Viral vignettes: The Yiddisher Howard Hughes

Second in a series.

Hersh had been social distancing for a couple of years. Ever since he retired from his law firm, Macdonald, McPherson & Lipschitz.

He preferred spending his days alone, walking a trail in the rainforest or the beach below his Point Grey home, sitting in his sailboat in the marina rereading Portnoy’s Complaint, reciting lines to a visiting glaucous-winged gull.

Doctor, doctor, what do you say, let’s put the id back in yid.

Hersh still found peaceful places despite the coronavirus panic. Except when he got home.

In the large Tudor-style house on a bluff overlooking the sea, his wife Gillian had been held hostage for weeks by cable news and social media. 

Every time Hersh ventured into her airspace, she seemed to have a compulsion to repeat everything she heard and read.

On this morning in late March, her first words to him were, “The prime minister says we should …” 

“Enough with the mishegas!” Hersh pleaded. 

 She muted the TV. “You know I don’t understand Yiddish.”

“You’d think after forty years,” he snapped back, “you would have picked up a few words – like, hak mir nisht keyn tshaynik.”

Gillian appeared hurt by his tone, even if she failed to understand he’d told her to shut up and stop bothering him.

“Let me know when they start blaming the Jews,” Hersh yelled as he retreated down the hall to his office. 

He poured another mug of coffee from the thermos on the sideboard. Sipped and scanned the titles in a bookcase on the eastern wall. Hefted a thick volume, The Collected Stories of Isaac Bashevis Singer.

With the plague menacing and Passover coming, Hersh had been fixating on all things Jewish. He didn’t consider himself  much of a Jew. Didn’t hide it either. Couldn’t with a name like Herschel Lipschitz. 

He opened the book to the first story, Gimpel the Fool. Started reading but couldn’t concentrate. 

Needed fresh air. Needed to flee.

Hersh tucked Isaac Bashevis Singer under his arm, grabbed a bagel and a bottle of water in the kitchen, snatched a jacket and Giants cap from the closet in the foyer, and was out the door. 

His kvetchy Chevy pickup started on the second try. He left the Range Rover in the garage for Gillian, though she hadn’t left the house since the Trudeau kid told her to stay home. (Their Guatemalan housekeeper, Camila, ran all the errands.)

Hersh headed toward the city, traffic sparse as he crossed the Burrard Street Bridge, down to Georgia Street and the Coal Harbour Marina. 

Springtime Vancouver weather varied from drizzle to deluge. Today was a drizzle day. 

Hersh shuffled slowly along the soggy walkway to his thirty-foot sailboat – recently rechristened Chutzpah to no one else’s amusement – a runty outcast among a fleet of yachts.

He sat in the stern, looking toward mountains obscured by mist and low clouds. Lit a joint. 

The rumble of a truck drew his gaze to the Bayshore hotel. He imagined Howard Hughes cloistered at the top of the tower. 

Had an idea. Let it cook while he toked. 

Hersh sent a text to his wife – Won’t be home for dinner – and retired to the cabin for a nap.

When he awoke, he filled  a backpack with an old pair of old sweatpants, an older UBC sweatshirt, underwear, T-shirts, socks, a half-filled bottle of J&B – “Jewish booze,” his father called it – toothbrush and toothpaste. 

He stepped ashore and walked the short distance to the Bayshore.

The big, beefy doorman was acting more as a security guard. “Are you a guest, sir?”

“Checking in,” Hersh said, realizing he looked like either a hobo or an eccentric billionaire in his baggy brown corduroy pants, untucked denim shirt, scuffed and stained boat shoes.

Allowed to pass, he made eye contact with the lone clerk at the front desk, standing well back from the counter. “May I help you, sir?” she shouted across the deserted lobby.

“Checking in,” Hersh shouted back before moving closer, but not contagiously close. “Is the Howard Hughes suite available?”

“Do you have a reservation?”

“No, just hiding out – like Hughes was fifty years ago. He just showed up too. The mashugana threatened to buy the hotel if you didn’t give him the rooms he wanted.”

“I’ll get the manager, sir,” the clerk said, turning her back on Hersh and muttering furtively into her fist like a Secret Service agent.

“Is it something I said?” Hersh addressed the empty lobby, sounding to himself like Zero Mostel playing Max Bialystock.

Within minutes, a finely attired young man approached Hersh and stopped the prescribed six feet away. “May I help you, sir?” 

“I asked about the Howard Hughes suite and your colleague called a Code Red.”

“I’m sorry, sir, but Ms. Price said something about a threat?”

“I was talking about Howard Hughes – fifty years ago.”

“In any case, the hotel is not exactly open during the state of emergency – just the top five floors are for guests.”

“Isn’t the Howard Hughes suite the penthouse? Wouldn’t that be one of the top five floors?”  

“That suite is under renovation. And the floors that are open are reserved.”

Hersh didn’t like his tone. “Is this hotel restricted?”

“Pardon?”

“Restricted – Jews not welcome. Like that hotel in Gentleman’s Agreement.”

“I’m sorry, sir, I don’t understand.” 

“I have a good mind to report you to my lawyers, Bialystock and Bloom.”  

All the virus mishegas was making him as mashuga as Hughes.

The manager backpedaled a few steps, bowing to his phone, thumbs springing to action. Hersh figured he was texting with Ms. Price, working her phone behind the front desk.

“We can give you the room just below the Hughes suite at a reduced rate,” the manager said, apparently anxious to get Hersh out of the lobby.

“Fine,” Hersh said, “I’ll take it until my suite is available.”

“But, sir …”

Hersh broke out laughing. “Just kidding. You looked like you were going to plotz.”

He didn’t wait for the manager to exclaim, “pardon?” again.

“Just tonight is good,” Hersh conceded.

He texted Gillian that he was spending the night on the boat. She didn’t reply.

My book, The Expat Files: My Life is Journalism, is available in print and Kindle editions from Amazon.com and Amazon Canada.

Viral vignettes: 'The Secret Koch Brother'

First in a series.

From his perch in the Eagle’s Nest, A.K. Koch answered the call from the guardhouse at the gate. “She have the test results?” A.K. asked.

“Clean bill of health, sir,” replied the guard, one of six former Blackwater mercenaries, armed with fully-automatic assault weapons, billeted at the compound in the Ozarks. 

“Okay, send her up.”

On his security monitors, A.K. watched Lexi pull through the checkpoint and accelerate up the mile-long driveway in her shiny red pickup. He checked the time: 7:08 p.m. 

“You’re late,” he muttered at the screen.

A.K. was itching to see Lexi. She’d be the first visitor allowed inside his mountaintop mansion since the coronavirus panic began.   

All his in-house staff, and now Lexi, had been tested for the virus by his private physician, Dr.  Joe Bob Mengele, whose office was filled with test kits thanks to A.K.’s latest $1 million contribution to a Trump campaign super PAC.  

No one besides A.K. knew where his fortune came from. Born Andy Devine Pickens in Fayetteville , Arkansas, he was shoveling shit at a Koch Industries fertilizer plant in Oklahoma in the early ’80s when his boss told him he was a dead-ringer for David Koch.

Over the next year or so, he quit his job, legally changed his name to Andrew Koch, called himself A.K., claimed to be kin of the Wichita Kochs, became a recruiter for the NRA, and attended a bible college in Missouri.

Meanwhile, he did his homework on the Kochs and launched a career of cashing in on his new name.  

On paper, all he owned were four Christian Soldier Gun Shoppes. His teenage girlfriend, Lexi May Sauer, worked as a $500-an-hour intern at the store in Branson.

“I’ve missed you, darlin’,” A.K. said as Lexi came through the front door, head-to-foot in supple black leather, blonde hair cascading down her back.

“You look good enough to eat,” he said, engulfing Lexi in his arms, slobbering all over her face and neck. 

She wriggled free and grinned at her benefactor, tall and lean, with slicked-back gray hair, old enough to be her granddaddy.

“C’mon,” A.K. said, taking her hand, “want to show you something.”

He guided her down two flights of stairs, through a heavy steel door, into a huge basement encased in thick concrete. “Welcome to the Fuhrerbunker,” he said with a wave. 

The perimeter was stocked to the ceiling with a prosperous survivalist’s standard supplies. The floor was covered with recent arrivals – crates of U.S. Army M4A1 fully-automatic rifles, a row of mechanical respirators, racks of hazmat suits, cartons brimming with coronavirus test kits, surgical masks and gowns, gasmasks, hand-sanitizer, tissues and toilet paper.

Lexi raised her gaze toward the heavens.  “And the prayer of faith shall save the sick, and the Lord shall raise him up – James, 5:15,” she recited.

“Amen,” A.K. intoned, posing proudly amid his merchandise.

He leered at Lexi. Smiled.  

She was fifteen when he first approached her while trolling for protégés at a Trump rally in St. Louis in 2016. He was drawn to her striking resemblance to the youthful version of his ex-wife, Donna, way back when they met at bible college. 

It wasn’t until after they were married that Donna revealed she had been an actress, best known for playing Elly May Clampett on The Beverly Hillbillies.

They went on the road together, with a traveling gospel show. He managed the tours and handled the cash.

Donna convinced him to write down everything he’d told her about his life in the Koch family. She arranged to publish the book, The Secret Koch Brother, ghostwritten by her brother Jethro.   

A.K. sold the 268-page paperback for $20 at tour stops. Pocketed the cash. 

He added it to the money he skimmed from the gospel shows, ditched the aging Donna, and was on his way.

A.K. escorted Lexi upstairs to his happy place. The brass plaque on the door read: The Eva Braun Room

The flag of Nazi Germany hung over the king-sized bed. Another swastika was stitched into the bedspread. A copy of Mein Kampf shared a night table with the Holy Bible, below a framed photo of Adolf and Eva at their Berghof hideaway in the Bavarian Alps.

It was here that A.K. home-schooled Lexi, told tales of his pilgrimages to Berchtesgaden, his treks up the mountain to Kehlsteinhaus, the original Eagle’s Nest that he had reproduced in the Ozarks after the 2008 election.

On this night, as others, A.K. narrated accounts of Nazi conquests. Foreplay to bouncing on Lexi in rhythm to a vintage recording of the Horst Wessel Song.

After, they retired to the living room. Another copy of Mein Kampf sat on a shelf beside The Turner Diaries, The Camp of SaintsGoebbels: Mastermind of the Third Reich. 

He clicked on the TV. Fox had gone lamestream, reporting the news – all virus and all bad.

“This is the final plague predicted in the Book of Revelation,” Lexi said with a whimper, snuggling up to A.K. on the couch.

“It’s okay, darlin’,” A.K. said, “we’re ready for it. We’ll survive, and so will our people.”

He clicked off the TV, folded his arms around Lexi, and whispered in her ear. “Might turn out to be a blessing.”

They fell asleep to the overture of Hitler’s favorite Wagnerian opera, Rienzi, der Letzte der Tribunen.

My book, The Expat Files: My Life is Journalism, is available in print and Kindle editions from Amazon.com and Amazon Canada.

Idiocy is also a virus

Good luck taking healthcare advice from a guy who stares at a solar eclipse and fucks a porn star without a condom.

The Dr. Nick of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, known as Professor Bone Spurs during his tenure at the Trump University School of Medicine, offered his assessment of the coronavirus pandemic during a ten-minute Oval Office address Wednesday night.

“(For) the vast majority of Americans, the risk is very, very low.”

His prescription: Close the sea and the sky between the USA and continental Europe.

His prognosis: “The virus will not have a chance against us.” 

Around the same time Trump was reciting his speech, news broke that the NBA was suspending its season and Tom Hanks became the Rock Hudson of COVID-19, hopefully with a better outcome.

The president’s televised display of a twitchy and sniffly bedside manner followed weeks of blowing off the threat, ignoring and contradicting government scientists. 

His don’t-worry-be-happy bullshit spread like a plague through the right-wing political/media madhouse.

It was only last Friday that Trump was showcasing his epidemiological acumen during  a photo op at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta.

“People are really surprised I understand this stuff,” he said of his grasp of the disease. “Every one of these doctors said, ‘How do you know so much about this?’ Maybe I have a natural ability.”

On the same trip, he glad-handed at least two GOP acolytes who briefly went into hiding because they were exposed to the virus.

Reps. Mark Meadows and Matt Gaetz later emerged to say their tests came back negative.

The pair were apparently among the select few who qualified for testing under Trump’s “anybody who wants a test gets a test” declaration at the CDC. 

Of course, the president could order up a coronavirus test – stat! – for himself. Did he do it?

Nah. “I don’t think it’s a big deal,” he said Tuesday.

Physician heal thyself. On second thought … 

We know he’s ignorant. An idiot. Certifiable. 

We’re told he’s a germaphobeAnd know he doesn’t give a shit about anyone but himself. 

But there also seems to be the delusion of invincibility, mixed with macho chowderheadedness, festering inside the demented skull of the sasquatch of narcissism.

Remember his boasts of promiscuity during the AIDS epidemic of the 1980s.

“You know, if you’re young, and in this era, and if you have any guilt about not having gone to Vietnam, we have our own Vietnam — it’s called the dating game,” Trump told Howard Stern in a 1993 interview. “Dating is like being in Vietnam. You’re the equivalent of a soldier going over to Vietnam.”

 Four years later, again on Stern’s radio show, he returned to the theme of his valor on the STD battlefield.

“It’s amazing, I can’t even believe it. I’ve been so lucky in terms of that whole world – it is a dangerous world out there. It’s like Vietnam, sort of. It is my personal Vietnam. I feel like a great and very brave solider.” 

He called vaginas “potential landmines,” adding, “there’s some real danger there.”

Who knows how any medals of honor he has awarded himself since then, including after he raw-dogged it with Stormy Daniels at Lake Tahoe in the summer of 2006.

My book, The Expat Files: My Life is Journalism, is available in print and Kindle editions from Amazon.com and Amazon Canada.

Coming home

Outside Zabar’s at 80th and Broadway. Waiting for  a toasted bagel and cream cheese. Daughters Kate and Jodie inside. 

Turn away from a strong, cold wind. Hardly any dirt and trash blowing around. Not like it used to be, like I remember it.

Kate comes out, hands me a bag, and goes back  inside.

I dodge three lanes of traffic on Broadway and plant myself on a bench on the median. Cars, trucks and taxis rustle by on both sides.

I tilt my face to the sun. Close my eyes. Listen to the sounds of the city. Feel a wave of contentment.

Home.

I haven’t lived in New York since the early ’70s. Used to visit fairly often. Been a while, though.

There’s a guy screaming outside Staples on the east side of Broadway. Nobody takes notice.  

Unwrap my bagel. Schmear on cream cheese. 

Sit and chew. Ignore the sparrows looking for handouts. Ignore the screamer now outside a Starbucks. 

Thinking of Gotham when it was dirty and dangerous. When I worked the streets as a reporter.

Wondering when was the last time I was alone in the city feeling so safe and such a sense of serenity.

The vibe is still here. Like nowhere else. Not London or Paris. Not Chicago or San Francisco. Not Montreal or Toronto, my last big-city home.

We’d walked to Zabar’s from 72nd and Central Park West, where we watched the Thanksgiving Day parade from my cousin Ylain’s apartment. 

I’d set a fast pace for my daughters, zipping around people and traffic. “Dad, you still walk like a New Yorker,” Kate said.

I finish my bagel. The girls emerge with their own bag of treats, stuff we can’t get where we live – Jodie and I in suburban Toronto, Kate in Tucson.

I hail a cab. We pile into the back. Cabbie, probably driving a hack  since Abe Beame was mayor, starts talking as soon as the meter starts running.

“Last fare was a guy who had his lifelong wish come true. Marched in the parade. Holding down one of the balloons.”

Cabbie talks non-stop about the guy with the balloon all the way to 95th and West End Avenue, where we’d parked the car.

Get on the West Side Highway. The towers of the George Washington Bridge come into view. Pass the building where Kate lived in Washington Heights. 

Follow the Hudson north to my sister’s house in Tarrytown for Thanksgiving dinner. 

 Next day, back in Manhattan. Staying in a Marriott  in neighborhood that once lived up to its name — Hell’s Kitchen. 

The hotel is next to a BMW dealership. My room overlooks the rooftop gardens and terraces of the John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

Kate has stayed in Tarrytown. The rest of my girls, daughter Lacey and grandkids Annie and Zoey, now aboard.    

Walk a block up 58th Street to Tenth Avenue. Catch a taxi, a large yellow minivan. 

 I sit in the front. “Museum of Natural History,” I tell the driver.

He looks like I gave him an address on Jupiter. Fumbles with his gizmos.

“I’ll direct you,” I say. “Just get to Columbus Circle.” He hasn’t a clue.

I call out the turns. Ask the driver where he’s from.

“Ghana,” he says.

“Kofi Annan,” I offer, about all I know about Ghana.

I have to tell him when to stop, across the street from the museum. The place is packed. Holiday weekend. Fucking tourists!

I came here a lot as a kid. Knew where all the animals were. Always made a beeline for the hall of African mammals. That’s where I lead our gang.

“These are the same elephants I saw when I was your age,” I tell the grandkids.

I used to run free in this place. Knew where all my favorite animals – lions and cougars and grizzlies – were.

Now,  obstructions force people into corridors, to places I don’t want to go – rooms filled with ancient kitsch. 

I soon duck out and sit on the stone steps in front of the museum. Others are scattered around. Smoking. Snacking. Yakking. Bowing to their phones.

It’s easy to distinguish the out-of-towners from the locals by attire and attitude.  Especially attitude. 

I still consider myself a New Yorker. I’ve been told I have the attitude to prove it.

The sun is climbing toward midday. Warm and comforting. It’s still cold, but the wind has lost its sting. 

Across the street, behind the stone wall, Central Park beckons. 

Annie and Zoey run across the hard, brown grass and climb on the boulders. Jodie joins them on the carousel.

 

 A woman is walking a dog that looks like a yak. A pair of dolled-up cross-dressers sashay by.

A Sinatra sound-alike, with mike and amplifier, belts out New York, New York, competing with a jazzy saxophone player in one direction and four drummers drumming in another.

We exit the park and walk south along Fifth Avenue. Pass Temple Emanu-El, with a cop car stationed outside, and The Pierre, where I covered the big robbery in 1972.

Cross 59th Street. Smack into a mob inching toward the tree at Rockefeller Center. 

Fucking tourists!

I slap a high-five with the lone protester across the street from Trump Tower. Fight  my way through and around the crowds, trying to clear a trail for our gang. Finally emerge at 51st Street, mercifully closed to traffic behind Radio City.

Walk north by northwest toward our hotel. A guy standing outside a fancy restaurant, at the window, is screaming at the diners inside.

Skirt the crowds and lights of Times Square. 

Kids are tired and hungry.

Soon back in Hell’s Kitchen.

My book, The Expat Files: My Life is Journalism, is available in print and Kindle editions from Amazon.com and Amazon Canada.

Biden needs to channel Obama, Reagan

Didn’t think Uncle Joe was up to the rigors of the race. Still not sure. Happy he’s back in the game, though. 

He wasn’t my first choice (Kamala Harris) or my second (Amy Klobuchar). 

But, left with two geezers, believe he has the best shot at taking down the Don. 

Joe Biden certainly exhibits all the qualities absent in this president. Good man. Has a heart. Oozes empathy. Probably honest. Smart enough. Knows his stuff. 

So, Biden’s a great candidate – until he steps on stage and starts speaking.

Sometimes his train of thought goes off the rails. Sometimes he inexplicably slams on the brakes in mid-sentence.

I have no idea if this is a remnant of his struggles with stuttering. But his speechifying is mystifying. 

He’s either shouting or whispering. His angry voice sounds fake. Mostly, as I’ve said before, Biden phumphers.

Then, when someone else is talking, he surrenders whatever stage presence he had and looks like a kid sent to the corner. His body language is always too easy to read. He lacks a political poker face.

His campaign performance needs schooling. Needs to channel a mix of Reagan’s grandfatherly charm and a dash of Obama’s myriad natural skills.

 Old dog Biden needs some new tricks at the age of 77.

Reagan was 69 when he was facing off with an incumbent president, Jimmy Carter, in 1980. What most people remember about the Reagan- Carter debates was the old actor combating the younger president’s attacks by shaking his head and saying, “There you go again.”  

Biden could use some of that. Needs to simplify. Talk less. Say less. Slow down. Relax. 

Maybe take a class at Professor Obama’s school of oratory and good humor – and split a doobie with the teacher before taking the stage.

Maybe hunt down Nancy Reagan’s medium for a chat with Ronnie.

Before his debate with Bernie Sanders on March 15, Biden’s handlers should be training him to deliver short, quick jabs. 

When Sanders attacks the Democratic Party establishment, keep saying with a sarcastic smile, “At least I’m a Democrat.”

When Sanders attacks billionaire donors, respond, “I’ll take every nickel from people on our side to get rid of Donald Trump.”

If Sanders tries to link Biden to conservatives or Republicans, shoot back: “Can you explain why Trump and the Russians are pushing your candidacy?”

Health care?

“Let’s save Obamacare and build on it before we break the bank. But, I’ll tell you, Bernie, if you an can get a Medicare-for-all bill through Congress, I will be happy to sign it.”

On Super Tuesday, Biden had the crowd roaring until he turned them off with a recitation of his policies on all the issues.

Lost the folks. Lost his mojo.

Remember: The candidate with a detailed plan for everything is gone – and the woman who was on the right side of all the issues four years ago lost to an ignorant slob. 

Biden needs to keep going where he started this campaign.

“We are in a battle for the soul of America.”

Trump’s tearing down the country.

Tearing us apart.

We need to restore decency.

Restore sanity.

Restore civility.

Restore our democracy.

We don’t need a revolution.

We need a restoration.

We need to get back to normal.

I’ve never thought Trump would debate this time around. Would still bet he’ll chicken out and make some chickenshit  excuse.

But he may be focusing on the performance flaws the rest of us see in Biden, and take a chance against the guy he calls Sleepy Joe.

If Trump punks out, Biden should call him out – mano a mano

“Anywhere, anytime. How about the White House briefing room? That’s not being used anymore. Or Fox News?”

If Trump takes the bait, Biden should ignore most of the questions from the moderators and ask Trump questions. 

You know you’re  impeached forever, right? 

You know you’re an unindicted co-conspirator in New York for paying off a porn star, right?

When are you going to show us your tax returns? What are you hiding?

How about the readouts of all your secret talks with Putin? 

What were you thinking when you took a Sharpie to a weather map?

When you stared at a solar eclipse?

How do you sleep at night when you’ve put kids in cages?

Every time Trump mentions Biden’s son, Hunter, or Burisma, give him The Reagan, “There you go again”

Then punch back with: “I promise not to give my daughter and son-in-law White House jobs where they make $100 million a year on their private businesses. And, you know, my sons served in the military. What do yours do besides cash in on your presidency?”

Remind the gangster: “I spent eight years in an administration without a trace of scandal or corruption. How many of your people are in prison, awaiting sentencing, under indictment or investigation?”

And Biden should also promise to get to work before 11 o’clock — “I won’t take the whole morning to watch TV, tweet and do my hair” – or use Air Force One as a shuttle to golf courses.

Biden will probably pick a woman running mate if he wins the nomination. (Again, for me, first choice is Kamala, second Amy, third, Elizabeth Warren.)

Bring her or other peppy speakers – Beto O’Rourke, Cory Booker – to all the rallies.

After they whip up the crowd, then Biden can hit Trump with his best shots, smile, wave, close with the cliché “God bless” and get off.

My book,The Expat Files: My Life is Journalism, is available in print and Kindle editions from Amazon.com and Amazon Canada.

Trump teed off at virus

The president was on the tee at the par-3 seventh hole when his caddie told him of a coronavirus death in the United States.

 “I’m sorry, Mr. President,” added Mike Pence.

“I’m calling Nikki Haley ,” snapped the president.

He resumed his stance over the ball. The shot sailed into a pond in front of the green.

“Gimme another ball,” Trump ordered.

Pence, wearing a blue suit and black dress shoes, slipped on the grass as he rushed toward the cart carrying the bag with the presidential seal. Trump snickered. 

Pence, his pants sporting grass stains flecked with dirt, returned to the tee with a shiny new Titleist and handed it to the boss.

Trump’s next shot hooked toward a greenside bunker. “Shit!” he spat, before lumbering back to the cart where Lindsey Graham was waiting.

“Where is it?” the South Carolina senator asked.

“Bunker,” Trump said as he lifted his bulk into the driver’s seat beside Graham.

“I was referring to the virus death, Mister President.”

Trumped ignored him and gunned the cart down the path,  followed by Pence and the presidential golf bag, six Secret Service agents, a military aide with the nuclear football, and Eric with a bucket of chicken and a cooler filled with Diet Cokes. 

A great egret took flight as the motorcade careened around the pond and skidded to a stop beside the green. 

It was a chilly Saturday morning in South Florida. Trump was in shirtsleeves while the others were still in jackets.

Pence and Graham had made jokes about global warming on the first tee, trying to ameliorate the president’s anger over Fox News reporting on the growing health crisis. 

It didn’t work. And it didn’t help that Trump was playing lousy, bitching and moaning on every shot.

Now, off the seventh green, Lindsey and Mike resumed their ongoing conversation about gay conversion therapy while Trump putted out.  

“Three,” the president shouted to Lindsey,  who was keeping score. The senator did not remind the president about hitting a second ball from the tee, or question how he managed to emerge from the bunker.

Trump spent the rest of the round screaming at Pence or someone else on the phone.

Inmates in the highrise Palm Beach County jail, which overlooks the course, could hear the barking of various presidential orders.

“Get me Hannity.” 

“Get me Rudy.”

“Get me Mitch.”

“Close the border.”

“Sue the bastards.”

“Declare martial law.”

Gimme the Purell.

“Get me a Diet Coke.”

“I need Ivanka – now!”

Other golfers turned away in deference to the club owner. Boat-tailed grackles cackled in the trees. 

“You have to be a fucking moron to screw up this job,” Trump berated Pence on the fairway of the long par-4 eighteenth hole. “I told you I wanted a six iron and that there are to be no more deaths from this bullshit virus.”

“But the state reported it, not us.”

“Isn’t the governor a Democrat? Go on the Sunday shows tomorrow and say he’s lying, it’s a hoax.”

When they reached the clubhouse, the TV in the locker room was blaring breaking news from nearby Riviera Beach. A black teenager, wearing a surgical mask, was shot dead by the white owner of a gas station convenience store.

The news anchor quoted the owner as saying: “I saw the mask and assumed he was a robber.”  

Trump was apoplectic when the anchor segued from that story to the latest coronavirus death, followed by a clip of Republican Congressman Louie Gohmert calling for a boycott of Corona beer.

Lindsey chortled. Pence didn’t look up from cleaning the boss’s golf shoes.

My book, The Expat Files: My Life is Journalism, is available in print and Kindle editions from Amazon.com and Amazon Canada.

Why I voted for Amy

My only issue is how to thrash the imperial wizard of the Republican Klan in November and perp-walk his fat ass out of the White House before he irreparably trashes the USA.   

Running down my Super Tuesday absentee ballot, I eliminated all the easy targets for Agent Orange – he has many evil allegiances, goes by many names – and  the GOP GRU.   

I looked for the candidate who would play in Peoria. 

That’s sure as hell not the 78-year-old Jewish socialist with a bum ticker and a Brooklyn accent.

It might be Biden, 77, but he appears even older, worn down, not up for the race.

Bloomberg, 78, should let his money talk and shut the fuck up.  

This is not the time for geezers – or the first Jewish president.

Too much is at stake to gamble against American bigotry.

Same deal with Mayor Pete. 

What about a woman? 

What about the last woman? Did Hillary lose because of her emails, Benghazi, or the smears of the Clinton Foundation?

Or was it because she claimed to have all the answers, appeared phony and entitled?

Will voters see Elizabeth Warren as another smarty-pants in a stylish pantsuit?

But then I came to the woman with the short-bob haircut, flat-soled sensible shoes and the off-the-rack jackets and dresses. 

What can you say that is bad about Amy Klobuchar.

She seems like  the dependable sister-in-law who shows up at 3 a.m. in an emergency, provides comfort, takes charge, and sees the crisis through to the end.

I imagined a campaign this fall between an old, grotesque gasbag, ranting and raving, and a nice, decent Midwestern lady, winning hearts and minds with smarts and a smile. 

She also can be Minnesota nice while carving up bullies and boors.

Remember her performance on the Senate judiciary committee during the Kavanaugh hearings, when she asked the beer-obsessed Supreme Court nominee  if he ever blacked out during one of his drinking binges.

“Have you?” the douchebag jurist shot back.

“I have no drinking problem, judge,” came the reply, cool as ice, from the daughter of an alcoholic sportswriter.

Through all the tortuous Democratic debates, Klobuchar has been a voice of calm and reason amid the racket.

“If you are tired of the extremes in our politics and the noise and the nonsense, you have a home with me,” she said before her strong third-place showing in the New Hampshire primary. 

I knew Klobuchar was a long shot when I filled out my ballot and emailed it back to Maine, the last place I lived in the United States.

This was the day before it was confirmed the Russians are working for Trump again, before it was revealed that the Moscow propaganda machine is promoting Sanders as its preferred patsy, just before Bernie won big in Nevada.

The media storylines are already locking in. Sanders is unstoppable. Unless the moderates gang up on him. Unless there is a “brokered” convention. In which case, the Bernie Babies might burn down the party.

Or would they once more cry wee wee wee all the way home?

The media live for the fight. 

 A Trump-Sanders race would be a doozy – the crypto-Nazi versus the pinko Commie.  

Don’t the majority of Americans want an end to the tumult and the madness?

I’ve been thinking about Gore Vidal’s The Best Man.

The 1960 play, which was made into a movie with Henry Fonda, focused on the two leading contenders for their party’s presidential nomination.

One is a ruthless phony-man-of-the-people senator that Vidal based on Nixon. The other, the Fonda character, is a principled, idealistic intellectual patterned after Adlai Stevenson.

It’s the kicker to the story that came to mind when I marked my ballot. After the frontrunners beat each other up, a third candidate, an inoffensive compromise, walks off with the nomination.

My hope is that character, that candidate, is Klobuchar. That she can hang on until the convention in Milwaukee this July. 

That The Best Man– The Best Person – will see a revival.

My book, The Expat Files: My Life is Journalism, is available in print and Kindle editions from Amazon.com and Amazon Canada.

Two Jews walk into a bar …

Bernie was the first to arrive. He appeared edgy as he entered the hole-in-the-wall bar off an alley on the Lower East Side.   

He paused in the doorway, waiting for his senses to adjust to the dusky, dead-quiet interior.

He checked the time: 4:23 p.m.  “Hello,” he shouted, taking a step inside. 

“You’re early,” I barked from the back room.  

Bernie walked slowly down the narrow aisle between the long bar on his left and the single row of tables on his right. I met him halfway. 

“Thanks for coming,” I said, shaking his hand before taking up my post behind the bar. “Pull up a stool.” 

Bernie was griping about this and that – “I don’t know why I agreed to this” – when the front door opened and Mike joined us. He’d been here before.

I inherited the joint a long time ago from my Uncle Julius, who ran it as a front for his bookmaking operation. The sign out front still said Arnold’s,  a tribute to the godfather of Jewish gangsters. 

I turned it into a hideout for political wiseguys to drink and caucus.  

“What’ll ya have?” I asked.

  “Draft, please,” said Mike.

“Do you have Heady Topper? “ Bernie asked.

“Hedda Hopper?” I laughed.

 “Never mind, I’ll have a Rheingold.”

I laughed again, explained to Bernie that the Rheingold brewery shut down in the ’70s, and drew another Coors Light.

I poured myself a vodka on the rocks and broke the ice. “Does the media know you two are Jewish?”

“Is that a rhetorical question?” Mike asked.

“Not really,” I said. “I read the papers and watch too much cable news – mostly MSNBC – and have not heard one word about you both being Jewish, that your party could nominate the first Jew for president, and that it might be an issue.”

Ever since the smart money moved from Biden to a Bernie-Mike race, I’d imagined what the general election would be like. I painted the picture for my guests.

Thousands of Nazis, Klansmen and other Trumpiacs in the streets, chanting, “Jews will not replace us.”

Talk of Christ killers and international Jewish conspiracies.

Holocaust denial.

Fox News retrospectives of Emma Goldman and the Rosenbergs. 

The president slandering “Hollywood elites” (Jews) and “media liberals” (Jews). Calling out Barbra Streisand, Jake Tapper and  “Sulzberger’s” New York Times.

Rally-goers screaming “lock him up” whenever Trump attacks George Soros, Adam Schiff or Alexander Vindman.

A campaign fundraiser, a masquerade ball, called Kristallnacht. Steve Mnuchin comes as Shylock.

Charles Lindbergh, Henry Ford and Father Coughlin awarded Medals of Freedom.

The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, anti-Semitic propaganda from czarist Russia – later required reading in the classrooms of Nazi Germany – hot on Amazon.

“The Russians have a long history of weaponizing anti-Semitism and Putin is probably already dishing out shit to help his most valuable asset.”

I’d talked for about twenty minutes. Bernie and Mike periodically interrupted, but I ignored their protestations and plowed on.

“What do you suggest we do?” Mike asked.

“You tell me,” I said. “What’s your plan?”

“My plan,” Sanders said, “is to win the nomination and destroy Trump in the debates.”

“There aren’t going to be any debates,” Mike said with a frown. “He’ll find some excuse and chicken out.”

“And,” I said, “if either of you wins the nomination, there will be blood.”

Non-stop attacks on synagogues and Jews throughout the country. 

Trump blames immigrants.

Declares martial law.

Calls off the election.

My book, The Expat Files: My Life is Journalism, is available in print and Kindle editions from Amazon.com and Amazon Canada.

Days of infamy

Finally flipped the calendar on the wall over to November. Certainly no rush to get to this Friday. The 8th.

Expect there will be third-anniversary toasts in Moscow, Ankara and Riyadh, as well as in boardrooms, trailer parks, Republican cloakrooms, KKK clubhouses and their kin across the USA.

For the rest of us, the past three years have been like watching episodes of The Twilight Zone on acid. 

Not sure we’ll ever recover from November 8, 2016, or survive the madness it unleashed. 

Of course, we’ve been bushwhacked by lunatics before.

 “… December 7th, 1941, a date which will live in infamy …”

– FDR

Roosevelt was right. Nobody forgot.

I wasn’t born until about five years after the attack on Pearl Harbor, but, even as little kids, we always marked the date.

“What’s today?” Eric Epstein shouted in the schoolyard.

“Dunno,” Stevie Bock shrugged.

“Sneak attack!” Eric screamed – and kicked Stevie in the balls. 

Growing up, I thought a lot about the Second World War. About the Nazis and the Holocaust. About that maniac Tojo and his crazy kamikazes.

I thought about Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Hitler dead in the bunker, the Nuremberg trials. 

About keeping score. 

“Tonight, I can report to the American people and to the world that the United States has conducted an operation that killed Osama Bin Laden, the leader of al-Qaeda, and a terrorist who’s responsible for the murder of thousands of innocent men, women, and children.”

– President Obama, May 2011

Payback. Never forget 9/11.

Or the lingering fear – and fear-mongering – that followed.

What was next? Dirty bombs? Nuclear? Chemical? 

Constant chatter about sleeper cells. The enemy within. 

“So, ladies and gentlemen, I am officially running for president of the United States, and we are going to make our country great again.”

– June 16, 2015

One year, four months and 24 days later, the Charlatans of Fifth Avenue took the stage as the next First Family of the United States of America.

His fanatical supporters, rooted in stupidity and ignorance, bound by racism and malice, rejoiced. 

They live in a dream, and we live in a nightmare.

– Philip Roth, The Plot Against America

Trump still had to get through the Electoral College balloting in December.  Maybe enough electors would look themselves in the mirror and say, No way am I giving this wacko the nuclear codes.

But only ten of them didn’t follow the script, one casting  his presidential ballot  for Faith Spotted Eagle of South  Dakota.

 The Electoral College, it turned out, was stacked with dropouts from Trump University.

We were left in limbo until the descent into hell on inauguration day, January 20.

A last hope for sanity was that Chief Justice John Roberts would face Trump on the terrace of the Capitol and proclaim, “There’s no fucking way I’m giving the oath of office to this idiot.”

Instead, the new president spoke of “American carnage.” He failed to mention it was his agenda.

After nearly three years, impeachment is finally in play in the House – because Monica Zelensky was asked to give Trump a blowjob while he held up the Ukrainian’s arms.

Never mind that the American president is Putin’s stooge. That he left the Kurds to die in Syria to please Daddy Vlad.

Or that he is the unchallenged Don of the GOP crime family. Or that he puts babies in cages and inspires racist mass murderers.

I am just a businessman, giving the people what they want.

Al Capone said that. The press ate up his every word. People cheered. 

He left a trail of bodies across Chicago and went to Alcatraz for cheating on his taxes.

No telling what Trump is in for.

“I hope you wind up in Attica, you crypto-Nazi scumsucker – see how you like it taking it up the ass from some crazed three-hundred-pound junkie biker flying on smack.”

I wrote that in my memoir, recalling what I shouted at the TV the night Nixon resigned.

I’ve had more time to consider payback for Trump, compile a wish list.

A good start would be perp-walking his fat ass down Pennsylvania Avenue, the sidewalks lined with people laughing and cheering.

After that?

 How about spending the rest of his life:

  • Pulling a train for Mexican rapists in federal prison.
  • In a cell filled with monitors locked on MSNBC, CNN, North Korean state TV and Stormy Daniels videos. 
  • In a coal mine in West Virginia.
  • Working as a janitor in a morgue in Puerto Rico.
  • As a nurse in an Ebola clinic in Congo.
  • Sharing a small cell with the El Paso shooter.
  • Confined to a one-room apartment in West Baltimore, haunted by holograms of Elijah Cummings, Obama, Maxine Waters, Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Robert De Niro and a prepubescent Ivanka.

My book,The Expat FilesMy Life in Journalism, is available from Amazon.com and Amazon Canada.

The last tomato

I stopped at the local fruit and vegetable market to check out the tomatoes on my way home from an afternoon walk in the marsh.

The tables out front, displaying baskets of tomatoes in recent months, were now covered with pumpkins and other unsightly squash. Not a good sign.

I’d sliced half of the last one at home for a sandwich at lunchtime. 

“Do you think there are any more field-tomatoes at Herridge’s?” I called out from the kitchen.

“No, they’re all gone,” Linda replied. 

I held out hope she was mistaken, without unleashing one of my usual tirades about supermarket produce being mostly garbage. 

Living in southern Ontario, tomatoes are my autumn groundhog. No more tomatoes means winter is coming soon and another year of inedible hothouse frauds. 

I didn’t care about tomatoes when I was growing up in New York. My dad was the only one in the family who liked them, so they were rarely at the top of my mother’s shopping list. 

I followed her lead when it came to fruits and vegetables. 

She preferred her vegetables raw – broccoli stalks and kohlrabi,  peeled and salted, peas scooped out of the pod, crisp celery.

Her taste in fruit ranged from tart red plums to tart Granny Smith apples.

As a teenager, I struck out on my own, developing an affection for nectarines after hearing the 2,000 Year Old Man

“Fruit kept me going for 140 years once when I was on a very strict diet. Mainly nectarines. I love that fruit. It’s half a peach, half a plum. It’s a helluva fruit. It’s not too cold, not too hot. Just nice. Even a rotten one is good. That’s how much I love ’em. I’d rather eat a rotten nectarine than a fine plum, what do you think of that?”

– Mel Brooks

My annual obsession with tomatoes did not begin until we moved into our first house in Clarkson, soon after Jodie was born in 1983, and discovered Herridge’s market.

These tomatoes were not orbs with rock-hard, white innards, or the ones that oozed green slime. These were as red on the inside as on the outside, firm yet juicy, carrying  the subtle scent of earthly ambrosia.

I’d start stopping by Herridge’s in late July – “Have any field-tomatoes yet? – and keep going back until its crop was exhausted. 

For a couple of months, there would always be a half-dozen or so red beauties on the kitchen counter, auditioning for the next meal.

For lunch, two thick slices , dabbed with mayo, sitting atop roast turkey or tuna salad or Balderson cheddar on fresh bakery bread.

At dinnertime, I’d slice a couple more for a side dish, drizzle them with Newman’s Family Recipe Italian dressing, maybe add chunks of cukes, also fresh-picked in season.

“What would you think of having real tomatoes year-round?” my friend Mike said to me one winter afternoon, sitting on the dock of the bay on Sanibel Island.

“Is this one of those if-they-can-put-a-man-on-the-moon-why-can’t-they questions?”

“Precisely,” he said. “Only this question has an answer.”

Mike and his wife Geneva had built a large house on San Carlos Bay, just down the beach from the modest cottage Linda and I rented for winter vacations for more than ten years starting after Lacey was born in 1986.

He’d retired from a corporate career in Chicago and, as the story went, struck it rich when he backed the inventor of microwave popcorn.

His tomato brainstorm involved farms in Chile, a fleet of jets, and dedicated grocers in the big cities across North America. “There is no reason we have to be satisfied with inferior tomatoes for all but a few months.”   

 But, though we saw each other in Florida every year, his tomato plan never came up again. His death notice arrived in the mail sometime in 2003.

Anyway, I stopped at Herridge’s last week, walked down the vegetable aisle – don’t tell produce merchants that tomatoes are a fruit – and frowned at the pale imitations where the real ones had been.

I meandered around the market for a few more minutes, shaking my head. “See you next year,” I said to no one in particular as I left.

The next day, at lunchtime, I sliced some Balderson cheddar and the last half of the last tomato.

My book,The Expat FilesMy Life in Journalism, is available from Amazon.com and Amazon Canada.