January 2015


To Cuba With Love


While I was about to proclaim that the New Millennium at age 15 was already getting old—with tongue in cheek references to the ancient Y2K fear, and how “2000” as a date once seemed so “new-agey,” and for some, so filled with astrological, spiritual or biblical implications and now so passé— came the startling news that we’ve made up with Cuba.


While it is not a story that trumps 9/11—what could?— it nevertheless is up there with others of the past 15 years, that fall into that category of things that were bigger and more futuristic than we could have imagined on December 31, 1999, as we intoned the last seconds of the last 1,000 years passing. Or at least unimaginable in such a relatively compressed time line: a black president, gay marriage, Facebook and the social media explosion, the hydra-like proliferation of terrorism, the beginning of pot legalization, to cite a few game changers since turning that calendar page. And I get teary-eyed recalling those quaint days of ’00 and the “hanging chads.” Though technically the millennium didn’t start until 2001.


All kissy face now what with the re-establishment of diplomatic relations along with economic and travel ties between Cuba and the U.S., such reconciliation had long seemed as unlikely as George and Martha of Albee’s “…Virginia Woolf,” renewing their wedding vows. Yet, there had been speculation when Raúl Castro took over the reins from brother Fidel (who would be turning in his grave if he wasn’t so stubbornly still alive, outlasting 11 U.S. administrations in the process, “Fidel’s New Duds,” MAY, 2011 Muse-letter), that such a day might come to pass.


Given the complicated history between the two countries, I will leave it to foreign relations experts, to work through all the ramifications of this bold change in U.S. policy. And with the proposed lifting of the embargo, the naysayers immediately began naysaying. Mark Rubio fired the first salvo on the day of the announcement, calling Obama, “willfully ignorant” and “the worst negotiator” the U.S. has had in decades.


He should have included Pope Francis in his scathing critique. Because wouldn’t you know it, (“Pope to Pop More Surprises in 2014?”JANUARY, 2014 MUSE-LETTER), Super Pontiff played a key role in the matter:

“Aside from President Obama and the Cuban president, the pontiff was the only other foreign leader directly involved in the talks, the official said.


Francis' support was particularly important given Cuba's historical and cultural Catholic identity, the official said, and his election as the first-ever pope from Latin America gave him credibility.” (USA Today 12/17/14)

Longtime enemies ending a war, cold or otherwise, is big news. Particularly in this case, if you remember the Cuban Missile Crisis in real time. (“Bond & Kennedy: 17 Days in October,” OCTOBER, 2012 MUSE-LETTER). But there comes a day when your enemy becomes, if not your friend, at least your client.


I had that realization upon learning that the mega ad agency I was working for, had opened up an office in Ho Chi Minh City in Viet Nam. As though there never was a war there. As though 53,000 Americans never died there. As though one the worst chapters in our history, didn’t happen there. Yet being the oldest person on the premises who remembered the war years in “draft-age” time, I was the only one who saw the irony in this venture. And of course Viet Nam has now also become a popular American tourist destination.


If we could reconcile with Nam, and I might add China, for which Nixon was roundly applauded (all Watergate under the bridge), Cuba should be easy. Expect a tourist boom and a love and sampling of all things Cuban down the road.


With time-travel visions of Desi Arnaz singing “Babalu” dancing in my head, and that of the rich and famous jetting down to Havana for the weekend, I had been planning to go there a couple of years ago. The mystique of anything off limits, the piece of forbidden fruit, is invariably enticing. Although as part of an exchange program, my visit would have been legal. But as “the best laid plans of mice and men…etc,” I wound up at a Cuban restaurant on Eight Avenue instead. Something got lost in the translation.


According to Cuban government officials, 100,000 Americans do get there annually, so my absence would hardly be noticed. But who can believe what those Commies say? (Oh wait, we’re friends now. Carve that number in stone.). This is due in large part to an easing of restrictions in 2009 by Obama, that allowed Americans to visit family members there, as well as certain types of trips along the lines of exchange programs under which I would have gone.


Ah, but not so fast. One spoilsport from an online source following the historic announcement reminded us that…“The day when Americans can log online to book a vacation in Cuba hasn't yet arrived. U.S. officials say the ban on tourism in Cuba is still in place; the overall ban on travel to Cuba can't disappear without congressional changes to the law.”


Congressional changes to the law? That could take another fifty-five years.


But the day will come, and no doubt feverish throngs will turn this island into the Hamptons. And make cigar smoking all the counterintuitive rage. And sometimes… a cigar is just a smoke.


And those cars. Where did they get those cars? From us of course, in the 40’s and 50’s. And after more than half a century, due to the wizardry of Cuban auto mechanics, classic American cars remain on the road. Some held together with duct tape and rubber bands, but still. Hey, my ’78 Camaro was shot after five years of LA driving, leaving my mechanic at a loss to how to squeeze but one more drop of juice from that lemon. But we’ll leave “we don’t make cars the way we used to,” for another day.

And of course Major League Baseball, is already salivating at the prospect of having more direct access to the many talented Cuban players, who heretofore had to defect—and in rickety boats to boot —to have a shot at that pot of gold that has defined the American professional sports experience since the time of Babe Ruth at least.

Those are the sort of associations, “people things,” that come readily to mind when you think of Cuba: a good cigar… a classic car… a super star.


But hopefully, the lifting of this long embargo will ultimately improve the lives of the masses on the island who have lived under harsh economic conditions for so long, rather than just something which offers us new diversions. Our differences with Cuba were never about people, but about governments and political ideology. About a Bay of Pigs. About missiles in our faces. Which was all sooo last millennium.







Quote of the Month









Cosby. Because.


Because it is a story that one really can’t avoid… because it once again raises questions about fallen celebrities and heroes (and why do we keep putting them on pedestals in the first place?)… because you can’t stop the courts of public opinion … because accusers didn’t come forward “at that time” …because for various reasons they couldn’t or wouldn’t or shouldn’t…because their numbers are now approaching tsunami proportions… and because one of those vocal and high-profile accusers, former supermodel Janice Dickinson, told me over twelve years ago that the Bill Cosby she personally encountered was a sex predator…it has my attention.


Janice was someone I would run into at the local Starbucks and we’d chat. Our sons of the same age had played baseball on opposing high school teams. And during one such discussion about Hollywood types—public image vis-à-vis private behavior— she said that despite the Cosby persona of a happily married family man, promoted by Cosby himself what with his frequent talk show and interview mentions of his wonderful wife Camille etc., he was a horror.


Why didn’t she report him to the police? I don’t know. I didn’t ask. It wasn’t a question that crossed my mind. Yet it’s now the first question we ask whenever such accusations are made public. As such was the case once again last year, when the child molestation accusation against Woody Allen resurfaced in the form of an op-ed piece in The Times by his daughter Dylan. But where I was willing to give him the benefit of the doubt, as there seemed to be no pattern of behavior regarding what he was being accused of— no collaborating accounts coming out of the woodwork saying “me too, in the attic” — Cosby’s is not a “he said/she said” story.


Cosby’s is a “he said/she said/she too added/she too chimed in/she too came forward,” story. And it jives with what I heard first hand many years ago at a time when this wasn’t public news, by someone with no agenda to push (especially to someone with no pull), over a cup of coffee.


The “she’s” as of this writing, are now over two dozen strong who tell essentially a similar sordid tale spanning decades. The culture has changed in its understanding that such assaults are crimes, and not “episodes” or misunderstandings, and victims now realize there is no shame in coming forward. And in this particular case, there is also a sense of “safety in numbers” regarding believability.


In response, Cosby has not spoken to these accusations directly. Rather he has taken to Tweeting a thank you to Whoopi Goldberg and some others who have given him their support. That, and this: "I only expect the black media to uphold the standards of excellence in journalism and when you do that, you have to go in with a neutral mind," said to reporter on a black newspaper who contacted him. (Presumably he’s given up on the white media.).



In concert, his lawyer has issued a blanket denial maintaining that all these claims are absurd. His wife adds, that poor Bill is the victim of a witch hunt. But if one believes in the old saw, “where there’s smoke there’s fire,” we’re talking about a forest-sized blaze here. Can Cosby survive it?


The repairing of a damaged reputation happens all the time, as we’ve seen with those who have gone from sexual improprieties to forgiveness, to a TV show, with a stop off at Oprah’s couch along the way. But this is different. Forest fire different. O.J. sort of different.


Other than from his beloved Camille, you don’t really hear any passionate belief in his innocence. (Even O.J. had legions of believers, and in the face of real evidence no less, as convoluted as that was.). Or that boys will be boys. Or how we Americans are not like Europeans who take sexual scandals in stride. But flat out crimes—albeit alleged—are tough to take in stride. Which is where I came in.









It took me four years to paint like Raphael,
but a lifetime to paint like a child.

Pablo Picasso


When I read that
“energetic Eric eats electricity”—
the alliteration


the concept
meandering in blunt pencil
across wide-lined paper


all but consumes me.
Does: “shimmering Sammy swallow stars”?
It would follow.


And I can do neither:
eat electricity
nor swallow stars.


From my deepest gardens
I might, if pressed,
muster a few fireflies. In this room


the musty primers,
the smoke of learning,
mingle in my throat.


I need air.
I need water.
I need that which I used to float upon.


One day
it will eat him;
swallow him whole.


Then he won’t so much as
go near a toaster,
screw in a lightbulb


light up the sky.
I can in this role of father,
fathom filament futures


                                    —Ron Vazzano






When Harry Met Sally…In 2015


Recently, I went to Katz’s Deli for probably the first time in forty years. (I lived in LA for thirty of those years so it wasn’t exactly around the corner). Make that the second time in forty years.


When I stopped in there about a year ago at an off hour of 3pm on a Thursday afternoon, the place was so packed I couldn’t get a table and didn’t stay. It has become a point of destination for tourists ever since that signature “orgasm scene” from the movie When Harry Met Sally. In fact, the deli still hangs a sign above the table that says, "Where Harry met Sally... hope you have what she had!"


It also reminded me that it has already been twenty-five years since the movie was released on VHS late in ’89, which is how and when I saw it. And I started to wonder over a pastrami sandwich to die for, how in a world now permeated by social media, the love story of Harry and Sally might have played out. I didn’t have to wonder long.


In her book, I Forgot to Be Famous, ( Almie Rose, a popular blogist for a number of high profile sites, takes us through that scenario in her piece “When Harry Met Sally…In 2013.” With her permission, I have updated the title by a couple of years to coincide with the new year, and present the piece in full, as I did a year ago with “Malibu Wedding” and her encounter with the late Phyllis Diller.

When Harry Met Sally… In 2015


Almie Rose


They would meet on Facebook because Sally would post (under her customized settings she created, viewable to “friends” and “friends of friends” but hidden from “work colleagues” and “environmental studies classmates” and “ex boyfriends and lovers” but still available to anyone tagged) on her Timeline wall inquiring about a cross-county trip companion. Sally’s friend would reply suggesting her boyfriend, Harry, and Harry would chime in on the thread with jokes about how he won’t plug in his iPod for the whole trip, although he does have a wide variety of travel music based on not just location, but weather, and Sally wouldn’t be able to tell if he’s joking or not. They drive together.

Harry would tweet the entire way there. Sally would explain why she doesn’t have Twitter. Harry is baffled. “Don’t you want to be a journalist?” “Yes, I do.” “Well journalists should keep in touch with the latest news, and share their experiences.” “Well who says I have to do that through Twitter?” “I do.” “And who are you?” “I’m someone who uses Twitter.” “Harry?” “Yes?” “You’re a twit.”

Once they’re both living in NYC, they would share their OkCupid dating stories and Harry would explain why E Harmony isn’t the way to go – “It’s the name, it’s too optimistic, at least with OkCupid, they’re saying, ‘This, this is just okay.’”

Then one night Sally would see on Facebook that her ex changed his relationship status to “engaged.” She would delete all of her Pinterest wedding boards and text Harry, “HE’S ENGAGED! SHE WORKS IN HIS OFFICE. SHE’S A PARALEGAL. HER NAME IS KIMBERLY!” He would come right over and they’d sleep together.

Sally would obsessively text Harry after they had sex and Harry would start to get really freaked out and he would go over it with Bruno Kirby’s character while they’re playing Xbox and Harry would say something like, “You’re with a woman, you leave her, you think you left her, but you didn’t really leave her, she’s still there, she’s in your phone, and your phone is in your pants, so technically, she’s still in your pants, and that’s the problem,” and Bruno Kirby would say something like, “Well yeah, so turn off your phone,” “I can’t turn off my phone, she’ll know,” “Well text her back,” “I already did,” “And?” “And the texts, they don’t stop, she’s like a–a river, a babbling brook of texts, of– ‘Hey are you there,’ ‘Hey are you ignoring me,’ ‘Hey are we okay,’ and there’s so many Hey, hey, heys, I’m thinking, ‘Hey, maybe we should slow down.'” “Did you tell her that?” “You can’t tell a woman that.”

Sally would irritate Harry almost to the point of no return. His text replies would become one-word responses and Sally would be furious and take Carrie Fisher’s character’s advice and hide Harry’s activity from her Facebook newsfeed and unfollow him on Twitter, which she would now regret succumbing to. (“She unfollowed me on Twitter. This is way more serious than I thought. And plus, she was the only one who would re-tweet me, aside from my mother.”) This silence would make Harry realize he misses her because he maybe loves her.

“So call her and have the talk,” “I can’t call her, that’s too extreme, we usually text,” “So text her,” “I can’t text her, that’s too casual,” “Send her an email?” “I guess I could do that,” so Harry would write an email including some desperate Casablanca references, and she would respond that she’s angry at him for disappearing after they had sex, and she accuses him of not caring, but he really does. So he would make a video of everything he’d like to say to Sally, and it would that big romantic yet realistic speech about love that he gives at the end of the movie, except this time, it’s in the form of a YouTube video, and it would go viral and Sally would say, “You confessed your love for me over YouTube? It’s things like that that make me love you and hate you at the same time.” “Would you have preferred Instagram?”

Or something like that.



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