Notes on David Brooks’ Gourmet Sandwich Class Struggle

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The Earl of Sandwich

If you haven’t read this insane, absurd, pretentious, highly embarrassing paragraph “sandwiched” inside David Brooks’ New York Times critique on American class stratification, enjoy:

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Okay. My thoughts…

  1. First off…why does this paragraph read like some third rate Tom Clancy-style airport novel? Who knew ordering a sandwich could be charged with such frisson, fraught with such peril? I’m surprised they didn’t “flee through the chaotic streets, hearts pounding, eyes crazed with fear, to the safety of the Taco Bell.” I’m surprised fruit carts weren’t overturned and panes of glass weren’t shattered.
  2. Writing techniques aside, it seems to me that in order to avoid this type of mealtime panic, steps must be taken. When we meet up with our friends now, it will require a much more academic line of questioning. No more asking “Do you like sushi?” or “Are you a Vegan?” Forget about gluten issues. The main issue is: “Did you go to an Ivy League or a Seven Sisters school?” We cannot risk someone freaking out like a dog in a thunderstorm upon catching a glimpse of a menu riddled with foreign words. No need to endure that uncomfortable moment when a friend can’t pronounce their appetizer. Indeed, today’s polite mindfulness requires that we size our friends up thusly: “No, I will not meet you at the cute Vietnamese restaurant in my neighborhood. You, with your middling education, would be so much more comfortable screaming your order into a clown’s mouth at the drive-thru.”
  3. Of course, if we have to be “sensitive” to our friends who did not pursue a college education, what about people like me? What kind of a culinary landmine am I, a person who spent the first half of my higher education at a private University in London, and the second half at a lowly state school in New Orleans? Imagine the conundrum David Brooks would have. The hours of agony, pondering if I could be trusted not to “freeze up” when “confronted” with Italian deli meats.

Well, be careful out there, diners. Mind your manners, elbows off the table and above all: don’t subject unassuming friends to the horror of a gourmet sandwich if they have not been sufficiently educated first.

The Elusive Queen of Hearts

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“To bake a cake or have a baby,

  With the taste of tar in your mouth

To wash clothes or fix supper

With the taste of tar in your mouth

Ah, but the grand funerals…”

-Kenneth Patchen

The abandoned steel mills of Youngstown, Ohio are overgrown with tangled weeds and laced with barbed wire. A place once so defined by those hulking, smoke-spewing mills that housewives didn’t mind sweeping the soot off their front porches (not too much anyway) because it meant the men were working. Until that day in 1977 when the men arrived to work to find the mills padlocked and America’s backbone snapped.

So this one time one-industry town runs on multiple hustles now: the flower shop sells used furniture, Aunt Linda’s good broach, some dusty bars of Daffins chocolates (leftover from the school fundraiser) and the few wilting roses on display. The woman next door leaves her phone number on the whiteboard by the register, in case you want to buy one of her blueberry pies. She babysits too. Her son will cut your grass.

I’m here for a funeral. I never knew “Pall Mall Nana”, even though I’ve been dating her grandson Paul for years. I had only seen her picture; a steely-eyed woman smoking a Pall Mall with one hand, a long boney finger pointing disapprovingly at some unseen hooligan with the other.

A Youngstown funeral in early January is not a recipe for rosy memories. Dingy, dirty snow, deflated plastic Santas, and boarded up shops under grey skies. We drive past a church with a Nativity Scene, and notice that the Baby Jesus is missing. Paul points out his father’s barbershop. His barber pole was stolen last week. Maybe it will turn up for sale at the flower shop, along with the Baby Jesus.

We approach his parents’ ranch-style house, festooned with sagging string of Christmas lights that are half-lit. Paul wonders aloud where all the trees on this street went. There used to be trees. But that was a long time ago. Back when there were jobs. Somehow when the jobs left, so did the trees.

Opening the front door, we find his sisters on the sofa, scattered friends and relatives sitting on folding chairs, cross-legged on the floor, and wandering in and out of the kitchen. His father Tom sits in a recliner, eyes locked on the T.V. He nods hello, and points at the two local news anchors saying, “Nobody’s gotten the Queen of Hearts yet.”

Paul’s mom Connie rolls her eyes as she hugs her son. “Your dad’s obsessed with the Queen of Hearts.”

“What’s that?” he asks.

“Oh, it’s this stupid gambling thing at some crappy bar. Raffle tickets are a buck a piece, and they lay out numbered deck of cards. Face down. So if they pick your ticket, you tell ‘em which number card you want. If your number is the Queen of Hearts, you win.”

“The jackpot is up to a million bucks now,” Paul’s dad chimes in. “Nobody’s won in 32 weeks.”

Connie thrusts a thumb in her husband’s direction. “So of course this one keeps buying tickets, like a moron.” She twists her head. “You know you’re never gonna win that money, don’t you?”

“You can’t win if you don’t play,” he says, running his finger on the split seam of his chair.

Connie sighs. “Maybe it’s in the blood. Couple years back we inherited a chest of drawers from his Uncle Joe after he died. The top drawer was filled with losing lottery tickets from the past 35 years.”

Paul’s younger sister Marie points at the dog, giggles and says,

“Watch Rocky. He likes to hump Zoe.”

We all turn our attention to the beige mutt, who is furiously banging away at the stuffed Sesame Street character Zoe.

“That’s his girlfriend,” says Marie. “He does it all the time. Look–he’s panting!”

Connie frowns. “Rocky! Stop it.” She looks at Paul. “Zoe is my inner child. I saw her on sale at Target and something about her reminded me of being a little girl.”

Zoe stares up at the ceiling with her bulbous eyes. Her mouth is fixed in a perma-smile, unfazed by Rocky’s slobbery humping.

“Took me back to more innocent times, you know?” Connie says. “So I bought her. Only $7.99. Now my pervert dog is molesting my inner child.”

Everyone laughs and it feels like a party. The only hint that we’ve gathered together because someone has died is when we follow Connie into the kitchen. The counter is covered with mismatched cookware from neighborhood homes. They’re full of comfort food: pineapple upside-down cake, cheesy hamburger and macaroni casserole, chocolate sheet cake, sausage and peppers. The death buffet.

I take a seat at the kitchen table. Bored with molesting Connie’s bargain-priced inner child, Rocky joins us. He sits next to me, tongue out, tail wagging.

Paul’s mom smiles sadly. “That was Nana’s chair. She used to feed him little treats when I wasn’t looking. Thought I didn’t know. He’s probably expecting a piece of bacon from you.”

I shift in the chair, feeling uncomfortable. It’s as though I am sitting on her ghost. The scent of her Pall Malls hasn’t been aired out of the house yet, and with everyone sharing stories about her life, her presence looms large.

Plus, I have no bacon.

Connie starts chopping up more food, even though we clearly don’t need any. Waving a butcher knife around she says, “Now I get why we were supposed to stay in this house. We were gonna sell it, you know. But now I know we needed to stay here for Nana. She loved it here. Yinz don’t know how special it is to take care of your mother like that. On that last day, I was massaging her legs with cream, trying to get her circulation going and I could see them turning blue. Her skinny little legs were turning blue in my hands.”

We’re silent until Paul’s other sister Jen grabs a hunk of pineapple cake and says, “We should bury her with a pack of Pall Malls. Like the ancient Egyptians. Her favorite cigarettes for the afterlife.”

“Are you kidding?” says Paul, grabbing a beer from the fridge. “No way. She’d be pissed off that we wasted a perfectly good pack of smokes.”

“Remember when Nana told Uncle Bobby’s friend she’d slit him from his privates to his nose?” asks Marie, leaning against the doorframe to the kitchen.

“How about when she said Uncle Bobby’s taste in women is a taste for shit”? says Jen.

“Ask me no damn questions, I’ll tell you no damn lies,” says Paul, imitating Pall Mall Nana’s gravely voice. He puts down his beer and reaches up to the bag of Franzia that has been removed from its box. It’s resting limply on the top of the fridge, like a colostomy bag. He squeezes some warm white wine into a jelly glass for me.

“Here’s to Pall Mall Nana.”

 

The next day at the funeral, Paul’s mom is furious. For one thing, the florist screwed up. There are too many lilies and not enough carnations. Connie is getting headache from the sickly sweet smell. For another, she’d requested modern music for the service. Something lively, something up tempo. Something you might hear on Youngstown’s Y103 radio station. “That’s the kind of woman she was. She was a free spirit!” Connie says.

“Mom, she wouldn’t have even noticed the music,” says Paul. “When did she ever talk about music?”

“Well, she was my mother and she wouldn’t have wanted this boring elevator music, I’ll tell you that much. Hell, she barely ever set foot in an elevator.”

Watching mourners enter the front door Marie says, “Yes she did. Remember when she worked at that office after Youngstown Sheet & Tube shut down?”

Connie waves her hand dismissively, her hodgepodge collection of bracelets jangling. “Marie, I don’t wanna hear Nana’s work history right now.”

“Do elevators even have music anymore?” asks Paul.

“Uh oh. Look who’s here,” says Marie.

Connie glances over to see family members no one wants to acknowledge as family entering the funeral parlor. There is a stench that clings to them. No one wants to acknowledge the stench either, but it’s there. It’s a pungent combination of fast food, unwashed hair, and some dirty old car that asks far too much from the ancient air freshener. But at least it breaks up the scent of lilies.

They’ve brought an aluminum vat of meatballs too.

Jen heads them off at the pass and escorts a tiny, bird-like woman over Connie. Holding out the meatballs, the woman says, “Hi Connie. Where do you want me to put these?”

Connie makes no attempt to accept her offering. “Hi Angie. Just put them over there.” Connie points to a random table, her jangling bracelets commanding authority. When Angie’s out of earshot she whispers, “I can’t believe she come up to me with those meatballs. Why did she bring meatballs to a funeral parlor? What the hell am I supposed to do with those meatballs right now?”

Jen leans in, her eyes bloodshot from crying and too much warm Franzia the night before, “Well mom, you didn’t invite them over last night. And you decided not to have everybody over to the house today. You confused them. They had to give you meatballs. Someone died. They don’t know what to do if they can’t give you meatballs. That’s what they do.”

Above the mellow sound of elevator music is the death rattle cough of life-long smokers and locals who grew up breathing in air polluted by smokestacks. The hacking and clearing of throats punctuates conversations about upcoming weddings, lost jobs, new babies.

Pall Mall Nana’s casket is open and it’s as though she were listening in too. People walk up to pay their respects. Some make the sign of the cross. Paul’s other grandmother, Peggy, leans in to give her a kiss. One burly guy, about 35-years-old and 250 pounds, falls to his knees and starts sobbing like a child. Great, heaving, gulping wails. His hardened face is glistening with tears and his voice is hoarse as he cries, “I took the money from your purse, Nana. I took that 40 dollars. You always knew but you never said nothing. I’m sorry. I love you so much, Nana.”

The funeral wraps up and people begin heading back out toward the slushy parking lot. Plumes of exhaust fill the chilly air. Paul hugs his Grandma Peggy goodbye. As soon as she’s out of earshot (or possibly long after–her hearing isn’t so good these days) Connie whispers to Paul, “Did you see your Grandma Peggy kissing my mother’s body? Never kissed her when she was alive. Thought she was too good for her because Nana came from the south side of the hill. Now she’s kissin’ on her corpse like it’s the Pope’s ring.”

 

That evening is the Queen of Hearts drawing. Paul’s dad wants to go. Standing in the living room he explains, “I bought 10 tickets and you have to be there in person to claim to jackpot.”

Lying on the sofa, Connie rubs her temples. With her eyes closed she says, “Tom, if you wanna to go hang out in that shitbox just to find out that you’re a loser, be my guest.”

Tom’s mouth twitches. Two beats of silence and then…

“Okay, hon. C’mon Paul. Let’s go.”

Paul pushes me towards the door as Connie’s eyes flash open in disbelief that we’re tagging along too. We all scamper out before she can yell at us, knowing full well she’ll just save it for later.

“Your mom’s not really a fan of the Queen of Hearts,” says Tom as we slide into his car. “Don’t tell her, but you don’t actually have to be there to win. You can just write your number on your raffle ticket now. They changed the rules because there were too many people and fights were breaking out. The Martelli brothers got into it last time and they had to call the cops. But I wanna be there if I win.” Tom grins and cranks up the heat. “I mean, a million bucks! Somebody’s gotta win, right?”

A light snow begins to fall as we drive past used car lots and deserted strip malls. It’s very dark and the moon is hidden by the clouds. We’re all quiet. There isn’t much to say. Or maybe we’re just tired.

Pulling up to the bar, we find a row of fat men in windbreakers outside, shivering, stamping their feet to keep warm, and puffing on cigarettes. As we walk towards them, the tallest of the bunch calls out, “Hey Tom–I’m comin’ in to get a haircut tomorrow.”

“Guess I better sharpen my scissors. You got what, three hairs left on your head?”

“Oh yeah? Well, after I win that money tonight, I ain’t setting foot in your dumpy shop again. I’m gonna pay some Sports Illustrated bikini model to cut my hair.”

“Huh. From the cover of Sports Illustrated to cutting your greasy hair. That poor woman.”

We step inside, breathing in the scent of rotting wood, spilled beer, dirty mop bucket water, and fried chicken wings. There are old license plates bolted to the walls, along with grimy sign that says, “It’s not my fault–I’m always right!” and several faded United Steelworkers bumper stickers. A smudged mirror behind the bar is decorated with multi-colored Christmas lights, a huge American flag and a dusty yellow Terrible Towel. A stuffed Pittsburgh Steelers monkey is slumped over on the register. The place is packed with doughy, beery men in oversized Steelers sweatshirts, and while the bar right next door might be full of Cleveland Browns fans, there’s no doubt we’re in Steeler country tonight.

The raffle ticket barrel is guarded by a uniformed guard who is trading jokes with a blonde in a mini skirt and tight blue top. She’s one of the few women in the place, and she’s only here because she’s on the payroll. A touch of glamour for the big Queen of Hearts drawing. Next to her is a table with 54 cards (including 2 jokers) spread out face down, each numbered with a black marker. The cards are protected by a clear plastic panel.

The crowd is loud. They’re shit-talking fantasy football leagues, hollering at the bartender for more beer, ordering chicken wings, and telling each other what they’re going to do with the million dollars when they win. Tom points out the Martelli brothers in the corner, who seem to be on pretty good behavior tonight.

After we order our drinks, the bartender lowers the volume on the TV. He rings a huge brass bell behind the bar and shouts,

“Okay everybody! Quiet down! Everybody needs to stop talking, okay? C’mon. We’re gonna do the drawing now.”

There is hooting and cheering. A Martelli brother shouts, “The Queen of Hearts, baby!” His brother shouts back, “Nah-you’re The King of Farts!” One guy rubs a Buckeyes keychain and chants, “C’mon, make me a millionaire! Make me a millionaire!” Some people close their eyes as they grip their tickets. Others clutch their tickets to their chests. Another guy kisses a cross around his neck.

“Alright. Shut up everybody. Let’s get to it,” says the bartender. “Gina, take it away.”

The blonde reaches into the raffle ticket barrel and pulls out a ticket. “Okay guys! Here we go…Let’s see if we have a winner tonight! Who has…number 172?”

“Number 172!” repeats the bartender.

There is the hushed sound of ticket shuffling as people check to see if their number was called. Several groans and sighs are heard until the guy with the Buckeyes keychain raises his hand and yells, “That’s my ticket! That’s my ticket!” He pushes through the crowd to get closer to the card table and hands over his ticket. Goggle-eyed with excitement, he’s got a stupid grin plastered on his face. He looks like Connie’s inner child Zoe. Gina inspects the ticket, compares it to her stub, shows it to the guard and says, “Looks good, Rob. Now which number card do you want?”

Rob looks down at the cards, still rubbing his keychain. He shuts his eyes. He opens them again, scanning the numbers. He breathes in deeply. He rubs his keychain some more. He is taking too long. A Martelli brother shouts, “Rob-you gonna pick a number or what?”

Rob opens his eyes and says, “Number 52. That’s the one I want. Number 52.”

The bartender says, “Number 52!”

Gina smiles and says, “Okay number 52. Let’s see if it’s your lucky number!” Lifting the plastic panel off the cards, she slowly turns over number 52. She makes an exaggerated cartoon frown as she says, “Awwwww. Sorry Rob. You got the Joker.”

The bartender shouts into the crowd, “It’s the Joker! Rob got The Joker. No winner tonight, guys. Better buy your tickets for next week.” He turns the volume back up on the TV and wipes down the bar with a damp rag.

A Martelli brother cups his hands around his mouth and calls out, “We already knew you was a joker, Rob! Now you got the card to prove it!”

Rob is still looking at the cards, grasping his ticket, as though there must be some mistake. He watches Gina lock the plastic panel back down onto the table. It’s over.

“Well, shit,” he says to Tom. “I bought 30 tickets. That’s 30 bucks down the drain.”

Tom nods. “You know what they say, go to Vegas in a Cadillac, come back on the Greyhound!”

“Yeah, well,” says Rob, “You can’t win if you don’t play, right?”

“There’s always next time,” says Tom.

The next morning we leave Youngstown, headed back to New York.  We drive past rows and rows of crumbling, weather-beaten houses with mildewing sofas and broken toys on their porches. Some of them have half-melted snowmen or misshapen snow angels on their lawns. Some of them have sports banners. But almost all of them have American flags flying in the cold air, bright colors unfurling against the grey sky. These flags seem like armor, comforting familiarity in a changing world. They’re protection from the strange. But more than that, they’re talismans, proof of belief in the dream. The dream that if we have enough faith, if we’re good, hard-working people, if we can just be American enough, maybe one day we might win the elusive Queen of Hearts.

Requiem For A Shitty Lawn Chair

As some of you know, I’m oddly fascinated by trash. (Some proof of my trashy ways right here: The Persistence of Trash) It’s just so out in the open here in NYC, and trash tells so many tales–who you are, how you live, what’s changed in your life. Yesterday, I passed by this folded lime green lawn chair, and got a little wistful:P1000462

These were the lawn chairs of my childhood. They were horrible. Your ass would sink through them, they stunk of plastic when the sun got too hot. They were rusty, ugly, burnt by the neighbor’s careless cigarette, sticky from spilled Kool Aid, and always collapsed under you at the wrong moment. Yet there I was, awash in nostalgia. So, I snapped this photo on the left. When I came back from running errands, I wondered if someone else had been swept up in nostalgia. Because I saw that they’d opened this hideous chair. Maybe even took it for a test ride under the blazing June sun, remembering a more innocent, less SPF-protected era. Here’s to you friend, whomever you are…

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Summertime is Skinny Dipping Season

1Today is Summer Solstice and I don’t know about you, but summer always means skinny dipping to me. There’s something so deliciously pagan about getting naked and dipping into dark water under the warm night sky.

I grew up on islands: first Oahu, then Whidbey. On Oahu I was too young to understand that I was skinny dipping. I was simply swimming. But as a teen on Whidbey, I knew the score. When night fell, I’d sneak out of my bedroom window, hop into my pal Natasha’s vintage Dodge Dart (the one everyone recognized on unlit country roads because of the unique shape of the tail lights) and we’d head to Deer Lake.

En route I’d shuffle through a box of tapes to find just the right song. I don’t know which sound is more nostalgic: the rustling of those tapes or the music. The rustling of the tapes reminded me of grade school classmates searching for just the right crayon in their pencil boxes, when the teacher would give an assignment. No, not Burnt sienna. No, not Lavender. Yes, Aquamarine. As the class fell silent, full of ideas, that rustling sound was the song of expectation. And so it was with the box of tapes. No, not The Sugarcubes. No not The Pixies. Yes, Cocteau Twins.

Sometimes we’d manage to rustle up a bottle of wine or some weed. Most times though, it was just about the freedom of swimming naked, bathing in the light of the big moon. Possibilities were spelled out in the starry sky. Life was going to be spectacular. It was only a matter of time. It never once occurred to me that I’d be looking back at how spectacular it was just being there, in Deer Lake, skinny dipping with my friend.

After I graduated from high school and left Whidbey Island, I didn’t skinny dip for several years. But trust me, I knew damn well what I was missing. Then I moved to Atlanta to work for CNN. I worked an overnight shift, but still found time for a guy I’ll refer to as My English Bastard. I’d sneak out of my apartment, hop into his white Miata, which I hoped people would recognize by the rainbow sticker I’d secretly slapped on the back, since this was clearly a straight man driving a gay man’s car.

One night in particular there was no rustling of crayons or tapes. There were no options. Yes, Periwinkle. Yes, Roll With It by Oasis.

We went to several tacky bars in Buckhead. He drove me through Peachtree Hills, car top down, as I stood on the passenger seat, arms spread like Leo DiCaprio in Titanic. I rambled on about how nice it would be to go for a swim. It was crazy fucking hot. August in Atlanta is a month without pity. Even at two in the morning the heat is staggering, especially for a Whidbey Island transplant like me. Summer in Atlanta alternates between sexy and suffocating. Despite cherished Southern images of magnolia scented wind ruffling through the lovely locks of the preacher’s daughter, Atlanta often smells like hot tar and exhaust fumes. As for the preacher’s daughter, you’ll find her in the air conditioned comfort of Phipps Plaza, shopping for shoes and a husband.

Neither of us had a swimsuit, so I suggested that we shimmy down a 20-foot fence and go skinny dipping in some public pool that was closed for the evening.  I was thrilled to return to my teenage roots, and My English Bastard cheerfully stripped off all of his clothes too. He climbed up onto the diving board, jumped up and down repeatedly, his uncircumcised dick flapping around. I was amazed at how comfortable he was being naked and watched him as he dove into the water, his sleek body illuminated by the summer moon. I sat on the side of the pool, trying to position myself in an attractive way, wishing I could learn to like working out a little more, and hoping the moonlight made me look as sleek and sinuous as he did. (Though deep down I knew even the moon had its limits.)

He swam over and grabbed me, pulled me into the water, whispering,

“Saara, you’re so bad for me,” as he rammed his tongue in my mouth. I laughed. For one thing, he had a problem with the letter “r”, which meant he called me “Saawah”. But mostly it was the idea of me, with my chubby Mrs. Santa Claus thighs, being “bad” for him…or anyone. I thought of me at age six, dressed in a drug store Tweety Bird costume. It’s the same image that always pops into my head when the pages of women’s magazines ask, “How do you see yourself?”

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As the hazy morning sun began to rise, we knew it was time to go, mostly because we weren’t sure when the pool maintenance crew would get there. In the harsh light of sobriety, the 20-foot chain link fence we’d so cheerfully scampered down a couple of hours before seemed daunting now. As I climbed back up, I was acutely aware of the fact that my underwear were in my purse and not on my ass. My English Bastard peered up under my dress, climbing after me.

“Saawah, ” he said. “I never knew the curtains didn’t match the carpet.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Roger Moore: Baby You’re The Best

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Sir Roger Moore passed away on May 23rd. Not much was written about him. Perhaps it’s because we live in this exhausting 24-hour news cycle, which keeps churning out endless horrific stories, and a real life Bond villain who loves gold and runs shady deals out of his glittering golden tower occupies the White House now. Maybe The Death of an International Playboy seemed a bit too fluffy for these trying times.

Sure, there were some tributes on Twitter and a few mentions in celebrity magazines. But the underlying sentiment seemed to be that while he was a charming, witty, handsome actor, he was no one’s favorite James Bond. He was at best a pale imitation, a diversion from the franchise. The movies were too silly, too absurd, too tacky, just not as cool as the Sean Connery days.

Well. I take exception to that. I say Roger Moore was the perfect Bond…for his era. Hear me out. If you think Bond took a downturn when Moore came on the scene, it may have had more to do with disdain for the 1970s than anything else. Bond reflects where we are in society, and sometimes we don’t particularly care for the reflection. For 55 years, James Bond has ridden the zeitgeist. If you didn’t like Roger Moore, it may have been because society took us into strange, uncharted territory during his time as 007. The 1970s was an embarrassing decade full of ugly furniture, corrupt politics, sartorial atrocities and narcissistic quests to find oneself. Who could possibly love such a decade? So who could love the Bond who embodied it?

But remember that Sean Connery’s brand of hyper masculinity and machismo was hopelessly dated by the early ’70s. This was an era when men wore bold silk shirts and  stacked Cuban heels. 4fc918dad62531500396f0e1000749bc

Hell, my own father carried an alligator skin “man purse”. Boundaries were shattering. Rules were changing. You couldn’t rely on traditional ideas anymore. This Bond had to navigate Feminism, Blaxploitation, Occult fascination and an over-abundance of polyester. Bond had to express his masculinity in a different way, ushering in an era that encouraged people to talk to their ferns, wear mood rings and stage revolutions from their bed–without a hint of irony! Think about that–even being in bed was politicized! For a bed-hopper like Bond, this was treacherous territory. So Roger Moore, who took over in 1973 but never took Bond very seriously, kept the franchise alive by injecting some sly humor into the role.

I ask you: which other Bond could have managed to look suave while a gang of ass-kicking schoolgirls rescued him?

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Who but Roger Moore could stuff Herve Villechaize in a suitcase? Or add an extra nipple to his chest while going undercover? This 1970s Bond was proof that no matter how the rules of society were changed, or who pulled the shag rug out from under him, he could somehow survive, arched eyebrow in tact.

You see how much easier it was for Sean Connery to look cool? Note how his final (official) Bond film in was in 1971. Maybe he saw the Hubba Bubba font on the wall. He played it safe until 1983, when Reagan and Thatcher had restored conservative politics, and businessmen reasserted traditional order, attire and style. His Bond was on the rise again. Roger Moore did not have this luxury. The man had to look cool holding a gun in a wicker Hawaiian Princess chair, for fuck’s sake. Can’t we give him credit for that?

Well, I do. Here’s to Roger Moore, who will always be my favorite James Bond of all time…but especially for his time.

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The Ghost of Leadership

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I’ve lived right around the corner from the United States Mission to the United Nations since I moved to New York in October of 2001. In those early days after 9/11, the city was awash in Xeroxed fliers pleading, “Have You Seen My Daddy?” alongside yellow caution tape. We were looking for answers. We were looking for strength and someone to convince us it was all going to be okay.

At the time, the US Mission to the UN showcased photos of President George W. Bush and his cabinet on the wall, facing the United Nations. George with his goofy frat boy grin, Dick Cheney with his evil operator sneer, no-nonsense Colin Powell.

I wasn’t a fan of “W”, didn’t vote for him either time. But there he was, professionally posed, hanging on the wall. Photographic proof that we had government in place, and they were accountable as we worked to put our country back together.

When Barack Obama was elected, I was elated. So was my neighborhood. On election night 2008, people literally threw open their windows and shouted, “WOOOOOOOO!!!!!! OBAAAAMMAAAA! “ It was the opposite of Network’s “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore!” It was “I’m so damn happy that this man is in charge.”

Within a few days, George W. Bush and company were replaced by Obama’s calm, “Don’t worry–I got this” face. Next to him was Joe Biden looking the same as he probably did in his 1st grade class photo: “Hi guys!” Then came Hillary Clinton, in all her pantsuited professionalism.

Now, the US Mission to the UN on First Ave is the street I take to get to the grocery store, the gym, and the little café in Dag Hammarskjold Park. It’s part of my daily routine, the backdrop of mundane activities.

So on election night 2016, I thought about that wall of photos. Yes, I was part of a liberal New Yorker cliché, at an Upper West Side election night party, surrounded by people expecting a celebration who went home drunk, depressed and bewildered when Donald Trump won.

And I’ll tell you, I dreaded the new photos. On Inauguration Day, I looked outside my window at the American flags and they suddenly looked funereal. Flags that once brightened the grey winter sky made me sad now. Within a week after Jan 20th, one of them actually ripped. It felt like an omen.

I kept waiting for the Trump administration photos to go up. The Obama Administration photos had been removed immediately, but the walls remained empty. I waited for the photos so I could grimace at them, flex my middle finger, shake my head and look away.

And I waited.

And I waited.

And I waited.

At first I thought, “This is great! I don’t have to look at Orange Foolius.”

But on the 89th day of the Trump era, the walls still remained empty, and my curiosity got the best of me. I asked one of the security guards if this was unusual. I said I’d lived in the neighborhood for years, and I’d never seen the walls empty for so long. He looked up at the walls, back at me and shrugged.

“Well, I guess they’re taking their time,” he said.

“No complaints here!” I said.

But that’s a lie. The truth is, I want those faces. I want to know that someone is in charge. Even if it is someone I fundamentally disagree with. There is something disturbing about that blank space, reflecting a lack of leadership, a lack of concern for basic protocol. Of course this isn’t just about the photos. It’s another symbol of the fact that we are adrift now. It’s not just bad leadership. It’s no leadership.

As you can see, I tried to take a photo of what this wall looks like. But this is one situation where a photo is not worth a thousand words. People who have not lived in this neighborhood have no idea there used to be something on those walls. Reassuring photos of a working government. The walls remain empty as I post this. Now the only evidence of what used to be is a series of hooks on the wall, anchoring nothing.

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PODCAST: Daddy’s Girl

What’s it like to be Daddy’s Girl…when Daddy is President of the United States? I have no idea. I do not roam the corridors of power. But I do have a good imagination. So I came up with this…