Showing posts with label Westport. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Westport. Show all posts

Sunday, September 4, 2011

The More Things Change….

Perhaps it is merely wishful thinking that certain values such as loyalty, conscientiousness and dedication can persevere. There is anecdotal evidence to the contrary in today’s world, perhaps exacerbated by the computer chip which has effected all forms of communication, even changing how we think and write (140 character tweets is the modern attention span LOL). No longer are there jobs that last for decades (when there are jobs at all) and popular culture has supplanted most of the fine arts. There is not even a pretense of courtesy or refinement and all one has to do is get on an airplane – as we are about to do -- to observe that point. So in this oasis we now call the modern world, I went back in time to get ready for an overseas trip. More on that trip when we return in a few weeks, during which time this blog will be silent.

My time travel took me to the barber shop I used to frequent when we lived in the Westport area. I went there for more than 30 years and my sons as well when they were children. I normally now buzz cut my own hair and as we live at our marina nearby Westport only in the summers, I see them but once a year, usually before a trip such as the upcoming one. Tommy has been the proprietor of Westport’s Compo Barber Shop since 1959. I always had my hair cut by his sidekick Felici who is from Italy and still speaks in a broken accent.

On Friday morning I walked into the shop. Tommy was sweeping the floor and Felici was getting ready for his next appointment, mine. How often does one embrace his barber? Hugging both Tommy and Felici seemed to be the appropriate thing to acknowledge my kaleidoscopic visit. It also was mutual acknowledgement that we are survivors, not only in the corporal sense, but as sojourners from another era.

Tommy proudly displays photographs from the Westport Historical Society in his shop as well as ones of himself cutting the hair of multiple generations of the same family. I looked up and down the Post Road where his shop has been all this time and noted that the neighboring stores are all different. The stores come and go but Compo Barber Shop has been a bulwark in the community. It is a throwback to small town America, one that Richard Russo often chronicles in his novels.

I obviously have some special feeling for the camaraderie between a barber and his customer, a unique male bonding that I’ve written about before, particularly as my childhood barber, Joe, literally became my Uncle Joe.

So after I settled in the chair we covered the checklist of typical barbershop banter: our respective health, how the “kids” are doing, the weather and the recently departed storm, Irene, what the country coming to, the tragic shape of the economy, and the sadness I feel having seen my publishing business in town finally come to an end. With my now perfect haircut I went to the cash register to pay but they would not accept payment. I protested, but understood that some things are more important than money. Just seeing me was enough for them and that feeling was reciprocated as I said “see you next year,” and hopefully the next, and many more after that.
Photograph courtesy of WestportNow.Com

Monday, August 8, 2011

Summer Endeavors

One of the benefits of living on our boat in the summer is being able to finally get to some postponed reading and catch up on local theatre either in Westport or NY and the last few weeks reminds me that so much of what we read or see in the theatre often serves as historical guideposts, snapshots of different periods of cultural change. I recently picked up John Irving’s The World According to Garp, which I first read when it was published in the late 1970’s. I’m not sure why I felt compelled to reread the novel other than I had forgotten much of it and always liked Irving’s quirky self-reflective story-telling, so much about the process of writing itself. I had forgotten how much the role of women’s rights plays in Garp, such a major issue in the 1970s. Irving playfully toys with the issue, satirizing it to a great degree, reminding me of my first business trip to Australia in the 1970’s when a Sydney taxi driver lectured me about the evils of women’s rights and, in particular, the role that Americans had in exporting those dangerous thoughts to Australia. I wonder whether Garp (or Irving) might have agreed with the accusation at the time.

Then a few weeks ago we saw Terrence McNally’s Lips Together, Teeth Apart at the Westport Country Playhouse, portraying two heterosexual couples vacationing at a home on Fire Island, in the middle of a gay community. It is a play that is constantly on an uneasy edge, the problems of the two couples acting out their aberrant behavior contrasted to the high-spirited, better adjusted gay community, off stage. But central to the play is the paranoia of how AIDS was thought to be transmitted at the time, symbolized by the couples’ dramatic fear of going into the pool (on stage) -- an obsession of twenty years ago when the play was written. Nonetheless, the play is still a compelling tragicomic drama and wonderfully staged at the beautifully restored Westport Country Playhouse.

A twenty year leap forward brings me to reading Jonathan Tropper’s Everything Changes. Here is a very contemporary novel by a thirty-something author about relationships between fathers and sons, and male female relationships. Tropper’s idiosyncratic characters (in particular, the protagonist’s father) at times reminds me a little of Richard Russo’s and Anne Tyler’s. Trooper’s writing can be very funny but sensitive at the same time. These are the two paragraphs that grab you and pull you into the novel:

Life, for the most part, inevitably becomes routine, the random confluence of timing and fortune that configures its components all but forgotten. But every so often, I catch a glimpse of my life out of the corner of my eye, and am rendered breathless by it. This is no accident. I made this happen. I had a plan.

I am about to fuck it all up in a spectacular fashion.

It was quite a contrast reading Anita Brookner’s Strangers, perhaps the most interior novel I’ve read in some time, most of it taking place in the mind of the 72 year old protagonist, a retired banker and confirmed bachelor, who feels he may be missing something not sharing his life with a woman. By chance he meets one of his old lovers (he hasn’t had many), now aged and frail, but one for whom he thinks he still has feelings. He also meets a woman on a flight to Venice, younger than he. Much of the novel is a debate (in his mind) of the advantages or disadvantages of being with one or the other or neither. Brookner’s writing is timeless, meticulously exacting, set mostly in London, but a London that seems to exist merely in some recent time. It is also about aging and finding meaning in life after a lifetime of work:

His reading now was confined to diaries, notebooks, memoirs, anything that contained a confessional element. He was in search of evidence of discomfiture, disappointment, rather than triumph over circumstances. Circumstances, he knew, would always overrule. Those great exemplars of the past, the kind he had always sought in classic novels, usually finished on a note of success, of exoneration, which was not for him. In the absence of comfort he was forced to contemplate his own failure, failure not in worldly terms but in the reality of his circumscribed life. He knew, rather more clearly than he had ever known before, that he had succeeded only at mundane tasks, that he had failed to deliver a reputation that others would acknowledge. Proof, if proof were needed, lay in the fact that his presence was no longer sought, that, deprived of the structure of the working day, he was at a loss, obliged to look for comfort in whatever he could devise for himself. His life of reading, of walking, was invisible to others: his friendships, so agreeable in past days, had dwindled, almost disappeared. Memories were of no use to him; indeed, even memory was beginning to be eroded by the absence of confirmation. As to love, that was gone for good. Whatever he managed to contrive for himself would not, could not, be construed as success.

Finally, yesterday, we saw the NYC preview performance of Stephen Sondheim’s great musical, Follies. This is a show I failed to see when it opened in 1971 or any of the revivals and have been waiting, waiting for the opportunity. Sondheim is the last surviving composer of another era. Talk about historical markers. This is Sondheim’s tribute to various eras of Broadway’s past and it has some of his best known songs, too many to mention, including one that is perhaps my very favorite, Losing My Mind.

This new Broadway production, coming via the Kennedy Center, is spectacular, the kind of show no longer written for Broadway. It was Sondheim’s first musical as both composer and lyricist and every line, every word is delicious. The Broadway production includes some of Broadway’s luminaries, Bernadette Peters, Danny Burstein, Jan Maxwell, Ron Raines, and Elaine Page. Each brings the house down with some of Sondheim’s most iconic numbers. The juxtaposition of their ghosts from eras past is particularly evocative. Here is a two and half hour production which seems to pass in minutes, portraying innocent and happier times past, lost loves, regrets and heartbreak.


Sunday, May 22, 2011

A Special Day, A Special Woman

Ann, my wife and best friend, is turning 70. Incredible. When we met in our late 20's, I remember listening to the words of the Paul Simon song of our youth, Old Friends, "Can you imagine us years from today, sharing a park bench quietly? / How terribly strange to be 70." Indeed, how terribly strange it seemed to us then, really unthinkable, but that is the curse of youth, a presumed eternity of life.

We were both working then for the same publishing company in New York City, but at the end of the 1960's I accepted a career opportunity in Westport, CT, and worked at that same job until retirement. Meanwhile, we raised a family: our son, and my son from a prior marriage.

Before taking on the responsibility of child-rearing, Ann continued to work in NYC even after we relocated to Westport, my dropping her off at the Westport train station early in the morning on my way to the office and picking her up on the way home. When Ann was pregnant she stopped working and we did what countless couples did, worked on the house, moved to a larger house, raised our family, worked and played hard (particularly on our boat) and, suddenly, the kids were gone and my working days were concluding. The 70's, 80's 90's, and, now, the first decade of 21st century flew by almost stealthily, but with gathering speed.

How does a marriage survive such a long period of time? By being best friends I think. Simply put, we're simpatico. I've watched the birthday milestones, now, of most of Ann's life and in fact had large surprise parties for her 40th and 50th.
The 50th was particularly special as I wrote a speech which, I thought, really explains her character, and giving a sense of how special she is, and it can be read at the concluding part of this link.

So, another twenty years has gone by and she is now 70 (and I am approaching the same, health willing). Why does it feel like (to us both) we are still kids? Of course our bodies deny that fact as does the mirror, but the mind seems to rule. I still think of her as that youthful, beautiful woman I married, someone who was so very different than I on the one hand, but seemed to share many of my interests.

I've told a lot about those interests since writing this blog, so no need to detail them in this entry. But, over the years, I've scanned many of our photos, and in celebration of Ann's birthday, and her life, I include some here. Happy 70th, Annie!

Might as well start near the beginning, actually the earliest picture I have of her at about one year old. That impish glint is already in her eye

We progress to about 1948. Ann loves dancing and in fact studied Flamenco in her early 20s with one of her employees who later relocated to Spain and became (and still is) a renowned expert on the topic, Estela Zatania. Here Ann is being escorted by her friend, Teddy, at her first Georgia Military Academy Ball. There are a number of photos of Ann as a teenager at various military bases in 1958 and 1959 . She helped organize those dances for servicemen during their basic training out of college.

Ann at fourteen, more recognizable as the women she became.

At her "Sweet Sixteen Birthday Party" which she co-hosted with her best friend Judy, and all their friends. Ann's mother, Rose, is sitting behind her alongside Aunt Emma in the white hat.

Finally, 1959, graduation from Henry Grady High School. Ann's friends got married or went off to college to get married. Ann packed her bags and moved to NYC within months and never looked back.

What does one do in NYC other than work during the day and go to school at nights? Naturally, Ann gravitated towards the performing arts, did one off-off Broadway production, Ann taking a bow as the leading lady in "The Moon is Blue," and she played a mean pair of maracas.

And, if one is going to do theatre, why not mix in a little modeling on the side? Here is a real ham at work.

She also hammed it up on a boat somewhere in New England, little knowing that boating was going to figure prominently in her life.

Finally, the big time. Meeting me and getting married! In my speech at her 50th birthday, linked above, I adlibbed that she had "married well" which brought everyone to uproarious laughter as we all know she could have done a lot better.

One of the responsibilities Ann took on was to become a step-mother to Chris. I am proud that they have a great relationship to this day and consider themselves spiritual mother and son.

And, then there is our son, Jonathan, who inherited his wanderlust from his mother. Here we are at the Montauk Inlet, probably around 1984, on our way to Block Island.

For several years I had a non-commercial lobster license and we would tend to several lobster pots off of the Norwalk Islands. Ann was a good sport about this and would often remark to people," look at these hands and manicured nails -- they've been in lobster pots!"

As I said earlier, I was able to pull off big surprise birthday parties for Ann, for her 40th and her 50th, those ten years between being some of the best of our lives. Friends and relatives from far joined in these celebrations.

We've done a lot of travel while married, mine mostly for business, Ann sometimes accompanying me and trying to squeeze in some personal time. Now that I am retired, it is all for pleasure, mostly hers. She is an inveterate traveler, always ready to pack her bag to visit her best friend, Maria, in Sicily or other parts of the world, too numerous to list here.

Finally, the most recent picture of us together, on our little boat in Lake Worth at sunset.

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Dawn Rises on a Fresh Snow

As much as I generally do not miss the winters in the Northeast, there is that magical time when the snow is still pristine and the stillness of the dawn arrives, that a certain majesty of nature's creation is in evidence. Luckily, sites like capture such moments in their photographs, and here is an exceptional one they posted today of Westport's Compo Beach (CT).


Friday, August 13, 2010

Low Tide

I mean this literally and figuratively, an astronomical low as evidenced by the photo below of the Norwalk River.

And a walk down Westport’s Main Street, my first in many years, revealing that most of the local shops are gone, the Remarkable Bookstore and Klein’s now a figment of my memory and, in their place, trendy shops one would encounter in an upscale mall. In fact, think of downtown Westport, CT as now being mostly an outdoor mall with only Acorn Pharmacy, Westport Pizzeria, the Liquor Locker, and Oscar's the vestiges of the New England town I once knew.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Happy Days

What a cynical title for Samuel Beckett’s brilliant play, courageously presented by the Westport Country Playhouse to celebrate its 80th anniversary. It is not the kind of light fare one might expect on a languid summer’s night at a country theatre far off Broadway, and it was a brave choice by the Theatre’s Artistic Director, Mark Lamos. But this is Westport, Ct - a bedroom community of NYC where we lived for so many years. In fact, we were there during the celebration of the Playhouse’s 40th anniversary – half of its lifetime ago -- so although we are now only summertime visitors, its byways are subliminally imprinted on us.

Edward Albee, one of the many playwrights indebted to Beckett’s trailblazing works, has said “I am not interested in living in a city where there isn’t a production by Samuel Beckett running.” So we’ve been lucky enough to live first in New York City, and then Westport and now the West Palm Beach, Fl area as well, the latter with its Dramaworks Theatre, which produces “theatre to think about.”

And indeed Happy Days is the kind of theatre that one thinks about as much in retrospect as when one experiences it. In fact, I would have been happy to have had a Samuel French edition in my lap with a tiny flashlight to follow what is mostly an uninterrupted monologue. It is so rich in meaning and innuendo. Such a performance requires an exceptional actress and the Playhouse engaged the veteran actor Dana Ivey for the task.

My wife, Ann, had a personal connection with Ivey as they were two of the lead females in their senior high school play in Atlanta, Ga. something Dana Ivey either failed to remember or would like to forget. Ann saw Dana Ivey perform on Broadway with Morgan Freeman in Driving Miss Daisy and after the performance went backstage to say hello and praise Dana for an unforgettable performance. Ann was with two friends. Morgan Freeman first greeted them, said Dana was busy, but would be with them shortly. When she came out, she completely failed to recognize or remember Ann (an unforgettable person), and only vaguely remembered the extraordinary play they performed in or anything else relating to their high school experience. It was a shocking moment for Ann who minutes later laughed it off. I guess when one becomes a Broadway star you can afford to remember the past in any way you choose.

But credit is due Dana Ivy for successfully bringing the audience into Beckett’s abstract world where days begin and end with a school bell and where we are all earth bound in an earth mound. Winnie in the first act sits waist up, at the top of her earth mound, carrying on mostly a conversation with herself, trying to read what is inscribed on her tooth brush and, finally reading the smallest print with the help of a magnifying glass, proclaiming it is another “happy day” as she has learned something new. Talking validates her existence as does the large black handbag at her side filled with her possessions. These are symbolic of our own possessions we tote around during our lifetimes, things that really own us than we them. She reminds us that these things “have a life of their own.” She arranges and rearranges the contents of her bag during the play which prophetically includes a pistol, carefully declaring a new place for the pistol which will no longer reside in her bag but by her side.

At one point, the earthbound Winnie ebulliently declares that she feels it is such a “happy day” that she should be able to ethereally rise into the sky, holding her parasol above her, one that mysteriously burns up and is tossed aside by her. Also, interestingly, except for Willie, her husband, the only other character who “makes an appearance” in the play is an ant, one that Winnie spies with her magnifying glass and carefully follows until it disappears under a rock. We are but ants in Beckett’s universe, but with the ability to talk and, unfortunately, be aware of our own brief, inexplicable existence on this mound called earth.

Meanwhile she directs questions, demands, and criticism of her husband Willy played mostly off stage by Jack Wetherall. Unlike Winnie who is at the top of the mound, Willy mostly lives in a cave and has to be reminded by Winnie, as if he is a child, that if he enters the cave head first he might have difficulty backing out. There is humor in all of this, very dark humor, which takes a darker turn in the briefer second act when the bell rings and Winnie is now buried up to her neck in her earth mound, unable to move anything at all, including her head. (In fact, Beckett in his correspondence with the play’s American director, Alan Schneider, when the play premiered at NYC’s Cherry Lane Theatre in 1961, said of Winnie: “She simply can’t move, that’s all. Times when she can’t speak, times where she can’t move. Her problem is how to eke out, each ‘day’ and organize economy of these two orders of resources, body and speech.”)

It is at this point that Willie finally makes an on stage appearance, a disheveled and shaking old man, formally dressed in spats and tie who grunts and claws his way up towards Winnie, something that pleases her at first, falling back, being egged on by Winnie to try again. Is Willie reaching for Winnie or is it the gun, as the play and their marriage and perhaps their lives devolve to their abrupt end? Lights out. Curtain.

It was a night of powerful theatre. We exited to the parking lot. It had just rained and the humidity hung in the air, also rising off the steaming macadam and fogging our glasses. So we drove the back roads of Westport, returning to our boat, passing landmarks indelibly imprinted and always remembered such as the location of the old Westport National Bank (gone) turning left onto the only road that runs west and parallel to Riverside Avenue, along the southern side of the Saugatuck River, passing homes where we had partied in our youth (including one Christmas eve where guests in an alcoholic induced stupor set a couch on fire and it had to be dragged out to the snow to extinguish the flames), the building our first Internist once occupied (who later died in the same nursing home as Ann’s mother), the Westport Women’s Club where my publishing company held our annual Xmas party for so many years, my old office itself across the river where I worked for the first ten years in Westport, now the Westport Arts Center, past the street where Ann and I went for Lamaze classes when she was pregnant, over the old bridge crossing the Saugatuck, turning left then right under the Turnpike past the structure which used to be The Arrow Restaurant (long gone) where Ann reminded me they made her favorite dinner, crispy fried chicken, and then further west to Norwalk, all fragments of our own earth mound, being earth bound, trying to understand. Theatre to think about. Oh, happy days.


Friday, January 29, 2010

Who wants flowers when you're dead?

A couple of days ago, my friend Bruce and I were exchanging some brief emails regarding Salinger, not for any particular reason other than wondering what he might be up to in his reclusive self-imposed exile, and then the news he died the very day we were having those thoughts. As Bruce said “Are the mystical forces of the universe visiting the readers and men of letters? I'm scared.” There is a special place in our generation’s literary consciousness for the particularly honest, direct, voice of Salinger’s writing. I remember reading Catcher in my late teens thinking how can this guy know what I was thinking?

Salinger also lived in Westport CT for a while, before we settled in that town, and some think Catcher could have been written there.

Strange to be in a world without, now, Holden Caulfield, as well as Harry “Rabbit” Angstrom.

“Boy, when you're dead, they really fix you up. I hope to hell when I do die somebody has sense enough to just dump me in the river or something. Anything except sticking me in a goddam cemetery. People coming and putting a bunch of flowers on your stomach on Sunday, and all that crap. Who wants flowers when you're dead? Nobody.” --The Catcher in the Rye

Speaking of dead, Florida is known as “God’s waiting room,” and this is no more evident than in the deluge of advertisements and mailings here about estate planning, not outliving your money, etc., but my very favorite came in the mail yesterday, the “opportunity” to “win a pre-paid cremation!” Just more “crap.” RIP, Holden.


Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Einhorn’s Speech and Bubble Du Jour

Sometimes you come across a point of view on our economic crisis that provides such clarity you want to share it. Such is the case with David Einhorn’s recent speech at the Helbrunn Center for Graham & Dodd Investing. Einhorn is President and founder of Greenlight Capital, a money management firm that specializes in long-short value oriented investments, and he is the author of Fooling Some of the People All of the Time, the story of Greenlight’s short sales of Allied Capital and the subsequent controversy that became highly publicized. I learned of this speech from a blogger colleague over at Fund My Mutual Fund but undoubtedly it has been widely circulated by others as well.

I have selected some salient points from the speech and post them here. If you read these, go to the entire speech, as quotes out of context cannot convey the full measure of Einhorn’s well-reasoned arguments. While his value oriented investing style will remain his approach, the current crisis has convinced him to include gold in his portfolio, something most value investors find antithetical.

I wonder what he thinks about the rise of the Dow to more than 10,000, a sixty percent “recovery” from its earlier lows. Late last year I had posted a summary of the Wall Street Journal’s headlines all of which were decidedly negative, the perfect contrarian indicator. Now, the market is being bid up with talk of green shoots and improving earnings. An anecdotal observation regarding the latter is the recently announced “improved” earnings (that is, a positive comparison to expected earnings, not normalized ones) of many of the Dow’s major components seem to be accompanied by a shortfall in revenue, in other words earnings that come as a result of cost cutting, particularly layoffs and hiring freezes. Corporations cannot sustain earnings growth without revenue growth and the latter cannot happen while real unemployment rates stubbornly remain in double digits leaving the consumer on the ropes.

The illogical exuberance of the market lately is in lock step with the dollar’s decline as interest rates have also disappeared into a black hole. Stocks have just become another commodity, with a more limited supply than the government’s ability to manufacture dollars. As the headlines of almost a year ago signaled a bottom, perhaps the recent introduction of the Porsche Panamera, a $133,000 four door sedan with a 500 horsepower twin turbo V8 that can reach 60 mph in a mere 4 seconds – the perfect car for the bailed-out gang on Wall Street in this energy-challenged age – foreshadows a new bubble.

Here are some salient points from David Einhorn’s speech (Value Investing Congress David Einhorn, Greenlight Capital, “Liquor before Beer… In the Clear” October 19, 2009) which should be read in its entirety here:

* As I see it, there are two basic problems in how we have designed our government. The first is that officials favor policies with short-term impact over those in our long-term interest because they need to be popular while they are in office and they want to be reelected. …. Paul Volcker was an unusual public official because he was willing to make unpopular decisions in the early ’80s and was disliked at the time. History, though, judges him kindly for the era of prosperity that followed. Presently, Ben Bernanke and Tim Geithner have become the quintessential short-term decision makers. They explicitly “do whatever it takes” to “solve one problem at a time” and deal with the unintended consequences later.

* The second weakness in our government is “concentrated benefit versus diffuse harm” also known as the problem of special interests. Decision makers help small groups who care about narrow issues and whose “special interests” invest substantial resources to be better heard through lobbying, public relations and campaign support…. [A]t some level, Americans understand that the Washington-Wall Street relationship has rewarded the least deserving people and institutions at the expense of the prudent. They don’t know the particulars or how to argue against the “without banks, we have no economy” demagogues. So, they fight healthcare reform, where they have enough personal experience to equip them to argue with Congressmen at town hall meetings. As I see it, the revolt over healthcare isn’t really about healthcare, but represents a broader upset at Washington.

* The financial reform on the table is analogous to our response to airline terrorism by frisking grandma and taking away everyone’s shampoo, in that it gives the appearance of officially “doing something” and adds to our bureaucracy without really making anything safer. With the ensuing government bailout, we have now institutionalized the idea of too big-to-fail and insulated investors from risk. The proper way to deal with too-big-to-fail, or too inter-connected to fail, is to make sure that no institution is too big or inter-connected to fail. The test ought to be that no institution should ever be of individual importance such that if we were faced with its demise the government would be forced to intervene. The real solution is to break up anything that fails that test.

(As a follow up to this last point, see today’s New York Times article: “Volcker’s Voice Fails to Sell a Bank Strategy: The former Fed chief said the giant banks must be broken apart and separated from risky trading on Wall Street, a view not shared by many in the White House”)

* Rather than deal with these simple problems with simple, obvious solutions, the official reform plans are complicated, convoluted and designed to only have the veneer of reform while mostly serving the special interests. The complications serve to reduce transparency, preventing the public at large from really seeing the overwhelming influence of the banks in shaping the new regulation. In dealing with the continued weak economy, our leaders are so determined not to repeat the perceived mistakes of the 1930s that they are risking policies with possibly far worse consequences designed by the same people at the Fed who ran policy with the short term view that asset bubbles don’t matter because the fallout can be managed after they pop.

* Over the next decade the welfare states will come to face severe demographic problems. Baby Boomers have driven the U.S. economy since they were born. It is no coincidence that we experienced an economic boom between 1980 and 2000, as the Boomers reached their peak productive years. The Boomers are now reaching retirement. The Social Security and Medicare commitments to them are astronomical. When the government calculates its debt and deficit it does so on a cash basis. This means that deficit accounting does not take into account the cost of future promises until the money goes out the door.

* [T]he Federal Reserve is propping up the bond market, buying long-dated assets with printed money. It cannot turn around and sell what it has just bought. ….Further, the Federal Open Market Committee members may not recognize inflation when they see it, as looking at inflation solely through the prices of goods and services, while ignoring asset inflation, can lead to a repeat of the last policy error of holding rates too low for too long.

* I subscribed to Warren Buffett’s old criticism that gold just sits there with no yield and viewed gold’s long-term value as difficult to assess. However, the recent crisis has changed my view. The question can be flipped: how does one know what the dollar is worth given that dollars can be created out of thin air or dropped from helicopters? Just because something hasn’t happened, doesn’t mean it won’t. Yes, we should continue to buy stocks in great companies, but there is room for [another] view as well. I have seen many people debate whether gold is a bet on inflation or deflation. As I see it, it is neither. Gold does well when monetary and fiscal policies are poor and does poorly when they appear sensible. Gold did very well during the Great Depression when FDR debased the currency. It did well again in the money printing 1970s, but collapsed in response to Paul Volcker’s austerity. It ultimately made a bottom around 2001 when the excitement about our future budget surpluses peaked. Prospectively, gold should do fine unless our leaders implement much greater fiscal and monetary restraint than appears likely. Of course, gold should do very well if there is a sovereign debt default or currency crisis.

* For years, the discussion has been that our deficit spending will pass the costs onto “our grandchildren.” I believe that this is no longer the case and that the consequences will be seen during the lifetime of the leaders who have pursued short-term popularity over our solvency.

On the lighter side of things, here is something I caught at Westport Now, the online newspaper that covers Westport, Connecticut, where I worked for so many years. Our first office was built on the site of an old New England lumber yard, on the Saugatuck River at 51 Riverside Avenue, and I recognized the building, the one on the left, in Westport Now’s recent photograph, the same fall colors ablaze as I remember them nearly forty years ago…


Sunday, July 26, 2009

Richard Yates’ Revolutionary Road

A while ago I was “tagged” by a fellow blogger to name twenty-five writers who “influenced” my life, and although I began my reply by naming Updike, Roth and Dreiser, Richard Yates could have easily been the first on my list.

He is certainly the only writer where I may have had some small reciprocal impact. Why? Because for almost ten years the only edition of his classic Revolutionary Road in print was the one I republished in 1971. Astonished to find it out of print at the time, we snapped up the rights from Yates’ literary agent, the International Famous Agency. In fact, the Wikipedia entry for the novel incorrectly cites Greenwood Press as the publisher instead of its original publisher, Little, Brown, and Company (1961). No doubt the article’s author was holding the Greenwood hardcover edition.

When our edition was published it was my intention to reread it, but career demands, other literary works, including all of Yates’ later novels and short stories, encroached on my reading time, so on various bookshelves in the homes we’ve lived, this edition nestled in waiting. The catalyst for recently rereading Revolutionary Road was the film of it, starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet. Reportedly, the book was “discovered” as a major American literary work by Kate Winslet and her husband, the film’s director, Sam Mendes. The film seemed faithful to the novel so I finally read the reprint edition to see for myself. In the process I was reminded why I was so taken with Yates’ work in the first place.

Since I am an “old” production guy, I have to describe the edition, republished without a jacket but in a library binding, 88 point binder’s boards, Arrestox "C" weight cloth with gold foil stamping on the spine, 5–1 /2 x 8–1/2 trim size, headbands and footbands, printed on acid free, cream colored high-opacity 50 lb paper. It was probably printed in Ann Arbor, Michigan where we printed the majority of our books. It looked as new as the day it was republished. So, I have come full circle with the book, reading it soon after it was first published, reprinting it when it went out of print, seeing the movie, and now finally rereading my reprint edition of the novel, with more than 40 years intervening.

As I said I thought the movie closely followed the book but after rereading Revolutionary Road, I am struck by its extreme faithfulness. Maybe this is because Yates’ elegantly developed plot moves chronologically and with an inevitability that drives the novel to its conclusion, making it so adaptable to the screen. But mostly, it is Yates’ living dialogue and although I do not have the screenplay to compare, I am certain much of it was wisely lifted from the novel itself.

When I first read the novel I was going through a divorce, having been married at the end of my junior year in college. My ex-wife and I were two kids, not unlike Frank and April in Revolutionary Road. I take literature very personally and the novel spoke directly to me as my own marriage was disintegrating and I was looking for answers.

The relationship of Yates’ men and women can be summed up by the titles of Yates’ two terrific short story collections: Eleven Kinds of Loneliness and Liars in Love. I was struck by these two themes, loneliness and self deception, as depicted in Revolutionary Road, relating those to my own experience, not only in my first marriage but the failed marriage of my parents (although they continued the pretense of a marriage to their deaths). Yates’ characters are perpetually struggling with one another, the men unsure of their masculinity, having to prove it in their work, their “need” to be loved by their wives, and to dominate women outside their marriages, while the women are highly neurotic and dependent but oddly headstrong and impulsive at the same time.

Towards the novel’s dénouement, April, exhausted from her struggles with her husband Frank, determined to follow through on aborting their third child, sends Frank off to work with a little kiss. Frank is confused, astounded, but grateful as he goes off to catch his train. April thinks it was “…a perfectly fair, friendly kiss, a kiss for a boy you’d just met at a party. The only real mistake, the only wrong and dishonest thing, was ever to have seen him as anything more than that. Oh, for a month or two, just for fun, it might be all right to play a game like that with a boy; but all these years! And all because, in a sentimentally lonely time long ago, she had found it easy and agreeable to believe whatever this one particular boy felt like saying, and to repay him for that pleasure by telling easy, agreeable lies of her own, until each was saying what the other most wanted to hear – until he was saying ‘I love you’ and she was saying ‘really, I mean it; you’re the most interesting person I’ve ever met.’” Indeed, liars in love. It perfectly described my own experience and I’ve been hooked on Yates ever since.

Yates characters wear different personas, playacting their way through their lives, with a natural capacity for self deception and disingenuousness. The book begins with a play in which April acts in a community theatre production. For a month after April finds she is pregnant with this third child, she and Frank go through their own elaborate play, she wanting an abortion (supposedly for Frank’s sake) and Frank wanting the child (supposedly for moral reasons). Subliminally he realizes that the pregnancy will put to rest April’s impetuous desire to move to Paris and thus leave them with a “comfortable” suburban life: “And so the way was clear for the quiet, controlled, dead serious debate with which they began to fill one after another of the calendar’s days, a debate that kept them both in a finely drawn state of nerves that was not at all unpleasant. It was very like a courtship….His main tactical problem, in this initial phase of the campaign, was to find ways of making his position attractive, as well as commendable. The visits to town and country restaurants were helpful in this connection; she had only to glance around her in such places to discover a world of handsome, graceful, unquestionably worthwhile men and women, who had somehow managed to transcend their environment – people who had turned dull jobs to their own advantage, who had exploited the system without knuckling under it, who would certainly tend, if they knew the facts of the Wheelers’ case, to agree with him.”

Yates tackles the suburban landscape, reminiscent of Cheever and Updike, something that did not resonate particularly with me when I first read the book, but after having lived in the Westport, Connecticut area for some thirty years, now has a special meaning. Yates’ portrayal is more scathing, depicting a desolate place where desperate people, lonely and unsure of themselves, toiling away in an era of placidity on the surface with deep anxiety running beneath. He describes the neighborhood as “invincibly cheerful, a toyland of white and pastel houses whose bright, uncurtained windows winked blandly through a dappling of green and yellow leaves.” The women raise the kids in their manicured homes and the men do battle in the city, snaking their way on the commuter railroad with their hats and their newspapers. Yates describes Frank, “…riding to work, one of the youngest and healthiest passengers on the train, he sat with the look of a man condemned to a very slow, painless death. He felt middle-aged.” This is as sad a depiction of the American dream’s corruption as could have been conjured up by Fitzgerald.

Frank works at his father’s old firm, a veneration of cynicism on his part. He gets a job in the Sales Promotion Department at Knox Business Machines, deciding “it would be more fun not to mention his father in the interview at all.” “The sales what? [April inquired]….What does that mean you’re supposed to do?” “Who the hell knows? They explained it to me for half an hour and I still don’t know, and I don’t think they do either. No, but it’s pretty funny, isn’t it? Old Knox Business Machines. Wait’ll I tell the old man. Wait’ll he hears I didn’t even use his name.” “And so it started as a kind of joke. Others might fail to see the humor of it, but it filled Frank Wheeler with a secret, astringent delight as he discharged his lazy duties, walking around the office in a way that had lately become almost habitual with him, if not quite truly characteristic, since having been described by his wife as ‘terrifically sexy’ -- a slow catlike stride, proudly muscular but expressing a sleepy disdain of tension or hurry.” Work too, is nothing more than a performance, something without intrinsic meaning, like other aspects of their lives.

Paradoxically, the one character in the novel who does not suffer from self deception, is their real estate agent’s son, John, who is an inmate in a mental institution, one who occasionally visits the Wheelers when he is released to his parents. When he learns that the Wheelers are not going to move to France and that April is pregnant, he says to them, first referring to Frank, “Big man you got here, April…Big family man, solid citizen. I feel sorry for you. Still, maybe you deserve each other. Matter of fact, the way you look right now, I’m beginning to feel sorry for him too. I mean come to think of it, you must give him a pretty bad time, if making babies is the only way he can prove he’s got a pair of balls….Hey, I’m glad of one thing, though? You know what I’m glad of? I’m glad I’m not gonna be that kid.”

Yates wrote six novels after Revolutionary Road. Among my favorites was Easter Parade, but Revolutionary Road stands on its own. He also had his short stories published in the two collections mentioned earlier, and, finally, he became more widely recognized with the publication of the Collected Stories of Richard Yates a few years ago. The wonderful introduction to this edition was written by Richard Russo who is yet another contemporary author influenced by Yates.

A must read article on Yates “The Lost World of Richard Yates; How the great writer of the Age of Anxiety disappeared from print” was published in the October/November 1999 issue of the Boston Review by Stewart O’Nan. He thoroughly covers Yates’ history and writing, but I was disappointed O’Nan failed to mention the edition of Revolutionary Road we kept in print for those ten years. Nonetheless, I would like to think our edition did its small part in keeping Yates’ extraordinary novel alive.

Thursday, April 30, 2009

Rabbit Hill Days

Someone asked whether I had a picture during my hippie years, when I sported nearly shoulder length hair and a Fu Manchu mustache. This led me to photographs of that time, when we bought our first home in Connecticut, on Rabbit Hill. If that sounds familiar, it is the same location that inspired Robert Lawson’s famous children’s book of the same title, published only a couple of years after I was born. Lawson had lived on the Hill. This in turn led me to think about those days, how different they were, a new career and home, the breathing in and out of energy and expectations.

We bought that Rabbit Hill home after having rented across the road on Sipperley’s Hill. I can still remember reading the Westport News, spotting the ad for the home and saying to Ann, “Hey, that’s just across the road.” We had been married the year before, my coming to the marriage with college debt, alimony, and child support (I was a fine catch). Between the two of us we had finally saved what was then required to get a mortgage in those days, about 25% of the purchase price, a far cry from zero down of the recent credit bubble. This first home had two small bedrooms and one bath, a prefab that had been built before WWII, which nonetheless was on two of the most beautiful acres of mostly pine trees and rolling hills.

Rabbit Hill Road itself was a little cul-de-sac private road on which four homes stood, three small homes (including ours) and another larger one, probably the original home on the road. It was thought that had once been owned by Max Shulman as his name was on the deed for the private road. Shulman was the author of Rally Round the Flag, Boys! that was made into a film starring Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward; and filmed in Westport.

We did not know at the time we were also becoming “neighbors” of the Newman’s who lived east of nearby Weston Road. When Ann collected for the United Fund she was “assigned” their home and Joanne Woodward was very welcoming. Towards the end of my career, I had the privilege of working with her on the publication of Westport, Connecticut: The Story of a New England Town's Rise to Prominence for which she graciously agreed to write the foreword. She was personable and we chatted about buying our first homes in Westport, as friendly neighbors would.

Rabbit Hill is off of Ford Road, which runs along the upper branch of the Saugatuck River. At the bottom of the hill is a waterfall which we could easily hear on tranquil summer nights with our windows open. There is a fresh water pond above the waterfall where we would swim on languid summer weekends or at twilight after work and before dinner. Between the waterfall and the wind moving through the adjoining pine forest, nature’s steady hum became our constant companion. At times we would walk through the pine forest to a clearing where we would just lie on the ground to take in the sky and the sounds. It was quite a change for someone who lived in the city.

When we saw the ad for this home, we were not even thinking of buying but we loved where we rented and as with most big decisions in our lives we were impulsive. After all, across the street meant it was meant to be. So with everything we had saved, in July 1971 we put down the required deposit and secured a 7-1/2% mortgage that would be paid off completely in 1996, so far in the future it then seemed like a long slide into eternity, and we bought our first home at 5 Rabbit Hill Road.

This reinforced our commitment to Connecticut and so we finally cut our long-standing ties to New York, giving up our rent-controlled apartment at 33 West 63rd Street. Ann also abandoned her NYC commute, leaving the publishing industry, and secured a job with an advertising agency in New Haven.

Buying a home brought out the nesting instinct, fixing up the house and making a trial run at “having a baby” by getting our first puppy, a Miniature Schnauzer. We painted, and I built a bookcase on the wall that had a fireplace, not only for our books but also to house the Fisher Stereo system I had bought from Avery Fisher himself as my father photographed their equipment and I was able to buy what was at the time a top of the line amplifier and speakers, wholesale, to play our 33 LPs.

When we had custody of my son Chris, during Christmas or for part of the summer, I would fly out to Indianapolis to accompany him on the flights. It was the Rabbit Hill experience that contributed to our mutual longing for him to live with us, although that would not take place until he was beginning high school.

It was a simpler time, no cable TV, Internet, Twitter, Facebook, cell phones or even portable phones, personal computers, digital anything. No passwords! All in the Family was the #1 TV show and I associate our Rabbit Hill days with the music of Carole King and Credence Clearwater Revival. But they were inflationary years, President Nixon ordering a 90-day freeze on prices and wages as the inflation rate approached 6%, the consequence of continuing to fund the disastrous Vietnam War that still dragged on.

In fact, that same year we saw Dalton Trumbo’s movie, Johnny Got His Gun – perhaps the most gripping anti-war movie ever made, clearly a reaction to the inanity of the Vietnam conflict. A WW I soldier, played by Timothy Bottoms, is severely injured and emerges to consciousness in a vegetable state at a VA hospital. The only thing that functions is his mind and the action is passively viewed through his eyes and thoughts. His single wish is to terminate his life, but it is prolonged, and he is doomed to live like that for the rest of his life. I’m still affected by that movie so many years later.

In spite of the Vietnam War, the federal debt had not even doubled since the end of WW II, standing at “only” $408 billion, but that represented about 37% of the gross national product and today that is approaching 100%. To put those numbers in another perspective, a gallon of gas was then a mere 36 cents and the US population was 100 million less than today’s.

It seemed like we would stay at our Rabbit Hill home for the rest of our lives, but after expanding the kitchen to accommodate a small dining area, we concluded that it would be too expensive to expand the bedrooms, and we would be better off to buy a larger home. Ann was pregnant at the time, but that would later end in a miscarriage. We put our first home on the market in the spring of 1974 and the first couple that looked at it bought it – as I recall the husband had lived on the road when he was a kid and wanted to return. Sometimes I now feel that way as well. Off we went to neighboring Weston, to a larger ranch, and there we would live for the next twenty-one years, at which time we moved again to a home on the Norwalk River.

When we sold that last home in Connecticut, the closing was on a beautiful day in late May. The trees were now almost fully burdened by the summer’s leaves and the air was oppressive with blooming flora. Ironically, the buyer’s attorney’s office was in a building that used to house an embalming supply facility, one that had been turned into upscale offices, a building which was at the bottom of Rabbit Hill Road, overlooking the pond where we used to swim. So, we went back in time to go to the future. We made one last visit to our original little house that day, just by driving into the road and slowly turning around. A second story had been added on and the owners had pushed out as well. The house was now unrecognizable to us. But the stir of the wind in the pine tress and the surge of the waterfall were unambiguous reminders of those Rabbit Hill days.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

West Palm Beach Hosts Sondheim

As Stephen Sondheim would say, “life is Company!” A few days ago we saw the great man himself at the Kravis Center in “A Conversation with Stephen Sondheim” with musical examples. As Updike is to contemporary American literature, Sondheim is to contemporary American music. When he walked onto the stage, Ann and I held our breath: a living legend before us. We’ve seen many Sondheim shows and revivals and even have a small “connection” with him through our old hometown of Westport, Ct. where Sondheim served as an apprentice at the Westport Country Playhouse in 1950. But this was such a different experience.

I wasn’t sure what such an evening might be like, although I suspected the venue would be a discussion prompted by a moderator, in this case Sean Patrick Flahaven the Associate Editor of The Sondheim Review with musical illustrations by Kate Baldwin who apparently was a last minute replacement for Christine Ebersole. Kate is a quintessential Sondheim singer, someone with a wonderful voice who articulates every word with the emotive intent of the song. The pianist, Scott Cady, was equally up to the task of communicating the subtleties and rhythms of the master’s music.

In fact, that is what Sondheim’s work is all about, the perfect marriage of lyric and music. As he explained in his “Conversation,” “I write for actors.” I watched him watch Kate sing the examples, wondering, exactly what was he thinking. Was he remembering how and when he wrote those pieces, or was he subliminally critiquing her performance, or was he just taking in the evening, as we were, a tribute to a legend?

I had hoped to hear more about the music itself, his comments on the particular pieces that were sung during the evening, but most of the night was about his reminiscences of his fabulous career. Having followed Sondheim, I was familiar with most of his musical works but was amused by some of the “inside information” he shared such as, in addition to Sweeny Todd, his musical Into the Woods had been prepared for film, although it never made it to the screen. This version was created with Jim Henson puppets alongside such luminaries as Robin Williams, Roseanne Barr and Steve Martin. With Henson’s death, this project ended.

I also learned he wrote a musical, Saturday Night, in 1954 when he was only 23, but it was not produced until about ten years ago. I think of it as a precursor to his portrayal of urban life in his breakthrough musical Company (the first Sondheim musical we saw when we lived in Manhattan in 1970). Saturday Night has a breathtakingly beautiful piece “What More do I Need?” which Kate Baldwin sung as the opening example. I was so taken with it I immediately bought an mp3 copy on Amazon (very competently sung by Dawn Upshaw but I like Kate’s version which is only accompanied by the piano) and then downloaded the sheet music from using the Solero Music Viewer (great service for musicians – allows you to buy just one piece, download it, even transpose it, and then print it). I’ve been sort of “consumed” playing the song since then. It can be seen on YouTube, sung by Anne Hathaway of all people (never knew she could sing so well).

Rodgers and Hammerstein brought the musical to a new plane making the songs intrinsic to the plot. (Hammerstein in fact was Sondheim’s mentor.) With Company Sondheim took the Broadway musical to the next level, and he has elevated it ever since. Sondheim is in a class of his own. As he explained in “Conversations” Company is not a plot driven musical. He thinks of it as it as a work of art you can look at from different perspectives and find different meanings.

Before seeing “Conversations” we rented the brilliant 2007 revival of the show, filmed for PBS and now available on DVD, staring Raul Esparza. Esparza’s interview on the DVD is worth the price alone – how it feels to play in a Sondheim musical. Company is chock full of Sondheim’s trademark conversational songs, works of art in their own right, looking at the foibles of relationships and what life means without them. Baldwin sang “Another Hundred People” from the show.

Most of my piano repertoire is focused on the great American Songbook, the work of Bill Evans, and the music of Stephen Sondheim. I regularly play his pieces; they are intricate, and while some are not necessarily melodic, many are beautiful, and all are memorable. His lyrics and music are so closely intertwined that just hearing the music is like looking at an impressionist painting without the brush stokes or reflections of light. But, I hear the lyrics in my mind as I play, and I am continually drawn to his work.

“Not a Day Goes By” is one of Sondheim’s more poignant ballads which is sung twice in his 1981 musical Merrily We Roll Along, first as a statement of a husband’s unequivocal love for a wife who now wants to divorce him, and then as a reprisal (in this musical time goes backward) on the day they were married. The ambiguous lyrics can be read at and my rendition of the song can be heard here:

[Sorry, but the link to this song was subsequently removed by Google Pages]

Life is Company. Thank you Stephen Sondheim!

Sunday, November 2, 2008


After a summer of living on the boat and traveling for the last couple of weeks, we finally returned home. Amazing how much can change -- even profoundly change in one’s life in just a few short weeks. For me it can be summed up in two words: the economy and Westport.

Not that the economy was much different since my last entry, it’s just that the market is just beginning to come to grips with what Nouriel Roubini has called "stagdeflation."

If Roubini is right, this will be unlike anything we’ve experienced in our lifetime, a severe protracted recession that is accompanied by deflationary forces -- instead of the inflationary beast with which we are at least familiar. This has taken down nearly all asset classes throughout the world. So much for the myth of diversification. In those few short weeks the changing economic winds have already impacted how we look at things as consumers and they portend a protracted period of unemployment growth. It strikes a nerve in all savers, wondering whether savings would be better off under the mattress or whether paper money might have any value at all. Personally, I worry about my sons who are navigating the prime of their working lives.

I mentioned Westport above, the town in Connecticut where I worked and lived for 30 years. While we were away this past month, two seismic changes occurred where we raised our family.
Paul Newman died. He was our neighbor at one time and I had the privilege of briefly working with his wife, Joanne Woodward, on a history of Westport. While I never had the opportunity of meeting him, I had often seen him in town, usually at local restaurants or at a farmer’s market or once when he parked his customized VW in our company parking lot to visit a building next door. The town treated him pretty much like anyone else and that is the way he wanted it. He was just there, around town, and of course larger than life on the screen, and because of his extensive charity work, even on bottles of salad dressing.

He was such a part of the fabric of all of our lives. I feel a profound sense of loss whenever I think of him, or see him on the screen or on those bottles of “Newman’s Own” which he funded to last into perpetuity for the benefit of progressive causes. He was iconic and an iconoclast at the same time, a person who I admired, a true maverick who lived his life the way he wanted, not the way Hollywood normally dictates.

The other news from my former hometown concerns the company I helped to build over nearly three decades, Greenwood Publishing Group, which was just recently sold to another company. Mergers and acquisitions are now the rule in the publishing business, so this was not surprising. I had been involved in several during my career. In fact the company had gone through a couple such changes since I left the business at the beginning of this decade. But, apparently this time, while the imprints will go on, the offices will be closed and many employees will be laid off. I feel so sad to hear this news.

While these events unfolded, we were visiting friends in the southwest, flying first to Albuquerque to pick up our car rental and then making our first stop in beautiful Santa Fe, NM

There we toured for several days and to visit my old friend, Jim, who I hadn’t seen in some 20 years. As I mentioned in my last entry, Jim and I started out our working career together. He’s become somewhat of a “mountain man” – in spite of health problems you can find him hiking the trails around Santa Fe when he’s not behind his desk, working on his two imprints, Western Edge Press and Sherman Asher Publishing It was fun to visit, to reminisce, to meet his friend, Judy, and to have his expertise in guiding us around the area.

From there we went on to Taos mainly to see the Taos Pueblo Indian Village, and then visited the Painted Desert and the Petrified Forest on our way to Sedona.

In Sedona we stayed with our friends Lew and Rosemary. Their home faces the Red Rocks of Sedona and at sunset one’s focus turns to that dramatic scene. At that time of day, it became a ritual to enjoy some wine and hors d’oeuvres, silently inhaling the beauty of the moment.

Afterwards, Lew played the piano – he is an accomplished musician and accompanies several singers, in particular our friend Nicole Pasternak when he is in Connecticut or she visits Sedona It was wonderful spending some time with them and to visit the natural wonders of Sedona.

From there we drove on to the Grand Canyon, staying at the famous El Tovar Hotel located on the Canyon Rim. From that location we watched both the sunset and sunrise. Words are inadequate to describe the scene.

After leaving the Canyon, we were determined to drive along a stretch of Route 66, from Seligman AZ to Kingman AZ with long vistas paralleling the Santa Fe RR, driving alongside freight trains numbering untold cars. It was a windy day and tumbleweeds crossed the road. In other words, Route 66 was pretty much as I had hoped and here are a few of my favorite photos I took along the way.

Our plans were to drive on to Las Vegas to see an old dear friend, Marge, and then catch a flight back to NY to pick up our car and stuff from the boat and begin our drive back to Florida. But before Las Vegas, I wanted to visit an old mining town along the way, Chloride, AZ (right near Grasshopper
Junction – no kidding). Talk about entering a time machine, as these photos attest.

We arrived in Las Vegas later in the afternoon. The last time we were there was to see Marge’s husband, Peter, a close friend of mine, more than 15 years ago. He had been diagnosed with cancer and we wanted to visit him. I wrote about this wonderful man and good friend last year:

Never my favorite city, Las Vegas has gone from excess to excess to the second power, a geometric growth of overindulgence, sort of emblematic of our country’s economic mess. Nonetheless, it was great to see Marge (who never visits the strip other than to see friends who might be passing through - such as ourselves). We did the “high life” bit in 24 hours, had an excellent dinner, enjoyed a Cirque du Soleil performance, and even committed $10 apiece to slot machines, from which I walked away $3 to the plus, after nearly losing everything. Ann, on the other hand, lost everything, period.

So after driving some 1,200 miles we boarded a Jet Blue flight for JFK wherewe picked up our car and began another 1,200 mile drive home from there.