Inside baseball

The photo above shows Mark Fidrych talking to the ball before delivering a pitch on Opening Day in Detroit forty years ago today.

I was in the press box in Tiger Stadium on April 7, 1978, covering my first major league game as a baseball beat writer, for the Toronto Sun. (More on me later.)

Two years earlier, Fidrych had been a 21-year-old sensation, voted 1976 Rookie of the Year in the American League.

Tall, with long curly hair and a goofy grin, he was nicknamed “The Bird” because of his supposed resemblance to Big Bird.

He was known as much for his eccentric on-field behavior – talking to himself as well as the ball, getting down on his knees to play in the dirt on the mound, like a kid in a sandbox – as for his pithing proficiency. He  was on the cover of Rolling Stone as well as Sports Illustrated.

But his star burned out quickly. A series of injuries limited Fidrych to fewer than 30 games over the next four years. He was done at the age of 25.

He died, at 54, in a truck accident on his farm in his native Massachusetts, in 2009.

I recall that Opening Day in 1978 in my book, though The Bird was edited out in the chapter that begins with my first trip on the road with the Toronto Blue Jays. What follows is an earlier draft of that passage, which notes Fidrych’s performance. (And here is his line in my scorebook.)

Scorecard

Flying north from Florida with the Blue Jays, I was as anxious as the players and coaches to get the season going. It’s a cliché to say that all teams start with a clean slate, but it really does have that feeling, that anything can happen over the next six months, 162 games. Not that the Jays had a chance to win the pennant, but maybe they wouldn’t be as awful as everybody expected.

This was also my first taste of travel with a big-league ballclub. The players, by contract, flew first class, which meant the twenty-five young men took up the forward cabin on the wide-bodied Lockheed TriStar, L-1011, on the flight from Tampa to Detroit. The manager, coaches, travel secretary Mike Cannon, trainer Ken Carson and the writers, had the first rows of seats in coach. We all had the same luggage: large, gray, hard-sided Samsonite suitcases. In the pampered world of professional sports, players – and the rest of us, who tagged along – were not required to handle their own luggage, except to and from home. Someone else put the bags on the bus, on the plane, on another bus, and turned them over to hotel bellboys who delivered them to our rooms.

The charter bus picked us up at the airport in Detroit and deposited us at the Westin in the new Renaissance Center complex. In 1978, Motown was not a place for sightseeing, unless you enjoyed the sight of buildings still burned out from the 1967 riots or wanted the thrill of being robbed at gunpoint. So, the baseball lifestyle of hanging around the hotel seemed like a good idea.

After opening day was rained out, I spent a lot of time in my room, watching TV, reading, talking to Linda on the phone and ordering room service. Since my paper paid the team for my accommodations, my only obligation on checkout was to pay for incidentals such as phone calls and room-service charges.

Despite the rainout, there was a story to file. The day before, the Jays had bought John Mayberry from the Kansas City Royals and he’d just arrived in Detroit to join the team. There was a news conference to meet Mayberry, a genuine slugger capable of hitting thirty home runs in a season. Teaming with Rico Carty, the Jays had two power threats in the middle of their lineup.

The next day, the season began in warm sunshine at Tiger Stadium, filled to the rafters with kids and grownups playing hooky. The game, though, pretty much set the tone for the rest of the season for the Toronto team. The Tigers sent out pitcher Mark “The Bird” Fidrych, who unceremoniously mowed down the Jays, going all nine innings in a 6-2 win.

As for my major league debut, I followed the other writers on their appointed rounds. The pregame ritual included hanging around the cage during batting practice, chatting with the coaches and the managers; setting up my typewriter at my assigned spot in the press box; joining my fellow scribes in the private dining room for the complimentary pregame meal.

During the game, I dutifully kept score in my genuine baseball writer’s scorebook – shipped directly from the genuine baseball writer’s scorebook company in Cincinnati – ate the available free snacks and drank the free beer and listened to the wisecracks of the hometown Detroit writers – mainly going on about designated hitter Rusty Staub, speculating on his sexual predilections.

After the game, I dashed down to the clubhouses, talked to Jays’ manager Roy Hartsfield and the pipe-smoking Tigers’ manager Sparky Anderson, went back to the press box to write my story and hand it page by page to the gofer who delivered it to the Western Union operator who transmitted it to the Sun.

It would generally take me about the same time to write a story as it would take the players to shower, dress, eat their free postgame meal and drink their free beer, which would mean we’d arrive at the bus for the ride back to the hotel at about the same time.

All of these chores would become routine, some more onerous than others, depending on the city and ballpark.

On my first trip with the team to Texas, I bought a new pair of cowboy boots because it was the style of the day and all the cool baseball folks wore cowboy boots. But the footwear also proved practical for the postgame walk to the clubhouses in Arlington, which were down the outfield lines, requiring a walk through the stands where giant cockroaches had moved in to feast on all the litter of ballpark chow.

If you’d like to read more about my baseball-writing career, and how it nearly destroyed my lifelong love of the game, here is a link to order The Expat Files: My Life in Journalism.

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Sea lions and dingoes and roos, oh my!

When I was doing the final edit of my book, one of the most painful cuts was a chapter I called ‘Eats Roots and Leaves,’ detailing the best trip of my travel-writing career – ten days in Australia. Here it is, with some of my photos of the critters I met in Oz:

Dingo

In January 2000, I flew from Toronto to Los Angeles on Air Canada, in coach, then boarded a Qantas 747 in business class for the fourteen-hour flight to Sydney.

When I had flown in my younger days, I was always relieved when the no-smoking sign went dark after takeoff. For one thing, I took it as a sign we weren’t going to crash. For another, it meant I could light a cigarette.

Drinking and smoking had gotten me through many long-haul flights. But, by 2000, nearly all airlines worldwide, including Qantas, had banned smoking. Drinking, however, was encouraged, especially in business class, where my fellow passengers began the flight with cocktails and moved on to wine with dinner. I abstained, having decided years before that I didn’t want to arrive at any destination either loaded or hung over.

I had brought along a carry-on bag filled with books. I read Carl Hiaasen’s Sick Puppy cover to cover while my seatmate and most others got a full night’s sleep. I don’t sleep on planes.

Arriving in Sydney just after dawn, I was met by a uniformed chauffeur, who put my bags in the trunk of a black Mercedes and drove me to my waterfront hotel near the Harbour Bridge. I would have a driver on all my travels this trip, as well as a guide when I ventured into the wilds of Oz.

In arranging my itinerary before leaving Canada, I stressed: No small planes! But I was conned into a seaplane from Sydney to Whale Beach for lunch at a cliff-top restaurant called Jonah’s.

I regretted it as soon as I climbed into one of the two seats behind the pilot. My companion, a nice lady from the Australian Tourist Commission, pointed out the sights while I sat with my eyes closed and my knees turning to mush. When we finally landed, fifteen minutes later, a boat had to get us because the plane lost power and couldn’t taxi to the dock.

“I hope there’s another way back,” I told the nice lady, “because there’s no fucking way I’m getting in that thing again.”

She laughed and promised to call a taxi for the return trip.

“There’s a land route!”

“Sure, but it takes about an hour back to Sydney,” she said.

“I wouldn’t care if it took a month.”

It didn’t matter. The plane was broken.

In the city, I researched assignments in advance of that summer’s Olympics interviewed the mayor and other bigshots. But my excursions into the less populated corners of Australia were the most memorable.

Leaving Sydney – business-class on Qantas, of course – I flew to Brisbane, where I was picked up by a young woman who told me a joke I never forgot – after revealing that “roots” is Aussie slang for having sex.

Q: Why is a man like a wombat?

A: He eats roots and leaves.

She drove me up the Sunshine Coast. We stopped for lunch – I ate a “bug,” a lobster-like sea creature – at a beachside restaurant in Noosa and saw a kookaburra sitting in an old gum tree.

Kookaburra

It was another three hours or so to the ferry at River Heads, followed by a thirty-minute sunset cruise to the Kingfisher Bay resort on Fraser Island. Dinner was in the open-air Seabelle restaurant, which provided one of the best leads I’ve ever written:

I was dining on kangaroo fillets when the dingo strolled into the restaurant.

Not a bad opening line, either, if I ever set a novel Down Under.

My next stop was Kangaroo Island, where I pleasantly overdosed on shooting wildlife – with my Nikon – and there was nothing but saltwater between me and Antarctica.

The island was lousy with exotic birds: enormous wedge-tailed eagles, tiny fairy penguins, rainbow lorikeets, glossy black cockatoos, yellow-billed spoonbills, black swans with bright red bills.

Black swans

I also got within camera range of New Zealand fur seals, a giant lizard called a goanna, wallabies, a spiny anteater called an echidna, New Zealand fur seals, and spent hours on a beach with a herd of sea lions.

Sea lions

My guide and I stopped for lunch in a picnic ground, where I called home from a phone booth. Daughter Lacey answered.

“Right now,” I told her, “there is a big mama kangaroo and its baby lying in the shade, under a picnic table, about two meters away” – metric for my Canadian daughter.

“Cool,” she said. “What time is it there?”

“It’s lunchtime. Tomorrow. My guide – his name is Greg – is cooking steaks on the barbecue.”

“Kangaroo steaks?”

“That’s what I had for dinner the other night.”

“I can’t imagine eating a dead animal while one of its cousins is watching,” Lacey said.

“There were no live kangaroos in the restaurant. But there was a dingo.”

Later that afternoon, I got within petting range of a koala.

Koala

 

After two nights on the island, I flew back to Sydney, spent a couple more days tying off the loose ends of my reporting, before boarding a Qantas jumbo jet, business class, to Los Angeles. Naturally, I didn’t sleep.

The coach section of the Air Canada flight to Toronto was about half full. I moved to a vacant row in the back of the center section, told a flight attendant not to wake me for anything, and fell asleep across the three seats – until a beverage cart smashed into my head.

“Hey!” I cried out.

“You shouldn’t have your head in the aisle,” the matronly flight attendant scolded. No apology.

Welcome to cattle class. Welcome back to Canada.

If you’d like to read the 34 chapters that survived to the final draft, here is a link to order The Expat Files: My Life in Journalism.

What’s my line?

We can credit the New York Times if the loose cannon in the White House fires special counsel Robert Mueller for crossing a “red line” by poking around in the president’s finances.

What some pundits predict will be a constitutional crisis might be traced to Trump’s acquiescence to a suggestion from reporters Michael Schmidt and Maggie Haberman during an interview with the Times last summer.

SCHMIDT: “Last thing, if Mueller was looking at your finances and your family finances, unrelated to Russia — is that a red line?”

HABERMAN: “Would that be a breach of what his actual charge is?”

TRUMP: “I would say, yeah. I would say, yes.”

The reporters had to know the answer, that this was a sketchy rich guy hiding his tax returns and shady deals.

The Q&A was akin to asking children if they would be unhappy if there were no more desserts at dinnertime.

Predictably, since that interview last July, the conventional wisdom has become that the president declared his business out of bounds on the Russia investigation. Never mind that the dunderhead in the Oval Office never had an original thought, that the idea came from the interviewers, not the consistently incoherent interviewee.

No matter. The media love lines – the red one from Obama on Syria, the one in the sand from Bush Sr. in Iraq.

Trump’s supposed red line has been repeated so many times on TV – his primary source of information – that he probably believes he drew it himself.

For Schmidt and Haberman, the Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers of Trump whisperers, their mischief was rewarded last Thursday when they reported that Mueller had subpoenaed documents from the Trump Organization.

The media verdict was nearly unanimous:

  • Mueller Just Stepped Over Trump’s Red Line – Bloomberg
  • Did Robert Mueller Just Cross Donald Trump’s Red Line on Russia? – CNN
  • Trump Drew a Red Line for Mueller; Mueller Just Crossed It – The Hill

The headlines sent yaps flapping on cable news. Will Trump use it as an excuse to fire Mueller? What will the Republicans do if that happens? Will they finally slap down the Cowardly Lion? Will he start a war to wag the dog? Will he loot the treasury and hijack Air Force One?

I made up that last question. The rest, in some form or another, were solemnly posed and debated on cable news and editorial pages – by the same folks who habitually tell us any one of Trump’s outrageous, or disturbing, or demented, or cruel, or abnormal, or insane, or racist, or sexist, or senseless, or nonsensical, or stupid utterances or actions may derail “his agenda.”

The Chiseler in Chief , who upchucked tweets at Mueller on the weekend, has no agenda other than to pad his bank account and his ego. That’s always been his raison d’etre, besides getting laid.

The bonanza of the GOP tax cuts and other schemes we don’t yet know about are probably taking care of the money. Watching himself on TV day and night is the ego boost he craves – and undoubtedly a substitute for sex unless Melania and the Secret Service are giving a free pass to porn stars and Russian hookers frequenting the East Wing.

Bill Maher, who talks nearly non-stop about Trump on his weekly HBO show, said during the latest episode: “I don’t want to hear about this every day, this disgusting vulgar man and what he’s done, and what he’s said – and we always have to debate the latest batshit thing that comes out of his mouth. I just think people need a break – it’s exhausting, we’re exhausted.”

Some of the weekday cable news hosts seem to be punch-drunk. Nicolle Wallace on MSNBC often can’t stop laughing at the insanity. Don Lemon on CNN giggles a lot.

But it’s still all Trump all the time.

The one true thing he has said is that the media are secretly rooting for him to be around as long as possible, that he is a boon to TV rating and print/digital subscriptions.

He’s also raised the profile and bank balances of all the newspaper journalists who now appear regularly as “contributors” on cable news – When did journalism join the performing arts? – including Haberman on CNN and Schmidt on MSNBC. They give serious answers to serious questions.

But I’ve yet to hear either of them asked why they handed a Zippo to the Arsonist in Chief.

Ken Becker is the author of The Expat Files: My Life in Journalism.

A Left Coast review of The Expat Files

My pal Hal Quinn (photo caption below), having not had the opportunity to kick my ass on the golf course since the ’90s, and having failed 362 attempts to post a review on Amazon, sends this along:

In these disturbing times of The Liar in Chief tweeting in the middle of the night about so-called ‘fake news,’ there could not be a better time for a book about real news, real journalism, and real journalists. Even those who read the Washington Post rather than tweets, watch PBS not FOX, most know little of how journalism works and what the life of a journalist is like.

For that vast majority, The Expat Files makes for very instructive reading (it should be on the reading list of the college where Becks, as I call him, taught and at every Journalism School) and as importantly, it is so well crafted that it reads like a novel not an autobiography as it relates most of the historical signposts of a generation from a front row seat. Becks’ life and our times are told with a reporter’s attention to detail and accuracy, and a novelist’s style and pacing. At times, it is also funny – and funny is the hardest to write.

Becks and I have been friends since we first met decades ago as he mentions in the book. I thought I’d get a bit more than a mention, maybe a chapter, but this isn’t about me. I enjoyed every page of it anyway.

– Hal Quinn, North Vancouver

Photo caption: For those who don’t know Quinn, he’s the tall, bearded golfer, writer and raconteur on the left. I’m the other guy, now lamenting the loss of his chili-pepper hat.

  

 

IMPORTANT NOTE RE MY BOOK

If you have received this message elsewhere, please ignore. Just trying to touch all bases.

The print edition – paperback – of my memoir, The Expat Files, is TEMPORARILY not available from Amazon due to a publishing problem that is too infuriating to get into. I will advise when it is back.

In the meantime, if you are anxious to read the book, please get the Kindle edition from Amazon.

Please pass this message on to anyone who might be interested.

Advertisements for Myself

Every good review, every message of praise of my book, The Expat Files: My Life in Journalism, makes my day.

Two reviews, both by former colleagues and lengthy for an Amazon page, have been especially rewarding.

The latest popped up on Wednesday, written by Ron Cohen, an editor who encouraged me when I was a rookie reporter at United Press International in New York, and went on to become managing editor of UPI.

I hesitate to use the word “literature” in reviewing a memoir — mostly out of fear that my old UPI colleague Ken Becker will cross the border into his native land, track me down, and kill me. But literature it is, in the finest sense.
The stories are interesting, the pace compelling, the writing snappy. There are many phrases I wish I had written and would like to steal — one of my personal measurements of quality “literature.” The central character performs some feats of derring-do, but understands that even brash and bluster sometimes encounter uncrossable lines.
Having recently completed a memoir, I know full well what a slog it can be. Mine took seven years — there is a fine line between braggadocio and clear-eyed self-examination, and Ken Becker has toggled it beautifully. Read this excellent book and take a journey through the mysterious world of journalism that denizens of “The Outside World” rarely are afforded.

The first review posted came from the first person – as far as I know – to buy and read the book, Ken Ernhofer, a favorite coworker from my CBC days, now at CNN in Atlanta.

Ken Becker weaves his own life story as a disinterested kid and baseball fan growing up in New York, through his first marriage and travels abroad, into journalism with some of its legendary figures. Ken will have you laughing or outraged and yelling at him, probably both at the same time. He is a blunt, no-nonsense character — yeah they once made movies about this kind of guy — who writes news leads that will grab you by the throat. He’s been insulted by at least one prime minister. And he’s made enemies all over the place, but also lifelong friends. The section about how he taught journalism to university kids who couldn’t write has so much good advice about writing, news gathering, and life it could be a textbook, but no textbook was ever so entertaining. It helps if you know something about journalism, but you do not need to be a reporter to like this book. Breathing will suffice.

Yeah, I know, a rave on a screen is not a printed page in the New York Times Book Review. But I’m operating at a disadvantage here.

I didn’t have a literary agent to sell my manuscript to a publishing house which, in turn, has a publicity department to courier review copies to newspapers and other media, and publicists to promote the book.

I’ve had to solicit reviews in emails to book editors at the major newspapers in the United States and Canada.

I tailored the message to fit the paper, its geography and readership, added the Amazon link to The Expat Files, and ended with the same line: If you are interested — but not enough to buy the book — I would be happy to send you a review copy.

I have no idea whether the Times, or the Washington Post, or the Globe and Mail, or the Toronto Star, or any book editor, has ordered my book. None has asked for a review copy.

In the meantime, I pass my days playing publicist – as I am doing now – and taking pleasure from every review, every note from readers:

  • From my cousin Brian Meyer, the rabbi (pictured above), in Portland, Oregon: “I am loving this book … Beautifully written. About the grit of life.”
  • From Hugh Wesley, a great companion with a camera on assignments for the Toronto Sun: “A good read – smooth as butter.”
  • From my son-in-law, Hugh McCrie: “I just flew through this book, only disappointed when I ran out of pages.”
  • From my accountant, Peter Newhouse: “Excellent story … Well written and easy to read.”
  • From my old tabletop-baseball pal Gord Shank: “More like a fireside chat with an extremely interesting journalist than reading a book.”
  • From an old acquaintance not forgotten, Greg Eby from Thunder Bay: “I really enjoyed it … Very well done! I hope it is widely read, and a ‘best-seller’!”

Why are they all men?

Sorry. Almost forgot an email from an old drinking companion and fellow scribe in Vancouver, Christine Hearn: “I loved your book. I read it in two huge gulps … What memories … Those early newsroom years seem like yesterday. The clatter of the typewriters, people yelling ‘copy,’ deskers screaming, long nights at the press club.”

Look forward to the next one.

Author! Author!

On the top shelf of a bookcase in my living room, between Catch-22 and Portnoy’s Complaint, are a couple of proof copies of my new book, The Expat Files: My Life in Journalism.

When the first one arrived in the familiar brown cardboard Amazon packaging, I tore it open with an enthusiasm and anticipation not felt since I was a kid.

I wrapped my right hand around it, measured its heft. Raised it to my face. Was there a secret scent only the author could detect?

Author!

“You’ve been waiting for this your whole life, dad,” daughter Jodie said on Christmas Eve when I showed her the book.

She’s not far off.

In my early twenties, while paying my dues and learning the craft of reporting and writing news, I dreamed of someday picking up where Hemingway left off, engaging in literary combat with Mailer, going Gonzo alongside Hunter S. Thompson.

My writing heroes changed over the years, but I never lost the belief that I would someday have a book – many books – published.

All the false starts, frustrations and disappointments are chronicled in The Expat Files. What’s not included is how this book came about.

In November 2006, I turned sixty, a time for looking back and trying to figure out how I got that far. I’d kept all the files of my working life, from the letters I wrote and received as a teenager applying for newspaper jobs in New York to the memos and emails that ended my career at Canadian Press and revived it at CBC News in Toronto.

There were boxes of bylined newspaper and magazine clips and stacks of cassette tapes from dozens of interviews I’d conducted as a reporter.

I finished the second draft of a memoir on May 1, 2007. What happened next is in the book.

Flash forward to last summer, when I decided to rewrite the manuscript with the intention of publishing it through Amazon. I took an axe to the original and added more personal stuff than I’d ever revealed in my writing.

My goal was to have it published when summer turned to fall. Didn’t make it.

I set a deadline of my birthday in November. Missed it too.

I kept rewriting, cutting, trimming, making corrections. When I sent the manuscript to Amazon in early December, and it came out to 600 pages, I screamed “holy shit,” pulled it back, and cut 18,000 words.

The Kindle edition came out on December 21. The print edition was available the next day in the United States.

I was told it could take up to thirty days to release the paperback in Canada. Every day, I checked Amazon Canada. One year ended, another began.

Amazon sent me those proof copies I mentioned. But, as far as I knew, I was the only one in Canada with my hands on my book.

Finally, late last Friday, I found the listing on Amazon.ca.

I immediately fired off emails and social media posts – already prepared – to spread the word.

I spent the weekend replying to messages of congratulations and encouragement. The most gratifying was a Facebook comment from a former CP colleague, Dan Slovitt, who wrote: “Your book is captivating so I haven’t accomplished a damn thing for the past day.”

My sister called twice from New York to tell me again and again, “I didn’t know about that!”

I talked to my pal Ken Ernhofer in Atlanta, one of my favorite people from my CBC days, who had finished the book. He offered praise and kind words, though we argued about the merits of hockey – he loves it, I hate it.

Will writing I hate hockey cost me book sales? I hate thinking about such things more than I hate hockey.

Salesmanship – salespersonship? – makes me queasy.

All I want to do is get back to the real work – writing – move on to the next project, a novel.

Maybe next year I’ll get my mitts on another book. Then I can call myself not only an author, but a novelist.

 

Good stories well told

My old UPI colleague, Ron Cohen, has written a delightful book called Of Course You Can Have Ice Cream for Breakfast!: A Journalist’s Uncommon Memoir.

The title reflects the 80-year-old Cohen’s gift of his life’s stories to his grandkids. The subtitle foreshadows a charming and amusing brew of tales from inside and outside the newsroom.

Throughout the narrative, Cohen weaves personal anecdotes with memorable news events, such as:

  • The day killer grizzlies in Montana competed for his attention with the birth of his first child in New Jersey.
  • How his high school French teacher, FiFi Allen, helped him report a major development in the 1970 October Crisis in Canada.

I worked with Ron in the early 1970s when he was running UPI’s overnight operation and I was a rookie reporter/editor at New York headquarters. He would move on to Washington where he would become managing editor of the wire service.

The essential attribute of a supervising editor is news judgment. And Cohen exhibited it in spades the day President Reagan and his press secretary, James Brady, were shot in March 1981.

While AP, Reuters and the U.S. TV networks were erroneously reporting that Brady was dead, Cohen insisted the news “must come from a responsible source at the hospital,” he writes in one of the most compelling chapters in the book.

I was reminded of the Brady blunder 30 years later when many in the media “killed” Arizona congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords –and when Aaron Sorkin highlighted the fiasco in an episode of The Newsroom on HBO.

A couple of Sorkin’s characters at fictional TV network ACN appear to be channeling Ron Cohen when they refuse to follow others reporting Giffords is dead.

“Get me official confirmation,” says one producer.

Adds another: “A doctor pronounces her dead, not the news.”

When their judgment is proven sound, there is sustained gloating.

There is little self-congratulation in Cohen’s memoir. Just good stories well told.

Statesman, egghead, lover, hero

The first story in this space appeared exactly two years ago. I’m big on dates that have meaning, so I chose July 14 because it was the 50th anniversary of the death of Adlai Stevenson.

Stevenson was a hero in my house when I was growing up. My mother’s hero, anyway.

She voted for him for president, in 1952 and 1956. He lost twice, of course.

Dorothy Becker and Adlai Stevenson, with apologies to Jude the Apostle and Bernie Sanders, are my patron saints of lost causes.

Stevenson was the inspiration for the character of William Russell in Gore Vidal’s play The Best Man.

Russell was a former secretary of state running for his party’s presidential nomination. The rap on Russell – and Stevenson – was that he was an egghead, too brainy to be president. He lost, of course.

In the movie version of The Best Man, Russell, played by Henry Fonda, is asked by a reporter, “Do you think people mistrust intellectuals like you in politics?”

“Intellectual? You mean I wrote a book? Well, as Bertrand Russell said, people in a democracy tend to think they have less to fear from a stupid man than an intelligent one. Actually, it’s the other way around.”

Flash forward to the White House in 2017. On second thought, for the moment, let’s stay in the past.

Stevenson was JFK’s ambassador to the United Nations. It was the former Illinois governor, the egghead, whose words crushed the Soviet ambassador, Valerian Zorin, in the Security Council during the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962.

“Let me ask you one simple question. Do you, Ambassador Zorin, deny that the USSR has placed and is placing medium and intermediate range missiles and sites in Cuba? Yes or no?”

“I am not in an American courtroom, sir,” the Russian replied, “and therefore I do not wish to answer a question that is put to me in the fashion in which a prosecutor does. In due course, sir, you will have your reply. Do not worry.”

You are in the court of world opinion right now and you can answer yes or no …”

The Russian tried to duck the question once again.

Stevenson went in for the kill. “I am prepared to wait for my answer until hell freezes over … And I’m also prepared to present the evidence in this room.”

Which he did. Three days later, the crisis was over.

Whereof what’s past is prologue, what to come

In yours and my discharge.

Shakespeare, The Tempest

Okay, let’s fast forward to last week’s Trump-Putin tryst in Hamburg, the German city where the Beatles first made their marks.

Oh, please, say to me
You’ll let me be your man.
And, please, say to me
You’ll let me hold your hand.
You let me hold your hand.
I want to hold your hand.

trump-putin

Trump and Putin met for more than two hours in Hamburg. Here’s how the American CEO described his faceoff with the ex-KGB officer on whether the Kremlin orchestrated a cyberattack on the U.S. election:

“I said, ‘Did you do it?’ He said, ‘No, I did not, absolutely not.’ I then asked him a second time, in a totally different way. He said, ‘Absolutely not.’”

Phew!

Not exactly Stevenson facing down the Russian bear – “I want to say to you, Mr. Zorin, that I don’t have your talent for obfuscation, for distortion, for confusing language, and for doubletalk.”

His words would today fit Putin. Or Trump. (Though the vocabulary might be beyond the comprehension of the Tweeter in Chief.)

Stevenson was in London in July 1965 with his longtime lover – her husband apparently didn’t mind, and he was divorced – Marietta Peabody Tree.

Marietta Tree

The daughter of a Massachusetts Episcopal Church rector, the young Ms. Tree had been an ardent supporter of Stevenson’s presidential runs and served under him as the American representative to the UN Commission on Human Rights.

Marietta Tree reminds me of the Viennese socialite and seductress Alma Schindler (1879-1964), who bedded, among others, composer Gustav Mahler, architect Walter Gropius and novelist Franz Werfel.

Alma, tell us,
All modern women are jealous.
Though you didn’t even use Ponds,
You got Gustav and Walter and Franz.

– Tom Lehrer

Marietta’s romantic tree and progeny included a first husband, New York lawyer Desmond FitzGerald and their daughter, the Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Frances FitzGerald; film director John Huston, with whom she had a passionate affair; a second husband, Ronald Tree, a wealthy British politician, and their daughter, the ’60s fashion model Penelope Tree.

Stevenson popped up in the show biz scandal sheets as well, as a frequent escort of Lauren Bacall after Bogie’s death.

In any case, on July 14, 1965, Adlai Stevenson and Marietta Tree, who was nearly 20 years younger, were walking through London’s Grosvenor Square when he had a massive heart attack and crashed to the pavement.

He died later that day in St. George’s Hospital at the age of 65. LBJ dispatched Air Force One to London to bring Stevenson’s body home.

Adlai Ewing Stevenson II – his namesake grandfather had been vice president under Grover Cleveland – was buried in the family plot in Bloomington, Illinois. President Johnson and Lady Bird sat in the front row at the funeral.

I couldn’t make it. I was a counsellor at a camp in the Catskills and had lifeguard duty that day.