Reinforcing Marriage & Human Dignity

The moment we were waiting for, worked toward for decades, had finally arrived.

John and Ignatius, dressed in matching outfits, stood atop a raised platform in front of the spacious, soaring wood-ceilinged room at San Franciso’s Delancey Street Foundation. The setting was perfect for these two men, known well throughout San Francisco and across the United States for their generosity to causes far bigger than themselves. Delancy Street Foundation was created 44 years ago to help people rebuild their lives. John & Ignatius, by adding there enormous credibility and example of commitment to it, were helping to rebuild the institution of marriage.

Together for 25 years, the two of them have devoted much of their time, talent and personal resources to helping others, whether in the areas of public health, or in gaining and strengthening equal rights for the LGBT community or advancing fundamental human rights for all. To know these men was to love them, and a few hundred of us honored to be witnesses at their wedding, were testament to that.

Unlike many other weddings—same sex or opposite sexes–Carol and I have attended in our 43 years of marriage, this one was unique. There were no stretch limos, no lavish floral arrangements, no flowing-lace wedding gowns with receipts as long as their trains, nor any Long Island-style, over-the-top cocktail hours which could feed the entire homeless population of San Francisco.

Everything about the wedding, like the lives of the two men legalizing their long-standing commitment to each other, was centered around service to others. The choice of the location, the non-profit they established to receive donations in-lieu-of gifts, and the simply wonderful way they entered the room: barefoot, walking on a thin, white scrim that made them appear to be walking on a gentle cloud.

When they reached the platform at the front of the room, both paid tribute to the photos of their parents, deceased, which were placed up high in positions of honor. Then, they sat facing each other. With a room full of friends looking on, John & Ignatius performed the most basic act of humility and service, rich in symbolism and religious meaning: they slowly, lovingly washed and dried each other’s feet.

They weren’t elevated in their chairs and paraded around the room; they weren’t surrounded by bookends of bridesmaids and groomsmen, whose dresses, or shirt collars, were uncomfortably tight. It was just Ig & John up there, elevating the institution of marriage by stripping it down to its’ bare essentials—love, honor, sacrifice, service, commitment, community, family—of what mattered most.

I watched them and the words of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy’s Majority decision in the marriage equality case, handed down just 12 hours earlier, danced in my head:

        “No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice and family. In forming a marital union two people become something greater than they once were…marriage embodies a love that may endure, even past death…they respect marriage so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves…They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.”

I touched Carol, who was standing next to me. Our marriage of 43 years—our life-long partnership– took on an even deeper meaning. The power of love in our case, and theirs, had overcome all obstacles.

Tears flowed; cellphone cameras created their own cacophony of clicking. Then silence, as the judge proclaimed:

“And by the power vested in me by the State of California, AND the United States Constitution, I now pronounce you married!”

Everyone erupted into wild applause and cheers. I whistled my loudest New York whistle, as if I was rooting on Buster Posey at AT&T Park. It was the first time in 66 years of life, I had ever heard the U.S. Constitution receive raucous reverance at a wedding.11216801_10153469531627959_7472065057612753041_n

Carol and I looked at each other again, grateful that the uncomplicated love, respect and fundamental rights we were fortunate to share with family and friends four decades earlier, at our simple, little civil ceremony, were finally available to all.

 

 

 

 

 

A Fathers’ Day Story of Love & Betrayal

Since my father died on May 27, 1993—my wedding anniversary–Father’s Day has always been painful. I watched him die a difficult, drawn-out death from a carnivorous cancer which started in his prostate and spread to his spine, paralyzing him. I read him the sports section everyday for the last two weeks of his life, quoting every line of each Yankee box score, and telling him the horse-racing results from race-tracks around the country. Baseball and horse-racing were my father’s passions. He had watched Ruth, Gehrig, DiMaggio & Mantle play ball in the Bronx, and had winning tickets on other thoroughbreds named Affirmed, Secretariat, Native Dancer, and Seattle Slew.

A few weeks after my father’s death, my friend Jim, invited me to join him at Yankee Stadium on Father’s Day. He had prime box seats behind the Yankee dugout. Jim knew I loved the Yankees, especially watching them play at the Stadium. What better way to feel closer to my father, I thought, than to be in the surroundings where we spent our sweetest hours together.

At least once a year, every August since I was 10 years old, my father was given use of the field box owned by the Pershing Square Building Corporation, his employer. Six days a week, every week, for 35 years, my father labored in the bowels of their building at 100 East 42nd Street, operating the old steam boilers, to make sure the lawyers and accountants who worked on the upper floors were comfortable.

My father knew I loved watching double-headers, and that none of the corporate executives who had first dibs on the tickets, wanted to sit in the sweltering sun on an August Sunday to watch two baseball games. For me, six solid hours of baseball was a double treat. The world consisted of nothing but baseball all day, and I had my father all to myself.

The seats I sat in on that first Father’s Day I was fatherless, were only a few rows behind where my father and I sat, year after year, inning after inning. I looked around the Stadium imagining I saw him everywhere. There he was, getting a beer, or mopping the sweat off his brow with a clean, white handkerchief. Each time I spotted an old guy with a beer belly, I thought of my father hauling his paunch up and down those flattened Stadium steps to “hit the ‘head,” as he said.

Maybe coming to Yankee Stadium so soon after my father’s death was not such a good idea, after all. I was grieving him deeply, quietly. Being there, so close to where he and I shared so many perfect moments, made me melancholy.  I was in the final months of my work in Mario Cuomo’s Administration, and was depressed over conversations I knew were going on between Cuomo, George Steinbrenner, Rupert Murdoch and NYS’ Commissioner of Economic Development Vincent Tese, to move the Stadium out of the Bronx and put it on the site of the West Side Rail Yards, in mid-town Manhattan. How dare they even think about doing that, I thought. My father is here.

I sat there, drinking in the Stadium’s atmosphere, memories swirling around me like one of those tiny dust tornadoes that swept across the infield every so often. I looked at the majestic white facades towering over right field and realized what a place of peace this was for us from an otherwise chaotic life. To remain silent while the old Stadium’s future was being decided would have been to commit a sacrilege against the memory of my father.

I knew how forcefully committed the Governor was to economic development, and how the sinister George Steinbrenner was threatening to move the Yankees to New Jersey if he didn’t get a brand new ballpark in Manhattan, where he could build high-priced skyboxes for corporate oligarchs. I knew that Rupert Murdoch was exploring the possibility of building a sprawling entertainment center, including TV studios, on the site of the new Stadium. And I knew that somehow, I had to find a way to stop this from happening.

That “way” came within days of my Father’s Day visit to Yankee Stadium. I came across a copy of a scheduled secret meeting between the Governor, Steinbrenner, Murdoch and Tese with a two-word topic: “Yankee Stadium.”   I knew I had to act quickly to create a public outcry to save the old Ballpark. With the forces of money and political power in New York aligned against the House that Ruth Built, I took the only route left open: I leaked the information about the “secret” Yankee Stadium meeting to New York Times Sportswriter, Richard Sandomir.

The following day, June 30, 1993, a front page story by the Times’ Ian Fisher carried a headline announcing: “Fearing Move by Yankees, Cuomo Explores Idea for a New Stadium.”   The Governor was livid, and was convinced that Sandy Frucher, a former top official in the Administrations of both Gov. Hugh Carey and Mario Cuomo, was the source of the leak because Frucher worked for Olympia-York, a company with an interest in the Rail Yards. Sandy insisted it wasn’t him, and he was right.   I was the “source close to the Governor” the New York Times quoted throughout the story.

The uproar caused by the Times story stopped the proposed move of Yankee Stadium to Manhattan, literally, in its tracks. And it bought the old Ballpark a reprieve of another 15 years, and kept the Bronx Bombers in the Bronx.

For me, I wasn’t proud of causing Mario Cuomo and Sandy Frucher some agita, but I also wasn’t about to let my pride, or anything else for that matter, get in the way of fulfilling a promise to my father: to keep the old Ballpark alive, long after he was gone.

11141766_10153451848437959_3922599589572884259_o

10900064_10153041927937959_8048894028149912355_o

 

Coming Out from Behind the Grill for Fathers’ Day

11053234_10153433033222959_1227268216350358418_oAs each Fathers’ Day approaches, I realize something new about myself.

I’ve always hating BBQ grilling.

I’ve always loved the taste of BBQ’d food: its the smokey, grimy cooking of it I’ve never liked–the hours of prep, the clean-up afterwards, the inevitable yellow-jackets, flies and mosquitos, and, most-of-all, pretending that–as a right of fatherly male passage–I actually liked the ritual. The hunter/gatherer grilling food OUTDOORS for his family: Man in charge of provisions! What a crock!

In the age of crockpots, Costco, Safeway, Whole Foods, and lots of good natural food restaurants there’s no reason to put myself through such torture, especially since I hate the smell of BBQ igniting fluid, charcoal is dangerous to your health, and, I’ve witnessed the shrapnel-like effect of gas grill explosions. Why would anyone willingly subject themselves to this? To prove you’re a good father? BULL. I know I’m a terrific father, and grandfather, and a terrible BBQ’er. So what? Another suburban male myth bites the dust.

This week, I gave a friend my last BBQ Grill– a sleek, red, electric model, that I probably used 6 times over the past 6 years. How liberating!

I still love entertaining and eating and socializing over good food and wine. But, if you want to catch me at a BBQ, you’ll have to invite me to yours.

I’m a very good guest…

“Why CAN’T A Woman, Be More Like A Man?”

“Why Can’t A Woman Be More Like A Man?"

“Why Can’t A Woman Be More Like A Man?”

 

What is a woman’s mind? A woman’s soul? A woman’s heart? Does it exist? Is it any different from a man’s? Caitlyn Jenner thinks so. So does Vanity Fair. So do the misogynists in the Republican Party. And so, apparently did Henry Higgins, a century ago:

From My Fair Lady: “A Hymn to Him” (Henry Higgins, lamenting to his male friend Pickering, a century ago, of ‘Why can’t a woman be more like a man.”

Henry: What could’ve depressed her?

What could’ve possessed her?

I cannot understand the wretch at all.

Women are irrational, that’s all there is to that!

Their heads are full of cotton, hay, and rags!

They’re nothing but exasperating, irritating,

vacillating, calculating, agitating,

Maddening and infuriating hags!

[To Pickering]

Pickering, why can’t a woman be more like a man?

 

Pickering: I beg your pardon?

 

Henry:

Yes…

Why can’t a woman be more like a man?

Men are so honest, so thoroughly square;

Eternally noble, historically fair;

Who, when you win, will always give your back a pat.

Why can’t a woman be like that?

Why does ev’ryone do what the others do?

Can’t a woman learn to use her head?

Why do they do ev’rything their mothers do?

Why don’t they grow up- well, like their father instead?

Why can’t a woman take after a man?

Men are so pleasant, so easy to please;

Wherever you’re with them, you’re always at ease.

Would you be slighted if I didn’t speak for hours?

 

Pickering:

Of course not!

 

Henry:

Would you be livid if I had a drink or two?

 

Pickering:

Nonsense.

 

Henry:

Would you be wounded if I never sent you flowers?

 

Pickering:

Never.

 

Henry:

Well, why can’t a woman be like you?

One man in a million may shout a bit.

Now and then there’s one with slight defects;

One, perhaps, whose truthfulness you doubt a bit.

But by and large we are a marvelous sex!

Why can’t a woman take after man?

Cause men are so friendly, good-natured and kind.

A better companion you never will find.

If I were hours late for dinner, would you bellow?

 

Pickering:

Of course not!

 

Henry:

If I forgot your silly birthday, would you fuss?

 

Pickering:

Nonsense.

 

Henry:

Would you complain if I took out another fellow?

 

Pickering:

Never.

 

Henry:

Well, why can’t a woman be like us?

Why can’t a woman be more like a man?

Men are so decent, such regular chaps.

Ready to help you through any mishaps.

Ready to buck you up whenever you are glum.

Why can’t a woman be a chum?

Why is thinking something women never do?

Why is logic never even tried?

Straightening up their hair is all they ever do.

Why don’t they straighten up the mess that’s inside?

Why can’t a woman behave like a man?

If I was a woman who’d been to a ball,

Been hailed as a princess by one and by all;

Would I start weeping like a bathtub overflowing?

And carry on as if my home were in a tree?

Would I run off and never tell me where I’m going?

Why can’t a woman be like me?

(This version redacted–only slightly– straight (?) from the Republican Party Platform of 2016, and from the Editorial Boad Policy of Vanity Fair Magazine.”)

 

 

 

 

 

 

RFK & Dorothy Kilgallen’s Skinny Legs

I first met Robert F. Kennedy 51 years ago, in 1964, when he was campaigning for the U.S. Senate seat from New York State. I was 15 years old.He was visiting Sunset City Shopping Center in North Babylon, L.I., where I grew up.

Since my mother and father were among the few registered Democrats in a working-class enclave of Republicans, the local Democratic Committeeman, Chester Clarke, asked me if I’d like to “meet Bobby” when he came to town. I jumped at the chance, and spent days painting the words “HELLO, BOBBY!” on an old bed sheet my mother gave me.

On the day of RFK’s visit, Chet Clarke drove me to the rally and placed me directly behind the rope, where I’d be able to shake Bobby’s hand, and my huge “Hello, Bobby!” banner would be seen. After the RFK cheerleaders sang “Robert Kennedy, Vote on November 3, There’s Gonna Be a Great Day,” and Bobby gave a short, stirring speech, the candidate began to make his way around the rope, shaking hands.

He started across from me and I couldn’t take my eyes off of the bird-thin legs of Dorothy Kilgallen, the Talk Show host and journalist, walking right next to him. Her legs were so thin that her stockings flapped in the wind, as did Bobby’s wild, wispy hair.

When he worked his way around the rope to me, he put his hand on my shoulder, and said: “That’s quite a sign you’ve got there! Thank you!”, and he continued around the rope to shake every hand.

As he was leaving, there was a scuffle a few feet behind me. An obnoxious kid from my high school–the only person I’ve ever punched in the face–was pulled down from a light pole by Suffolk County police for pointing a plastic water pistol at RFK.

11391154_10154213026132316_5041038157268326664_n Four years later, when Bobby was shot and killed, by a real pistol, I was driving past Sunset City Shopping Center in North Babylon, taking my father to the Babylon Train Station at 5:30 am, when I heard the news on the radio, that RFK was dead. I dropped my father off at the LIRR Station, drove back to the spot where RFK touched my shoulder and my heart four-years earlier, shut off the car, and cried uncontrollably.

The Hillbilly Kills Philanthropy

Just when you think it’s safe for Hillary to run for President against a field of Republican racists, homophobes, misogynists, fanatics, science-denialists and fools, her husband is caught getting hand-jobs from non-profit organizations, corporations, U.S. contractors and governments around the world.

These hand-jobs for Bill are not cheap tricks. The minimum price tag for them is $500,000, and the payoff can be as little as the Hillbilly yodeling for 30 minutes or more at a corporate or non-profit dinner, to as much as billions of dollars in US government contracts—or foreign aid—when Hillary was Secretary of State.

This is serious stuff,  and raises a “fundamental question of judgement” on Hillary’s part, relevant to the 2016 Presidential campaign, according to Lawrence Lessing of Harvard University’s Safra Center for Ethics. Journalist David Sirota writes in the May 29 issue of “Truthdig,” that while Hillary Clinton was Secretary of State her agency approved “$165 billion of commercial arms sales to Clinton Foundation Donors.” As bad as that may be, Sirota reported on the number of foreign governments—some of whom had clear records of human rights violations–currying favor with the US government for foreign aid, by donating large sums of money to the Clinton Foundation.

These reports have sickened me. I want Hillary to be better than her Hillbilly husband. I want my granddaughters to grow up under a female President. But it smells of the same kind of shakedown artistry which Bill Clinton has always used to bastardize philanthropy on a grand scale.   A front-page story in the May 30, 2015, New York Times headlined “Clinton Award Included Cash to Foundation,” illustrates how the Hillbilly has strangled honest giving and made fools of philanthropists.

The Times reported on the “Happy Hearts Fund”, the charity established by model and Phuket Tsunami survivor Petra Nemcova, which paid a $500,000 fee to the Clinton Foundation for the Hillbilly to receive an award and speak at the non-profit’s gala, held on the 10th Anniversary of the Tsunami last year, at Cipriani’s in NYC.

Cipriani’s is a pricey place to hold an event. As a CEO of a NYC based, national non-profit for nearly a decade, I avoided Cipriani’s because of its high pricetag.   The “Happy Hearts Event,” cost Nemcova $363,000—before—she paid the Hillbilly’s speaking fee of half-a million dollars. That meant that operating costs for the event—including the Clinton shakedown—neared the 50% level of the $2 million the gala raised: an unconscionable cost figure for ANY non-profit, in violation of all industry standards.

Executive Director of “Happy Hearts,” Sue Veres Royal, was dismissed for disagreeing with Nemcova’s numbscull spending, and she told the Times: “ The Clinton Foundation had rejected the Happy Hearts Fund invitation more than once, until there was a thinly veiled solicitation and then an offer of an honorarium….Petra called me and said we have to include an honorarium for him—that they don’t look at these things unless money is offered, and it has to be $500,000.” (Here’s the link to a copy of the invoice: http://nyti.ms/1FHg12n ) 

Columbia University’s Doug White, who heads the school’s Masters Program in Fund Raising Management was flabbergasted: This is primarily a small but telling example of the way the Clintons operate…I find it—what would be the word?—distasteful.”

The “Happy Hearts” attack, was not the first time the Hillbilly filched from philanthropists.   Just one year earlier, the Israeli Jewish National Fund agreed to pay Bill Clinton $500,000 to deliver a 45-minute speech at a 90th Birthday celebration for Israeli President Shimon Peres at the Peres Academic Center.

Jews like me, and in Israel, were furious. For decades, we supported the Jewish National Fund by “Planting Trees in Israel”, for $10 per tree, or three for $25, to celebrate birthdays and anniversaries, and to commemorate the lives of family members who died. I planted one by hand, myself, in a JNF forest in 1991, to honor Harry Jacobson, the patriarch of my wife’s family.

The outcry from Jews who had trusted the JNF to spend our money on growing Israel’s forests, not the Hillbilly’s bank account, forced the JNF to rescind its pay-off to Bill. While the Clinton Foundation claimed it “redirected” the payment made to another charity, the highly respected Israeli publication Ha’aretz reported that after one year, the Clinton Foundation still had not repaid the JNF some $250,000.

The Clintons, it seems, find none of this distasteful and they can’t see past their greed for greenbacks to the green forests or trees. To the Hillbilly, those rolling hills of green are piles of cash, awaiting harvest.  Or, to turn the old Chinese proverb on its head:  every crisis, including Tsunamis that kill 200,000 people,  is an opportunity to clean up.