Archive for December, 2008

‘Tis a new year of diminished expectations which means technically, I don’t even need to make any resolutions for 2009. No one really expects me to keep them. In fact, no one seems to expect anything of me, or themselves or anyone else – except if your initials are BHO, in which case you are expected to save the world, save us from ourselves and stop smoking. No extra credit for those six-pack abs, buddy and sorry but last November is so last year.

In the spirit of setting the bar low enough for me to crawl under, I hereby resolve:

  • …to refrain from offering my opinion about whether Caroline Kennedy should serve as New York’s junior Senator even if asked. Not that I’d ever be asked because if I were, I’d only be reminded that as I live in New Jersey, my opinion is irrelevant .
  • …to consider long and hard any and all offers to work for the new administration.
  • …to stop resolving to give up sugar. Why should I? Sugar is a mood elevator and an anti-depressant and it certainly enhances the taste of anything chocolate.
  • …to stop obsessing over my dog, except have you seen my dog?
  • …to keep trying to solve the Middle East crisis – at least in my head, since no one’s asked me for my opinion.
  • …to find inner peace. I hold over this resolution from year to year. Obviously, I haven’t found it yet. Check back with me in June.

As my friend Dave suggested, have a Very New Year!

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Cheer Up!

‘Tis the week of the holidays; we’re feeling blue

The weather is lousy; there’s too much to do

If you follow the news, there’s a lot of despair

What with famine and fighting and ongoing terror

Not so great close to home, with recession on end

And the bailout will cost what we don’t have to spend

Yeah, we’re biting our nails ’cause the Dow’s gone insane

And forget about traveling by car or by plane

But wait, we were hopeful not that long ago

Remember? November? Let’s get back that glow

Hey, Britney is back; cancer cases abate

The movies look good and the Giants look great

Corrupt politicians, inept CEOs?

Well, they’ve always existed; instead think of those

Who are guarding our cities or fighting our wars

Who are teaching our children or feeding the poor

And give thanks for such selflessness; it’s not so rare

It just claims less attention but we know it’s there

So pull it together and grab a libation

Light candles, wrap presents or make a donation

Go hug a kid, kiss your spouse, call your mother

The world may be dark but we do have each other


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Tipping Point

Enough with the politics. ‘Tis the season and all that. I’ve been intermittently watching morning shows while engaged in the difficult task of book rewrites and have all sorts of ideas about what to bring to a holiday party, what to wear, what to make, what to gift, where to find bargains and how to survive without gaining weight, losing your mind or forsaking family and friends. This year seems especially stressful, what with the economy so low, our hopes so high and our expectations veering from high to low and back again. Then again, unless you were once the recipient of lavish year-end bonuses punctuated by over-the-top holiday parties, this year is pretty much like last year only tighter.

People who in any way depend upon the services of others expect to tip and are expected to tip. That’s not supposed to change in challenging years.  Being hard up is relative. The “Social Q’s” etiquette columnist in the Times Sunday Styles section responded to a letter from an apartment dweller asking whether she could cut her tips by asking if her being “pretty broke” meant “only buying two chinchilla coats this season or…contemplating a tin of Meow Mix for dinner tonight?” In other words, we all have it rough, lady; tip the doorman.

Out here in the ‘burbs, we also have holiday tipping to attend to. To acknowledge the teacher who helped Sadie with her math or put up with little Johnny, that scamp, money is a no-no, of course. Instead, I’d try gifting baked goods or better yet, a small contribution in the teacher’s name to a favorite children’s charity. Or, given education budget cuts, buy classroom supplies which would otherwise come out of Teacher’s pocket.  Your cleaning lady, if you’re lucky enough to have one, will look for extra cash, which I suppose is thanks for simply doing her job. Since it’s a job you don’t want to, don’t have time to, or can’t do, she deserves it.  The postman also awaits your tip although I’m not clear why; isn’t he supposed to deliver the mail? My guy has yet to change the name inside my mailbox so I don’t get mail from the residents who lived here eighteen years ago. On the other hand, Willy and I went through the anthrax scare together and still joke about handling the mail while wearing gloves, so I feel a certain kinship. Ah, the things that bind us.

The woman who throws the paper more or less in the vicinity of my doorstep seems to expect money as well; I suppose I’d better if I want to avoid walking across the street in the pouring rain. While that’s another job I don’t want, the expectation of money simply for the execution of the job begins to feel a little oppressive. I have a new paper delivery person since last Christmas who actually might be the mother of the young man who began the year delivering the paper.  Come to think of it, her life can’t be too easy. Anyway, her resourcefulness impressed me; she included a stamped, self-addressed envelope along with her holiday card stuck in my paper.  

This year I received a new surprise: a blank envelope left at my front door with a holiday card that read: “Seasons Greetings from Tony, your recycler.” Our development hires a service to pick up the recyclables we put out every other week. Some truck comes along and dumps the containers, which we then go out and retrieve from the stoop. I don’t know who these guys are; I can’t even remember who they work for. For sure I don’t know what the tipping  etiquette is in this situation  – do I tape money to a plastic water bottle and leave it in the recycle bin? All I know is, if “Tony” is expecting something, I don’t want to disappoint him. But I wonder: what’s next? “Happy Holidays from Uncle Junior, your scrap metal specialist?” This is New Jersey, after all.

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We are dancing in the streets of New Jersey. Okay, maybe not dancing but surely residents of the “Soprano State” are rejoicing over the comments of FBI special agent Robert Grant, who commented at a Tuesday morning press conference, “If it isn’t the most corrupt state in the United States, it’s one hell of a competitor.” He was talking about Illinois, folks, not New Jersey.  Illinois, home of Abe Lincoln, Elliot Ness,  the writer Studds Terkel and our next President, Barack Obama (or maybe North Dakota – see end of this post).

Actually, Special Agent Grant was talking about the last two governors of that once-proud state, George Ryan and now Rod Blagojevich, not to mention a veritable parade of visible and less visible politicians whose behavior makes Jersey look like the garden-fresh state. Be honest: had you even been thinking about Blagojevich? Could you spell or pronounce his name? Did you even know who he was? Well,  you do now. The details of Governor Blagojevich’s escapades are all over the news; he apparently tried to use the seat vacated by the President-elect as leverage to (depending on what you read): get a better public sector job, get a better private sector job, get his wife a better job, get the Senate job himself, get more editorial support from the hometown paper, get people fired at the hometown paper, and/or get cash. Nothing was off the table, except perhaps trading the Senate seat for a new hairstylist (I’m sorry to hit a man when he’s down but what’s up with that hair?) I’m surprised he didn’t put the Senate seat up for bid on e-Bay. Maybe that was set for tomorrow.

The only thing he appears to have been definitively offered was the one thing he didn’t want – the appreciation of the Obama transition team, which didn’t seem inclined to participate in the auction. Gratitude – give me a break. Nothing says “thank you”  like cash or its equivalent in power.

Chutzpa, hubris, or cluelessness – it’s been hard to figure out why in this day and age politicians continue to believe themselves immune from discovery and prosecution, never mind ethics. Maybe it’s because for too long they have been, in part because we haven’t been privy to what’s going on and in part because we haven’t been keeping an eye on them. Still, this guy takes the cake, doesn’t he? His calculations were wide-ranging, not to mention grandiose. Makes the stuff we’ve been dealing with in New Jersey look like penny-ante stuff. Still, we’ll be happy to surrender the spotlight for the moment while pointing out once again that while absolute power may corrupt absolutely, it can happen anywhere from Alaska to Rhode Island to Louisiana to Florida to Illinois. I’m just sayin’.

UPDATE: It can also apparently happen in North Dakota, which wins the title of most corrupt state, according to a report  based on analysis of convictions prosecuted by the Department of Justice. Now North Dakota recently made news for being a state uniquely untouched by the recession so either they’re good at prosecuting corruption or they’re too comfortable to be much bothered by it.

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I can’t believe it came as much of a surprise that we’ve been in a recession since last December. Of course, we all probably hoped the recession wouldn’t prove to be as long or as deep as some projected. Well, now that we know we’re a year in, we can hope that the end is in sight.

What’s not to like about hope, right? Face it, our capacity to hope, even when faced with external forces beyond our control or internal demons that pull us towards the abyss, is truly astounding. Though we currently have reason to despair – over the economy, over the constant threat of terrorism (and now piracy!), or over the fact that home ownership, health care coverage and now higher education seem to be out of reach for many Americans – we can rejoice, my friends, because hope floats above the gray skies of our nation’s capitol. Probably not precisely the hope our newly-elected President was thinking about when he wrote his best-seller but we’ll take what we can, er, hope for.

Democrats may have to give up their hopes for a filibuster-proof Senate but they still hope for enough muscle to engage in payback. Republicans hope to escape severe reprisals and experience the kind of bipartisan cooperation they never considered back in the days of their ascendancy. Liberal elements of the Democratic Party hope Obama’s choice of so many Clinton advisers doesn’t signal a move to the center-right; moderates and even conservatives feel they have reason to hope it signals an non-partisan pragmatism. State Department types hope Secretary of State nominee Hillary Clinton will rely on their hard-earned expertise. Fans of Governor Bill Richardson hope he’s not too upset about being bypassed for Secretary of State.  Fans of Governor Janet Napolitano hope she’ll get Homeland Security organized. Although former Senator Tom Daschle may have hoped to be Chief of Staff, health care advocates feel hopeful he’ll jump-start reform.

Of course, the current Treasury Secretary Paulson hopes his ever-changing game plan works for the economy and the Big Three auto makers hope for a windfall. That’s where hope gets audacious but then again, if you’re going to hope, why not hope big?

Comics hope they’ll be able to find something funny about the new administration (hint: look at the Cabinet). Dog lovers hope the Obamas discover hypo-allergenic mixed breeds besides the Peruvian hairless dog. Classmates at Sidwell Friends, where the Obama girls will attend school, hope they’ll get invited to a party at the White House. Actually, DC hostesses and club owners alike are hoping members of the new administration will want to party. Almost anyone who did anything in any field office during the Obama campaign now hopes to work in the Obama administration. Millions of people hope to get Inaugural tickets or attend even if they don’t. DC-area residents hope to get obscene amounts of money for their humble abodes as hotels fill to over-capacity. District police, not to mention Federal security agencies, hope they can handle the record number of visitors expected for the events. NBC hopes David Gregory will be happy hosting “Meet the Press” until Matt Lauer retires from the “Today” show to do something else – like, say evening anchor at CBS.

It’s good to have hope.

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