Categories
Gender Government History Personal Essays Politics Women

The Ginsburg Vacancy


I wrote this with my friend and author, Kathy Aspden. If you haven’t read her books, have a look. She is a great writer.

By Kathy Aspden & Christine Merser

In a speech in August 2016 in Kentucky, McConnell would say: “One of my proudest moments was when I looked Barack Obama in the eye and I said, Mr. President, you will not fill the Supreme Court vacancy.”

Thirty-two Republicans put out positive statements in 2016 to support Merrick Garland’s nomination.

When McConnell stamped the it’s not happening on it all, Democrats came out full force— with words. Schumer called it a travesty, and others said the sitting president should fill the empty seat. But as in most things, Democrats had no tool in the tool box to change what Mitch chose to do. So many words, so many referenceable quotes from 2016.

Mitch broke the law. Or if you are generous and sit on the outside of liberal views, he ignored his responsibility to run hearings and put the process in place—which is his fiduciary obligation as majority leader. And so here we are, four years later, and McConnell is saying the court seat will be filled by this sitting president. Everything he said last time no longer fits into his agenda. Yet, he has no shame, no qualms, no fear in reversing what was a bad decision then.

So now, all the Dems will reverse what they said four years ago, and the Republicans will follow the pied piper of corruption and change their tone as well. Lindsay Graham is interesting. Not the sharpest knife in the drawer, he actually brought up this scenario in 2018 during a forum with The Atlantic, and said, “I’ll tell you this – this may make you feel better, but I really don’t care – if an opening comes in the last year of President Trump’s term, and the primary process has started, we’ll wait until the next election.” All lies.

But this is not the time to call our people to the streets. This election will be decided by those who are already hesitating to put their toe in our waters—fearing it might look okay, but perhaps it’s boiling after all. Law and order, as an issue, is not working well for Trump, and a full-out protest will give legs and fuel the fire. And, then there is the hypocrisy of every Democrat from 2016 changing their stand when it suits them in 2020. Do we sink to the basement level that the Republicans have renovated as the penthouse? No we do not! Not on our watch.

Let’s do this with intelligence and integrity. Let them nominate some half-qualified person. Fight it on the stage during the hearings, smartly. Ted Cruz (one of the Trump short-listers) as a Supreme? Make our day.

If we do this well, we will win this election—which takes precedence over everything else right now. Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s death could surely give Trump what he needs to change the course of a conversation that’s currently not working for him. Let’s kick the legs out from under his potential unrighteous fury.

Oh and later, when the senate is won and the presidency has a reasonable, capable, semi-honest working body (which we’ve come to realize is the best we can hope for in government), we can up the Supreme Court seats to eleven and wave at Mitch McConnell across the aisle.

Categories
Personal Essays Women

Be Kind: I’m Over It

16710123602_81e9bfe67d_bI’ve encountered this mantra on my Instagram, Facebook, and just about everywhere:

“In a world where you can be anything, be kind.”

At first, I embraced it. I can do more “kind.” Yep, I can be known as kind. “You know Christine Merser; she’s so kind.”

*pause*

No one says that about me. But that’s not to say I don’t do kind things. Say kind things. Bleed with empathy and reach out with kindness for those in pain or less fortunate than me. I’ve done those things. Many times in my sixty-seven years. But that is not the first thing that comes to mind when people think of me. I know this because I called a few friends and asked them to quickly describe me.

Here is what I heard: “Funny.” “Smart.” “Helpful.” “Political.” One friend said, “a great driver.” Huh? No one said, “kind.”

So then I spent considerable time thinking about it. Pondering the words they used to describe me and questioning whether or not I’m a good person with those adjectives as my personality foundation. Then I second-guessed everything that I am, much of which I was born with, not that which I worked to acquire.

And, then I got angry. Defensive? Maybe, but nevertheless, I really started to look at the word “kind” and ask myself if that was a word I want in my epitaph.

Kind (adjective): Having or showing a friendly, generous, and considerate nature: “She was a good, kind woman.”

Then it hit me. Of course I am kind. I am friendly, generous, and considerate. Actually, I am those things often.

I have someone I’m very close to. He is kind. The kind of kind that suggests that if you were to ask people to describe him, they’d probably use the word “kind.” Good for him. He has accomplished great things in his life, perhaps more than I have. But they are different things.

I watched AOC’s speech on the floor of Congress yesterday. Twice. It was many things. It was inspiring. Revealing. Articulate. Powerful. It was not kind. Kind would have been ridiculous.

Kind is a tool in the toolbox. It is not the box itself. Always being kind in all circumstances is not a goal. There is a time for kindness and a time for strident confrontation. There is not kind confrontation. There should be honest confrontation. AOC did not say anything that wasn’t true or clearly her opinion over fact. It was without bitterness. It wasn’t whiny. She did not make herself a victim. If anything, she made herself a hero, the master of her own universe.

So, it’s not the word “kind” that I have an issue with; it’s the entire message, “In a world where you can be anything, be kind.”

I think it should read, “In a world where you can be anything, be appropriate to the moment in which you are responding.”

Categories
Personal Essays Relationships Women

Mother’s Day 2020

34edb4313fd81bb294b820721b41c629I got the following email from a friend.

Did I tell you about my mom?  She uses a walker, but for some reason decided to try the tread mill at her apt building last week, hit the wrong button, sped up, she went flying, got battered, had to have eye surgery last week for a torn retina ….laugh or cry?

I read it and started laughing with the image of this older woman on a walker headed to the treadmill, and then as I thought about it more and more, I started to cry.

What possesses a woman on a walker to head to the gym in her building and get on a tread mill? I’ll tell you what. A woman that hasn’t been given anywhere else to go to celebrate who she is today, that’s who. If you are not young and in shape, you are nothing. End of that story.

I remember traveling in France with H2 (second husband) in our early years (the early 80’s). Sunday was always a long luncheon, often outside at a restaurant like Pre’ Catelan, where the meal (it was four or five courses) began at 1 and lasted until 5. What brings it to mind now is that there were French families there; four generations sometimes and the elderly people were seated next to the youngest generation and everyone hovered around those elderly people. All afternoon. They seemed to hang on their every word. I think about what I see now – in this country – and there are only those meals on major holidays, and the distance between generations has grown significantly, with little or no contact. People visit their elders in assisted living and the assisted living takes care of the contact. Even before Covid-19 there were no four or five hours meals every Sunday in a sedentary way where an older person could rule. Or at least I didn’t see them.

But now, I see pictures of people visiting the elderly and talking to them through their windows, or on Facetime in a new way. A way that recognizes there is no guarantee that the opportunity to speak to them will be there tomorrow.

So, apres Covid, maybe it will be back to basics. Family. Time together to marinate rather than regurgitate. And, as for my friend’s mother. I have thought of her often over the past few years since I heard the story. I think of how you summoned your strength and add it as inspiration for my own journey. I honor you today on Mother’s Day, and I think you are one special lady.

Categories
Food Personal Essays

Candy & The CaronaVirus

unnamedMy dear friend C. and I used to go to the candy floor at Gimbels on 86th Street once a week. Actually, the whole store was filled with candy — more candy than one could imagine. We bought it and ate it during the week and went back for more the next week. We were in our early twenties, each running around at our first job and living together in an apartment. We painted our living room Grecian Rose, which was great until we saw it from the street at night and realized our apartment looked like a bordello. Life was good.

Over the years, C continued on the candy quest and never gained weight, which is really not a very BFF thing to do, but we still talk “candy,” especially in times of trouble. When I lived on the Cape, she would come once a year to go to Chatham Candy Manor in Chatham to stock up. Sometimes I would make a run for her and then meet her in New York City.

We have discussed old age together, and one of her criteria is that we must live near a good candy store. I don’t think that’s unusual at all, although I need an indoor pool that isn’t at the YMCA, and I still weigh dozens of pounds more than she does. Life is many things; unfair is one of them.

WWII_imageI sent her the article this morning that said that people are not buying kale and quinoa anymore; they are buying Oreos and chips. And in return, she sent me the announcement from See’s Candies in Los Angeles that they are closing all their stores. I would challenge her notion that See’s is on par with Chatham Candy Manor, but we are trying not to argue during this stressful time. Perspective. Anyway, See’s is 99 years old and has never before closed except during WWII, when they would shutter their doors only if they didn’t have the ingredients they needed.

Here is our back-and-forth:

C: So, even health nuts have moved to junk?

Me: Finally, they’ve become our people.

C: Kale and quinoa have always been questionable. I have a bag of Oreos in the freezer for emergencies.

Me: I feel strongly that Hydrox are infinitely better than Oreos. I have no sweets here. (This is true.)

C: I agree, but they are hard to find. Birthday Cake Oreos are fantastic!

She went on to assure me she’d stocked up last week. She went to See’s and wore her face mask. We determined that perhaps candy is an essential need, and the candy stores should be open, like pharmacies. While we do recognize that they aren’t truly “essential,” we will always appreciate that candy is part of our 45-year shared history. Cathryn’s husband, Victor, holds our obsession against us, but I’m pretty sure it’s in the prenup that he can’t say anything about it. And we are both grateful that he has no interest in our candy, which makes us like him all the more.

P.S. You remember C.; she is the one who keeps real maple syrup in her car in case she decides to stop at IHOP, where they don’t always have it. She is very organized.

 

Categories
Personal Essays

Don Imus Died

don-imus-1024x683Imus died today. He was a complex man who never, ever denied that his complexity and inappropriate behavior was anything other than awful, and not representative of his true beliefs.

I was twenty-five and worked at Vincent Andrews Management Corporation, which managed famous people. Don Imus was one of my accounts, though he wasn’t the richest or the most famous of our clients. (Butchie Revson, the founder’s son, and Rose Mary Woods — yes, the Rose Mary who deleted the tape and, I believe, would have done it again — were also in the mix). Anyway, Imus had a choice. Since he’d avoided paying taxes for years, the IRS told him to have VAMC manage his money and pay the back taxes … or he could do his show from the clinker. The problem was that I was the one who had to walk from the office at 52nd and Madison to Rockefeller Center to bring him checks to sign along with his allowance, about which he was always embittered.

I would show up, and during the commercial break, he would sign the checks and then complain about me as I left. He would comment about my not giving him the money he needed to eat or buy camera equipment (he was a wonderful photographer), and then he would tell people that someone should push me in front of a cab as I left Rockefeller Center. He would even describe to them what I was wearing until I got smart, removing my coat in the waiting area and putting it back on before leaving. More than once people asked me if I was the Chris who was holding back Imus’ money, and I would act confused.

Then I had an operation on my head, and for a month, I was bandaged. I’d had a tumor removed, and you’d think that as a result, he would have taken some kind of care, but it gave him a perfect opportunity to act even worse. “I am pretty sure they gave her a lobotomy,” he’d say. “If you can believe it, they removed part of her brain, and now she can’t remember numbers over five.” I didn’t really mind that much, and there was something about him that made it all OK. I knew he didn’t mean anything by it and was just doing his Howard Stern shtick years before Stern came on the scene.

Here is the thing: the man was in constant pain. Not physical, although as the years went by, that came too, but you could see the personal pain he carried from a past that had somehow damaged his soul. So when he asked me after my head surgery, “Are you OK?” I knew he meant it more than any of the others at work with whom I lunched daily. When he looked me in the eye, he meant it. And, if he thought for a single minute I couldn’t take what he dished out, he wouldn’t have given it to me.
I’m not saying that what he said to me — and others — over the years was OK. I’m certainly not. I’m saying that the minute he said something that caused pain to others, and then realized what he’d done, he was truly sorry. And that matters to me.

I miss his show. He was unafraid to ask follow-up questions, and I have wondered numerous times over the last few years whether, if he were still doing what is now “Morning Joe,” there would be someone else in the White House. He would never, never, never do what Mika and Joe do for ratings, or for anything else. And his dislike for Hillary would not have taken precedence over his dislike for everything Trump stands for. I just wonder. Oh, and for the record, I do not think he was a racist, although when Obama said his daughters were damaged by the remark that took him off the air, I knew, as did he, that he had gone too far.

I wish him peace in death that he never had in life, and I will remember the good in him — the brilliant, good man who looked at each person equally and questioned them all with abandon.

Categories
Personal Essays Politics

Being Likeable

Screen Shot 2019-03-06 at 6.26.53 AMI was sitting with a dear friend at our weekly brunch at the fabulous Nick & Toni’s in the Hamptons, where we were talking about things we like to ponder, and I asked her about her desire to be liked.

“Do you care what people think about you?”

“Yes, I do. I always have. I’m the oldest of five from a Midwestern family; it’s in my DNA.”

“I care less and less about being liked now,” I replied. “I have lost friends over the past year, and I can’t afford the luxury of being likeable anymore. I will live with the fact that people used to think I was nicer.”

She looked at me askew, which is not unusual. She is a quiet, thoughtful type, and I’m the “in your face” friend who must shake her core now and again. But our friendship works. She means the world to me. I tried to explain it to her …

There was a time when I could let comments go. I could smile to myself in the knowledge that those who had delivered such comments had problems with those who were different from them, or in the case of some other friends, they were capable of overlooking flaws in others if it made them a bit more money. Slightly racist and/or greedy. Yikes! But those days are over for me. Our silence — in my position, my silence — is the biggest danger we all face now, and the luxury of letting the conversation go for the sake of a pleasant evening, or our decades of history together, is a thing of the past.

“Like” is a word that has always been at the forefront of our lives. “I like ice cream” (such a lie: I love ice cream). “I like that color best, and it’s what I always wear.” (For me, it’s black until I can find something darker.) “I like your new boyfriend.” “I like that movie a lot.” Facebook then sealed the deal by making the word “like” the stalwart companion to the posts of our friends and family. So, likeable is the goal. We want our posts to be likeable. We want to be likeable. And, the more we want to be likable, the more we can find ourselves in trouble in this age of lies and bad people who are in charge of too many things in our lives. Yep, I said it: bad people. And some of them were my friends.

So, the luxury I used to have of overlooking my best friend’s racist beliefs — which showed up like the occasional bad dream you have once a year — is long gone. I will not let a comment slip by anymore. I will not have an entire evening of friends pass without some acknowledgement of the times in which we live. Rome is burning and we are going to talk about some designer or other? I think back to the early Nazi years, and I am sure that people — good people — had dinner parties and gatherings, celebrations, if you will. Did they ignore the Juden signs on the buildings while they were together? Did they ignore the elephant in the room? I hope not. But either way, it will not serve us well as Americans to avoid having conversations to learn why our friends and family members can possibly feel the way they do.

The luxury of tolerance must be replaced over the next twenty months as we head toward another election. The question is, what do we replace it with? How can I seek to understand, rather than to be understood? How can I speak softly while crying to be heard? How can I appeal to the better angels in people who have become driven by their bank-account balances rather than their moral fiber? How can I make the plight of the huddled masses important to those who are struggling themselves through no fault of their own?

Those are the questions that haunt me at night. I haven’t learned the “how” yet, but I assure you, it’s no longer a question of whether or not I need to do it. So it’s up to you to decide if you want to leave me off the invite list to your dinner party. And, it’s my job to find a way to listen with true interest, and try and figure out how to get through these months ahead with grace and intelligence and kindness and authenticity. Life was easier when all I had to be was likeable.

Categories
Parenting Personal Essays Politics Relationships Women World

Sharing on Thanksgiving

FullSizeRender-2This Thanksgiving, my favorite daughter, about whom I’m not allowed to write, is trekking in Nepal. She sent me this picture this morning. She told me about the wonderful people she is meeting and how hard their lives appear to be. The only reason I can post it is that I’m counting on the fact she won’t see it.

It took me back to a memory I’d forgotten. Another Thanksgiving.

When Sarah was seven, it was an especially cold Thanksgiving. My friend, whose daughter was Sarah’s friend, and I decided we would take the children on an adventure on Thanksgiving morning. We put them in my SUV and went to Dunkin’ Donuts, where I bought one hundred cups of coffee, one hundred cups of orange juice, and two hundred doughnuts. We drove down to the Port Authority, where many a homeless person finds shelter when it’s just too damn cold outside.

I asked a police officer to spread the word that we were there to other officers in the Port Authority and ask if anyone would like to have a doughnut and cup of coffee. My friend and I sat in the back seat of the car for two hours while those two seven-year-olds handed out coffee, OJ, and doughnuts.

There was a moment. There always is.

Sarah was helping a man who couldn’t decide between two doughnuts. Here is their conversation as I can best remember it:

“You can take both of them. We have enough — and if we don’t, my mom will go get more.”

“Oh, no — do you see the line behind me? I want to make sure we all get one. Maybe I’ll wait and see if there are any left over at the end. And your mom already did a lot for us.”

I saw her look at him. I watched her take in the message that this man, who had absolutely nothing — including a winter coat (I remember him vividly) — was not going to take more than his fair share.

Seeing Sarah’s picture today reminded me of Thanksgiving and sharing around a table an abundance of all things — especially stuffing, in my case.

And then I thought about our country, and how, as a country, we used to be like that homeless man. We used to know when each of us individually had enough, and when it was time to share with our fellow countrymen. All those working for large corporations had benefits. Health care. Retirement. And the shareholders were fine with returns that had slow growth to help them when they retired rather than wealth through stock at someone else’s expense. We didn’t simply buy the cheapest things; we bought from stores where we knew the purveyors. We waited while they gift wrapped the presents. There was enough for everyone, so on Thanksgiving, most Americans could sit back and be thankful for the opportunity our country provided to all its citizens.

We can go back to that. I believe that the 1 percent that I think has taken over my country for their own personal gain — and dollars in the bank that they couldn’t spend if they tried — will be brought down. And this Thanksgiving, when I say my silent prayer before eating my turkey, I will pledge to do what I can to make sure of it.

God bless my broken country on this Thanksgiving.

Categories
Personal Essays Relationships

#AndThenThereWereTwo

18274984_10155079776312605_2034959647936000744_nToday my sister Leslie is having an operation and I will be sitting in the waiting room contemplating my navel while the surgeons fix what has been broken for a long time.

We were not a close family, that band of five that moved fifteen times to ten states by the time I was sixteen. Actually, much of the time, we didn’t even like each other. Our fights were big, lacking only in physicality. We wouldn’t speak for years sometimes, one or another of us. Then, five short years ago, we started to diminish. First it was my mom, who died of lung cancer, and went out with more dignity and humor and calm than I would have mustered. I liked her a lot in the end. Then it was my dad, of a disease we didn’t know he even had until we read it on his death certificate. And then, less than a year ago, my older sister left—ostensibly by cancer, but really, she was an alcoholic who everyone pretended wasn’t. The carnage she left behind was also swept under the rug of her power in the family. I’m told there is always one in a family who has that power to affect all others. It was her. The secrets of our family—there were so many—are not worth keeping anymore because they were all due to very human flaws and so why bother?

After our older sister died last year, I sent my sister Leslie an email that read “#AndThenThereWereTwo.”

It woke me with a start.

It took away all the anger of deeds done wrong both by me and to me. It put all of our goodness—our happiness—into the two of us, and somehow, I guess because diminished inventory means you treat what is left with much more care, all the things that used to drive me crazy, no longer do.

It’s like all the good from the original five became part of the two of us. And, all the bad things went somewhere else.

We started having brunch on Sundays and reminiscing about things. She is more kind than I when it comes to the deeds gone wrong, but I’m more honest about not pushing them under the rug and trying to see them for what they were so they no longer have power over us. Our combination could rule a nation. OK, that’s an exaggeration but you get the point.

I told her that when we moved to a house with enough bedrooms for us to no longer share, she was scared and I moved back into a bedroom with her. No matter, within a few months, we moved to the next place and then the separation began in earnest. I told her that she was the kindest of kids, befriending the elderly couple next door, who stayed alive just to see her face at the door each day. She was my mother’s favorite (and BFF), while my dad favored me, and now that they are both gone, each of us has answers to questions from the other that didn’t get asked during our parents’ lifetime. I really like her. I see her more clearly. I see myself and the dynamic of the band of five more clearly.

I look forward to driving to pick her up more than anything else I do in a week—and, I do some cool things.

I put this out to my readers because of the lessons learned. Maybe you can see and adjust your focus before you are reduced to two. With all the anger gone, I can see the loss as well: The times I could have called but just didn’t want to. The questions I didn’t ask. I wish I’d asked my dad more about his pitching days. What was it like to pitch a fast ball? I have seen the contract offered to him by the Boston Braves, which he turned down to go to Dun & Bradstreet, but I don’t know what it felt like on the mound. He once told me that he hated batting because back then, they tried to hit the pitcher on his pitching arm and it hurt like hell. “Hell” was a word he used a lot that I don’t hear anymore. I think I’m going to add it to my vernacular so I can keep him with me.

I know my sister will come through this day like a trouper. She is stronger than she knows and there is no way in hell that the hashtag #AndThenThereWereTwo is going anywhere for a long, long time.

Categories
Personal Essays Politics Women

It’s Women’s History Month and I’m Not Celebrating.

BSSSocialMediaEqualV1bDon’t get me wrong: I’m oh so very proud of the hordes of women who have gone before me. My female ancestor who sailed over in Mayflower times with Thomas Hinckley (she probably thought he was nuts for making her come). My mother-in-law, who taught me that if you need to use the restroom at a friend’s house, you should go home because you have been there long enough. Gloria Steinem. Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Meryl Streep (God, I wish I could borrow her facial expressions for business meetings). So many fabulous women to celebrate, and I do it every day, twelve months a year.

So take your month back; all I want is a level playing field. If you don’t have a Men’s History Month, I don’t want a Women’s History Month (who negotiated for just one month?). I don’t need a lean-in or a leg-up. When I insert my “womanhood” into the equation, I’m just as guilty of tipping that level playing field. When it comes to business, gender (fluid as it is) is only valuable, in my non-humble opinion, if you can offer a consumer-based experience unique to your gender alone. (So I reserve the right to pitch Manolo Blahnik on how I think I could market his shoes; and if a male marketer wanted to pitch his experience with a jockstrap, I say go for it.)

Otherwise, in the world of business, I see no need to reinforce the sex divide. Take my gender off your table. Take race off the table. Take everything off except excellence in the product and services at stake. That’s the goal.

And now that I have that off my non-gender-specific chest, I can go back to spending the rest of this month (and year), focused on the quality of my business.

Categories
Personal Essays

My GD Neighbors Who Clearly Don’t Use Electricity

screen-shot-2016-11-23-at-10-44-16-amEvery few months my electric company sends out an e-mail telling me how my energy conservation compares to my neighbor’s … and it’s never good news. Anyone who reads Freesia Lane knows I’m a competitive person and that I get anxious if I don’t perform well, so when I first received this email, I thought, Gotta get on this! But every month it’s getting worse — this month they say I’m 32 percent worse than everyone else in the neighborhood.

I have the heat set at 60 degrees now. I’m gone at least a week a month. I have an office I go to for the day, and I turn the heat way down while I’m out. I watch television in the dark, squinting. I rarely cook. And now I’m mad as hell.

Do you think they send this to everyone, hoping everyone will live like a Pilgrim, as I do?

Here is the deal: I’m not going to open any more e-mails from these people. I’m done.

And my goal in 2017 is going to be to stop competing in arenas that are not really of interest to me. Goodbye guilt and angst, and hello F-You attitude to come.

I feel better now. Thanks for listening.