is basically the key role of the vice president. Let's not even address the idea that women will flock in droves to cast their ballots for a candidate because she is female, despite the fact that  she is anti-choice and promotes teaching creationism in schools. (FYI to the Republican party - the vast majority of women also support gun control.)

No, I have to go with the question of judgment here. Who names their kids Track, Trig, Bristol, Willow and Piper? Track is a generally a place where people run, and evidently the Governor of Alaska did name her son after a high school running track. Trig, to me, is short hand for trigonometry, a dreaded course in math (also evidently Norse for "strength"), Bristol is a town in England, Connecticut and also Alaska (Bristol Bay, for which she is named, is a salmon fishery), Willow is a kind of tree or plant (also a community in Alaska for which she is named) and Piper - to me, a small plane, though I also know two dogs named "Piper."

I know, I know - live and let live, and if Gweneth Paltrow can name her daughter "Apple," the Governor of Alaska can name her kids anything she damn well pleases. But Jeez.

Yesterday, some journalists were interviewing people in Alaska and a few were bristling at the suggestion that Alaska isn't really representative of the rest of the United States. One guy said, "If I cared about what the country thought, I'd live there." Huh?