The Trap of “More Electable”


Now that it’s looking more and more like Donald Trump is going to win the Republican nomination, I think it’s time to take a step back and think about what this means and portends for the general.

For Democrats, the question now is, whom should they pit against Trump? Who’s the best bet to beat him? A lot of my friends and the people whose posts I read on Facebook have been lobbying for Hillary because they think she is more “electable,” and they’re afraid of what will happen if the Democrats lose this election.

I get that. There’s a lot at stake here. We want the most electable candidate. But what does that mean in this particular cycle? On the Republican side, most people considered Jeb Bush the most “electable” candidate at the beginning of primary season. Lately, Marco Rubio has received the “most electable” mantle from the establishment. The voters ain’t buying it. Clearly something weird is going on. Traditional notions of what constitutes an electable candidate seem not to matter to the people pulling the voting levers. To anyone who is looking at this election season it should be clear by now what’s going on is indicative of a tremendous dissatisfaction with the status quo, and instead of resisting that idea, we need to understand it. Why is Trump dominating the primaries? Why is Sanders doing as well as he is?

The answer is actually not all that complicated. The system isn’t working for the masses. The American people are fed up with the establishment. They’re fed up with politics as usual and the idea that big money is running the show. They want somebody from outside the mainstream, somebody they perceive as uncorrupted. Yes, Hillary is leading Bernie right now, but that’s mostly because people who want to vote for Bernie are afraid he won’t win the general. I strongly believe that if Hillary wins the Democratic nomination, she will do so not because most Dems really prefer her, but because they’re afraid that Bernie isn’t electable. If a Jeb Bush or a Marco Rubio were leading the way on the Republican side, that would probably be true. But Trump’s ascendence changes everything. It totally alters the dynamics of how things will play out this fall. I’m now convinced that succumbing to fears about Bernie’s electability will be a huge mistake–and will actually ensure the opposite of the desired outcome, namely a Dem victory. Because I think that versus Trump, Bernie will be a much better candidate than Hillary. I think that Hillary is going to have a really tough time beating Trump and overcoming the anger of voters who are sick of the Bush and Clinton legacies. And I think a lot of people will be shocked to have so misread things.

This election will come down, as elections usually do, to the so-called independent voters, the swing voters. I think it’s pretty clear that Trump is going to get most of those independents in a matchup with Hillary. But in a race against Bernie, the independent vote will be a toss up. Not only will Bernie win more than his share of the swing voters, he will also pull some Republicans into his camp, people who would never in a million years vote for Hillary.

The Republican primary has been a referendum against the establishment, against Bush, against the mainstream. Anyone who thinks that the general election will not follow suit isn’t really paying attention.

Until now, I’d been on the fence about Bernie. I was worried that the people who were saying he was unelectable were right. But now I’m absolutely convinced that we NEED Bernie to be the Democratic candidate if we’re going to win this election. A lot of people see Bernie versus Hillary as a heart-versus-head question. As for me, my heart has always been with Bernie, but my head was telling me that Hillary would be our best chance in the general. Now my head is telling me that the game has changed, and I’m scared–really scared–that my friends and fellow Democrats won’t see this. If we look at this election the way the Republican establishment has been doing until now, we’ll be in for a painful surprise come November.

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Brooklyn in the House!



It’s been ten days since my last post here. I think the winter doldrums have got me down. I’m still not feeling especially inspired, but I thought I might just throw out some off-the-cuff observations about last night’s New Hampshire primary.

I still don’t know how I feel about Bernie. We’re so conditioned to believe that politics is a dirty game that we worry that the guy who’s playing it straight is a sucker bet.

Admit it. Aren’t you afraid that we’re being set up? Have you not pictured the Republicans rubbing their hands together and saying, “Can you believe it’s working? We may actually get the Dems to nominate a socialist?”

How deep in the bag for Clinton is the Times? Bernie stomped Clinton’s ass in New Hampshire and instead of giving him credit, the Times’ headline was “Bernie Sanders defeated Hillary Clinton in a state where he has long held an advantage.” Whaaaat? It actually wasn’t that long ago that Sanders was down 44 points in New Hampshire, a state btw that Clinton won in 2008.

Did anyone see the footage of Sanders playing hoops just before he gave his victory speech?  The old bastard can ball. The Fox commentators killed me. “Is this like some kind of a joke?” Meghan Kelly said. “How’s he doing that? He’s making every one.” “He’s from Brooklyn,” Bret Baier responded.

Btw, I predicted that John Kasich would finish second in New Hampshire. If you don’t believe me, ask my wife.

My friend Nolan Dalla, who was my inspiration for starting this blog, penned an entry the other day, “I Just Got ‘Push Polled’ by Hillary Clinton’s Nevada Campaign” that has gone viral.

This column? Definitely not going viral.






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Super Manly


Next Sunday will mark the 50th Super Bowl in history. I have watched every single one of the first forty-nine. From my perspective that’s an incredible fact–both for the amount of time that has passed since I watched the first one, and the idea that I was able to see the beginning of what has become an American institution.

I think it’s fair to say that nobody had any idea at the time that the Super Bowl would become an event of such magnitude, an event that, to pilfer a quote from Walter Matthau, “exemplifies all the worst aspects of capitalism that have made our country so great.”

For me, the novelty and import of that first game, pitting the NFL’s and Vince Lombardi’s Green Bay Packers against the AFL’s and Hank Stram’s Kansas City Chiefs, was surpassed in excitement only by Super Bowl III in which my New York Jets, led by Broadway Joe Namath, pulled off what still has to be considered the greatest and most tectonic plate-shifting upset in football history when they beat a mighty Baltimore Colts team that had been rated an 18-point favorite by Vegas. I was 13 years old when that happened, and the Jets have not been back to the Super Bowl since. That game ruined me forever for all intents and purposes, consigning me to lifelong Jet fandom and 47 years of subsequent suffering. But I am not here to talk about that. What I want to talk about is that first game, which was not by any stretch of the imagination a great game but was still, for my 11-year-old self, a near religious experience, a kind of early introduction into manhood and hanging out with the boys.

My dad and stepmom were living at the time on the top floor of a brownstone on West 22nd Street that Jerry Orbach and his then-wife Marta Curro owned. Jerry and my dad were good friends. On Super Sunday 1966, I was invited with my dad to watch the Super Bowl down at Jerry’s place. It was just the three of us and Ben Gazzara, and what I remember most vividly is that Jerry and Ben broke out cigars immediately (my dad stuck to his Gauloise), and the three of them drank bourbon and cracked wise in a haze of smoke as we watched the game on Jerry’s color RCA. I was in heaven to be included in this convocation of maleness even if I was bummed that the Chiefs, in their good guy white uniforms with red trim, wound up getting blown out. I did not drink that day. I did not smoke. But I felt a part of something big and manly, probably for the first time in my life. For this Jewish boy who never had a bar mitzvah, it was a day of initiation into the brotherhood of men. Fifty years later that is what stays with me.


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Why It’s Different This Time


I have been a Bernie man right along. He is one of the few politicians I have ever trusted. His positions have remained consistent for 30 years. He is who he says he is. And he believes in what he says he believes in. But I woke up at 5 this morning in what amounted to a cold sweat. Because it is looking ever more possible that he may win the Democratic nomination. And that scares me.

I’m very afraid that the Democrats might lose this election. Bernie would be the most socially and economically progressive candidate to win the nomination in my lifetime. I remember what happened to George McGovern, the last real progressive to head the Democratic ticket. I remember how Eugene McCarthy captured the anti-war youth vote in ’68 before his RFK entered the race and McCarthy’s campaign flamed out. I also remember what happened when the Republicans nominated an extreme candidate of their own, Barry Goldwater. The Dems crushed him. In national politics, the conventional wisdom says that the middle rules. That’s why candidates always move toward the middle once they win the nomination. Maybe voting for Hillary, someone who is sure to do that, is the prudent course to take. That was the thought that interrupted my dreams this morning.

But thinking back to those other races, Goldwater and McGovern, I remember that they were running against middle-of-the-road candidates like LBJ and Richard Nixon, and that what is going on in this cycle is something entirely different. If the GOP were to nominate Jeb Bush, I would be very worried about Bernie topping the Dem ticket (even though the supposedly moderate Bush is only slightly less conservative than the most ardent Tea Partiers in the new-age radicalized Republican party). But I don’t think Jeb has much of a shot. Neither does Kasich. Even Rubio seems like a long shot. Right now it seems most likely that the Repugs are going to nominate either Donald Trump or Ted Cruz, both of whom reflect extremist views at the opposite end of the spectrum from Bernie.

What is happening in American politics right now is that the middle, what used to be called the mainstream, is shrinking in reaction to the wealth disparity. The majority of Americans whose lives seem to be increasingly difficult are gravitating to extreme solutions to combat their feelings of powerlessness and discontent. They are sick of the same old same old. They want real change. I know I certainly do. That is why I think this election is different. We thought we were going to get Bush vs. Clinton 3.0 at the beginning of the season. Now it’s looking like it might be Trump-Sanders or Cruz-Sanders, and that is a reflection of the angry mood and desire for change that has seized the nation.

So instead of giving in to my fears about Bernie and his electability, I am choosing to embrace instead the idea that this is an incredibly rare opportunity for real change. Yes, it is risky. We could wind up with Donald Trump or Ted Cruz as the president. But I think it’s time to roll the dice, to see what happens if, instead of doing the same thing we always do–the working definition of insanity–we take a chance and shake things up. It’s possible, even likely, that if Bernie were to win (and doesn’t that still seem like a pipe dream?), he would find it impossible to implement any of his policies. But damn it, just this once, just one time in my life, I want to see what would happen if someone like him were to get the chance.

Because I really believe that if we don’t have a peaceful revolution, which is what the election of someone like Bernie would represent, there will be a violent one, or else a state of fascism headed by a demagogue like Trump or Cruz.


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Highlights of the Offseason

New York Mets v Miami Marlins

It’s nice to be thinking about baseball during a January blizzard. For Mets fans it’s particularly nice because Cespedes is coming back and all is well in Metville! In the end, that’s all that matters, isn’t it? So why does my joy feel tempered? Why do I feel like the abused child who has just been given a cookie? Why am I still suspicious and waiting for the next lash of the belt?

Tyler Kepner in today’s The New York Times wrote that the deal for Cespedes means that the Mets may actually know what they’re doing–and that they’re doing things the right way.

Sorry to disagree Mr. Kepner, but just because you draw to a gutshot straight and hit it doesn’t mean it was a smart play. It could be a good play, if you were getting the right implied odds, but it’s not a good play merely by virtue of the result.

I like Sandy Alderson. I think he’s a smart guy. He’s done a really good job of putting the Mets together under some pretty trying and compromising circumstances–namely the Wilpons and their money constraints. But Sandy has also gotten very lucky, hitting inside straights even when the odds weren’t giving him the right price. The Mets wouldn’t have gotten to the World Series last year without Cespedes, but they only got him because Sandy’s original and ill-considered trade for Carlos Gomez (which would have cost the Mets Wilmer Flores and Zack Wheeler) was derailed by a medical problem at the 11th hour.

Similarly, whatever praise Sandy is garnering now for having stuck to his guns and won the day by signing Cespedes on his terms should be put into a like context, i.e. he got lucky. He got lucky because Cespedes actually wanted to be a Met. He got lucky because the market for Cespedes turned out to be a good deal less active than many thought it would be, including Cespedes and his agents. He got lucky because Cespedes decided to gamble on himself and leave money and years on the table by turning down an offer from the Mets arch rival Washington Nationals. He got lucky because the Nationals interest in Cespedes actually prompted the Wilpons to offer more money than you know they wanted to, lest they suffer through a public relations nightmare. He got lucky because if Cespedes had signed with the Nationals, we would right now be screaming bloody murder, knowing that Alderson didn’t have the flexibility to match what the Nats offered. And we know, from that vantage point, that the stance he adopted was actually less a strategy than a restriction.

Nevertheless, there are people, including the aforementioned Mr. Kepner from the Times, who seem to think that the Mets conducted their business in a smart way and see the result as an affirmation of the approach. The Mets may actually be going about their business strategy in the right way, but it’s not because it’s the best way. It’s because it’s the cheap way and it happened, in this case, to align with the right way. But we actually know that because of the Wilpons, Sandy would be doing things the cheap way even it was the wrong way. He doesn’t have a choice–or the flexibility.

As with poker, most people use results as their measuring stick in determining whether they’re doing the right thing or the wrong thing. Getting lucky encourages them to stick with bad practices and strategies. Right now the Mets have a small window of about two or three more years when they have what is arguably the best pitching staff in baseball under their control at bargain basement prices. Their sole and only strategy should be to surround those cheap and amazing pitchers with the best supporting cast they can, even if they have to overpay some of them. Yes, that is correct. Even if they have to overpay some of them. The opportunity to build a dynasty around a core of young talent comes around once every thirty or forty years. And when that opportunity comes, you need to do everything you can to take advantage. The reason Mets fans have been so enraged this offseason, up till now, is that the Mets owners and front office have been acting as if there is some principle they’re supporting by refusing to overpay the players they need, when in fact they’re just being cheap.




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Long marriage, short life


Alice and I saw the movie 45 Years the other night. This isn’t going to be a review of the movie but there may be spoilers, so if you’re planning to see it, be advised.

In an age of comic book blockbusters, it’s rare to find a movie targeted to adults, so we definitely had the movie on our short list. As it turned out, a friend of Eden’s was having a birthday sleepover, meaning that for the one night she’d be gone, we’d be empty nesters with no responsibilities or obligations. Our wild and crazy plan: dinner and a movie.

In retrospect, I can say to other marrieds reading this that if you’re planning a date night, 45 Years is probably not the best choice. Essentially, it’s about an old married couple, Tom Courtenay and Charlotte Rampling, who are about to celebrate their 45th wedding anniversary (they had planned to celebrate their 40th but it was postponed when he needed bypass surgery). The week before the celebration, Tom Courtenay receives a letter informing him that the body of his former love, who had fallen to her death while hiking the Swiss alps with him over five decades ago, has been discovered at the bottom of a ravine, frozen. In the wake of this discovery, the marriage begins to unravel.

Sound romantic? Light and uplifting?

For me, the overriding message was that in the end our spouses remain unknowable to us, and love, in its existence, its fragility, its compromises and its rationalizations, is never what we think it is.

As if to prove how close these ideas hit to home, and how unsettling they can be for a couple to think about, Alice and I began what seemed like a reasonable discussion of the movie as we left the theater, then drifted into weirdness and pointless disagreement during dinner, outright hostility on the walk home, ugly shouting and screaming in our dimly illumined living room, and finally angry silence and crossed-arm sleep later in bed. The substance of the fight scarcely matters. What underlay it was the sense of being misunderstood; feelings of entrapment; the idea that our life’s adventure had somehow been stolen from us; and in our case, with our one-night preview of the empty nest, the fear that without the distraction and unifying concerns of parenthood, we’d be left with nothing but those feelings.

The morning light can often seem harsh, but for us it softened things. A smile with a hint of regret helped, as did apologies for things said in the heat of the moment. We reminded ourselves of what we actually liked about each other and what we loved. I remembered a relationship I had that actually did end over a movie–Tom Jones–not because of any issues that the movie brought up directly but because I loved it, she hated it, and that alone constituted irreconcilable differences.

Alice and I would never have that happen. If anything, we would be more likely to to sink under the  weight of too much agreement. Though we often see and understand things in our own peculiar ways, we also share a general world view that is simpatico, values that align, principles that we hold to be important and self-evident. Even in our understanding of the dark side of marriage, we are two peas in a pod. We are not afraid of looking at what we have critically, of looking over the edge of the cliff, of confronting what it would mean to fall or fail. I remember one married friend who told me that she had such doubts about the institution, about the very idea of being with someone, that she had to make the choice to stay with him every single day.

“You look at Jim every morning and consciously make a decision about whether or not you want to be with him?”

“Every day,” she said.

“That sounds exhausting.”

“In a way it is. But it’s also affirming. It keeps me in touch with what’s alive with us.”

It’s been years since I saw that friend. I have no idea if she and Jim are still married. But if they are, they’ll be coming up on their 35th wedding anniversary. I don’t know if either of them has any frozen exes waiting to be discovered in the Swiss Alps. But I hope they’re still married, still deciding to be married every day. Frozen exes or not, it’s probably a good idea to consciously reaffirm your choices, if not every day, at least now and then, else they sneak up on you 35 or 45 years later and bite you squarely on the ass.



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The Ties that Bind


I’ve been working on a novel for the past seven years. Even as I type that sentence, I am filled with shame. It’s not because there is anything ignoble about working on a book for a long time. Just that in my case, it feels as if there is. You see, I have this incredibly strong sense that this book shouldn’t have taken me this long–and I write that as if it’s finished, which it’s not. But in my mind this is a book that could have been written in a year, should have been written in a year, and the reason it wasn’t has to do with my own failings of character, nothing more and nothing less. Oh, I could give you reasons. I could tell you that I started it, wrote a hundred pages, got derailed by various things–a full time job, a toddler, writing a TV pilot–that interfered with my ability to focus on a project that promised little in the way of monetary recompense. I could tell you how after each interruption, I found that in order to reconnect with the story I had to virtually start over from scratch. But explanations feel lame. They feel like an excuse. And of course they are.

As I write this now, I don’t know if this novel is going to be worth a year’s effort much less seven. I do know this, however. This time I am going to finish. And even with my sense of shame about the time involved, when I finish I will be proud of myself for my perseverance. Because it would have been much easier to quit. I did that once a long time ago, on a novel that I spent six years working on in my 20s.

Perhaps I should mention at this point that my father spent over thirty years working on a novel that he never finished. By my estimation, he began it in his fifties, the same age I was when I began mine. Talk about legacies!

Purely from a writing perspective, I can’t imagine a worse role model than my father. It’s small wonder that my wife worries about me, worries that I am going to fritter away the rest of my life on a fool’s errand. I try to reassure her that I am not like my dad, that I have already published four books. But it is also true that none of them were novels, and it gets harder to make the case for my novel as each new year passes and I still have not typed “The End.” Ten years ago, right after Eden was born, when Dad was 85, he and my stepmother visited Alice and me in Brooklyn. He brought with him a zippered duffel that must have weighed fifty pounds. Inside were the thousands of pages of his unfinished opus. He had finally given up on ever being able to sort it all out or make a book out of it. “I’m leaving it to you to do,” he said.

Thanks, Dad.

Though I had no intention of following through on his wishes (that would mean taking guilt and masochism to a level extreme even by my standards), I reluctantly accepted the bag. He was 85, after all, and I am not that mean. Despite my resolve not to open Pandora’s box, curiosity took hold, and I read through some of the thousands of pages he had bequeathed me to see what he had been up to all those years. It wasn’t that “All work and no play” moment out of The Shining, but in a way it was more painful. There seemed to be many different versions of the same thing–I mean many, sometimes as many as ten–and though the writing was often quite good, it was maddening to read. I was unable to find progression in the story or a comprehensible plot. Finally, I put the pages back in the valise, swearing at him for having unloaded his baggage on me. The duffel is still in my closet ten years later, a feng shui nightmare that I am not brave or cruel enough to throw out.

My father in the meantime has developed dementia. He is 95 now. His wife, my beloved stepmother, Libby, became ill a year after we moved them into an assisted living facility in Cambridge. She died a mere six months after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Dad stayed in the assisted living for a while but it proved too difficult and risky for him to continue there; he needed a higher level of care. So now he’s in a VA nursing home in Bedford, Mass., that caters specifically to old soldiers suffering from dementia.

I’m writing this while on a bus back to New York, returning from my monthly visit to see him. Though I saw him only yesterday, I’m pretty sure he’s already forgotten. His memory is like an old pair of socks, worn and baggy, with many holes in it. Interestingly, unlike most of the other men in the facility with him, Dad has a real awareness of what’s going on inside his failing brain. He’s almost always cheerful, even if conversation is difficult and often circular. He says, “I’m not going to remember what you’re saying. My mind has shot off into outer space.” Or “You have to understand, I don’t have all my marbles anymore.” One thing he always does remember, however, and this is true whether we’re face to face or on the phone, is that I am working on a novel. “How’s it going?” he asked me yesterday. “Have you finished it yet?”

“Not yet,” I told him. “But the end is in sight.”

“How long do you think?”

“A month of solid work, if nothing else intervenes.”

“Do you have an agent?”

“I’m going to try and get a new one as soon as I finish.”


I realize that on some level, my novel has become his novel, that he can’t separate his own erstwhile obsession from mine, and that it is firmly lodged in his brain this way because at 95 he is still on an unconscious level seeking the closure he never got. I have thought about lying to him, about telling him that I’m finished even though I’m not, just to relieve the anxiety he feels both for me and himself. It doesn’t feel right, though.

As much as I want to give him that gift, it’s got to be the truth not a lie. I say this knowing that he’ll never actually read my novel, even if he’s still around, because he can’t retain things long enough to follow a story of any length. The days when I needed his approval are long behind me anyway. That’s not what I want from him. Whatever disappointments he’s caused me or I’ve caused him, all I want to do now is give him something to make the time he has left more peaceful and happy. When I write “The End,” it will have meaning for him nearly equal to the meaning it will have for me because it will be a liberation from, as  well as a celebration of, the ties that bind.

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The Circles of the Internet


I’m an internet basher. I admit it. Sometimes I think it is the devil’s greatest invention, that it will undermine and ultimately destroy us. It certainly has already fairly demolished my means of making a living. Evidence in hand: I used to get paid for doing this.

There is also a growing consensus that the internet is rewiring our brains, changing the way we think. A piece by tech writer Nicholas Carr went so far as to ask if Google is making us stupid. But even if it is, it is part of the devil’s genius that the internet is also capable of great things. Else we would not be so addicted to it.

Let me tell you where the free-associative fingertip-walking nature of the internet led me today. Last night, only a year behind the times, Alice and I watched the final episode of Mad Men. The final shot of this brilliant show was of the hilltop ad for Coke, the famous one with a multiplicity of people singing in “perfect harmony.” We were led to believe that Don Draper, after walking away from advertising, had gone back to the Madmen life and then created this seminal ad.

It got me thinking about who had actually created that ad, and that led me here: Back in 1992, when I was living in Chicago and working at Playboy, I used to go, after work, to a bar in the Playboy building called The Gold Star Sardine Bar. It was an elegant little bar with a stage and a seating capacity of 50. All the big cabaret performers of the day performed there. The engaging owner, who tended the bar himself, was a man named Bill whose last name I couldn’t now remember. What I did remember is that he told me that he had worked in advertising at one point. He claimed to have invented the phrase “It’s the Real Thing” as well as “Black is Beautiful.” Are you beginning to see my thought processes here? Bill was certainly a character and a wonderful raconteur, but I had no idea if he was telling me the truth or not. I do know that one day I went in there after work and just as I sat down at the bar another patron got up and left, and Bill came over to me and said, “You want these?” and handed me an envelope with two tickets to that night’s Bulls playoff game inside.

“You’re giving me these?” I asked.

“The guy who just left gave them to me. It was Jerry Reinsdorf [owner of the Chicago Bulls]. I can’t stand the bastard or his team. I wish he wouldn’t come in here. He’s always trying to get on my good side, but I see him for what he is. A phony. Anyway, the tickets are yours if you want ’em.”

That night, I sat courtside with a friend and watched Jordan and Pippen beat my Knicks. I’m telling you this story because it gives you a small sense of who Bill was in the Chicago landscape and because after all these years I am still wondering if some of the things he told me were true.

Enter the internet. Unable to recall his last name, I type in “Bill Gold Star Sardine Bar” and up pops a bunch of entries about the man whose last name it turns out was Allen. Sadly, I discover that the bar closed in 1997, five years after I left Chicago, and that Bill Allen died in 2001. Some of the unique qualities of The Gold Star Sardine Bar come back to me: they never charged a cover or had a drink minimum. Cigarettes were free. Ice cubes were made out of Perrier. Drinks were never served during performances so as not to disturb the performers. White Castle sliders were delivered and served throughout the day.

During its 15-year run, the bar hosted among others Count Basie, Frank Sinatra, Liza Minnelli, Bobby Short, Julie Wilson and Andrea Marcovicci (either they were working for a fraction of their usual fee or Bill was losing a tremendous amount of money running the Gold Star). He also launched the careers of a few local performers. Patricia Barber was one. Another was a beautiful singer named Eden something, whom I developed a little crush on.


Enter the internet again. I’m quickly able to discover her name was Eden Atwood. At the time, I had never known anyone named Eden and I thought it a magical name. It must have entered my subconscious in some way. When Alice and I named our daughter Eden it never even occurred to me that it might have any connection to a singer I had watched a few times in another life years before. Another thing I discovered in my internet wanderings is that Eden Atwood is now an advocate for the civil rights of people born with intersex traits. She, herself, it turns out, has intersex traits, which I think in oldspeak was referred to as Hermaphoriditic. Who knew?

But I digress–which is after all what the internet encourages. It’s kind of one big series of digressions, after which you look up and hours have passed. Back to Bill Allen.

The bulk of his money came from starting a chain of supermarkets in the Chicago area called Treasure Island. By the time I met him, his partners in the business were suing him for embezzlement and he was countersuing. Their charges against him included the fact that he was funneling money from Treasure Island into the Gold Star Sardine Bar. Whatever else was true or untrue, no one argued the fact that Allen was the marketing genius behind the chain’s success.

Which brings me back to where this all started. Did Allen the marketing genius  coin “It’s the Real Thing?” or “Black is Beautiful?” I can find nothing on the internet to connect him to either phrase. The “I’d Like to Teach the World to Sing” hilltop ad was conceived by a Bill, but his last name wasn’t Allen, it was Backer. And as far as I can determine, Bill Allen never worked at McCann Erickson.

Interestingly, though, and this is a connection not made on the internet but one that comes to me as I am thinking about all this, my father and stepmother were good friends at one time with a woman named Penny Hawkey who did happen to work for McCann.

And among the ads that Penny wrote was the Mean Joe Greene Coke commercial, one of the most famous and best loved of all time. Like Peggy on Madmen, Penny Hawkey started as a secretary and worked her way up through the ranks to the top of the heap. One of her daughters, Molly, became an actress. Molly’s agent submitted her for an audition on a show she’d never even seen. That didn’t deter her; she went to the audition and  got the part. The show?  Madmen.

Just Google it, if you don’t believe me.


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Of Dolls, Dollars and Sense


Boxing Day, we took Eden to the American Girl store near Rockefeller Center. This was, on the surface, only a good idea if your idea of good is a line out the door, an angry scrum of parents and kids, and a dive straight into the heart of Ugly American Consumerism. But we did it anyway because we had given Eden the Samantha doll for Christmas (per her request) and the doll had a weird gap between her neck and her head that didn’t look intentional but rather the result of poor manufacturing. Eden found this physical deformity disturbing and I can’t say I blamed her.

Earlier in the week, I had taken the subway up to the store at 9 a.m. to beat the crowds–a strategy that to my surprise actually worked. There was no line, and I was in and out of the store in fifteen minutes, no muss no fuss, except for the $115 hole in my wallet. This time, unfortunately, we did not plan as well, and we arrived at what figured to be the worst possible time: noon. Much to my surprise, there was no line, and the crowds inside were bearable given the crush of humanity jamming up Rockefeller Center. We asked for Customer Service and were directed to the Second Floor Doll Hospital.

There we were greeted by a very nice woman who took a look at Eden’s doll and said it would take about fifteen minutes to fix it, why not walk around the store and come back? Wonderful. We left the doll, and browsed for a while. When we came back, the nice woman who had helped us wasn’t around, but an even nicer woman, in a white doctor’s coat with a name tag that identified her as Dr. Diamond, asked if she could help us. Eden’s Samantha doll was in a wheelchair on a shelf behind her. Dr. Diamond retrieved the patient but the the doll’s problem was unresolved. The doctor then began talking, not to me or Alice, but to Eden, explaining the treatment options. She explained that there was a string in back that when you pulled on it, would tighten up the head and neck. She asked Eden if she would find this “minor operation” upsetting to watch. Eden shook her head. Dr. Diamond then performed the operation. Unfortunately, it did not cure the patient. The unsightly gap between head and neck remained.

Dr. Diamond then said to Eden, “I realize that you may be attached to this doll, but I’m wondering if a replacement doll might be okay?”

Eden was fine with a replacement. Dr. Diamond went away and shortly returned with a new in-the-box Samantha. She took the lid off the box and we all took a look at the factory-fresh doll. Same problem. Dr. Diamond excused herself again and came back shortly with three more boxes. We examined each of the dolls and each one had the same problem although not to the same degree. Throughout this process, Dr. Diamond, an attractive middle-aged woman with long graying hair, who we later found out was a musician and an artist when she wasn’t a doll doctor, had a bedside manner that was engaging, sweet and upbeat. During one of her brief excursions to find a replacement doll, Alice and I remarked that we wished our own doctors would take as much time and care with us.

Eventually, Eden picked the least problematic Samantha (apparently other American girl dolls are not beset with this affliction–clearly something went wrong on the production line with Samantha) and Dr. Diamond went about fixing her as best she could. When she was done, there was still a slight gap, and even though Eden said she was okay with it, Dr. Diamond had a brainstorm. She went away again, came back with a number of pretty ribbons, and after Eden picked out a nice turquoise one, she tied a choker around Samantha’s neck that concealed the gap.

I am not a fan on principle of a company that makes extremely expensive dolls and markets them with the manipulative skill of a creep hanging outside an elementary school holding a bag of candy, but I will grudgingly admit that American Girl has managed, beyond their genius marketing, to create in these dolls, each of whom has an inspiring life story, a positive role model for young girls. They have also brought talent and creativity to the books and movies used to help market their brand. It’s easy to be cynical, but there was nothing that was not genuine about the time and attention given by one of their employees to my 9-year-old daughter. And even if hiring a Dr. Diamond  or any of the other nice people at the Doll Hospital is just an offshoot of a savvy corporate culture, it tells me that there is someone with a heart running this company, who understands their responsibility to the little girls who love their dolls.

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Harvard beats Brady


Two things.

The first is that when I was a kid I watched the famous Harvard-Yale 29-29 tie, a game that Harvard trailed by 16 points with two minutes to go. It was a miracle comeback so unlikely that it inspired me to believe that a similar miracle would enable me to be admitted to Harvard when I applied. It was a miracle so unlikely that the Harvard Crimson immortalized it the next day with the headline Harvard Beats Yale 29-29! 

The second thing is that when I became a bookie in an ignominious period of my life that was actually a prelude to a glorious period, I was reminded incessantly by my fellow lawbreakers that I had in fact attended the aforementioned hallowed educational institution, and that it was not known for spawning low level criminals. In fact, just to drive the point home, they took to calling me Harvard.

I mention these two things because the Jets -Patriots game this afternoon, a must-win game for the hometown Jets if they wanted to stay alive in the playoff hunt, pitted Jets QB Ryan Fitzpatrick against putative GOAT, Tom Brady. As I think almost everyone knows, Fitzpatrick is a Harvard man. There are about as many Harvard guys in the NFL as there are Harvard guys working in bookmaking offices. Let us say that Fitzpatrick, the only Harvard grad to ever play QB in the NFL, shares with me the distinction of being an anomaly.

Coming into the season, Fitzpatrick was signed to back up Geno Smith, a quarterback most Jets fans regarded with suspicion if not outright derision. Smith was on his way to becoming the starting QB when a funny thing happened during training camp: his teammate IK Enkampali broke his jaw because Geno wouldn’t pay him a few hundred bucks that IK felt he was owed (yes, as an ex-bookie, I recognize the impulse, though of course we never did that kind of thing). The quick take on the incident by most observers, journalists and even Smith’s teammates, was that in not handling the situation well, he showed a lack of leadership and, well, how not to put this indelicately, smarts. That was clearly not the case with his Harvard-educated competition, who compensated for his more average football talent with better judgment. So with Geno’s jaw wired shut, Fitzpatrick took over the reins.


Despite his journeyman credentials, Fitzpatrick came into today’s contest on the verge of setting every single season record for a Jets QB, besting Broadway Joe, Vinny Testaverde, Ken O’Brien and Chad Pennington. As a lifelong Jets fan and brother Harvardian, I was pretty psyched. I was also realistic about our chances. This was Brady we were up against.  Belichick. The hated Patriots.

The truth is, this has been an odd season. I was thrilled to be rid of Rex Ryan, who, though he still has some apologists, has over the past few years shown himself to be a pretty terrible head coach. Bowles, a first-time head coach, got the Jets off to a good start this season. They seemed disciplined and methodical. Refreshingly so after years of sloppy play and stupid penalties. Until they started to play badly that is. Then they began to seem not just bad but boring, and I started to fear they were a reflection of their coach, who came across as almost too low-key in contrast to the bombastic Ryan. Then, unexpectedly, after ten weeks of mediocrity, they hit another gear, led by Fitzpatrick and his two stud receivers, Marshall and Decker. The defense jelled. I began to think they might actually make the playoffs for the first time in five years.

Still. There was Brady, standing in the way. I’ve seen too many games and seasons that Brady has ruined for the Jets. So even when the Jets were up 17-3 midway through the third quarter of today’s game, I was apprehensive. Sure enough, the Pats got a field goal to make it 17-6, and then, in what looked like one of those plays that a season turns on, Fitz had the ball knocked out of his hand as he was about to pass, and the Patriots ran the fumble in for a touchdown. The Jets added a field goal to make the score 20-13, but that play left a bad all-too-familiar taste in my mouth. When Brady took over with five minutes to play, you knew what was going to happen. He made it extra excruciating by twice converting 4th down passes that had me veritably screaming at the television. He tied it with a TD pass with two minutes left.

It didn’t matter that Fitz almost pulled it out with a long bomb on third down that would have won the game. It didn’t matter because Quincy Enunwa couldn’t hold on, and when the game went into OT, I was certain we were cooked. I’d seen this movie before. Too many times.

At the start of overtime, however, something happened that I’ve never ever seen before in the NFL. Certainly something I’ve never seen from a Belichick team. The Patriots won the toss and the Patriot player charged with electing to kick or receive, inexplicably opted to kick. It was a brain fart of a weird and high magnitude. The kind of thing that would have happened to Geno Smith if he had been the one making the decision. The kind of thing that always seems to happen to the Jets. Except now. Except now when they’re led by Mr. Fitzmagic, my brother alum.

Fitzy wasted little time taking advantage of the Patriots’ boner. Bing bing bing, he passed them right down the field, the key throw going to the guy who had dropped the pass at the end of regulation, Enunwa. On first and goal from the 6-yard line, Fitzpatrick didn’t dither around. Decisive, Brady-like, unafraid, he went right to Decker in the corner of the end zone. Boom! Game ovah!

Now it’s on to Buffalo and Fat Rex. If the Jets beat their ex-coach next week, they’ll be back in the playoffs after the 4-12 disaster he authored last year. No matter what happens, we’ve got a QB now. He ain’t Brady, but he ain’t too bad. And he bleeds green and crimson.

So go Jets go! And go Harvard!

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