Saturday, November 27, 2010

So You Think You Had a Cold Thanksgiving?

Robin's cousin, former Wyoming State Representative, Frank Latta, near his Gillette, Wyoming home.

Where I live, in the area around San Francisco Bay, we had a cold snap during the Thanksgiving Holiday this year. A cold snap in this mild region means the thermometer went down to about 30°F for a few minutes each night for a couple of nights. When the morning came and the sun shone, it was relentlessly gorgeous again.

So I sent out the word among my correspondents around the nation to see what the Thanksgiving weather was like in other parts of America. I think my cousin Frank won the prize for having the coldest holiday.

Frank and I are cousins several times removed. We share a great grandfather--Frank Latta, the legendary Montana tracker and cattleman. Frank Sr. had three sons: Harry, Walter and Bud. Harry was my grandfather and Walter was Frank Jr.'s grandfather. Our branch of the family migrated to Spokane, Washington, and then California. Walter and Frank's remained in the Wild West.

The three Latta brothers after a morning outing on the Spokane River. The brothers were each just one year apart. From left: Harry (my grandfather), Bud (who later ran a business in Southern California), and Walter (the wild man of the family) who is my cousin Frank's grandfather.

Cousin Frank now lives near Gillette, Wyoming with his wife Sue, and has spent some of his time in the Wyoming state legislature. Here's his missive on Thanksgiving in the frosty West:

"Thanksgiving in Wyoming this week has been below 0°F all week. Though it is great living in Wyoming; it does have it's challenges. The photos I'm sending show our back yard. We live out in the country a little ways--but, all of Wyoming is in the country. We were invited over to family dinner in Hulett, WY, under the shadow of Devil's Tower. Saw a bald eagle, lots of deer and lots of wild turkeys! Was a nice treat! Roads were icy and snow packed, but hey it is winter! I would like to say that you have to be a little tough to live here, though we have all the worldly conveniences. However, I think we will go to our home at Lake Mead, NV, for a week or so. Even a Cowboy likes a little heat."

Frank Latta, headed back to the warmth of his home, from the chill of the Wyoming prairie.

I thought my cousin Frank would be the prizewinner for the coldest Thanksgiving, until I got this email from my friend-since-kindergarten, Lisa Gutt Arnold, who lives near her 91-year-old father Frank Gutt, on Bainbridge, Island, Washington. Lisa works for a foundation, a ferry ride away from the island, in Seattle.

"Dad & I toasted water and electricity on Thanksgiving day. Our power was off for two days & nights (40°F degrees in the house). When I arrived home on the third day (Wednesday after work) power was on, but the water was off. Pipes had frozen in my apartment complex. Dad & I agreed that it was dreadful, dreary, and depressing; but stumbled on anyway. By half-time the Saints were in control of the Cowboys, and miraculously water had been restored. And that, of course, is why we count our blessings. Even if we are Cowgirls."

Lisa and I at a cowgirl birthday bash, long ago, posing in the front yard of the home where I now live. Lisa is at left in the back row and I'm in the front at left, toting the gun.

In year's past, I've spent the holiday in the warmth of Florida, breaking bread with the bright and witty Seymour family in Winter Park. I missed them this year. But, though you can take a girl out of the West, you can't take the West out of a girl, and now I'm back where I belong, near the mighty Pacific.

Hope your Thanksgiving was full of blessings. Like my friend Lisa, and my cousin Frank--I am counting mine and giving thanks.

Thanksgiving at my door ...

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Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Chinese Puzzle Picture Frame: Ready For Its Closeup

I'm dashing here and there today, getting ready for the holiday. But in the course of my travels I picked up the Chinese Puzzle Frame and got it up on the wall. For a piece that just missed being thrown in the trash, the darned thing looks pretty good. Especially since there is a story behind it.

In advance of our summer garage sale I found a stack of what appeared to me to be four rather horrid picture frames in the laundry room in the garage. My mother had about 300 picture frames she had found at junk stores over the years, and of all the frames she had scrounged, these four in the laundry room looked the absolute worst.

I started to take them out and pile them up for the sale, when my sister said to me:

"You know those four frames go together--like a Chinese puzzle--and make one big frame."

"You're kidding," I said, looking at the wretched pieces I was holding in a new light.

I set them aside to see what they would look like when, and if, I glued them together.

I glued them together. Two of the four sections appeared to have been gilded at one time, so off I traipsed to the arts and crafts store for a little bottle of gold paint, which I dabbed with great inability on two sections of the frame.

Then I got some furniture polish and polished the two wood parts.

It was all very baroque, like the Winchester Mystery House. But the frame said a lot about my mother and her unique ability to imagine something interesting in a pile of cast off junk. She clearly had the gift of vision.

On another quest altogether, I found a watercolor that showed my little hometown as it was about the time my parents moved here. The painting, by local artist Berni Jahnke, was copied from an old photo of our town. It hadn't sold and it was in the markdown bin at Viewpoint Gallery, a little cooperative of local artists in Los Altos.

I loved the colors she had used, the sunny colors of summer in California. It also featured the old movie theater on our Main Street--now gone, alas--where I had my first job in the entertainment business: the summer I was sixteen, I sold popcorn there and took tickets.

As luck would have it, the painting was just the right size for the Chinese Puzzle Frame. I took the frame and the painting to a framer I found in our town who went to all the same schools I did, only about seven years ahead of me. He was crazy for the painting, and loved the frame.

"Man, I really want that," he said. I told him I had almost thrown the frame away. He rolled his eyes.

Today the whole kit and kaboodle was complete and I picked it up.

The framer asked me to be sure and leave it to him in my will. I wonder if he's a relative?

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Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Thanksgiving Thoughts

The Chapmans, Faye and Ash, at the beginning of their life together.

I've spent many Thanksgivings away from my parents: almost all my Thanksgivings since I left home to find my way in the world. Though many extended families gather at Thanksgiving, mine did not. We were spread out across the continent and there we stayed at holiday time.

Yet this is the first Thanksgiving I have spent without my parents--the first since their deaths. I suppose it is natural that my thoughts go back to November of last year, the last Thanksgiving of their lives.

My father had just left the hospital and entered skilled nursing care, chipper and chatty as ever, eating well and cracking jokes. But he had received a diagnosis in the hospital that told us he had just a short time to live. I had a hard time believing it. So I began to plan his funeral in order to force myself to accept the truth.

A few days before Thanksgiving I bought a turkey and planned to create a Thanksgiving dinner for my mother. She went to the hairdresser and had a trim and a perm. Her curly, fair hair made her look pretty, and gave lie to the truth of her eighty-eight years.

Yet within a few days, she was doubled over with pain and off she went to the hospital. I put the turkey in the freezer and spent the holiday driving between visits to Dad in nursing care and to Mom in the hospital. She had not been drinking enough water and she had almost died of kidney failure.

She was slightly out of her head. When I went to visit her one day at the hospital she pointed to the room around her and waved her arm a bit and said: "Isn't it amazing what Disney can do?"

"Disney?" I asked, somewhat perplexed.

"Yes," she answered. "They've built this entire facility."

Once they got her hydrated and eating a little bit she came back 'round to relative reality, and she too was sent off to skilled nursing care to rehabilitate. I was somewhat relieved I had both my parents in the same place.

But she really hated rehabilitation.

One day I came in at breakfast time and she was sitting, thoroughly dejected in a chair by her bed. Her hair was wet and she tossed it back and looked up at me.

"The most ghastly thing just happened," she said.

"What was that?" I asked.

"They put me in the shower."

The lack of choice she had at the nursing home was a horror to her. Worse yet, my sister and I were wondering what we would do with her when she was well enough to leave. We didn't think she could live alone any more. But we knew she wouldn't willingly leave her home.

"What is going to happen to me?" I heard her say on the telephone to my sister. "Am I going to get out of here?"

And, as it turned out, she did not.

On the afternoon of her ninth day there, I was about to go home to dinner. I kissed my father good night and went over to say goodbye to my mother. They were together as they had been most of their lives: sharing a room as they had for 65 years.

As I told her I would see her the next morning, I heard her cough a deep cough.

The next morning she had pneumonia. By noon she was unconscious. She died that night.

I was stunned.

My father was asleep when she died, and I pulled the curtain around his bed so he would not see them taking her away. His illness was, in this case, a blessing. Her never truly understood that she had died.

We cooked the turkey for the reception after her funeral.

Four months later Dad too was gone.

My poor niece. Her wedding was planned for December. It turned out to be just a few days after her grandmother's funeral, just a few months before her grandfather's.

But sorrow and joy are so intertwined. She and her husband were married in Napa and have lived near to me this year. I have had them near to me for comfort and company and it has meant so much. Now they are expecting their first child, and this Thanksgiving we will spend together.

My Dad would be sorry to miss this great grandchild. He loved children. But he and Mom are with us during this holiday in so many ways. We will celebrate in their house. We hear their laughter. We know they have left the ravages of illness and old age behind.

We say thanks that they had such long, prosperous and healthy lives: such short final illnesses, and spent such a short time apart before they were joined again in death.

It was our year of two funerals and a wedding and I shall always remember it, for all the Thanksgivings that lie ahead.

It was the best of times.

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Friday, November 19, 2010

Historic Holiday Thoughts on the US Soldier

Holiday time is a good time to think about all our soldiers stationed around the world, protecting and serving the United States of America. May God bless them all and bring them safely home.

My father had been on remote Ascension Island for nine months when Christmas rolled around in 1942. He was just 23 years old, and that year, the Christmas packages didn't arrive on the island from their families, until February. But though he and his men were living in tents, somehow my father and the other engineers produced a Christmas card, which I found in his mother's scrapbook after he died earlier this year.

Produced as it was in a place with few resources--paper, ink, printers were all scarce--it is a touching piece of history, created during the first year of the greatest war the world has ever seen. The front of the card was simple and looked like this:

Inside, he penned a cheery message to his two aunts and his Uncle Harry:

Censorship was rigorous so there is no mention of where they are or what they are doing. But the work that went in to such a greeting fills me with such awe. Who designed the card? Did the order to do this come from a commander? We will never know. But my feeling is that these things usually bubble up from the ranks and from the brain and heart and hand of a lonely GI with a talent for design. His card did not only go to my father's family and all the families of the engineers on Ascension. It came down the years to me and touched me deeply.

There was another card I found in my grandmother's scrapbook from the second year my father served on the Island. This one was as simple and homemade as the first, and just as beautiful:

Don't you love the angels wings hovering over the engineering emblem of the castle? Note the angel is powered by an airplane propeller (Added Note: since I posted this piece, my niece who has served in the military showed me that the angels wings with the prop in the center was the logo for Army Air Corps Engineers).

The war had now gone on for two full years. The men on Ascension hadn't seen their families for a very long time. So this time, inside the card, there was no cheery note. But there was a message inside, just the same. One understood by soldiers everywhere.

It is a wish we send to all the world this holiday season. Passed down to us from soldiers almost seventy years ago, and from a man who walked the earth two millennia ago. May all our soldiers come home soon. And may the message in this old and tattered card be made new again for each generation.

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Thursday, November 18, 2010

A Modest Proposal for the TSA: Hire the World's Best in Security

Robin and colleague George Kalogridis survey the old city of Jerusalem from the Mount of Olives in Israel. Later that week, when I was departing, an El Al lady in a gray blazer gave me the third degree at Ben Gurion Airport. I had been warned about this, so I kept my cool and by the time I got into the security line, she knew I was a Disney employee and more likely to waste my money on the duty free cart en route than cause them any trouble.

The fat people in those ill-fitting uniforms who comprise the Transportation Security Administration in the United States always frisk me when I fly. I have metal in both my hips and even though I've never been arrested (at least not that I recall), was raised as a Lutheran, belonged to the Girl Scouts, voted for Ronald Reagan (twice) and have two secular degrees from California universities, I am nevertheless taken aside and patted down each time I fly. I haven't said anything about this, because I have been willing to make this minor sacrifice so as to play my part in the War on Terror.

My parents, after all, faced butter, sugar, and meat rationing at home, and my father endured enemy bullets during the last great war. People took their dates on the bus or a streetcar because gas was rationed, as well. I figure the least I can do is endure a pat down when I fly.

But with the latest fuss from a young man who preferred not to have strangers probing his "junk" I have to say this--I know there is a better way to accomplish what we are all striving for: the security of our passengers in the air.

I mean, frisking me is a total waste of time, just as is frisking my sister and my nieces (one of whom has served in both the Peace Corps and as a Naval officer in Afghanistan) and my nephew (who is an Iraqi war veteran). How do I know this? Ask the Israelis.

When you fly into, or out of Ben Gurion airport in Tel Aviv, people who appear to be total strangers ask you odd questions. The car you leave in or arrive in has its license plate photographed. And if you are departing, before you ever reach the security line, a person in a gray blazer has chatted you up, hassled you about your trip, asked to see any gifts you are taking home, asks if you speak Hebrew, asks why a Christian would be there during, say Easter, and has watched for any beads of sweat appearing on your brow.

I had nothing to hide after my visit to Israel. Just a bunch of junk I purchased there to take home to my family!

They don't mess around with frisking silly grandmothers. They know who you are, before you even reach the frisking stage.

I think an excellent way to secure our flights in the United States would be to contract with an Israeli company to handle it. Send all those nice, overweight people who work for the TSA back to their security jobs at K-Mart and bring in the pros. The Israelis are one of the largest recipients of US foreign aid, and the business people in that tiny entrepreneurial country love a good contract. We have leverage here. We could pull this off.

The miscreants who changed our lives by hijacking those planes on 9/11 would not have been able to board El Al jets. And not because they were Arabs, though that might have caused them to receive extra scrutiny, as it should. They wouldn't have been able to board their jets that day because they were taking one-way flights, from airports not anywhere near the places in which they lived. Their passports and visas would have been checked. The box cutters would have been found in their carry on bags.

Let's face it people. The Israelis profile. And it saves them the time we are wasting checking the under wire on the bras of little old lady Episcopalians.

Let's get some pros into this business and show the world we're serious. If we did that we would have a better chance of preventing the next atrocity, and everybody else flying would be safer and would not have to be strip-searched.

We're handing billions of dollars over to the oil-rich Arab countries who hate us, just so we can drive 3/4 of a mile in our SUVs to buy balloons for our birthday parties. Why not toss a few more billion to the Israelis and actually get something useful for our money, from, by the way, the only democracy in the Middle East?

Perhaps the man who said, "Don't touch my junk" was really on to something.

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Monday, November 15, 2010

Retreating to the Frivolous

A new/old rug I ordered, made in the Caucasus in the 1920s arrived this morning. The guest room is getting so nice, I may have to move in there myself.

With so much of import happening in the world--the brave Nobel Prize winner in Burma, finally released from house arrest, the 90-day freeze on settlements in the West Bank, our elected bozos--I mean representatives--gathering in Washington to face tax and spend issues--I feel a bit overwhelmed by how little impact I am having on the large issues of today.

So, I retreat into decorating my house: the one space in this world over which I temporarily have totalitarian control.

After my first very positive experience with, the company in Europe that is exporting rugs from the former Soviet Republics in the Silk Road region, I gathered up my courage to make a second purchase. Their prices are so reasonable and this rug took less than a week to arrive. Fedex from Luxembourg goes faster than a letter does across the US.

I have to confess: with all the terrorism shipping issues of recent days, I was glad this rug came to me via Luxembourg. But it still didn't escape the relentless gaze of U.S. Security.

The only hitch is that since the rugs come from Moslem regions of the world, originally--I had to fill out a special customs form for them, which probably will put me on a terrorism watch list for the rest of my life. Oh well.

While I was waiting for the rug to arrive, I took an old friend of mine--a needlepoint I had completed back in the 1980s, that I had retired for the past decade--and stripped it of its old fabric and took it to the needlepoint store for a re-do with some white damask I had lying around. It arrived on Saturday and it really does seem like an auld acquaintance come home again.

I forget the name of the painting this is from. If you know--shoot me an email.

The cat is a tiny piece of a famous American primitive painting that is in the National Gallery of Art in Washington. She used to be a feature of my home in Bethesda, Maryland and has now found a new place on the four-poster-I-found-in-the-rafters. I still have to add a piece of cranberry piping to the edge of the pillow to give it a little zing. But it is nice to see her again.

And, one more treat: after looking at several thousand toile patterns I found one I really liked that is like a joke within a joke. It is a toile fabric that shows peasants on it making toile fabric! Funnier still: this French pattern comes from an American company, Fabriccut. I think it is a wonderful fabric, and if I can afford it, I've just about decided to use it on the drapes in the guest room. The color is more cranberry than red, and there is lots of white space, which I think helps to makes a toile more durable, in terms of living with it over time. Fabric that is too busy can grow tiresome.

The toile-de-toile-de-toile. I like this because it shows people working. So many toiles are full of cherubs and silly bucolic scenes.

I think I'm probably doing a little fighting off of the holiday blues this year with my decorating. Last year at this time, Mom was still at home--in this home I'm living in now--and Dad was his delightfully goofy self up the hill in nursing care. Mom died on December 11th of last year, just between Thanksgiving and Christmas and just after that my niece got married. We're now expecting a new family member for the New Year. So life goes on. Not easily, nor without sorrow: but spiced with little bits of joy here and there that help to keep us all holding out hope for the future. Objects can fill a home with beauty. But it is the memories we hold of those we love that truly bring us joy.

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Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Situation Normal All Fouled Up! A Vets Day Tribute to the Enduring American Soldier

Capt. Ashley Chapman (1919-2010) on Ascension Island, July 1943.

Robin writes: In honor of Veterans Day in the U.S., I thought I might share with you a piece my father wrote that was published in the San Jose Mercury News, August 22, 1996. It explains, in its own way, why the word "snafu" was coined by the always creative American GI.

"The Army Tradition: Don't Change a Thing"
Col. William Ashley Chapman

"My Dad was a great guy, a veteran of World War I. He didn't like the Army much because of the ever-present confusion and told me I would do well to keep out of it. His example was that when he reported for duty in 1917, they put him in a line, measured him and took his civvies.

The supply sergeant looked at his measurements and said, "We are all out of your size." He handed him a bag of clothing and continued, "Take this stuff and if it doesn't fit, swap with someone." Dad said it was like that all the time.

However, when I attended Auburn University, I decided to obtain a commission in the Army Reserve. Graduating in 1941, as you might imagine, it was no time at all until I received my orders to report for one year of active duty "unless sooner relieved by the President." Four and a half years later, I was finally released to the Army Reserve, where I remained until retirement.

Along the way, I attended the Army Command and General Staff College in Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, and found it to be a superbly run institution. On graduation day, after having received detailed instruction as to how to accept the diploma from the general, we lined up to go into the auditorium for the exercise.

When I sat down, I observed that my name was on the edge of my seat. I remarked to my seat mate how my dad, long deceased, would have been impressed by this precision. This was just not like 1917!

When it came my turn to go up and received my diploma, I performed flawlessly, but as I took the rolled up certificate, the general leaned toward me and whispered: "This is not your diploma. You'll have to swap with the officer who has it."

The more things change, the more they stay the same. Yes Dad, you were right after all!"

William Ashley Chapman
San Jose Mercury News
August 22, 1996

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Monday, November 8, 2010

Sherlock Holmes From Century to Century

A needlepoint I completed about three decades ago depicts the sign of the Sherlock Holmes pub in Charring Cross. I always find a place for it, wherever I live.

Looking at the new Sherlock Holmes on PBS

I'm an unabashed fan of Sherlock Holmes and have read the Holmes stories over and over. Each time I read them, they bring delight anew. The Atlantic storms raging outside the windows of 221 B Baker Street. Mrs. Hudson bringing a cold supper to the sideboard. The tobacco in the Persian slipper on the mantle. Dr. Watson reading the Times while Holmes scrapes away on the violin. Then suddenly: the game is afoot!

I find the stories irresistible. And they are as beloved now as they were in the 19th century when they first appeared.

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, who got so tired of Holmes he tried to kill him off at Reichenbach Falls in a fight with Moriarty and was forced by popular opinion to bring him back again, might be astounded to know how his creation has endured.

Sherlock Holmes is the most frequently portrayed character in English language fiction. And now, there is a new version of him for the 21st century.

The new series, called, simply, Sherlock, brings the consulting detective into modern London with its Cool Britannia, the London Eye, and glass skyscrapers adjacent to St. Pauls. Holmes uses an iPhone, a laptop, and his formidable talents to solve a series of baffling mysteries. But eh gads and gadzooks! The third installment was Sunday night, November 7, 2010, and there is no fourth installment scheduled. And the third installment was a cliffhanger! Featuring a confrontation with Moriarty!

The new series was created by Mark Gatiss and Steven Moffat and the writers of Dr. Who, so it is hip and funny and yet somehow true to its original. It stars Benedict Cumberbatch as Holmes and Martin Freeman as Dr. Watson. Watson is a veteran of--and this is truly wonderful--the war in Afghanistan, and since his own doctor fears that Watson is suffering from PTSD, he urges him to meet new people to take his mind off things.

He does exactly that when he answers an ad and meets his new roommate at 221 B Baker Street.

The new Sherlock Holmes is tall and lean and a little bit stranger than the original, but the solid Dr. Watson is as relatively normal as ever. Trying to make the occasional date. Hoping Holmes will one day think of the feelings of others. Running about London with him helping to foil evil deeds.

The creators have discovered, as have all of Holmes' readers through the ages, that London is as much a character in the stories as are Holmes and Watson. And that the struggle of good versus evil in the world is always fascinating and goes on into eternity.

Hooray for the new Sherlock. Now for heaven's sake let's see the next set of mysteries so we can learn how Holmes and Watson escape from the mad Dr. Moriarty, and live to tell us the wondrous tale.

"I am not a psychopath, Anderson. I am a high functioning sociopath. Do your research."

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Saturday, November 6, 2010

An Emotional Visit with Al the Barber

Al's Barber Shop in Los Altos, California, painted by artist Patricia Howard in 1999.

It took me eight months to gather my courage to go see my father's friend, Al Galedridge, or "Al the Barber" as he is known hereabouts. It is difficult for me to believe it has been eight months since I lost my Dad.

I was afraid I would cry when I saw Al. And I did anyway. But Al didn't seem to mind.

Robin, Al Galedridge, and Ashley Chapman, about 2004.

My Dad was Al's customer for 64 years, ever before there was an Al's barbershop. The two World War II veterans met when my father was living in Palo Alto and Al was working for another barber on University Avenue, not far from Stanford University. The two men moved with their families to nearby Los Altos at about the same time and the friendship continued. I was born after the move and remember Al so well, looking up at him from the vantage point of a tiny child.

The lawn is mowed and Dad isn't wearing a tie, so he and Robin (she's the little one) may be getting ready to go see Al the barber.

On Saturdays, when my mother was tired of my sister and me, Dad would take us with him to the barbershop. To me it was an exotic place filled with the scent of hair oil, the sounds of men laughing and (in those days) smoking, and with strange-looking men's specialty magazines scattered about. There were cars on the cover of these magazine, and guns, and other such male-type things.

I was a little intimidated by the place, but Al was kind to children and always kept Tootsie Rolls around, which he gave to my sister and me when he had finished up with our father. Later, I went to high school with Al's daughter.

Over the years, Dad and Al talked politics and investing during my Dad's weekly visits for a trim. The story goes that Louie, one of Al's barbers, was able to retire early on all the investments he made based on the gossip he heard in this prime shop in Silicon Valley--with HP, IBM, Lockheed, Intel, Cisco, Google, and eBay all nearby, and each one with executives who needed frequent haircuts.

Dad and Al did okay too, though both kept working. Al, six years younger than my father, continues to work on Friday and Saturday. The two men knew each other such a long time, I wrote a story about their friendship for the local newspaper in 2009 in what turned out to be the last year of my father's life.

Al cutting my father's hair in a photo from a story I wrote for the Los Altos Town Crier in 2009.

Dad's hair had gone this gorgeous color of white over the years, and Al's hair had disappeared entirely. "Does that every bother you?" I asked for the story I was writing. "Oh, only every day," Al said and laughed.

Today, I stopped by, finally, eight months after Dad's funeral, with a box of donuts for Al and his customers. I talked to Al about Dad and I cried a little, though I tried not to show it. Al always asks me when I'm going to go back into television because he was one of my fans when I worked at nearby KRON-TV in San Francisco. I guess he assumes the world of television news is still clamoring for my talent. I told him I thought I might do some free-lancing, which actually is one of my plans, and that made Al happy.

Al didn't come to Dad's funeral and I know why he didn't. He is old enough to have lost a lot of customers and, at age 84, he tries to live in the present. I understand.

When Dad was near the end, I called Al and he came up to my Dad's nursing home to give Dad what turned out to be his last haircut. Al always treated my father as if he was as fit and well as he was when they first met, and my father truly enjoyed having Al cut his hair. It was a familiar star in Dad's universe and it felt good. It felt familiar. It is difficult for me to recall that last time they were together, just a few weeks before my Dad died.

But I finally sucked it up and went to see Al. Al who has known me since I was a baby. I'm glad I made the visit. It was like going to see family. And that felt so good.

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Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Election Day Headgear and Other Stuff

President Ronald Reagan looked great in a hat. But he knew when to wear one and when not to. At his Geneva Summit in 1985 with Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev, he stepped outside hatless and coatless to greet the premier. The photos showed proud, tall America next to huddled Russia, and the Iron Curtain began to rise. It all worked out well for Gorbachev: he was free to get rich posing for Louis Vuitton ads. This photo is in the public domain, thanks to the Reagan Library.

I'm stuck at home, waiting for the plumber, not exactly how I expected to spend the morning of this exciting midterm election day. This little ditty is running through my head this morning:

The Giants won the pennant!
Can the GOP take the Senate?

Depending on which cable news channel one watches, one might think the Senate is in play. Or not.

It is amazing how very different the cable newsrooms' points of view are this year. Fox News says Gallup and the Wall Street Journal (the Journal now having the same owner as Fox News--Rupert Murdoch) are predicting an "unprecedented" change in the electorate and thus, in the outcome. And on MSNBC? I saw Rachael Maddow calling Republicans a bunch of racist white people. Such drama! Imagine that some of us are actually voting the issues ...

Among my conservative friends, people question my disdain for Sarah Palin. All I can say is that she reminds me of Huey Long, but in Spanx. "Every woman is a queen!" I dislike demagogues of any ilk or party, but I understand their popularity. Huey Long was very popular with a lot of working poor people in Louisiana who felt they had not gotten their due. They had a good point. Unfortunately, Long was not a good solution to the problem. Nor is Palin. The good news is that she is a shooting star and will have burned out long before 2012. American politics is a marathon, not a sprint. Ask Jerry Brown about that ...

Technically, former California governor, Jerry Brown, should be term-limited, since he has already served two terms as California's chief executive. But he served from 1975 to 1983, before the term-limit law took effect. That loophole is bigger than the San Andreas Fault, and wily Jerry walked right through it. Republican gubernatorial candidate and former eBay CEO, Meg Whitman, did not float like a butterfly nor sting like a bee--not quick on her feet, in other words--and no one on her team even mentioned this term limits thing. She was far too inexperienced to take on an old pro like Brown. It appears California will be stuck with him, again ...

All over the country the so-called tea party candidates are duking it out with their Republican rivals in almost as many cases as they are with the Democratic contenders. Not a good strategy. But groundswell movements are always unpredictable. My father voted for Ross Perot in his independent run for president in 1992, and I always told Dad, the conservative Republican, he should be proud of himself: he helped elect Democrat Bill Clinton president. That wasn't Dad's goal, but my father was voting his conscience and felt that President George Bush (#41) needed punishment for breaking his promise--"Read my lips. No new taxes." But does that mean a Republican voter should help elect a Democrat? My father was an idealist, so he refused to consider the consequences of the ethical stands he would take. We argued about this. I think I'm an idealist too; but, don't ethics include the outcome of our actions?

I covered the first President Bush and found him to be much more interesting in substance than he appeared on television, just as I think he was a better president that he was a candidate. His handling of the first Gulf War, in 1991, was a study in international coalition building and the success of decisive, overwhelming force--as opposed to the lingering war we are presently stuck with. Yet, it was all forgotten by 1992, because we were in a small recession.

That is the luck of the draw. His son, President George W. Bush (#43), seemed to have few of his father's skills: on the other hand, the second President Bush was dealt a pretty mean hand on September 11, 2001, and I'm not sure if there is a mortal among us who would have been in any way prepared for that day. We haven't had another day like it and I don't know if that is skill or luck, but thank goodness for that. International relations are, to me, one of the main things a voter should think about when considering presidential candidates. Congress makes just about all of the national decisions: although this, and many other White House occupants have come in with specific agendas, i.e. the New Deal, the Fair Deal, the Great Society, Obamacare. But when international issues come to the forefront, it is the Commander-in-Chief on whom we must depend.

Speaking of the Commander in Chief: on my recent trip to Washington D.C., the city was atwitter over President Obama's upcoming visit to India. First: that he was departing on the day after an election day which appeared to be an important one for him and his party. And second; the whole head wear issue. Head wear issue?

In India, President Obama wanted to visit the Golden Temple. But to visit the temple, the Sikhs require some sort of head covering. Obama's staff did not want him photographed wearing anything on his head that would look Islamic in nature. Sikhs are not Muslims, they are an Hindi. But they wear turbans. Obama's handlers reportedly asked if he could wear a baseball cap! No, that was not considered respectful. The latest thing I read, from an Indian newspaper on the Internet, is that the Golden Temple visit is off.

Does it sound like a tempest in a tea pot to you? Tea being the operative word here! Do you remember the photograph of Michael Dukakis (Democratic presidential candidate) wearing the headgear and driving the tank? There are people who believe this photo defeated him by making him look silly--especially in the days at the end of President Reagan's second term. Reagan: who wore those natty jodhpurs and snapped a handsome salute as he stepped off Marine One. Obama and his staff are thinking about 2012 and "that photo." There is always the second term for the Golden Temple. If there is a second term.

I'll be glued to the TV tonight, and I hope you will be too. This republic is often a messy thing: but look around you. It is still one of the best things going. And I'm not the only one who thinks so. Else why do we have such a problem with immigration, eh?

The Cat with the hat and the Cat without. The importance of symbolism: Reagan and Gorbachev at the 1985 summit in Geneva.

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