The morning after

I don’t know what it’s like where you are, but Midtown Mahattan is oddly quiet. There’s traffic, yeah, even big trucks, and the occasional siren. There’s just less of it. The city feels like it’s had its wind knocked out and is sitting on the pavement with its legs out in front of it till it recovers.

They come in waves, the things this could make worse. Keystone Pipeline, DAPL, Standing Rock. Syria. Climate change. Environmental regs. The ways men feel allowed to treat women. I remember a clip of OJ Simpson, he was wearing boxing gloves and he made some dumb joke about belting the old lady if she got out of line. Of course he didn’t mean anything by it, did he, Nicole?

All the ways the Supreme Court will influence the country for the next oh 25 years… Voting rights. Abortion. Civil rights.  Citizens United is here to stay, Roe v. Wade and Affordable Care, maybe not. They have it all, every branch of government. Looking on the bright side, maybe they’ll finally allow some things to get done, now that they don’t have to share credit.

I saw Hillary’s brief speech this morning. She was wearing mourning clothes, black and purple. She was impeccable in defeat. Peaceful transfer ofpower. “Have an open mind,” she said. “Give him a chance to lead.” This, in particular, resonated for me: “Fighting for what’s right is worth it.”

Just have to figure out how….


On the road again…

IMG_0339I’m  in France, and I still don’t know how to work all the technology I have, but I’ve decided that instead of just writing about the one thing I’ve been writing about for a lifetime—if you know me at all, you know what it is—it’s time I started doing something else.

After all this time I still don’t have the proper tone for a blog. Don’t know what the hell I’m doing. Which is why the photo above is probably appropriate. Facing into a dead end. A very pretty dead end, to be sure, delicate and historical, dates from the 16th century, at a hotel next to Provence which Arlette and I reached at nearly midnight on a full-moon night, after a trip down one of the worst roads I’ve ever driven. It wasn’t a road, really, more like a continuous ditch. But at the end of the road, this: IMG_0332We allowed ourselves an extra day just to flop and take pictures and gather our breath. Unfortunately we couldn’t stay there for the three days we’d hoped for, because there was no way we were driving that road more than once: to get out.

Some lessons learned on the road so far:

When reserving a chambre d’hIote, be certain the price quoted is for two, not each.

When you have double hip replacements and funky knees, don’t try squatting in the bushes to pee.

Provence, once you get there, is a little bit of heaven…..

A street in Montfort

A street in Montfort

the view from a restaurant table

the view from a restaurant table

Well, I consider this progress–a blog post with pictures. Tomorrow the world!

“Eric Garner Michael Brown”

That was the chant in the street under my window on 8th Ave. in the 50s tonight. One of them, anyway.It was more dramatic last night: pretty big crowds moving up 8th Avenue in the street. And then, after they’d been stopped somewhere out of my range of vision, coming back, walking downtown facing traffic. If I’d been in a cab or any other vehicle, I’d have been scared, because there was nowhere to go, and there wasn’t a cop in sight. They must have all been at the more demanding, dramatic sites—the West Side Highway, Union Square. I tried to take pictures out my widow, but you can’t see the danger as clearly as when I was watching it.

Tonight was both better and worse. The crowds were smaller, but there were more of them. One crowd would fade up 8th Avenue, flanked by phalanx of police cars, and another would emerge from a side street.

“Hey, look, what’s that sound? Everybody look what’s going down…” Thank you Steven Stills.

September 11, 2001

It happened on a beautiful September Tuesday. I was out of town and didn’t get back till Thursday. But 9/11 wasn’t a day, it was a season, a state of mind shared by everyone in the city. Maybe everybody in America, I don’t know. It made me realize where I live. I’m a New Yorker, one of the millions who’ve come here from somewhere else and found a home and stayed, sunk roots through the concrete.

The first view of the smoldering ruins from the approach to the Lincoln Tunnel the day I drove back. Smoke rising, as it would, less densely, till Cristmas and beyond.There was a girl on the corner of 9th Ave. & 42nd St., young, with long, thick, curling brown hair. I stared at her while I waited for the light to change, because she wasn’t covered with dust. For the length of a traffic light, she represented the hope of recovery.

There was the woman in my elevator, whose coloring, style and slight accent made me think she might be Iranian. Had I been to the firehouse on 48th St.?  she asked. I had not. The entire 9/11 morning crew had left for the towers and hadn’t come back yet. Well, it was only two days.  “Listen,” she said, “in a month or two we’ll all be hitting each other again. But for today, you take care of yourself, okay?” and we laughed and embraced each other and she got off at her floor.

There was the young cop getting coffee in the all-night deli across the street, who said he wanted to do something awful to “those rag heads,” and didn’t I feel the same way? “Oh, don’t do that!” I said. I remember trying to reach directly from my heart to his. “Because we’re all looking to you to set an example, and if you get violent, we will too, and then what will happen?”  He seemed to get it. He was, after all, beneath his uniform and gun and his justifiable rage, a young man who wanted to do the right thing. We all wanted to do the right thing.

There were the cops who manned the police barricade across 53rd & 8th, 24/7. Rumor had it that Giuliani was working out of the Transit Authority building down the block. I always stopped to talk to them, too, because they were part of the hurting community we were all suddenly part of. There was one, with tears in his eyes and a catch in his throat, who said he “wished those guys in the Towers could have gotten even a fraction of the love we’ve been getting from people since it happened.”

There were the signs outside the cleaners’ shops on 8th Ave.: “Will clean police and fire uniforms for free”; the styrofoam wreath with red white & blue ribbons outside the florist, with a sign saying “Take one”; the sound of distant bagpipes coming from the direction of St. Patrick’s on 5th Avenue for months, as the remains of firefighters were buried, and in the restaurant where I had breakfast, there were firefighters from as far away as Vancouver who came to be part of the honor guards, because there weren’t enough local firefighters to march and also do their jobs.

There was the sense, every time I walked out of my building and looked at the faces of the people walking toward me on the street, that we were all feeling the same thing, every day. We were united in grief, but something else, too. It seemed like real change was possible, if we could all just  lean in the right dirrection, put the weight of our sadness and good will where it would do some good, something better might come out of this….

To be continued, with some pictures….



State of the Union?

Living as I do on 8th Avenue in Manhattan, where I look down from the 11th floor at traffic surging uptown toward Columbus Circle, I have been aware for a few years now of periodic double phalanxes of police cars, more than a city block in length, moving up the avenue at slow speed. I think I was supposed to feel secure knowing that if the “terrorists” were on the sidewalk under my window, the police could come out in force from the curb sides of their cars swinging clubs or tasers or AK 47s. My homeland security dollars at work. I did not feel more secure, though, because one day I watched the parade and realized “That’s not for terrorists. That’s for us if we get angry enough to take to the streets.” Then there was the time in broad daylight at Columbus Circle when I saw a police officer in regalia that would have done the SS proud: High leather boots, jodphurs, lots of black leather. Or the two times when I walked to my local bank and saw an officer outside carrying hardware so formidable I gasped, and with insignia on his sleeve patch that I didn’t recognize. The first one was young and human, and after strutting a little (but never taking his eyes off the windows of the buildings around him, one of which was a major midtown hotel), he said he was in a “special division.” On the other occasion, the officer had dead eyes as well as a lethal weapon, so I didn’t engage in conversation. In fairness, the hotel in question was probably packed with world diplomats both times because there was a big UN event happening the following day. Yeah, homeland security isn’t a bad thing. (But remember when America was “the nation,” “my country”? The “homeland” was where the Nazis lived….)
Ever since 9/11, I’ve made an effort to connect with police officers on the street. In the aftermath of the attack, the entrance to one of the blocks near my building was barricaded, and there was an officer on duty 24/7. Rumor had it that a transit authority building on the block was where Giuiliani was working for the duration. I would stop to ask them “How you doing?” because they, like the whole city, were hurting. One of them said, with tears in his eyes and a catch in his throat, that he wished those guys who died in the Towers had gotten “even a fraction of the love we’ve been getting from people since it happened.” Since then, when I pass a cop, or encounter a pair of them getting coffee at 2 a.m. in my local diner, I always ask, “How you guys doin’?” Partly it’s because I want the local cops to know me if things come down that are bad—which, since I live in walking distance of Times Square, is not impossible. The response is surprising: Their faces light up. They’re so pleased to be greeted with trust. Of course, if something bad does come down, it won’t be my local precinct handling things. It’ll be those guys with the truncheons and tasers and AK47s and quite possibly dead eyes. Or robots. Robots are the next big thing, I hear. Are the feds giving away leftover robots?
Speaking of which, earlier this summer, I had a feeling of uneasiness drifting toward dread. I couldn’t escape the sense that they’re about to show their hand. Then came Michael Brown, and Ferguson, and it seems to me I was right. We now know that the police can and will shoot unarmed citizens in the streets and leave their bodies uncovered and uncollected for hours, so nobody can miss the visual. Even members of Congress were alarmed when they saw the footage of cops in military gear facing off against citizens in Ferguson. OMG! They’ve got military weapons! How did that happen? Was it in an amendment I didn’t read??? I’ve seen things before that worried me—the Darth Vader costumes police wore confronting demonstrators at some economic forum a couple of years ago. The tear-gassing of young women sitting in the street during the Occupy protests. (Whatever happened to the Occupy movement, by the way? Oh well….might as well ask ‘Whatever happened to the homeless who used to hang out at Columbus Circle?’ One day they just disappeared….) The thing is,  It seems to me that starting with the 2010 midterms and maybe before, the homegrown nouveaux fascista have taken over state legislatures and armed themselves with “leftover” military equipment from the federal government. I understand from a friend that the little town of Newtown, Pa., which has a police force of 5, also has a tank. Is it paranoid to think that the bad guys are now confident enough to come out of the closet? They’re starting with the black people, particularly young black men. But it doesn’t take a lot of imagination to get the message: They can put on masks, like the jihadis who behead journalists and stone women, and do whatever they want or are ordered to do, and there will be no consequences. The lineaments of the police state are in place, ready to be called to duty.

Deficit Reduction: A Modest Proposal

Like Casey Anthony for some people, deficit reduction was a story I couldn’t stop watching. They each inspire a similar mix of disbelief, fascination and dread. If this evil can exist and go unpunished, we are in terrible trouble. And as a single woman not that far distant from Social Security and Medicare, talk of cutting benefits so that the very rich and the companies they run can keep their tax breaks—trust me, we’ll be hearing it again soon—has personal resonance. I have a dog in this race.

Fortunately the White House has been accessible and transparent, just as the President promised during his campaign. Last summer I actually got an e-mail from Vice President Joe Biden, inviting me, as a federal employee, to contribute my ideas for eliminating wasteful government spending. There was to be a prize for the best suggestions.

I told him First of all, you should check your e-mail lists, because I am not and have never been a federal employee. But since you asked. . .

I want you to know that I am in complete agreement that the first steps in deficit reduction should be the elimination of wasteful spending on programs that coddle deadbeats. A little tough love should get them to live within their means, stop going to the doctor for every little thing, and save for their own retirements—in short, wean them from the nanny state. So here are my suggestions for where to start cutting:

(1) Congressional salaries and expense checks. Some people, particularly members of Congress,  might argue that that money has already been promised and we’re obliged to pay. But that’s what our global bondholders are saying about raising the debt ceiling: It’s just meeting our obligations. Since we’re prioritizing obligations according to which ones we’re going to welsh on first, I urge Congress to remember that smaller government, like charity, should begin at home.

(2) Next, I recommend a longterm freeze of Congressional salaries at their level during the last budget surplus—2001, I think, when President Bush inherited the surplus created by President Clinton, who did not, as I recall, need a Constitutional amendment to balance the budget. That way, instead of using their recesses to drum up funding for the next round of campaign rhetoric, members of Congress would have to go back to their districts and actually compete for available jobs. I believe that was the intention of the Founding Fathers, that the citizen legislators would go back to their farms and small businesses when the Congress wasn’t in session. You say times have changed? Tell it to the conservative caucus….

(3) And speaking of the 18th century, to which many members feel they should legislate a return, I suggest the elimination of air conditioning in any room where Congressmen or their staffs meet to conduct the people’s business. That way, they can duplicate the conditions in  Philadelphia in the 1770s and 1780s when the aforementioned Founding Fathers managed to rise above the bracing stench of their own sweat long enough to actually accomplish something. The Declaration. The Constitution. The Bill of Rights. Indeed, the temperature in Independence Hall may have motivated them to act with all due haste.

(4) Reduction or elimination of all congressional entitlements that exceed those available to the general public—i.e., pensions should be no higher than Social Security and not collectible until age 67. Health benefits should be limited to what is available under Medicare, with all other insurance and medical expenses paid for out of the officials’ own personal savings, and of course there should be absolutely no taxpayer-paid parking, housing, transportation, or free lunch. Any such gifts or donations from lobbyists or corporate donors, as well as gifts of cash, vacations, hookers, haute couture, illegal drugs or use of corporate jets, should be declared, assigned a market value and taxed as regular income.

(5) Charge for the Congressional gym. Since Congressmen no longer use such venues to communicate off the record and come to informal agreements, but rather, at least in one case, to take photographs of their thinly veiled private parts for Internet distribution, they should have to pay the going rate for use of the facilities. Here in New York City, that would amount to at least $1,700 per year per member of Congress (you have a pool, I believe; that costs more). Add a locker, really good towels, an occasional massage and tips and its about $2,500. With 435 Representatives and 100 Senators, that’s more than $1.3 million right there, not a large sum, but maybe enough to pay the electricity, and as American families know, at crunch time when the bills are due, every little bit helps..

(6) Since corporations are now people, according to the Supreme Court, with the same constitutionally protected speech rights as you and me, they should pay income taxes at the same rate. It’s not an increase in taxes. It’s just equality under the law. Sorry General Electric, Exxon, Chevron, et al….. I know that might leave you with less money to buy politicians, but it’s the price of living in a democracy.

Now here’s the kicker: I sent off my letter—I’d been invited, after all—and I got a reply. It said that due to the volume of letters coming in, the White House couldn’t process my recent message. Funny. I got the same response when I answered former campaign manager David Plouffe’s White House letter telling me about the President’s latest video, when I said I wasn’t interested in any more speeches, I’d like to see some action. Oh well, responsiveness wasn’t really an important campaign promise, not like defending Social Security or the rights of workers to organize.

So I guess Vice President Biden never actually got my e-mail. Too bad. I was hoping the prize for best suggestion included cash.

My Knee, part 2. Medicare Facts and Rumors

How much do you think a major New York City hospital charges per night for a bed,  in its 22-bed rehabilitation section, exclusive of professional services such as doctors, nurses, thereapists, etc.? Take a wild guess.

Anyone  say $7,100? If so, you are the winner. Unfortunately, there is no prize other than pride in being accurately cynical.

I know this figure to be true, because I received it today in a phone conversation with the assistant director, or maybe director, of  admissions at a major NYC Hospital with a rehab service.  It was in a conversation about why I would probably be sent to a nursing home for rehab after my knee replacement. Medicare, she said, will probably deny payment for me when they get the bill from the hospital because I am not 85, am having only an “uncomplicated, single-side” joint replacement have no other medical complications such as recent heart attack or stroke, and have no stairs in my home.

Knee replacement, by the way, was once described to me as having your leg cut off except for the ligaments and muscles and replacing the knee with titanium and plastic.  The recovery is reortedly long and painful. Call me crazy, but I feel as though I need a week afterwards, secure in the knowledge that there’s a doctor in the house, which is not the case in a nursing home.

So I canceled the surgery yesterday. Last night I got a call from the doctor (a first, actually) assuring me that it”s the surgery that matters, that rehab is ancillary, that the real work is after you get home and are in out-patient therapy, that the reality is that Medicare is broke (small wonder at $7,100 a night!), that if I go elsewhere and they botch the surgery, I can’t come to him for the repairs.

A few questions–If the surgery is primary and the rehab is ancillary, how come the surgery costs $2,000 and the rehab costs $7,100 a night, exclusive of professional services? I have more questions. But I have another doctor’s appointment (I’m limping along in the search for a new surgeon and a new hospital.) Meantime. memo to Senator Alan Simpson: It’s not the elderly who are sucking at the government tit; it’s the big hospitals—are any of their board members among your campaign donors?