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June 2010

The Eagle Has Landed

Duffle Bag  The doorbell rang this morning at 6:50 a.m. It was a delivery - The Boy's duffle bag. I am very happy to report that the luggage was preceded by about 15 hours by The Boy himself, who finally returned home yesterday afternoon.

He seems great - tired of course, but full of enthusiasm about his travels, appreciation for his own room, and gusto for home-cooked meals. OK - I'll admit it - I am so glad to have him home that I broke into three spontaneous "happy dances" (don't ask) over the course of yesterday.

In other news, I got a call yesterday from the NY Times out of the blue  asking me to do some arts coverage for them. I don't want to get too distracted from the book, but then again, when the NYT comes calling, it's hard to say no. So I said yes and now have 3 short assignments. I am also behind on some publicity stuff for the Food Bank. And then there's Chapter 3. Yikes....gotta go.

Still Awaiting The Boy

Plane-british-airways-G-EUP  Last I spoke to The Boy he was in a hotel in London, about to use a voucher which the airline provided for his dinner. His flight from Sevilla to Madrid took off so late, he missed his first connection, and inevitably his third flight. This set him back a full day.

Apparently the airport in Madrid was controlled chaos. There were delays all around, though no explanation was ever forthcoming as to the cause. Anyway, the airline did take care of him - providing vouchers for a van to a hotel, a hotel room, dinner and breakfast, and a van ride back to the airport this morning. 

I can tell he's been living in Spain for six months, because I could practically hear the one-shoulder-shrugged-eh-it's-life calm resignation in his voice. And hey - this is hardly a tragedy. The Boy is returning  from studying abroad, not deploying to Afghanistan.

Still, I'll be glad when I get my son - who I expect to be glassy-eyed tired and none too clean - safely back home. And if all goes well, that will be some time this afternoon.

The Boy Returns....At Some Point

Istock_000000858649small  I've been counting the days. The Boy is scheduled to return tonight from his six month study abroad/travel in Europe. His flight was supposed to land at Kennedy 10:30 p.m.

Except I just spoke to The Boy and he is currently stuck in Sevilla. Ah, how I remember this phenomenon myself. Except he is not dealing with volcanic ash; The Boy is coping with the vagaries of Air Iberia and air travel in general. 

Here's the irony. He is trying to fly to Madrid, where he is to then get on a flight to London at which point he gets on a third airplane to New York. He was actually in Madrid yesterday, but took an overnight bus to Sevilla, arriving at 4 a.m. this morning. Why? The airline was going to bag him for hundreds of dollars to skip the first leg of his flight.  He wasn't asking for a refund - he just wanted to start his return trip in Madrid, where he already was.

But no go. So now he's back in Sevilla, trying to return to the city he just came from. But his flight has been delayed to the point that he will likely miss his connecting flight in London which means he can't get to New York. Grrrr.....

If all the stars align and he manages to make these connections, he'll be home in about 15 hours. But I'm not hopeful.

What's The Solution?

984_p18  So McChrystal is out, Petraeus is in, and the White House says the current policy in Afghanistan will not be changed.

We have been at war in Afghanistan for NINE YEARS. Thousands of troops are dead, I don't know how many civilians have been killed and billions of dollars have been spent. And things still look bleak. According to a report in the NYT today, "At the moment, everything in Afghanistan is going badly: the military's campaign  in the strategic city of Kandahar has met with widespread resistance from the Afghan public; President Hamid Karzai is proving erratic and unpredictable; and the Taliban are resisting more tenaciously than ever."

I have no idea what the solution to the war in Afghanistan is. The problem is, I'm not sure our leadership - no matter who is in control - does either.

Loose lips...

Army+Lt+Gen+Stanley+McChrystal+Testifies+Senate+AyF4WBxr2HVl  I wouldn't want to be General Stanley McChrystal today. Well, I wouldn't want to be him on any day, because I sure wouldn't want the fate of the war in Afghanistan in my hands. But I also wouldn't care to be walking into a meeting with my boss, who I bad-mouthed in a national magazine. Military men emphasize preparedness, so McChrystal has already written his resignation letter, though the jury is still out on whether Obama will accept it. 

Oddly, what I can't get over in this fiasco is his choice of venue. Rolling Stone Magazine? I haven't read it in years (which probably reflects my age and gender) but I happen to pick it up yesterday in a doctor's office. The cover was the actor Russell Brand, shirtless. An inside photo had him posing in a straight jacket. The one-page profile was insipid. Most of the stories and ads seemed oriented to guys in the 20-35 age range. I mean, if you are going to implode your career, wouldn't you want to set your aim higher?

On the other hand, that must have been a pretty skillful reporter to create an atmosphere so relaxed and trustworthy (just us guys?) that McChrystal and his colleagues felt comfortable enough to say stupid and revealing things.

Anyway, it's all bad news for all concerned - the general, the president, the country and this hopeless situation we're in in Afghanistan.

Don't Attend Board Meetings While Cranky

Cranky1  I should have skipped the meeting, but I'm the conscientious type. On last night's agenda for the Food Pantry board there was a motion to approve the new Mission Statement. You wouldn't think it would be too complicated - our mission is to feed hungry people in the area.

But the group wanted to capture "the spirit" of what we are doing,  and we had  a large board sitting around trying to wordsmith this thing. I think 20 minutes was spent on whether to use the phrase "nutritious" or "healthy" to describe the food. And then whether either word was really accurate, given how much canned stuff we often must distribute.

Having worked at a newspaper, I found this process of group editing almost intolerable, but I think I was just over-tired from last week. Still, I think I was very cranky and I'm worried that I offended fellow board members.

Words of Wisdom

Post_1492126_1244386711_med  I'm home, worn out and have a huge backlog of things to deal with after being away for 10 days. So today, instead of further complaint, I will share some inspiring words delivered by the singer Patti Smith, in a commencement address at Pratt Institute. (It was reminiscent of a graduation speech once given by Russell Baker exhorting the students to use sunscreen, but spoke to a particularly sore subject of mine.)

"My greatest urge is to speak to you of dental care. My generation had a rough go dentally. Our dentists were the Army dentists who came back from World War II and believed that the dental office was a battleground. You have a better chance at dental health.

And I say this because you want at night to be pacing the floor because your fuse is burning inside of you, because you want to do your work, because you want to finish that canvas, because you want to help your fellow man.

You don't want to be pacing because you need a damn root canal. So floss. Use salt and baking soda. Take care of your damn teeth."

To this, I would only add: Wait until Patti has her first implant surgery. She'll look back fondly on the root canals.

Mother-Son Quote of the Week


 â€œI think sometimes that had I known she would not survive her illness, I might have written a different book, less a meditation on the absent parent and more a celebration of the one who was the single constant in my life.”

              -Barack Obama, in the preface of his book Dreams of My Father 

The World Shrinks

Images  It's amazing how small the world becomes when you are taking care of someone, let alone when you are the patient.

Usually, I am on top of all the news, scarfing up the latest on Afghanistan and New York politics and my own local scene in Westchester. I'm abreast of all the new book and movie reviews.

But these days are about doctor visits, pharmacy runs and keeping track of which medication was taken when. The last article I read? Honestly? It was about whether Sandra Bullock was going to adopt a second baby. We buy the junk magazines because that's all we can handle. I'm also all caught up on Gary Coleman's sad life and demise. Once  my Sis is done with one particular rag, I look forward to finding out how Jen (Aniston) is getting revenge on Angie (Jolie) behind Brad (Pitt)'s back.

I'm not proud. Just tired.



So it's not enough that my sister has been sick. On top of that she needs to be traumatized by some unethical jerk. Within a week or two of her diagnosis, she got a letter from a funeral home, offering their services. How very thoughtful - they offered to send her a free guide: "My Final Wishes Organizer."

Have you ever heard of anything so appalling? I can only think that someone who works at one of the many labs or doctors' offices my sister has visited somehow sold information from her medical records to this funeral home.

Let me clarify:  my Sis's prognosis is excellent - she will get well and she is making good progress. But I really want to get to the bottom of how this happened. 

Mother-Son Quote of the Week


 "James made a picture for me when he was in second grade. He was told by his teacher to describe his thoughts about his mother in crayon image and in words. I have no clear memory of the image, but the words were: ‘My mother is to me like a summer day.’ The mischief and the messes became less trying as I held that thought in mind. How fortunate I am that my son, now a man, is today my very dear and close friend."

                     -Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Supreme Court Justice

Online in Flight


Yesterday, I felt like some country bumpkin who visits the city, scratches her head and stares in wonderment at the amazing skyscrapers. "Golly, Gee - look at that!" Only for me it was about Internet in the sky. Going online in an airplane - I don't know why it seemed so amazing. I mean, I have wireless at my home, and it must all come from the sky somehow. Come to think of it, I really have no idea.

It was all I could do not to send out emails to everyone I know simply to say, "I'm writing this from an airplane!" Don't worry - I got over it.

It is wonderful to see My Sis. Despite everything she has been through and is going through, she remains the same Sissy I have always loved. Plus she is sporting an old childhood hairdo - what we called "fluffies" - two pony tails. It's strangely reassuring.

On The Road Again....


 Well, more like "in the sky again." I'm flying to California this morning to go visit My Big Sis. My Sis has been having all sorts of medical problems. I'm going out to help take care of her and hopefully to cheer her up. I hear they have Internet out in Silicon Valley, so stay tuned....

A Pioneer With A Big Mouth

Helen Thomas finally torpedoed her own career at the age of 89, with her inopportune comments about Jews and Palestine. (The comment: Jews should "get the hell out of Palestine" and go home "to Poland, Germany and America.") Yup, that's a career-ender.

She was known for her big mouth, and in later years, her opinionated, if not downright hostile, coverage. But for some of us girls growing up in the 1960s, she was the only woman we ever saw covering the president. As the NYT put it today, "It was an ignominious end for Ms. Thomas, who helped clear the path for countless women in journalism." 

Here's what the press corps looked like when Thomas - front and center -  was covering Lyndon Johnson:

See any other women there? Nope.

Now check out the press corps at a recent news conference at the White House, with Thomas front and center: 

 Lots of factors contribute to the change, of course. But I still give Thomas credit for being the first to stake out this previously all-male ground.

Poll-er Opposites

Survey-_customer  I spent hours this weekend cleaning and organizing my office. There were huge piles of papers everywhere - a melange of clipped newspaper articles, academic studies, scientific papers, polls and surveys, pages of interviews with people ranging from your basic mom-with-son to marketing experts who focus on mothers. All stuff for the book, and all in a state of chaos.

My office is a thing of beauty now, and everything is in its proper place, with a nice neat file label on each folder. EXCEPT, that is, for the three folders vaguely labeled "Polls and Surveys." These remain a hodgepodge of conflicting data. You need the stat to prove your point, it's in there. Moms are spending more time with their kids than ever. Moms are spending less time with their kids than ever. Moms prefer daughters. Moms have fractious, painful relationships with their daughters. Communication between parents and children is at an all-time high. Parents and children are mired in their electronic worlds, increasingly isolated from family life. Happy-old-man-in-walker  

You get the picture. Which is why I didn't jump for joy when I came across a National Academy Science study in yesterday's paper proclaiming that 50 is the age at which people start feeling better about themselves after years of feeling steadily worse. According to this research, folks are really happy with themselves at age 18, and then it's down hill from there until about 50,when the trend reverses again. By the time they are 85, the study says, people are even more satisfied with themselves than they were at 18. (Yes, Mom, I know you disagree with this!)

This would all be fine and dandy news for those of us who are supposedly on the road to better self-esteem. But no sooner had I read this than I moved onto  another section of the paper to find: "For the second year in a row, middle-aged adults have registered the highest suicide rate in the country." What's going on here?

Ah well, time to make sense out of my own statistics.

Mother-Son Quote of the Week


 Not all mother-son relationships are sweet ones. To wit - John Cheever, who in one of his journals had this to say about his mother:

 "All of her children, looking to her for the graceful discharge of affection, have been rudely discouraged." 

And this memory:

"Then a breakfast with the umbilical cord seeming to have been cut but to lie, ragged and bleeding, on the table between us."

OUCH! But then, John Cheever didn't like anyone.

But They're Paying Me.....

Book-publishing  These days, writing a book has lost its cache. I blame self-pubishing. Everyone and anyone who has a checkbook can be a published author. No need for agents or Random House or Viking. Just trot out your prose, pay someone, and you, too, will have a  book out.

Yesterday I got a press release (you can hire your own publicist too) for one such effort. Here was the lead sentence: "What do a baby squirrel in danger and a married couple have in common? Readers find out in [insert author's name here] new book released nationwide this week, "Free Squilly."

The author, when she is not writing books, evidently owns a home improvement business. None of this should be any of my concern. If a contractor wants to write a heart-warming tale about a squirrel, why not? Well, my fragile little ego will tell you why not. Because many people don't get the difference between one of these efforts and a hard-earned, stress-producing real book contract, where you have real agents, real deadlines, real pressure. Oh yeah - and you don't pay them, they pay you. And you hope to Heaven you make back your advance and then some, so you can get another book contract and start all over again.

"Free Squilly" indeed!

The Gore Marriage

AlGoreTipperKiss3  Now that I look at the body language in the famous on-stage kiss between Al and Tipper Gore, she doesn't look entirely comfortable. 

I was really sad when I heard that the Gore marriage was breaking up after 40 years. I remember reading an article about their marriage a long time ago in some dopey women's magazine. The writer of the piece noted that Tipper briefly interrupted the interview, because Al was due home, and she wanted to brush her hair and freshen her lipstick before he arrived. I always found that detail touching, and  I could relate to it - I still try to look as nice as I can for The Weatherman. It's not about putting on a false front - it has to do with not taking each other for granted and keeping the romance alive in a long-term marriage.

My parents and The Weatherman's parents have both celebrated their 60th wedding anniversaries. This week, The Weatherman and I will celebrate our 27th. But I guess this news about the Gores shows you that numbers are meaningless. I can't imagine investing all those years together and then deciding you'd be happier alone. Sad and scary for us old marrieds.