Friday, February 29, 2008

To-Do List Today

February 29, 2008

Retired. The day is just beginning. Very slim to-do's on the calendar.

Got up, had breakfast, showered and shampooed, got dressed. Pretty good. Listened to Matt Taibbi on Imus and watched Peggy Noonan on Morning Joe. Had my fucking oatmeal.

It's 20° at the moment. Will not go out the door until 1 P.M. when it may be warmer. Was never in my life so obsessed with the temperature as I am at this point living in Hoboken. May be the first time I had the option of just staying home.

Must go to the bank. Hope my checks come in, but either way it looks like I have to go to the bank to discover my balance. Bank is tardy in getting out monthly statements. I may have the most inefficient bank in New Jersey, but they're nice when you go in and talk with them face to face.

I'll go to the bank after the gym. Can't remember if I did the aerobics or the strength training last. That's what you get for skipping a day, and for deciding to give up gingko biloba. Oh, well, this place is open seven days a week so I can always make up time.

The New York Times online reviews new movies. I think I'll pass on The Other Boleyn Girl and Chicago 10, but it's time to see some movies. There is no cinema palace in Hoboken, you see, not even a shack, so checking out a movie means a special trip to the city. But I'm only 15 minutes by train or bus to the city, so I gotta do it. I seem to have left my DVD player in Alabama and haven't bought a new one yet. Do I have to get Blu Ray? How much is it? And what is it? I am seriously movie-deprived. Last night I was enjoying a flick called Coach Carter on tv, with Samuel L. Jackson, and when it was ten o'clock and not over I checked and found out it would be on until 11. I knew I couldn't make it. Jackson and Coach Carter were interesting, but not worth losing sleep over. I've seen everything that Turner Classic Movies has to offer and Oxygen keeps showing re-runs of Kate Hudson flicks. I've got to get to a first run movie soon. Probably not today. Too cold.

Then it will be 3 P.M. and time to wrap up the day with a dose of Dr. Phil followed by Oprah followed by Chris Matthews.

Smokin' cigarettes and watchin' Captain Kangaroo -- now don't tell me I've nothin' to do.

At least I don't smoke.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

New Jersey Hospitality

February 28, 2008

Most of my readers know I grew up in the South, albeit in an offbeat, almost-Northern enclave therein. I heard of Southern hospitality all my life, have encountered it often, assuming it to be a unique phenomenon indigenous to the area. And maybe no place else.

Now that I'm back in the cold, businesslike North, I didn't expect to discover that hospitality is everywhere, least of all in Hoboken, New Jersey. But everywhere I turn I am greeted with smiles, warm personalities, and kindness. It has been this way since I landed, and I don't expect it to change.

Yesterday, for example, I found the name of a local tax accountant from a directory on the Internet. I called his office and a pleasant female voice with a heavy New Jersey accent (to my ears) answered and asked how she could help. I said I was looking for someone to handle my income tax. She asked if I were a client and I said, "No, I'm new -- to the state."

She had the nicest laugh as she said, "Well, welcome to New Jersey!" and put me through to her boss, who was the accountant in question. Again, a deep voice with a strong accent, this time with the masculine, commanding helpfulness I've come to think of as Jersey macho, asked me pertinent questions about my tax situations and said he'd be happy to help me. He suggested I get all the papers in order, call the office or "drop by anytime" and we'd look it over together. All this made me feel that getting my taxes done was going to be a nice adventure.

This is not the first time I've encountered New Jersey hospitality. In fact, it's remarkable how often I encounter it on a daily basis. There are as many smiles here as in the South; people go out of their way to help, and there is an unexpected atmosphere of warmth just about everywhere. It's more congenial than New York, and probably as efficient, having just enough of everything to make life easier in a strange place. I have yet to find a little circle of close friends, like the ones I left in Alabama, but making friends doesn't seem to be difficult. It's the hospitality and the kindness of strangers that pave the way toward a secure and productive future.

Monday, February 25, 2008

A Weekend's Excellent Adventure

February 25, 2008

It was just about perfect. When I picked Elias up at the Port Authority we had time to walk around Times Square a half an hour or so, and I showed him where the Camel cigarette sign with the man blowing smoke rings used to be. He said, "That sounds so cool! Why would they take that down?" This is while we are surrounded by electronic signs, glittering lights, barreling traffic and thousands of pedestrians fighting to cross the crowded streets. We are experiencing the real heart of bustling New York City and a grandmother is telling a teenager what it used to be like in this very spot.

We grabbed lunch at Junior's before the show. I chose this place hoping to introduce him to the most famous cheesecake in the world, but as it turned out he was just as interested in the atmosphere of the restaurant, the families eating their sandwiches and fish sticks (made of real fish) with an assortment of pickles, the waitpersons in black and white -- I told him they are almost all actors and actresses waiting for their first big break -- and his own order of a roast beef sandwich on white bread and a side order of macaroni and cheese. Eating and talking didn't give us time for dessert, and he would have preferred rice pudding anyway. He asked what a Dr. Brown's Cream Soda was and settled for Black Cherry. Then we had to rush, as it was time for the play.

The Farnworth Invention is a wonderful show which will close next Sunday. I knew about Philo T. Farnsworth from a PBS documentary years ago, but this excellent dramatization pitted the inventor against David Sarnoff, the powerful founder of the National Broadcasting Company. I told Elias that the critics had been lukewarm about he play, saying it was like a dry and talky history lecture. What we saw instead was a very theatrical piece, with inventive use of levels and lights, and a gripping story of a young scientist trying to outwit the corporations. The story spans the early 20th Century, beginning just as radio is getting started, with the protaganist a man who was so far ahead of his time he was already devising a way to create television.

At the act break, Elias said to me, "How could anybody think this is boring? This is an epic!" and we spoke about the time frame of the play, beginning when cars were new and unreliable, (young Philo has to repair someone's auto), and moving on through the advent of radio and the early debate about the commercialism of broadcasting.

I was delighted with the production. Not only did Hank Azaria, a favorite actor of mine, lend dignity and poise to his portrayal of Sarnoff (and Elias knew him as the voice of Homer Simpson), but Jimmi Simpson, unknown to me before now, did an outstanding job as the lost genius Farnsworth.

In short, we loved the play, and it gave us much to talk about all weekend. After seeing it, we boarded the bus to Hoboken where we got soup from The Soup Man and ate it at home. We checked the facts about Farnsworth on Wikipedia, and read more reviews of the play. We stayed up late enough to watch Saturday Night Live, but I turned in after the opening, which I found pretty lame, and Elias channel-surfed until he crashed at midnight.

I made him pancakes for breakfast and served them with maple syrup I had bought at the upscale grocery emporium in Hoboken.

"Hey, this maple syrup is imported from Canada!" the observant lad noted. "I never saw anything imported from Canada before. What else comes from Canada?"

I couldn't think of a thing.

We explored Hoboken the rest of the day, spending about an hour in Barnes & Noble, and then had lunch at the Karma Kafé, because we both love Indian food.

Then we took the bus to Manhattan and waited for the bus to Kingston to take him home. This was the first of many weekends to come, in which I'll show him around the Museum of Natural History. Lincoln Center, and who knows? Maybe a play or two.

Friday, February 22, 2008

The Theater of Invention

February 22, 2008

When I first moved to Hoboken, early December to be exact, I began browsing the entertainment news to find out what shows on Broadway I might like to see that I could get at discount prices. I made a short list and am just getting around to checking off plays I shall see.

In the meantime my daughter has urged me to include my grandsons in the plans, and it seems like a capital idea. The oldest, Elias, turned 13 on December 23, and his mother, brother, he and I celebrated by attending an off-Broadway comedy I thought he might like. Later I took them to The Fantasticks, as reported here.

On that first list I had found The Farnsworth Invention, a play by Aaron Sorkin that I thought Elias and I both would find interesting. It's at The Music Box, a real Broadway theater. It's a straight drama with Hank Azaria in the cast.

Aaron Sorkin's information-crammed, surface-skimming biodrama about the creators of television suggests nothing so much as a classroom presentation on a seven-figure budget. The show — which follows the converging fortunes of Philo T. Farnsworth, a boy genius from Idaho, and David Sarnoff, a New York broadcasting czar born in Russia — is packed with the stuff of high drama: corporate espionage, the death of a child, the Wall Street crash, village-burning Cossacks, even the sinking of the Titanic and a slew of those eureka moments you associate with easy-reading biographies about scientific discoveries. And yet you’re likely to leave “The Farnsworth Invention” feeling that you have just watched an animated Wikipedia entry, fleshed out with the sort of anecdotal scenes that figure in “re-enactments” on E! channel documentaries and true-crime shows. -- Ben Brantley

Even though not unconditionally admired by sophisticated New York critics, this one might be just the thing for Elias, a serious boy with a flair for the comedic. He'll take the bus from Kingston -- a first for him -- and I'll be at Port Authority Bus Terminal waiting. The bus should get in about 12:30 so we'll have time for lunch at a theater-district place (I'm going to suggest Junior's) before the show and then take the bus home to Hoboken afterwards.

I'll introduce him to Hoboken that evening and the next morning, and then we'll take the bus back to Port Authority and I'll see him off to Kingston. If all goes well this may be the first of many wonderful weekends together -- and his brother Andy, age 10, will soon be ready for the same treatment.

Needless to say, I'm over the moon about tomorrow. The thing is that snow is pouring down, beautiful thick snow, piling on the streets, sidewalks, and everything that will stand still long enough. It's supposed to continue until it turns to rain at some point tomorrow. This doesn't stop things, but it changes them. I have to allow more time for the bus to Port Authority; it may be too nasty to trudge around the streets of Times Square; it may be too cold to enjoy wandering around Hoboken.

But it just may be one of the best weekends of my life.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Y'see, There's This Condo

February 20, 2008

Funny how fast things happen. A week ago I never dreamed I would be in urgent negotiations for a condo.

It started innocently enough. I invited friends for brunch Sunday -- a Hoboken first for me -- and we decided to walk around town seeing the neighborhoods and maybe take in an Open House or two. They live in the Ironbound of Newark, and are apartment junkies like me; the weather was reasonable, so this seemed like a nice entertainment for a Sunday afternoon.

We stopped in the first place and looked it over, were shown a different unit on a higher floor, and discussed the pro's and con's like reasonable people. We saw at least two other places, keeping our cool and taking the literature, promising to think it over. We had no intention of doing any more than discussing the prospects among ourselves and filing them in our memory banks to refer to at such time that anyone (me, really) was considering a move.

I have a lease that comes up in November and a house on the market in Alabama which obviously is not going to sell soon. The plan is that if the house were to sell this summer I might start househunting in earnest in Hoboken and buy the absolutely perfect place after a few months careful and exhaustive shopping.

But I did want my friends to see the condo conversion I had passed many times, a school building from the 1890's, and I wanted to look at an apartment. I had once been in the sales office, but there were no condos available to show at that time. This time it was different. There was one last one bedroom unit and an unusual two bedroom one decorated as a model they were showing in an Open House.

My heart, as Wordsworth said, lept up when I beheld the one-bedroom. Not exactly a rainbow in the sky, it was unique and charming. Only 640 square feet, it looked bigger because the ceilings are 14 1/2 feet high. All the apartments in this building are done up in state-of-the-art materials like marble (Carrera, no less. I've been to Carrera. This is obviously a sign.), the inevitable stainless steel appliances and granite countertops in the kitchen. Poking about in that little kitchen, I had a vision of myself cooking.

The building, pictured above, has a castle-like look, complete with turrets. The center section, with the turrets, is where the one-bedroom apartments are located, each with a turret at either end. The turrets amount to little more than elaborate bay windows, but they are an extraordinary feature of the small apartments, adding a certain je ne sais quoi in the charm department.

There is an elevator in the building, of course. There is a fitness center. There is a center courtyard with tables that looks like a wonderful party space. It is located just a few blocks from the A&P and half a block from the best place in Hoboken to buy homemade mozzarella.

I have notified my Alabama realtor that I want to re-list the Fairhope house. I decided to slash the price once more, still allowing me enough money to buy the Hoboken condo. Never mind that I won't break even on the amount I've invested in the old place over the years. It's an old house and that's the way things go. I just don't seem to be one of those people who make money on real estate. I can live with that.

Whether the Hoboken place is a great investment or not I cannot know. Somebody who lives here might be able to tell me. I'm probably too infatuated at the moment to know if I'm doing the right thing or not.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Once Upon a Time I Wrote a Book

February 16, 2008
When I lived in the little Southern town of Fairhope, Alabama, I wrote a book with Robert E. Bell, a man I had admired for years. Bob had lived in Fairhope in the 1950's, when I was just a kid, and had written a book which was set in the town.

Bob's book, The Butterfly Tree, caused a small sensation in Fairhope and the surrounding communities, including Mobile, the city on the other side of the bay from us. A young man with an active imagination, Bob had created a mythical village he called Moss Bayou, based upon his own youthful interpretation of Fairhope.

Fairhope itself was really quite different from Moss Bayou, but all of Fairhope was flattered to find itself represented in the firmament of Southern coming-of-age novels. I was a youngster who had been shaped by the real Fairhope, a Utopian community founded to prove the efficacy of Henry George's economic theory known as Single Tax. Bob's family had visited the little beach town since his infancy, and moved there permanently as he prepared to go to college. The Butterfly Tree chronicled a cast of eccentric characters, most of whom were based on people Bob met in Fairhope and I knew as my own neighbors. Bob's "Moss Bayou" came across as a mysterious, haunted milieu, draped with Spanish moss and freighted with a dramatis personae of personalities from the mind of a lad on the threshold of an exciting life.

When it came to my working with Bob, almost 50 years later, I had issues with his gem of a Southern first novel. It was a a beautiful, poetic little book, not unlike Capote's early work, Other Voices, Other Rooms, but it didn't represent the Fairhope I knew. As we started to work on the book which became Meet Me at The Butterfly Tree, Bob said to me on the telephone, "Mary Lois, I've written my Fairhope book. You go ahead and write yours."

Bob died before the project was completed, but I did finish the book, always with a certain amount of reverence for the original. I wrote character sketches of some of the people whom he had fictionalized, and added some of my own who had peopled my own childhood and influenced my growing up.

Meet Me at The Butterfly Tree is out there, available on or from the author directly. Information can be found at my website or on the blog I created to promote the book, the blog I wrote before I moved from Fairhope, the blog which deals with so many topics besides Fairhope it makes my own head spin.

One of my readers here, who used to live in Fairhope and has his own blog ordered the book and photographed it as you see above, next to a handy little glass of something on the rocks. He tells me the book takes him back.

It takes me back, too. There is a second book, which I'm thinking about reworking and trying to get published. I must get back to it. Not just now, but it's on my list.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

We Had Some Rain

February 14, 2008

I spent yesterday dodging the drizzle. It came down steadily, and I had to get some things at the A & P which is some half a mile from here, so I knew I had to go out. It meant putting on the snow boots I had bought in Switzerland 20-some-odd years ago.

The day wasn't all that cold. The temperature went up to 53, but there was snow all over from the previous day. It was turning to slush and puddles. It wasn't pretty.

Imagine my surprise after I got home and saw the rain coming down pretty steadily, and spotted the above picture on my favorite local website, Hoboken Now. To those of you who are curious about the conditions of Hoboken, it sometimes floods. Having lived near Mobile, a below-sea-level city which normally has a lot of rainfall and often has streets that look like rivers, I didn't take this seriously. And when I went out, I didn't see this wet scene. What I saw was patches of melting snow and gutters flowing with water. I wouldn't have thought that just a few blocks from where I was conditions were like this!

It's an old city, Hoboken, straining with outdated drainage systems, and when the weather bad those systems break down.

Something must be done, and it will. In the meantime, I'm lucky to be on the other side of town on wet, cold days, cuddled up with a cup of hot chocolate, and looking for a little spot of sun to come out.

Today the sun is shining, and it's all over -- for now.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Braving the Elements

February 13, 2008

I felt like a wuss yesterday, posting about the weather when so many life-shaping events are happening.

But when I woke up this morning I find that the weather is the hottest topic on the news. Obama made a sweep of the Potomac primaries, drew a crowd of some 15,000 as he spoke in Madison, Wisconsin, but the most important thing is that it's snowing and so cold in the New York City area that lots of people, like me, are staying home.

Today that snow has turned to rain and the temp is up to 50, which means it is possible to go outside wearing snow boots and carrying an umbrella. This is the kind of weather that happens up here in February. Maybe I'll be used to it in ten years or so.

I'm told that Hoboken floods. There are flood advisories up. I don't think it floods in the part of town where I live, but I shall see. The light drizzle I'm looking at doesn't cause a flood in Lower Alabama, but there must be something at work here that I don't know about.

I've got to go out today anyway. Yesterday, with snow blowing about me, I made it out and around the corner to the gym to work out. The two-and-a-half block walk there and back, with snow crunching under my Nikes, was not particularly daunting. In fact, the careful steps onto the snow-covered sidewalk made me feel powerful because I knew how to do it without slipping. You may laugh, but as a young woman who had grown up without seeing snow or walking on patches of ice, I had to learn how slick it can be. I learned the hard way. Now I must be more careful and I've still got all my marbles so I know that and I can do it. Some power, but it's mine and I own it.

I'm out of groceries. I must go out, all the way to the A & P to pick them up. All I need is a warm coat and an umbrella. And those boots. And my mittens. And my handy dandy shopping cart. I'll let you know if I see anybody in rowboats.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Oh Groundhog, Where Art Thou?

February 12, 2008

The trip back from Kingston Sunday was a harbinger of Hoboken weather to come. I enjoyed The Fantasticks with my family -- even though I was sitting next to Andy, the ten-year-old, who squirmed mercilessly during the love songs, on Saturday. Afterwards, we ate in a very popular, very trendy Japanese place in the East Village and drove together to Kingston.

I had expected a little more feedback about the play on the 2-hour ride, but when that didn't happen my daughter and I had a nice time for a gabfest and the boys mostly slept.

Sunday the snowflakes fell in huge chunks, huge for snowflakes, that is; and I feared a difficult bus ride home. It turned out I had nothing to worry about as the weather cleared and the temperature was in the 40's, melting the accumulated snow and providing a nice, early-spring atmosphere. I hung around with the family until after lunch, leaving on the 3 P.M. bus.

The trip back should have been a warning to me. We drove through what I would have called a blizzard if I had not just enjoyed early spring. (I know February isn't spring, but indulge me here.) The snowflakes were so thick they obscured the view. It was almost like fog, it was so difficult to see. Trees frosted in white appeared and disappeared at the windows like ghosts, and the bus was slowed. Then by the time we reached the New Jersey shopping malls the weather was clear again. When I got off the bus all I had to do was walk across the Port Authority Terminal and take an escalator to the Hoboken bus, and I was home in 15 minutes.

The two-block walk from bus stop to house was when I got my shock. It was 27° in Hoboken, and destined to go down to 11 before the night was over. I've spent two days shivering and will have at least one more before the weather is bearable again.

I'm going to have to give myself time to get used to this. It's winter, and I have had 19 years of winters that you hardly notice. It's not like that any more. I feel like a stranger in my own land. Just a few more weeks of this and then we'll have spring, which I remember vividly. And as often as I can.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

It Will Be a Fantastick Day!

February 9, 2008

The Fantasticks is an off-Broadway play that began life in 1960, apparently a college project of a group of earnest and impecunious youngsters yearning to express themselves. That 48 years later it is still winning hearts and sending audiences home humming and smiling is something of a small miracle.

When I first moved to New York in the mid-1960's, The Fantasticks had surprised its critics and the theatregoing audiences in that it just kept running. An allegorical fantasy, based upon Edmond Rostand's Les Romanesques and borrowing from such classics as Romeo and Juliet and Pyramus and Thisby. An unpretentious, low-budget production, it ran steadily until 2002, and is now being seen in a revival that will close at the end of the month.

The original production starred the youthful Jerry Ohrbach as El Gallo, the narrator and singer of the show's most-sung tune. To hear a snatch, go here, or if you're not up to it, you know what song I mean. Sing it yourself and see if you can keep from choking up.

Since I moved back to the North, my daughter has urged me to expose her sons to the theatre that I know so well. Checking with local friends on how to get discount tickets online, I discovered that I could get tickets for all four of us to see The Fantasticks today at the matinee. I took them all to see a rather forgettable offering over Christmas, but I think this one will be the real deal. Elias, who is 13, has said he wants to go, even after the rather dumb other experience, and Andy, 10, will soon be playing Bottom in Midsummer Night's Dream. Much as I know they want to be cool, seeing this little play is just bound to be an adventure. Alison has never seen it, and, as a matter of fact, the only production of it I ever saw was at the International School of Geneva in the early 1980's. It was beautiful, but I suspect this one will be even better.

The three of them will drive down from their home in Kingston to meet me at the theatre just before 2. If I know them, I'll be lucky if they make it by 1:55. The more I thought about this excursion, the more I wanted to be with them all after the show, so I invited myself to join them for the ride home and return to Hoboken by bus tomorrow. I wanted to be part of their discussion of the play, and hear their reactions first hand. If they don't like it, I want to know why, but if they love it as much as I expect them to, I want to share that.

You'll hear more about this in future blog posts. I wish you could be there too.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

How To Have a Popular Blog

On my former blog, Finding Fair Hope, I still get as many hits as this one, even though I haven't posted over there since November. Most of the hits are sent there by the search words "Anderson Cooper," about whom there are several posts.

Okay, I admit it. I have a thing for Anderson Cooper. It’s no recent crush; I’ve been following his career since I discovered him about ten years ago. At that time he helped me with my insomnia on a latenight news show called ABC World News Now which took place in the wee hours and was a combination of irreverent comedy and straight news. The show had a spontaneous, antic quality, complete with Friday night appearances by an accordion player and two campy backup singers who burst on the scene playing and singing something they called the “World News Polka.”

The co-anchors were Anderson Cooper and Alison Stewart, who played off each other in a snappy, brother-sister kind of way, and their comments brought off-camera howls of laughter from the crew. At the time I thought this attractive young Anderson Cooper was a dead ringer for James Glassman, the Libertarian columnist and sometime news talking head. I decided Anderson was his son. When Anderson left the show, I hoped he wouldn’t just drift off into obscurity.

Boy, was I wrong. It wasn’t long before he was the head news anchor at CNN and the talk of the airwaves, to say nothing of the cover boy on all the magazines. He covered Katrina and appeared on talk shows, revealing that he was actually the son of Wyatt Cooper and Gloria Vanderbilt Cooper. I had followed the story of this family and the tragedy of Anderson’s older brother who committed suicide at the age of 14.

Now that I think about it, I’d known about the Coopers, individually and collectively, for some time. I read Aram Saroyan’s book Trio, about the glamor-girl-best-friend-debutantes Oona O’Neill Chaplin, Carol Saroyan Matthau, and Gloria Vanderbilt Cooper (“Oona, daughter of Eugene O’Neill, married Charlie Chaplin; Carol married William Saroyan and Walter Matthau, and Gloria married everybody else.”) I read Little Gloria, Happy at Last about Anderson’s mother’s wretched childhood as a pawn in a disturbed super-rich family. I read Wyatt Cooper’s tender memoir called Families: A Memoir and a Celebration about growing up in the South. (I even read that it’s one of Anderson’s favorite books, so I looked it up on amazon to see about picking up a copy to re-read it. The going price is $90, and there's one on eBay that's already gone up to $1,500 -- so instead I checked it out from the library.)

Anderson has a real story to tell. A recent issue of Vanity Fair includes a chapter from his inevitable book, revealing how his dealing with the coverage of the devastation of Katrina opened him up to his own repressed pain. The early death of his father had been traumatic for both him and his brother, and, until confronted with commensurate personal loss as being experienced by families in the storm-ravaged areas of the Gulf Coast and New Orleans, he wrote that he had not dealt head-on with his own sense of the loss of his brother. Like his father, he can write; and time will prove whether his real place is as a broadcast newsman or in some loftier field of American life.

I wrote most of the above in June of 2006. Since that time he has only risen in the consciousness of the world. I felt I discovered him, but by now he belongs to just about everybody, and I feel a little less possessive. His private life is his own, but he is now a part of American life, almost as Johnny Carson or Walter Kronkite was. If I mention his name on a blog post, I can expect a jump in readership. Thanks for proving me right!

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Bloody but Unbowed

February 6, 2008

I am not disheartened. A little discouraged, but not disheartened.

Barack Obama and his troops did well against almost impossible odds. Ten days ago nobody would have predicted a tie on Super Tuesday. What we got was a tie.

A tie at this point means this fight is going to go on, and it is clear the Clinton organization has all the cards. For years it has been assumed that they had the Democratic nomination locked up; but thanks to a minor miracle named Barack Obama who inspired Independents, young voters, blacks and mavericks (I suppose I fit into the latter category), it's still too close to tell who will pull off that victory.

I've got the talking heads doing their thing on my tv at the moment, analyzing this, analyzing that, and apparently enjoying the heck out of this neck-and-neck race. They have seen what I saw: A grueling, grinding, plot-filled drama enacted since Christmas -- at which point it looked as if Hillary Clinton would be declared the candidate by now -- coming to a head last night when the last-minute polls and predictions turned out to be right. The race is still a tie.

I can't help but wonder whose minds will have to change to break this deadlock. Women? Not on your life. Blacks? No way. How about the Independents and the mavericks? I think they've found the candidate they want. It's all up to the undecideds.

The political junkies relating the narrative as I write say there's still a good chance for Obama. So I am not resigned to his losing, even though I voted for him and the rest of my state pretty overwhelmingly didn't. I am not disheartened that they didn't do as I told them. Only about 15 of them read my blog anyway.

An interesting sidelight on all this is that I just moved here from Alabama. Down there, I was accustomed to being on the losing side. I have a friend in Alabama who is a passionate Hillary Clinton supporter. Now that I'm not there, my side wins there, and now that I'm in a locale that should be somewhat more in tune with my predilections, my guy loses here.

Lucky I'm used to that. I'm not disheartened.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Cast Your Vote

February 3, 2008

I'm old enough to know better, but now that I'm living in a Super Tuesday state, I feel it is not only my responsibility and privilege to vote, it's also my obligation to beat the bushes to get others to do so. The excitement and chaos about the 2008 Presidential election has me in its grip.

I used to live in Alabama, which has always been pretty much a one-party state. Growing up -- and don't forget I'm the same age as Tom Brokaw -- that one party was the Democrats. Over the years, since the Dixiecrat splintering of the party in 1948, the later Goldwater takeover of the South, and Richard Nixon's Southern Strategy, the same folks who once were yellow dog Democrats now pledge the same unthinking loyalty to the Republicans. Alabama is so close to 100 per cent Republican that casting a vote for a Democrat is an exercise in futility.

You may perceive that I'm pretty much Liberal. That will color much of what I write here. Try as I might, I cannot think of any way to persuade anyone to change his way of looking at politics. It's tribal -- we are conditioned from childhood to align with one party or the other, often sticking with that party in spite of who heads the ticket. I can't say that I have an open mind, but I must admit to being an eccentric voter. That is, I vote for the best person in the race, whether or not I see any chance of his being elected.

I don't know what led me to do this. It began in the 1960's when the major parties offered no one I could support. Good as he had been in the past, Hubert Humphrey was not a man I trusted with my vote in 1968. He seemed to be supporting a war he didn't believe in, and he refused, in that two-faced way politicians have, to separate himself from Lyndon Johnson, who had drawn the country deeper and deeper into the Viet Nam war, whom he had served as Vice President. On the other hand, I could not cast a vote for Richard Nixon. My vote that year went to . Dick Gregory, who at least made sense on the issues that mattered to me. It was a protest vote, admittedly, which my friends said helped elect Nixon. Trying to comprehend the traditional thinking that the Democrats and Republicans are all we have, I have had to hold my nose and vote many a time since that year.

I may have to do that in November, but I don't have to on Tuesday.

We are on the threshold of an era not unlike the 1960's, a time when Americans have the chance to be a part of a seismic shift in the way politics works in this country. If Barack Obama is only fractionally as good at governing as he is at delivering a victory speech, we have a chance to become a better country and a better world.

I feel sorry for the Clintons this year, the year they saw their opportunity to get Bill back in the White House through the side door; the year Hillary saw her chance to fulfill what she has apparently always assumed was her destiny as the first female President. When she choked up after losing the Iowa caucus, she was indeed human. My heart went out to her at that moment even though it seemed to be triggered by the sudden realization that she might not win. She went sorta female; her husband then went sorta ballistic. But that's all in the past now. How short our memories are when it comes to our leaders and their little public moments! Sen. Clinton has extraordinary focus and resilience, but whether she can grok it or not, she is up against something bigger than herself or her husband.

I don't pretend to know how this thing is going to go. Personally, I am moved by Barack Obama in a way that I have not been by any politician since John Fitzgerald Kennedy (and I was 20 years old the year Kennedy was elected; too young to vote). I remember the extraordinary well of hope he tapped into in young people -- at last there would be someone in the White House with purpose and vitality, someone I wanted to speak for me, someone willing to consult and sometimes defer to the greatest minds in the nation, someone who could lead us forward with idealism toward a new way of thinking and the chance for a better way of being.

That election was not a landslide by any means. Nor will this one be. Big events and small will occur on this journey to the election that we cannot imagine. If Obama actually does win, I can't predict that he will actually deliver on all he promises. But his campaign will invigorate and mobilize a nation for the good. And that's more than can be said for any candidate I've seen in my lifetime.

We've been through many traumas since the death of John Kennedy. We've engaged in way too many wars and we've tolerated too many mediocrities in the White House. I have no doubt that many women respond positively to the notion of a woman President, even this woman. But the baggage she has with her is too much for our country to deal with once more. She and her husband and many of their fans seem to be convinced she is not only up to the job, she's entitled to it. But that dysfunctional union does not have to be supported by a dazed and confused electorate. Let us take the step of trusting our ideals and put our support behind a candidate who offers more -- a vision for growth that transcends personal ambition.

All this being said, I'm sure you will vote the way you want. And this year, at least, there will be more Americans voting, more young people committing to be a part of the process, and more people inspired to commit to accept the small changes that could transform a nation. This is not a year to be cynical and sophisticated. If you're in a state that is part of the primary process on Tuesday, do me, yourself and the country this favor: Vote for Barack Obama.