Friday, December 11, 2020

America stood strong against Trump’s assault

 The Constitution and the Guerriere, by Thomas Chambers (Metropolitan Museum of Art)

     When Donald Trump was elected president four years ago, I was struck by something: My two sons, then 19 and 21, did not seem to share my alarm. They didn’t seem worried that the country might descend into some totalitarian nightmare. They barely seemed to notice.
     I asked my older son about it.
     “Our institutions are strong,” he replied, with a shrug.
     One of the rare areas where the American exceptionalism we imagine for ourselves actually does exist. In much of the world, you can’t get a document stamped without first greasing the clerk. To get into a hospital in China, one must walk the corridors, handing out bribe money. You might not get a bed unless you buy it.
     American isn’t perfect, and the past four years have been a master class in just how imperfect we are. The crazed, I’m-not-wearing-a-mask individualism-run-amuck. The general denial of uncomfortable realities, whatever they may be, which must be grounded in the malevolent ignorance of racism. Trump came in slurring Mexicans and goes out (please, God) trying to void the votes of Black people.
     Nothing to celebrate. But my son turned out to be completely correct. Our institutions were strong, in three ways worth noting.
     First, the electoral system. The fraud that Donald Trump foams about isn’t there. Nada. Just another lie, albeit a big, loud, relentless one. . .

To continue reading, click here. 

Thursday, December 10, 2020

We will eat the good cold cheesecake, browned by the sun and be men.

    A newspaperman needs to be a quick study. Not a lot of time to stand around, scratching your ear, trying to get the lay of the land. "And the burning house is ... umm ... what, that one over there? Three down, on the left? The one with all the black smoke pouring out of it, right?"
     No, pull up, bells clanging, to the scene of a story, leap off the truck before it rocks back on its frame, run a line to the nearest hydrant of information and get some quick facts on the fire.
     Sometimes, afterward, you might even smile, coiling up hose and heading back to the station, when it comes to you, finally: what in all the commotion you didn't do. 
     For instance Tuesday, when I was so excited to let you know about Eli's Cheesecake advertising on the blog that I left out a step which, in retrospect, could be seen as kinda crucial.
     The cruciality of this step only occurred to me later. Happy to have my perennial sponsor right where it belongs, my mind leapt ahead to the next logical step: stocking up on cheesecake. The boys are coming home from school in — geez, a week — and immediately after they fling their possessions across the downstairs, in one coiled throw, the way athletes hurl a discus, they will clatter into the kitchen laughing and talking law and potching their big hands together in happy expectation, then pull open the freezer where, for the first time in about five years they'll find ... umm ... nothing.
    Well, not nothing. There will be bags of frozen peas, squads of muffins, a bin of ice and various foil-wrapped meatloaves plastic containers of homemade soup and what have you.
     But no Eli's Cheesecake.
     And they will turn to me, turn on me, eyes narrowing in something that looks like hate. "You...." they'll hiss. "It was you!" Hands up, fingers spread defensively, almost cowering, I'll explain about the pandemic, and being homebound, and how tedious it all became, great big empty boyless house, and how though usually the Eli's Cheesecake is left untouched, as a beacon, an offering to the son gods, the fatted lamb awaiting their return. But well, it's cheesecake and the flesh is weak. I ate it. Ate your cheesecake. All of it. Every single bit. Half a slice at a time.
     Sorry boys.
     No, that won't fly. The only way to redress this paternal wrong, obviously, is to get more cheesecake right away and, being a full-service father, I slyly asked them, without revealing anything was missing, what kind of cheesecake they want, avoiding the "because there's none left" part. They did what I did not do, but should have: consulted the website. The younger boy's request was simple enough, and did not cause me to question my reportorial abilities: "chocolate chip cheesecake."
     Good call, who doesn't like the creamy cool perfection of cheesecake enlivened with melt-in-your-mouth morsels of delicious chocolate? Consider it done, my youngest lad o' my heart.
     Then the older boy weighed in. "Basque cheesecake" he wrote in a curt two-word reply, so as not to take time away from law studying and paper writing. I thought to myself. "What the hell is basque cheesecake?" Cheesecake that wants to break away from Spain? I couldn't imagine what Basque cheesecake could possibly be. Cheesecake with ... what? Txakoli? Cheesecake with wine and paprika? The kind of rough country cheesecake that Ernest Hemingway would purchase from a roadside stand on the long dusty drive down to Pamplona with Hadley Richardson in 1923 and lash the splintery wooden box to the trunk rack of his wire-spoke-wheeled roadster?
     So I did what—inconceivably, irresponsibly—I had not done before Tuesday's item. I went onto the Eli's Cheesecake web site that I was urging you all to go on.
     O...M...G. Hot chocolate cheesecake. Goat cheese cheesecake. A cheesecake shaped like a heart! One that looks like a deep dish pizza.
     And there, the Basque cheesecake, boldly labeled, "New item!" Here's how they describe i

Basque cheesecake
NEW! Our Basque Cheesecake is a riff on Eli's Original, inspired by the beloved dessert from Spain's Basque region. It's a little darker on top than Eli's Original, it's baked in a striking flutter of burnt parchment paper, and the inside reveals such a rich creamy texture, we think that Basque might be Eli's Spanish cousin! Uncut.
     When you read that, do you think what I thought? "I want that now!" And the great thing is, since what I generally want is plain cheesecake—yes, vanilla of me or, if you prefer classic—but this was close enough so I could get just the two cheesecakes instead of three, which would take up a bit of real estate in the old freezer, or rather, freezers, since we have two. (Oh, don't look at me like that. My mother-in-law's old olive-colored refrigerator set on cinder blocks in the basement. That doesn't make me Martha Stewart).
     I don't want to belabor the point. (Okay, the ship has sailed on that. I don't want to further belabor the point). But with the grim holidayless winter closing in, I might just return to the Eli's Cheesecake site from time to time, to probe its mysteries. Because I'm as stressed out and punchy and stupid as anyone else, and my goal right now is to survive long enough to get the vaccine and anything else is gravy.

     Mysteries of the web site. For instance, if you click on "Desserts by occasion" there are the expected "Birthday" and "Anniversary" and "Christmas" and "Hanukkah." But there is one that just leap up at me: "Sympathy." What could sympathy cheesecakes possibly be? They seem a subset of the ordinary cheesecakes: Apple Bavarian Tart, Tower of Sympathy Sampler. Nothing grief-stricken about that. The only thing vaguely redolent of loss is the Chocolate Cheesecake Heart. A dark heart for those whose hearts are broken? A cheesecake to say "I hate you"? I must ask Marc about this.
     But that's grist for a future post. Don't worry, this is just the initial burst of enthusiasm. I won't be writing about cheesecake every other day (although I could, right? I mean, it's my blog. And you pay ... remind me here ... nothing for the privilege. Correct? And you haven't even ordered your cheesecake, like I asked. Like any decent person would, after reading my stuff for all these years. So no complaining).   
     Speaking of which, look at the time. 5:08 a.m. I had better get this posted, so it'll be up and ready for you.

Wednesday, December 9, 2020

Warning folks who don’t know what’s going on

Albert Einstein
     Chicago is not only the birthplace of deep dish pizza but atomic energy: the first man-made nuclear fission was achieved in 1942 at the University of Chicago.
     So it makes sense that the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists began here, too, 75 years ago Wednesday.
     “What?” you may ask. “Is this not about the clock?” The Bulletin suffers — whoops, benefits — from perhaps the most wag-the-dog publicity gimmick ever created, its “Doomsday Clock.” Originated in 1947 as a way to graphically convey just how close our world is to nuclear disaster, its hands seem to be forever marching closer and closer toward the midnight of Armageddon while, in classic Zeno's paradox fashion,  never actually getting there.
     An effective PR tool, but one so overpowering that you can be forgiven for not quite realizing there is a magazine behind the clock. I didn’t, and my father was an atomic scientist. 
(Though not the kind who read the Bulletin. We had stacks of Scientific Americans at home, and of course Science, which he once wrote for. But my dad was in the Naval Reserve, and designed nuclear reactors for the government, and I'm sure the Bulletin struck him as too Bolshie a publication to be seen reading). 
     The 75th anniversary issue is available online, and a delightful treat, showcasing past articles written by famous figures from Richard Nixon to Albert Einstein.
     Nixon pooh-poohs international cooperation as only an old Red-baiter can, writing in 1960, “The road to war is paved with agreements based solely on mutual trust.”
     While Einstein lurches the other way, putting more hope in global action in the face of crisis than might be seemly in a refugee from Nazi Germany. Writing in 1950, he’d like “a supra-national judicial and executive body ... set up empowered to decide questions of immediate concern to the security of the nations.”
     Don’t miss Hans Bethe’s 1946 “Can air or water be exploded?” Bethe was the guy, while the Manhattan Project was racing ahead, to clear his throat, raise a finger, and observe, “You know, one of us fellows should make double sure that we aren’t going to set fire to the atmosphere and destroy the planet when we try this.”

To continue reading, click here.

Tuesday, December 8, 2020

Tough times demand excellent cheesecake.


     At last, some good news.
     Yes, COVID is raging. And yes, the economy is cratering, the ship of state tossing like a toy in a tempest, the helm spinning, our traitor president jabbing a sharp stick at our nation's weak spots while his fan club cheers his every crime. 
     And yes, we're suffering through it all isolated, hunkered down, locked down, shut down. Our holiday traditions, every other year counted upon to light the winter darkness, now under a bushel, dimmed, mothballed, neglected. Christmas gatherings? Forget about 'em. Office parties? Not this year. One of the highlights of my existence, the big Hanukkah beer-and-brats blowout? During which there always comes a moment when I gaze out over the festivities, the gathered throng, all happy and loud and having fun, with my friends and family all talking and laughing and quaffing, and think, "Yes, yes ... this is it, life."         
     Next year, those of us who make it.
     I'm sure each one of you has your own loss: no ski vacation, no over-the-river-and-through-the-woods-to-grandmother's-house-we-go. No wassailing. No whatever it is you look forward to.
     But you know what hasn't gone anywhere? You know what is still right here, right where it belongs, right where it always should be? What stands astride the culture like a colossus, drawing us together? Eli's Cheesecake, whose advertisements appear begin today for the seventh consecutive holiday season.
     I'll confess. My faith wavered. With everything going on, and the economy creaking under the gales of disaster, I didn't even approach my friend Marc Schulman to ask about advertising this year. I figured, he has done his share. Don't bother the man. He must have worries of his own navigating the economic doldrums without puffing into the sails of my little vessel as well. I thought I owed him that.
    And then, amazingly, his marketing folks reached out to me. Hey, the good people there said. Our holidays won't be merry and bright without our supporting the important, democracy-propping, hearts-lifting, minds-informing, chuckle-inducing good work done on, well, every goddamn day.
     I made a phone call. It turns out, in times of duress, Americans turn to the comforting cool deliciousness of a perfect wedge of Eli's Cheesecake.
     "People are really happy to order online," Marc Schulman told me.
     True, certain sectors of his business empire are down—airlines for instance. Restaurants. But supermarkets like Jewel and Mariano's?
     "Definitely up," Marc said. "We are pretty busy."     
     Of course they are. And about to get busier. Here I would like to draw your attention to the Eli's ad to the left of this copy, which will be there, in various incarnations, between now and springtime. Click on it, and you will be ushered into a wonder world of gustatory comfort. This is your chance to reward yourself, or reward someone you love—or perhaps that first responder or ICU nurse down the block who could really use a pick-me-up—with the perfect holiday gift: Eli's Cheesecake.
     Plus a way for you to say, "Hey Neil, thank you for all you do. I so appreciate your continual, 365-day-a-year, hamster-on-a-wheel effort that I actually flopped my fingers on the keyboard and ordered a cheesecake."
     If you think you're familiar with the classics — plain cheesecake, strawberry cheesecake, chocolate mint cheesecake — this year there are all sorts of new items: Ruby Jubilee Cheesecake, to mark Eli's 40th anniversary, Christmas tree-shaped Cheesecake Dippers, and dark-chocolate enrobed Happy Holidays Cheesecake. You can't go into the Eli's factory, the way my lucky boys once did, years ago, and decorate your own cakes. But you can — I would say you must — get Eli's DIY Dessert Kits and bring joy to the kiddies in your world by letting them festoon their own delicious treats.
     Otherwise, consider the specter of your small ones, now grown, which they certainly will be one day, wheeling on you, "You mean you could have ordered us DIY Dessert Kits for us, and you didn't?! But why, papa? Why?!"
     Not a risk I would be willing to take.
     I believe my point is made. Faithful readers know that I do not burden you with demands. The blog is ad-free the rest of the year. But Eli's goes above and beyond, particularly this year, and we need to reward their faith in God, America, me, EGD and what it represents. I hope you'll consider giving yourself, or someone you love — or, ideally, both — that greatest gift one person can give another, the gift of Eli's Cheesecake. Happy holidays.

Monday, December 7, 2020

Dec. 7, 1941 and 2020: days that will live in infamy

     “December 7th, 1941,” President Franklin Delano Roosevelt told an emergency session of Congress, “a date which will live in infamy, the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.”
     The date lives in infamy, still. At least among older Americans, who not only know what happened but will complain if a newspaper lets what has turned into a somber if minor patriotic holiday — think Arbor Day for burnt trees — pass without mention of the anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor that drew America into World War II.
     Consider it mentioned. What’s next?
     We might ask why the attack is memorable, you know, for the kiddies, who just joined us and might only be vaguely aware there was a World War II and that we fought ... somebody.
     The day lives in infamy because the surprise attack was carried out even while negotiations continued to work out our differences in a peaceful manner.
     Why do we remember? Well, 2,400 Americans were killed that day. The death of Americans demands our attention.
     Or did.
     Now, I’m not so sure.
     Monday, Dec. 7, 2020, is a day that will not live in infamy. But maybe it should. Because 2,400 Americans, or more, will die today. About the same number died yesterday and will die tomorrow. And the day after that. And the day after that.

To continue reading, click here.

Sunday, December 6, 2020

Out on the town


     Since we were both on vacation, but hadn't gone anywhere, my wife and I thought it would be fun to drive somewhere a week ago Saturday, and she suggested a trip to River Grove  to go to Gene & Jude's for lunch. I had been there a couple of years ago, and she hadn't.  It would be our first visit to a restaurant since our anniversary at Gene & Georgetti Sept. 3. It seems we're working up a culinary "Gene" leitmotif. 
     Of course we wouldn't eat inside. We'd eat in the car.
     I briefly contemplated bringing ketchup—they don't serve ketchup; their fries are that good—but. had gotten by the first time without it and, frankly, it seemed a matter of respect. Bringing ketchup to Gene & Jude's would be like bringing bacon into a Kosher home where you're a house guest, to fill out breakfast. No.
     The line wasn't terrible, and everyone wore masks, and social distanced. Only 10 people at a time allowed inside. There was one twist—cash only—and before we left we searched around for folding money, which we hadn't had use for in months. I almost said I hadn't touched any in six months, but earlier I was shopping at Sunset Foods, and checked the receipt a pair of bags of Pete's Coffee that were supposedly on sale—sometimes they neglect to ring up the sales claimed on the shelves—saw they had charged me $10.99 a bag instead of the $8.99 a bad that had enticed me to stock up. I marched back and they gave me the four singles, and change, and I gratefully tucked them away thinking, "Next time I'm in the city I'll have money for beggars." The last couple times I was there, when the libraries were still open, it was frustrating not to have anything for mendicants, who are truly suffering in the depopulated downtown.
     So I paid for our hot dog, french fries, corn tamales and small Cokes, the unaccustomed cash transaction, and knew in my heart that money is going away. Currency, I mean. Five years from now spending money will be like hearing an actual violin being played—still possible, but something that just doesn't happen very often.
     I noticed that the trip contained a series of small mishaps—I was so busy talking I missed the turn off on 294 and had to circle around on 290. Delivering the meal to the car I managed to flip over a Coke, which resulted in much sluicing and blotting as our meal cooled. I had trouble navigating to Schiller Park, almost directly across the street from Gene & Jude's for our post-lunch stroll. And I realized that I had fallen out of practice of leaving the house and going places, of getting in the car and driving to a destination. One drawback of being homebound all these months. It's premature to look ahead to spring and the end, please God, of lockdown. But I have a prediction worth salting away. When society does finally open up, and it's time to plunge back out into Life and Living, Going Places and Doing Things, at the joyous moment of release, the impulse outward and forward, there will be a countervailing backwash, a pause, a riptide, a vertigo. Longtime prisoners miss jail, often, at least at first. Because security and routine were there. Habit is a stern taskmaster, and does not release you easily. Expect a little fear, a little hesitation, a little adjustment. Or a lot. Then go anyway. You'll get used to it again.

Saturday, December 5, 2020

Texas notes: Homage

Metropolitan Museum of Art
     EGD Austin bureau chief Caren Jeskey finds the upside of our current perilous state. Make sure you watch the spoken word performance at the end by Kae Tempest—who changed her name from "Kate" since the video was made.     
    “Morning has broken, beautiful morning!” I sang, greeting my first client of the day.
     “This morning sure is broken,” she replied, laughing. 
      As a psychotherapist entering these long, dark days along with my clients I cannot pretend to be unscathed. That includes breaking into song when I must. This is the first global disaster I’ve lived through. Pandemic was never on my radar as one of the things I’d be counseling others through while living it too.
     Sometimes when we hang up the phone or end the Zoom session, I sit with a huge smile on my face, thinking “I love this job.” It is an honor and a privilege to be a trusted confidante, and it’s fun too. I sit with others who are sorting through their lives—finding value and meaning in themselves and discovering their purpose. The relationships usually start slowly and take time to build. Inevitably each and every person becomes interesting. They are puzzles. We are like snowflakes, truly. As much as we are alike, our stories and collections of experiences are unique and special.
     Have you ever looked at someone you know well and felt you were seeing them for the first time? When your guard is down it’s easier to see others for the complex, sometimes unknowable people they are, rather than who you’ve decided they are. Rather than who you want them to be, or think you need them to be.
     Active listening is an art. It should be taught in schools. Take the words “me” and “I” out of a conversation and see what happens. Listen deeply without jumping in to share a thought or opinion, without planning the next thing to say in your mind. Stay curious. Allow for periods of silence. It’s a very intimate thing. Giving someone space to be themselves in the company of another person may be the best cure for loneliness out there.
     Albert Einstein has been quoted to say a lot about the power of solitude in nurturing a creative mind. He challenged his readers to consider, in essence: “Who are you when you are alone in a room? No books, or distractions. Just you, alone, nothing to do.” 
     When I was a new meditator, I discovered this concept, and so it made sense. After losing the fine tuning of this practice over the years, the COVID slow down and forced alone time has allowed me to get back to the core of myself.
     Nurturing solitude and staying centered enables me to listen more deeply. These days I remind myself: “silence is good. There is nowhere to go, nothing to do. Be here now.” I turn the radio off and write or read. I turn Netflix on less and walk more. I listen to music and dance, alone. I remind myself to breathe.  
     This season give yourself the gift of being still. Sit with yourself. 
 Reach out for help when you need it. Turn the phone off for a little bit. Give those around you the gift of active listening. You are sure to find out many things about them that you do not know. You will see them as beautiful kaleidoscopes with limitless facets. Even a troublesome time is still the backdrop to our precious, irreplaceable lives.
Was that a pivotal historical moment
We just went stumbling past?
Here we are
Dancing in the rumbling dark
So come a little closer
Give me something to grasp
Give me your beautiful, crumbling heart.
                    —Kae Tempest