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
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.” (www.biography.com).
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.
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.
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
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
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.”
On the Death of Theresa
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
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
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
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
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.
Inherit the Earth:
Bookstores all over
are seeing a resurgence
of hardcover and paperback sales,
as the novelty of e-books have clearly waned.
aroma of a brand new book, at times
suggesting clay or fresh paint…
pause to partake of it.
the canvassed texture in a matte finish
or a high glossed surface implying high purpose.
the noise a hardcover spine makes
when newly cracked open.
the richness in gold leaf
or the animalism of a book leather bound.
book in hand— weigh its heft.
feel on the forefinger and thumb
in the turning of any given page.
breeze created in an ocean of pages
that muffled sound in shuffling through.
“dog-eared” reminder of where we’ve left
or the slipping in of a book mark through which
to put a leash on tempus interruptus.
how much remains until
that final leaf gets turned.
a classic and holding onto
those that resonate throughout the journey:
Poems of Robert Frost
Rhinehart Edition, 1963.
has been cruel in the yellowing of pages
once eggshell white.
the indentation the type makes on its surface.
shaking heads that might one day ensue
from the marginalia
penned in books absorbed and well worn.
for the hallowed stores that still contain them,
places so earthy, wherein mushrooms might grow.
authors of all stripes come and go
in their readings and signings for the converted.
returning to their own shelves and stacks
of books on display— inserted signals
announcing to the world
where they are coming from.
steal a glance at the décor.
the spines for authors and titles;
scan the back cover blurbs for clues
to see where tastes might intercept.
the findings in unlikely other places—
the garage sale eureka!
the donated books to Goodwill for good measure.
lending out of a precious volume
and if not returned, forever obsessing
over this grandest of transgressions:
Viking Press edition
of The Portable Nietzsche.
taken by a one-night
from beside the one bed stand—
but pray she’s kept up with her writhing.
the flip side, getting a book as a gift
and the never letting go of it:
Saint Andrew Daily Missal
Anno Domini 1960,
from a defrocked priest.
miracle of how it has kept its crispness
in its onion skinned pages,
throughout what might as well have been
the Middle Ages.
in that perfect binding,
that seeks to hold it all together
imperative to get a grip
on the eel of life’s meanings;
the real, the imagined, the all in between.
of the Month
firmness is good for anything;
strut is good
July 12, 1804
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
Hamilton on Broadway,
York City, July 9, 2016)
shot in Weehawken New Jersey, Hamilton died 31 hours later.