Stuck in an Elevator: a saga in verse

main_chanie_elevator

I set off on my work commute
Along my normal daily route
My nextdoor neighbor followed suit
Into our elevator.

That was when disaster struck
The worst of days! Of all the luck!
In between floors, the thing got stuck
A go-nowhere DUMBwaiter.

Time passed, the damned thing didn’t shift
And no one came to our assist
In this death trap of a lift
I prepared to meet my maker.

We punched the buttons for each floor
Jumped up and down, yanked on the door
My neighbor starting calling for
Someone to come and help her.

Her pleas attracted some attention
Repairmen ended our suspension
And we commenced with our descension
We took the stairs – they’re safer.

LeBron James: He Likes Us! He Really Likes Us!

I considered writing a new poem about the NBA finals, but I’m still kind of partial to this one from 2014. My first ever re-blog. #Believeland

In Write Field

LeBron James Nike "We Are All Witnesses" billboard hanging from a building in Cleveland, Ohio

Four years ago
We were sucker punched, so
You can understand why I’ve been skeptical.
My hometown was spurned
Our allegiances turned
And our hero was yanked from his pedestal.

His burning ambition
Lay behind “The Decision”
To join forces with Bosh, and with Wade.
Fans shouted obscenities
And burned him in effigy
Any time the Cavs and Heat played.

But feelings evolved
And Cleveland resolved
To lure King James back in free agency.
They flattered, they fawned
They slept on his lawn
Would he come home, or turn us down gracefully?

Never say never
Knock me down with a feather
The optimists were not mistaken.
Chock full of forgiveness
And ready to WITNESS
This time fans have not been forsaken.

A conclusion forgone:
We’ll win with LeBron
And great things are going to happen!
The Q will sell out
And there’s really no doubt
That the Cavs will be NBA…

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“Weiner”: What’s in a name?

 

Anthony Weiner Huma Abedine 2013

Anthony Weiner: the name that launched 10,000 puns.

If you’re like me, you haven’t heard or thought much about the disgraced former congressman recently. He sort of disappeared from political conversation after his shellacking in New York City’s 2013 democratic mayoral primary.

But fear not, rubberneckers! Anthony Weiner — aka Carlos Danger – is making a return, of sorts, in a documentary directed and produced by Elyse Steinberg and Josh Kriegman.

Anthony Weiner and Huma Abedine, People Magazine, 2012Weiner was originally intended to record the potential comeback of a one-time political pariah, and late-night punchline. Filming began in spring 2013, when Weiner announced his candidacy for mayor — and one year after a lengthy People magazine interview, in which he and wife Huma Abedin shared how their marriage had withstood his 2011 sexting scandal, and subsequent resignation from Congress.

The documentary crew had unprecedented behind-the-scenes access to the candidate, his staff and his family. Remarkably, this continued even after a new batch of more explicit Weiner “selfies” — taken around the time of the People interview – came to light.

Weiner is riveting, like a crime scene or train wreck, if you don’t focus on the human toll. It follows a delusional career politician who revises history and weaves elaborate lies about the present, unwilling to acknowledge that violating public trust is a legitimate campaign issue. I felt a strong urge to shower by the end of it.

Two scenes in particular sent chills down my spine:

  • First, Weiner is riding with his campaign communications director. She’s reading questions from the media aloud, diplomatically asking her boss to be sure he’s comfortable with his answers, so that she isn’t forced to revise or contradict herself later. (She doesn’t specifically ask for candor, but I’ll give her the benefit of the doubt. It’s probably pretty hard to come right out, and ask your boss not to lie.)

There’s a saying about lying – that the hardest part is keeping all the lies straight, and not tripping up. Anthony Weiner does not have that problem. It’s like he has a Rolodex in his head, containing every detail he’s provided to the media on the subject of his inappropriate behavior. (A Rolodex is a non-digital piece of office equipment, millennial readers. Stick with me.)

Weiner formulates his answers by whizzing through this mental Rolodex, deciding how many women he’s sexted based on what he’s previously told the New York Times vs. the New York Post vs. TV interviewers — but doesn’t search his memory for what ACTUALLY happened. He never once references the need (or intention) to be truthful. It’s disturbing.

  • Next, near the end of the film, Abedin declines to accompany Weiner to the polls on primary day. So, he weaves an implausible, easily disproved yarn about his polling place losing his name, thus creating a delay and forcing Huma to vote on her own later. Weiner races down the street, dictating the story rapid-fire to his staff, like someone in the throes of a manic episode – oblivious to the fact that his stream-of-consciousness lying is being observed and recorded. He later (sheepishly) tells the story to reporters, who seem unconvinced

I thought I’d have more sympathy for Abedin. By all accounts, she prefers to exercise her considerable power behind the scenes, while her husband stands out in front seeking public adulation. As the documentary progresses, she’s the voice of reason while he goes off the rails. Eventually she physically and emotionally distances herself from him, rolling her eyes or glaring but rarely speaking.

Even so, her mask occasionally slips. In one scene, Weiner meets with his dejected campaign team in his home, to help soothe their sense of betrayal. Several staffers point out that the communications director is being followed and harassed by the media everywhere she goes. Abedin shows little concern, and reminds the woman that the cameras will still be outside when she leaves.

Abedin asks, “You’ll look happy, right?” Then, realizing how unfeeling that sounded she adds, “I mean, I’m asking for YOU because I’m worried about YOU.” Sure you are.

Weiner’s most regrettable impact is 15 more minutes of fame for the candidate’s 23-year-old sexting partner Sydney Leathers (campaign codename: Pineapple). She’s a guest on Howard Stern. She makes a sex tape. She stalks Weiner around New York, tabloid photographers in tow. Watching her chase him through a Manhattan McDonalds, on his way to his concession speech, is a definite low point.

In the final weeks of his campaign, Weiner makes an appearance on MSNBC where he is smug, combative and high strung. Lawrence O’Donnell mocks his decision-making by asking, “What’s WRONG with you?”

It is a cheap gotcha question, meant to entertain the lowest common denominator. Yet once the film credits started rolling, I had the same question. What is wrong with Anthony Weiner?

I’m still not sure, but it’s something.

 

loser-anthony-weiner

Life Behind Bars

Woman eating aloneIf you follow this blog you know I like to travel, and I often do it solo. It’s part conscious choice: I’m an introvert who tends to avoid trips involving days at the beach (there’s not enough sunscreen on earth to protect my pastiness), or hitting nightclubs and casinos. Give me a self-guided walking tour, a few historic sites and a spot of shopping in a mild climate – I’ll be a happy tourist.

Traveling on my own is also sometimes a necessity: I’m single with a lot of coupled-up friends. If I scheduled my trips around their availability, I’d wind up spending an awful lot of vacation time on my sofa.

And of course there’s also solo work travel. I’m not required to do a ton of it, and the trips are usually short so I enjoy them. There’s something about staying in a hotel room that someone tidies for you each day, and eating meals (on the company’s dime) that you neither prepared nor cleaned up after, that feels like an adventure – and not at all lonely.

Given how often I travel alone, and how comfortable I am with it, I often surprise myself when I arrive at a restaurant solo and tell the host/hostess, “Just one for dinner.” Or, “It’s just me.” I can’t explain why I feel the need to include the word just, as if I’m apologizing. Maybe it’s because restaurants so often leave me feeling contrite for taking up a whole table, “just” for myself.

I was recently in Palm Springs for a music festival that my company sponsors. On my first night, I headed downtown for VillageFest, a low-key Thursday night street fair. I arrived early, and found a restaurant that looked promising. I was told I’d have to eat at the bar.

Let me be clear: one of the advantages of traveling alone is I can often eat at great restaurants without a reservation, because I’m usually willing to sit at the bar. But this large bistro in Palm Springs was – I kid you not – about two-thirds empty at this time. There were unoccupied tables for two everywhere, so being booked solid was definitely not the issue.

I forced a smile, said “thanks anyway”, and kept walking, eventually finding a more crowded restaurant where I was nevertheless seated at a real table, like a valued customer. I had two cocktails, an appetizer and main course salad, and dessert. I suppose I felt like making a point.

When I walked past the snooty bistro about 90 minutes later, it was bustling but STILL had empty tables for two. So, what was gained by snubbing me?

Fast forward to this afternoon. I was not traveling, I just had errands to run at San Jose’s Santana Row. Despite its vast array of shops, with even more in a sprawling indoor mall across the street, I’m not a fan of the place. Teslas are on display in the center of the complex, surrounded by beautiful people lingering – being seen by other beautiful people — in large open-air restaurants with white tablecloths and a complete set of wine glasses at each place. In other words, forget every Midwest mall you’ve ever shopped in.

I made the mistake of approaching a French-American themed café by myself, seeing quite a few empty tables, and asking to be seated at one of them. The unsmiling hostess replied that single parties must sit at the bar. Not that there might be a wait, unless I was willing to sit at the bar. I was alone, so the bar was my only option.

I later joked that the swells at Santana Row seemed terrified that I might infect them with my unglamorous single-ness. There were tables to spare, so I can only conclude that the optics of a person dining alone was considered potentially depressing to other diners – an unwelcome appetite suppressant.

Because every ludicrous situation I encounter brings to mind a Seinfeld episode, I laughed thinking of season 9, and germaphobe coworker Peggy who was frantic that proximity to Elaine would contaminate her. Too bad today’s restaurant hostess didn’t leave a keyboard within arm’s reach.

tv comedy seinfeld elaine benez
In 2015, Deloitte University Press released a study focused on a steady rise in single-person households in the United States between 1960 and 2014 that is expected to continue for at least 15 years. While this trend will influence the way communities and housing are designed and built, I hope it will also force establishments like Zin American Bistro and The Left Bank to value the growing number of us who are as likely to travel, shop, dine and reside solo, as in a group.

Show us to a table, if that’s what we ask for, because there’s no more space at the bar.

 

My Gold Country Road Trip: Hitting the Mother Lode

A few weeks ago, this western film and television fan made a pilgrimage of sorts to Ponderosa country. I didn’t cross paths with any Cartwrights, although I did encounter a perfect Hoss hat in a shop in Virginia City.

According to Baron Hats – the company that designed and manufactured all the hats worn on the TV show — the Hoss model was an original, just like the character for which it was created.

“With a gun and rope and hat full of hope!…”– from the lyrics to ‘Bonanza’

I spent 4 nights in rainy Incline Village next to Lake Tahoe, launching several day trips from there: Carson City, Reno and Virginia City. But the best excursion – the one I really planned my trip around – was to Bodie State Historic Park, home to a ghost town. (#Boo.)

W.S. Bodey of Poughkeepsie, NY discovered gold on the site in 1859. (He died several months later in a blizzard, which probably explains why the name of his namesake town wound up misspelled.)

At its peak, Bodie had about 7,000 residents. Only about 5% of the structures from that period survive, but that’s enough to provide a fascinating, throwback experience. When California State Parks purchased the land in 1962, it chose not to restore or renovate any of the buildings. It merely maintains them as they were discovered.

The town’s population dwindled after Bodie’s heyday of 1877-1881, although mining continued until 1942. What’s left standing has a bit of a Pompeii feel to it, as if everyone bolted one day with only what they could carry in their pickup trucks. Everything else – clothes, toys, furniture, mattresses, baby carriages – was left behind.

The Bodie cemetery is filled with the graves of residents that didn’t make it out – many of them gunmen killed in shoot outs. The visitor’s guide provides some back stories:

  • Alexander Nixon, a native of Tyrone, Ireland, died in 1878 at age 38. He lost a gunfight with a friend. They were arguing over who was the better man. Not sure there was a definitive outcome to the debate, but the friend was the better shot.
  • Chatto Encinos was killed by Sam Chung in 1880, for raiding Chung’s vegetable garden.
  • John Goff was shot in a claim jumping dispute in 1879.
  • Darwin award winner A.C. Robertson died in 1880 while trying to thaw out frozen gun powder in his oven. Seriously? Who DOES that?

Small flags are scattered amidst the cemetery’s desert brush. They pinpoint possible unmarked graves recently identified by human remains detection dogs. See what I mean? Spooky!

The visit was worth the 2.5 hour drive in each direction. As road trips go, I’d say I hit the mother lode.

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The Queen’s English

Queen Anne the Politics of PassionI am an avid reader, and feel driven to finish just about any book I start. I will slog my way through a tome, because I.Am.Not.A.Quitter. I will grant myself permission to give up on a book I’m not enjoying… but rarely take myself up on the offer. It’s a sickness, really.

Case in point: I recently completed Queen Anne: The Politics of Passion, by Anne Somerset — a heroic feat that took approximately three months. While I appreciate a thorough biography of an important British monarch as much the next history major, at 640 pages this one sometimes felt like breaking rocks in the midday sun.

Queen Anne only lived to age 49, and was in ill health for most of her adult life. Truth be told, given the length of the book and the level of detail provided in it, I sometimes hoped that if her gout didn’t hurry up and kill her, a Jacobite would slip something into her food to move things along.

Kensington Palace is one of my favorite tourist stops in London. It has some great exhibitions about former residents Queen Victoria and Prince Albert. There’s also an enormous portrait of Queen Anne (who died at the Palace in 1714) on the ground floor that has always intrigued me. A plaque near the painting states that Anne gave birth to 17 (!) children – and survived none of them.
Sarah Duchess of Marlborough

An even more compelling aspect of Anne’s life was her relationship with Sarah, Duchess of Marlborough. I must admit it was a big reason I bought the brick. Er, I mean the book. All I knew going in was that the two women enjoyed a passionate friendship that bordered on scandalous, followed by a falling out of legendary proportions.

Eighteenth century gossip can be juicy, but this tale of friendship gone south wasn’t illicit, at least according to Somerset. The Queen and Duchess wrote each other extravagant “love” letters (complete with pet names) that were the style of the day for BFFs, but over time Sarah’s access to Anne and the massive wealth it brought her and her husband, turned her into an evil monster. With a barbed tongue like hers, she’s lucky she didn’t wind up in the Tower.

How about a little gratitude with that attitude, Duchess?

A less gossipy topic in Queen Anne is the extension of the two-party system during her reign. This is where things got painful. Whigs and Tories were constantly tussling. It is exhausting to read about — not to mention boring, like a scoreless baseball game in the 12th inning. Everyone is tired, and has work tomorrow. Can’t one side drive in a run, already?

There was plenty of partisan intransigence accompanied by backroom deal making for personal gain, and a blatant disregard for public wellbeing or sentiment… unless an election was on the horizon. It’s a relief that politics doesn’t work like THAT anymore, am I right?

I struggled to keep score, Tories vs. Whigs, and rolled my eyes because history really DOES repeat itself. I wonder if, in 300 years, historians will write about bare knuckle brawling between Republicans and Democrats bringing the U.S. government to a near standstill. If our political partisanship feels petty and tedious in 2016, is there any hope it won’t put future generations into a coma? Will they struggle to understand sequestrations, or decide it’s not worth the bother? Will they confuse Donald Trump and Ted Cruz, the way I did Godolphin and Harley?

Edward VII in 1868I respect Queen Anne as a scholarly work and a useful tool to historians studying 18th century Britain. But if you are looking for a biography of a British Monarch that is lighter lifting, check out Jane Ridley’s The Heir Apparent: A Life of Edward VII, the Playboy Prince. It’s got it all — family drama (including mommy issues), gluttony and lust. Despite its whopping 768 pages, I finished it in just a few weeks.

I’m taking a break from biographies for a while, and have started reading My Year of Yes, by Shonda Rhimes.

Will I finish it?

All signs point to… YES.

Go Irish

Kenmare, County Kerry, Republic of Ireland
Kenmare, County Kerry

In November 2015, I grudgingly made a last-minute call to scrap a vacation in Belgium. Brussels was locked down due to terrorist attacks in Paris, and while I wasn’t overly worried about my personal safety I dreaded the heightened anxiety and security, and the possibility that some popular tourist attractions could be closed.

About 72 hours before my scheduled flight, I chose to go to Ireland instead. Despite having Irish DNA and always wanting to visit, I’d never been there. The timing wasn’t perfect – it was pretty cold, and some sites outside Dublin were closed for the winter. But I was able to avoid throngs of tourists, and had the Ring of Kerry all to myself.

Another upside: no line to kiss the Blarney Stone – something too cheesy to actually queue up for. And the Blarney Castle grounds were beautiful, and so peaceful they could have hosted a mindfulness retreat.

When I returned home, Christmas was just around the corner. I never got around to posting any photos from the trip.

Now it’s March 2016, but I’m still thinking about that wonderful vacation. So in honor of St. Patrick…. ENJOY!

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Baseball is on the way!

I made the ultimate sacrifice in 2016: I skipped Spring Training in Arizona. OK maybe it’s not the ULTIMATE sacrifice, but I’ve traveled to Arizona every year since 2012 so missing out feels like taking a line drive to the heart.

It had to be done, though. I have some apartment redecorating to do, and despite my best attempts at fuzzy math I couldn’t get my financial conscience to go along with paying for both. But don’t worry, I’m not crying because as everybody knows… THERE’S NO CRYING IN BASEBALL!

Bonanza!

the_Bonanza_cast

One look at my DVD collection will tell you: I love westerns. I’m a particular fan of the black and white ones, in which the antagonists are outlaws and bandits — not indians. My modern-day political correctness is like the “River D” cattle brand (Red River, 1948). It’s here to stay.

My all-time favorite western is Shane (1953), but Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid (1969), Hondo (1953), 3 Godfathers (1948) and Stagecoach (1939) are honorable mentions.

Fandom started early for me. When I was a kid my family attended church regularly, and western TV shows from the ‘50s and ‘60s were part of my Sunday after-church ritual. I watched The Big Valley, Maverick or The Wild Wild West – whatever was showing on our local UHF station.

Yep, this was technology’s frontier age. If you wanted to change the channel – there were four to choose from — you stood up, walked over to the television and turned a KNOB left and right until you were (relatively) satisfied with the reception. It was another century, after all.

These days, cable TV brings me more than 1,000 channels with programming in multiple languages and ever-increasing states of visual clarity. (HD! 4K!) There’s always something new to watch. Yet hidden among the home shopping, 24-hour sports and news networks I’ve discovered a retro gem – Bonanza! You can find it on MeTV and INSP (“wholesome entertainment, movies and classic shows”), sandwiched between the likes of The Waltons and Car 54, Where Are You?.

Bonanza lasted for 14 seasons (1959-1973) and ranks as the second-longest-running western series of all time. It told the saga of the wealthy Cartwright family, living on the biggest ranch in the Nevada Territory shortly after the Civil War. The stern-but-kind patriarch Ben (Lorne Greene) had three sons, each by a different mother who died in childbirth, or shortly thereafter. He was sort of a catch, but kinda not really. Falling for him could be hazardous to your health. Lucky for Ben, he had a nice face.

tv classic 1960s 1950s western

Because I discovered Bonanza long after its heyday, it’s easy to think of it as a sleepy little show. Guest stars sometimes delivered cringe-worthy performances, but a few heavy hitters stopped by too. Jerry Newton, before he became Wayne, sang “Scarlet Ribbons” in the Virginia City saloon, and it was beautiful. Teresa Wright (The Best Years of our Lives, The Pride of the Yankees) was Katherine Saunders, Ben Cartwright’s fiancée. She broke his heart, but at least she made it out alive.

George Kennedy (Cool Hand Luke) made two appearances. Mariette Hartley appeared four times. Once she was Ben’s love interest who also survived (barely). The following season, she fell for his son Hoss. Thanks to the magic of DVR technology, I am able to record and binge watch Bonanza, so I notice when guests return often as new characters.

“Hey, that’s Jenny Carlisle! Why does everyone keep calling her Miss Lola Fairmont? Is Pa gonna go for his six-shooter when he sees Hoss kissing her? Will there be a father-son throw down out by the barn?”

Those of us with keen eyes and ears – as well as memories – notice other things too, like the appearance of the theme song from Little House on the Prairie in later Bonanza episodes. (Michael Landon – aka Little Joe Cartwright — launched Little House shortly after Bonanza was finally canceled, so maybe he got a good deal on the rights.)

What’s more, despite his immense wealth, Ben wore the same outfit for 14 seasons – right down to the green neckerchief he would take on and off throughout the day, for reasons I’ve never understood. His sons were similarly one-note, style-wise.

The Cartwright men got shot a lot. Bullets often grazed them, usually on their foreheads. When the wound was more serious it was in the back, reminding us that they were the GOOD guys. (Bad guys shoot people in the back; good guys get shot in the back.)

Thankfully, the Cartwrights were miraculously quick healers.

Another interesting take away: Regardless of personal wealth, everyone in the Nevada Territory apparently carried Louis Vuitton suitcases. I suppose the age of conspicuous consumption was not yet underway in 1960’s, so maybe viewers didn’t recognize when a new saloon girl stepped off the Overland stage with a $4,000 piece of luggage. But it’s pretty amusing to see now.

The church at Bodie California State Park.In a couple of months, I am taking a Bonanza pilgrimage of sorts, to Lake Tahoe and the Cartwrights’ old stomping grounds — Virginia City and Carson City. I’ve always wanted to visit Bodie, a gold-mining ghost town nearby. (It’s on my Bay Area bucket list.) I’ll consider it a victory in self-restraint if I leave Nevada without a Ponderosa snow globe in my suitcase.

Until then, I’ll keep visiting the ranch from the comfort of my couch, and watching the Cartwrights tame the West, one guest star at a time.

Ponderosa map

What lies in store?

Pinocchio and Jiminy CricketIt’s a well-known fact that I am a terrible liar. Even little white ones make me blush and squirm and look away anxiously. Once, in high school English, our very stern teacher Mr. Scott kicked off class by checking in on the prior night’s assignment. He knew there had been a big test in U.S. History that morning, and set about trolling for signs my classmates and I had ditched our English reading to study for it.

He started out innocently enough, just a query or two about what we thought of the reading. The other students played it cool, because veteran teachers like Mr. Scott can smell fear.

I, on the other hand, felt my face burning and my eyes glancing upward to scrutinize every crack and cobweb on the schoolhouse ceiling. Mr. Scott pounced:

“I detect a distinct lack of eye contact from parts of the room. So let’s say you put you books on the floor, take out a clean sheet of paper and a pencil…”

Yep, it was a pop quiz… that I think most of us bombed. And I still blame myself for our collective downfall, because as I said I am a terrible liar.

As an adult, I periodically encounter folks who lie easily and often – and not just about harmless things, like whether the roast beef is too dry, or your jeans make you look fat. Sometimes I envy them a little, for the way they seem to sail through each day, skirting life’s many little frictions without a hint of remorse.

But if nothing else, the thought of having to come up with – and remember – all those little fibs is kind exhausting. And I wonder… what’s the point of being dishonest anyway, unless you have broken a law and are facing possible jail time? What’s the worst that can happen if you just tell the truth?

An example: Before a recent workout with my trainer, I was stretching on a big mat in the middle of my gym. Mornings are busy there and the mat can get pretty crowded, so I was a little vexed when a woman plopped down next to me and proceeded to text and surf the web on her phone. The only thing she was flexing was her thumbs, while taking up prime gym floor real estate.

Her trainer arrived, and as she stood up he asked her, “So, did you stretch out already?” She looked him square in the eye, and without missing a beat responded.

“Yep.”

Whaaaaat? I was conflicted. I wondered why I can’t lie to my trainer like that, instead of spilling every diet and workout transgression as soon as she asks, “How are you today?” I also questioned the point of lying, since we pay our trainers to work with us. How much we put into (and get from) the partnership is entirely up to us. They get paid either way.

Most of all, though, I fought temptation to call her out, a la “The Princess Bride”. Am I the only person who fantasizes about this whenever I hear someone tell a WHOPPER?

the princess bride liar lying

The thing that stopped me was the knowledge that her stiff muscles were none of my business. Also, the fact that she could probably gouge my eyes out with those power-texting thumbs of hers.

I mean it, I saw them. Those were some champion, powerhouse thumbs.