Monday, May 26, 2008

Insult to injury

In his most recent weekly radio address, President George Bush encouraged Americans to mark Memorial Day with a patriotic gesture, like placing a flag at a veteran's grave. When he says things like that, I suspect he envisions some sort of 1940's Hollywood scene of small boys in Cub Scout uniforms reverently walking from gravestone to gravestone, saluting each fallen warrior with tiny hands at brows.

"Honor a vet. Plant a flag."

I wonder how that makes our Iraq veterans feel. Due to advances in battlefield medical practices, troops hurt in the Gulf are coming home after suffering severe injuries that would have put them in caskets in a war even just a few years ago. Many suffer debilitating brain damage or loss of limbs. In many cases they come home to hospitals that would be deplorable even in a war zone. We've all heard the stories about conditions at Walter Reed, supposedly among the best of all military hospitals. And don't get me started about the lack of protective equipment that landed so many of these injured in the hospital to begin with. I suppose the part of Bush's radio address that exhorted people to hold bake sales for body armor was edited out when saner heads prevailed.

Seems to me that honoring veterans -- standing behind our troops -- starts with taking care of them. Show them the same degree of loyalty they show their country. You put them in harm's way, you protect them. If they get hurt, you do your damnedest to fix them. You live up to your end of the bargain.

I find it frankly insulting that when these men and women are basically asked to be targets, and when they're cycled in and out for multiple tours of duty, our president thinks that a flag or a pat on the back is thanks enough for their bravery. For putting their lives on hold and leaving their families. And for sustaining injures that change their lives forever.

Is Bush the only one who thinks it's enough? I'd like to hope so. Nonetheless, it's sad to think that the one person who does... is the one who's in charge.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Memorial Day, Small Town America...

I live so close to New York City, and in such a densely-populated area, that I tend to forget that I live in a fairly small town -- less than 25,000 people total. It's been around since the Revolution in one form or another, and there's a great deal of pride in community.

Days like tomorrow, it really comes out. The township Memorial Day parade gives every community organization the chance to assemble and show its pride in our country and our town. My first year living here, I went in a show of patriotism, expecting to see the high school marching band, the scouts, a veteran as grand marshall, maybe a jeep or two, and I wasn't disappointed. However, I wasn't expecting to see many of the others that assembled and marched, like:
  • The Red Hat Society
  • Every type of township vehicle (DPW front-end loader, anyone?)
  • The Independent Order of Odd Fellows (who knew?)
  • The local Elks 'Hogs' motorcycle group, roaring through suburbia
  • Residents of the local seniors housing in their air conditioned minibus, waving from behind tinted windows

Everybody has their chance to march through the streets, albeit only briefly through downtown (still haven't figured that one out, either), and down tree-lined residential neighborhoods. And they all get the same enthusiastic greeting from the folks along the parade route.

I don't know if there's a conscious effort to be so inclusive. I can only hope that someone in the township recreation department has a private smile as he or she grants permission for some of these groups to march. I like to think that there's someone there who enjoys the slight, very slight degree of weirdness it lends the town.

And I'd like to hope it's not the same person who organizes the pumpkin drop after the annual Halloween parade. There's no better use of one's tax dollars than parking a fire department ladder truck in the middle of town to hurl a huge orange gourd from 30 feet to the pavement below. And for some odd reason, the kids love to run to grab the big pieces.

Gotta love living in a town that has stuff like that. And before I moved here, I never knew this kind of benign weirdness was lurking.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Baiting the hook

Back on the topic of random contemplation, I'm reminded of a CEO I once knew. As his communication support, I accompanied him to work locations for breakfasts with small groups of employees, usually blue collar workers and mostly men. My job was to listen quietly and record any questions or issues an employee might have that warranted some research, so we could get back to him.

An understated and shy man, the CEO didn't mix with others easily. Combined with the usual perception about executives being approachable, his reticence made the atmosphere a little uncomfortable at the start. Understanding that, he asked each of the participants to share a little information about himself -- job, length of service, hobbies.

Jim, the CEO, would get the ball rolling by talking about his career and sharing a little about his family and hobbies. He always got a favorable reaction when he mentioned his summer house in the Maine woods, where he'd do some woodworking and puttering around.

I got to know the stories very well after a while. My favorite was his fishing story, where he'd row out to the middle of Sebago Lake with rod and reel for a few hours. He'd been doing it for years without ever catching a fish, mostly because he never baited the hook. He used the time to think, bringing the fishing gear only so that the neighbors wouldn't wonder why he was on the lake, doing nothing. Mainers, it seems, are a practical lot and aren't big on meditation.

So, every time I'd accompany Jim to an employee breakfast, I'd hear the story, wait for the punch line and chuckle along with the rest of the folks. One day he stopped in mid-story, looked at me and said, "you know, you've heard me tell this story many times, and I always say I never catch anything. Last weekend I caught a fish!" Apparently that's what happens when you put a nightcrawler on the hook.

It's funny -- that story has been popping up in my mind a lot lately. How so many people put the line of intention out there but don't bait the hook with the energy it takes to get what they really want. Sometimes if you do the work to get what you're looking for, you still don't get it -- often a crushing blow. Maybe the act of not working for it is a weird way of guaranteeing you always have the hope of getting what you want. While you still don't get it, at least you don't have to address the disappointment.

Or maybe you just need to meditate on it ... is it what you really want? ... before you work to get it. You could spend your whole life paralyzed by that. That's probably even worse than trying and not getting it. I've spent a lot of time in that position lately, and I'm sensing that maybe I just need to get off my ass. Either make something happen, or resign myself to being vaguely dissatisfied (or just plain annoyed) for the rest of my life.

You have to admit: making a conscious choice is leagues better than just letting things transpire. And maybe for once I'll work to get something, rather than feeling I'm fated to get only whatever is handed to me.

I just have to figure out what it is I want.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Isabella Rossellini, when asked in the New York Times Magazine if she was married, said, "No. I have been married twice, I have two children and I am now single. I don't mind it. Some people say, 'You have to date. It's good for you.' But it's not good for me if I don't like the men."

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Third Saturday in May

The first few really nice Saturdays of spring tend to bring out the best in people. Today I took a wander through lower Manhattan, taking the PATH to the World Trade Center and then going where the spirit took me. Just warm enough, and nicely sunny, it was a great day to take a walk, and I was pleasantly surprised by the number of nice encounters I had.

Started by dropping into the shop of my new favorite costume jewelry designer, Michal Golan. Great vintagey-looking stuff, and hard to limit myself to just two pair of earrings.

I wasn't sure what I wanted to do after that, except find some interesting subjects for photography. I've studied maps of Manhattan many times and often wonder about those little streets on the East River side. Some of them have been there since the days of the Dutch ... others a little more recent, but not by much. A few, in fact, are called 'slips,' perhaps like a boat slip. Anyway, as I approached Old Slip, I found the New York City Police Museum, housed in the old Precinct One building.

The 1939 WPA Guide to New York City describes the First Precinct Police Station as "a grim, solid structure reminiscent of a fortified Florentine Renaissance palazzo." While relatively small, it's an impressive edifice, and as I stopped to admire it, a gentleman introduced himself and explained the history of the place. Unlike me, the unofficial Asbury Park history teacher, this man had a connection to the museum. He welcomed me in, gave me a quick review of the contents and sent me off to take a look. Interesting place to check out if you have an hour or so, especially if you've exhausted the supply of the usual New York tourist destinations.

Seemed that after that, I kept running into friendly people who chatted me up just for the sake of chatting. And while I ran into a lot of tourists, they weren't the friendly ones. The amity came from food delivery people, a woman walking her dog (and her child who wouldn't allow a leash), your standard passers by -- so many folks who had no reason to say word one to me.

Maybe it shouldn't seem so remarkable that people should take a few moments to be pleasant to each other rather than just walking on by, but it is. New York has the classic rap for being unfriendly and downright rude, which has never been entirely true. That said, I was struck by just how friendly it actually was today.

I don't know. Maybe it was the weather; maybe it was me. Maybe it was the karma I was putting out there. Maybe you find what you're looking to get. Whatever the answer, it was a nice experience.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Ask her -- she looks like she knows.

Sometimes, purely by chance, you get a glimpse into what, maybe, you should be doing with your life.

I visited the Asbury Park boardwalk today to see how things are going on the renovation of the pavilions and, of course, the Casino. Though the day was overcast, temperatures were in the mid 60's and there were plenty of people walking around. I got some cool shots of the Casino entrance in a large puddle on the walkway floor ... thanks to a photographer who directed my eyes downward by focusing his camera to the ground as I was striding through.

Walking out and onto the boardwalk, I was stopped by an older couple and a young woman who asked me if I knew anything about the building. New Hampshire natives, their range of knowledge of the city was defined by Bruce Springsteen and the Stone Pony.

Oh, boy, did they stop the right person. I gave them the Readers Digest version of the past, present and future of the Casino and the rest of the boardwalk. Fortunately the architect's rendering was posted right behind us so I could show them the half of the building that had been torn down, beyond repair. On their asking, I gave them a few nuggets of information on Ocean Grove's Methodist camp meeting, too. I also mentioned the shops and restaurants on Cookman Avenue -- nice little plug for my friends over there. (And why didn't I point them to my photos??? Grrr... )

We chatted amiably for a few minutes and closed the conversation exchanging thanks. They appreciated the time I gave them, but in my mind, they'd given me the favor of sharing my arcane New Jersey knowledge. It's not often that I have such a receptive audience. I had a goofy smile on my face halfway to Convention Hall.

Now, one would ask, why don't I do this for a living? For a minute I mapped out some potential ways to promote my touring skills, but then I got distracted. The bigger reasons of why not are fodder for about six months of therapy that I haven't focused on. Better to be unhappy at leisure, than work to be content.

Nonetheless, this know-it-all stuff has to come in handy eventually.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Is she kidding? (Please tell me she's kidding.)

So, the latest New Jersey political circus is the three-ring divorce suit between former governor and self-proclaimed gay American Jim McGreevey and his estranged wife, Dina Matos.

For the record, I was shocked by his proclamation four years ago. I'd always thought he was Canadian. In all seriousness, anyone who'd had any view into the state's political community knew it all along. Nobody really cared, and certainly few thought it was reason to resign. We all knew that it was more about the shady political dealings of his friends, and that they were coming dangerously close to his doorstep. And we didn't like him because he had a sense of entitlement that led him to honestly believe that, for example, he was right for spending state money on personal things like having his parents accompany him on an official/sightseeing tour of Ireland.

Apparently Dina got the entitlement in the custody battle. She's suing him for upwards of $10,000 or more per month in alimony and child support, stating that she wanted to maintain the lifestyle of a first lady, which he'd taken away from her by resigning and maintaining a private life with a wealthy gentleman friend. They both claim to be broke, though both Jim and Dina wrote tell-all books and did high-profile promotional tours, visiting Oprah, Jon Stewart and Larry King, among others.

This whole thing smells weird. I understand she's angry, though I find it incredulous that she could have been the only person in New Jersey who didn't know he was gay. I understand why she wants to put the screws to him. But for five figures a month?

She justifies the sum by stating it cost her that much to maintain the first lady image when Jimbo was governor. Apparently she did so many public appearances that she'd have to change her outfit three times a day as not to be seen in the same clothes twice. As if there is so much media interest in New Jersey's first lady that anyone would notice. And as if there's so much interest in her as a private citizen that she has to uphold that image. Hey, lady -- Talbots makes good quality, classically-styled clothes. Keep wearing the ones you have.

Maybe she's suing the wrong party. I guess we should all be happy she's not looking to get a state salary as official clothes horse. Then again, maybe more of us should have gone out to buy those books, instead of surreptitiously reading them at Barnes & Noble and putting them back on the shelf. Perhpas if they'd made a little more money there, they wouldn't be bothering us with all this silliness.