How to be a hermit by Will Cuppy

Since two days before Christmas, I have been in bed suffering first from the flu then pneumonia. I took the last of the high voltage antibiotics yesterday. I should feel alive later this week. The sub zero weather has made going outside counter-indicated.
During this period (where I seemed to have hallucinations under the bed covers), emerging with an appreciation of the difference between important and unimportant.
Publication here on my website of Will Cuppy’s classic (he died in 1919) represents an effort to induce my Cousin Linda to emerge from her hermitage. More than 60 years ago, we were like brother and sister. Time has not changed the depth of our feeling toward each other, but….
Thanks to Australia–an island toward which I have especially warm feelings because…I am able to publish this book about Jones Beach before Robert Moses changed it all by making it accessible.
Periodically through this post, I will comment on important and unimportant and how I see the difference between the two.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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How to be a HERMIT

or, A BATCHELOR Keeps House

By

WILL CUPPY

 


 

TO
Isabel Paterson
THAN WHOM THERE IS NO——WELL, THAN
WHOM THERE JUST ISN’T, THAT’S ALL.

 


ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

The author wishes to thank the new york herald tribune, mc call’s magazineand morrow’s almanack for permission to reprint the articles in this book. They are not responsible for the second thoughts—some of them highly inflammable—strewn recklessly through the original pieces, nor for the several added starters.


CONTENTS

I DISCOVER MY ISLAND
BE IT EVER SO HUMBLE
LIVING FROM CAN TO MOUTH
MY KITCHEN BEAUTIFUL
CONFESSIONS OF A SARDINE FIEND
HARD-BOILED RECIPES
THE HOME IN BUM TASTE
COFFEE, PLEASE!
DIOGENES, OR THE FUTURE OF HOUSEKEEPING
THE SECRET OF FREDERICK BARBAROSSA
THE HERMIT’S EMERGENCY SHELF
THE DUKE’S DILEMMA
A FEW HINTS ON ETIQUETTE
SPINACH AND THE GOOD LIFE
LITERATURE AND OTHER SPINACH
WATCH YOUR BUDGET
SIMPLIFIED CLAMS
BEDROOMS ARE WHAT YOU MAKE THEM
CONSIDER THE LETTUCE
A PLEA FOR BETTER BATTER
PERILS OF THE HOME
DOWN WITH BRILLAT-SAVARIN!
HOW TO ENTERTAIN
SO WHY BE PRESIDENT?
WHAT CABBAGE HAS MEANT TO ME
NEXT TO GODLINESS
IF CHRISTMAS COMES
THE FEAST OF THE BEAN
IF YOU HAVE TEARS


I DISCOVER MY ISLAND

All was excitement that June morning among the clams of Jones’s Island (pronounced, by your leave, in two good healthy syllables, thus: Jone’-zez). Softies by the bushel dug themselves deeper into the shoreward mud, and whimpering little quahogs out in their watery beds clung closer to their mothers as they heard the dread news relayed by their kinsfolk of Seaman’s Neck, Black Banks Channel, Johnson’s Flats and High Hill Crick. To say that uneasiness pervaded the community would be putting it far too mildly. Those clams were scared plumb out of a week’s growth; which, as the clam flies, is a lot of growth. In a word, panic reigned, if not pandemonium.

And well it might, for the scouts along the meadows, the deep water observers and the liaison officers on the sandbars had forwarded marine intelligence of no mean importance. As one clam they reported the swift approach by rowboat across Great South Bay of a sinister stranger, by every sign a very devil for chowder, raging and roaring in the throes of starvation and flying the strange device, “Jones’s Island or Bust!” Yes, downright terror gripped even the hardest of the clams. “He ought to be here at any moment!” shuddered a visiting cherry-stone.

And see! Even now the hellish bark rounds Hawkins’s Point, splashes its desperate way through the shallows and crashes into Savage’s Dock with a sickening thud, hurling the oarsman from his position amidships to a point which may be defined as galley-west. Dizzily the skipper regains his feet, and as he rises to the general view his singular and touching appearance sends thrills of relief up and down the calcareous shells of the bivalves still on watch. Dame Rumor is wrong again! Here is no demon with murder in his heart. Here is no devil incarnate. For there in the full sunshine, the cynosure of every clam, he weeps, the stranger weeps. Anon, he sneezes, and again his eyes drip blinding tears. ‘Tis plain some nobler grief than the want of a square meal is bothering this chap. All told, it was pretty pathetic.

The sorrowful newcomer seemed, truly, a man distrait, as he stood there sniffling and snorting into his red bandanna, uttering violent and wicked words, shaking his free fist at nothing in particular and behaving generally as one bereft of all earthly solace and the greater part of the cerebellum. (But don’t get too much worked up about this, dear reader; it turns out in a minute that it was only me, arriving at Jones’s Island with my rose cold.) Ever and again he moved as though to cast himself and his afflictions into a low tide puddle, always he drew back in time. Then, extracting a small compass from his pocket, he made a few rapid calculations and, tossing a stray lock from a thoughtful brow, began running due South. And as he ran, he wept; and weeping, sneezed.

Some furlongs on his way, about where he would catch sight of something blue and wonderful between the beach hills, he was heard to shout, “Thalassa! Thalassa!” which is as much as to say in plain English, “The sea!” and repeat. “Eureka!” he cried next—”Excelsior!“—”Gallia est omnis divisa in partes tres!” So, naturally, the clams, after thinking it over, decided that he was perfectly harmless. Each happy shellfish, according to his individual lights, sank back into a sort of nervous lethargy or went about his own or his neighbor’s business, forgetting as best he could the horrid threat of a clambake. “I told you there was not the slightest danger,” squizzed the visiting cherry-stone. “He’s only another goof come to look at the ocean—probably a typical New Yorker,” he added, tapping his forehead significantly. Whereupon he and the other clams, like the solitary horseman in novels, only rather more clammily, disappeared from the picture. I’m afraid I had ruined their day.

It was thus, or near enough, that I began my long and extremely pleasant relations with the Atlantic, an association which neither of us, I trust, has had cause to regret. You must forgive me for yelling “Thalassa!” and “E Pluribus Unum!“—especially “Thalassa!” since I have no Greek, and just got it out of a book. But I was all excited. I had waited so long! My early yearning for the sea had never been completely satisfied during my boyhood in the Middle West. Later I found Lake Michigan marvelous, but fresh; and seeing my ocean at long last, it struck me all of a heap, like. I hope my readers will permit me to skip what I saw that morning as I stood on the southern shore of Jones’s and peered horizonward. I’m not so good in purely descriptive passages, and I believe the Atlantic has quite a number of sterling qualities which we need not argue about. Suffice it that stout Cortez hadn’t a thing on me when with eagle eye he got into the wrong poem—it was really a couple of other explorers.

I, too, was silent and just stared. Strangely silent, it occurred to me, after letting my Viking spirit run wild for an hour or two. Mark you well—for here the plot thickens—I had not sneezed once in all that time, nor sniffed, nor sniveled, nor wished that I had ne’er been born, nor any of the things one does when one is subject to rose cold. I had arrived at Jones’s Island a human wreck, if that; just one more poor, underpaid book reviewer harried and hunted by hay fever’s hideous little cousin. And here I stood, my vision clear, my smeller busy with salt fragrance, whole in mind and nose, thinking in terms of high romance, all of a glorious June day; convinced for the mad moment, I confess it, that Pippa was not a half-wit at all. For a nickel I’d have burst into song. Some subtle seaside virus was coursing through my system, sweeping out dusty clouds of landlubberly notions and raising merry hell with my logical faculties—I always hated them. “It would be sheer foolishness ever to leave this sneezeless island with its own private ocean,” I told myself. “And it is our bounden duty as reasonable creatures to shun and turn from folly, at least once in a while, especially when the avoidance is so pleasant as this.” So I philosophized. Already I was half a hermit.

That afternoon I wandered back of the beach hills, seeking among the swamps and meadows of the interior some aspect of animate or inanimate Nature that might bring on a return of my tragedy, for as yet I could not believe that this Fortunate Isle contained no germs of rose cold. Though rose cold is mostly caused by the machinations of evil spirits, flowers are part of it, too, and the victim must watch them like so many wild animals. Flowers are very pretty, yes; and don’t they know it? But the best of them are full of pollen, a substance used by Mother Nature to produce rose cold and hay fever when she might be in better business. In a world where Ambrosia artemistĂŠfolia turns out to be common ragweed, you can’t be too careful.

Proceeding, then, upon my usual assumption that every leaf and bud that blows is my deadly enemy until it can prove that it isn’t, I adventured boldly into the unknown hinterland. Each humble, nameless sprout of green I firmly challenged and encountered, sniffing to windward and leeward, reconnoitering stealthily from ambush, doubling in my tracks and charging suddenly to prevent trickery. I found no actual flowers, if memory serves; but one homely creeper, apparently some low and depraved form of sweet pea, showed a dangerous tendency to bloom. I walked straight up to it, looked it in the eye and gave it glare for glare. Nothing happened. I passed on, spasmless. Well, well!

Here, obviously, were none of my vegetable enemies, and a man might be at peace. A body might live here without an utterly ruinous supply of red bandannas. Later there might be goldenrod, but let it come. I am not affected by goldenrod, a fact which accounts for my cocky leers whenever I meet a mess of that flaunting, cruel plant; the joke is on the goldenrod, and so far as I’m concerned it may flaunt its head off. At that I am not one of those happy, carefree picnickers who carry heaping armfuls of goldenrod into railway trains and subways on the off chance of finding some poor hay fever addict and ending a perfect day with a good laugh. It might do these excursionists a great deal of good if they sat down in a clump of poison ivy some time. Speaking of hot Sitz baths, I had my troubles that first day with the Jones’s Island beach grass, a species of improved hatpin, but that thrill was as nothing compared to my epic discovery of the Zachs Inlet Coast Guard Station.

That’s where I met Portygee Pete and Comanche and Pokamoke Benny and Buttercup and Uncle John and, in the ways of seven or eight years, some dozens of others who became my friends and privy counselors, financial advisers, pump fixers, putters-on of typewriter ribbons and bulwarks against melancholia. ‘Twas there I first sampled the most excellent cuisine of Hot Biscuit Slim, the second of that honored name. Slim plied us all with stew, and afterwards stayed us with pancakes, his own special brew, compounded of main strength, a fertile imagination and a ladle of soda. Boy, that was food, and not merely something to titillate a jaded palate. If your palate is jaded at Jones’s, you better move.

It was doubtless fate that drew me there; we cannot, the wisest among us, prove the contrary. And fate, as a great writer has put it, kept right on working. For towards evening, having dined at five, I came by a crooked little path to a crooked little house about three hundred yards from the station. I saw that it was my house, and had been mine from the dim beginnings. Somewhere it was written. In a kind of joyful amazement I opened my mouth and spoke, saying, “I have been here before”; and I care not if the alienists have a long, insulting name for that particular feeling. I added, for the benefit of the small black kitten following close at my heels, “This is my ancient home, from which I strayed long since. But now I am back from my faring, and here I shall live and abide.”

“Well, I’m glad you have come to your senses at last,” said the kitten. “I picked you for a hermit all the time.”

“Come on inside,” said I to the kitten, who leaped ahead into the crooked little kitchen and settled politely on the stove.

“Do you like it?” demanded my inky familiar.

“I love it, all four rooms, furniture and all,” I shouted from the parlor. “But just what do you mean,” I inquired, returning from my hasty inspection, “you picked me for a hermit?”

“You’ll have to take my word for things,” smiled my companion. “You were born in Auburn, Indiana, on August 23, 1894, making you a Virgo character, with strong leanings towards Leo. Right?”

“The year’s not quite right,” said I; “but I can see you’re a mighty smart kitten. What’s your name, anyway?”

“Finnegan.”

“Well, Mr. Finnegan—”

“Just Finnegan to you,” said the kitten.

“But it is Mister, I suppose?”

“Yes, if you must know,” said Finnegan. “Well, Mr.—”

“Call me Bill,” said I.

“Well, Bill,” resumed Finnegan, “I only meant that you are obviously the island type, not the ordinary, crude oaf one meets ashore in this darned old Riveting Age.”

“You got out of that pretty nicely, you flatterer,” said I. “What else?”

“You hate noise? I thought so. You have a slight touch of auditory hyperĂŠsthesia, which might easily develop into schizophrenia. In the quiet of Jones’s Island you would probably write much better book reviews. Don’t you want to?”

“Yes,” I admitted. “I have a passionate, flamelike, all-consuming desire to do that very thing, so as to have my wages raised.”

“You’ll get over that,” said Finnegan, “once you’re a hermit.”

“I’m not sure that I can be one,” said I. “There’s civilization to consider.”

“I doubt it,” said Finnegan. “Anyway, if you will pardon an epigram, a hermit is simply a person to whom civilization has failed to adjust itself.”

“Did you think that up all by yourself?” I demanded, with mounting admiration.

“I may have seen it in the National Geographic,” said Finnegan. “The Coast Guards saved a millionaire and his yacht from drowning here lately, and he sent us a few back numbers as a reward—wonderful reading, so broadening. As I was saying, let somebody else worry about civilization.”

“But I hate to be called a misfit!” said I. “Even now science is hard at work on the cause and cure of hermits, and what with psycho-analysis and all, the poor hermits soon won’t have a pillar to stand on.”

“Nonsense!” laughed Finnegan. “Of course there are some hermits who haven’t all their buttons, but we are speaking of the other kind. There have been some grand ones. It is, I assure you, in no idle vein that I mention such names as Theodosius of Cappadocia, James of Mesopotamia, Epiphanius of Salamis, Hospitius of Villafranca and Claudius Apollinaris of Hierapolis, not forgetting Robinson Crusoe. There was also the Abbot Paphnutius—”

“The friend of ThaĂŻs?” I interrupted.

“I didn’t mean to mention him,” said Finnegan. “It just slipped out. Too bad about him—a mere matter of glands, and no good doctors.”

“Do you mean he had too many glands, or not enough, or what?” I inquired.

“We needn’t go into that,” said Finnegan.

“Well,” said I, “I’m not so sure about the place of asceticism in modern life. Morality, you know, is essentially social. Life—”

“A lot you know about life,” said Finnegan. “Life is within and no man hath seen it. I guess I read that somewhere, too. Anyway, you’re not going to be so damned ascetic!”

“Right,” I agreed. “I really don’t want to be a cenobite or an eremite just at present. I want to be good, in moderation, but you’ll have to let me go to literary teas in New York every few weeks. I suppose I must live in a cave?”

“Cave, nothing!” said Finnegan with some show of emotion. “You’ll live right here in this house. That’s exactly where so many hermits make their big mistake—living in caves. Caves are damp, dark and full of bats; it costs a small fortune to fix one of them so it’s at all habitable. All thinking hermits to-day deplore the cave habit. Besides, I always say what is home without a house? It doesn’t have to be steam-het, either.”

“Steam what?”

“Steam-het,” said Finnegan. “It doesn’t have to be. You’ll be perfectly comfortable with this kitchen range, and you can write your book reviews on that table, and if any visitors come to disturb you, I’ll bite them. I know the man who owns this shack, and I’ll arrange the business end of it; just leave it all to me. You’ll find after a few weeks that your auditory hyperĂŠsthesia will clear up and you’ll lose that pale onshore look; in no time we’ll have you a mem sana in corpore sano, or near enough to it for all practical purposes.”

“Maybe all I need,” I replied, “is a good eye, ear, nose, throat and brain specialist.”

“What is to be will be,” said Finnegan. “And if you want any more cats, I have thirty-nine brothers and sisters—”

“The die is cast!” I exclaimed, and groped my way to the tattered blanket in the bedroom.

Soon we fell into a dreamless sleep, from which Finnegan was to wake a speechless but no less sapient cat. At dawn I struck for the mainland, returning at sunset with all that was mine or that my friends would spare. And the evening of that day was the morning of my hermiting. By and large, that was about how the fit took me. Some think it passing strange that I should change my way of life so completely because of a silly rose cold, a mere ocean, more or less, the twilight look of a little crooked house in the sand and the ravings of a temporarily enchanted cat. They say it doesn’t stand to reason. I reply, what does? But how can you argue with people who have never loved at sight?

Sure, it’s only Jones’s where I live; just good old homely Jones’s. It isn’t the Balearics, though it has often occurred to me that there is something decidedly Balearic about the place—there are ways of looking at islands. We have no slingers, and maybe that’s just as well; book reviewers have enough on their minds without Balearic slingers and Gaditanian dancers and such. Life can’t be all slinging and dancing.

Time was when I planned to cast anchor not nearly so close to the mainland. I started for some unsuspected isle in far-off seas; the Cyclades, perhaps, if not the Hyades, and why not even Atlantis, if I had to fish it up myself? Then the wind shifted, as the wind will, and I’d have compromised on the Greater and Lesser Antilles. Anyway, I got to Jones’s, and that’s something. Hermits cannot be choosers, as Singapore Sam, just up from Hatteras, brought home to me as I was writing this very piece.

“Have you ever been to Coney Island, Bill?” he inquired—he’s saving up for the trip.

“Yes,” I told him, truthfully; “but only once, and that was years ago.”

“Well,” said he, “I suppose that’s more for the upper classes.”

Let’s leave it at that.

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Come Crawl with Me on Valentine’s Day

Under Pennsylvania Commonwealth law, the obligation to meet the ADA’s public accommodations objective were satisfied when Cafe Verve made the bathroom wheel chair accessible but not the restaurant.

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End State College’s unconscionable discrimination against the disabled
& elderly by demonstrating on Valentine’s Day

Time and place:

Cafe Verve,  E Beaver Ave, State College, Pa 16801. 

Wednesday

February 14

Valentine’s Day 2018

Hours of Demonstration: 11 am-2 pm.

From Noon to 2 PM: Special speakers including  representatives of the African-American community, feminists (including the #Me Too Movement), the gay and transgender community, the labor union movement, and the religious community. As a member of Congregation Brit Shalom I am mindful of the special obligation we Jews have to pursue social justice in the tradition of the great Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, Professor of Mysticism and Theology at the Jewish Theological Seminary, who marched with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

https://wego.here.com/directions/mix//Caf%C3%A9-Verve,-115-E-Beaver-Ave,-16801-State-College:e-eyJuYW1lIjoiQ2FmXHUwMGU5IFZlcnZlIiwiYWRkcmVzcyI6IjExNSBFIEJlYXZlciBBdmUsIFN0YXRlIENvbGxlZ2UsIFBlbm5zeWx2YW5pYSAxNjgwMSIsImxhdGl0dWRlIjo0MC43OTM4MywibG9uZ2l0dWRlIjotNzcuODYsInByb3ZpZGVyTmFtZSI6ImZhY2Vib29rIiwicHJvdmlkZXJJZCI6MTMyMTE0NzYwNTY2MzUxfQ==?map=40.79383,-77.86,15,normal&fb_locale=en_US

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Please join me in my demonstration against segregation of the elderly and disabled in State College, PA on Valentine’s Day. For reasons that astonish me–I am a paraplegic–discrimination against those of us who cannot walk, see, or hear is regarded as not equivalent to discrimination against the African-American community which caused Phil Ochs to sing, “Here’s to the State of Mississippi.”

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Lyric relevant to State College 2018. “The calender is lyin’ when it reads the present time/”

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Regarding the bizarre loophole in Pennsylvania Commonwealth law limiting enforcement of the disability access provisions for the disabled under the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act:

The  Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) was the only major piece of legislation signed by President George H. W. Bush. The ADA represented a bipartisan commitment to the idea that those of us who cannot walk, see, or hear had the same right to public accommodations as those who do not have disabilities. Previously, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 corrected basic inequities which allowed–in my lifetime–shameful and overt  discrimination against African-Americans, Hispanics, and women

A shameful lack of responsibility by the then seven members of State College Borough Council–all of whom were “liberal” Democrats [see Phil Ochs] made it possible for Cafe Verve, a new restaurant which opened up across the street from my apartment,  to receive an operating license. The loophole made it possible for Cafe Verve’s owners to make the restaurant’s bathroom wheel chair accessible, but not the entrance. I have requested Rep. Scott Conklin to seek bipartisan support in the Commonwealth legislature to ensure that no new restaurant in PA receive an operating license unless its entrance is wheel chair accessible.

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Please donate the spiritually significant $18 to defray protest administrative costs


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You may obtain knee pads from Rapid Transit Sports https://www.statecollege.com/shop/rapid-transit-sports/

 

 

 

 

 

 

You may obtain material to make your own picket signs from Uncle Eli’s http://www.uncleelis.net/

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Meanwhile, courtesy of The Guardian of London, my perspective on elderly & disability segregation at State College, PA. and columnist John Harris’ U.K. perspective.

Guardian illustrator Patryk Spocznski not only describes the UK’s contempt for the elderly & disabled, which columnist John Harris notes “Longer lives, clearly, ought to be cause for some celebration.” Patryk Sroczynski also portrays here the contempt the seven Democratic “liberal” members of the Borough of State College feel for us as they isolate the elderly & disabled in low-income nursing-home style ghettos.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Here in the U.S. over 90 percent of the housing is not wheel chair accessible. The same is the case in the U.K. Over 90 percent of new housing in the U.S. does not have even one accessible entrance.

For the past 24 years, I have been a paraplegic. I live in an “independent living facility” for 90 elderly and disabled residents in Downtown, State College, PA. My ability to live an independent life is severely restricted. I cannot earn too much money—too much being enough to pay for my dental bills—otherwise I would be evicted from the government subsidized apartment where I live.

I am planning to force the issue when I finally complete a series of papers for the CATO Institute, a Washington, D.C. based Libertarian think tank. My thesis is the free market may be a better tool for ensuring disability access than government legislation modeled on the 1990 Americans with Disabilities Act. However, as I told David Boez, my editor, one reason for the delay in completion is I do not know where I will be able to live when evicted. Accessible housing is not easy to come by here.

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My capitalist perspective comes as a surprise even to me who has been a lifelong Democrat and who served as a political appointee in the Carter Administration. Such a perspective is especially applicable to affluent State College and its immediate environs which include wealthy retirement housing for the elderly. For example, at the Foxdale retirement community in the Borough of State College, entry to a modest apartment and then an excellent nursing home (“living in place” is the bumper sticker euphemism) costs $750,000.

Yet the merchants here in Downtown—indifferent to their financial future—continue to operate public facilities that are not wheel chair accessible. In October, I wanted to celebrate my seventieth birthday at CafĂ© Verve, a vegetarian restaurant across the street from my apartment. The restaurant had received an operating license as complying with Commonwealth law which requires disability accommodations.

Each of my two daughters is a vegetarian so the choice of restaurant was especially appropriate. From February to October of 2017, I attempted to find out how it was possible for CafĂ© Verve to comply with Pennsylvania legislation on disability access and yet not be accessible. The answer is the restaurant spent—as required—the portion of its renovation cost to make the bathroom wheel chair accessible. The cost includes a sign announcing to patrons the bathroom is accessible. However, the restaurant was not required to make the entrance accessible.

On my birthday, I drove my mobility device (in effect an electric wheel chair) across the street, put on knee and arm pads and crawled into the restaurant. Happy birthday.

On Valentine’s Day, I plan to celebrate by having a Crawl In at CafĂ© Verve. I invite the international disability rights community to join me.
https://joelsolkoff.com/come-crawl-with-me-on-valentines-day/

I applaud John Harris’s column critiquing the comprehensive way the U.K., as does the U.S.—and most especially my hometown of State College–, fails to treat the elderly and disabled as individuals. Rabbi Hillel and Jesus, among other religious leaders, recommend: Do unto others as you would have others do unto you. The elderly and disabled are impatient for society in the developed world to pay attention to our basic human needs. The chief among these is respect.

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Here is Guardian columnist John Harris’ perspective on elderly and disability discrimination in the U.K.

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/feb/04/ageing-nhs-loneliness-co-housing

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Regard this message from those of us who are elderly or who live with a disability. Notice us. Regard us as human beings. When you see us, apply the Golden Rule. Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

–30–

 

 

 

 

 

Review of Fire and Fury by Michael Wolff

Jonathan Martin’s failure to appreciate the value of Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury Inside the Trump White House does a disservice to public discourse. Distinction between “important” and “unimportant” –a hallmark of Alice and Wonderland–ought to be a cautionary requirement for reporters covering life and death issues. These are issues President Donald Trump regards with indifference.

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Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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If Wolff’s work were not (as it is) an excellent accomplishment, the book’s ability to get under President Trump’s skin would be a virtue in its own right. Fifty years from now, when a history of the 45th Presidency is written, the text of the President’s press conference at a chilly airplane hanger at Camp David, Maryland will appear in the moral equivalent of bold face. There the President of the United States announced he is “very smart” and lamented—in shocking indifference to the First Amendment—that our country’s libel laws are not strong enough to prevent publication of Fire and Fury.

It is axiomatic that the best defense for libel is the truth. I am prepared to accept the judgment of New York Times reporter Maggie Hagerman that regarding the big picture, Wolff has presented us with an accurate account. The two areas where the book has been subject to criticism are first, that Wolff’s account is nothing new. “We knew that already.” Second that Wolff is sloppy on the details.

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The lamentable book review in The New York Times.

 

 

 

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Martin complains that a reporter cited as having breakfast at the Four Seasons breakfasted elsewhere. Or, as Martin identifies as a serious flaw, “Wolff offers several ‘whys-and-hows’ of this imbecile meeting. [The June 11, 2016 meeting at Trump Tower at which Donald Trump Jr. welcomed dirt on Hilary Clinton.] But he does not settle on any of them.”

This is an unfair criticism. All that should be required of Wolff is that he give an accurate account of the lunatic meeting—a meeting which includes the President’s explanation that it was held out of concern for Russian orphans. If Wolff had settled on an explanation, Martin would have criticized him for overreach.

Wolff told Meet the Press that when given his unusual access to the White House, he approached the task with an open mind. He explained his account was an effort to provide readers with the view he obtained from sitting on a coach in the West Wing and describing what the President’s advisers told him. Wolff said had his reporting resulted in finding out that despite accounts contrary to expectations, Donald Trump really was doing a good job, he would have said so.

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Here is one of Wolff’s virtues which Martin decries. Martin makes a point of describing Wolff as a political ingenue. In this regard, I share Martin’s surprise. By comparison, I have been steeped in politics for my entire adult life. Instead of Wolff, had I occupied the same coach in calendar year 2017 after following in detail Trump’s role as the leader of the birther movement and of his campaign, my mind would have been closed to anything but an account of Trump’s failure. Wolff’s naivete is a major factor in the book’s virtue.

This is what Fire and Fury reported. When Donald Trump ran for President, his goal was to use that platform to make a lot of money. He had no intention of winning. Melania Trump’s tears on election night at the tragedy (as she saw it) that now she would have to deal with the disappointment of being First Lady was echoed by her husband and his closest associates. Winning was losing.

Unwanted was the decision Ivanka and husband Jared Kushner made to move to Washington and be by Trump’ side compounding the President’s problem of having the President’s closest advisers be ones without experience or aptitude for governing. Steve Bannon unexpectedly emerges from the account at least as someone—albeit Evil—capable of serious thought and the capacity to get things done.

The President emerges as one who has no knowledge of nor interest in the Constitution, who is unwilling to read briefing memos, who relies on unreliable instinct, and whose decision-making capacity is often determined by the most recent person to enter his office. The President is afraid of being poisoned and began his tenure in office by fighting with the Secret Service because he wanted to install a lock on the inside of his bedroom door. Trump is happiest when he goes to bed in the evening at 6:30 eating McDonald cheese burgers, drinking a Diet Coke, and watching television on three sets.

The President is incapable of attracting talented advisers and the most capable members of his staff regard him with contempt. Secretary of State Tillerson’s comment that the President is a moron followed a meeting on nuclear weapons where regardless of their strategic value, the President wanted more and newer weapons. Not a day goes by in the Trump White House, Wolff told Meet the Press, where Section 4 of the 25th Amendment is not invoked as in “This incident came close to a 25th Amendment moment.”

The book is well-written to the point of being difficult to put down. Certainly, the majority leader of the Senate and the Speaker of the House were uncomfortably aware of its validity when they appeared at the Camp David press conference where Trump reported that he received good grades in college. Publication of Fire and Fury—especially in excerpts in The Guardian and New York Magazine—mark a Rubicon-like moment in the Trump Presidency. Henceforth, neither Trump’s Washington supporters nor detractors will be able to ignore reality.

I do understand the discomfiture at the New York Times that Michael Wolff, a journalistic parvenu, was able to produce a vade mecum. Envy has not been denied me either. My first trade book (an extended version of a New York Times Magazine article) published by the same company that publishes Fire and Fury did not earn enough to repay the advance. The sophisticates at the New York Times—careful with their citations—are experiencing frustrated Schadenfreude.

It is useful to recall that it was not the Washington White House press corps that nailed Richard Nixon on Watergate. Rather, it was two reporters covering the police beat who scooped the sophisticates at the other side of town. No doubt, the New York Times is an excellent institution deserving of its reputation for being our country’s newspaper of record. Here humility is due. Michael Wolff’s book deserves to receive a Pulitzer Prize.

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–30–

 

 

I met the future mother of my children as a consequence of…

I met the future mother of my children as a consequence of writing a speech on the Multi Fiber Arrangement for the importation of textiles and apparel. Known familiarly as the MFA or the Arrangement.

My title back then 39 years ago was Special Assistant to Under Secretary of Labor Robert J. Brown. Bob, whose position was comparable to the chief operating officer in a private corporation,  was the second most important person in the Department reporting to Secretary of Labor Raymond Marshall.

As with the Under Secretary and the Secretary, I was a political appointee serving at the pleasure of President Jimmy Carter. Yes, my appointment was unanimously confirmed by the senate, but that was no big deal at the time. Unlike the other political appointees with offices within the impressively exclusive suite of the Secretary of Labor, I was not a hot-shot.

My friend Walter Shapiro  needed someone who could help out writing speeches–which I do well–and one thing led to another.  I received a full-time appointment. There was talk I might actually be in line for an important job, but that was talk. When I met the lovely Diana Bass, international economist, I was working in an office environment where petty politics were rife.

Secretary of Labor Marshall was distracted from doing his job by the fact that his son was dying of cancer. The twenty – and thirty-year olds who staffed Secretary Marshall’s Office were well-educated, mean, and not as competent as they imagined themselves to be. Soon, I  was to learn  loyalty to my boss meant my future was in danger–although I did not realize at the time I would be out of a job within two years.

This clip from the Washington Post provides a hint at the nature of the internal politics where I worked and its consequences.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/politics/1978/12/13/assistant-labor-secretary-is-asked-to-resign/67f69de3-f238-4a6d-aa9e-fe63ffd5bb76/?utm_term=.bf814565c932

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The story of in-fighting at the Labor Department in 1978 is a secondary reason for this reminiscence. My primary objective here is to tell a love story.

I here describe the origins of the strength of my lengthy marriage to Diana which had its downside given the marriage ended 17 years ago. In so telling, I am hopeful of providing  perspective the German-born American developmental psychologist Erik Erickson would have found helpful. For the time being, I will leave dangling Erikson’s relevant Stage Eight of his Theory of Psychological Development: Ego integrity versus despair .

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Diana Bass, Olde Towne, Alexandria, VA, at her bridal luncheon (perhaps contemplating marrying me the following day October 18, 1981 at the 18th Century Anchorage House). 
No bride could have been more beautiful.

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I cannot introduce romance too early here given I am a policy wonk. Unchecked there is real danger I am likely to go on and on about the applicable details of international economics for a speech delivered 39 years ago. Nevertheless, this 2018 New Year's born reminiscence requires I regard my grandfatherly role--generator of generations--with the respect due to a genesis story. Hence, you will not be spared international trade policy details.
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Love is where you find it. In considering this, I wonder about the efficacy of the disguise I was wearing at the time.
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Diana and I met behind the mahogany doors of the second floor suite belonging to the Office of the Secretary of Labor. There the carpets were so thick that when I went home I had to scrape off wool tufts that had stuck to my penny loafers.
This photo shows the renaming of the new U.S. Department of Labor headquarters to honor Frances Perkins. Shown here are are Susanna Coggeshall (Daughter of Frances Perkins), Senator Carl Levin, Secretary Ray Marshall (boss of my boss Under Secretary of Labor Robert J. Brown) and President Jimmy Carter.

Regarding the speech to be delivered by my boss: Under Secretary of Labor Robert J. Brown was as close to  panic as I have ever seen him. Even here though I thought of Bob as safe and steady; steady and slow. I very much admired him. As a consequence of trying to please Bob’s desire for an upbeat speech (when upbeat seemed and indeed was impossible) I met Diana who six years later became the mother of the first of our two daughters.

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The exigencies of the speech caused the lovely Diana to emerge from her non-carpeted office on the sixth floor to the exclusive custom-wood paneled corridor at the suite of the Office of the Secretary of Labor. There, my secretary announced then escorted her to my office where she sat at the custom-made tweed sofa.

I had summoned Diana indirectly because when I called Irving Kramer, her boss who was not there, she recognized appropriately that a call from the Under Secretary’s Office required instant response if I thought it necessary and I did. Her overt purpose there on my couch gazing at the original landscapes on loan from the Smithsonian was to teach me enough international economics to satisfy (or at least make a pretense of satisfying) my boss’ desire to deliver an upbeat speech.

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The problem was That Bob had been trapped into giving a speech he did not want to give to an audience which did not want to hear what he had to say at a time and place where he would rather be elsewhere–namely, at home with his wife and children.

The speech was to the annual convention of apparel manufacturers at a Friday evening ceremony at a hotel in the heart of the Old Quarter of New Orleans where  only a few years earlier I had spent the most decadent weekend of my life. While the audience may have wished to drown itself for good reason in alcoholic excess and readily available decadence, Bob–tasked to perform this unsavory speech by his immediate boss The Secretary of Labor–had already figured out how to exit New Orleans as quickly as possible.

The problem was, What was he to say?

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Bob could not say the truth.

The truth was after decades of refusing to read the handwriting on the wall, manufacturers of apparel had failed to realize making clothing as they had for years would no longer be profitable no matter how hard they lobbied government officials to pretend. Unless the manufacturers took special measures they were unwilling to take to improve efficiency, they and a portion of the domestic textile industry would be put out of business.

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For over a week leading up to this 2017/2018 New Year's Eve (despite having promptly taken a flu shot when my physician told me to) I have been slowly recovering from an influenza-induced fever-dream-like state where in my mind's eye I envision my currently 18 month granddaughter Juliet Mae at some future appropriate age asking her Zeyda (that's me) how I met her grandmother (distinctly not a Bubbie). [Of course, a Bowdlerized version would be required.]

[Note: This is still a work in progress.]