Next POTUS presser: Send in the Raging Bull

One of the great mysteries of our time is how the cowardly creep now in the White House has yet to be publicly reduced to a quivering, blubbering blob of orange Jell-O.

How has someone with the intelligence, vocabulary and personality of a sewer rat spouted so much shit for so long without anyone throwing it back in his face on camera?

I realize he never puts himself in a tough spot, goes only to safe spaces, surrounds himself with fellow fools and toadies.

But whose fault is it that during news conferences and one-on-one interviews no one ever lays a glove on him?

The most revealing moment of the 90-minute Q & A – mainly A – with the media last week came when CNN’s Jim Acosta attempted to address the effluent in the room.

While POTUS was insulting the reporter – “You are a rude, terrible person” – and an aide was trying to wrest the microphone from Acosta, at least five of his colleagues were raising their hands. Call on me, Mr. President … Please, Mr. President … Pretty please, with sugar on top.

Acosta - hands up

This was a time for White House press corps to be a corps. Fat chance. Not with this crowd.

I’ve been waiting for nearly two years for one of them to say: Mr. President, I have a followup question: What the fuck are you talking about?

Still waiting.

Meanwhile, the media continue to bring a briefcase to a gunfight. After the administration pulled Acosta’s White House pass, CNN fired off a lawsuit and the reporter got his piece of plastic back.

Big deal.

The only hope is to change the cast. Rewrite the script. Put De Niro in Acosta’s role at the next presidential press conference. No way Agent Orange – using his same words – dismisses and gets away with dissing the Raging Bull.

POTUS: I’m not concerned about anything on the Russia investigation because it’s a hoax. Put down the mic …

De Niro: Fuck you.

POTUS: CNN should be ashamed of itself having you working for them.

De Niro: The United States of America is ashamed of itself for having a douchebag in the White House.

POTUS: You are a rude, terrible person …

De Niro: You are an ignorant, racist motherfucker.

POTUS: You’re a very rude person.

De Niro: Get down here and I’ll kick your fat ass back to Queens.

POTUS: The way you treat Sarah Huckabee is horrible and the way you treat other people are (sic) horrible.

De Niro: As if you give a shit.

POTUS: You shouldn’t treat people that way.

De Niro: We’re coming for you, scumbag. Tell your pal Putin and your brain-dead followers – like the one who sent me a bomb – that your days are numbered.

POTUS: That’s enough.

De Niro: You talkin’ to me?

POTUS: That’s enough.

De Niro: Who the fuck do you think you’re talking to?

That last line, courtesy of Travis Bickle, would also be an appropriate followup question from the next reporter – besides Acosta, so far mainly black women – he attacks or insults.

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

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The Making of a Reporter 1968

Fifty years ago today, I walked into the scene of a family massacre in northern California.

Before the cops ordered me out, I’d looked down on the bodies of two little kids, their mom and killer dad, with his pistol at his side.

I was a few days shy of my 22nd birthday, only a couple of months into my first job as a reporter, with the Herald & News in Livermore, about an hour’s drive east of San Francisco.

I’d been covering mostly typical small-town tripe – meetings and petty crime – struggling with my unreliable two-finger typing and atrocious spelling, trying to learn AP style from a more experienced fellow reporter, Ron Iscoff.

I was chronically frustrated, periodically bored, and unsure I was even cut out for the news biz.

But, as I recount in this excerpt from my memoir, all that changed over a couple of days:

My education as a journalist seemed stalled until November 13, 1968. It was a week after Richard Nixon was elected president – I cast my first ever ballot for Eldridge Cleaver of the Black Panthers, who was the candidate of the Peace and Freedom Party.

On a Wednesday evening the next week, I was the only reporter in the office when a call on the police radio announced: “One-eighty-seven at 353 North I Street.”

I had learned the California police codes. I knew 187 was a homicide. I jumped in my Mustang and sped to North I Street. There was an empty cop car with lights flashing. I spotted a door wide open to a second-story apartment.

I walked in. The first thing I noticed was the place smelled like stale vomit. The second thing was that the television was on and, lying in front of it, on his stomach, was a young boy. He was wearing pajamas. He wasn’t moving.

I walked closer. The hair on the back of the boy’s head was matted with dried blood. I heard voices and followed the sound farther into the apartment.

I passed the small kitchen. Breakfast for four – untouched bowls of cereal, a quart of milk – was on the table. Entering a back bedroom, I saw three cops standing over a man’s body.

“What the hell are you doing here,” shouted one of them, the chief of police, John Michelis.

“The door was open,” I said, straining to look beyond them, into a closet, where two more bodies – a woman and little girl – were slumped in a corner.

“Well, get the hell out,” ordered the chief.

I stood outside and scribbled in my notebook, every detail I could remember. I noted the uneaten breakfast as evidence of when the murders might have been committed. I drew a diagram of the apartment and where the bodies lay. I should have been repulsed by what I’d seen. But I was excited.

Iscoff showed up. We decided – he decided – that I would stay at the scene and talk to the cops and neighbors, and he’d go back to the office and work the phones.

We had the name of the family and a strong hint from the cops that Paul Cranfill, 27, had shot his wife, Lynne, 25, and their two children – five-year-old Bobby and two-year-old Cathy – before turning his pistol on himself.

We collaborated on a pretty good story that night – me writing and Iscoff rewriting – including most of those Ws: who, what, when, where.  The next day we would try to figure out why.

We filled the front-page with an impressive amount of information gathered over only a few hours. The cops had told me that Cranfill’s brother, Carl, had come home at about 4 p.m., walked into the dark apartment – the lights were off and the drapes were drawn – and taken a two-hour nap on the living room couch, within a few feet of his nephew’s body.

He called the police when he saw the boy, apparently hoping he could be resuscitated – a word that sent me to the dictionary, since I was the world’s worst speller.

My uninvited walk through the crime scene gave us a good description of where the bodies were found. The cops told me it looked like a triple-murder-suicide and that all had been shot in the head. When I asked the chief if the breakfast dishes suggested the time of the crime, he confirmed it probably occurred that morning.

We got some good quotes from the owner of the small apartment complex – “they were a real happy family” and “excellent tenants” – and from Cranfill’s employer at an electronics factory, who called him “a good worker.”

We also learned that police had found a newspaper clipping on gun control. A neighbor who took target practice with Cranfill said he was “a good marksman.”

A search of the Herald morgue unearthed an article from the previous summer, when Lynne Cranfill had been featured as “Homemaker of the Week.” She had described her husband as “a kind person.” All this went into the story.

On the front page, the paper reprinted a photo that had accompanied the homemaker article, of Lynne Cranfill in the apartment with little Cathy and Bobby sitting beside her.

Cranfill - Lynn & kids
Note: Lynne Cranfill is identified only with the name of the husband who killed her

When the paper was put to bed that night, Iscoff and I had a celebratory drink and plotted the next day’s follow-ups.

For several more days, we shared a byline, alphabetically, me on top, and tried to get at what was in the killer’s head before he put a nine-millimeter slug in it.

We found out that Cranfill was a gun nut, that besides the murder weapon – a P38 semi-automatic – he also owned a .357 Magnum, a .22-caliber pistol and a .30-caliber carbine. He was also apparently nuts. A doctor told us Cranfill had a “paranoid-schizoid personality,” that he had been taking Thorazine, an antipsychotic tranquilizer, and that his family had been advised to put him in a mental hospital. His wife refused.

We learned that Cranfill was “up to his neck” in debt. “He must have owed well over $6,000” and had been planning to file for personal bankruptcy, a relative told us.

Iscoff and I had a good run with the story. The Cranfill tragedy wasn’t exactly the crime of the century but, for me, the rush was extraordinary, everything I’d hoped for when I stumbled into the newspaper racket. When it was over, I went back to covering meetings and checking the police blotter.

Chief Michelis, to punish me for invading his crime scene, called me into his office, sat me down for a good scolding, and showed me his photo collection of gunshot victims, mainly of men who had blown away their faces with shotguns. As Hemingway had, I thought.

Instead of puking my guts out, as Michelis had presumably expected, I asked questions about the story behind each picture.

* * *

What I now find repulsive is that Paul Cranfill shares a gravestone with the wife and kids he slaughtered.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The gravesite, at Memory Gardens Cemetery in Livermore, is about a mile and a half from the apartment where Lynne, Cathy and Bobby were shot dead.

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

In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida

Fifty years ago, one of my first assignments as a reporter provided a backstage press pass to a rock festival in northern California.

Wow, I thought, what a great gig this newspaper business, being paid to spend two days in the sunshine – peace, love, dope – listening to music and interviewing the folks who were making the music.

I was 21, a few weeks on the staff at the Herald & News in Livermore, only an hour’s drive east of San Francisco but a world away from the birthplace of the Beats and the hippies.

As I recount in this excerpt from my memoir, The Expat Files, that assignment was an inauspicious start to my career, missing a nearby “riot” while hanging out with the boys in the bands and my then-wife Anita:

She was very pregnant when she joined me backstage the last weekend in October for the San Francisco International Pop Festival, at the fairgrounds in the neighboring town of Pleasanton.

I was there providing the coverage, of course, as the resident cool kid on the Herald, able to translate into English the musical menu that included Iron Butterfly’s In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida; Procol Harum’s A Whiter Shade of Pale, The Animals’ House of the Rising Sun.

While Anita and I went home Saturday night, a couple of thousand people camped on the grounds for the next day’s show, which featured a new group that called itself Creedence Clearwater.

When I got back to the office late Sunday to write my story, my editor asked about the riot.

“What riot?”

“The police say five-hundred people crashed the gates, the cops had to call for reinforcements.”

“I didn’t see anything, or hear anything about that.”

I wrote my story …

PLEASANTON – “You and your damn music. I have to exercise my horse and the track is swarming with dirty hippies,” an elderly cowboy said walking his horse up and down the sidelines.

Thus, another nail was hammered into the generation-gap casket as a result of the San Francisco International Pop Festival, held at the Alameda County Fairgrounds in Pleasanton this weekend.

I inserted info from the cops. It ran under the headline: Pop Festival Success Despite Youth Melee.

Pop festival

It really wasn’t much of a melee. No injuries. No arrests. Just a bunch of kids climbing over fences to get free admission to the show.

I guess gatecrashing was big news in Livermore. Or maybe my editors knew the locals disapproved of all those “dirty hippies” invading their peaceful valley.

Like today, 1968 was a time of great division in the United States (and elsewhere). Young versus old. Hippies versus straights.

And the people who ran the Herald leaned straight/right on most issues.

It’s one of the reasons I left the next spring. Went home to New York.  Took a job on a magazine called Changes, which was going to be the East Coast answer to Rolling Stone.

It wasn’t. Only lasted a few months.

I moved on, was out of the country when Woodstock happened that summer, and was covering a terrorist trial in Zurich later in 1969 when the Rolling Stones concert at Altamont – in Livermore – descended to murderous chaos.

By then, my journalistic ambition did not include backstage passes at rock festivals, though the music of that time remains the music of my life.

Today, those music-makers are old – or dead, including two of the three who appear in my pictures published in the Herald.

Guitarist Erik Brann was only 18 when he played with Iron Butterfly that weekend in 1968. He died of a heart attack at the age of 52 in 2003.

Bob “Bear” Hite of Canned Heat was 25 when I interviewed him. He died of a heroin overdose during a gig at the Palomino Club in North Hollywood in 1981 at the age of 38.

The Herald & News is also dead. It was folded into a succession of regional papers and, after the mid-1980s, no longer had a newsroom in Livermore.

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

POTUS: ‘I can do whatever I want’

WASHINGTON (ENS) – President Trump recently discussed expropriating the hurricane-ravaged town of Mexico Beach, Florida, rebuilding it under a government contract awarded to his company, and renaming it Barron Beach after his youngest son.

“Look, I can do whatever I want – who’s going to stop me?” he said during a clandestinely recorded White House meeting with cabinet officers earlier this month.

“The Democrats are all talk and no action. Bunch of losers – no guts. I always win because they always choke like dogs.”

The president also proposed renaming every place in the U.S. that contains the word Mexico, as well as cities such as San Diego and San Antonio because they sound Spanish.

The meeting, soon after Hurricane Michael struck Florida on Oct. 10, was attended by Vice President Mike Pence, cabinet secretaries Kirstjen Nielsen (Homeland Security), Ryan Zinke (Interior), Betsy DeVos (Education), Rick Perry (Energy) and others.

Here is a transcript of the meeting, according to a recording provided by an administration source:

POTUS: Have you seen the TV?

PENCE: Which TV, Mr. President, you have several?

POTUS: The hurricane in Florida. What the hell you think I’m talking about? You got those beautiful beaches – not Palm Beach beautiful, but beautiful for the rednecks down there – and now they look like fucking Haiti.

NIELSEN: We’re doing everything we can, Mr. President …”

POTUS: How long to clean it up?

NIELSEN: It’s still a search and rescue operation.

POTUS: But we’re going to clean it up, right?

NIELSEN: It’s going to take a while, sir. The devastation is widespread.

POTUS: We should make it better. Build a nice big resort. You just clean it up and I’ll take it from there.

NIELSEN: Sir?

POTUS: You heard me. Clean up the mess. Get me the land and I’ll give it to my boys.

PENCE: What boys?

POTUS: Donnie and the other one.

PENCE: I don’t understand, Mr. President.

POTUS: Jesus! Don’t you people know anything about business? You bulldoze the crap away, clear the land, give my boys the money under some federal grant or some shit like that, and they’ll build a resort better than the trailer park or whatever shit was there before.

NIELSEN: But what about the people who live there?

POTUS: Pay ’em off.

PENCE: I don’t think we can do that, Mr. President.

POTUS: Look, I can do whatever I want – who’s going to stop me?

PENCE: We’ll have to get Congress to allocate the funds.

POTUS: What’s the problem?

PENCE: The other side …

POTUS (cuts him off, angry): The Democrats are all talk and no action. Bunch of losers – no guts. I always win because they always choke like dogs.

CROSSTALK INAUDIBLE

POTUS: And while we’re at it, I’m not thrilled that there are places in this country named Mexico. The kid told his mother that there are more than ten places across the country – besides that beach in Florida that looks like a shithole – named Mexico.

PENCE: What kid, Mr. President?

POTUS: My kid, the little one. After the hurricane, he did a school project on all the places in the United States named Mexico and asked Melania if I was going to do anything about that. Pretty smart, huh? So, Melania told me about it and she said the names of places are under the Department of the Interior. So, I ask you, what are we going to do about it?

ZINKE: Actually, sir, I think that’s a local jurisdiction.

POTUS: Well, I’ll just sign one of those executive orders banning places named Mexico. And we can start with that place in Florida, and since the kid thought of it, I think we should name it after him – after Donnie and the other one turn it into a nice resort.

PENCE:  Barron?

POTUS: Who?

PENCE: Your son. You want to rename Mexico Beach for Barron?

POTUS: Sure, it was his idea. (Long pause.) I wanted to name the kid Prince, but then Melania reminded me of that black singer named Prince – he worked for me, weird guy, I think he’s dead – so we talked about Duke, but that sounded too much like a dog, and Earl sounded like trailer park trash, so she came up with Barron.

DEVOS: True royalty, sir. And Barron Beach will be a testament to your administration that will live forever.

POTUS: The Trump International Hotel and Resort at Barron Beach. (Long pause.) Now what are we going to do about all these other places?

ZINKE: What other places, Mr. President.

POTUS: Like New Mexico. Change the name to East Texas.

PERRY: It’s west, sir.

POTUS: I know it’s out west.

PERRY: Yes, sir. But New Mexico is west of Texas.

POTUS: Whatever. And while we’re at it, let’s change San Diego and San Antonio and all those other sans. What the hell does san mean?”

PERRY: It means saint.

POTUS: What are we going to do about that? We shouldn’t have any places named Mexico because Mexicans think it’s okay to live here. It’s the same thing with those sanscities.

PERRY (chuckles): You want to rename San Antonio Saint Anthony?

POTUS: Why not?

PERRY: Heck, for one thing, all them Jews in Texas will be up in arms.

POTUS: Any of those Texas Jews on our side?

PERRY: Not many, sir, but our ladies sure like shoppin’ at Neiman Marcus.

CROSSTALK INAUDIBLE

POTUS: Betsy, this whole Mexico business got me thinking – and then I saw something on the shows about kids in our schools being allowed to speak Spanish in class and how that’s hurting the white kids who just have to sit there and don’t know what the hell they’re talking about.

DEVOS: I’ll take a look at that, Mr. President.

POTUS: Good. That’s enough for now. I’ve got some pressing business with Ivanka.

Keep an eye out for the next dispatch from the Expat News Service (ENS).

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

Thanksgiving cold turkey

I’ve kicked my addiction to cable news. Maybe it wasn’t an addiction after all. Just a bad habit.

It’s like when I quit drinking four years ago. One day I woke up and found the taste of alcohol repulsive. (More on that later.) Same with cable news.

For more than a year, up until 10 days ago, I must have spent five or six hours a day switching between MSNBC and CNN. It’s always the same – the latest clip or tweet from the grotesque creature in the White House, followed by endless too-polite chatter confirming he’s an ignorant fool, corrupt to the core, and his party is evil.

It’s not as if they do anything.

I finally decided: No mas.

Maybe it was because I’d spent a pleasant three days going cold turkey with family over the Canadian Thanksgiving weekend.

Or maybe because when the last of our visitors were gone, I turned on CNN and saw wind-whipped, rain-soaked reporters hyperventilating about the weather in Florida.

Or, maybe it was the denouement of the Kavanaugh farce.

Whatever the reason, it seemed hazardous to my health. I didn’t have the shakes. No withdrawal symptoms. I just starting filling my TV time with movies – watched Molly’s Game for the second time, bathed in Sorkin’s words – and baseball.

It was reminiscent of my break from booze, coming up on four years now, as I recount in my memoir, The Expat Files:

Just after my sixty-eighth birthday, in late November 2014, I gave up drinking. I hadn’t planned on it. Hadn’t taken the pledge. It just happened.

I was sick in bed for about a week. Not sure what was wrong. Linda checked my symptoms on the internet. I either had an intestinal flu, kidney failure, or cholera. Didn’t go to a doctor. Didn’t get a diagnosis.

When I came out of it, I felt okay. That evening, as was my habit, I poured a glass of red wine. Tasted awful. That was it. Not a drop since.

Same with cable news. I can’t imagine I’ll miss Anderson Cooper or Don Lemon, Nicolle Wallace or Rachel Maddow.

I know I’m not any less informed. I still check the headlines. Dig deeper when I feel the need.

Feel confident that when I send my absentee ballot to Maine – the last state where I lived in the U.S. – I know who I’m voting for and why: Angus King is a smart guy and deserves a return ticket to the Senate, and I hope to help get rid of the only red stain in the House from New England.

I’ll tune in on election night and watch the results. And, if the Dems win the House and/or the Senate,  I’ll raise a glass – of Pellegrino – wishing them good luck in toppling the Orange One.

After that? Who knows.  I know I’ve visited this territory before.

Right after the results of the 2016 election were in, I stopped watching the news on television and canceled my digital subscriptions to the Washington Post and New York Times.

I’ve appreciated their reporting since the election, absorbed the key elements of their scoops. But I haven’t missed the Times or the Post, since there was so little worth reading.

And my declaration of No Mas in 2017 was not an April Fool’s joke.

For me, it seems, American politics is a tougher habit to break than booze. I was thirteen when I was hooked on JFK in 1960 – a couple of years before I had my first drink.

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

Beto hit with Dems’ dilemma

There was a story this week that highlighted how Republicans and Democrats play politics by a different set of rules.

While the Letch in Chief and his court of eunuchs unashamedly promoted a suspected sexual predator for the Supreme Court, a rising Democratic star apologized for a theater review he wrote as a college kid.

Robert Francis “Beto” O’Rourke, hailed by some as the second-coming of Robert Francis “Bobby” Kennedy, is a long tall Texan who has brimmed with youthful vigor and no-bullshit eloquence in his Senate race against the odious Ted Cruz.

O’Rourke’s August speech standing up for NFL players who take a knee during the national anthem showed more guts than anything I’d heard from a politician in a long time. And watching Willie Nelson introduce a new song – Vote ’Em Out– at a Beto rally last weekend hit a soft spot.

But then, a couple of days later, O’Rourke faced the modern-day Dems’ dilemma when confronted with a piece of his past that might offend the zero-tolerance wing of his party.

Back in 1991, when he was a freshman at Columbia, Beto wrote a sophomoric review of a Broadway musical called The Will Rogers Follies for the student newspaper. It included this line:

Keith Carradine in the lead role is surrounded by perma-smile actresses whose only qualifications seem to be their phenomenally large breasts and tight buttocks.

An O’Rourke detractor, presumably an agent of the Cruz campaign, forwarded the review to Politico right in the middle of the shitstorm over Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination.

Politico sought comment from the candidate. A savvy campaign manager might have rolled the dice, told Politico to stuff it, that the story obviously had no news value.

But Beto took the bait. “I am ashamed of what I wrote and I apologize,” he told Politico. “There is no excuse for making disrespectful and demeaning comments about women.”

The quote made it a story. It fed a morsel to the beast of cable news and made for headlines in all the wrong places.

Beto - Fox

In the dingbat logic of 2018 politics, some drew a parallel between O’Rourke’s theater review and the allegation a shitfaced Kavanaugh committed sexual assault. After all, both happened a long time ago when they were teenagers.

The response from each man followed his party’s playbook: Kavanaugh denied everything and O’Rourke cried mea cupla.

Jeez, Beto, you were a 19-year-old Ivy League smarty-pants. It’s not as if you got stinking drunk, crashed a showgirl’s dressing room, and tried to rape her.

Besides, your appraisal of the actresses was endorsed at the time by New York’s most eligible adulterer whose girlfriend, Marla Maples, exhibited her qualifications when she landed a part in Follies en route to becoming the second Mrs. Trump.

Marla Maples
Vanity Fair spread in 1990

Today, with the Republicans led by a confessed pussy-grabber who screwed a porn star without a condom, Democrats need to figure out how do the right thing without running scared.

It’s not the ’60s when JFK got away with comforting Marilyn between the sheets because the press didn’t look beyond the Do Not Disturb sign on the bedroom door.

It’s not the ’70s when the pious Jimmy Carter saw his campaign in a tailspin after he confessed: “Christ said, ‘I tell you that anyone who looks on a woman with lust has in his heart already committed adultery.’ I’ve looked on a lot of women with lust. I’ve committed adultery in my heart many times.”

It’s not the ’80s when one photo of Gary Hart with Donna Rice blew up his run for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Gary Hart

By the ’90s, Bill Clinton could have saved himself, his party and his country a lot of grief if he said, Yeah, I got a blowjob. Next question.

Voters didn’t seem to care. His poll numbers kept climbing anyway.

But Bubba has turned into a political pariah in the era of MeToo.

Maybe that’s what Beto O’Rourke was thinking about when faced with phenomenally large breasts and tight buttocks earlier this week. That the political climate can get stormy in a flash for Democrats – just ask Hillary about the fealty of the left – while Republicans unflinchingly weather Stormy.

I’m just glad I’m not a politician and don’t give a damn what anybody thinks when they read a line in my memoir referring to “Jane Fonda’s pointy tits in Barbarella.”

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

Déjà vu all over again?

While this year’s Boston Red Sox have been a joy to watch, I’ve got that old feeling that failure is inevitable in October.

I have zero confidence in their pitching, which reminds me of all those seasons when the best of times became the worst of times.

Or were the worst of times really the best of times? Was I a sucker for the angst – THE CURSE – before  2004?

Must be – since I took little pleasure when the Sox won two more World Series within a few years.

My favorite team was the 1978 edition, perhaps because I saw so much of Yaz & Co during my one year as a baseball writer, for the Toronto Sun.

Forty years ago today, I was in the press box at Fenway Park watching Fucking Bucky Dent – or, as some prefer, Bucky Fucking Dent – and the Yanks beat the home side in a one-game playoff for the American League East title.

As I recall in this excerpt from my memoir, The Expat Files, it was the final gut-punch in a season that began with great expectations in spring training:

Bosox - Yaz
Yaz 

I took a drive to Winter Haven, the Florida home of the Boston Red Sox. I had a rooting interest in the Sox since a visit to Boston in the fall of 1967, when they won the pennant on the final day of the season.

I fell in love with their star, Carl Yastrzemski, who seemed to come to bat in every crucial situation and come through with a home run or a game-winning double off the wall. I was disappointed when the Sox lost that 1967 World Series but also elated that I was engaged in baseball for the first time since the Dodgers left Brooklyn.

In Winter Haven, I watched Yaz in the batting cage, working up a sweat in the gloom of a foggy morning, under the watchful eye of the great Ted Williams. “This is probably the best hitting team I’ve ever seen,” Teddy Ballgame told me.

I received the same appraisal from the Sox manager, Don Zimmer, when I joined the Boston writers in his office that morning. Zimmer, a little Popeye look-alike, was derisively nicknamed “the gerbil” by his hippie-dippy pitcher, Bill “Spaceman” Lee …

On this day, the Sox manager was spitting confidence his powerful lineup would win the pennant after losing it to the damn Yankees the past two seasons.

I reckoned he was right. But, being a Sox fan, I assumed they’d find a way to blow it …

1978 - Williams and Zim
Ted Williams and Don Zimmer in the final days of the 1978 season

… Boston had collapsed over the summer, their fourteen-game lead over the Yanks evaporating in the heat of August and early September.

Since the Jays played their last twelve games of the season against the Yanks and Sox, I had a press box seat for the closing act.

Boston had regained its form to close within one game of the Yanks entering the final game on the schedule. When the Indians beat the Yankees and the Sox beat the Jays, Boston and New York were tied for first place. The division title would be decided in a one-game playoff the next day at Fenway …

The next morning, I caught a cab outside the hotel and asked the driver to take me to Fenway.

“Going to the game?” he asked.

“Yeah, it’s my job,” I said. “I’m a writer.”

“Which paper?”

“One in Toronto,” I said.

“Tough season for Toronto,” he said.

“Yeah,” I said. “Last place. Another hundred losses.”

“What do you think of the Sox chances?” he said.

“I’m a Sox fan,” I confided, “so I guess I expect the worst and hope for the best.” He laughed in recognition.

We pulled up to the press entrance to Fenway. I checked the meter and reached for my wallet.

“Forget it,” said the cabbie. “I like you guys from Toronto. It was nice talking to you.”

It was a perfect New England day, blue sky, bright sun, a hint of fall in the air.

I found my assigned spot in the press box, dumped my typewriter and scorebook on the table, and went to the dining room. There was a choice of baked cod or roasted veal. I had the veal, with roasted potatoes and a salad.

The New York writers were there, of course, so the volume in the room was turned up a notch or three. By this time, after five years in Canada, I thought I’d lost my New York accent, a mission I’d been on since I left home in 1968. Somehow, I found it more seemly to be a know-it-all New Yorker without saying caw-fee.

I certainly didn’t want to be associated with loudmouthed New York sports fans, especially after seeing big-haired women at Yankee stadium coated with makeup, wearing painted on designer jeans and tight T-shirts that read Boston Sucksor Yaz Has VD.

Fenway was full early for the Monday afternoon playoff game, 32,925 crammed into the little ballpark. Yaz, ever heroic, hit a home run in the second inning and Jim Rice knocked in another in the sixth to give Boston a 2-0 lead.

But in the top of the seventh, the Yanks had a couple of runners on with two out when their most anemic hitter, Bucky Dent, came to the plate. He hit a fly ball toward the thirty-seven-foot-high Green Monster in left. Yaz, playing left field, seemed prepared to make the catch and end the inning. But the baseball gods, ever Yankee fans, lifted the ball over the wall.

1978 - BUCKY DENT
Dent greeted at home by teammates

That put the Yanks ahead and every Boston fan from Fenway to Fiji knew the game – and the season – was over. Sure, the Sox rallied a bit. But Yaz popped out, with the winning runs on the bases, to end the game and any suspense.

I watched that last half-inning from the stands, behind the seats along the third base line, sharing the inevitable pain with the Fenway faithful. Littered copies of an extra edition of the Boston Globe, distributed earlier in the ballpark, were illustrated with a six-inning linescore under the front-page headline: SOX AHEAD.

I made my rounds of the two clubhouses, the champagne and euphoria in the winners’ room, the beer and gloom of the losers. My story in the next day’s Toronto Sun was a Sox fan’s lament.

BOSTON – It wasn’t supposed to end that way. It wasn’t right to break the hearts of the people of New England, just when their spirits were starting to rise, just when their expectations were at their highest.

October in New England offers the promise of two things: The leaves changing colors and the Red Sox playing for the world championship of baseball. Now, one is dead.

I whined on from there and closed the story with a quote from Yaz. “The last three weeks, with our backs to the wall, we played like champions. But now, there’s just tremendous disappointment.”

1978 - Yaz after game
A disconsolate Yaz after the game in this shot captured by Michael Maher of the Lowell (Mass.) Sun 

The next day, I flew home to Toronto, called (the Sun), quit my job and packed the car. Linda and I drove to the coast of Maine to look at the damn leaves.

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

 

One Flake not a blizzard of righteousness

No matter what happens to the raving lunatic the Republicans are trying to put on the Supreme Court, it’s going to take a lot more than a flash of conscience from Jeff Flake and a blue wave in November to cleanse Washington of the rancid stench of the GOP.

Even if Brett Kavanaugh is sent packing – goes home, gets drunk, gropes the babysitter, blacks out, and wakes up at the Yale Club in Elba – there is still a long list of right-wing political hacks in black robes ready to step up.

They know the job description: Do the bidding of powerful bloodsucking billionaires at the expense of everybody else while conning the zealots and rubes – Jesus freaks, gun nuts, coal miners, Trump University alumni – by stripping rights from minorities and women.

(Most Republicans politicians don’t give a shit about fetuses. They just want the power to tell some teenage girl: You have to have that baby and when you can’t afford to house and feed the kid, you’re on your own.)

The GOP mantra was emblazoned on the jacket of The Third Wife last June when she went to check out children kidnapped at the border.

Melania

 

The message – I really don’t care. Do you? – could serve as a thought bubble in every cartoon of a Republican politician answering questions:

Have you ever considered right versus wrong? Don’t care.

Truth versus lies? Don’t care.

Facts versus bullshit? Don’t care.

Poisoned water in Flint? Don’t care.

Babies in cages? Don’t care.

Russians in the woodwork? Don’t care.

Even if the Democrats take the House – and the Senate – in the midterms, Putin’s Agent Orange will still be in the Oval Office.

Even if Robert Mueller brands the president, his family and campaign a criminal enterprise and subsidiary of the Kremlin, Dumbass Donnie won’t walk away without doing something batshit crazy – riling up hordes of ignorant, racist, paranoid, hair-trigger white folks.

Remember when he said “Second Amendment people” might take care of Hillary if he lost?

When Nixon finally quit, he said: “As president, I must put America first.”

When Gerry Ford was sworn in the next day, he declared: “Our long national nightmare is over.”

I remember Watergate well. At the time, the coverup seemed to take forever to unravel:

  • May 17, 1973 – Senate Watergate hearings begin; special prosecutor appointed the next day.
  • Oct. 20, 1973 – Saturday night massacre.
  • May 9, 1974 – Impeachment hearings begin.
  • July 24, 1974 – Supreme Court rules Nixon must surrender the tapes.
  • Aug. 9, 1974 – Adios Tricky Dick.

When the corruption and criminality became clear, it was Republicans who took the sharpest knife to Nixon. On the Senate Watergate committee, Lowell Weicker of Connecticut was perhaps the smartest and toughest questioner of all the president’s men in the witness chair.

Lowell Weicker

The latest national nightmare has already lasted months longer – nonstop screaming meemies since November 9, 2016 – with no end in sight.

Forget the Republicans coming to the rescue this time.

The GOP side of the Senate committee running the Kavanaugh hearing, before the nothing-to-lose-lame-duck Flake engineered an investigation of the creepy judge, was unanimous in its indifference:

Alleged sexual predator? Don’t care.

Serial liar? Don’t care.

Crazed conspiracy theorist? Don’t care.

Rageaholic? Don’t care.

Even if Kavanaugh is replaced by a less vulnerable Republican reactionary, the court will still have a majority hell-bent on taking the country back to the Gilded Age, a shithole of corruption in a gold-plated outhouse.

Even if Trump is hauled off in handcuffs or a straightjacket, Pastor Pence – a more stable, dependable Republican stooge – will still be next in line.

Whatever happens, don’t hold your breath waiting for any leaders of the red team to turn blue. And that includes the onetime never-Trumpers.

Mitt Romney solicited – and received – the president’s endorsement in his current campaign in Utah for the U.S. Senate.

George Bush is campaigning for GOP candidates and calling senators to vote for his old pal Brett Kavanaugh.

Republicans First! America second.

Russian T-shirts
Supporters wearing “I’d rather be Russian than Democrat” T-shirts at a Trump rally in Ohio in August

Talk about a Red Scare. This is what you get from 50 years of fear-mongering – from Nixon to Reagan, Bush to Bush, the Tea Party to the Freedom Caucus. GOP uber alles.

One spark of integrity from one Flake won’t catch fire in Trumpistan, where Der Leader has warned of violence if the Democrats win the midterms.

Sounds like another call to those “Second Amendment people.”

P.S. – I have my absentee ballot and I’m going to vote anyway.

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

The UN speech he wanted to give

Despite Dumbass Donnie’s unintended laugh line at the top of his speech to the UN General Assembly on Tuesday, the rest provoked high anxiety. There is no telling the reaction if he had delivered this speech he dictated personally to his caddie, Rudy Giuliani, during a round of golf last weekend at his New Jersey resort:

I look out across this room and see many people from many places – some nice, some not so nice.

All of you people are lucky to be in the United States of America, the greatest and richest country in the world.

Those of you who are visiting are welcome to enjoy this great city that is home to a dozen fabulous Trump properties as long as you have all your papers in order – because they will be checked at the door on the way out.

Those of you who are lucky enough to be living in New York don’t have to be told you are just a few steps from the magnificent Trump World Tower.

If you’re not already in residence or on the waiting list, my sons Don Jr. and Eric are out in the hall to help you find out if you qualify. It’s very exclusive. We don’t let anybody in, you know.

My lovely daughter Ivanka and her husband Jared are here as well.  As you know, Ivanka is my very special assistant and Jared is in charge of the Middle East.

Just ask my friend Bibi Netanyahu what a great job Jared is doing. I wouldn’t be surprised that by the time I leave office – in six or seven or more years from now – there will be luxury condominiums from the Red Sea to the Persian Gulf.

Which brings me to Iran and its leader, who I call Graybeard the Pirate.

Obama gave them billions and billions of dollars to play nice. But they just went ahead and laughed in our faces. Well, the party’s over.

By the time I get through with Iran the terrorist regime will be drowning in its own oil.

And it will be the same with Venezuela and its leader, who I call the Frito Bandito.

Venezuela is really, you know, a puppet of Cuba, with both trying to spread socialism to all the most beautiful beachfront locations on the Caribbean Sea. What a waste!

Speaking of oil, one of the great tragedies of our time is that some of the world’s most precious natural resources are being used for evil, not good.

By the time I leave office – in six or seven or more years from now – tens of thousands of American miners will be back on the job, power plants will again be burning American coal, and American oil will be gushing from the ocean floor, from California to Alaska.

We won’t be paying for pipelines to bring oil from other countries – like Germany is from Russia. NO COLLUSION.

The way things are going, Germany’s leader – I call her Brunhilda – will be a puppet of Russia. NO COLLUSION.

You can’t blame President Putin for being a good businessman and a strong leader. NO COLLUSION.

Another great leader is my friend Kim Jong Un. Did you know that his last name spells U-N?

Since Chairman Kim and I met in Singapore last June, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo – I call him Big Mike – has been to North Korea many times and delivered our plans for the beachfront condominiums and golf resort I promised in exchange for North Korea’s nuclear weapons.

I am here to report that we are close to a deal and the world has never been a safer and more prosperous place – never in history – than under my presidency.

The American people understand this and it’s time all of you did too. Without the United States, the world would be in mortal danger and total chaos.

And it’s time you – all of you – started paying your fair share for the security and prosperity the United States provides.

That’s what’s happening under my trade policies, which I call the Trump Doctrine.

I learned a long time ago, from my Jewish friends here in New York, that the best way to live, the best way to do business, is to buy wholesale and sell retail.

So, from now on, all of you – and that includes you, China – will sell your products to the United States at wholesale prices and buy our products retail – even if I have to go to a 1,000-percent tariff on every Made in China T-shirt to make that happen.

And for those of you who produce nothing worth buying, I have news for you too.

This place, this building taking up prime real estate on the East River, is being privatized and rebranded as a Trump property.

A payment schedule for office space is being delivered to your  missions here in Manhattan, and those who don’t comply can pack up and go back to your shithole countries.

It’s time to make America profitable again.

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

Hell on wheels

Thirty-six years ago today, this American became what was called a “landed” immigrant in Canada. (It’s now called a permanent resident.)

My expatriation came after my wife Linda and I had a brief sojourn in Maine, where I worked on the Waterville Morning Sentinel; after our son Sean was born there and died two days later; after we found a house in Toronto.

All I had to do was go to Maine, pick up our stuff, and drive back. But, as I recount in this excerpt from my memoir, The Expat Files, the journey proved painful.

I rented a big mother truck, not as big as an Allied Van Line but not exactly a U-Haul either. Drove the Trans-Canada Highway to Montreal, followed the freeway to Sherbrooke, crossed the border at Woburn, Quebec-Coburn Gore, Maine, and followed a familiar route through mountains, past lakes, down to Waterville. The ten-hour drive took more than twelve hours in the big mother truck.

That night, I slept in the truck, in the driveway of the three-bedroom house of a former Sentinel colleague and his wife. “Thanks for the hospitality,” I said before turning in …

When I awoke with the sun in the cab of the truck, I could hardly breathe. Or, more accurately, I could breathe just fine but every breath hurt like hell. Can you break a rib sleeping?

The host of the driveway was kind enough to let me use the phone. I’d never been to a doctor in the area. The only ones I knew were Linda’s obstetrician and Sean’s pediatrician for the day and a half he was alive in Waterville.

I called the pediatrician, Dorothy Eisengart. We had corresponded after Sean’s death and she knew I was going to be in town. She had asked that I stop by. When I phoned her office that morning I was told to come right over.

Dr. Eisengart was still awaiting the final post-mortem report on Sean. But she diagnosed my ailment in a few minutes – pleurisy, an inflammation of the lung tissue. She gave me a prescription, and enough antibiotics and painkillers to get me home.

Properly doped up, a couple of kids helped me load the truck at the house in the woods in Clinton. I was okay to lift and carry, as long as breathing wasn’t involved. I hauled pillows and blankets and the like. They did the rest.

I was on the road in early afternoon. Followed the same route back through the Maine woods, about three hours to the Quebec border at Woburn, a shack and two customs’ guys.

I had all my papers ready, an inventory of our belongings and my immigration documents … All I had to do was drive the big mother truck a few more feet and I was landed.

“You cannot cross here,” said the border guard, a young skinny guy with a moustache and a French accent.

“Whattaya mean?”

“We cannot process your papers here.”

“Why not?”

“There are only so many ports of entry for immigration.”

“Why the fuck didn’t somebody tell me that before I drove all the way up here?” I was steamed. My chest hurt. I wanted a cigarette, but knew inhaling would make it hurt more. I climbed down from the cab of the truck and leaned back against the door.

The French-Canadian’s customs’ sidekick had wandered over to watch the show. I’d caught him smirking from the door of the border shack.

“Is there a problem here?” he asked. No two solitudes at this remote corner of Quebec. English and French working in concert.

“I’m just explaining to this gentleman that he cannot immigrate here,” said Officer French.

“Then what’s the problem?” said Officer English.

They appeared entertained. I was in pain and dreading my next question. “Where do I have to go?”

“The closest port of entry for immigration is Saint Stephen,” said Officer English.

“Why the hell would I want to go to New Brunswick?” Saint Stephen is where we entered Canada from Calais, Maine, on our trip earlier that summer.

“Where is it that you are going?” asked Officer French.

“Toronto.”

“Ah,” he said, “then the nearest port of entry would be Rock Island.”

“Where the hell is that?”

“Vermont,” Officer English said. He was smirking again.

“Vermont!” I walked off, a few paces, back in the direction of the United States. I was breathing heavily and hurting badly. The concept of taking deep breaths to calm down didn’t work with pleurisy. I tried to clear my head, not think about how far I was from home, how many more hours I’d be at the wheel of the big mother truck.

I didn’t want to talk to these guys anymore. I climbed back into the cab and started to roll. It took four tries, forward and back, to complete a U-turn. I worked my way through the gears, got up some speed and stopped at the first gas station. Bought a map. Plotted a route that would take me to the border at Derby Line, Vermont-Rock Island, Quebec.

It turned out to be a six-hour detour across northern New England, mostly on two-lane roads, in the dark, washing down painkillers with Coke, to the border crossing. I arrived just before 10 p.m.

Unlike the narrow goat track where I met Officer French and Officer English, here were several lanes feeding into booths staffed by border agents.

I got in a lane reserved for big mother trucks, waited my turn, and presented my documents to a young woman in a crisp uniform with a starchy demeanor. “Pull over there,” she ordered, pointing to a long, one-story building, “and give your papers to the immigration officer inside.”

Déjà vu. Surrey, B.C., 1973 (when I first came to Canada). But this time I was prepared. Or so I thought.

The immigration officer stamped my passport. Did the same with the appropriate form to seal my landing. “Are you bringing any goods into Canada?”

I laughed. It hurt. I told him I had a truck filled with stuff. He summoned a customs’ officer. I met the guy outside. We walked over to the truck.

“Take everything out for inspection,” he instructed.

“You’re fucking kidding me.”

He glared at me. Tough guy. I glared back. Mexican standoff. Wrong border. Canadian standoff.

I opened the back double-doors of the truck. Extended my arm toward the jumble of furniture and boxes inside. “Be my guest, but there’s no fucking way I’m taking anything out.”

I stood my ground. He blinked first, turned on a flashlight and climbed into the truck.

I succumbed to a cigarette. Coughed. Cringed. Coughed. Cringed. I stamped out the smoke and sat on a curb. The bastard took his time.

It was nearly midnight when I was on the road again. More than seven hours later, after dawn, more than twenty-four hours after I awakened in Waterville, I arrived in Toronto.

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