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Letter to My Daughter on the Eve of the 2020 Election

My dearest daughter, Sarah,

I write this to you with the Amy Coney Barrett confirmation hearings going on in the background. A woman has been nominated to the Supreme Court of the United States of America to take the place of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a justice who worked so fucking hard to give everyone equal rights in our country and who will now be replaced by a woman who will do what she can to take those rights away. How could this have happened?

I found this picture of you when you were 7 years old during the Anita Hill hearings, which I guess I should call the Clarence Thomas hearings, although they really weren’t about him. They were about slandering her and diminishing her and the story she told with such dignity.

Now, twenty-seven years later, you’ve graduated from Harvard Law School, worked on the Innocence Project, been awarded by the ACLU for your work, served as one of the authors of the articles of impeachment against Donald Trump, worked as a volunteer legal advisor to Joe Biden’s campaign, and served as one of the founders of The Early Vote. I watched you on MSNBC last week: sure-footed, clear, and selfless in your appeal to get people to vote early and in person. I watched you transition from a little girl selling T-shirts on 84th and Broadway which was my pinacle to a force in the world of American progress, trying, always trying, to do right for those less fortunate than we are. I could not be prouder of you.

Someone once told me that he wanted to put his kids on his shoulders so they could see further than his horizon had been growing up. I think that’s a wonderful aspiration, and while I didn’t have it in my mind when you were young, it is certainly what I can see now. Oh, the horizons in front of you! If only you knew how far you have already been able to see, and what that means to your future. Please learn the lesson of looking at what you have accomplished, rather than what you haven’t. It clears the path to move forward without your getting hung up in the rearview mirror.

There are twenty-two days left until the election. I can’t conceive of anything other than success for all the things so many of us are doing to make the outcome one where we can start to build a new future for this country from the ashes of what was destroyed. I’m not just speaking of the destruction that has taken place over the past four years, but also the explosion of what had been simmering throughout all the previous years.

I hold on to the image of you when you were 7 and what you have done since. I hold on to the images of the young girls I see on social media, now reaping what you and your fabulous women friends have planted over these past months.

How can I, on behalf of my generation, thank you, apologize, and move on, recognizing that what we weren’t able to do, you are trying to clean up now?

I have a photo of you on MSNBC last week and the one from when you were 7 on my computer screen and in my heart. They will carry me through the next three weeks with hope and certainty that every single thing that can be done is being done. The future of women in America? It’s in our hands. It’s our votes that will determine the outcome.

God bless you, my dearest child. Godspeed on your journey over the next three weeks. I will be right behind you, ready to shoulder whatever you give me to help you lead the way. I love you,Mom

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Trump’s Tipping Point

There is always a tipping point — that moment in time when everything changes and you “know” deep down inside that the trajectory of something has changed, and the train wreck that you thought couldn’t be stopped, can, in fact, be stopped.

Remember Howard Dean? Remember when he unexpectedly lost in Iowa, and he went on the television the night of the primary and screamed into the cameras and sent dogs and cats scurrying under couches, and Americans thought, “No way, Jose, is that guy going to get my vote. He’s not stable”? That was the end of Howard Dean. It was a split second in time, but it cost him dearly. They called it the scream that doomed Howard Dean. 

Then there was that moment in August 2008, when the markets crashed and impending mortgage crisis doom and gloom hit the stage. John McCain pulled a Howard Dean moment himself. He went in front of the cameras and in a breathless panic said he was canceling his presence at the debate a few days later and suspending his campaign to immediately return to D.C. to deal with the financial crisis. Then cool, calm, and collected Obama said he too was going to D.C. to work on the fiscal situation. He said he could do more than one thing at a time and would attend the debate to continue his campaign. “Oh, one more thing,” said Senator Obama, “don’t worry; everything will be OK.” In my mind, that was the tipping point.

I have thought things SHOULD have been tipping points with this maniac in the White House. Grabbing women. Charlottesville. Gassing people in the street to hold a bible upside down. And oh, so much more. But I’ve never FELT they were tipping points. 

Then, this outrageous human being without a semblance of shame or empathy toward others waved to a few dozen people in an SUV with two men who had to risk their lives to do that little dog and pony show sitting in the front, ostensibly holding their breaths for as much of the ride as they could manage. Combine that with his outrageous videos talking only about himself, without an ounce of empathy toward the more than 200,000 dead who didn’t have the care he is getting and presenting it all as if he has cured the virus for all by merely getting it. I FELT as though that was it. That was the straw that broke the camel’s back. I know that camel is as tired as I am. 

I have spent the last few years saddened whenever I have seen my flag, the American flag. I have felt no pride of late when I’ve come across it. I have even felt shame or embarrassment; I’m not sure which. It was a first for me in all my years of being a citizen of what I thought was already a great country. This morning after I got my coffee, I saw this flag that is always there, but which I’ve avoided. I turned around, came back, and took a picture. I think I will begin to have pride in America again. I believe for the first time in four years that we will get through this, and that Trump will no longer have a platform from which to do what he calls leading and I call destroying.

I have learned a lot. I realize that a good number of my fellow citizens are disenfranchised and don’t believe in their own future or that of their children. I realize now that we have not come as far as I thought we had in our race relations, and that it’s my own personal responsibility to work toward getting there myself. I have learned that I have to watch and evaluate my country’s leaders and pay closer attention to those who get my precious vote. I have learned that I have a larger responsibility in what happens in this country than I’d realized, or wanted, actually. I have heard the wake-up call, and I will do better. 

We do the best we can, and when we know better, we do better. That’s Maya Angelou’s sentiment and my new responsibility.

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RBG RIP

I was 15 when I watched Ted Kennedy eulogize his brother Bobby, and I was struck to the core when he said, “My brother need not be idealized, or enlarged in death beyond what he was in life; to be remembered simply as a good and decent man, who saw wrong and tried to right it, saw suffering and tried to heal it, saw war and tried to stop it.” I remember thinking that one day a woman will die, and she will mean so much to me and others of my gender that words like this will be written about her. 

And so tonight, 52 years later, it has come to pass. Ruth Bader Ginsberg has died, and one of her final acts was to send a message to her lawyer granddaughter, saying, “My most fervent wish is that I not be replaced until a new president is installed.” She always chose words carefully, our RBG, and I wonder if it was not lost on her that she might be asking for four years of not being replaced.

I have no idea what comes next. My phone is buzzing with text messages. But I’m not answering any of them tonight. For me, tonight is a moment in the midst of the chaos, fear, and loathing that make up my days of following politics, when I stop and look at my gender’s supreme of all Supremes. 

My mind is running, running, running. 

With a new baby and a husband fighting cancer, she attended Harvard Law School, doing her homework and writing research papers, taking care of her child, and typing her husband’s papers. And she still managed to get the top grades in her class. But mostly what I thought when I read about that was that she didn’t complain; she just did it. I marveled at the fact that she didn’t just give up law school and switch to writing books on time management, because she was an expert. 

Then they screwed her. If she’d been endowed like a man, she would have been sought after by the top firms, and the clerkship she applied for would have been a no brainer. She didn’t complain. Not our RBG. She stayed the course. She had to wait a long, long time before she got on the road leading to the Supreme Court of the United States.

She had a great love. Marty. A successful marriage. A love of Opera. Children. Grandchildren. She cooked Passover Seder herself. She loved movies. And, she was funny.

Her humor was often laced with verbal brilliance. Here’s an anecdote from her granddaughter, Clara Spera, as quoted on glamour.com in 2018: “Once, though, I had to email her about her opinion in a voting rights case, Evenwel v. Abbott, because I thought the strong language in her analysis did not match up with the eventual, more reserved, holding. I was frustrated that she seemed to be holding back. I won’t reveal her response here, except to report that she told me, ‘I once spoke to you about not being queen when one writes for the Court.’”

Mostly, though, I will never forget the on-screen reenactment of her closing arguments in front of the Supreme Court during Moritz v. Commissioner of Internal Revenue. I wonder if she could have seen herself on that bench with nine white men who looked and acted nothing like her. I hope you will watch it, even if you have seen it before.

You see, as women, we haven’t had the opportunity to lead in a game where gender has no role. Eleanor Roosevelt was beloved, but she got her leg up from being the wife of a beloved president. Our road to greatness in this country has never been a direct line based on our own attributes. Women in other countries have managed to accomplish quite a bit without a male connection. Golda Meir comes to mind. But in this country, white men seem to have center stage, and our access to that stage has mostly been walking next to them, not in front of them.

So my beloved Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who I never saw in person (how could I have let that happen?), is now gone. Her white-lace-collared robes, which showed humor, femininity, and a bit of FU, have shown me the way. Her total commitment to excellence, incredible time-management skills, and brilliant mind made her our hero. She gave us (women) the map, if you will, to staying the course and committing to not giving up, no matter how far on the horizon. 

She is my Bobby Kennedy, my JFK, my MLK, and if anyone, anywhere even thinks of not erecting statues of her wherever women roam, I will finally take up arms. 

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Kate Spade

downloadThe thing thing about Kate Spade is that her accessories made me feel pretty. Not “Chanel pretty,” which always made me feel like part of a club I didn’t want to belong to. Not pretty like Saint Laurent, who always made me feel that I better make my body deserve to wear him. Not pretty like Valentino, who made me feel masculine in a feminine way. Powerful. (I liked that, but I never felt pretty in Valentino.)

The pretty that Kate Spade gave me was joyful pretty. Girl next door pretty. Bright colors. Gold embossment that you had to search to find — not like Louis Vuitton, who, let’s face it, should pay us to carry the brand the way he makes his name scream from your arm while it’s carrying the bag.

I knew I’d like Kate Spade if we crossed paths. I liked her name. The Midwestern girl in me related to that name. Kate. Not Katherine, which would have been a whole other thing, like my friend Cathe, who changed her name to Cathryn when she married a Wall Street tycoon. Kate. And, together with “Spade,” we had two syllables that made up an entire brand. It didn’t take up the space that some of the other designers do. Kate Spade. Take me as I am. Simple, but pretty.

Kate was the first to really understand what I needed in a bag. Big enough, but not briefcase sized. Pockets. Easy in-and-out mechanisms. Solid colors that go with everything. Not too heavy. Not ostentatious.

I haven’t bought a Kate Spade bag in years. She’s a days gone by girl in my purchasing platform. But she, and the accessories she created, was an accessory in a decade of growth for me, and I carried her with me everywhere. Comfortably. Confidently. I wish her Godspeed to wherever she is headed. And I thank her and yearn for Kate Spade days of old.

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Good or Evil. Either Or.

October 2003

Last week the headmaster from the school my daughter attended through fifth grade was arrested for child pornography. It seems that he was entering chat rooms for 13- and 14-year-olds and sending them graphic pictures of things he would like to do to them. I forced myself to write the last two sentences. It is the only way to make real the fact that someone I know — an old, old friend — has a dark side that reaches far beyond what I can look at with any compassion whatsoever.

imagesJack’s picture — not one of the many I have of him in a scrapbook, but rather, his mug shot — was staring at me from the front page of the NY Post when I went to work on Tuesday. I looked into his eyes and wondered who he is. I thought back to my memories of lunches gone by, where he taught me things: that grammar is not as important as expressing yourself; that my daughter is special; that I was better at pool than he is; that basketball is a game of ballet, teamwork, and resilience; and that he was willing to stand up and ask for what he wanted.

You see, I thought I knew this man. I do know this man. I am certain that he woke up each and every day and was as certain as I am that I won’t eat sugar today, that this was the day he would stop doing what could hurt the individuals he has done so much to serve. He is/was (which tense to use is a complicated issue for me now) a caring person, often putting others above himself. Watching him teach Cuisenaire rods to first-graders because he loves math and wants kids to love it too was like watching a great movie.

So, how to figure out the larger picture? I realize today that we are not one-dimensional. I have always been confident that the scumbags who hurt our children are only that: scumbags who hurt children. But here is a man who mentored thousands of young individuals through adolescence (including my adopted daughter from Bosnia) with a kindness and sense of purpose that gave them the confidence to believe that they are someone. How can I possibly reconcile that man with the man staring back at me from a mug shot — a man who preyed upon at least one 14-year-old girl?

Truth is, I can’t. Which leads me to the point of this missive, and that is that the old adage “Judge not …” is not something to ignore. I really can’t judge him. I want him to get help. I want him to serve time. And, perhaps most importantly, I want him to know that he is more to me than the sum of his darkest side. And, that I will likely never see him again.

We never really know the pain, evil, and horror inside those around us. I have to believe that this lesson — Jack’s last as one of my educators — is that one-dimensional no longer applies to people. Good and evil are not absolutes. It’s time for me to realize that three-dimensional does not necessarily mean three like dimensions, but rather, many dimensions that don’t always fit together to make a perfect whole.

May 2018

It’s 15 years later, and Harvey Weinstein and oh-so-many others have been felled by truth. We are all trying to distinguish truth from lies, and discovering what I wrote in my journal 15 years ago about a man I have thought of often over the years comes to mind. He had a number of truths: Great educator. Mentor to thousands of kids. Pedophile. All truths.

So, I see him differently now. I see how he groomed me by helping me with my weaknesses to arrive at his endgame. We gave more money to the school because of my relationship with him. I supported changes he wanted to make in the school. I elevated his stature through my own. I was his friend.

I now realize that the good I saw in him might have been his ticket to feel safe to do what really drove him. When you have that kind of issue, and that kind of secret/lie, then it drives everything else. It’s like working out for two hours so you can have an extra pint of ice cream. The real drive is the ice cream. That’s who you really are. The work out is the ticket to getting it. So, my ambivalence around any of these men, Jack included, is gone. All good deeds that lead to a free ride to evil are no longer good deeds. Black and white is back in my life.

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Finish What You Start

404419_c22ff0164aa143fa981b988e678e8c25-mv2I don’t finish things. No, seriously, I don’t finish things. I have never, and I mean this earnestly, even finished a cup of coffee. I like the idea of coffee, like I like the idea of writing books and things longer than 650 words, but I just don’t finish them. I have lived in my present house for five years and I still haven’t unpacked.

Don’t get me wrong. I finish things for others. Projects in business. A podcast that I do with a finishing-type person, who not only finishes all that she starts, but also finishes it with laser-like focus. In two and a half years, we haven’t missed one weekly release. But I assure you, if she weren’t involved, I would find a way to not finish them.

Before you attack me, or tell me I’m being too hard on myself, I would like to establish upfront: I’m saying this out loud, not as a criticism of myself, but rather as a personal inquiry. Is it a good thing or a bad thing (or something else entirely) that I don’t finish things? Even as I write this, I’m having a cup of coffee, and have already committed to finishing it, even if it means gagging through the last four sips.

I do get a ton done in a day. My friends say I do more in a day than most do in a month. But still… am I cherry-picking the things that matter most? Are the things that I don’t finish things that I should finish?

Here’s what I think. When I start something, I think I should rate it: Must finish; Would like to finish; and Should I really start this? I’ll take some time to evaluate the projects up front, and then establish a plan of completion. I like that idea. Plan of Completion. I see it as a title:

Plan of Completion
by Christine Merser

It’s a bestseller, if I do say so myself. With a beginning, middle, and an end (an end I haven’t written yet).

We all know that time is everything. Unless you’re not feeling well. Then time isn’t worth as much. Or time that keeps getting interrupted. Unencumbered time, I should say. Pure, clean, simple, unencumbered time is the very best life has to offer.

So, a plan of completion coupled with unencumbered time, equals one helluva great month. I’m on it. I’ll let you know if I finish it.

After all, there’s hope: the coffee cup is empty.

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Reality T.V. Comes to Politics

trumpEveryone’s talking about it. How did Trump defeat a lineup of seasoned politicians and emerge as the frontrunner, the close-to-certain presidential nominee for the Republican Party of the United States of America? Really? Seriously?

Pundits are saying that a disenfranchised group of Americans is receptive to Trump’s message, which seems to be that America isn’t great, but it will become great if we get rid of much of our nation including immigrants and refugees. They say that this right wing – possible majority – trusts him more than they trust the Beltway Aluminum Siding Salesmen who are our senators, congressmen, and governors.

I don’t think it’s about not trusting the present politicians at all (although I agree we can’t trust them). Trump is where is he because he spent seven years perfecting reality TV messaging in a way that no one else in the field had ever done. Reality TV has come to call on our electoral process.

Reality TV is sound bites. Moments that manipulate people into believing what you want them to believe about who you are and what they need. It’s taking them on a roller coaster ride of feeling superior to others, or feeling like they are finally in the room where they were persona non-grata most of their lives before reality TV.

Trump made a lot of mistakes in the first years of The Apprentice. He learned what works and what doesn’t. Watch the brilliant intro to the first season and compare the language he uses to the way he speaks now. He learned to merge reality TV, acting, and sound bites to make people feel things. So, he doesn’t answer questions about policy or foreign affairs. Instead he points his finger at someone asking for real answers and changes the subject in a way that is entertaining and makes you forget about what the real issues are.

And that, in a nutshell, is why he is where he is. From The Apprentice to the White House. Psychology Today warned about the long term effects of reality TV, and mirroring reality is not one of them. It’s about creating a false reality, and Donald Trump has done it brilliantly, while everyone else has been playing by the old, stodgy rules of political debate that no longer resonate with anyone who can vote.

Let’s say he gets the nomination. It will be up to Hillary, or Bernie, to refuse to be an actor in reality TV when we are supposed to be viewing Who Should Lead the United States of America? If she/he responds the way the GOP has, then he might just win in November. If the media and the candidate across from him reminds him he is not on The Apprentice anymore and we as a nation want to hear specifics on how he is going to make America great again, then I do not believe he will.

I have had dinner with Donald Trump. He never asked me a question. He was pompous, interrupting anyone who spoke about anything, including things he brought up. He was rude, sexist, and he was exaggerating about things everyone at the table knew were lies. What is interesting is that I never once challenged him. He was not made to be accountable for his outrageous behavior by any of the eight people at the table. Mistake, Christine, big mistake. Left unchecked by those around him helped create this out of control ego. We can no longer be silent. And, the press has to worry less about sound bite ratings and more about presenting the ideas that candidates bring to the table.

I get that everyone is angry at DC and those that run it. I get that it’s time for a change. This man is not the change anyone is looking for. He really isn’t. This is a mistake of mammoth proportions that just might be the thing that brings down our country forever.

Oh my.

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Santana or The Donald?

Screen Shot 2015-12-12 at 9.02.20 AMSantana or the Donald? We the people decide which we will have, not by our vote, but through our Facebook posts.

I have an old friend I haven’t seen in twenty years whom I follow on Facebook. Upper West Side of Manhattan guy who is passionate about right and wrong and politics, and those who have “friended” him on Facebook generally agree with his point of view—or if they do not, they do not challenge it when he writes his long, heartfelt, editorials on his wall. These missives generally get a lot of rah-rahs and likes, but overall serve no purpose other than to make him feel better, and those around him get to enjoy that feeling you get when you read something that outrages you and someone else makes comments that make you feel like “he gets it.” It makes the individual feel better, but generally that’s the net gain.

Now, let’s go back in time a bit to the Flintstone age when it was just TV, radio, and print. If you sent in an editorial, or commented on the screen when a microphone was put in front of you, all that happened was people heard you and agreed or didn’t. But that was it.

Those days are over friends. The Facebook editorial beast has changed things, and your role in the conversation about The Donald is not what you think it is. If I told Robby, the friend I mentioned earlier, that he was helping The Donald by posting about him, he’d stick his head in the oven. But that’s what he’s doing.

Here is what happens when Robby types his eight-paragraph editorial on The Donald, which referenced TD (The Donald) by name seven or eight times. It was liked by 24 people and commented on by another 15 or so. The algorithms of Facebook come in and say, “Wow. These fine people want to see more on TD. They are interested in what he has to say.” And, then FB puts articles about TD on the walls of Robby’s friends, and they click on the link to Salon’s latest piece about how TD is whipping the uneducated into a frenzy, and then Robby’s friends like that article and comment on it and share it, and then Salon says, “We must keep writing about TD because he is giving us reach,” and voilá, TD moves forward yet another few inches.

Here is what didn’t happen with Robby’s eight paragraph editorial. Not one mind was changed. Those who are his friends feel the same way he does, and those who do not know him never see it … and even if they did, data shows us that their minds are already made up, and their opinions are reinforced by the reflections of their own viewpoints that Facebook’s fine algorithms have put on their walls.

My friends don’t seem to realize that every time they click on those TD articles, they are helping him by extending his reach. His ability to get the media to cover him four times as much as they cover any other GOP candidate is based on the input the media gets on the popularity of what they are covering, and since social media has changed the game of news to make it a popularity contest for ratings, rather than a discourse on what is happening in the world, we are all doomed unless we change our message to the media.

“I can fix this,” the megalomaniac part of me says to my other self. “Just explain to my friends what is happening here.” So I go onto his latest post, and I write,

The thing about all this is that he is controlling the conversation. When we react to his statements, it just keeps the focus on the issues he is selling rather than the issues that matter to us. I’m in marketing. You want to answer him? Take the power away from him rather than continue the dialog. If people stop writing about him, commenting on his commentary, he is gone. And, then listen and dance to this music from a Mexican immigrant. (at this point in my reply to Robby’s post, I added a link to Santana—one of the greatest imports into the US from Mexico as far as I’m concerned—and his fabulous “Smooth”).

Well, the response to my post was less than smooth. I didn’t get it, according to him. We must speak up – answer him. So much for my ability to change the conversation. And it’s true, we can’t ignore him, but since the news is now dictated by ‘we the people’ rather than the news itself, we are obligated to take responsibility when it becomes a free for all of embarrassing, less than relevant, hate-based, dribble.

Here it is in a nutshell people. If you are afraid of TD, this is what you need to do to stop him:

1. Never click on a link that mentions him again. Anywhere.
2. Start talking about the candidate you are interested in. Click on links about them—often. Share those links.
3. Send a contribution to your candidate.
4. Go hear the speeches of less entertaining but more presidential candidates.
5. Tell your friends to read this article. Forward it to a friend. (Oh, all right, that was a bit self-serving, perhaps.)

The conversation is deteriorating because of we the people. We now dictate what the media presents. Raise your level of interest, and they will too. By the way, talk about a fun alternative to watching TD talk about immigration. Watch this immigration rant from Harry Belefonte.

So, be gone TD. I am done with you. I will never click on another link with you in the headline again. You too, Kardashian. FB is going to think I have the most intelligent interests in all the land.

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Me & My NStar Posse in The Hilton Lobby During the Storm of 2015

January 27, 2015. Cape Cod, Massachusetts.

NSTARIMG_2694 (Click to watch the video of my posse.)

I’m a smart girl. I live on Cape Cod mostly, and when a snowstorm comes in, I can pretty much count on no electricity … sometimes for days. I’m also a glass-half-full girl, but in this case, the water in the glass freezes fast and I’m stuck, so I hedge my bets. I found out that the NStar guys (those guys who go into the thick of the storm and fix electric wires) stay at the Hilton here, so I book a stay at the Hilton a few days before the storm arrives and I’m covered. If the electricity goes out, they fix it there first because it’s where they go to eat and sleep when they can.

This storm of 2015 is a big one. I’m here at the Hilton with my posse of NStar guys and the lights went out early this morning. My room got really cold, really fast, and I hightailed it to the lobby where there is a fire going. I was there with a hundred or so of my guys, and while sitting at the bar I got to overhear some of their conversations. I thought I’d share them with you here.

Two guys talking; one is the foreman and the other came down from Maine yesterday to help out. They’ve just met, but they share the brotherhood of a dangerous, manly job group, and there is an intimacy that comes from having a shared history of experience, even if not together.

“Well I can tell you this for sure. I don’t care who says they checked. It could be my mother. I check to make sure it’s turned off myself. And then I go in. No one gets to tell me it’s off but me.”

“I know. You know how many guys I know who aren’t here anymore because they believed somebody? I check myself, too. Yep. Every time.”

But I could tell by looking at him he didn’t check every time. He was scared. The other guy wasn’t.

Then another one joins them. He’s laughing.

“Robert just went out and he said he can’t see one foot in front of his face. He’s covered in ice. And he is pissed. I mean really pissed cuz he stuck his head out the window to see and lost his hat. Said it was his favorite hat.”

They all start laughing.

“Well, he’s our guinea pig. Send him out again in half an hour. Tell him I said he has to try again.”

“Yeah, you tell him. I’m not.” And the guy walked away.

A minute or so later the foreman’s phone rings.

“Hey. Yeah. Sure, if you want us to do that first, but we are at least an hour away from being able to get there. The winds won’t let us go yet. But tell him to put some blankets on her, but it won’t be for a few hours. Don’t tell him we will do it right away. I don’t want him up my ass. We can’t get out. But I’ll move it to the front of the line.”

He hangs up and turns to Mr. Maine.

“I know these things are great,” and he looks at his phone, “but I’m so sick and tired of having this thing go off on a Sunday night at 10:30 like I’m sitting here waiting for it. I am not available whenever you want me to be, and I liked it better when they couldn’t find us so easy.”

“I know what you mean, but I really like having it up with me on a pole. We work alone a lot in Maine, and it’s nice to know it’s my ticket out of trouble. Wouldn’t change it.”

“Yeah, you’re right.”

“How long did it take you guys to get here last night?”

“You can’t believe it. One hour to drive two miles and I wasn’t sure I was even on the road.”

“Yeah, worst I’ve ever seen out there. Not kidding. Ever.”

One guy pulls out his cell phone, looks at the incoming message and starts laughing.

“Hey, just got this picture in from a friend in Providence. Says they had a line down near an oil tank. They went in closer to look and saw a hundred propane tanks behind the open line. He says, ‘See us retreat.’ Great picture.”

Another guys walks round to his side of the bar and says, “Can I see?” He looks and says, “That’s a bad one.” And they all laugh.

They are wearing vests that glow a lot so idiots like me who shouldn’t be on the road but are anyway don’t run over them by mistake.

And they all have ruddy, lined faces, and they have mouths that naturally go up instead of down as if they laugh a lot.

And most them were wearing wedding rings.

And they were all — each one of them — itching to get out into the storm to get it done.

I had a swell time in the Hilton lobby this morning. I know they are rooting for the Patriots, who I think are cheaters (seriously, you are going to tell me Brady, who throws footballs all day, every day, didn’t know that ball didn’t have the right amount of air? Seriously?), and I know they probably hit R all the way down the voting ticket, and I know they surely don’t want my gender out there with them, and there wasn’t a man of color among them. I get that I don’t agree with them on much personally, politically, or religiously. I get that. But I also get that they will climb that pole so my lights come back on, and they will do it because they want to.

So, here’s to my posse of NStar men at the Hilton on this cold, cold, windy morning.

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Life Itself Movie Review

imgresI wasn’t a reader of Ebert’s reviews. Shame on me. How is that possible, I ask myself, now that I have seen Life Itself?

I’m not sure this film is for everyone. If you love film, you’ll watch every second, waiting for the tidbits that appear amid the footage of his illness and the last few months of his life. I think it was a mistake to devote so much of the film to those last months. The man could make or break a movie in a three minute review. He treated films thoughtfully, with a reverence for the way they shaped of our lives, and he was authentic in every way. Show me more of that! Show me more snippets of his reviews of some of the great films he discussed over the course of his fifty-odd-year career. Instead, the film maker spends way too much time in hospital rooms and focusing on the fabulous wife Charlie, who may be a terrific person, but let’s face it, she isn’t the story.

I don’t mean to trivialize the difficulty of his last years. I get that he was stoic in the face of great pain, and that his rock of a wife, Charlie, was amazingly dedicated to his daily quality of life. But that’s not the whole story; it’s only 10 percent of the story, and they made it the majority of the story. The real story is a career — a lifetime — of seeing us at the movies, and then walking us through each movie’s strengths and weaknesses in an intelligent way. When Scorsese talks about a bad review he got from Ebert during the documentary, and they show Ebert’s comments about part of that movie that Ebert thought was less than Scorsese amazing, you know that the man had the ability to influence the way directors and actors worked, and to affect the industry as a whole. Scorsese cared what Ebert thought — and let’s face it, he doesn’t have to care what anyone thinks. I wanted more of those moments, and fewer moments in the hospital walking through the destruction of Ebert’s jaw and ability to speak.

While I was watching Life Itself, I couldn’t help but think of the movie Continental Divide, a 1981 John Belushi movie about an old school Chicago reporter who makes enemies in organized crime and has to lay low for a few months, so he heads off to Colorado where he is a fish out of water so to speak. Belushi’s character resembled what Life Itself shows of the nightlife that Ebert lived during his early years in Chicago, and I wondered if he had reviewed Continental Divide. He did review it, and not surprisingly, he brought a light touch of a mirror into himself to his description of the reporter.

“One of Belushi’s special qualities was always an underlying innocence. Maybe he created his Blues Brothers persona in reaction to it. He’s an innocent in this movie, an idealist who’s a little kid at heart and who wins the love of Brown not by seducing her but by appealing to her protective qualities. That’s the secret of the character’s appeal. We’re cheering for the romance because Belushi makes us protective, too, and we want him to have a woman who’d be good for him.

What about the movie’s view of journalism? It’s really just a romanticized backdrop, “The Front Page” crossed with “Lou Grant” and modernized with a computerized newsroom. The newspaper scenes in the movie were shot on location in the Sun-Times features department, and one of the quietly amusing things about “Continental Divide’s” view of newspaper life is that in the movie it’s more sedate and disciplined than the real thing. In the “real” Sun-Times features department, there’s a lot of informality and chaos and good-natured confusion and people shouting at one another and eating lunch at their desks. In the movie, the extras (recruited from the Sun-Times staff) forget about real life and sit dutifully at their video display terminals, grinding out the news.”

Funny, this is what I would have written about Roger Ebert’s character as portrayed in Life Itself. There is an innocence about Ebert’s character as he charts his course through cinematic history, as though he doesn’t know his own power. Even as he rips a movie apart, he protects those who made it and leaves the door open for them to shine a bit brighter the next time around.

I wish I’d paid more attention to him in his prime. More important than seeing this movie is going back in time and reading some of his reviews. I’m doing one a day for awhile. See you at the movies, Roger.