February 2017




"Let There Be Light"

Genesis 1:3


Having moved into a new place almost two months ago, there were lighting issues to deal with (among other things).


The lights that were fixed and in place were woefully insufficient. Not enough of them, and with low wattage to boot. And that ugly thing hanging overhead when you first walk in? Which was one more reason to hate the people who previously lived on the premises, though I had never met them. I just knew them from the signs of neglect and bad taste they left behind. Including this apparent proclivity towards being “underwatted.”


But I didn’t bring enough lamps to the party either. Which left certain areas in the dark. Which was especially tough what with it being winter time, and the days switching to night by around 4:30. By the way, why don’t “they” keep Daylight Savings Time all year round? God said: “Let there be light.” He/She didn’t add, except an hour less of it starting with the first Sunday in November and continueth four months hence. But that’s a pet peeve I’ll take for a walk around the block at another time.


Ok, so what’s the big deal? You go out and buy few stronger light bulbs and a couple of more lamps or fixtures. Or you don’t even have to go out. Obviously you can buy anything online now. Even, by the way, and surprisingly to me, a casket (seriously). Which I wouldn’t be caught dead doing (rim shot!).


Buying a light bulb used to be a no brainer. One brand… GE (“Progress is our most important product”). Incandescent. And looking every bit like the one Edison invented, with its cute little bald head in a milky color, hiding the “brains” within.


We seemed to go with 75 watts in our house when I was growing up, with maybe a couple of 100’s in the mix. (“Turn off those lights! Whaddaya think I work for Con Edison?”). But as seemingly with all things in life, it’s gotten a little more complicated. Too many options; too little time.


While GE is still the leader in the light bulb market, there are a plethora of competitors out there, including some private brands that I had never heard of: Phillips, Sylvania, Home Brite, Ecosmart, Feit, Ace, etc. But it’s not so much choosing a brand name that is perplexing (though can Ecosmart hold a candle to GE?), but what type? A Trumpian sounding website, (“If it lights, we have it!”), helped walk me through it.


In addition to an incandescent bulb, there are CFL’s, LED’s, Halogens and HID’s. And they include lots of variations on a theme within each. And one now needs to learn new light bulb translations. A “60” incandescent for example, is the new “14” in terms of wattage when buying a CFL. I found this to be a fascinating bit of news.


CFL’s (not to be confused with the Canadian Football League— Compact Fluorescent Light) are those squiggly things. I don’t care that they last longer than an incandescent, I’m not buying a bulb that looks like my intestines. And when it does burn out, it can’t easily be disposed of. I forget why. But Home Depot actually has a bin for dead CFL’s. Like I’m going to trek over there to throw out a light bulb.


LED’s (Light Emitting Diode) can last from 15 to 50 times longer than an incandescent! Sorry. I’m not going to buy A LIGHT BULB THAT WILL OUTLIVE ME. That’s one of the reasons I’m not getting a dog either at this point in my life.


Halogens are similar to incandescent bulbs, except they have a different type of gas. What type I can’t recall, and you seem to need a degree in chemistry to understand the nuances of gas composition and emission to appreciate the comparisons. But I read somewhere, that you’re not supposed to touch them with your hands for reasons I still don’t understand. So how do you screw them in? With your feet? Screw halogens.


HID’s (High Intensity Discharge) sounded far too macho and a little disgusting, to tell you the truth. I learned they are typically used when high levels of light are needed, usually in large public areas. Though they do have screw-ins at relatively lower wattage. And some are made containing Krypton-85, which I thought was super. But no. Not under my roof.


In summing up this analysis (or diatribe?), here’s a handy by-the-numbers guide comparison I ran across online that you have to love for its TMI nature (what the freak is “Color Temperature kelvin?”). Anyway, you’ll want to post it for reference the next time you need a bulb.



And so, I decided to stick with the bulb I grew up with. Surprise. (I’m still bemoaning the passing of the typewriter). And if it was good enough for Edison, it’s good enough for me. And I like that they burn out relatively often and have to be replaced. It makes me feel handy and necessary. And it reminds me of all those “…screw in a light bulb” jokes you no longer hear. Somehow, “How many unemployed people does it take to screw in a $31.50 LED Novation light bulb? None. They can’t afford it,” wouldn’t be funny.








Oxymoron of the Month



In walking along a street in Long Island City I passed a formal institution, that unabashedly identified itself in bold letters on the side of its edifice:








Still One More Take on Obama’s Legacy



Given all that has transpired in the first two weeks of the Trump Presidency it seems old hat to still be talking about Obama and his legacy. Yet I'd like to put on that hat if but for one last time.


The speculation about Obama’s legacy had been rife months before Trump took office. Obama himself, while campaigning hard for Hillary, directly raised the question. Not to mention, expressing concern as to the answer.


As he saw it, a vote for Hillary was in effect, another vote for him and what he tried to accomplish in office. At the top of the list of course was Obamacare, which Republicans had already begun the process of repealing, and was signed by the new president on day one.


Where one’s beliefs lie on the political spectrum, will invariably shade one’s feelings about Obama’s legacy. I’ve yet to hear the opposing party give him an ounce of credit for anything, while demanding a pound of his flesh for everything. Even the taking out of Bin Laden—the man who was responsible for 9/11; arguably the biggest tragedy in American history this side of the Civil War —was poo pooed by the opposition.


Trying to forecast a “legacy,” which by definition is “something transmitted by or received from an ancestor or predecessor or from the past” (Merriam-Webster), is a tough exercise to say the least. We thought Bill Clinton’s legacy would be tarnished by the Lewinsky affair. Instead it is now being tarnished somewhat by "Don't ask, don't tell." Yet sixteen years after leaving office, his approval ratings remain high.


Legacy implies the necessary passage of a significant amount of time. Two weeks ago, hardly qualifies as “the Past.” Then of course, think of the folly in trying to predict something a generation or more into the future, when politicians, political savants, talking heads and pollsters, couldn’t predict the outcome of an election just yesterday. All that aside I’m going to take a shot at it.


My perspective regarding legacy here, isn’t steeped in political debate. Though Obama took many bold initiatives that other presidents wouldn’t go near for fear of political repercussions. And was that Iran nuclear deal really the worst in American history? As has been claimed by you know who? Time— and I don’t mean the magazine— will tell.


I come at all of this from a more humanistic angle. And this is not to suggest someone being of good moral and ethical character, or a good church-going man (just when will that cathedral glass ceiling be broken?), is all it takes to be a good president either, as Jimmy Carter illustrated. And even he, lusted in his heart for other women as he once admitted in a Playboy interview. But as far as we know, Obama has not lusted in his heart, or anywhere else, for anyone else, since his marriage to Michelle.


Lincoln and his “better angels” excepting… I believe Barack Hussein Obama was the most decent man ever to hold the office. And that will be his legacy. And that, in conjunction with his being the first African American elected (twice), is no small accomplishment.


I’m not going to run down the list of all the presidents who preceded him to try to make my point. But I mean, even the Father of Our Country, who privately opposed slavery according to biographers, still maintained slaves throughout his life. One of those little quirks so characteristic of many of the Founding Fathers, who professed one profound thing and did another.


Too many presidents, including of course the present one, have had too many misdeeds to count. And Lyndon Johnson too could be as crude as they come. And others were flat out numb to the office and the nation they were serving. And let’s not get into the specious campaigns many ran to get into the White House in the first place. But “No-Drama Obama,” free of scandal or nefarious deeds… never coming from a place unseemly or underhanded… a loving family man… brought a sound mind and level-headed dignity to the office. Regardless of political ideology, what parent wouldn’t want their child to grow up to be Barack Obama? And no, not in Kenya.


This isn’t a particular original thought, as conservative David Brooks—one of the best and fairest columnists around who usually disagreed with Obama’s policy decisions— made this point in an op-ed piece in The New York Times about six months ago. And despite all the brouhaha that has surrounding Obamacare, its intention is rooted in the compassionate ethos that all of our people should be cared for.


Was Obama at times too cool, too cerebral, too distant a president (“He doesn’t get angry enough!”), who seemed averse to schmoozing—a skill considered mandatory for a politician? Perhaps. But I try to imagine an alternative first African-American president who was a fiery backslapping type, who shot from the hip (and lip), and was a wheeler-dealer in his political or personal life. And I can’t. It would have been too unsettling to too many voters. Yet even in the absence of any serious tangible flaws to pick at, Obama’s place of birth and religion were then called into question.


Like Jackie Robinson, Obama had to keep his cool in the face of absurdly unfair opposition (need we replay the Mitch McConnell quote yet again?), as he was suspect; as he was somehow deemed not American enough.


Like Jackie Robinson, Obama went gray before our very eyes. All presidents obviously age after eight years in office. But Obama’s transformation from a young turk to elder statesman (though not yet an ancestor), seems to have been especially stark. But unlike Jackie who was dead by age 53, I think Barack will be around for a while, and it will be interesting to see what course his life takes.



Perhaps over-simplified, and that the bar has been set so low by so many who preceded him, and that my personal upbringing at home and at school placed a high value on decency, but I believe that will be his lasting legacy. Decency. What a concept. And it was the underlying foundation that informed most of the political initiatives he undertook.








Quote of the Month



“I am very doubtful whether history shows us one example of a man who, having stepped outside traditional morality and attained power, has used that power benevolently.”

                             —C.S. Lewis
                                          The Abolition of Man






Side Table



In various nooks,
not to mention crannies,
collectibles sit collecting dust;
crowded and enshrouded by a patina of time.


Snow globes bought in the dog days of summers
at flea markets and tchotchke shops?
That earth-sized Alice in Wonderland scene—
equipped with a wind-up Disney tune—
what was I drinking?
Too irresistible to not purchase at first;
too blasphemous now to be considered
for the discard bin.
And cremation is not an option for stuff. Just us.


I know my stuff. My stuff knows me.
My thirty-five year old Harris Tweed
and vintage Navy Pea Coat from my father’s war,
like passing seasons in the closet,
mention me, noting
how I no longer seem to stave off the chill
nor the winds of change despite their best efforts.


Time warps and a universe
conversely contracting;
science fiction with a lemon twist.
But ingrained in old furniture
is where the true stories lie.


The bureau that sits in a basement in Jersey
its grand mirror still detached and enwrapped and on hold
from two lives ago—
a move across the board to avoid checkmate—
it easily outlasted the starter marriage.
And the one the length of War and Peace to follow.


But most of all I await the return
of the little side table now being repainted
by a handyman to match
the new décor in this I call my Sixth Life.
It has heard the arguments
absorbed the resentments
weathered the storms
throughout former lives.


Coming back in a semi-gloss black,
I’ve lost count of the many
coats of colors it has worn.
First bequeathed in its natural grain
by a wrinkled woman, she once of means,
who never got over the drowning of her son
who looked like a young Cary Grant—
and this after losing kin in the holocaust—
this piece will now hold a Crate and Barrel vase,
and will be standing long after we’ve departed.


                                          —Ron Vazzano






Gig: My Name is Asher Lev



At the end of last month, I participated in a public reading at the Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church on 55th Street, of a play adapted from a novel by Chaim Potok.


My Name is Asher Lev is a variation on a theme, of that time-honored story of a boy coming of age, who seeks to establish his own path in life; one that flies in the face of his familial upbringing.


The twist here, lies in the first lines spoken in the play:


“My name is Asher Lev.
The Asher Lev.
The ‘notorious’ and ‘legendary’ painter of the Brooklyn Crucifixions. I am an observant Jew. A Hasid. What some call a ‘Torah Jew.’ And, yes, of course, observant Jews do not paint crucifixions. In fact, observant Jews do not paint at all in the way I am painting, so strong words have been written and spoken about me, and myths are being generated. I am ‘a traitor,’ ‘a self-hater,’ ‘a blasphemer,’ and ‘an inflictor of shame upon my family, my friend, and my people.’ And of course, myself.
Well, I am none of those things.
And, of course, in some ways I am all of those things.”
           (Dramatist Play Service Inc. Copyright© 2010, Aaron Posner)


Participation in this event has inspired me to follow up, as it were, and read the novel which was first published in 1972. While it was well received, Chaim Potok’s best known and most critically acclaimed work is The Chosen.






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