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Mrs. Nebraska and Brave New World

I’m standing in the JCC parking lot with a woman from Nebraska. She looks quite nice, and relates that she is 74. As soon as she says Nebraska, I know what’s coming. I have rolled my eyes to reinforce that Trump is and will be a disaster. But she quickly retaliates that having lived in Central America for 2 years, that the Clinton Foundation is nothing but corruption. I actually believe this is true, but I respond, ‘When you have two terrible choices, you take the lesser of the two”. She vehemently disagrees, again trumpeting the corruption. I retaliate with the stories from the African- America cabbies from Chicago, the Meryl Streep twitter…but all is lightly dismissed, and as far as the Russians go, according to Mrs. Nebraska, they have always been involved, and they did not pull the levers in the polling booths. She throws her best shot( Martin Luther King Day was just yesterday), exhorting that the country is divided and everyone must come together.

I nicely retort that we are never going to agree and that really, I must leave. But she will not stop her harangue and because I am polite, I stand for a few more minutes, but when she turns her furor on Barack Obama, I walk away, leaving her to discourse with the empty parking lot.

Later I think of what I might have added- no doubt to deaf ears- regarding Trump’s choices for his cabinet posts that go against all of his promises to support the the poor stiffs and pains- in- the- butts : as in just encountered here. There’s the wall, attacks on women and disabled, thin skin, Trump University, no prior governmental experience, bad business deals, petulant retaliations….still I am boiling over at the stupidity of this woman.

***

Last week, we watched Lester Holt interview Barrack Obama. And then 60 Minutes also asked Obama some demanding questions.What a pleasure to observe such a thoughtful, positive voice which might have come from a historian, an artist or any thinking person. Truly, it gives one hope in spite of what is coming.

In many ways although with less laughter, the interview resembled the one with WTF’s Marc Maron in which Obama discoursed on democracy and the way all things take time, with no road being smooth, and for every set back, a small piece of the step forward has been – if not achieved, at least put in place. Referring to Obamacare, he spoke to its inception as a marker from which to grow- even if Trump will see to its being repealed and the insurance companies will barter for more covetous rates.

As I listened to Obama’s. exchanges with Lester Holt, and then Steve Kraft, in a truly tough conversations, I considered Obama’s optimism and his youth and at the end, was surprised that he is mid- 50’s and that he still maintains beliefs we usually associate with ingenues whose lights are still bright because they have not been tested by the world. That he has held strong to that attitude is admirable, one we DO want our children to embrace.

Still I couldn’t help but ruminate that he has revealed in his presidency, rather than just optimism a naïve stance: for his belief is very strong in the promise of an America as ideal. But perhaps even as a symbol, he must gasp that an African American having achieved the presidentship is close to miraculous. So perhaps that realization has prompted him to dream the impossible dream.

From my point of view, it was his desire to maintain his values of compromise and collaboration, that lofty goal to be inclusive with the Republicans that underlined issues in succeeding to establish his ventures .In deed, he had paused, tried to connect, offer opportunities for input, fought the dragons, but ultimately his plans for a stronger, safer, more inclusive country had fallen far from the goal. Particularly in his first term when like a knowing, autocratic parent, he should have prevailed in stead of tending to voices.

Yet, we are not privy to the workings within government, the wheels within wheels, the deals done and undone. But, even Obama in his interviews lamented the impossibility of changing votes that hinged on a representative’s constituency, his/ her state’s goals, self- interest and the desire for re- election. And it is true, decisions, even the most moral ones can be sidetracked for so many unknown reasons. For people like me who do not generally think in greys , the path towards what is right is straight ahead, but few are brave or strong enough to forge ahead and allow themselves to accept the fallout of choosing the path less travelled by. Perhaps too, I have lived long enough to observe that self- profit or a strong self- interested ego motivates too many. And yes of course, I am cynical.And at this point, I am rarely surprised by the tactics taken- even by those we would trust.

But Obama, with strong spirit and no corruption in his years as president did represent the Camelot we sought and believed was possible. But once again , we were proven wrong by those who lied, provided false research or did not truly care : that guns kill children; that everyone deserves health care; that clean air is a necessity; that we build through compromise and collaboration. The aims no aspirations we hope to plant and embrace, and ironically are even the last one of collaboration written here are penned in the statements that underpin companies’ philosophies and statements.

Congruently I reflected on articles last week, one in particular by Rick Salutin in The Toronto Star that listed OBama’s losses and failures in his eight years: Guantanamo, Iraq, Israel… The question put to Obama by his interviewers about the Middle East was a difficult one for the president. Yet without attacking those who dare to enquire and pose the hard questions, and without insulting or dismissing the uncomfortable probes and withholding resentment,Obama spoke of his work, commenting humbly on the successes along with the setbacks and frustrations.

Again for me, it was the handling of the intensity of the moment, “the how” as opposed to the what or why that impressed me the most about President Obama. How often in a tight squeeze , do we lose our cool, lash out, scream unfair, sulk or react defensively .

Along with a respective, reflective demeanour, Obama acknowledged that he had been so busy, there had not been time to connect with many people who felt disenfranchised by job loss, etc– in spite of having put so many Americans back to work.

Incredulous and backed by the parents of the Sandy Hill dead, he could not comprehend how gun laws and simple registration had been defeated. He acknowledged that the Republicans made up their minds and refused to even listen. With tears on his face and empathy for those parents, he stood as the challenging angel amid the satans of deafness.

There is so much to admire in this man. Besides being the harbinger of justice and symbol of the American Dream, he is a feeling individual, able to express his emotions of love, despair, anger. Yet his behaviour is tempered by rational thought. He thinks, he considers, he reflects and then he acts- in the good for all. He, like Nelson Mandela ,will remain, I believe, as the emblem of what is best in America. And like the cab drivers I spoke to in Chicago, he still dreams the dream- as quixotic as it may be by oldsters like myself. But he gives you reason to hope. That after the Trump years, and pray we and our children are not demolished, that another Phoenix will rise from the ashes to make a better world, with pure heart and intentions that we hope our children will choose to emulate.

The protesters, the Women’s March today, John Lewis’s remarks last week and even the debate on Chuck Todd’s Meet the Press give us reason to hope that the best will endure to challenge a presidency that in its earliest beginnings has all ready reiterated its jingoistic slogans and, for reasons I cannot fathom, resonate with the Mrs. Nebraskas of America.

Yesterday at the end of my yoga class, an older man turned to the rest of us and  sadly muttered,” Brave new world”.

The security of a backseat

When we were kids, there was no money for fancy summer camps so my parents would pack us up into the back seat of the grey dodge or the blue chevy in late July and head for the States. As children we thrilled at a new adventure, believing, I suppose it was somewhat exotic.

My mother lugged the heavy suitcases while my sister and I danced around her, excited to be going on a trip. We could hardly wait to get in the car; however, by hour one, I was proclaiming, ” I’m bored, “and their response would be , faintly annoyed, “ Pat, just look out the window”. My sister would cuddle bowwowwoof woof, her ratty dog, occasionally puking on him if the ride got rocky.

I recall those days – in spite of this intro – as very special, time together when we chanced on or visited new places such as the immense Paul Bunyon statue, the Hayden Planetarium, Fort Lauderdale , Boca Raton or especially, Batavia, New York near Buffalo : the home of the special toy store my parents had located. We often stayed at Howard Johnson’s and ate our meals out: all very exciting for a pair of city kids. In the confines of the car, we played games, napped, or cuddled with our mother. Perhaps it was the embryonic start of my desire to leave home and discover new locations, experience freshly in spite of my grumpiness of always being bored.

I recall vividly one of my choices at the toy store and the feel of the make -it -yourself leather kit that contained a small change purse, key ring and fold over wallet ; and the Calling All Girls magazine in a motel smoke shop that my father let me select. These times have burned into my memory and of all the days of my growing up shine out through other darker events.

These days when we visit our daughter on the long drive to Philadelphia, it’s a bit similar as often I climb into the back seat, and often I will bring an unread copy of Vogue to pass the 8-10 hours,  depending on whether Howard gets lost or not.

Last weekend en route to visit our new granddaughter with the wondrous name Remy, we listened to Marc Maron interview Norman Lear. At 92, his mind is crystal clear and still producing new revelations on his life. He described how his father was jailed and his mother abandoned him at a young age , but with no trace of malice,laughingly referring to his father as a ” scoundrel” as if he had hidden the cookies in the jam jar. He continues on about the impact of missing parents , but not with discontent or anger, having arrived at a place of solace and understanding. For some, this process of finding serenity never occurs. His life’s work in television that tackled the biases in society such as Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman, All in the Family, etc. are legend. He has presented the importance of the individual with all its warts and imperfections, comprehending the good and the bad in each one of us, simple yet so complicated human beings: tossed cupcakes of a variety of coloured sprinkles and nuts.

Later as we tuned into This American Life, we also heard Lindy West, journalist, outspoken feminist and film critic discuss the Trolls who via the internet attack her, harassing her for not only her stand on rape but also her weight and appearance. She wonders why these techno- followers choose to painfully lampoon people whom they have never met and who have done them absolutely no harm, just taking exception to posted piece with which they disagree. She revealed she has been continually attacked for her views,but one speared barb actually pierced her otherwise made-tough skin, most hurtfully because it entwined her dead father, a musician she adored.
She Expressed her feelings in The Guardian as well,

“My dad was special. The only thing he valued more than wit was kindness. He was a writer and an ad man and a magnificent baritone (he could write you a jingle and record it on the same day) – a lost breed of lounge pianist who skipped dizzyingly from jazz standards to Flanders and Swann to Lord Buckley and back again – and I can genuinely say that I’ve never met anyone else so universally beloved, nor do I expect to again. I loved him so, so much.,”

Instead of just ignoring  her troll as the biz tells writers not to feed them by answering them, West responded.She communicated her pain and he actually apologized, merely explaining that he was at a bad point in his own life and he needed someone to attack. She weeps quietly on air, the grief seeping through her mumbled words that suggest something pure, private and personal has been ripped from her and been sullied by a Troll with an axe to grind. The cruelty levelled at her, pointless, rueful, sharp , and stinging has found its target: for no real reason. She has been a handy place to shoot the dart.

In her telephone call to her attacker on This American Life, she finds he is not a bad sort and although he mildly apologize, she writes reflectively again,

“We talked for two-and-a-half hours. He was shockingly self-aware. He told me that …he hated me because, to put it simply, I don’t hate myself. Hearing him explain his choices in his own words, on his own voice, was heartbreaking and fascinating. He said that, at the time, he felt fat, unloved,  and purposeless. For some reason, he found it easyto take that out on women on line… I asked why. What made women easy targets?…But he did explain how he changed. He started taking care of his health, he found a new girlfriend and, most importantly, he went back to school to become a teacher.

I didn’ mean to forgive him, but I did.”

We wonder at the cruelty of being an anonymous attacker, the cowardice of these betrayals that can even fell the hard veneer of those in the public eye. Lindy’s troll seemed a bit amazed, promising these Internet attacks will,stop, that he is not a woman hater,and that he even likes female co-workers with whom he works. Thoughtless actions by a person only interested in their own needs, blissfully uncaring that there is a real person receiving his barbs,a mouthful of thick spit that lands in the face of someone who displays an opinion.

These podcasts bring so much to the listener, whether sitting on the bus, riding a bike or in the backseat of the car careening towards Philadelphia. The world as global village is a truism. What impresses is the multifaceted approaches taken by interviewers and the range of topics. We also heard 30 minutes on earwax!😎

Generations

En route to visit daughter# 2 several months ago, we turned on Marc Maron’s WTF and listened to two interview/ conversations. One was with Ivan Reitman of Meatballs and Ghostbusters fame and the other was with David Bronner scion of a famous German-Jewish family whose soapmaking tradition began in 1858. Each man spoke about relationships with family. Most specifically father and sons.

Ivan’s son, Jason, went on to produce less funny films than his father such as Up in the Air and Thank You for Smoking. In the conversation that highlighted Reitman’s early work with John Balushi Howard Shore ( actually a cousin on my mother’s side!), Martin Short and others, Ivan Reitman displayed a kind of humility and forthrightness about his directing career and what he suggested triggered Saturday Night Live’s emergence into comedy programming, My interest wasn’t so much on what Reitman said, but how he said it. Touching on a plethora of topics that eventually veered towards Jason, he displayed great affection and respect for his son, without being saccharine, or over the top. I flashed to a loving portrait I had seen the day previously at the AGO of the artist Henry Moore and his mother reading to him as he curled into her body. They were shown caught in a personal moment. No words, but the loving relationship was clear. Here in the podcast, it was the timbre of the words that responded to Maron’s questions and encouraged Reitman to carry on as long as he chose.

The second interview revealed that David Bronner ( whose “ magical” soaps are sold at Whole Foods) great grandfather who had had visions and was even locked away in a mental institution. On his soaps’ wrappings were printed such thoughts as “If I am not for myself, who am I for?”, from Rabbi Hillel as well as other messages to promote self-reflection into unity, collaboration and world peace. The soap business passed to David ‘s father and uncle who appeared to have followed a more conventional style of soap wrapper. Eventually David who had scorned any previous links to the business, took over: working for a year with his father who eventually passed away.

Here the conversation came alive as David Bronner presented his own mission: to wrestle from Monsanto harmful agents, and to work towards foods that are not genetically -altered as an impetus to maintain a healthier environment. He even sowed actual seeds on the White House lawn. David obviously hoping to garner attention to his causes, locked himself in a metal cage outside the White House, protesting the illegality of growing hemp, one of his soap’s main ingredients. The mantle had been passed to the grandson from his father, grandfather and great grandfather into this generation.

Bronner seems to have almost unconsciously inculcated the visionary spirit of his ancestors: towards improving the world. He spoke with such passion, explaining that only enough money to run the company is taken out and additional profits go towards charities. I was reminded of Albert Barnes, American physician, chemist, businessman, art collector, writer, educator, and founder of the company that produced Argyrol : silver nitrate antiseptic solution for the treatment of gonorrhea and a preventative of gonorrhea blindness in newborn infants. Philosophically, Barnes believed in profit-sharing with his workers and promoting diversity. His collection of mainly Impressionist art at the Barnes Collection ( a must-see for all art aficionados) is housed in Philadelphia. Mentored by John Dewey, Barnes was considered a rebel.

Both the Reitman and Bronner families had escaped oppressive regimes, Russians in Czechoslovakia, and Nazis in Austria, risking everything when they arrived in their new countries of Canada and the U.S. Perhaps having lost family or striving to establish themselves in foreign places had refocused parental energy towards demonstrating love and relationships in tangible ways, proving to their children that values live in people, not places. By the way, on September 8, the day before 2010 TIFF opened, Ivan Reitman and his sisters christened Reitman Square, the new headquarters of the Toronto festival’s year round administration on the property left to them by their own parents. Rather than parents being just a footnote or a passing comment, the interviewees revealed a real connection to the driving forces of their forbearers, paying more than just lip service.

As a parent and grandparent myself, I segued into how I and my husband will be remembered: hopefully more than our son’s lament that he was stashed with friends on his 5th birthday and pushed down hills because we were at work; or anger at being forced to share a bologna sandwich with his sisters. Hopefully it will be a memory of a trip where he consumed a delicious pizza outside Rome in an ancient castle aptly called Il Castello. Will he recall Howard and me dressed as maid and butler serving his friends at a celebratory lobster dinner for him , all of us consumed with laughter at each courteous course.

Maybe it will be our daughter’s birthday in Montebuono during Howard’s sabbatical; or perhaps a family boat cruise to Rio or watching the Cubs in Chicago all together. Maybe it will be revisiting our faces charged with pride and happiness at a graduation here or away; or Howard’s chaperoning the CCOC to Salt Spring Island. More likely it will be a resurgence of annoyance at the overwhelming deluge of toys loving bestowed to grandkids on my birthdays that riled my children into suppressing anger; or the “horrid” bulgur chicken or “healthy” spaghetti served to them as children. I hope it will be a mixture of some things good at least.

As the years go by, I actively try and make those moments with my own parents resurface, recalling more of myself; and with myself, them. Like buds from trees, we are parts of a whole, that continue to bloom and carry on, even when the branches have withered .

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