Archive for December, 2011

A Visit with Chris Farlekas

Wednesday, December 28th, 2011

Chris Farlekas, a few years ago

By Bob Gaydos

At heart, Chris Farlekas, my longtime colleague at the Times Herald-Record, is a producer/director. Through a lifetime of writing articles about thousands of people, many of whom he regards as friends or neighbors or both, what has always stood out to me about Chris is the Mickey Rooney/Judy Garland in him: Let’s put on a show.

Throw in a little Ethel Merman the show must go on stuff and you realize that it takes more than a couple of strokes to shut Chris down. Slow him down, sure, but not totally stop his endless quest to find someone who can sing or dance or deliver a line. New talent. And to hear Chris tell it, there’s going be a show soon — a music review — and he’s the producer/director.

Chris is currently living at the Park Manor Rehabilitation Center in the Town of Wallkill, across the road from Orange Plaza, which gives him an excellent view of the holiday traffic crawling by. His room looks like his desk did at the Record — newspapers and magazines and books everywhere. Also flowers, stuffed animals and sundry other gifts from friends.

But Chris, a rapid two-finger typist who gets around now in a wheel chair, has also embraced technology. He’s got a Nook to read any book he wants. And a laptop is being fitted for voice commands so he can dictate copy into it instead of typing. He confesses that, although he is used to public speaking, he’s not sure he can master this new form of writing. I fully understand his uncertainty. He also misses movies.

What is he up to in this corner room on the second floor? “I’m going to put on a show. There are a lot of talented people here and there was a story the other day about how the food pantries are short on supplies because of the economy.”

This is Chris in a nutshell. He says he’s found all kinds of new talent among staff at Park Manor and on trips outside to church, etc. He also says he’s heard from local show biz friends that they will help and contacts is one thing Chris has.

There’s no date or time or place for this show yet, although Chris would like to do it before winter is over. In the meantime though, he is not at all averse to receiving visitors. He says the staff told him he has broken the record for most cards received. He’s got a phone, but when I was there recently he didn’t know the number, which is typical Chris.

I spent a little time with him just before Christmas right after a party at the center. The candy was still flowing, but Chris told the nurse who escorted me to his room that he probably shouldn’t have any more: “It will probably mess up my sugar.”

“It’s Christmas,” she answered with a smile, “that’s what insulin is for.”

Even in a rehab center, Chris can find people who know how to deliver a great line.

* * *

A footnote: Lest anyone be concerned about violating Chris’ privacy, I asked Chris if he minded me writing a little something about our visit and he said not at all. And I told him I’d use the nurse’s line before he did.

I Have Some Questions

Tuesday, December 27th, 2011

By Jeffrey Page
–You’ve seen it at Ringling Bros. and now you see it in real life. The people running the Gingrich campaign have stepped into a bucket and are walking funny. Seems Newt didn’t file enough valid signatures to get on the primary ballot in Virginia.

The excuses followed forthwith.

First, Newt’s Boys attacked the Commonwealth of Virginia for running “a failed system.” Translation: One that Newt fumbled.

Then they said – and parse this carefully – “voters deserve the right to vote for any top contender, especially leading candidates.” Meaning Gingrich. So if Newt is the contender in question, the rules don’t apply, but if, say, Michele Bachmann filed too few signatures, well, the hell with her; she should have known better.

Then Gingrich announced he would wage an aggressive write-in campaign to win Virginia on Super Tuesday, March 6, but he forgot one important matter. Virginia doesn’t permit write-in voting in primaries.

Now it’s just a matter of time before he blames his foul-up on the press. He blames the press for most things.

Question: If Gingrich, the self-identified genius, can’t get the rules of a primary right, what can the country expect of him in such matters as war and peace, jobs, the economy, taxes, the debt, and health care? (Speaking of health care, it now turns out Newt approved of Romneycare but flipped like a flapjack when its carbon copy – Obamacare – was on the table.)

* * *

–Recently, the chief of staff of the Air Force expressed his official sorrow regarding the dumping of incinerated remains of cremated service members in a landfill in Virginia.

This barbarous practice ended in 2008. But the chief’s statement of regret came only recently – last month, to be precise – after the Washington Post reported on the disposal of 274 soldiers’ remains.

“We regret any additional grief to families that past practices may have caused,” said Lt. Gen. Darrell Jones. “May” have caused, he said. Only a three-star general, like Jones, could get away with such an idiotic declaration.

The Times, meanwhile, reported that the Air Force has begun an investigation into this disgrace and found that some service officials at Dover Air Force Base, where the bodies and remains of all dead service members are returned to the United States, had grossly mismanaged their duties.

Question 1: Where is President Obama on this? Surely he has an interest since it was he who stood at attention and saluted at Dover after allowing the press to photograph the returning coffins.

Question 2: How many of the 274 soldiers who wound up amid the day’s garbage and trash were generals? (I’ll take a guess: None.)

* * *

–While we’re on the subject of the shabby way soldiers and veterans often are treated, the Army has informed Congress that there are discrepancies between the information on some of the 260,000 headstones and other monuments at Arlington National Cemetery, and information contained in the cemetery’s office records.

How many instances of error might there be? The army estimates it could be as many as 64,000. In some cases, the mistake is in paper records and fairly easy to correct. But in others, the army says, the mistake – a misspelled name, incorrect birth or death dates, improper rank and/or organization – might be chiseled into the headstones. This will require major repairs or replacements.

This comes a few years after Congress learned of instances in which more than one body was buried per grave at Arlington.

Question: Do any of these mistakes appear on the headstones of generals? Were any generals laid to rest in the same grave as a PFC?

* * *

–While the remains of service personnel wound up in a landfill, the Air Force had important things on its mind. Such as this policy: If you’re in the Air Force you may not “attach, affix or display objects, articles, jewelry or ornamentation through the ear, nose, tongue or any exposed body part.”

There’s an exception to the rule.

“Women,” the Air Force says in classic military prose, “are authorized to wear one small spherical, conservative, diamond, gold, white pearl, or silver pierced, or clip earring per earlobe and the earring worn in each earlobe must match. Earrings should fit tightly without extending below the earlobe.”

Question: Doesn’t the Air Force have better things to do than to write general orders regarding the use of bling?

* * *

And finally, Donald Trump announced he was ending his registration as an enrolled Republican. He is now an independent, and thus holds open the possibility of running for president as a third-party candidate.

Question: When will people – myself included – stop taking Trump so seriously that they find it necessary to comment on his latest expression of self-importance?

Gigli’s Photo of the Week

Wednesday, December 21st, 2011

Photography by Rich Gigli

Country Road

“Over the River and through the Woods” by Lydia Maria Child 1844

Over the river, and through the wood,

To Grandfather’s house we go;

The horse knows the way to carry the sleigh

through the white and drifted snow.

A Republican’s Lament: ‘It’s a Disgrace’

Tuesday, December 20th, 2011

By Bob Gaydos

I got an unexpected Christmas present the other day. Out of the blue. Unwrapped. Unsolicited.

Well, semi-unsolicited. I ran into a longtime colleague of mine, a veteran journalist and a dyed-in-the-wool, God-bless-Ronald-Reagan Republican. A lifetime red-stater and regular campaign contributor stuck in a mostly blue state.

Not having talked politics in a while, I asked, in total innocence, “What do you think of the presidential candidates your party is offering?”

Well, what to my ears should appear, but a diatribe worthy of Rachel Maddow, my dear:  “It is absurd, insulting. None of them is qualified. It’s embarrassing. Obama is going to win in a landslide. I couldn’t vote for any of them.”

“Not even Romney?”


“But how did this happen? How did this gang become the Republican Party’s best and brightest?”

“They’re not. And all those (tea party) Republicans who got elected last time are going to lose next time. It’s a disgrace. I got phone calls from all the Republican campaign fund-raising committees. I told them not to call me. I’m not giving any of them any money.”

Pleasantly dumbstruck, I ventured on. “But you’re a conservative,” I offered.

“No, I’m a moderate.”

Well, maybe. But only if by moderate you mean I’m not a falling-off-the-edge-of-the-universe conservative. Which should tell you all you need to know about the Republican Party today. A lifetime, patriotic party faithful, who keeps the letters from the White House expressing thanks for a generous contribution, a traditional conservative Republican, can’t stand to be linked with the people running the Republican Party today.

That is, if anyone is running it.

Off the weekly free-for-all they call a debate, one would have to wonder if any adults are in charge of trying to salvage the reputation of the party of Lincoln. If they were, how could they stand by silently while a bunch of candidates has demonstrated a collective unworthiness for the right to run for president, never mind be elected? Their flaws have been spotlighted each week — by the candidates themselves as they attack each other. Inexperience. Inflexibility. Lack of understanding of world affairs. Self-righteousness. Lack of understanding of domestic affairs. Poor communications skills. Hypocrisy. Immorality. Ignorance. Intolerance. Total lack of credibility.

As I digested my colleague’s visceral response to my question, I wondered how many other longtime Republicans felt this way and what they would do when it came election time and, more to the point, why they were letting this happen to their party, the party of Ronald Reagan.

Do they hate Obama that much? I find that hard to believe. Do they hate all immigrants? Do they hate all gays? Do they hate all Muslims? Do they hate all poor people? Some of their candidates speak as if they do.

The latest candidate to be elevated to front-runner status as the Iowa caucus approaches is Ron Paul, a libertarian in everything but party registration. Republicans can’t stand him, and he would be better off running on a third party line, yet there he is, next in line after the rest of the GOP field got through chopping away at Newt Gingrich’s resume. Unpredictable, undisciplined, immoral, untrustworthy, self-consumed and irrational were some of the bouquets they threw at Newt, who modestly asked his fellow candidates to engage in a no-name-calling campaign. Too late for that, Newt.

See, the problem the Republican candidates have is that they all can see their fellow candidates’ flaws all too clearly. They keep quiet about them until it suits them to do otherwise, like when someone starts to pull ahead of the field. Suddenly, honesty is acceptable in assessing Rick Perry, Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain, Rick Santorum. And Newt Gingrich.

No one talks much about the two Mormon candidates, Jon Huntsman and Mitt Romney. Again, I think there’s a bit of unconscious honesty at work here. I think they, and a lot of stalwart Republicans, like my colleague, know that Huntsman is the best and brightest of this lot and that he scares all the tea partiers because he believes in science and taxes and making efforts at bipartisan governing and he let Obama appoint him ambassador to China. Oooh, scary.

And Romney, the supposed favorite of traditional Republicans? This the tea party Republicans have got exactly right. You can’t trust a word the man says. He will change his views on a dime, or whatever the going rate is. Some Democrats and independents actually like him because of this — they think he’ll drop his ultra-conservative views once elected president and that makes him acceptable instead of Obama. Now there’s something we want in a leader, someone who says and does whatever is necessary to advance his own interest on that particular day. John McCain tried that. Didn’t work.

So, who would my colleague like to see run for president?

“Hillary Clinton. And don’t use my name.”

Spoken like a true Republican.

Carrie’s Painting of the Week

Monday, December 19th, 2011

Windy Day, Rodanthe
By Carrie Jacobson
These white mornings, these moon-full nights, this season of joy and tension and love and despair unfolds in all its glory and its grief, and I remember and I hope.

I remember my mother, and how she loved Christmas. I remember my childhood, and my wonder and awe. I remember our family, whole and happy and filled with love and adoration, and even now, when it all seems somehow too much and nowhere near enough, I can recapture moments, and hold them close. And hope.

It came upon the midnight clear

That glorious song of old

From angels bending near the earth

To touch their harps of gold.

“Peace on the Earth, good will to men

From heaven’s all glorious King!”

The world in solemn stillness lay

To hear the angels sing.

Pharmacists Hoping for the Best

Sunday, December 18th, 2011

By Michael Kaufman
News that Gov. Cuomo has finally signed into law a bill that prohibits insurers from requiring patients to get prescriptions through the mail was greeted with guarded optimism by owners of independent hometown pharmacies. The law, which passed overwhelmingly in both houses of the state legislature earlier this year, will allow people to fill any prescription covered by mail order at an independent retail pharmacy. But there’s a catch.

The governor said the law will only go into effect after state legislators approve an amendment requiring retail pharmacists to agree in advance to accept the same reimbursement rate as mail-order pharmacies. Just how this will work remains to be seen. Will local pharmacists be able to obtain prescription drugs from pharmaceutical companies at prices similar to those negotiated by health insurers with big mail-order companies such as Medco? If not, neighborhood pharmacies will continue to be squeezed as they’ve become accustomed to in recent years with competition from chains such as CVS and Drug Fair, big-box stores such as Walmart and Costco, and from supermarkets that offer pharmacy services in addition to groceries.

The stark fact is that about 375 independent pharmacies in New York have closed since 2008, according to the Pharmacists Society of the State of New York. The group estimates that between $4 billion and $5 billion for prescriptions leaves the state each year because of mail orders. The organization hailed the Dec. 13 signing by Cuomo as “a tremendous victory for all pharmacies in New York State and the millions of New Yorkers they serve.”

“We are hoping for the best,” said pharmacist Jean Murphy, co-owner of Akin’s pharmacy in Warwick. “We don’t know yet how it is going to work.” The governor provided no date as to when the measures would take effect.

Meanwhile, the Pharmaceutical Care Management Association (PCMA), which opposed the bill, welcomed Cuomo’s insistence on the amendment. “Employers, taxpayers and consumers appreciate Governor Cuomo’s admonition to the legislature to improve this costly, anti-consumer bill,” said Mark Merritt, CEO of the Washington-based lobbying group. “In this economy, employers need every cost-saving tool they can get and mail-service pharmacy is at the top of the list.”

The PCMA casts local pharmacists as anti-consumer villains, as does the New York Health Plan Association (NYHPA), which lobbies on behalf of 25 managed health care plans in the state. In opposing the original bill, the NYHPA declared, “This proposal enriches community pharmacists at the expense of patients and will result in increased pharmaceutical costs.”

As noted previously, the original bill was also opposed by the Business Council of New York State (BCNYS), which condemned it as a “state-imposed coverage mandate [that] will increase overall costs to the health care system, limiting one very real opportunity and option to bend the cost curve in health care without any decrease in access or quality to care.”

This statement is belied daily by the real-life experiences of the supposed beneficiaries of this largesse. After our previous post on this topic last month, Peter B. of Warwick wrote, “I HATE Express Scripts, but have to use them. ALWAYS, ALWAYS late, and when I call, which is every time, I get the same bland crap; nothing even remotely helpful or actionable.”

Consumers forced to use Medco, the largest of the mail-order firms and a spinoff of pharmaceutical giant Merck, regularly voice their complaints via the internet at Here is a sampling of recent comments:

Heather of Ladson, SC, wrote, “I have had nothing but headaches and issues with Medco from the beginning….You receive different information from each representative you speak with….First, they tried to deny medications that my doctor specifically requested (with prescription and official letter) for me because they were supposedly ‘not covered’ under my plan.”

Susan of Drums, Pa., wrote, “I was never notified I would be forced to use the mail order program. And now I am without my medication because I am required to go back to my doctor and spend money I don’t have to get a new prescription….”

Michelle, of Phoenix, Ariz., wrote, “I called to place an order on a prescription and the prescription was never filled. I called back and was told the request was never made, yet I have my confirmation email. The rep then placed another refill request and I was assured it would ship by a certain date as I was almost out of medication. To no surprise the medication did not ship on the date I was advised. I have spent several hours on the phone over the past week with no resolution. I was told I could transfer it to a local pharmacy to be filled immediately.

“I later received a call from Medco stating they tried to transfer it but the local pharmacy didn’t have it in stock….I decided to call the pharmacy myself and found out they do have the medication in stock…. I asked to speak with a [Medco] manager and was advised there was no manager available. I am now left without my medication and have no idea when or if I will actually receive it.”

But the lobbyists at the BCNYS keep spinning: “Typically, mail order pharmacies are an option to employees, not a mandate, and the option usually is accompanied by passing along the savings to the insured in terms of lower out-of-pocket co-pays. If an insured prefers to use a non-mail order pharmacy, it is the informed choice of that consumer to fill the prescription knowing that the co-pay will be higher.” Big Brother would be proud.

Companies that offer mail-order pharmacy as an “option” make it clear they want employees to use mail order. Nonunionized workers in the private sector, fearful of losing their jobs, are likely to comply, like it or not.

Those who don’t are badgered by robot phone calls and mailings from Medco. These start out cordially enough: gentle reminders that you are missing out on a wonderful healthcare benefit and an opportunity to save money. After a while they become more ominous and take on an unmistakingly threatening, invasive tone. They remind you that the cost of your prescription for a specific drug will soon go up if you don’t switch now. They are Big Brother. They’re watching you. And they got to the governor.

Hometown pharmacists are hoping for the best, but the worst would be no surprise.

Michael can be reached at

Gigli’s Photo of the Week

Wednesday, December 14th, 2011

Photography by Rich Gigli

Lincoln Memorial, Washington, D.C.

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Gettysburg, Pennsylvania Nov. 19, 1863-

Pres. Abraham Lincoln

American-Made Christmas

Tuesday, December 13th, 2011

By Shawn Dell Joyce
Americans, already cash-strapped from a sagging economy, are shelling out more than $22.9 million this holiday season to buy toys for lucky little girls and boys. This $22.9 million would make a sweet bail-out for U.S. toy manufacturers if we actually had any. Unfortunately, most of that money is already on its way to China where almost all toys are made that are commercially available in big box stores.

Chinese produced toys are far cheaper than American made, but are they worth it? More than 60 percent of the recalls issued this year and 79 percent of toys recalled last year by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission were from China. But those products were just a tiny drop in the flood of 17 million shipments of everything from Chinese organic produce to medicines and housewares.

The flood of consumer goods from China has nearly tripled since 1997, and the number of recalls has grown proportionately. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration is deluged by this flood. The FDA has only 1,317 field investigators for 320 ports of entry. The agency inspects just 0.7 percent of all imports, half of what it did a decade ago. David Acheson, an assistant commissioner for food protection at the FDA, points out that it would be impossible to test all Chinese imports. “It’s got to be based on risk,” says Acheson.

And risky it is. Just think of the 100 Panamanians who lost their lives using cough syrup made in China with diethylene glycol (mislabeled as glycerin). Or the people who were injured from ingesting tainted seafood, slipping on faulty swimming pool ladders, or in auto accidents caused by shoddy Chinese-made tires. Even worse are the homes lost to fires caused by faulty electrical wiring in Chinese-made lighting, extension cords and heaters. China has even reintroduced lead poisoning to American children through paint and metal on cheap toys.

“After discovering that a toy I purchased for my grandson was recalled in May,” says Sen. Richard Durbin, D-Ill., “I asked myself the same question parents across the country are asking today: Who is in charge?” Durbin was disturbed to learn that one employee at the CPSC is responsible for testing toys and ensuring toy safety throughout the country. Durbin is sponsoring legislation to expand the CPSC.

FDA inspectors report tainted food imports from China are being rejected with increasing frequency because “they are filthy, are contaminated with pesticides and tainted with carcinogens, bacteria and banned drugs.”

Last summer, China quietly surpassed the United States as the world’s top polluter. China has no real environmental safeguards in place to protect drinking water from contaminants, no labor laws to keep children out of sweatshops, no legal ethics to keep entrepreneurs from producing dangerous products. In addition, our communities suffer financially when we buy imports over locally made goods. When we opt for a cheaper import, our dollars flow out of our community and fund a system that degrades people and the planet. Our small businesses suffer, manufacturing jobs leave, and we find ourselves with boarded-up storefronts in our downtowns. This economic exodus further devalues our currency and increases the demand for “cheap.”

A recent economic study conducted in Austin, Texas found that if each household in Travis County redirected just $100 of planned holiday spending from chain stores (carrying cheap imports) to locally owned merchants, the economic impact would reach approximately $10 million. Imagine what $10 million could do for your community.

Coping With Christmas

Monday, December 12th, 2011

By Gretchen Gibbs
Hey, it’s the holidays! Time for Santa and mistletoe, bright lights and happy carols, family closeness and wonderful presents! Time for depression!

Because it’s never what it’s cracked up to be. Presents are never what you really wanted. Heaven knows family gatherings, and the family itself, are not what you hoped for either. There’s actually a group devoted to banning “The Little Drummer Boy,” they’ve heard that pa-rum-pum-pum-pum so many times. The new blow-up Christmas house decorations are tawdry, and those Santas at the mall are part of the whole materialistic scam.

Then there are the special stresses of the holidays. The memories of Christmas past, the pains and disappointments. The endless shopping in huge crowded malls, card-writing, cooking, eating, drinking, entertaining the imperfect families. Getting and spending, as Wordsworth put it. Not exactly a spiritual experience.

Is there anything to be done to avoid the holiday blues? Maybe not a heck of a lot. But as a psychologist, it’s my job to try to help. The following is not new or profound, but it doesn’t hurt to think about it again.

–Lower your expectations. Instead of comparing your family to the Waltons or the Cleavers, try thinking about one of those families on “The Wire.” Your parents didn’t push you into drug dealing or sell all your clothes for a fix, right? (If they did, I’m really sorry and none of this is probably going to help much.)

–Count your blessings. At Thanksgiving, The New York Times published a summary of recent research on gratitude. People who were asked to keep a gratitude journal just one day a week, listing five things they were grateful for, were happier, more optimistic, and had fewer physical problems as compared to people in a control group. Anecdotally, my friend who keeps a thankfulness journal is one of the most up-beat people I know, in spite of many sorrows in her life. Even when life is not going well, there are blessings. When I had cancer, I was so grateful for my friends.

–Simplify. I do hardly any shopping anymore, as my good friends and family agree that we don’t need anything. I donate some money to charities in their names. When you do need to buy presents, shop locally, avoid driving and crowds. Most people have given up sending cards, and you can probably get away with a holiday email. Simpler meals are usually healthier and appreciated by those who are worried about overeating. Try to avoid too much food and drink. Food doesn’t really meet those needs for holiday nurturance, and alcohol can be a risk in many ways.

–Practice self-care. Find some ways to meet those needs for nurturance by yourself. Self-soothe, as we say in the trade. A gift for yourself, if there’s something you need. If I’m shopping, I like to stop for a cup of coffee. Play your favorite music while you work. Read from a favorite author before you fall asleep at night. Don’t forget exercise and how good it makes you feel.

–Spend some time outdoors. Remember that Christmas replaced the ancient winter solstice celebration, the darkest time of the year, and many links have been found between darkness and depression. We need sunlight.

–Watch out for triggers. Both my father and mother died during Christmas vacations. For a long time the holiday was tinged with sadness for me. Now I recognize which memories are going to trigger sorrow and I reach for something different, a happy memory of the family together. I think even those of us from the most dysfunctional of families have at least one happy memory, the one Christmas when you received the present you wanted, or the one holiday when Dad didn’t get drunk, or the one when you all shoveled snow together and threw snowballs and laughed. Kind of like the Waltons. Happy holidays!

A Christmas Story

Sunday, December 11th, 2011

By Jeffrey Page
Twenty-six Christmases later and they still haven’t figured out who Mama was.

Little is known. Her real name might have been Mary, though some people knew her as Erika. She was about 55 years old when she died cold, sick and alone in midtown. She spoke with an Eastern European accent. She was one of the homeless people of New York at a time when the city was growing more impatient by the hour with aggressive street people demanding handouts.

Actually, Mama didn’t accost anyone. Rather, she sat on a box outside Grand Central Terminal and kept a bowl in her lap for handouts. Sometimes she’d try to cadge a cigarette from commuters rushing to work or to catch an evening train to the suburbs.

She had spent three consecutive winters trying to keep warm at Grand Central. Not long after midnight on the brutally cold Christmas of 1985, she sat huddled in the waiting room. A cop told her to move on. She went outside. The temperature was about 19 degrees. Later, she returned to the terminal. And a while after that, she slumped over on a bench, dead from pneumonia and emphysema, the medical examiner said later.

No one came forward to claim her remains or effects, or to identify her. Mama had been just another New Yorker in ratty clothes and toting a shopping bag. Her very existence irritated the sensibilities of the affluent. The city would ship her to Hart Island in the East River, where New York maintains its potter’s field.

But not everyone was ready to pretend that Mama never existed. Her miserable death on the day of Jesus’ birth was reported in the papers and on television. Jeanne Murphy of the Bronx, happy with the time of year and yet morose over the Alzheimer’s that was stealing her own mother from her, stepped forward. Mama, she said, would be buried with dignity and not just a serial number.

“I feel a connection to this woman, especially at this time of year when she suffered,” Murphy said.

She arranged a burial at a cemetery in Queens. She and a priest she knew managed to buy a casket, a burial plot and a grave marker, all at cost. She spent $1,500. The little funeral ceremony at Maple Grove Cemetery was attended mostly by reporters and cemetery workers. Some grave diggers donated their time and labor. They took the wilting flowers they routinely remove from graves and left them on Mama’s grave for the rest of the day.

“It’s a lousy way to die, but at least she’s getting a decent burial. We wanted to help out,” one of the Maple Grove workers said.

No one knew if Mama professed a particular faith. But in the event she was Jewish, a synagogue scheduled a memorial service for her. In case she was Catholic, Murphy’s friend, the late Father William Guido, prayed for her and then spoke words often attributed to Stephen Grellet, the French Catholic missionary who became a Quaker in the late 18th century: “I expect to pass through this world but once; any good thing therefore that I can do, or any kindness that I can show to any fellow creature, let me do it now; let me not defer or neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again.”

The words seemed most appropriate for Murphy and individuals and organizations who can’t allow the memory of someone like Mama to just vanish in a wisp. In fact, there are legions of Mamas in New York today. The Coalition for the Homeless reports there are about 41,200 homeless people – 17,000 of them are children – living in public shelters. Thousands more live in the streets. The Coalition, which is always looking for the funds to supply food, blankets and shelter to people with no homes, is at 129 Fulton St., New York 10038. It has received a four-star (highest) rating from Charity Navigator, a charity watchdog organization