July 2016


Margaret and Hillary and Remembrance of Civics Lessons Past



When I was in about the third grade, and taught by nuns, we had to learn about the three branches of government and how they work and interact. (Would an eight or nine-year old or today be taught that I wonder? In the case of my own kids, I don’t remember.). And in the course of those lessons, there were important names we had to learn. The good Sisters insisted on it.


Starting with the obvious, we had to know of course, the names of the president and vice president. (Milhous? What kind of name was that?). The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court? (Earl Warren). From there, it was all the way down through to our local politicians—senators (Jacob Javits? Jews could get elected to high office?), the governor, the mayor. And then there was still one more name we were required to know. That of a woman from Maine, a state that seemed somewhere north of the moon, Margaret Chase Smith.


Why? She was the first and the only woman in the United States Senate. Ever. Elected in 1949, she would remain in her seat for 23 years until her defeat in 1972, by which time, adulthood had long since kicked in for me.


“Elected” is the operative word here. Other women had been appointed to the Senate prior to Smith, or through “special elections” invariably to fill out terms of predecessors who had died (usually their husbands), or resigned while in office. But that would have been too nuanced a distinction to make to eight year-olds back then. Or even to 70 year-olds now. Simply put, Margaret was the first. And prior to that, she was also the first woman ever elected to the U.S. House. Though that was something never mentioned in our lessons, that I can recall.

That she was a Republican is an interesting reminder to me, that to a kid back then, Republicans and Democrats were names of different teams. Sort of in the same way that there were Yankee fans and Dodger fans. At that young age, you’re unaware of the combative nature of politics, nor any of its implications. My mother belonged to the Lower Manhattan Republican Club, so I guess I was a Republican too. When JFK came along, I would switch teams.


Everybody liked Ike. He was a war hero and he was OUR president. And that was enough said. For everyone. Even those who voted for Adlai Stevenson. Though I don’t remember ever meeting such a person. And imagine asking Eisenhower if he wore boxers or briefs?


Strong and intense ideological distinctions and debates, wouldn’t come to the forefront for me and many members of my generation, until ’64: Johnson vs. Goldwater. And what I hadn’t remembered, is that at the Republican convention that year, there she was again. Margaret Chase Smith’s name had been put in nomination. “She received 27 delegates. She refused to relinquish her delegates, and as a result, she took second in the balloting, losing to Barry Goldwater by a wide margin.” ( The glass ceiling (an unheard of metaphor back then) had been slightly cracked. Or perhaps, more appropriately, scratched. For in no way could a woman ever be elected president.

Yet in the face of such an inconceivable concept, we would at least begin to see a significant if not proportionate number of women now being voted into the senate on the heels of Margaret’s success and high esteem. Right? Well, not exactly. Six years later, the “new only woman” in the senate would be another Republican, Nancy Kassebaum. She was from Kansas and the daughter of Alf Landon, and would go on to serve in office for 21 years until her retirement.


Today, there are twenty women in the U.S. Senate, accounting for 20% of that august body. That represents a net gain of only 19 women since 1949—almost 70 years ago— though women comprise 51% of the population, and in the 2012 presidential election, 53% of the total voters. If you believe that elected officials should resemble their constituency, women, and as a majority group no less, have been grossly underrepresented throughout history and in our lifetime. Shoot, (I really wanted to say shit but the specter of a no nonsense nun still hovers somewhere nearby), they’ve only had the right to vote now for 96 years in a country 240 years old. (SEPTEMBER, 2010 MUSE-LETTER, Happy 90th Birthday to Ma and to the 19th Amendment!).


Most of us thought that when Geraldine Ferraro was selected by Walter Mondale to be his running mate in ‘84 against Reagan and Bush, that the door of acceptance into the men’s club of presidential politics had been opened. You could now begin to imagine that one day soon, a woman could actually head the top of the ticket for a major political party. Yet it would take almost another 25 years before another VP candidate “of gender,” to emerge, Sara Palin. Who virtually no one today, excepting perhaps Trump who courted and received her endorsement this year, thinks now that that was a good choice.


Just as now, many will say that Hillary Clinton is not a good choice for the highest office in the land. Indeed she has low approval ratings, as does her opponent who is making a sort of history of his own: first presidential candidate for a major national party, who has never held any political office, i.e. zero government experience… nor served in the military.


All of this is a long and roundabout way of saying, that whether you are for or against Hillary, and like it or not, Hillary Rodham Clinton has made history. Whether she actually becomes president or not. And that is yooge! Or as Joe Biden, given to gaffs, was once overheard saying to Obama at the health care bill signing— unaware that he was before a live mic— “This is a big f------ deal.” Even the New York Post thinks so, in its first ever non snarky page one reference to her.


After losing in such a bid eight years ago, she is nothing if not resilient. And measured. As was once again demonstrated in her response to the Orlando shootings, vis-à-vis, her opponent.


But controversy in one form or another has trailed Hillary for the last twenty five years. Some of it has been warranted… some of it not so. That she was involved in some way, for example, in the suicide (or murder?) of Clinton aide Vince Foster over 20 years ago, is a stretch beyond the tensile strength of even the more outlandish conspiracy theories. (I personally think it was Colonel Mustard in the Library with a Rope.). Yet, it still persists in some quarters. As does the Obama birther issue raised by Trump (for which he never apologized; he doesn’t do apology) 20%-30% of the population according to the polls I’ve seen taken last fall, still believe Obama was born in Kenya. More still, that he is a Muslim. But I digress.


Beyond any scandals real or exaggerated or imagined, many don’t like Hillary, simply because… they don’t like her. Her hair, her voice, her pants suits, her laugh, her not divorcing Bill. Nada. But for me, that is all beside the point in this moment.


I have no interest in debating whose low approval ratings are worse and why—Hillary vs. Donald. I’ll leave that to the pundits (who are wrong most of the time) and the Tweeters. It’s a debate already being waged in every nook and cranny of every media outlet, and I’m more taken with all of this in the context of history, at the moment.


Last month when it became all but official that she was the nominee (that of course happens at the convention this month), I thought of Margaret Chase Smith once again. You don’t forget a fact a nun has hammered home. And how a woman in politics used to be a novelty. And how it has taken so long to reach this point; something achieved by about 60 other nations large and small, and of varying political constructs who have been led by women.


It almost feels like watching the moon landing again. Though even that was not without controversy at the time as well. (“Houston, Tranquility Base here. The Eagle has landed.” JULY, 2009 MUSE-LETTER). So let the games begin. And as the old movie quote goes, “Fasten your seat belts. We’re in for a bumpy ride.”







                                                                             —Ron Vazzano






On the Death of Theresa Saldana



Theresa Saldana was brutally stabbed to death by a stalker in 1982. Though it actually took her 34 years to die. Chalk it up to the grit and determination of a gutsy Puerto Rican-Italian girl from Brooklyn, and an excellent team of doctors.



While she survived on that day, she once told me, that when first admitted to the hospital, she heard a TV news report announcing that she was dead. As if the trauma and pain of it all was not enough, she needed that?


She also spoke of experiencing, what people near death have reported. That of going through a tunnel of light in passing through to the other side. Though she was told it was not yet her time, and she was returned. It convinced her that there is life after death.


Despite the remarkable job the doctors did in patching her up during her three and half month hospital stay, all the same, they knew, as she did too, that she would never be out of the woods in terms of good health and full recovery. Her body had been so badly damaged, and her immune system was left greatly compromised. And while she was only 27 at the time, as she would age, it would only get worse. Unfortunately, they were right. Over the years, she was hospitalized for various ailments, related directly or indirectly to that morning of March 15, 1982. And finally, she died last month on June 6th in Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, after a two month stay.


She would not let her gruesome attack deter her. Both on screen and off. She started a non-profit support group called “Victims for Victims” for which she received a honorary citation from President Reagan in the Rose Garden. And then just a couple of years later, actually wrote and starred in her own biographical TV movie, Victims for Victims: The Theresa Saldana Story. In which of course, she had to reenact that horrible morning all over again. But as she once explained to me as to how she was able to do that, and as quoted in her own words from The NY Times obituary…


“Working on the film released a lot of tension for me. As we shot, I felt elated and creative. I felt that I was capable of anything. How many people are offered the opportunity to go back in time and relive a traumatic experience, but without any of the physical or emotional pain that they felt the first time?”


“And the blood this time wasn’t real,” I remembered her adding.


She also wrote an award winning book based on the experience, Beyond Survival (Bantam 1987), which was the first self-help book for crime victims and their families. Many years later in switching gears, she wrote a collection of short stories designed to give voice to young Latinas, published in 2008, The Almost Murder and Other Stories.


At the time of her stabbing, her movie career was beginning to take off. After having appeared in her first film Nunzio (with Tovah Feldshuh and Morgana King), I Wanna Hold Your Hand (about the Beatles coming to New York directed by Robert Zemeckis), Defiance (with Jan-Michael Vincent and Danny Aiello), she was most notably cast as Joe Pesci’s wife, Lenore, sister-in-law to Jake LaMotta in Scorsese’s classic, Raging Bull.



On TV, she would appear for five seasons (1991-1995) with Michael Chiklis in The Commish, for which she would receive a Golden Globe nomination for the Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role.


Many TV guest appearances on various series and occasional movies would follow, but her life would really take a different path almost three decades ago, at the birth of her beautiful daughter Tianna whom she home-schooled, mentored, and in effect, later served as an agent when “T”, as Theresa affectionately referred to her, pursued careers in ballet and modeling. When Theresa made an appearance at my surprise 50th birthday party, she entered the house holding a picture of “T” aloft, who was about six at the time. Ever the actress, ever the grand entrance, Theresa was what we used to call in that old fashioned phrase, “a real character.”


I first met her when I was stage managing an off-Broadway production in the Village in 1977, New York City Street Show. She was great in it. She had talent, and was filled with that bravado that comes from knowing you’re good, and that it’s just a matter of time before the rest of the world comes to know it as well. At that age, it was about her. As an adult, who had undergone such a horrible event, it was about everyone else. She was so loving and giving.


Following my cancer surgery over five and a half years ago, she was at the hospital every day. She continued helping me through a quick and tough life transition that followed, that brought me back to New York thirty years after a move to LA.


The phone calls and emails were constant. The emails especially, which could be as long as War and Peace. And yes, she was a dedicated reader of my Muse-Letters, responding in some way after almost every issue. And I have always felt a certain kinship with her, as we also shared the same August 20th birthday. We were members of what I liked to call the “820 Club” which I referenced in the last month’s Muse-Letter, in my piece on St. Bernard, another “820.”


In attending her funeral mass last month in Bay Ridge, in a church not far from where she was born and raised (you could never take the Brooklyn out of her), I thought of how senseless her ordeal. And I thought of how, what with all the tragedies related to terrorism, stalkers in their derangement, have never gone out of style. Although stalking one-on-one is a form of terrorism, is it not?


The latest victim last month being that of 22 year old singer Christina Grimmie of “The Voice” fame, who was shot down by a stalker while she was signing autographs after a show in Orlando. (Has a city ever undergone such a bizarre and tragic triptych in one week than Orlando?). And a story has now appeared that Brooke Shields has been stalked as well. That case is now on trial, with the outcome still pending as of this writing.


The problem, as Theresa experienced, is that even though you are being stalked, it is a difficult thing to stop it even when reporting it to the police, since no definitive crime had been committed (as yet). And this would blow me away—that even while Theresa’s assailant was serving almost 14 years for his attack on her, he was still making threats to her from prison! How was that possible? And so there was always that for her to deal with. Fortunately, following his release, he was extradited to the UK for robbery and murder, where he died several years ago.


While Theresa Saldana would not let her life be defined by that fateful morning, it ultimately took her life at age 61—34 years after the fact. Rest in peace my friend. And I hope the ride through the tunnel was a smooth one. Send me an email. You can keep it short.






The Book Shall Inherit the Earth: A Litany


Bookstores all over the world
are seeing a resurgence
of hardcover and paperback sales,
as the novelty of e-books have clearly waned.


                          —, July 2015

The aroma of a brand new book, at times
suggesting clay or fresh paint…
pause to partake of it.


touch the canvassed texture in a matte finish
or a high glossed surface implying high purpose.


hear the noise a hardcover spine makes
when newly cracked open.


note the richness in gold leaf
or the animalism of a book leather bound.


a book in hand— weigh its heft.


the feel on the forefinger and thumb
in the turning of any given page.


the breeze created in an ocean of pages
that muffled sound in shuffling through.


the “dog-eared” reminder of where we’ve left off
or the slipping in of a book mark through which
to put a leash on tempus interruptus.


note how much remains until
that final leaf gets turned.


conquering a classic and holding onto
those that resonate throughout the journey:


Selected Poems of Robert Frost
Rhinehart Edition, 1963.


time has been cruel in the yellowing of pages
once eggshell white.


ever so slight
the indentation the type makes on its surface.


the shaking heads that might one day ensue
from the marginalia
penned in books absorbed and well worn.


Praise for the hallowed stores that still contain them,
places so earthy, wherein mushrooms might grow.


where authors of all stripes come and go
in their readings and signings for the converted.


listeners returning to their own shelves and stacks
of books on display— inserted signals
announcing to the world
where they are coming from.


doubling as furniture—
steal a glance at the décor.


scan the spines for authors and titles;
scan the back cover blurbs for clues
to see where tastes might intercept.


then the findings in unlikely other places—
the garage sale eureka!
the donated books to Goodwill for good measure.


the lending out of a precious volume
and if not returned, forever obsessing
over this grandest of transgressions:


the Viking Press edition
of The Portable Nietzsche.

taken by a one-night stand
from beside the one bed stand—
but pray she’s kept up with her writhing.


on the flip side, getting a book as a gift
and the never letting go of it:


The Saint Andrew Daily Missal
Anno Domini 1960,
from a defrocked priest.


the miracle of how it has kept its crispness
in its onion skinned pages,
throughout what might as well have been
the Middle Ages.


embedded in that perfect binding,
that seeks to hold it all together
ad infinitum.


The imperative to get a grip
on the eel of life’s meanings;
the real, the imagined, the all in between.




                              —Ron Vazzano





Quote(s) of the Month

“Real firmness is good for anything;
strut is good for nothing.”


               — Alexander Hamilton

                    (Died July 12, 1804
                     in Greenwich Village, New York City)*


“All I knew about Hamilton was that he died in a duel. So I thought, ‘This will have a good ending at least.’ ”


                 — Lin-Manuel Miranda

                     (Leaving Hamilton on Broadway,
                      New York City, July 9, 2016)

* While shot in Weehawken New Jersey, Hamilton died 31 hours later.






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