Thursday, February 20, 2020

Sorry I missed you, son, and I hope you got my birthday card

Just as the first bell above the Post Office at Westover rang signifying noon, I walked into the Lost Dog Cafe pizzeria for lunch and noticed it was pretty empty.  I was seated at a table by the window where I could see anyone entering or leaving the restaurant and ordered a draft beer and an Italian Pie.

While waiting for my pie to be prepared I walked once through the eatery and saw that there was no one in the sparse crowd of diners who could conceivably be from my immediate family and after availing myself of the men's room (I have three sons), I resumed my place at the table and kept watch on the door.  The beer arrived but I didn't like it, too cloying and sour tasting, so I only sipped it occasionally.


The pie soon arrived and it was cooked just right, with a delicate crust ladled with a savory pizza sauce, with lots of pieces of salty diced or round-cut cold cut meats piled atop crunchy white onion strands basking under a melted mozzarella cheese film.  I cut the four pieces into eight and allowed them to cool, then slowly ate most of the slices while watching out the window to observe the front door and sip my beer sparingly.

At the end of the hour I paid my fare, left a piece of pie and half a beer as a good luck charm for next week when my youngest son has a birthday and I'll return one more time for lunch in the hopes of seeing him and his wife of several years whom I have never met and, who knows who else.  I departed thinking back upon my dad, who for all his faults as a person would never have been cut out from the family by all of his children and left in childless loneliness for the rest of his life by those offspring; such an action would seem to the ordinary person to be a pretty damning indictment of an unnatural cruelty imparted to those children by one of of their primary caregivers and her coterie of soulless enablers, children now grown up to be fully mature adults by the passage of an ensuing decade and a half, having seemingly incorporated those same characteristics of immutable cruelty into their very beings.

Tuesday, February 18, 2020

Later this month

Many years ago one February, my mother said wryly to me in a note accompanying yet another arriving birthday gift that birthdays come fast and furious in my household after the turn of each year because one of my sons was born in January, the other two were born in February and their mother had a birthday in March and mine is in April.  Then, relief till Christmas.

Next up a few days from now is my oldest child's birthday, and I hope to see him during the lunch hour at the local gourmet pizzeria after all these years of him being away, apparently getting over the fiduciary suit he and his brothers (and mother, who stood in for the youngest child who was too young to be on the papers) brought against me during the divorce, a case of not-so-subtle coercion of these tender children by overbearing adults supposedly caring for them, that was tossed out by the judge as being a "harassment petition;" which ultimately incurred almost $50,000 in sanctions and costs assessed against their mother.  Yesterday was a holiday and I didn't see anyone I recognized at that restaurant during the lunch hour, but I am hopeful that it will be different on Jimmy's birthday.

Actually on that morning I am slated to have yet more work done on my damaged eye that has bedeviled me through four eye operations and I'll tell him how I am doing as I get older; I am sure he is concerned.  Also a cousin of his is getting married, I'm sure he'll want to know those particulars, one of his aunts has much worse ailments than me and I'm sure he'll want to know about that, and a great aunt who used to often take care of him when he was a baby passed away and I'm sure as a normal human being, he'll want to know that sad fact.

I sent him a birthday card in care of his mother at her address, with a birthday gift inside the card as it's my belief that he lives sometimes at her house, at least when she lived in the area and he used to park his car outside her house in the adjacent bank's parking lot for extended periods.  Being my first-born I of course love him and have many happy memories of him (enjoy these old snapshots of a dad's oldest son) and I hope that after about 15 years I'll see him later this week; I trust that he is alive and well although his mother stonily refuses even to tell me these simple things about the wellbeing of our oldest child, or any of our children.

Monday, February 17, 2020

Parliament Square, Trafalgar Square and Fala

Happy Presidents Day.  The greatness of Abraham Lincoln is even recognized in London, as he holds down a section of Parliament Square opposite Disraeli

The British also recognize the greatness of the Father of Our Country.  A statue of George Washington is in Trafalgar Square, outside of their National Gallery, which also houses a Stuart Gilbert portrait of Washington.

FDR has a corner of the Tidal Basin all to himself, tucked away between the Jefferson Memorial and the MLK Memorial.  He shares its expanse with Fala, Eleanor, a barefoot person huddled around a radio set listening to one of his uplifting weekly addresses that is addressed to all Americans and not just his base, and Hooverville people lined up on a food line.

After those towering Great Presidents (one gave us our country, one saved our country and one saved the world), I'd say the slightly lesser pantheon of great presidents starts with Teddy Roosevelt, the Trust Buster who addressed to some degree the obscene wealth inequality that had crept into our capitalistic society during the Robber Baron era, and that has regrettably insinuated itself back into our current society even worse, especially after the democracy-wrecking Citizens United supreme court decision.  I think I'll go get a pizza for lunch on this holiday and ponder our fork-in-the road future, with portentous November coming up.

Sunday, February 16, 2020

Presidents Day Holiday

Tomorrow is the President's Day holiday.  Perhaps in a few years, or as early as next year if the 40% aided by foreign interference have their way, it'll be moved to Trump's birthday for the holiday.

But in the meantime, the District is full of reminders of real presidents.  Monuments, memorials, portraits and hidden away statues, like this statue of a kneeling Lincoln in the Washington National Cathedral, tucked away in a little alcove on a stairway.

The Washington Monument is the most significant and noticeable of all the presidential tributes here.  I use it to check on the arrival of bad weather from the west, and to try to orient myself if I'm lost on all the diagonal streets in the District, so long as I can see it.

Sometimes I catch a nice shot of a memorial that is a result of the wet weather in the District, like this photo I snapped of the Jefferson Memorial shrouded in fog from across the expanse of the Tidal Basin, maybe a half mile away.  Tomorrow being a holiday, I'll celebrate by enjoying lunch at the local gourmet pizzeria as usual on holidays and special days and who knows, maybe my oldest child, whom I haven't seen nor heard from since, I think, about 2009, will show up to enjoy sharing the meal with me; after all, he has a birthday a few days later and I'll be there then too, looking forward to seeing him then also, or for the first time in over a decade.  ;-)

Saturday, February 15, 2020

A new profile picture

Each year I change my profile picture to a picture of me from the preceding year that speaks to where I am or was in the recent pass.  For instance, when I started this blog about 13 years ago, my first profile picture was me standing in a park on Staten Island, where I grew up, with the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge in the background.  I was running the New York City Marathon the next day and it seemed a fitting portrait of my blog at that time.

Over the years I had profile pictures of me, if I remember correctly, standing before an Indian battlefield in Wyoming (the Fettermen Fight, formerly known as the Fetterman Massacre), eating a pizza, visiting a baseball park and attending a protest rally now that my Street Fighting Man days from the early seventies during the Nixon years have been necessarily revived during these Trump years.

Last year, 2019, my profile picture was a snapshot of me from November 2018 as I headed out to canvas for a democratic challenger, Jennifer Wexton, in the Tenth Virginia Congressional District running against the Republican incumbent in a seat that had been Republican for forty years.  We flipped the seat, the first seat to be announced to have flipped during that entire historic blue-wave night.  I was pretty proud to have contributed a meaningful effort that fall in the fight to preserve our rule-of-law nation.

For this year's profile picture I reached back to March 2019 when I visited Omaha Beach in Normandy, one of the five D-Day beaches that the Allies stormed 75 years earlier during Operation Overlord, the success of which presaged the utter destruction Nazi Germany eleven months later.  Omaha Beach was the bloodiest and most bitterly contested of the five landing beaches and the initial shallow lodgment there almost failed, a catastrophe which would have unhinged the whole Allied line those first days and might have caused the American, British and Canadian troops to be driven back into the sea.  Unlike at the other four beaches, the first wave of American troops at Omaha suffered mass slaughter wading ashore and for almost the whole day the Americans reached only the seawall, perhaps thirty yards past high tide, under which they sought shelter from the murderous fire raining down upon them from the bluffs beyond the narrow coastal strip.  Orders were being prepared to withdraw them but in the afternoon intrepid soldiers singly or in pairs or clumps went up into the nearby hills, engaged the enemy and the beached was preserved and enlarged as more troops came ashore.  It was a close thing and a costly victory, with hundreds of Americans killed and thousands wounded on that beach alone.  It is a reverential place for Americans to visit, haunted no doubt by the ghosts of shattered young men roaming ceaselessly among the ruined detritus of war still there decades later.  It was a time when Americans were great and proud and wanted to make the world a better place, and weren't victims of seemingly hopeless circumstances wanting only to keep the world out by building a thousand-mile wall, separating families and caging children.  My dad fought with the First Marine Division in the Pacific driving towards Tokyo and my girlfriend's dad fought with Patton's Third Army driving into Germany, and I was humbled to stand upon that hallowed beach in France yet suffused with pride at the can-do American spirit it represents.

Friday, February 14, 2020

Is February half over already?

It's midway through February already, closer to spring than to fall, practically halfway to income tax day.  I've been trying to stay busy, continuing my routine of running three times a week, albeit at reduced milage due to the limiting factors of a balky achilles and an aching arthritic hip. The mostly 50 degree-plus weather has been an inducement to get out there and enjoy the day on a pleasant jog which is more like a shuffle than a run these days but still, ten months ago I wasn't running at all.

I believed my eye woes were finally behind me with the coming of the new year, but this month I thought that my good eye might be starting to suffer the same malady as my bad, right eye.  I imagined I was seeing what I call "fly-bys," a feeling or glimpse that something small, like a fly, was whizzing past the periphery of my vision, and feared that the floating junk in my left eye was increasing.  These are the ominous warning signs that your retina may be deteriorating and it can lead to a hole in your vision which is a real and immediate medical emergency.  Also I just felt that my vision was subtly degrading because it seemed harder to see my footfalls during runs in low or flat light conditions.  So I called for an appointment with an ophthalmologist and within a few days had both of my eyes checked out.  The verdict?  My good eye, the left one, was fine although I was at a "greater risk" than the normal population for its retina to deteriorate because it had already happened to my other eye.  But in my bad eye, the subject of all those operations a year ago, I had developed scar tissue that was attached to the plastic lens inserted during my cataract surgery last April, that was obscuring my vision in that eye, a "one in five" occurrence I was told, which seems like a high rate of failure or at least significant side effects for such a commonly performed operation to me.  After four eye surgeries in the recent past, two of them emergency operations that led in each instance to an onerous week of "face-down" recovery, no movement of the head permitted, I am scheduled for an "office procedure" later this month involving lasering the scar tissue inside my eye to blast it away, from which I supposedly will drive myself home following it.  Supposedly it is a safe procedure which will improve the vision in that already-damaged eye, which carries only a "theoretical risk" of burning a hole in the retina if the laser beam is errant as a possible side effect (I asked).  I'm glad I went to the doc but I'm not happy about this development.

I've also been attending different churches this month as I like to sample a few different religious services each year.  I attended a service at the Washington National Cathedral, a renowned ornate Episcopal church in the District that suffered extensive damage to its spires and gargoyle statues during the big earthquake that shook DC last decade.  I attended the service, involving much singing and several baptismal, with a congregation member who showed me around the beautiful interior afterwards.  I attended a service at the Falls Church Anglican, a mega church whose congregation years ago took over my church, the Falls Church Episcopal.  That congregation, under the leadership of its charismatic priest who in my opinion was homophobic and misogynistic, opposed to gay bishops and women priests, purged the rolls of parishioners who were liberal and followed a Nigerian bishop with those biases instead of the Virginia diocese.  In effect they squatted on the church property for years while a lawsuit to reclaim the property by its rightful owners finally prevailed about seven years later and the illegal usurpers had to leave the property and build its own church.  I usually attend one service there a year to see what they're preaching these days, and their new church was finally completed this year.  The service was the last one I will attend there as their metamorphosis seems to be complete and the congregants seemed a little too in rapture for me.  There was a soft rock religious band that played hymns and psalms throughout the service, projecting their image and the lyrics on two huge TV screens and the congregation swayed to the music throughout and sang along, many raising and waving their hands to the heavens in supplication as they asked Jesus to save them and be their friend.  There was no communion, although the sweet-talking priest did talk about Anna Karenina during his sermon, which I found interesting.

Other than that, I donated double red blood cells last week, which wiped out my running vitality for the next run, my century and a quarter blood donation.  This month I have watched the rapid, perhaps fatal, decline of our great republic as the president spins out of control, enabled by a slender majority of Republican Senators representing about 20% of the US population.  Today I spent a wonderful Valentine's Day with a special friend, visiting a distillery, enjoying a bowl of mussels and seeing the Academy Award winning movie Parasite with her.  President's Day is this weekend and two of my sons have birthdays this month and maybe I'll see either or both of them at the local gourmet pizzeria during one or more of those lunch hours.  And this month also has one more day than usual, it being a leap year.

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

My Dad


Earlier this month my dad had his birthday. He would have been 95. He died too young at age 61. 

He was the most important person in my life and he is still my moral compass. "What would dad have done?" is a question I ask myself often. Lawrenceville '41, Peleliu '44, Okinawa '45, Carleton '49, Yale Law '52, Cleary Gottlieb till '84, father of 6, husband to our mother for 42 years, grandad to 9 kids.

Then there was his civic work to make this world a better place. Board Member on the Staten Island Mental Health Counsel, President of the New York County Lawyers Association, President of the Carleton College Alumni Association. He dedicated two of his month-long vacations in consecutive years away from his family in the mid-60s working in the deep south to institute voter registration after the passage of the Civil Rights Voting Act, among other things. My mother was a stalwart angel, a partner to him, as she took care of six young children during those hot, steamy New York July days, seamlessly even while she was probably worried sick about his safety.

He taught me the lessons about the slippery slope, that the best is the enemy of the good, and that the law is merely the minimum of morality. He showed me through his manly but loving and sensitive manhood how we men should strive to proceed through a man's life as a man, both intellectual yet physical if presented as such.  I miss him still.