Archive for August, 2014

Remembering William Greaves

Thursday, August 28th, 2014

By Michael Kaufman

William Greaves

William Greaves

The penthouse suite at the Waldorf Astoria was crammed with sportswriters partaking of the open bar and sumptuous buffet provided by Jack Kent Cooke, multimillionaire owner of the Washington professional football team with a racial slur as its name. Cooke, who died in 1997, was about to announce plans for the biggest closed-circuit telecast yet to take place in the United States: the heavyweight championship fight between Joe Frazier and Muhammad Ali on March 8, 1971, at Madison Square Garden.
But before making the announcement and fielding questions he made sure the writers were well-oiled and well-fed.

Then he held court from a throne-like chair positioned above the assembled scribes. He listed the venues where the fight would be shown and said there would have been more sites if the equipment were available. The remaining details were of little interest and by the time he got around to matter-of-factly mentioning the price of tickets—well beyond what most people could comfortably afford—few were paying attention.

When he asked if anyone had any questions, one after another addressed him cordially as “J-a-a-a-ck” and lobbed a softball. I wanted to say something about the exorbitant cost of tickets but I couldn’t think of a way to put it in the form of a question. I also didn’t want to get his attention by cheerfully calling out his first name as if we were old chums. I’d never met the man and so far I didn’t like him any more than I liked George Weiss, the old-school baseball general manager who said of sportswriters, “You can buy them with a steak.”  Nor did I think “Mr. Cooke” would be the appropriate form of address.

So I blurted, “Sir!”

Cooke nodded quizzically and I asked if it bothered him that the tickets were priced so high that most people wouldn’t be able to see the fight. I added something about the public demand being responsible for bringing it about in the first place.

“My name is Cooke, not Jesus Christ,” he replied, and I thought I’d made a fool of myself as he and some of the other writers enjoyed a laugh at my expense.

Later, as I was about to leave, a man walked up to me and shook my hand. He said he was making a documentary movie about Muhammad Ali and he’d like to have my permission to include my exchange with Cooke. I told him I thought I’d made a fool of myself but he said no, I’d livened things up a bit. So I signed a release for which William Greaves paid me the token sum of  a dollar.

William Greaves died Monday at his home in Manhattan. He was 87. According to the Associated Press obituary, he leaves behind “a vast film archive of black art and culture” that includes hundreds of movies. “One of Greaves’ most widely seen productions was ‘Ali, the Fighter,’ a documentary about the 1971 championship fight between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier.” I am honored to be in it, albeit briefly, making a fool of myself or not as the case may be.

Michael can be reached at


Carrie’s Painting of the Week – 8/29/2014

Wednesday, August 27th, 2014
Sara's Beach

Sara’s Beach

By Carrie Jacobson

It’s the start of school, and though our daughter is long grown, and school – even teaching school – is a distant memory for me, the academic cycle tugs at me, in a way that feels stronger than the seasons or the calendar year or the salty pull of the  moon.

As August rolls into September, I feel a deep yearning, a rich need to start something, or at the very least, to examine my path and test it, see if it needs adjusting or rejiggering, see if it needs an entirely fresh direction.

I want to shrug off silly, sunny, summer things and get serious. Start something that matters.

I remember the thrill of new clothes, and how shoes felt tight and hard after a long, barefoot summer. I remember the  smell of textbooks, and watching my mother make covers for them from brown paper grocery bags. I remember the promise that empty notebooks held, how delicious it was to start writing in them, how quickly my notes messed up that beautiful blankness. I remember the excitement of seeing old friends, and meeting new kids, and encountering different teachers and different subjects, and I remember the pure purpose of school. Its dedicated direction.

We were there to learn, and that was it. We had recess, and phys ed, but by and large, there were no after-school activities, no sports programs, no college-directed debate clubs or physics circles. We went to school, we read, we wrote, we studied math, we did art, and then we went home, and ran in the warm September days with all the other kids.

Our youngest grandchild began sixth grade today; my nieces and nephews started a variety of grades. One among them looked forward to school starting, the way I always did.  For the rest, emotions ran the gamut from apprehension to tolerance to downright balking.

And I feel sorry for them. For me, the start of school was the best time of the year, and I know how lucky I am to have learned to love the richness and the joy of learning.

When Police Act Like an Occupying Army

Friday, August 22nd, 2014

By Bob Gaydos

Heavily armed police watch protesters in Ferguson, Mo.

Heavily armed police watch protesters in Ferguson, Mo.

A white cop shoots and kills an unarmed black teenager in Ferguson, Mo., and police respond to the ensuing peaceful demonstration with a massive display of manpower in riot gear. They are supported by armored vehicles mounted with heavy weaponry, lots of rifles and automatic weapons, tear gas, rubber bullets, and verbal threats to shoot anyone who dares resist. They arrest anyone with a camera, including journalists.

Suddenly, Americans notice that many of their police departments resemble occupying armies more than agencies charged with protecting and preserving the peace in their communities.

Where have you been, America? This has been going on — gaining momentum, in fact — for several years. Indeed, the militarization of domestic police forces and the use of modern military equipment and tactics played a major role in quelling the Occupy movement demonstrations a couple of years ago.

The Occupiers were unarmed private citizens, who gathered across the country, protesting the power and privilege large corporations and banks were given by Congress to use and abuse the economy to their benefit at the expense of individuals. The citizen protesters were treated by police as if they were terrorists. They were tear-gassed, Maced, had rubber bullets and flash-bang grenades fired at them. They were roughed up and arrested, all by local police armed with military grade weapons and supported by armored vehicles.

The military hardware came free, courtesy of a Congress looking to do something with surplus military equipment. (The idea of maybe spending less money on military equipment in the first place apparently has not occurred to the members.) Today, dozens of police departments across the country have such military gear at their disposal. What they apparently don’t have is the proper training to use such equipment appropriately and judiciously.

That is, like a police force dealing with private citizens exercising their constitutional rights to assemble, to speak, to report on the goings on, rather than like an army moving in with intimidating force, intent on quashing resistance in any and all ways. Those weapons, remember, are not intended just to scare. They are designed to kill.

But deadly force, or the threat of it, should not be the first option for a police force dealing with unarmed citizens and peaceful demonstrations. Yes, troublemakers need to be dealt with, but again, police should be trained to do that without automatically resorting to threats and aggressive actions against everyone. When protests are handled properly by police at the outset, there is less likelihood or opportunity for troublemakers to join in. The longer confrontations last and the more aggressive police action becomes, the more likely it is that things will get worse because of outside agitation.

But it’s almost as if, in putting on the new military gear and marching alongside armored vehicles, the mindset of the police changes from preserving the peace and protecting their fellow citizens to overpowering anyone who stands in their way.

In Ferguson, the obvious racism of the local police only increased the us-versus-them mentality. But even during the Occupy sit-ins, police seemed to forget that they were — are — us, and that the protesters were speaking on their behalf, too. The mission has been clouded.

There’s talk in Congress now of, not only stopping the giveaway of military hardware to police, but taking some of it back. Good luck with that. Some agencies might be able to admit they don’t really need it, but a lot of others are not going to want to give it up. And cops vote.

The Ferguson shooting and the abysmal handling of it by local authorities has led to a movement called “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot!” The Occupy community has been part of the coordination. This movement has been fueled by incidents elsewhere similar to that in Ferguson. It speaks to the breakdown of trust between blacks and police, something that was already badly strained.

And not all the incidents involved weapons. An unarmed black man died on Staten Island recently, apparently the result of a chokehold applied by a police officer. The hold has been banned for years by New York police. The man was selling loose cigarettes. Michael Brown, the youth shot in Ferguson, had shoplifted a box of cigars.

There’s obviously something more going on here. Taking the military hardware away from police may be a good start on reminding them of their mission, but massive retraining and serious recruiting of minorities would seem to be even more critical.

A caveat: Not all police departments behave the same way. It would behoove community groups, politicians, concerned citizens to identify those agencies that understand their role as police, not an occupying army, and that demonstrate the proper way to fulfill it. Use them as models to teach those that don’t. They can start in Ferguson.

Can the Public Get to the Public Hearing?

Friday, August 22nd, 2014

By Jeffrey Page 

The agency charged with deciding where one or two casinos can be placed in the mid-Hudson is conducting a hearing to find out what the public thinks.

I’m sorry, that was a joke. A look at some of its actions and decisions suggests that the clumsily named New York State Gaming Commission Facility Location Board doesn’t give a hoot in hell about what the public thinks of allowing casinos and their attendant delights – traffic jams, prostitution, street crime, loan sharking, etc. – into our once calm villages and towns.

How could I be so cynical? Here’s how.

The hearing, which is scheduled for Sept. 23, will run an absurd 12 hours. Did you ever have to pay close attention to an important matter for 12 hours like the five members of the location board will have to do? Nor have I.

Why just one grindingly long session? The Warwick Advertiser reported that Lee Park, the location board’s PR flack, said it would be more efficient this way, and that one long hearing would be best for the five members of the location board – never mind what would be best for the public. The Advertiser quoted Park this way: “These guys all have full-time jobs. It will be a long day.”

That response might suggest to people just in from Planet Neptune that the five location board members are a bunch of working stiffs who punch a clock every morning and afternoon. But that’s not the case at all.

Here are the five men who’ll be tailoring the future of the mid-Hudson, and therefore will have much to say about your future:

  • The chairman of the location board is Kevin Law, the CEO and president of the Long Island Association, an economic development firm based in Melville.
  • Then there’s Stuart Rabinowitz, the president of Hofstra University – based in Hempstead. He’s also a member of the Long Island Association.
  •  Next there’s Bill Thompson, the former New York City comptroller and now the managing director of the investment banking firm of Siebert, Brandford, Shank, which is based in New York City.
  • Fourth is Dennis Glazer, retired partner of the Davis Polk and Wardwell law firm, which is in New York City.
  • And fifth is Paul Francis, the managing partner of the Cedar Street Group, a venture capital firm located in Larchmont.

Park should rest assured that “these guys,” as he described them, would not be docked a day’s pay if they had to take an extra day or two to conduct the hearing in a fair, sensible manner.

Casinos in the mid-Hudson will change life here forever. So isn’t it odd – or, for that matter, outrageous – that not one member of the location board is a known Orange, Sullivan, or Ulster quantity?

Then there’s the question of where the hearing is to be held. Will it be in Goshen, the Orange County seat? No. How about Monticello, the Sullivan seat? No. Maybe Kingston, the Ulster seat? No.

It is to be staged in Poughkeepsie, across the Hudson in Dutchess County, a city not included on the list of possible casino sites.

Here’s Park’s response to The Warwick Advertiser’s question about the odd placement of the hearing: The location board decided against having the hearing in any of the eligible counties in order to “not show favoritism and to be completely objective.”

Completely objective? When not even one of the three counties is represented on the board?

Where are the mid-Hudson representatives? They rolled snake eyes and are out of it.

If you think the pols need to hear your position on casinos in general or the set-up of the location board in particular, you can reach State Sen. John Bonacic at 344-3311 in Middletown and Sen. Bill Larkin in New Windsor at 567-1270.


Going Home

Friday, August 15th, 2014

By Gretchen Gibbs

Roger Angell, the writer who constructed such great pieces for the New Yorker, was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame a couple weeks ago. He could make baseball come alive even for those who consider it boring. One of his statements, paraphrased, was that baseball is a metaphor for life, that we struggle through it, only to arrive finally at home, where we started.

Remembering this philosophical nugget, I began to think about my ex-mother in law.

I was never close to Catherine, who was too self-centered and childish to be a good mother to my former spouse, or to hold a real conversation with me. She was only appealing to certain men, who were charmed by her beauty and child-like enthusiasm for pretty things and good food. In her seventies, demented with Alzheimer’s, or something like it, she still had a boyfriend who adored her.

After she began thinking there were men living in the back room of Southbury, her retirement village condo, men who were stealing things from her, she had to go to the Home, a comfortable nursing home with remarkably caring nurses. She would forget where she was and say in a matter-of-fact way, “It’s time to go home to Southbury now.” She spoke of the retirement village as though she still lived there, reminding herself, regardless of the season, that it was time to put out the green and white striped awnings, or that she needed to go through her papers. When we had brought her to the Home, we discovered that the Southbury condo was full of papers, unpaid bills mixed in with junk mail and old letters, and shopping lists, most of them stuffed into the washing machine.

A year passed. We visited regularly, and often Catherine would say, “It’s time to go home to Floral Park now. I want to sit on the screened porch.” The house in Floral Park, set next to the vast extension of the Belmont Racetrack, was where she and her husband had brought up their children through adolescence, and on hot summer evenings the screened-in porch was a soft green delight.

Another year. Catherine still seemed happy at the Home, but she spoke of needing to go home to Woodside, the apartment house in Queens where she lived when first married. She wanted to visit Aunt Anna who lived in the apartment upstairs, and to have the whole family over for Anna’s gingery sauerbraten and crisp potato pancakes. But Anna was no longer alive.

Finally, Catherine had to go to a hospital, where she died, unable to recognize us, wandering in her mind through her childhood home in Hastings, Pennsylvania, speaking to her dead mother and sisters, re-grieving the deaths of her brothers, one on an embankment and the other drunk on the railroad track.

Roger Angell was right, but he left out that at some point in our lives we begin going backwards around the bases, revisiting in our minds all our homes until we arrive at last at the beginning.



Carrie’s Painting of the Week – 8/15/2014

Wednesday, August 13th, 2014

Opal Dawn

By Carrie Jacobson

A week and a half ago, we had to euthanize our old Samoyed, Sam. We never really knew how old he was, but our daughter had adopted him 10 or 12 years ago, and when she couldn’t take him to her new home, we brought him in to live us. We figure he was 14 or 15, probably.

He was a sweet guy, calm and happy and large. He was also pretty much blind. We have another blind dog, and she makes her way through life so carefully that you’d never know she was blind.

Not Sam. He banged into things all the time. Once, while he was running at full tilt, he ran into a tree and knocked himself out – or at least, that’s what Peter believes happened. He – Peter – turned around, and Sam was flat on the ground. He came to fairly quickly, and seemed to be ok, but he’d been totally out.

He always adored our daughter. He was crazy about car rides. He loved food and cookies and treats of any kind. And he loved us.

The last few months, he couldn’t get up by himself. He became increasingly incontinent, and worse than everything, increasingly anxious. The back steps terrified him, and at the end, we were carrying him up and down. But he still loved food, and still wagged his tail when we petted him and talked to him.

We brought him to the vet, hoping for something that would help him. A pill, an idea, something to calm his awful anxiety. The vet looked at him and said that he was not in pain, but there was no hope. The kindest thing to do, she said, would be to euthanize him. He was not happy.

And so we did. I know the vet was right. I know Sam wasn’t happy. He was not the big, galumphing guy he’d delighted in being. I know the vet was right, and that if I had been Sam, I’d have begged to be let go. But I miss him with a grief that is deep and hard and sharp-edged, and I’d have given anything for death to have come, without intervention, and taken him away.

The Old Ball Game

Thursday, August 7th, 2014

By Jeffrey Pagerockland-boulders-secondary-logo

There’s plenty to grouse about at a minor league ballgame.

Example: Those stupid mascots that prance all over the field in the time between half innings. I think a mascot with a gyrating pelvis is inappropriate at a gathering where there are hundreds of seemingly innocent kids. But if the bump-and-grind weren’t enough, the bird-like creature that represents the Rockland Boulders in Pomona also parked himself on an inner tube and appeared to be delivering a lesson on potty training. Maybe I’m too critical.

Example: Then again, maybe I’m not. The Boulders’ announcement that if such-and-such a player on the opposing team struck out, everyone in the stands would get a ticket for a free soda at a future Boulders game. Now I have no problem with someone’s yelling to an opposing player, “Swing and miss, batter! Swing batter batter batter!” Somehow that’s part of the game. But to have free-soda-if-he-fans blasted into his ears (not to mention into our ears) over the stadium sound system? That should be outlawed by any league that is remotely aware of the concept of sportsmanship.

I could go on. There was the woman who sang the National Anthem and tried to jazz up “free” as in “o’er the land of the free” and proved that maybe the Star Spangled Banner is no rollicking affair.

But enough. Let’s talk baseball, which I thoroughly enjoyed at the Boulders game.

There’s a certain purity to be found in minor league baseball that once existed in the bigs but doesn’t much anymore.

The Boulders played the Trois Rivieres Aigles from Quebec at Provident Bank Park in Pomona. It was cat and mouse for the first seven and a half innings with the score tiptoeing one run at a time, finally reaching 3-3. The Boulders needed a run; I needed a hot dog. They succeeded; I got a dog whose flavor was unlike any other frank I’d ever consumed. That is not a compliment.

The major leagues have fixated on the home run, to the near exclusion of other run-producing weapons. But as Rockland and Trois Rivieres had at it, I got a nice taste of what the game used to be about.

For example, I saw the Boulders attempt a hit-and-run play, and could not recall the last time I’d seen this exciting tactic. (The runner on first base starts running as the pitcher lets go of the ball. The batter must make contact because if he misses, the runner is toast. If the hitter succeeds and gets a base hit to the outfield, the runner could well reach third base.

Rockland tried it and failed but at least I saw the attempt. Done right, the hit-and-run is as much choreography as it is athleticism and fun to watch.

Something else you find at little places like Provident Bank Park is the sacrifice bunt to move a runner. Do they bunt at Citi Field and Yankee Stadium? Maybe not at the stadium because it’s an American League park and AL teams have the designated hitter – an abomination if you ask me – and probably figure they don’t need to ask their players to bunt.

I saw one of the Aigles lay a bunt down so exquisitely that it caught the Boulders’ infield glued in place. Keats easily could have been describing a left-handed batter pushing a bunt along the third base line when he observed that a thing of beauty is a joy forever.

Back to the present. The Boulders’ bats, which had been suffering from iron deficiency anemia, finally came to in the bottom of the eighth, and the home team scored six runs with single after single. Very exciting. The Aigles picked up two runs – on a home run – in the top of the ninth, and that was it. The final: 9-5. A nice evening.

The hot dogs may taste like an alien life form, the management may make kids look like braying fools by tossing t-shirts into the stands and the children pleased for a shirt to be thrown in their direction, and we still may be blasted with a few notes from the Toreador Song, the Notre Dame Fight Song, and other adrenaline anthems after every pitch, but I’m going back.

It’s a great place to see some baseball.

His Father’s Son

Thursday, August 7th, 2014

 By Gretchen Gibbs

Mario and Andrew Cuomo

Mario and Andrew Cuomo

 The news that Andrew Cuomo blocked the work of his own investigation committee made me long for Mario, and wonder what their relationship is like. Looks like Andrew learned the political savvy and the ambition without the integrity. Not a new perception on my part, but this latest revelation sharpens it.

It made me ponder the relationship between my own father and my grandfather. My father learned many things from his father, like gentleness with children and the love of clocks, but a lot of his personality was formed in reaction to his father, who was blind.

Daddy was a visual type who loved to read and knew the world through his mind. His father, as a young man, loved to read as well, but while in law school he developed cataracts. A quack of a doctor removed them too early, and left him blind for life.

Grandpa liked to place me on his lap, facing away from him, and I would demand to play horsey. Horsey involved him jouncing me up and down while he recited:

“When I was a little boy, I lived by myself. All the bread and cheese I had I kept upon the shelf. The rats and the mice, they led me such a life, I had to go to Londontown to buy me a wife. The streets were so broad and the lanes were so narrow, I had to bring my wife home in the wheelbarrow. The wheelbarrow broke (here I go slipping through Grandpa’s knees), my wife had a fall (I slip through again) and down went the wheelbarrow, wife and all. ” (Here I am on the floor, laughing in delight.)

Every night Grandpa wound the clock, the one on my mantle now. It’s not valuable, purchased from Sears, I think, but I always regarded it with a kind of reverence because he did. I have two of my father’s clocks as well

Grandpa’s was a 24-hour clock, and every evening around six, he would approach the mantle, feel for it, feel for the latch that opened it, feel for the keys kept inside it, and then wind both the time-keeping apparatus and the chimes. All day, he counted the chimes so that he knew the time.

I asked Daddy about his father’s blindness several times and he couldn’t talk about it. I overheard a conversation between him and my mother, and the word he used was “shame.” To be sure, Grandpa had to give up law, and go into piano tuning, one of the few kinds of work that didn’t require vision.

Once, when I asked him about his childhood, Daddy said, “We were poor,” as though that said it all. Daddy had to put himself through college and graduate school with scholarships and work, while he and Mother raised us children. I was in third grade by the time Daddy got his Ph.D. He had considered law school, but decided he would do better teaching political science, which he did for most of his life at Boston University. He was ambitious and competitive, and his memoir is mostly full of details about his work successes. He became a dean and led a faction in opposition to the president of the university, John Silber.

In the conversation I overheard, Mother protested, “There was nothing to be ashamed of. It wasn’t his fault.” My father stated that in those days blindness was shameful. He could never bring anybody home from school. His mother never had friends over. They didn’t go out.

I wonder how Grandpa thought of his life, whether it felt shameful to him. I had a psychology professor who spoke of vision as the last of our senses to develop, and thought our other senses were more basic. Animals tend to have poorer vision as compared to ours, and to rely more on smell and hearing. Grandpa was forced into a more primitive kind of life. As I get older, have retired, and spend a lot of time alone, I can perhaps understand what it was like. I still use my eyes a great deal, but I find the simple pleasures of a summer breeze, the taste of ice cream, and my cat’s soft fur move me more than they used to. Grandpa loved his classical records, the radio, his root beer floats, playing with his grandchildren, his clock, and his pipe. His wife was always young and beautiful in his mind.

There’s really not much connection between the Cuomos, father and son, and my father and grandfather. My father reacted to his father’s inability to make money by trying hard for success. Andrew seems to have reacted to his father’s integrity by becoming self-serving. In my family, my grandfather was blind, my father ambitious. In the Cuomos, Andrew is the one who is blind, with ambition.

Carrie’s Painting of the Week – 8/8/2014

Wednesday, August 6th, 2014
Pink Driveway

Pink Driveway

By Carrie Jacobson

Down here in the South, there’s a kind of tree called crape myrtle, which, according to my friend Pat, blooms for 100 days, starting in July. There are white crape myrtles, and lilac-colored ones, but most of them bloom in various shades of pink, and they are everywhere. They color the sky when you look up, and their petals gather on patios, and the edges of the roads, and in driveways, turning the ground pink. They are amazing, and I love them, and how they light up these hot summer days.