Monday, March 31, 2008

Hoboken is the Opposite of Seattle

March 31, 2008

Everybody knows that Seattle is a beautiful, busy city in a magnificent location, but that it's so rainy and bleak and you wouldn't want to live there.

I have friends in Seattle who tell me the locals keep that mythology going just to control population. Apparently it doesn't rain all that much, and when it does it doesn't daunt the natives in the slightest. They are just careful to let visitors know about it so they won't plan to move in.

Hoboken, on the other hand, is charming and esthetically appealing, with a busy social scene, a wonderful arts program, and all the music bars you could ever want. It has excellent restaurants and a heritage of Italian bakeries, salumerias (deli's, to you) and boutiques. People avoid Hoboken. It's the opposite of Seattle's problem -- it sounds like a dump, but it isn't.

A friend with a decidedly South Alabama orientation emailed me: "Why does it seem so different to write to you in Hoboken? Partly because of the name. Thank who, Johnny Carson? Have you already spun something up about that on a blog? Someone permanently skewered Hoboken sometime in my past. And even if they hadn't, 'Hoboken' doesn't have the ring to it that 'Fairhope' has.

"I need to think of you as somewhere else than where you are. I frequently say that I've lost a Fairhope friend to New York, but I imagine that seems laughable to you when I say that you are in NYC, much as a Dauphin Island Real Estate agent balks against the words "ocean view" for Dauphin Island property. 'I've seen the ocean and believe me, Gulf, you're no Pacific.'

"I gotta come up with some code name... How's things in The Boken? How's it hangin' in Hotown? Any night life in Hoboburg?"

And the answer probably is that the name sounds kinda silly. Hoboken's real identity is lost because people laugh at the name first. But compare it to other New Jersey cities -- Hackensack is funnier. Paramus, Passaic and Parsippany more musical. Secaucus more suspect. Then there are the pretty names like Asbury Park, Mount Laurel, Cherry Hill, and Cape May. The quaint: Egg Harbor Township, Barnegat Light.

The world likes to single out Hoboken for all the wrong reasons. Maybe I can shed a little light on the place and change that.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Welcome to Act Three

March 27, 2008

Scott Fitzgerald said, “There are no second acts in American life.” I am not the first to observe how wrong he was.

In his own life, as he saw it, probably, Act One began when he was in his mid-20’s and had sold This Side of Paradise, his first novel. He never wrote or spoke of his childhood, and, although he was, in fact, a child at some point; his life began at Princeton with his relationship with Genevra King and then the fabulous, fraught Zelda. His reason for pessimism after his great early success may have been that, like so many celebrities before and after him, he reached for fame and got it too soon. He didn’t have the equipment to handle it. (There is also the matter of his alcohol addiction and his wife’s schizophenia. I cannot know for certain, but suspect that at the heart of his life’s tragedy was the 20th Century’s confusion of values – an individual’s pursuit of material possessions and fame at the expense of his nobler motivation to produce art.)

In the days when Fitzgerald made his famous remark, almost all the plays were written with three acts, the second one being the most difficult to write. It was where all the neatly arranged characters and situations in Act One got mixed up, jostled, and its people were challenged to begin to think in different ways. Everything would be resolved in Act Three, but Act Two was where the problems were. Let us think of life, any life, as broken into three acts. Take me, for instance, since this is my blog and I can do what I want with it.

My Act One was decidedly Childhood. Growing up in Fairhope, Alabama was unforgettable, growth-producing,, and a pathway to a good second act. I deal with Fairhope in great detail in my blog Finding Fair Hope. In that unique little town, I was made alert to life's potential through the advantage of an education in the Marietta Johnson School of Organic Education, where kids made things happen and things happened to kids. We were not talked at or talked down to, we were questioned, we were allowed (yea, encouraged) to ask questions, and at the end of the 12 years in school we knew who we were. We just couldn’t wait for more stuff to happen. (For more on this, read Meet Me at the Butterfly Tree, which is available online through or and local bookstores in Fairhope.)

Act One ended poignantly with a romance, a promise of things to come. I would no longer be a child, and I had the tools to grow into a productive adult; I just didn’t know it.

Act Two was Romance and Travel, with a smattering of comedy, melodrama, and adventures in the arts, particularly the theatre. Act Two abounds with stories – short stories, novels, character sketches, changes of locale, marriage(s), the raising of a child, divorces, deaths -- an infinity of challenge and growth. This would have been Scott Fitzgerald’s Act One, but, because I had such a rich childhood, all this stuff was Act Two for me. There are indeed second acts in American life.

Act Three is just at the beginning now; a chance to assess and apply what I’ve learned while at the same time learning more. A chance to work at perfecting the instrument. An awareness that it is now or never, so it’s gonna be now. Well, knowing the instrument doesn’t mean the same circumstances won’t recur, or necessarily that I’ll handle them differently. It just means I know they’re coming. I have chosen a scene change, back to the cold and challenging North, to begin this act.

There, I’ve done it again, glossed over things as if life were just a somewhat bumpy ride down an unpaved road. In Act Three I’ll learn to write it well, clarifying and not letting myself off the hook so easily. I’ll get onstage again, and I’ll work at it, and I’ll pull together people to work at Mrs. Johnson’s school. By the time I’m ready to leave Fairhope, Fairhope will notice that I’ve been here. The two little boys who are my grandsons will be young men, ready to take on the world, and if they’re lucky their lives will have three acts as well. Even if they become cynics, they still will not say that there are no second acts in American life. I hope that, like me, they will attempt to deal with the whole show with some humor, intelligence, and good will.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

A Day on Shank's Mare

March 25, 2008

Yesterday my calendar was clear for adventures; the weather was right for walking, so walk I did, for a reason.

Before I moved up here I was intrigued by a craigslist posting on a beautiful, big apartment for rent by owner (no fee), cheaper than most, described in charming terms of the history of the area and the convenience of the location. The same place was posted again a few weeks ago, and yesterday I set out to find it.

I called the owner who informed me he was in a meeting and had no time to chat, but since I wasn't planning to move until November anyway, he suggested I keep an eye on the listings and look at it when I was househunting if he had an apartment available. In the meantime, his lyric prose gave a description of how to find the place, so I decided to hoof it from Hoboken and get a look around. There are neighborhoods and then there are other neighborhoods, and I've vowed that I will not live in a place that's depressing in any way.

The instructions to the place were something like "just walk or drive over the 14th Street viaduct, bear left, then take a right and another right, and you're in historic West Hoboken." I knew better than to walk to the 14th St. viaduct, but I didn't know what a problem I would have walking over it. I have a little phobia about bridges but I thought I was mostly over that, besides, how long could this viaduct be? Also, that's Jersey City on the other side -- so what's this "West Hoboken" business?

I took the bus to the viaduct and then set out on what my mother used to call Shank's Mare -- a quaint way to describe going on foot. Cars whizzed by me on one side and on the other, I could look down at the warehouse district of Hoboken, and the train tracks, all of which promise to be an exciting new neighborhood when the developers jump through all the hoops of permits and variances. A cinema palace and several major luxury condos will go up there. I walked and walked, telling myself this was better exercise than any treadmill, and trying to avoid looking at either side. I would swear that viaduct is close to a mile long. I didn't have a panic attack, but I couldn't wait to get to the other side.

When I did get to the other side, it was hardly a "bear-left-bear-right" situation before I reached my goal. I had to walk down the side of the highway, Paterson Plank Road, and then there was a nice traffic cop who helped me across the street. I went a few blocks up the hill and saw where the apartment was: on the other side of a busy children's park and two blocks over. All were just the other side of the sign that signified I was in Union City.

I had heard that Union City was originally known as part of Hoboken, but at this point it's pretty ridiculous. It's a clean, working-class neighborhood, with nice kids in the playground, but lacking in charm or esthetic appeal. The actual building had been pictured in the Internet listing, so I knew what it looked like from the outside. I walked around the block looking for signs of a grocery story or restaurant or cozy vest pocket park -- some indication that this would be a neighborhood I could live in. I saw nothing. Now, if I hadn't walked too far already I might have been in the mood to search, and I'm sure I would have found a business district within walking distance, but I had seen enough.

I was not going to walk home, no way. I asked the friendly cop where the nearest transportation to Hoboken was and he didn't know. I headed toward something that looked like a station, and indeed I was right. There is an elevator to the train, and it is only two stops to the Hoboken Terminal. That was fine with me; the little Light Rail trains are very pleasant, and I would soon be in Hoboken, even though I would be about 10 blocks from home. At least I wouldn't have to face walking on the viaduct again.

Now I've eliminated one of the possibilities about where I shall move next. West Hoboken is not for me. I'm going to look at fringe neighborhoods in Jersey City and in that strange little loft in the area designated as "Almost Hoboken" which is just across the Jersey City line, down among the warehouses but very convenient to the Terminal.

Got to get to work on this. After all, I've only got six months.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Spring Cleaning of the Spirit

March 23, 2008

Time to think things over. Time for renewal. Time for little green things to start to grow in my mind and heart. Spring.

I've been in Hoboken for four months. I don't think all that much about where I've been, but there were a few projects there I left incomplete. I had written a second book about Fairhope, and, unable to get a publisher, had an idea I might rewrite the first book, incorporating the best of the second book into it. It's time to run this by a couple of publishers and see if anyone is interested. Run it up the flagpole, as we used to say, and see who salutes.

Then there is the matter of selling my Fairhope house. This may take a good deal of time, years maybe, since the few buyers who are out there seem to be looking for new construction, which this one definitely isn't. I had in mind that as soon as the house sold I'd put the proceeds into a lovely condo here, but now that I think about it, that isn't such a good idea. I have to think about what kind of a person I am, and the kind of person I am is one who likes to live in different places. I may as well face it. I lived in Fairhope for 19 years, during which time I lived in six homes, one of which I built myself and left after four years. The house I landed in, the one I called "The Captain's House" (because it was built by a bay boat captain who lived in it some thirty or forty years) I sincerely thought would be my last house.

Then one day I woke up wanting to move to Hoboken.

So, there is truly no telling where I really want to live, and I'll probably need to live in several places around here before I can make that decision. No need to rush on this. Even when The Captain's House does sell, I'm better off using the money to rent a more appealing apartment than this one while I consider the place I may want to live in next. My lease is up in mid-November, and by then I'll have had plenty of time to look around. I'd just better stay away from the Open Houses for the beautiful Hoboken condos that are for sale all around me.

In the meantime, I've just got to keep body and mind together and pay my taxes.Next week I have a lot of medical appointments, and one with a tax accountant. My X-ray revealed normal bone density but some kind of injury in that shoulder that has been bothering me for months. I start physical therapy Wednesday. That same afternoon I have an appointment with the gastroenterologist about scheduling a colonoscopy. I am of an age; I've just got to get myself cleaned in every way.

In the meantime, what does all this have to do with a spring cleaning of the spirit? It's Easter, for one thing, a day when we think about the resurrection of the spirit. A day when we plan for growth in all the good ways we can. The cleaning may come later, but today is a pretty good day to start making plans.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Spring Blog Break

March 19, 2008

Today I start a little Easter vacation, beginning with a matinee of November, David Mamet's political satire, with my grandson Elias. In an hour I board the bus for Manhattan where I'll meet him and take him for a quick lunch (Will he want to try Junior's again? Will he want to go somewhere different? Will there be time before the show?)

He's going to enjoy the play. I vacillated between this and The Seafarer, an Irish play about a poker game with the devil himself, deciding this would be easier for him and would launch him into political discussions, his latest learning area. He doesn't have television at home, so we can watch The Daily Show and The Colbert Report here before turning in. The Seafarer will close at the end of the month, maybe I can catch it by myself next week.

Tomorrow I'll go home with him, either in the morning or afternoon, depending on what he wants to do. Knowing kids, I expect him to want to do everything we did the first time -- soup to go from The Soup Man (he loved the New England Clam Chowder) -- and Indian food the next day at the Karma Kafe buffet. I really want him to try an Italian place, but there is time for that in years to come.

I'll stay in Kingston with the family until Sunday and resume blogging next week.

Hope you all have a happy Easter. I recommend spring breaks.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

A Speech for the Books

March 18, 2008

I waited with anticipation to hear Barack Obama's address to the nation about race, brought about by the unsettling clips and sound bytes of Jeremiah Wright, said to be Obama's spiritual advisor. The fact is, this is the speech Obama had to make; it is the reason for his being in the position he is in. It is the first real test of his ability to articulate the issues that continue to divide the country and to bridge that chasm with wisdom and calm.

I said to myself, "If he can't do this, he doesn't belong where he is." In fact, I've heard the man enough times that I knew in my heart that he could. I couldn't wait to hear what he would say.

He was able to remind us of the beauty of our Constitution and to explain our own flaws in its interpretation without sounding pedantic or preachy. His speech was historic in its elegance and its insistence on the perfectibility of our nation's goals. He was at his best, and his best is as good as we've seen in many generations.

The speech will be jawboned to death by the talking heads who are called upon to interpret all the political minutia of this extraordinary campaign. It's not for me to add more to that pile of -- shall I say minutia again? -- so I'll refrain. I for one am grateful that we have such a man to address this and other issues that divide this country in the kind of way to make those issues comprehensible. It is not an easy task in this day of obfuscation, prevarication and outright mendacity. It may not meet with universal approval, and it may not effect any particular change. This speech was a a beautiful first step in his long road to imbuing the electorate itself with the courage to change.

When all is said and done, it was just a speech. But it was a speech given by the only one on earth entitled and equipped to make it. I wish him many such platforms in the future, to make other such speeches, to articulate his unique and inspirational vision. I actually hope he'll get the bulliest pulpit of all -- but if not, this one time at bat has proved him worthy of an important position in the country and the world.

And on another subject, let me say this: I am so grateful that the politicians this year have universally put aside the ending that has been used for that last few political campaigns to end every single speech: "God Bless America!" I'm glad I haven't heard that one lately, and I hope I don't hear it any time in the near future.

But just between us, I often find myself saying "God bless you," when I hear Barack Obama speak.

Monday, March 17, 2008

A Great Day for the Wannabe Irish

March 17, 2008

Because it's you-know-who's day and all that, and because Hoboken takes it upon itself to celebrate the day beginning two weeks in advance, I am driven to record some stuff about Ireland and the Irish. In Hoboken, they may even need to be reminded that this is actually St. Patrick’s Day.

The many aspects of Irishness give us a magic lantern to illuminate our lives with a glimmer of poetry and the distant chime of music. There is that haunting wistfulness in our somewhat Irish hearts that prompts an elegant turn of phrase. It was Daniel Patrick Moynihan, who, upon learning of the assassination of Robert Kennedy, said, “You’re not Irish if you don’t know your heart’s meant to be broken…”

I could praise Ireland’s homely, soul-filling food like corned beef simmered for hours with cabbage and potatoes or caraway-scented soda bread, or its heart-wrenching characters like those portrayed in the classic film The Quiet Man (rent it if you haven't seen it yet).
Ah, there are many beautiful movies that transport us to the Emerald Isle -- Once is still on my must-see list. I could say something about walking about in chilly Dublin on a grey April day in 1971 -- please don't remind me you weren't born yet -- and finding a beautiful restaurant-pub called where the Irish coffee warmed us to our toes and changed our bleak impression of the gritty, grey little city. (I could also tell you of our immense disappointment at both the offerings we saw at the Abbey Theater that year -- a student production of Synge's "Deidre of the Sorrows," which we forgave because it was indeed a student production, and the unforgivably poor mounting of The Playboy of the Western World the next day.)

Even world renowned institutions stumble from time to time.

Since the turn of the last century, the English-speaking stage has been sparked by the talents of Irish writers. From John Millington Synge and Sean O'Casey (and those with Celtic roots, like Oscar Wilde and George Bernard Shaw) through today's Brian Friel, Hugh Leonard, and Conor McPherson, we have the Irish to thank for many evenings of unforgettable theatre. At my own theatre in South Alabama, Jubilee Fish, many remember our haunting productions of Da, and the poetic Sea Marks by Gardner McKay, presented in the 1990’s.

This was before I appeared in Fairhope’s Theater 98 production of Dancing at Lughnasa, playing the role of Kate, the elder sister. This one was directed by a man whose name is quite similar to Sean Thornton, the John Wayne character in The Quiet Man.

When left to their own devices, the Irish have lots to give us besides potatoes and shamrocks. Just writing this, I am hearing the lilting Gaelic music that has become so popular in the last ten years, and I think of all the Irish singers of Irish songs over time. Hollywood celebrated generations of Irish tenors, including Dennis Morgan, who, it turns out was actually of Swedish descent, with the real name of Stanley Morner. But there is that lilting voice and that open face that spoke of Ireland to us nonetheless.

Reading this, you may suspect I have a modicum of Irish blood myself. Have a cup of Irish coffee today and think of me. You just might find me in an Irish bar in Hoboken, wearing that boa of dyed-green chicken feathers I bought for the parade two weeks ago. Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Sunday, March 16, 2008

A Day of Latte, Theatre, and Baseball

March 16, 2008

Yesterday came as close to a perfect day as I have had in Hoboken. To begin with, the day was sunny and crisp, with clouds in the sky and temps in the low 50's, as opposed to raining and bonechillingly cold. That first promise of spring is what makes definite seasons appealing.

I was to meet with the chairman of the board at Panera Bread for coffee at 2:30 P.M. This was to make up for my default on the original date at Amanda's for a fund-raiser the day I got sick. I would know him by his black leather jacket and black baseball cap. Of course, easily 2/3 of the guys in Panera were so attired -- it's pretty much the Hoboken uniform -- so it looked as if I'd need to look for someone who was looking for me.

I looked at the coffee meeting as pretty much a job interview for the rest of my life, but I tried not to make too much of it. I have had many such one-on-one meetings, and all I have to do is not talk too much, listen a lot, and flash just a bit of my biography, judging my audience as to how much to reveal at once.

That's pretty much how it went. I ordered a chai latté; which sounds prissy but is actually delicious and pretty much good for you except for the calories. I felt it would be comforting, too, and take the edge of a first meeting. It must have been a good choice, because when my companion came toward me, he had the same thing for himself on a tray.

I tried to tell him how good I would be for Hoboken, and how much I enjoy the little city so far. He learned of the Marietta Johnson School of Organic Education, of the Single Tax Colony of Fairhope, Alabama, of the Jubilee Fish Theatre and the Little Theatre of Geneva. He tried writing stuff on his Blackberry, but it got zapped and I promised to send him some material. He suggested that he'd tell his wife about me and that she might contact me about getting involved with the local Friends of the Library. We talked about our children, and I told him about my grandsons. I told him about 13-year-old Elias, who regards himself as a black sheep of the family because he isn't Liberal (he's a Ron Paul supporter). I told him about Andy, who at age 10 has been cast as Bottom in A Midsummer Night's Dream.

We nursed our chais for about an hour and a half and then I walked him home to the house he owns on Garden Street. I went home and readied myself to attend the plays about baseball to be performed by the Mile Square Theatre that night. Then the phone rang and it wasn't Alison confirming Elias' visit for the matinee of November on Wednesday. It was Kathryn, my new friend who had been reading my blog and wanted to tell me how much she liked it. We set up a date for early April, and may go to Pennsylvania to canvass for Obama.

When I got to the theatre, I was already high. There was that pre-show excitement of an audience gathering. There was the anticipation of my first chance to view and new theatrical troupe and see what they had. In the fund-raising event, seven one-acts about baseball were performed by 18 actors. A glance at the program made me wonder why they hadn't doubled some of the roles. I don't know the answer, but it didn't hurt the evening, and may have made it better. Each of the plays was a little gem, and all the acting was excellent. Baseball itself is a good backdrop for a play, and the playwrights all rose to the challenge. Hoboken claims to be the birthplace of baseball, so baseball plays are a natural. These were gutsy little comedies, some with a hint of fantasy. It was a superb evening.

Somewhere in the program was an envelope in which I was invited to put a check. I'll put that aside until I have a little extra money, which may be next month. Then there were the questions: "Interested in volunteering? Want to serve on our Board?" followed by a contact number. Ah. Yes. Here I go again.

The next production will be a summer outdoor version of The Comedy of Errors. Wonder what I'll be doing on that one.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

How Do You Know If You're a Racist?

March 13, 2008

Silly question? What if racists don't know they're racists, and what if others of us make comments that can be construed as racist -- even though we know we're not racists.

Hasn't everybody run into this from time to time? Racism is so ingrained in our lives that if we make some "white" comment, there's likely to be some black around who takes umbrage. Why, by my having said "black" just there instead of African-American, I just offended somebody for sure.

I grew up in the Jim-Crow-segregated-South. We had to work at learning to pronounce Negro correctly. To call somebody "black" instead of "colored" was an insult. Then came the Black Power movement and it all changed. We tried to change with it. It has changed many times and probably will again. Not being in the wronged race, I am forced to accept their definition and to make allowances for hurt feelings where none was intended.

Probably a lot of white people get angry when once again they're told they have it wrong. Geraldine Ferraro, never the brightest bulb on the porch, came a cropper when she said this to a little small-town newspaper in her area:

"If Obama was a white man, he would not be in this position. And if he was a woman (of any color), he would not be in this position. He happens to be very lucky to be who he is. And the country is caught up in the concept."

To give her credit, I actually don't think she knew how that would sound. She may not have even known what she said. But she says it was not meant to disparage Obama, and that his operatives were wrong in considering it racist.

"If Obama was a white man, he would not be in this position." (He would not have garnered support from hundreds of thousands of young people, he would not have won a majority of the states holding Democratic primaries; he would not have won the Iowa caucus? What position does she think he is in that only a man with a Kenyan father and an American white mother could be in in this country?

Maybe by "this position" she meant to imply that he is the first man of African American origin to be this close to the nomination as standard bearer of a major political party. If he were a white man he certainly would not be in this position.

"And if he was a woman (of any color), he would not be in this position." Pardon me, but there is a woman in a very similar position.

"He happens to be very lucky to be who he is." I was under the impression that he got to be who he is, and in the position he is, by his own merit and considerable talents in convincing people that he deserves to be. This statement says out-and-out that it is because of his good luck in being a black man in the right place at the right time.

"And the country is caught up in the concept." Well, that kind of hurts my feelings, as Hillary Clinton famously said. I am more moved by Barack Obama than I have been by any Presidential candidate in my lifetime, but I think it's a little more than being caught up in the concept. I respect his mind, his eloquence, his promise to reach across the aisle and work with all Americans in making the country better. I fit pretty well into Hillary's (and perhaps even Geraldine's) demographic, an older, underpaid white female overachiever, but I would rather see Obama as the next President. Not because he's African American, nor in spite of it. Just because I listen to what he says and admire the way he says it.

He would never say anything as clumsy as Ferraro did, but if he did, he would know how and why to retract it. Whether she's a racist or not, I wouldn't say. She certainly doesn't think she is. But to blame Obama's troops for reading her remark that way, she certainly shows that she's clueless.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

The Re-Programmed Brain

March 9, 2008

It won't be many years before the human brain will be automatically programmed to change over to Daylight Savings Time without any prompting from media personalities.

It's happening incrementally already. A high percentage of my clocks went there by themselves this morning, and all I did was go to bed an hour early last night and I went right to sleep. When I awoke, it was bright and early, and the clock I had pushed forward on my own registered 6 A.M. so I hung around in bed for an hour and haven't noticed any nagging jetlag related sensations otherwise.

But there is a nagging sensation that this is getting too easy. They're letting us think we participate in the process by leaving our watches and a few clocks for us to turn. It's part of the computer-induced A.D.D. that governs our activities and gives us the constant stress that something is wrong, something is out there there must be done, but we don't know what.

Our lives are lived in brief compartments of time. We sit at computers and pride ourselves on our ability to multi-task; we assume our kids are brighter than previous generations because they master this technology at an early age. Our pace is accelerated and we feel as if we are always under stress. We cannot relax. We don’t sleep well.

We have relinquished a great deal in our worship of the great god Progress. We have not had time to process the future before we embraced it. The human brain was not designed to be at its best in the compressed, claustrophobic compartments we have created for it. Children, hurried to become adults, will never know what they missed. They will not know the pace of nature, of the gentle shift of seasons, or the inherent beauty of the planet. They are provided with organized activities to fill their time; their heads are pumped full of facts which have nothing to do with truth. They mistake, as their schools mistake, memorization for learning.

The spiritual is not in the program, unless it is seen as a way to amass more things or enhance one’s status. The spiritual side of life is seen as one of the steps toward the serenity we seek but never seem to find. In reality, to become truly spiritual is to step outside the materialism that surrounds us; it is a difficult and sometimes painful journey. The only way to arrive at that destination is the long way.

The fact is, we are all suffering from attention deficit disorder to some degree. Television has accustomed us all to the constant interruption of commercials and affected our ability to focus for longer periods of time. Our ability to meditate has been replaced by a need to be on top of all things at all times, to control the out of control, and to perform at our most intense if not most excellent level, or at least to give the appearance of doing so.

The price is high. We do not yet know what toll this compartmentalization has taken on our individual existence or society as a whole. Some of us are thrust into nostalgia at the thought of a low-pressure life and seek to recapture it if we can, even in some small measure. Some of us move to smaller communities, only to find them inhabited with other humans with attention deficits. We study, we write, we join committees, we choose politicians. But we are overwhelmed with the number of people who simply don’t understand and do not question.

It’s not about our communities or about our choice of television fare. It’s about a shift in our ability to reason with our own lives and think for ourselves. It’s about our need to cut off our feelings and present a solid front of surface ease by consuming material wealth and objects instead of building outwardly from a spiritual base.

It’s about making time for that very spiritual seeking. It’s about time. And time itself will one day be incorporated into the A.D.D. of our lives, as meaningless as simply saying the time is different when we want it to be, or when it is decided to be by someone else. It will be done with no fanfare, unperceptibly, and hardly anybody will notice.

Friday, March 7, 2008

Failure To Launch

March 7, 2008

It was to have been the start of something big. It was to have been my entree into a new phase of life in Hoboken.

Wednesday night I was to be at a big fund-raiser, sitting at the table with the chairman of the board, at the chic-est restaurant in town. There would be important people there, and I didn't know any of them, not even the chairman. I had bought some new clothes and I couldn't wait.

Sunday night I had the signs of some kind of cold or flu. I took my usual cold prevention remedies. I went to bed early, feeling I had nipped whatever it was in the bud. Monday I had my hair done and ate some soup. I bought some cough drops and sore throat lozenges. My throat was hurting. But I thought I was okay.

Tuesday it was worse. Feeling feverish, I went back to bed and slept most of the day. Wednesday I thought I was going to be fine. I met Cristina at Starbuck's at 1, having slept most of the morning, and had a chai latté, which soothed the pain somewhat, but I was feeling woozy and thought a little more sleep would brace me for the big event.

When I hit the bed I couldn't get up. I was getting worse. Whatever it was had given me chills, fever, the old runny nose; and I could hardly walk when I did get up. There was nothing to be done for it but to call the chairman of the board and tell him that I was sorry, I was indisposed, I just wasn't going to be able to make it. He was gracious and sympathetic, and all I could do was stagger over to the bed, fall in, and sleep for another day and night.

Yesterday it was all over. My big night hadn't happened. The crisis was past, my fever symptoms gone, but now I just had a sore throat and cold. I had an appointment for x-rays and bone density exam, just across from Starbuck's as a matter of fact, so it meant another six-block walk in the cold, but I did it happily. The x-ray clinic was comforting and efficient. Now maybe I'll get to the bottom of that pain and stiffness in my left shoulder, and maybe we'll find that my bone density is good enough that I won't have to go on calcium. But do they have a cure for the common cold?

Colds for me almost always descend into laryngitis at the end. I must conserve my voice. I must keep drinking tea. I must hydrate. I must prepare myself for my next opportunity to make my splash in Hoboken.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Going Forward

March 5, 2008

Lots of activities on the Hoboken horizon, and none of them has anything to do with that political dust-up that happened yesterday, so I'm going to look forward and hope things go my way eventually in the Democratic world. There's been enough second-guessing, and most people ignore that three weeks ago Clinton was ahead by double digits in the two big ones, meaning the Obama did a good job of closing the gap even though he had been pretty well Swift-boated by her groundless charges. The Clinton people drew blood, and that's not likely to stop. Everybody knows going negative works. The question is whether Obama can keep his cool and land a few blows of his own.

In case he has actually forgotten or is not simply above bringing it up, there are a number of skeletons in the Clinton White House closets that might get Hillary's dander up (and she can scream, "No fair! I'm a girl!"). I don't mean the bimbos either. Does the country need reminding of Travelgate, Vince Foster, and the inability to get a health care plan approved? When she talks about 35 years of foreign policy experience, exactly what is she referring to? She says she never approved of NAFTA, and that was the jewel in the crown Bill Clinton's Presidency, even though it was a carryover from Bush the First. Does anybody remember the gridlock with the Republican majority in the Senate and the House? That is the kind of thing Obama can overcome, and Hillary Clinton cannot. Did she prove herself a world leader by making a speech at the World Conference of Women in China? (And she was so critical of Obama for "just" making speeches!)

I wasn't going to get into this. I'm looking forward, and I do believe this political stuff will work out. Obama has to show his ability to throw a punch as well as respond to hers. He has to outclass her by knowing when to stop. We've all seen what a quick study he is; now that he's in the home stretch maybe he'll pick up the pace.

In the meantime, it's spring, almost, in Hoboken, showers and temps in the 50's. I've caught a cold and I have a big date tonight. I'm going to be meeting new people, and going somewhere I've never been. I'm going forward. Can't do anything about yesterday.

Monday, March 3, 2008

Campaign Promises, Promising Campaigns

March 3, 2008

I've seen a lot of races for the United States Presidency, but nothing like this one.

A lifelong Liberal Democrat, who has veered from that position only when the Democrats weren't liberal enough, I knew from the outset I knew that I would not be supporting Hillary Clinton. Painted as a Liberal by the Republican party, she always seemed pretty much a cipher to me -- she would go the way the wind blows and alienate tons of people on both sides in the process. I wanted her to state her positions.

To her credit, she did. Forced out of her cocoon of protective handlers, she has had to speak up and even take interviews that were not scripted. She has proved herself a thoroughbred, with her expensive haircuts and makeup (take that, John Edwards!), and, despite veering toward fishwife from time to time, she just may come up trumps in the primaries tomorrow. She is unflappable and seems to be undauntable as well.

As for those positions, well, they are almost identical to those of her opponent, Barack Obama. Their "debates" looked as if she were trying to define how many angels could dance on the head of pin to prove that her policies were more valid than his, even though there was little difference, and everybody knows there is not much chance that the policies either one advocates will ever get past the Republican opposition.
But I have come to see that she has the right stuff as a campaigner, something that no matter how she talks about experience, she really hasn't shown us before. Her 35 years were mostly spent in supporting that wastril husband of hers, and the fact is she hasn't had all that much legislative background, nor all that much experience in electoral politics herself.

What has made the race unusual is her opponent. Seldom has such a star as Barack Obama come onto the political scene in this country or anywhere else. Where Sen. Clinton was proclaimed "inevitable" to win the Democratic nomination in a walk, his organizational talents and personal charisma began shellacking her as soon as he won Iowa.

No one could have anticipated his meteoric rise. The press, said by the Clinton forces to be favoring him, were only reporting what they saw. Crowds of 20,000 in Boise? The word unprecedented comes to mind.

Politicians have always talked about change. It used to be a cry of "I'll clean up the mess in Washington," or "It's time to throw the bums out!" Obama talks about something else entirely. He talks about personal transformation, not unlike the kind his supporter Oprah Winfrey espouses, but his vision is that such change can take place for the whole country, at once, if "we" work together and commit to make it happen.

A glorious vision, obviously. One that cannot be defeated by calling it a fairy tale or by mocking it with the strident sarcasm Clinton used in a recent speech in Ohio. It made her look as if she didn't understand. She is pragmatic, businesslike; he has his head in the clouds. She is competent, he is näive. In other words, she doesn't get it. The fact is, probably she does, and is in her heart of hearts, scared to death that she might not win.

The crowds that respond to Barack Obama are not all impressionable youngsters. Look behind him when he's making a speech -- look at the faces, all colors, all ages, men and women. They are not all fainting. They are not gullible losers. They are America, they are tired of not being involved, being ignored, being treated as important only in the trivial power of the vote. They want to matter, and whatever happens tomorrow, they will matter in a new way, because of Barack Obama, from now on.

It's been an exciting campaign, and will continue to be so until November and beyond. This one was not dreamed up by a couple of ad agency guys after Scotch and cigars. It was dreamed up by us.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

I Remember Buckley

March 2, 2008

This may be a little late in coming, but it took me a few days to understand that William F. Buckley really is gone. Then I realized that everybody else had more to say about that fact than I did, and probably could say it better.

I come at this from the other side. I was not a sycophant for Buckley, not that he would have wanted me as such. But I did live in New York City in the 1960's, among the unabashed Liberals of the day, to whom he was an erudite gadfly who tended to use obscure five-syllable words when short, familiar ones would have worked as well, to lead the reader/listener to conclusions that were invariably wrong. He was amusing, larger-than-life, and definitely someone you'd like to meet at a party, but his political stance was as indefensible as it was incomprehensible.

Over the years, like any self-respecting, self-conscious and guilt-ridden Liberal, I have had to reexamine my political viewpoint time and again. It wasn't difficult to break with the Democrats, who seemed so corrupt as to do the expedient thing always, without regard to principle. On the other hand, the Republicans seemed to be in the same boat, never offering a clear alternative. By now, the job of government seems to be in the hands of the advertising agencies and other opportunists to whom getting a candidate elected is not just a step in the democratic process, it is the only goal. The parties have sold out, giving lip service to the old dogma, but not bearing it out in practice.

William F. Buckley was always steadfast. I read a column of his several years ago which explained to me for the first time the moment in which the Democrats became Liberal, laying out the philosophy of Woodrow Wilson which assumed government was there to make people's personal lives better. This, to him, was the beginning of the corruption of politics. It was a well-thought-out premise and it caused me to think. I see Liberals taking advantage of Government programs all the time, and it bothers me greatly. On the other hand, I see Conservatives who seem to honor money and war over all things; this bothers me even more. Thanks to Buckley, I think about Woodrow Wilson and FDR and even John F. Kennedy, and regret what they have wrought, however right their intentions may have been.

Buckley himself eventually rose above the fray and became the Grand Old Man of the Conservative cause. His impishness and brilliance never left him, and with his patrician demeanor he inspired generations of pundits-to-be. This may be his legacy, but I doubt it would have been the one he wanted. Those of us who were present during his apogee would never have imagined in those days how lucky we were to have seen and heard him in prime.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

Happy St. Patrick's...Er...Weeks

March 1, 2007

Did I mention that Hoboken knows how to party?

St' Patrick's Day, traditionally a day for the Irish to put on silly t-shirts and hats, parade through the streets, and get as drunk as they like, begins here today and will go on until at least March 17, the day the rest of the world knows as the day of the departed saint's birth.

There's going to be a parade down Washington Street this afternoon. Bars will open at 11 A.M., and if you're interested in standing in a line in the freezing rain to get in, the lines form at 10. Hoboken's blogs are active with advice on how to manage alcohol intake by starting early and going slow, eating a little sump'n-sump'n during the day and drinking water as you go. All of which I might have done some 30 years ago, but doesn't appeal to me today. I want to be a part of it, being a newcomer; I have to see what is known as Amateur Day around here. Not that I haven't seen this kind of thing before, but not lately, not here. We have Mardi Gras in Lower Alabama, and I've seen many drunken spectacles including New Year's Eve in London, but I haven't yet experienced St. Pat's in Hoboken.

I had an idea that even sounds lame to me at 7:15 in the morning when I was sipping my morning Joe. I'm remembering a trip to Dublin in the distant past, a grey and drizzly day, when my husband and I sought shelter for lunch in a beautiful restaurant called Davy Jones. We laced the meal with Irish coffee, and suddenly came to an understanding of the best way to view the Emerald Isle. When the emerged from our lengthy meal, glowing from the warm brew which included no small amount of Bushmill's, Dublin and all of Ireland looked beautiful and welcoming, just as we had been told it was.

I wonder if there is some way I can squeeze into a bar at some point in the day and obtain an Irish coffee. Starbuck's wouldn't have it. Amanda's, the elegant Hoboken restaurant, wouldn't sell just coffee. The bars will be full of reveling 20-somethings who will wonder what that old lady is doing there. (Not there there won't be a few old men among them, if I know my Irish.) I'm in the mood to sit in a room and watch people get stupid. Kind of. Would they let me in if I'm not wearing green?

I wonder where I can get something green to wear at this point. I'm going to need to wear it every day for the next two weeks anyway.

Then again, maybe the best way to meet fun people today is to find the nearest AA meeting.