December 2015


Their Cup Runneth Under


Once there were snowflakes, spruce, doves and deer. It was Christmas at Starbucks, and the whole world was here.


O coffee, ye faithful, joyful and triumphant…





While they never said Christmas right there on those cardboard cups that come in three sizes (an implicit homage to the Magi?), it was obvious given the package as a whole. And I mean if you’re a Jew, where was the white and blue? And no Chanukah candles? Nor Kwanzaa candles either for that matter? No, Starbucks was clearly screaming “Christmas.” All that was missing was a manger and an exclamation point, ala Jeb!


There might be annual assassins in our midst trying to do Christmas in (and thank God for Bill O’Reilly’s ever watchful eye in the matter), but not our beloved Starbucks. Until now. Et tu Brute? Yes, it is abundantly clear in which direction Starbucks has decided to go this year.





Their cup has some people seeing red, and has resulted in a whole brew-ho-ho. But all bad puns aside, did Starbucks really think they could slip this cup past Christians? No way.


One particularly troubled Evangelical soul, ironically, old-testamently named Joshua, took to the internet saying that “Starbucks wanted to take Christ and Christmas off their brand new cups. That’s why they’re plain red.” And two-thirds of the initial flood of responses agreed. Trump even suggesting a Starbucks boycott. But really guys, if we all were on the alert, we should have seen this coming. The writing was on the wall (or the cup).



Note the previous year’s 2014 design. Just a few watermarked dabs smeared here and there suggesting a child’s finger paint attempt at a poinsettia? As Jerry Seinfeld might have asked, “What’s up with that?” An obvious answer being, “It’s a sign Seinfeld, both literarily and figuratively, that Christmas is fading into the background of American life.” And to offer further examples of this trend, we now see stores putting up their Christmas trees and decorations as late as Halloween! And ever notice (to channel Andy Rooney), you now hear people saying “Happy Holidays” even to those with Hispanic surnames. It couldn’t be plainer.


Look, I get of it. In a piece from almost eleven years ago entitled “The Ghost of C-------- Past” (JANUARY, 2005 MUSE-LETTER), I too wondered if Christmas in all its splendor, was destined to fade in the challenges to its public preeminence, by the many Scrooge’s among us. I even offered a futuristic reimagining of that “jolly old elf”, in name and attire. Along with of course, the need that would then follow to rework the songs and poetry of his mission of bringing toys to all good children. (Though he is only able to do this, admittedly, because he runs a sweat shop that pays far below the minimum wage. And I’m surprised that Bernie Sanders isn’t all over this.).



Here comes Sani Tized
here comes Sani Tized
right down Sani Tized way…


I saw mommy kissing Sani Tized…


Then one foggy Holiday Eve,
Sani came to say…


‘Twas the night before a Holiday—
celebrating all religions
and even atheism—
when all through the house…



And as for any mention of Christ on the religious side of the Christmas coin? Forget about it.


I thought long and hard about all of this over a cup of joe, while over at Dunkin’ Donuts, don’t you know. Starbucks ain’t the only ground in town. And as I did, I began to feel the spirit of Christmas coming upon me. Then like Ben Carson, I had a revelation. Well I’ll be darned. It’s gotta’ be the cup! Spelled right out there amid sprigs of holly for every sipper to see— lest there be any ambiguity regarding message or intent— J-O-Y. No plain red cups for this place.



And on that note, I left the store and set out to begin my “Christmas” shopping. “Joy to the world, the Lord is come!”





Quote of the Month










Paris and the Soft Targets of Tourist Fantasy



I was fortunate to return to Paris for a visit this year, that wound up almost exactly at midpoint between “Je Suis Charlie” and “Je Suis En Terrasse.” My raison d’etre in the “City of Light,” ran something along the lines that I once posed in a rhetorical question: “Don’t we all have a notion of Paris so infused with fantasy and imagination, that we need to try to play it out.” ("We'll always have Paris"; AUGUST, 2015 MUSE-LETTER).

The renowned landmarks, the strolls along the Seine and old world streets, the outdoor cafes, and especially the first day of summer and the Fête de la Musique, were all remembered or reimagined this past June. And by the time we had arrived, “Charlie Hebdo” seemed long forgotten. We saw only one sign at the outskirts of the city referencing it during our six day stay. After all, that was seen as a “one-off” attack for a specific purpose. Voilá. Paris had once again delivered.

Although that said, as I said at the time, it was a changed Paris as well. A seemingly grittier place now to our crow’s feet eyes, with its aesthetics and sense of romance being jarred in particular, by the likes of Millennials, seemingly by the millions, who flooded the streets by day, and were in full party mode along the Seine by night. What do they know about savoir faire.

And then there was that insane phenomenon of padlocks affixed to iconic structures as a symbol of love—bringing down a part of the Pont des Arts bridge under the weight of such symbolism—that caused me to “tsk tsk” as only an American in Paris can.


Now with the devastating attacks by ISIS last month, comes a harsh reality check. A second one this year for Parisians, but probably a first for tourists, especially those of us whose Paris is epitomized by that “Casablanca” moment running on a reel inside our heads. Now suddenly, padlocks on bridges don’t seem so egregious.


I had not heard the descriptive “soft target” before. I guess I’ve been living in a cave as it is not a new expression. It essentially refers to a person or thing that is relatively unprotected or vulnerable, especially to military or terrorist attacks. Such as say, people being gunned down while seated at an outdoor café. But as game changing moments have a way of spawning words and phrases that become part of the vernacular, and therefore used in other contexts, I now see my “tsk tsks,” as the soft targets of tourist fantasy.


Tourists tend to think of Paris as an adult theme park. One in which, because we’ve gone on the rides, we assume was built just for us. As if it’s a place where no one actually lives. As if it has no diversity in its people. As if it’s a place that doesn’t have real world issues, concerns and dangers.


While “our thoughts and prayers go out to you” has become a rather knee-jerk sentiment, as an erstwhile poet, I’m at a loss for any better words to express in the face of such atrocities. Though nothing an outsider might offer could beat the spirit and defiance shown by the people of Paris themselves, as exemplified via the hashtag #JeSuisEnTerrasse (“I am on the terrace.”).


Beyond its literal translation, “…it is a reference to outdoor seating for which French eateries are famous. But figuratively, it's also a call to action for Parisians to be bold, to not be afraid to use outdoor spaces, to embrace joie de vivre once again.”


By contrast, “We’ll always have Paris,” seems rather indulgent at the moment.







Smile: A Monologue


In the main room as you finish
cutting up your mother’s lunch
       into Mickey Mouse pieces,
wafting in from the hereafter
the voice of Nat King Cole…

Smile, though your heart is aching
Smile, even though it’s breaking
When there are clouds …

Clouds? The height of understatement Nat,
in this room where no one comes and goes
speaking of Michelangelo;

a room filled with blank stares
through wrinkled and be-spotted faces

in the sky/You’ll get by…

They can no longer handle
the daily bread of living
without angels intervening.
Not even up to cutting up
this soft rectangle of fish before them.

If you smile through your fear and sorrow…

What do they fear? In their plight, how much sorrow?
Some here can’t even pass the mirror test.


A one-hundred-and-four year old woman
       as if made of stone
set down at this table—her eyes deep set
in a tunnel of time
a flickering candle—
does she even know the century?
Teddy Roosevelt went down to defeat ma’am!

Smile and maybe tomorrow…

which is up for grabs at best.
“Tomorrow and tomorrow,
life is but a walking …”
etcetera. Of course.

You’ll see the sun come shining through
for you…

Eye to eye with another season
do they even blink so adrift are they
in eternal winter—


Don’t the caretakers see the irony
caked in between the lines
       and further embedded
in a cranberry composition
by Charlie Chaplin of all people?
Audio wallpaper blending in
to the nothingness motif.


No, they’re too busy attending to those
who once dwelt in poetry,
not this dreadful prose.


Finders of first loves and exotic places
heightened command in all the senses,
days of champagne celebrations;


now spoon fed on the moon
before going home to mother earth.

Light up your face with gladness
Hide every trace of sadness…

Who saw this coming? To whom can you appeal?
About fate? About the song? About the fish?
“Eat it ma, it’s good for you.”


The man in front of the parakeet cage
working his walker in a wounded rage
hero of the Greatest Generation
what war now wages inside his mottled head?

Another on a couch lies given up for dead;
her daughter has stopped coming.

Although a tear
May be ever so near…

A crying out from across the way
from an animal instinct entrapped
making a plea that no one can decipher.

That’s the time you must keep on trying
Smile what’s the use of crying…

you sing along now loud enough
to stir the woman from 1910
who offers a grimace or a hint of a smile?
A cold case she keeps locked up on file?


Through a final violin transition
mother loudly starts insisting,
that she’s never fallen thrice,
nor undergone the surgeon’s knife—


“I want to get out of here.”
“We’re working on it, ma— soon.”


Dead fifty years himself, at last
Nat King Cole is silent.
If but for a moment.
And then before he can get much past

They tried to tell us we’re too young—

“Gotta go ma/catch the bus/see you Friday/ love you/bye.”


From the squalor of the Port Authority station,
another circle of Dante’s Inferno,
you emerge and head over to the West Bank Café,
a hangout for theater types,
speaking of escapes from the world as we know it.


Through a glass of wine and a second wind
life and death are wearing thin.
Then ever so faintly through distant speakers
a different singer, yet the same old song.

Smile, though your heart is aching
Smile, even though it’s breaking…

And you do.
And order the salmon.
“Medium rare.”

                                        Ron Vazzano







Our Facts Are Up Against “The Wall"



A report based on an updated analysis on Mexican immigration issued on November 19th by the Pew Research Center, veritably jumped off the page I was reading. In short: “More Mexicans Leaving Than Coming to the U.S.” This reversal of an immigration trend was then illustrated in a chart that followed.



Various reasons are then cited for this reversal. But what is really startling, is that a reversal even exists in the first place. You would never know this based on rounds of presidential debates, political posturing and public discourse on the issue. Nor would you imagine, that the steep and steady increase in Mexican immigration had been ongoing for 40 years, and thereby running throughout eight administrations. And here I thought it was all Obama’s fault.


Being a numbers cruncher in a former life, I read further to get a clearer sense of the math in the matter:

• Slightly more than 1 million Mexicans and their families, including American-born children, left the U.S. for Mexico from 2009 to 2014.


• During the same five years, 870,000 Mexicans came to the U.S.


• Therefore, the net flow to Mexico = 140,000


• That 140,000 translates into an overall decrease of 12.8 million to 11.7 million


Granted, the Paris attacks have now shifted the focus on Syrian refugee migration—a complex issue with no easy answers or solutions to be sure— but Mexican immigration has been cited as being a huge growing problem, and as such, has been the cornerstone of Trump’s campaign. So much so, as to be made manifest by his trumpeting the need to build a mile wall, which would run 1,954 miles.


I single him out because he is after all, a leading candidate to whom attention must be paid. Though to be sure, those vying for political office regardless of party affiliation, have a tendency be foot loose and fancy free with data and facts. At times, even confusing them with perceptions. To be kind.


“Facts are stubborn things,” as John Adams once said and Reagan paraphrased. And because they are, there is always the option (or temptation?) to dispute them when they run counter to what one is passionately espousing. So I wouldn’t be surprised if PEW, a non-partisan research and opinion poll company, is challenged by those whose gospel on Mexican immigration is at odds with this statistical blasphemy. We’ll see.


In the meantime, and as some form of collaboration to determine how best to describe the status of Mexican immigration, I checked out another source (I know, get a life), the Migration Policy Institute. It bases its analyses on many sources including the U.S. Census Bureau. Again a “peaking trend” and actually a reversal in recent years, is indicated.





I guess this means that Mexico is never going to pay for a wall that…




Indeed, if they did, that would be “Curiouser and curiouser!” But this isn’t Wonderland. And that’s a fact.






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