Archive for July, 2009

The Birth of a Nation

Wednesday, July 29th, 2009

By Bob Gaydos

 One of the more unusual aspects of last year’s presidential campaign is that the candidates of both major parties were born outside the mainland of the United States in places that were, at different times, within jurisdiction of the United States if not actually one of the states. President Barack Obama was born in 1961 of a Kenyan father and American mother in Hawaii, two years after the territory became the 50th state in the union. Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., was born in the Panama Canal Zone in 1936 of American parents. Despite challenges from the fringes to their “natural born” citizenry, both men were declared legally eligible to run for president. 
 Most Americans were not aware of this oddity and, in truth, most probably did not care. The laws making both men “natural born” citizens of the United States seemed to be clear and both men had demonstrated sufficient ability and patriotism over their careers to justify their candidacies. In truth, there was a lot more to justify their candidacies than there is to justify the antiquated legal thinking that requires someone be a “natural-born citizen to be eligible to hold the office of president.
 If you have somehow escaped the idiocy, the question of presidential citizenship arises today because yet another wacky group of rightwingers has chosen to make it more difficult for responsible Republicans to admit their allegiance in public. This group is known as “Birthers.” (Close to Birchers. Remember them?) Birthers believe that Obama is not a natural-born American citizen. Why? Well, they just do. They do not take the word of the State of Hawaii, which has on more than one occasion produced a copy of the original birth certificate of the president. They do not accept newspaper reports of his birth at the time. They do not accept various investigations that showed Obama was born in the good old USA. They do not accept the vote of the Congress declaring Obama to be legit. They don’t like the man. They don’t like this name. They don’t like his smarts. Some probably don’t like the color of his skin. So they advance their conspiracy theory in the face of all things rational and with the help of some media figures who know full well what they are doing.
 The Birthers have been given unwarranted air time by Rush Limbaugh, who will say anything to stir up his faithful listeners for higher ratings, and by CNN’s Lou Dobbs, who is rapidly becoming the face of the “Why don’t you go back where you came from?” crowd. He should be fired. Both men persist in stating that “doubts” remain about Obama’s citizenship and “questions” remain to be answered. Only in the minds of the delusional and the politically devious. Even Liz Cheney has gone on TV to lend credence to the “doubters,” suggesting that maybe this apple did not fall as far from the tree as once thought.
 Adding to the lunacy, the primary Birther appears to be Orly Taitz, a Russian-born dentist, who in true American fashion got a law degree online and has used it to challenge Obama’s birthright in court for years, to no avail. It appears that Taitz and another birther, Stefan Cook, conspired to raise the question through the military. Cook, a major in the Army Reserve, volunteered in February to serve in Afghanistan, but when his orders came through he refused on conscientious objector grounds, saying he could not follow orders from an illegitimate commander-in-chief. Since this would require a court hearing and since engineers were needed quickly in Afghanistan and since Cook had volunteered to serve and was within his rights to change his mind and since the Army knew full well what Cook was up to, his orders were promptly rescinded. No public court showdown for Taitz, whom Cook had retained to defend him if the Army had taken the bait. Taitz, of course, say the Army’s decision is proof that it cannot prove Obama is legitimate.
 This is all annoying and beyond humorous and also unnecessary. And it’s all because of  Article II, Section I, Clause 5 of the U.S. Constitution, which states: “No person except a natural born Citizen … shall be eligible for the Office of President.” Those ellipses represent the exception clause in the article, which the authors had to include because at the time no one old enough to serve would have been a natural born citizen of the United States. It allowed those who were citizens of colonies at the time of the writing to also serve, which cleared the way for Washington and six more Founding Fathers. New York’s own Martin Van Buren was the first natural-born American to serve as president. He was the eighth in line. He also gave us the term “O.K.” (Old Kinderhook), which is perhaps just as significant.
 Some members of Congress (not many) are pushing a law requiring presidential candidates to prove they are natural born citizens. But why? Surely we have had enough experience with foreign-born, naturalized citizens serving in important government positions by now to know that one’s place of birth is not nearly as important as his or her abilities and proven loyalty to the United States. We are more than ever a nation of immigrants and immigrants’ children. And if Barack Obama had been born in Hawaii just before it became a state, would he be any less capable of being president? Or, for those Republicans out there, shouldn’t Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger be able to run for president? Or maybe being governor of California is way easier than being governor of Alaska. At least Arnold hasn’t quit.
 It’s simple. Change the law. If you have lived in this country for at least 20 years, are old enough and are a citizen, you can run for president. Hey, it’s the American Dream.   
 Bob can be reached at

The Adventures of Zoe, the Wonder Dog

Wednesday, July 29th, 2009

Chapter 8

By Carrie Jacobson

090109odzThe story so far:

When James Dunning lost his job, it meant losing his home and his dog, Zoe, too. He and his wife moved in with her mother, who’s allergic to dogs. James took Zoe – an old and mostly blind lhasa apso – to the shelter in Shohola, Pa., and left her there, in the night, too sad and humiliated to face the shelter workers in the daylight.

Kaja, a large red dog who’s been on her own for a while, found Zoe and freed her. They’re tracking east, through the woods, on a mission to find James.

Meanwhile, in their home in Barryville, on the bank of the Delaware, Ashton and Samantha Morrone, 7 and 9 years old respectively, are on vacation from school. Sam has just finished reading “Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,” and she and Ashton are building  a fort that’s also a raft.

The day has been hot and long, and Zoe’s hungry. Kaja has been on her own for a while now, roaming the woods, and she knows how to pace herself, but Zoe doesn’t, and she is hungry and tired and thirsty, and the pads of her feet feel raw and sore.

She can smell the scent of water in the air, and knows by now that it’s the river. They will cross it, Kaja tells her, but not until tomorrow. Now, she will leave Zoe in the woods and go and get food.

Zoe settles under some ferns and brush a few yards back from the edge of the road. Kaja comes up close, licks one of Zoe’s ears, and then, she’s gone. In her dark vision, for a few moments, Zoe can see the color of Kaja’s coat, but soon enough, that’s gone. She can still smell the big dog’s scent all around her. On the ground. On the bushes. On her. She can smell Kaja’s scent, and she believes that the big dog will come back.

Zoe looks around, but through her dim eyes, in the day’s long dusk, this place is much like any other place. The sky is still brighter than the ground, and the trees make dark streaks up and down. There’s the hot smell of the road, and the cars on it, and farther off, the smells of people, living and cooking and going about their lives. There’s the bif smell of the river, and the cool scents of earth and dew and pine needles.

She senses movement to one side, and turns her head to look, but she can’t see anything. The movement was not big, she thinks. It was something small, if it was anything.

She hears a noise then, high overhead. A rapping kind of hammering. It sounds like it’s coming from one of the trees. Then, higher still, there’s a shriek, a thin, sharp, keening sort of noise that seems to be moving on the air. Zoe holds herself absolutely still and listens hard. She hears the beating of bird wings above her, and the scrabble of something small, climbing a tree nearby. Then, she hears something moving behind her, and this, whatever it is, sounds big. She can hear this thing, whatever it is, and she can feel it moving, too.

Her heart pounds. It is banging in her chest, and she is scared, and trembling, and alone, and she wonders for the first time whether Kaja is coming back.

The thing moves closer behind her then, scratching at the ground and sniffing at the air. She can smell it now, and it smells bad, worse than the coyote, darker, more like garbage, more like something rotten, and she presses her little body into the cool earth and closes her eyes and thinks, I’m just a little dog who used to live in a house with rugs and beds and chairs and a bowl of water and a man who’d rub my head and take me out when I needed to go out, and I’m just a little dog, here alone in the woods, with a thing behind me that sounds big and smells bad, and I am just a little dog, and I’m alone and scared –

And then, something wells up in her, some thing from her ancestors, from a thousand years ago, from the time that lhasa apsos guarded Buddhist temples in Tibet. The thing starts deep in her chest, and rises, hot and hard and tough, grabbing at her soul, and welling up deep in her throat, gathering into a growl made of rocks and blades and strength and the courage of centuries, a growl so tough and strong that it pulls her to her feet and she jumps up and spins around and barks, ferociously! Again and again! She charges the thing, runs right at it, this thing she can smell and hear but cannot see –
And it runs away!

Whatever it is, she hears it running off! It crashes through the bushes, breaks sticks under its big feet, shakes the ground as it run, and Zoe feels the power course through her tired little body, and she knows she’s done it, chased the big thing off! She stomps, stiff-legged, a few more times, and barks and growls just to feel the power of it, and then she circles, around and around, under the ferns and the bushes, and curls up there, on the sweet-smelling earth, to wait for her friend to return.

Carrie can be reached at

A Passing Parade of Crooked Pols

Wednesday, July 29th, 2009

By Jeffrey Page

Maybe the numbers were on the high side this time. Forty-four public officials, including three mayors and a member of the Assembly, arrested in one day, most on charges of money laundering. But elected politicians in New Jersey betraying the public trust and stealing public money?

It will happen again. Over the course of a century it has happened before.

Some Jersey stories.

In 1971, John R. Armellino, the mayor of West New York, pleaded guilty to taking $1,000 a week to protect illegal gambling interests. Not just any gambling interests but those run by a gentleman named Joseph “Bayonne Joe” Zicarelli of organized crime repute.

The mayor did such a good job in carrying out his end of the bargain that West New York became known as the place to go in North Jersey if you were looking for a little action.

Armellino had come home from World War II a tragic hero. For gallantry in action on D-Day he was awarded the Silver Star. He also lost his right leg at Normandy. On his return home he entered politics. He was mayor for 20 years and ran his town like a dictatorship. If a critic got too vociferous at a council meeting, Armellino would snap his fingers and a cop removed the complainer. At which point, Armellino would calmly say, “Next to be heard.”

The mayor went to prison for four years.

In Jersey City, also in 1971, Mayor Thomas J. Whelan was sentenced to 15 years imprisonment. All Whelan did was come up with a way to provide for his old age. He and some other officials figured they could shake down contractors doing business with the city simply by suggesting that failure to pay up would force Jersey City to give its business to rival contractors – who would then have to pay. It wasn’t original and it wasn’t elegant, but it worked for a while and the Whelan group’s take was said to be more than $1 million.

However, one supplier got tired of being extorted and went to the authorities. It didn’t take long for Whelan and the others to be brought down. The mayor pleaded guilty and was sent away.

Tom Gangemi was another Jersey City mayor who had to leave office prematurely, but not for bribery, extortion or conspiracy. In 1963, two years after he was elected, the feds informed Gangemi that he had a serious problem. He had never bothered to become a U.S. citizen.

A Union City storefront bearing an immodest sign – “The William V. Musto Regular Democratic Organization” – was Billy Musto’s 18-syllable base of operations. This was where Musto, the long-time mayor, would spend time schmoozing with friends, drinking coffee, and meeting constituents. You needed a job? A loan? Maybe some food for the table? You had a complaint about a cop? For these you needed to see somebody with clout. That was Mayor Musto.

How popular was he? Popular enough so that one year he secretly gave financial support to a challenger because, as Musto said, it didn’t look good to run with no opposition.

And popular enough so that on May 11, 1982, Billy was sentenced to seven years in prison for municipal racketeering, and on May 12, 1982, he was reelected mayor. The guy he beat was his former protégé Bob Menendez who testified against him and who never claimed that the vote had been rigged. Today, Menendez is one of Jersey’s senators.

And so popular that when Billy was released from prison after serving three years, he went home to Union City to find that lampposts all over town were decorated with yellow ribbons and welcome-home signs. One said “The leader is back.”

They’re all gone now, these characters in the long, never-ending line of corrupt Jersey pols. But clearly, the game of greed, stupidity and betrayal goes on.

Jeffrey can be reached at

Nuns Redux

Wednesday, July 29th, 2009

By Beth Quinn

Welcome back to Nunville.

We’re talking about nuns for the second week in a row here because it seems there’s some enduring interest in Catholic nuns (mostly positive) and a shared anger on their behalf.

I learned this through my e-mail after last week’s column about the fact that the Vatican has ordered an investigation of American nuns, many of whom have joined the real world in the past few decades, since the reforms of the Second Vatican Council. The intention of this modern-day inquisition appears to be to reel the nuns in and force them back into a more cloistered existence to serve as slave labor for the Church.

Get thee back to the nunnery, women!

Despite my own bad childhood experience with a nun who told me my dead dog wouldn’t get into heaven, I have since grown to love and respect most of the nuns I’ve come to know. I also feel like starting an uprising on their behalf now that the good ole boys in Rome are gunning for them.

A number of readers have strong feelings of their own on the issue. Read on.

Hi Beth.
Boy, did this column about nuns hit home. Until the death of the older one, I had two sisters in the convent.

The other one was fired. You read that  right – fired after more than 50 years as a woman religious by a Bishop who felt they didn’t “share the same vision” for the diocese.
Her family and fellow nuns rallied round and today she is busier than ever, but it must have been a real test of her faith. It remains the only time I ever heard her choke up.
You are right to place your money on the “good sisters.” The changes wrought by Vatican II are like a bell that no one can un-ring. There’s a greater chance that the Pope will take a bride than that these educated, resourceful women will march single file back into the cloister. – Kathy Garvey
I’m also a recovering Catholic (and it’s a lifelong recovery), and I’d like to see those women drag that increasingly irrelevant institution into the 21st century. – Larry Byrne

While I too, am generally not in the habit (no pun intended, but it works) of commenting about the life of nuns, I found your piece it be thought-provoking.

If it is accurate that the population of these sometimes gentle, often well meaning and always delusional ladies has decreased by two thirds in modern times then, I submit, there is cause for hope. Only when there are only a few dozen remaining will I feel comfortable. These women can do all of their good works without being betrothed to God, and the drunken, pedophile priests should do their own housekeeping.
But no dogs in heaven??? Was she serious? In my opinion, if there is a heaven it is run by dogs, and only those who treat them and their kindred spirits here on earth with the decency and respect that is their due are permitted in.

A fine reason to leave the church! As good as any other that I have ever heard. Would that Galileo had thought of it. – Howard
Love your piece. I am an anti-religious who was married to a liberal Roman Catholic who, after confession, would lean into her confessor and demand to know why the Church did not permit women to be priests and why they could not marry, etc. etc.

One Saturday she returned from confession, smoke coming from her ears. The priest had told her, “I will pray for your conversion.” – Fred of Ithaca

Note to Fred:
Love your story about your wife’s confession. I had some terrible moments in confession myself, but the one that stands out was my own fault. As a young teenager, I was not allowed to shave my legs, so I used Nair on my legs – a product that removes hair and stinks to high heaven. Literally. (To this day, I don’t understand why putting a chemical on my legs was OK, but I couldn’t touch a razor to my skin. Be that as it may …)

One day, I used it directly before going to confession and must not have washed it off thoroughly. The smell of it filled the booth and must have surely wafted over to the priest’s side, for he interrupted my confession and said, “Say 10 Hail Mary’s and 3 Our Father’s. Go now.” – Beth

I am not Catholic, but in many ways, what you said applies to all religions including my own. (Think Kyriat Joel.) You said something that was needed and essential. – David

Hi Beth.
Thanks for that column on nuns. My aunt is a gym teacher/nun in Queens. She has given her life to the community for 35 years.

She and other sisters help run an undisclosed women’s shelter for New York City. The women and their children live there. My aunt and her fellow sisters watch their children while the women attend high school/college, allowing them to pursue a career that will help them support their families.

Every year we attend a dinner and fundraiser helping support this shelter. A woman always attends to tell her success story. Sadly, the nuns are now elderly and will soon pass this women-only project over to the city.

I was offended to see the New York Times article about the Church’s investigation of nuns (still a good ole boys party).Thank you for writing your opinion. I just wanted to write one story that needed to be told. – Mary

From Beth.
I love these stories. Thank you. I’d like to end with one more nun story of my own.

When I was a health writer for the local newspaper, I grew to depend on the medical expertise of Dr. Jerry Quint, who was then a surgeon at St. Anthony Community Hospital in Warwick. He made himself available to answer any questions I might have – any time I might have them. He became my great, good friend.

The only problem was, I could rarely quote him accurately in the newspaper because his colorful language wasn’t deemed appropriate for print. But the Internet rules are different. Actually, I don’t think there are any rules, so I can quote him accurately here.

I was writing a story about Catholic hospitals, and I called Quint and asked him whether he or other doctors felt restricted by working in a Catholic institution and having to follow some of the Church’s rules.

He didn’t exactly answer the question. What he did say, though, was this:

“You know what I love about the nuns here? They are not full of shit.”

Believe me, there is no higher praise.

Beth can be reached at

Carrie’s Painting of the Week – 7/28/09

Tuesday, July 28th, 2009

On Route 211, just past Otisville, the sky opens up over the road, which curls in a wide curve before wending again between new mountains. From here, where County Route 61 takes off toward Westbrookville, you can see ridges of mountains fading off into the heart of the Catskills.

On Route 211, just past Otisville, the sky opens up over the road, which curls in a wide curve before wending again between new mountains. From here, where County Route 61 takes off toward Westbrookville, you can see ridges of mountains fading off into the heart of the Catskills. Oil on stretched canvas, 11x14. For purchasing info, contact To see more, visit

Shawn’s Painting of the Week – 07/26/09

Monday, July 27th, 2009
Grapes and the Shawangunks

Grapes and the Shawangunks

“Grapes and the Gunks” plein air painting at Phillies Bridge Farm, Gardiner, NY.

Carbonless Cooling

Monday, July 27th, 2009

By Shawn Dell Joyce

Other cultures have perfected many ways of dealing with the summer’s heat. Here are a few low-tech ways from around the world to keep cool this summer without adding more carbon to the problem of climate change:

South America: Dampen a sheet, and hang it in the window. The water evaporates in the breeze, cooling the room in the process. Another method is to place frozen 2-liter bottles of water in front of fans for instant AC.

India: Yogis practice shitali pranayama, in which they sit cross-legged and breathe deeply. Shape your tongue into a tube like a snorkel, and put the tip outside your mouth. Breathe through your “snorkel” with your chin on your chest. The air moving over your tongue cools you from the inside out.

Egypt: Egyptian nights stay in the 90s. Dampen a bedsheet, and use it as your “blanket.” Evaporation does the trick.

China: Keep bamboo mats between your skin and hot or hard surfaces, such as car seats and chairs. The bamboo allows air to circulate and keeps bare skin from sticking to hot plastic.

Tropics: In humid climates, people often dress down and get wet. Getting wet reduces your core body temperature by 3 degrees and lasts up to an hour. If you wear clothes that can get wet, as well, the cooling effect lasts longer. You don’t have to have a pool. A water hose, faucet or misting bottle will work.

Middle East: You can stay cooler in arid climates by covering up your skin. Picture desert dwellers in their turbans and flowing white garments; the white reflects the sun, and the natural, loose fabrics shade the skin where there is no shade. Bedouins often wear two layers in the heat of the day. Skin exposed to direct sun is hotter than skin insulated by clothing. Turbans and bandanas shade the eyes and soak up sweat from the head, which evaporates and helps cool you off.

Cities: Apartment dwellers in cities often move bedding onto fire escapes to sleep in the cooler night air.
Their rural counterparts can sleep on screened-in porches or outdoors. Another trick is to fill your bathtub with cold water and take periodic dips to keep cool. If you live on the top floor, turn on the ceiling fan (or attic fan) and open the windows to draw out the hot air. If possible, go downstairs to the basement in the heat of the day. Turn off incandescent lights, as they generate 90 percent heat and 10 percent light. Use compact fluorescents or LEDs instead.

West Indies: Spicy foods make you perspire more, which cools the body. Spices also help stop foods from spoiling as quickly and give you an endorphin rush, which feels good in any temperature.

Italy: Train grapevines over window trellises to provide shade in the summer and let in light in the winter. Slightly opening windows on the bottom floor and fully opening upstairs windows maximizes Mediterranean breezes through your villa.

Southern comfort: Front porches are part of the cooling system of a Southern home. Sitting in a lawn chair or rocker that has slats or openings (for airflow) on a shady porch with iced tea is a Southern tradition. You hold the iced tea against your neck to cool the blood going to your brain. Also, hold it on your pulse points on your wrists. Blow into the iced tea and cool air will rush around your face and neck. In temperatures higher than 105 degrees, soak your clothes, and then sit in the lawn chair with iced tea.

Women’s wisdom: Women in hot climates always carry folding fans in their purses. Another secret is to dampen a handkerchief and tuck it into your cleavage. It is very cooling and keeps sweat from running down your chest. Southern women often spritz themselves with rubbing alcohol and then stand in front of fans. Follow that with a sprinkling of baby powder at your pulse points and you’re as cool as a cucumber.

Shawn can be reached at

Motivation Is Game for Ex-Athletes

Monday, July 27th, 2009

By Michael Kaufman

The other day I received a piece of junk mail containing a letter signed by Mark Spitz, who won seven gold medals in swimming at the 1972 Munich Olympics.  The letter was on behalf of a company I’d never heard of that pays cash for gold. It was accompanied by a little plastic bag suitable for holding a small stash of marijuana (not included). What Spitz wanted recipients to do with it was put their unwanted and broken pieces of gold jewelry in there and mail it to the company in a postage-paid envelope. Spitz said the company, a family-owned business in Cleveland he has known for years, would promptly send a check paying “top dollar” for the items.

The silly letter was merely the latest in a long line of endorsements that began when Spitz hung up his trunks at the age of 22 to embark on a lucrative career as the guy who won seven gold medals. He is reported to have made $7 million in the first two years following his return from Munich.

“I would say I was a pioneer,” he said in a 2008 interview. “There wasn’t anyone who’d gone to the Olympics before me who capitalized the same way on opportunity. It depends on timing, it depends on hype, it depends on the economy, and most importantly, it depends on looks. I mean, I’ve never

Mark Spitz

Mark Spitz

seen a magazine of uglies. That’s our society. I’m not saying it is right. That’s just the facts.” Luckily for him, aside from gray hair befitting his age, Spitz has retained his good looks, as evidenced by a recent head shot that appears at the upper right corner of the endorsement letter. The Botox he had been promoting, along with Nadia Comaneci, another former Olympic gold medalist, may have helped in this regard.

Like Buzz Aldrin, the former astronaut featured in last week’s post, Spitz now travels the globe as a motivational speaker. Many former athletes have gone that route and, as a sportswriter-turned-medical writer, I have seen a couple of all-time greats in both stages of their lives.

Bobby Hull was known as the Golden Jet when he starred for the Chicago Black Hawks in the National Hockey League and later in the World Hockey Association. A prolific goal scorer and graceful skater, he was so named for the shock of long blonde hair that flew behind his head as he streaked up the ice. It was a pleasure to watch him play.

Although Hull was introduced as the Golden Jet when I saw him give a motivational talk at a medical convention years later, it would have been more accurate to refer to him as the Balding Biplane. As natural as he had appeared scoring goals in hockey, he seemed uncomfortable mumbling his way through prepared remarks about achieving goals in life. To be fair, this

Bobby Hull

Bobby Hull

was one of his earlier appearances as a professional motivator and he has surely improved since then. A recent photograph suggests he has also undergone some substantial hair restoration work.

Bruce Jenner won the gold medal in decathlon at the 1976 Olympics in Montreal, which led him to another record: His picture appeared on the front of Wheaties boxes for seven consecutive years. The previous record of five years was held by the Rev. Bob Richards, who twice pole vaulted his way to Olympic gold, in Helsinki (1952) and Melbourne (1956).  Richards also ran for President of the United States in 1984 as the candidate of the newly formed, far-right Populist Party. He got 66,000 votes.

I was at the Montreal Olympics, where Jenner won the gold, and in the late 1980s covered a meeting of the American Society of Consultant Pharmacists, where he gave a motivational speech. He said the lessons he had learned from his experience did not just apply to athletics but to all walks of life, including the “pharmacy business.” This did not go over too well with audience members, who realized at once that he had not bothered to learn what they do for a living.

Bruce Jenner

Bruce Jenner

Nevertheless, he looked great as he told his story of battling dyslexia and overcoming numerous obstacles to achieve his goal of becoming an Olympic champion.

Jenner’s speaking gigs are arranged through American Entertainment International, which describes him as “a highly respected and much sought-after motivational speaker, especially within the corporate sector…also a sports commentator, entrepreneur, commercial spokesperson, television personality, actor, producer and author.” But wait, there’s more. “A devoted husband and father of six, when he isn’t making corporate appearances or spending time with his family, Bruce Jenner can be found flying planes, racing cars in Grand Prix events and working on his golf game.” Sounds like he’s been eating his Wheaties.

Hey, as Mark Spitz put it, that’s our society. I’m not saying it is right. That’s just the facts. In next week’s post I’ll tell you about the most disgusting, self-serving motivational speech I ever witnessed. Wait till you find out who the speaker was…and how much he was paid.

Michael can be reached at

Photo of the Week July 26, 2009

Sunday, July 26th, 2009

Photography By Rich Gigli

A BOY'S BEST FRIEND - "Life has taught us that love does not consist in gazing at each other, but in looking outward together in the same direction"  - Antoine de Saint-Exupery, Author of "The Little Prince".
A BOY’S BEST FRIEND – “Life has taught us that love does not consist in gazing at each other, but in looking outward together in the same direction” – Antoine de Saint-Exupery, Author of “The Little Prince”.

Buzz Aldrin’s Magnificent Recovery

Wednesday, July 22nd, 2009

By Michael Kaufman

As we mark the 40th anniversary of mankind’s first trip to the moon, I recall exactly where I was July 20, 1969, when Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin invented the moonwalk (later adapted and updated by Michael Jackson). I was strolling on Broadway on the upper West Side of Manhattan near a tiny enclave then known none-too affectionately as “Needle Park.” My thoughts were on the Mets, then involved in a pennant race for the first time in the young life of the team. A fellow I recognized as one of the local winos sat alone on one of the park benches, holding a transistor radio to his ear.

“What’s the score?” I called out, slowing my pace. He looked up at me, frowning. Then he said, “I ain’t listening to no ballgame, I’m listening ‘bout that moon crap!”

Years later I was tempted to share that vignette with Buzz Aldrin when I met him at a medical meeting I was covering. He was there on behalf of a pharmaceutical company marketing a new wound dressing, linking it to “space-age technology.”

Kaufman as Viagra MVP

His presence increased traffic at the company’s booth in the exhibit area. Mercifully, they did not have him pose for souvenir pictures that made it look like the doctor smiling next to him was one of his fellow astronauts. Maybe the technology wasn’t available yet. I covered a meeting a few years ago where urologists lined up to appear in a baseball-card photo depicting them in Viagra team uniforms. It was an MVP card (with MVP standing for “most valuable prescriber”). I even posed for one (see photo). At another recent meeting, Dick Vermeil, a famous football coach, provided hundreds of toothy smiles.   

Besides appearing at the booth, Aldrin spent time in the evenings at the company’s hospitality suite, hoisting a few with a handful of invited guests, company personnel, and this writer, who managed to wangle an invitation. This must have taken place during the period he describes in his memoir, “Magnificent Desolation,” in which he documents his battles against depression and alcoholism. That night he certainly looked depressed, chain smoking and drinking the night away as boozed up guests asked him annoying questions like, “What was it like going to the bathroom?” 

Today, his desolation behind him, Aldrin is a motivational speaker represented by the Executive Speakers Bureau of Memphis and is reported to receive between $30,000-$50,000 per appearance. He also has a snazzy Web site,, where he hawks t-shirts that say “Rocket Hero” with a logo suggestive of an astronaut placing a flag on the moon, and autographed pictures for $350. Or you can buy his Buzz Aldrin G6 Aviator Radio and even download his latest rap song on iTunes.

Yes, to commemorate the 40th anniversary of the first lunar landing, Aldrin has teamed up with Snoop Dogg and other luminaries of the hip-hop genre to create the rap single and video, “Rocket Experience.”

Buzz Aldrin

Buzz Aldrin

Proceeds will benefit ShareSpace, a non-profit foundation he launched in 1998. “Our mission is to share the wonders of space with children of all ages, and to foster affordable space travel opportunities for all,” he says.

Thanks to ShareSpace, perhaps even a wino from Needle Park may one day be able to afford to travel in space and see “that moon crap” in person.

Michael can be reached at