My Canada: The expat experience

As Canada prepares to celebrate its 150th birthday on July 1, I’m taking a look back at my 44-odd years in the country. This is the first of seven parts.

When people ask me why I came to Canada and why I’ve stayed here this long, I usually say something like:

“I was working for UPI in New York and my first marriage was breaking up and I wanted to go somewhere, anywhere, because all my friends and family were in New York and I didn’t want them to think, ‘poor Ken,’ and a pal at UPI was then the Canadian news editor and, when he asked if I wanted to take over the Vancouver bureau, I said, ‘Where’s Vancouver?’

“Anyway, I went to Vancouver, and then transferred to UPI-Montreal and then to Toronto, where I met Linda, who, of course, is Canadian, and we got married and had a couple of kids who are, of course, Canadian – so I just stayed.”

The part I usually leave out is that Linda and I left Canada for a year or so, lived in a small town in Maine. But, when our first child died there, two days after he was born, we packed up and went “home.”

Yet, after all these years, I still think of myself as an American, an expat, an outsider. I’ve never lost my American attitude, which is really my New York attitude, which has always set me apart.

My first year in this country, in 1973, I was invited to spend Christmas with the family of my best friend in Canada, Joey Slinger.

I flew from Vancouver to Toronto, where Joey and I caught the train to his hometown of Guelph. When we arrived at the railway station, we were immediately confronted by a couple of cops.

What have you got in the bag?” one barked at Joey, who had stuffed Christmas gifts into a large black trash bag.

“Why do you want to know?” I barked back.

The cops looked at me like I’d pissed on their brogues. “We’re asking the questions here,” one said.

“No, you’re not,” I said, “not until you tell us what this is about.”

After a brief staring match, the cop said: “Well, you two guys fit the description of a couple of suspects who robbed a Canadian Tire store.”

I threw a puzzled look at the cops and pointed to the bag. “Does it look like we’ve got a tire in there?”

Joey broke up, the cops eventually gave up, and Joey explained to me that Canadian Tire didn’t sell only tires.

Several years later, in 1980, in his humor column in the Toronto Star, Joey wrote about his friend – me – who he called the Bronx Bomber:

The Bronx Bomber, an American, from the Bronx, has, thanks to his Constitution and perhaps genetically imprinted, a clear sense of citizens’ rights, particularly his own …

I have been with the Bomber when he sent three – three! – steaks back to the kitchen, while I sat in embarrassment at the table trying to gnaw the ungnawable.

“If I am going to pay for a steak,” he explained to the manager after the third strike, “I want a steak that Carl Yastrzemski could not smack out of the ballpark with an easy swing.” The Bomber then announced that we would dine elsewhere and that the restaurant could pay for the bottle of wine we had drunk while these indignities were being heaped upon our plates. The restaurant, to my everlasting surprise, paid and we marched out free, gratis; the Bomber vindicated, me mortified.

In this regard, if you ask my wife and children, I have not mellowed with age. But this is not a good time to be an American with attitude.

The creep in the White House appears to have given Canadians – and others around the world – license to flex their anti-American reflexes.

When the Child in Chief sulked away from the Paris Agreement a couple of weeks ago, among all the understandable and reasoned criticism, I spotted this from a friend of a friend on Facebook: Most Americans are not worldly or educated.

This comment, though obviously ignorant, still pissed me off. I wanted to shout back at the unknown woman, presumably Canadian:

Have you traveled to every province in Canada, plus the Northwest Territories, as I have? Visited every major city and hundreds of small towns, from Cow Head, Newfoundland, to The Pas, Manitoba, to Tofino, B.C.?

Could you ace a Canadian history and politics quiz, like the one I designed for my first-year journalism students at a Toronto college, many of whom knew next to nothing about their country?

Canadians love to point to that quote from Bono in 2003, and repeated by Obama in 2016: “The world needs more Canada.”

But, what does it mean?

To me, it means a generally peaceful, civil society where I can go to the doctor and not get a bill. I appreciate Canada’s people, its history and, especially, its geography.

I’d rather be Rocky Mountain high in Alberta than Colorado.

You can seamlessly substitute Canada for America in the opening lines of America the Beautiful:

O beautiful for spacious skies,
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties
Above the fruited plain!

In 1976, for the U.S. Bicentennial, Canada gave the United States the gift of a book titled Between Friends, a collection of more than 200 spectacular photographs taken along our shared border, from the Yukon and Alaska to New Brunswick and Maine.

That June, I interviewed Lorraine Monk, who edited the book, as head of the photography division of the National Film Board of Canada.

It was an enjoyable conversation. She inscribed my copy: For Ken Becker, who understood what the book was all about.

I did. I still do.

Tomorrow: Arriving in Lotus Land

***

This piece and the rest in the series inspired me to write my book: The Expat Files: My Life in Journalism.

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The rest of the story

There’s a backstory to my account of the day I could have walked away with millions of dollars worth of paintings from the Phillips Collection, a story I told here a couple of weeks ago with a version published in today’s Washington Post.

I wrote that I was visiting Washington with my first wife, Anita, back on that Memorial Day weekend in 1972.

But I didn’t mention that I was working in New York for UPI at the time, or that we were staying with a couple of colleagues.

One of them was Tom Corpora, perhaps the most intimidating person I ever worked with in all my years as a reporter and editor.

Corpora, a native Californian, was a very cool dude who had earned his stripes as a UPI war correspondent in Vietnam.

I was in my early twenties when I started at UPI-New York in 1970. Corpora was probably a few years older.

I was a rookie in the business, and looked up to the real pros in the newsroom, such as Lucien Carr, who was always kind in providing guidance and friendship.

And while I desperately wanted Corpora’s approval, I never got it.

A couple of times I went for drinks with him after work. The more he drank, the more he ripped me apart, saying I wouldn’t know a story if I tripped over one and couldn’t write it worth a damn anyway.

But I did learn one important lesson from him – that every good story told could be a story written.

When Anita and I got back from our adventure at the Phillips Collection, I told Corpora what happened.

“Did you call it in?” he asked.

“Sure, I told you, I called Mrs. Phillips.”

He shook his head in disgust. Corpora had a habit of jiggling his leg when he was agitated. He was jiggling furiously.

“No” he snapped, dressing me down with his hard, hooded eyes, “I mean did you write a story and call it in to UPI?”

“No,” I said, “I never thought of that.”

“Big surprise,” he sneered.

I don’t think I ever saw Corpora again. Or talked to him again.

I looked for him online a few years back. Not to get in touch. Just curious what he was up to.

He and his Japanese-born wife owned a winery in Virginia.

Corpora

Then, in 2015, I learned that Tom died.

I couldn’t find an obit then. Can’t find one now.

And while his UPI byline appeared in papers around the world, there is little trace of him or his work to be found.

But, as I’ve said, he made a strong impression on this kid during the brief time we worked together.

And, as any reader of this space knows, I’ve learned to turn many of my memorable experiences into copy.

It only took 45 years to write about the Phillips Collection caper.

***

A longer, more detailed account of this and many more stories are told in my book: The Expat Files: My Life in Journalism.

On celebrity memoirs

The most interesting thing I learned from reading about Jonathan Goldsmith’s just-published memoir, Stay Interesting: I Don’t Always Tell Stories About My Life, But When I Do, They’re True and Amazing, is that he’s a short, Jewish kid from the Bronx.

Otherwise, as I gathered from today’s New York Post headline – The Most Interesting Man in the World: I ‘f—ked them all’ – the book is about a failed actor and Hollywood parasite who claims to have bedded a lot of famous women, most of whom are now conveniently dead.

It reminded me of the dilemma I faced when I was writing about books and authors for the Canadian Press in the 1990s.

I understood that CP’s client-newspapers ate up stories of celebrity gossip, but I found these “authors” particularly distasteful and the content of their tales more slanderous than scandalous.

The worst was another failed actor, named Richard Selzer, born in Brooklyn, who recreated himself as the fashion maven Mr. Blackwell.

I interviewed him in the dimly lighted Library bar of the Royal York hotel in Toronto in 1995. He sipped a bloody mary and played the part of the anguished Hollywood queen bee. I gulped down a beer and wrapped up the interview as quickly as possible.

I considered not writing a story, then tried to convey my disgust in the lead:

TORONTO (CP) – Shovel some more dirt on the graves of four Hollywood legends.

A new book says Tyrone Power and Cesar Romero were bedmates, as were Cary Grant and Randolph Scott.

And the author, American fashion critic Mr. Blackwell says he slept with all of them.

“I’m amazed,” Blackwell tells an interviewer who expresses no prior knowledge of these show-biz couplings. “I thought it was well known.”

The 73-year-old creator of the yearly 10-worst-dressed-women list  — wearing a diamond stickpin in the lapel of his dark blazer and another gem in his left earlobe – says he considers From Rags to Bitches his epitaph.

I wanted everyone to know I was more than some jerk who got up once a year, crawled out from under a rock, said 10 acerbic things about 10 women who more than deserved it – because that’s not much of a legacy. I have left them a story of survival.”

I regretted writing the story as soon as it hit the wire. I felt more like a pornographer than a reporter, an accomplice in outing three beloved actors – and Cesar Romero – in an abysmal book after they were dead.

About a month later, in another hotel bar in Toronto, I sat down with Wolfman Jack, born Robert Smith in Brooklyn.

(Why did book publicists always arrange my interviews in bars? And, no, I didn’t only interview people born in New York – like me.)

“Just call me Wolf, man,” the legendary disc jockey said when we were introduced, before the conversation got going, with him chain-smoking unfiltered Camels and slurping espresso.

His book was titled Have Mercy: Confession of the Original Rock ‘n’ Roll Animal. But, again, as with such tales by minor celebrities, it was a 362-page press release spiced with payback to ex-friends and enemies.

And, when skimming the book, I found more sex and drugs than rock ‘n’ roll: Ike Turner getting a blowjob while playing piano in a rehearsal hall; rehashed tabloid trash about David Bowie cruising for young girls at Hollywood High, Wolfman snorting coke with John Lennon.

At the end of the interview, he wrote in my copy of his book: To Ken Baby, A man who knows. Yes, you’re the best. Your friend always, Wolfman.

Our “friendship” didn’t last long. A couple of days later, the 57-year-old Wolfman dropped dead of a heart attack at his home in North Carolina.

***

A longer, more detailed account of this and many more stories are told in my book: The Expat Files: My Life in Journalism.

Chasing phantom fugitives

My former United Press Canada colleague Nelson Wyatt reminded me the other day of a real fake news story we were dragged into more than 30 years ago.

Real fake news is reported when generally authoritative sources, such as police or government officials, say something that turns out to be claptrap. This can have deadly serious consequences – consider the 1964 Gulf of Tonkin “incident” that escalated the war in Vietnam and Saddam Hussein’s “WMDs.”

Or it can simply be folly – so far – as with a Fabricator in Chief in the White House.

Then there are the many instances when authorities overreact – think terrorism threats or hurricanes – and get things wrong.

This was the case with the Canadian connection to the tale of the Briley brothers, Linwood and James, who led the breakout of six men from death row at the state prison in Mecklenburg, Virginia, on May 31, 1984.

While the other four fugitives were recaptured quickly, the wily Brileys were on the lam for nearly three weeks.

It was during this time that Canadian news outlets began reporting sightings of the brothers in Quebec’s normally peaceful and picturesque Eastern Townships.

I was running the news desk at UPC headquarters in Toronto. Nelson was a reporter-editor in the Montreal bureau.

The story smelled sketchy from the get-go. I figured someone had spotted a couple of black guys, a rarity in those parts, assumed they were up to no good, called the cops and … voila!

Next thing you knew, police armed to the teeth were combing woods and fields, setting up roadblocks and generally scaring the shit out of everyone from Gaspe to the Laurentians. We dutifully reported what the police said, and the hysteria they unleashed.

(The Brileys were truly scary guys. Over seven months in 1979, in and around their hometown of Richmond, Virginia, they robbed and raped and shot and stabbed more than a dozen total strangers. They were convicted of 10 murders.)

The manhunt in Quebec went on for nearly a week. I talked daily with Nelson. The information was so flimsy we started joking about phantom fugitives.

“Where do you think they really are?” Nelson asked.

“Disneyland?”

“Vegas?”

“Probably never left Virginia,” I concluded.

I was close. Linwood Briley, 30, and brother James, 28, were cornered and captured in their uncle’s garage in Philadelphia on June 19, 1984.

The state of Virginia wasn’t taking any chances on another escape – Linwood was executed in the electric chair that October and James the following April.

***

A longer, more detailed account of this and many more stories are told in my book: The Expat Files: My Life in Journalism.

Imagining the art of the steal

I could easily have pulled off the greatest art heist in history.

Millions and millions of dollars worth of paintings were mine for the taking.

No alarm sounded. No cops. No witnesses.

Today, the original of Renoir’s Luncheon of the Boating Party could be hanging above the mantel in the living room of my townhouse in Mississauga, instead of my photo of a flying wood stork.

And Dufy’s The Artist’s Studio would look good in my home office.

The Artist's Studio

Such treasures would be mine if only I’d had a proclivity for thievery 45 years ago today.

On May 29, 1972, I was in Washington with my Swiss wife Anita, who schlepped this kid from Queens through the art museums of two continents during our short-lived marriage.

So, on this hot, sunny Memorial Day in the mecca of American history, instead of paying respects to Mr. Lincoln or Mr. Jefferson, we went to see the Phillips Collection of modern (mostly European) art.

I parked my dark blue Fiat 124 sedan on the street right in front of the gallery. We walked to the front door, opened it, and went inside. There was no one there.

In the entranceway, we admired a small Braque. We walked up a staircase and stood before that large Renoir canvas of the Boating Party, in its gilded frame.

Not another breathing soul around. Just the two of us and those Parisian partygoers, Renoir’s chums from the 1880s, drinking and gabbing on a restaurant balcony overlooking the Seine.

We moseyed on, dawdled in front of paintings by Matisse, Monet, Picasso, Van Gogh, Gauguin, Cezanne, Seurat.

“This is weird,” I finally said to Anita. “We could just take any of these paintings and walk out the door.”

“What should we do?” she asked.

Since we were leaving Washington the next day and didn’t know when we might return, we decided to spend a little more time with the paintings.

After about a half hour or so, we began to head out. “Let’s see if we can call someone,” I said.

We went back to the entranceway and found the reception desk. It had one of those sliding shelves where people often pasted lists of phone numbers. Sure enough, I found a list.

There was a number for a “Mrs. Phillips.” I dialed it on the phone atop the desk.

A woman answered.

“Mrs. Phillips?” I asked.

“Yes.”

“My name is Ken Becker and I’m inside your gallery right now but no one else is here.”

“Yes,” she said, “we’re closed today.”

“But my wife and I just walked in. The doors were unlocked.”

“That’s odd,” she said.

“Yes it is,” I said. “What would you like us to do?”

No reply for a moment. “Well, I’ll call our security company. If you wouldn’t mind waiting there until they arrive …”

“No problem,” I said, and hung up.

Anita and I stood inside the front door and guarded the Braque. When we saw a couple of rent-a-cops pull up and rush up the walkway, we met them outside.

“How’d you get in there,” one snapped.

“We just walked in,” I said, turning to demonstrate how I’d grabbed each handle of the double-doors and pulled. The doors opened.

“You’re not supposed to do it that way,” said the uniformed security man. He closed the doors, grasped only one handle, pulled, and the doors stayed locked.

I laughed. “You mean anybody with two hands can get in but you’re counting on them to only pull one handle?”

He and his partner nodded. Dumbfounded. But not amused.

They looked us over, apparently checking to see whether I had a Degas in my pants or Anita had a Klee in her purse, before dismissing us with a wave.

All these years later, I envision filling my Fiat with great Impressionist works, driving up the Jersey Turnpike, home to New York, with the Renoir strapped to the roof.

When Anita and I split up later that year, she took the Beatles albums and I got the Sinatra and Simon and Garfunkel.

But I can now imagine us sitting around the living room of our apartment in Queens with priceless canvases strewn about.

I want the Picasso.

Fine, but I’ll take the Matisse.

No, I want the Matisse.

I’ll trade you two Cezannes for the Matisse.

Deal.

Let’s divvy up the Van Goghs.

Okay, but who gets the Renoir?

Considering all the places I’ve lived since then – Vancouver, Montreal, Toronto, Maine, Northern Ontario, Mississauga – I would have had to hire a Brink’s truck to haul my stash of paintings from house to house.

And now I’d have that Renoir above the mantel.

Or maybe Gauguin’s The Ham in the kitchen.

The Ham

And Picasso’s The Blue Room in the john.

Picasso

***

A longer, more detailed account of this and many more stories are told in my book: The Expat Files: My Life in Journalism.

On sparring with pols

The assault of a reporter by a congressional candidate in Montana got me thinking about my confrontations with politicians – and a strange press scrum at the bedside of a comatose Mafia don.

Like the Guardian reporter who was “body-slammed” to the floor in Bozeman on Wednesday, I have inserted myself in political places I wasn’t welcome.

The first time was after a televised debate between Republican Governor Nelson Rockefeller and Democrat Arthur Goldberg in New York in 1970, when I followed Rocky and his entourage into a freight elevator at the TV studio.

The governor was steamed. He hadn’t done well.

As the door was closing, I raised my notebook and pen and asked Rockefeller a question.

“Who the hell are you?” he spat.

“Ken Becker – UPI”

“Get him out of here,” the governor ordered.

His bodyguards obeyed, opening the doors and pushing me out of the elevator.

I have written before in this space about my experiences covering Pierre Trudeau and his wife Margaret for UPI in the 1970s. And about the skirmish I had with Trudeau in 1974.

In case you missed it, here’s the setup and the blow by blow:

I was in the office that September when one of our reporters in Ottawa called with a tip that Margaret was in the psychiatric wing of the Royal Victoria Hospital in Montreal, and that her husband was on his way to visit her

By this time, I had covered Trudeau often enough that he recognized me.

So, when he arrived at the hospital with a two-man security detail – they stayed in the car – he knew the one guy waiting for him was a reporter.

“What are you doing here?” he snapped.

“How’s your wife doing?” I responded.

“And how would that be your business?”

I tried to make the case for the public’s right to know. He countered with his best harrumphs and shrugs of dismissal. I followed him into the lobby, to the elevator doors.

“Fuck off,” the prime minister of Canada said.

I was a wizened old hand in the news biz when I had a more public spat with a future prime minister.

It was 1991, when I was working for Canadian Press, mainly as an editor. But I put on my reporter hat to cover an early morning news conference held by the federal justice minister, Kim Campbell, in a meeting room at a Toronto hotel.

We knew she was going to announce whether to order a review of the 1970 murder conviction of David Milgaard, whose supporters had made a persuasive argument for his innocence.

I commandeered the only phone in the room – this was the Paleophonic Era – called my office and was ready to dictate a bulletin as soon as Campbell announced her decision.

“Hang up the phone,” one of her lackeys told me.

“Why?”

“Because …”

“Because what?”

“Because the minister is about to speak.”

“I’m not stopping her.”

By now, all of those in the room were focused on me. Including the minister of justice.

“Somebody’s not a morning person,” Campbell said with a smirk.

“You do your job, I’ll do mine,” I said.

I held onto the phone, kept the line open, and dictated my story as soon as she announced the news.

Now to that bedside vigil with the Mafia don – one time you’d think reporters would be unwelcome and in peril.

Joe Colombo was a mobster who craved media attention. Fed up with being shadowed by the FBI and angry at the portrayal of his family business in The Godfather, Colombo went public, saying he and his paisans were discriminated against not because they were killers, but because they were Italian.

He founded the Italian-American Civil Rights League, the Mafia’s answer to B’nai Brith or the NAACP.

In June 1970. the league, with Colombo the star attraction, held its first Italian-American Unity Day rally, drawing 50,000 people to Columbus Circle in Manhattan. A few months later, Frank Sinatra headlined a benefit concert for the league at Madison Square Garden.

I was working for UPI when Colombo was shot at the second unity day rally, on June 28, 1971. He was taken to Roosevelt Hospital, a few blocks from Columbus Circle.

I followed the herd of reporters – right into his room. About a dozen of us were at his bedside, with Colombo’s wife and sons.

While the wife cried, and the sons talked of revenge – everybody suspected the rival Gallo gang had set up the hit, though the shooter was a black guy posing as a news photographer, shot dead at the scene – reporters shouted questions at the unconscious Colombo, some sticking microphones within inches of his mouth, which was hooked up to a ventilator.

“What happened, Joe?”

“How do you feel, Joe?”

“Who did it, Joe?

“You going after the Gallos, Joe?”

It would be Joe Colombo’s last news conference. He never said a word.

He never woke up either – was “vegetabled,” as Joey Gallo put it – but hung on for another seven years.

Jimmy Breslin’s wonderful comic novel, The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight, was a take on Crazy Joey’s Brooklyn crew.

The Colombo-Gallo war was effectively over less than a year after Joe went into a coma, when Joey was gunned down in Umberto’s Clam House in Little Italy.

***

A longer, more detailed account of this and many more stories are told in my book: The Expat Files: My Life in Journalism.

What’s wrong with this picture?

Nearly a year ago, I sent Harry Edwards an email with the subject line: An idea for your consideration, please.

Edwards rose to prominence during the civil rights movement of the 1960s, with his call for black athletes to boycott the Olympics, the inspiration for the black power salute at the 1968 Summer Games in Mexico City.

Now professor emeritus of sociology at Berkeley, Edwards has long been one of the strongest voices linking human rights to the exploitation of black athletes.

My email, sent June 9, 2016, read:

Dr. Edwards,

I’ve been thinking lately about all the states that have passed discriminatory laws aimed at stripping African Americans and others of basic rights: voting, social assistance, marriage, abortion etc.

And this had led me to the idea that black athletes should stop enriching and enabling state universities in these places – and go to more progressive states to play football, basketball and other sports.

Can’t think of a stronger means of taking on politicians seeking a return to the bad old days.

And, I’m writing to you because I can’t think of another person who might be in a better position to explore this kind of action.

Thanks for your time.

Ken Becker

Expat American, retired journalist, writer, living in Canada

I came of age in the ’60s, when states in the Old Confederacy still barred the schoolhouse door to black students and colleges consequently fielded all-white teams. Federally ordered desegregation changed that.

Yet here in the 21st century, I was struck by the success of nearly all-black starting lineups on teams from state universities in the New Confederacy, solidly Republican and demonstrably racist.

When I wrote to Edwards, I imagined calls for a boycott, and a new generation of Freedom Riders going to the homes of the top – African American – high school athletes in Red States, persuading them to go to colleges in Blue States.

I wondered what would happen if Gomer and Bubba woke up one Saturday morning to discover their favorite teams fielding a roster of their slow, clumsy kinfolk? Would it force political change?

But the timing of my email to Edwards could not have been worse, as he noted in his reply:

I’m sorry that I am unable to respond substantively to your email at this time.  I am attending  the Memorial Service and associated events in Louisville, KY, honoring the Life and Contributions of Muhammad Ali …

DrHE

That was five months before the U.S. election, before the Race Baiter in Chief moved into the White House, Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III became Attorney General, and the GOP whitewashed the rest of Obama’s Washington.

I began sketching this story in January, when publicly funded schools in two of the most reactionary states – South Carolina’s Clemson and the University of Alabama – played for the second straight year in college football’s national championship game.

Once more, as is always the case from Tuscaloosa to Norman, Tallahassee to Topeka, all the star players on the field were black and all the well-heeled fans in the stands were white.

But the piece never came together. I wound up folding the idea into a paragraph of a blog posted April 1:

Want to crush the crackers in states that discriminate against poor people and minorities by legislating to limit voting rights, women’s rights, religious rights, gay rights, worker rights etc.? Organize campaigns to persuade top high school football and basketball players – from poor and minority families – to boycott state universities in places like South Carolina, Alabama, Oklahoma and Texas.

I provided a link on Facebook and got a nice response from a former Canadian Press colleague, Lee-Anne Goodman: “Brilliant suggestion re: football and basketball stars boycotting certain colleges. That is something people would pay attention to … We need to make this a thing.”

Well, as far as I can tell, people were not paying attention and this is not a thing.

So, I now call on you, soldiers in The Resistance, to add this action to your “Resources for the Fight,” along with your attempts to swamp congressional offices with phone calls and emails.

You call yourself “a grassroots movement fighting against the hateful and authoritarian agenda of Donald Trump and the radical right.”

Some of you have also enrolled in Resistance School, and dutifully tune in to episodes of The Resistance with Keith Olbermann at gq.com.

Cool!

And, while the media have compared you to the Tea Party, remember that those folks mainly replaced right-wingers with right-wingnuts in Congress.

If you really want to stick it to the man, start organizing Freedom Rides to liberate young jocks from the servitude of college sports in the New Confederacy.

Writing here – and there

I now have a second blog, on my writing business website, and posted the first story today. (Please don’t ask me why the date is 4/5/2017.)

These pieces will probably be a bit shorter and promote the entrees on my Story Menu: Life Stories, advance obituaries, stories of immigration, bios, etc.

The first one is about something I just found out about my Great Aunt Adah (pictured above), who died in 1981, the wife of my only famous relative, Ted Lewis.

I’m planning to put most of my more personal stories on the other site – reserve this one for columns on current events – and will post a link here if you’re interested.

I may also reprise some of the stories I’ve filed here over the past couple of years.

Doesn’t look like there is a way to follow the new blog, though there are links to “like” on Facebook and Twitter, if that’s your thing.

No mas!

Too many thoughts on the daily deluge of dreck from Washington. Too many hours reading the news, watching CNN and MSNBC.

Too many headaches. Media-induced vertigo.

Need to go back on the wagon, back to my post-election news blackout.

Never had a taste for science fiction or fantasy, unbelievable plotlines.

Time to return to the real world, just in time for Opening Day of the baseball season and the Masters.

But first, I need to upchuck some sentences that have been incubating for months:

  • The current president of the United States is the evolutionary product, the natural selection, of forty years of Republicanism – the Me Party – every policy shaped by the question: What’$ in it for me and people like me?
  • Do-gooder Democrats lack such steadfastness, such clarity of purpose.
  • Even if he is impeached, leaves the White House in disgrace, or loses a run for a second term, Trump will achieve his only goal – cashing in on his presidency.
  • After eight years of the classy Obamas, the new family in the White House reminds me of the Clampetts in designer clothes, with New York accents.
  • Suggested question at Trump’s next news conference: “Are you crazy, or stupid, or both?”
  • Suggested follow-up question at a Sean Spicer briefing: “What the fuck are you talking about?”
  • The Trumpiacs on CNN are equally nonsensical, though one, Andre Bauer, was quite clear when running for governor of South Carolina in 2010, talking about programs to help poor people: “My grandmother was not a highly educated woman, but she told me as a small child to quit feeding stray animals. You know why? Because they breed.”
  • When did the politicians and the media decide to label everyone either left or right? What happened to liberals and conservatives?
  • What the hell is the Freedom Caucus? What happened to the Tea Party?
  • What is a moderate Republican?
  • Want to crush the crackers in states that discriminate against poor people and minorities by legislating to limit voting rights, women’s rights, religious rights, gay rights, worker rights etc.? Organize campaigns to persuade top high school football and basketball players – from poor and minority families – to boycott state universities in places like South Carolina, Alabama, Oklahoma and Texas.
  • Why does the president have two Twitter accounts? Is @realDonaldTrump the real Donald Trump and @POTUS the fake president?
  • Why is he so obsessed with Obama and the Clintons? Is it because he really wanted to run as a Democrat and knew they’d laugh him off the stage?
  • Have we ever seen Trump laugh? Smirk, yes. Laugh, no. SAD!
  • Dear Bernie Babies, Jill Stein and Gary Johnson voters: Having fun?
  • What’s the difference between the Electoral College and Trump University?

Whew!

No mas!

Now I can get back to writing other stuff, watching reruns of M*A*S*H and Cheers on TV, rereading Nelson DeMille and Michael Connelly novels.

Counting flowers on the wall,

That don’t bother me at all.

Playing solitaire till dawn,

With a deck of fifty-one.

Smoking cigarettes and watching Captain Kangaroo.

Now, don’t tell me I’ve nothing to do.

FAKE PRESIDENT the enemy of the people

For journalists, being branded an enemy of an insecure and vindictive president is nothing new.

On June 28, 1973, I arrived in my office, the Vancouver bureau of United Press International, to find the news I had been waiting for.

WASHINGTON (UPI) – Here is a verbatim list of the White House “enemies” supplied the Senate Watergate committee Wednesday by John W. Dean.

The previous day, Dean, a weasel turned rat, had told the committee that during his years as counsel to President Paranoia, the Nixon administration compiled the list so it could “use available federal machinery to screw our political enemies.”

There were 202 names: politicians, business and labor leaders, lawyers and academics, and celebrities such as Paul Newman, Steve McQueen, Jane Fonda and Barbra Streisand.

The largest number – 56 – in any category was under media.

Tricky Dick hated the press.

So, it was hardly shocking that early in his presidency the enemies list started to take shape.

I clipped the list from the UPI teletype machine and taped it to a wall in my Vancouver office. It stood nearly four-feet high.

I focused on the media section. Among the most familiar names to me were journalists whose work I admired – Pete Hamill, Mary McGrory, James Reston, Tom Wicker, Gary Wills, Richard Rovere, Daniel Schorr, Sander Vanocur.

I had been with UPI in my hometown of New York during the 1972 presidential election, covered some of the campaign, watched poor George McGovern ignored every time he tried to make an issue of Watergate.

After the Nixon landslide, as the breadth of the scandal unfolded, I was in Vancouver, 3,000 miles from the action in Washington.

I tried to grab a piece of the story when I tracked down a fellow named John Meier – with connections to Nixon’s brother Donald and a shady deal with Howard Hughes – living just south of Vancouver. But all I found was a nice family in a big, new house. No smoking guns.

Still, though I failed to earn a place among Nixon’s enemies, I penciled my name and Hunter Thompson’s on my copy of the list after I read he was pissed at being excluded.

Most conspicuously missing were Woodward and Bernstein and Ben Bradlee of the Washington Post.

At the zenith of their Watergate coverage, Nixon press secretary Ron Ziegler had said:

“I read the other day where Mr. Bradlee was giving a speech and he said the Nixon administration is committed to our destruction – referring to the press – that this administration is committed to the destruction of the free press.

“There has been nothing as long as I have been press secretary where we have ever involved ourselves in a program of destruction of the free press. We respect the free press. I respect the free press. I don’t respect the type of shabby journalism that is being practiced by the Washington Post, and I have stated that view to you.”

After the Post’s Watergate revelations helped send all the president’s men packing – off to jail, in most cases – and boot Nixon from the White House, there was a new appreciation for the Fourth Estate.

Seven presidents who followed at least professed a respect for a free press and possessed the cognitive ability to comprehend the difference between fact and fantasy.

Enter Drumpf, who thinks the Fourth Estate is the fourth mansion down the road from Mar-a-Lago and has adapted the old Nixon playbook as mein kampf (my fight).

“I want you all to know that we are fighting the fake news.  It’s fake – phony, fake,” Drumpf said to cheers at the annual right-wing reichstag known as CPAC outside Washington last week. “A few days ago, I called the fake news ‘the enemy of the people’ – and they are. They are the enemy of the people.”

Each Jew is a sworn enemy of the German people … If someone wears a Jewish Star, he is an enemy of the people.

– Goebbels

Press credentials became the new Star of David in Drumpfworld during the campaign, exemplified by his supporters chanting “Jew-S-A” at reporters.

The Creep in Chief and his blissfully ignorant followers appear bent on making politico and Pinocchio synonymous.

I’ve got no strings

To hold me down,

To make me fret, or make me frown.

I had strings

But now I’m free

There are no strings on me …

Down where the Volga flows

There’s a Russian rendezvous

Where me and Ivan goes,

But I’d rather go with you – hey!

In the final presidential debate last October, there was this exchange:

Clinton: “Well, that’s because (Putin would) rather have a puppet as president.”

Trump: “No puppet, no puppet.”

Clinton: “And it’s pretty clear …”

Trump: “You’re the puppet.”

Clinton: “It’s pretty clear you won’t admit …”

Trump: “No, you’re the puppet.”

I’m rubber, you’re glue. Whatever you say bounces off me and sticks to you.

I want you all to know that we are fighting the FAKE PRESIDENT. HE’S FAKE – phony, fake … HE IS the enemy of the people.