Paper Presidents & Pundits

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These are not easy times. You might have a buck or a five-spot. Maybe you’re totin’ around a ten, a few twenties, a fifty. If you’re flush, you might be able to flash a couple hundred dollar bills. Take a good hard look at that cash. Seven denominations, printed in decayed blackish green, the unfortunate color of oxygen-deficient sludge. Our redesigned $10, $20 and $50 notes add a faded blood-tinged blush, as if to echo current monetary policy: “Help! We are bleeding money!”

I can’t help looking at these long-dead white males, our Founding Fathers and our dear martyred President Lincoln, without imagining what was going on below their shoulders when these engravings were made. I can say with certainty that Ben Franklin was constipated when his portrait was engraved. Seriously, get the man some fiber, will you? Look at the face gracing the $100 bill, and tell me he’s not expressing particular effort.

On our fifty dollar bill, Ulysses Grant wears a thirsty poker face. Is that a sterling flask in his breast pocket? Colonel Theodore Lyman, Grant’s contemporary, said it best. “Ulysses Grant habitually wears a jasminlive expression as if he had determined to drive his head through a brick wall and was about to do it.” This may also explain Grant’s reported penchant for liquid anesthetic. On the $20 bill, Andrew Jackson’s body is aimed left. His head is aimed right. This is an inside joke. Jackson was notoriously two-sided, with acknowledged strength and fearless pluck, but he could be self-absorbed and vindictive. He openly despised Henry Clay, John C. Calhoun and a Cherokee Indian chief named John Ross, among others. Is Jackson, while posing for posterity, riding right on a reluctant steed, affronted by something coming from the other direction?

Alexander Hamilton’s ten dollar portrait is remarkably attractive. Other paintings of our first Secretary of the Treasury are not as flattering, but Hamilton had enough appeal to stir up a lurid affair and the poor judgement to publicly divulge disgusting intimate details. The dapper Hamilton, wearing a popped collar and white bow tie, is aiming right and looking left. Bet you ten bucks this engraving was inspired when Hamilton was two paces from Aaron Burr, looking the wrong way.

Abraham Lincoln has sunken eyes and cheeks, an unruly strand of hair over one large droopy ear, his tie askew. Our sixteenth president looks, in this portrait, to have just been awakened from a fitful sleep in an uncomfortable wooden chair. Lincoln isn’t about to waste time gussying up, and he’s not going to make chit-chat in hopes of a flattering likeness. Look at that face. He’s planning something. Something unpleasant, something painful, something necessary. Do you really need to spend that fiver? Keep a Lincoln engraving as a solemn reminder that discipline can eventually overcome disaster.

Thomas Jefferson looks vaguely distracted if not downright annoyed. See that furrow in his brow? The two dollar bill? Hardly worthy of mention. Jefferson looks like he’s realized the backhanded compliment, which explains the part of the live jasmin picture this engraving might have missed: a small spade hidden in one hand and a sharp quill pen in the other: Jefferson was equally adept at digging furrows in Virginia soil and digging remarks.

George Washington wears a look of weary relief. His overtly phallic neck is festooned with ruffles and a stylish bow. Unlike Lincoln, Washington posed while sitting back on a fine leather wing chair that was dyed the color of oxblood and tanned to a subtle sheen. His small eyes cut a dark warning. Go ahead, pull out a new $1 note and then pull out an older one: see how George’s eyes lose their intensity as this portable engraving passes from hand to hand? Washington has lost sight of the horizon, along with the rest of us.

These long dead, brilliant, brave, fallible white men, they don’t want us to forget: these United States are a valuable and fragile gift. Never mind what’s going on below the shoulders, please.

The Suspicious Women of 11 J

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I’ve returned to my New York City studio apartment after nearly three months ridin’ the jewelry John Deere. Yep, it was jewelry harvest season back home at Big Sky Gold. My finger (emptied of my five carat diamond, sold at the Holidays) is poised to post a few blogs, pitch a few ideas and probably hang a participle or two (sorry).

After a $77 supply run at Trader Joe’s (which broke the old $64 record for two Hawaiian-style grocery bags) I made a pit stop to collect three months of mail jammed in my lobby mailbox. It’s oily dark out there after a thin rain, and I removed my coat, boots, scarf, pants and just now, my grey, lace-edged camisole.

I’m tapping away at my little glass desk in panties, a strapless bra and a thin layer of travel dust, in the shadow of the Empire State building. Despite the environmental insensitivity, I love the old pre-war winter swelter. In this heat, with this view, who’d want to pull the curtains (at least for the first few nights)? Trust me. In this City, strangers live on top of each other and don’t give a flying f*** about ogling a half-naked woman who’s six months shy of a senior discount.

I’m more interested in looking out than wondering who might be looking in. In this inspiring apartment, in the shadow of the Empire State Building, I’ve spread out all the forgotten mail addressed to folks who lived here before I did. I can almost see, years from now, a guy with an earlobe hole the size of a quarter filled with an adornment made of bone and black rubber. He’s tossing his faux-hawk to whatever’s playing in his ear buds, chucking letters addressed to me, not giving a thought to mis-sent greetings, bills, solicitations, never-opened catalogs from West Elm and CB2. This guy doesn’t even consider recycling.

Of course, he’ll stop when he sees what he thinks might be money. Some things never change, regardless of taste, age, or tradition. Unlike that imaginary future resident, I can’t dispense letters that belong to previous residents, but I can’t resist dispensing judgements. I always pause for pathos, Every envelope, important, irrelevant, expired or meaningless is touched and sorted. A few are even held up to a light to see what might be inside.

I got the keys to this apartment last February from Edda Laurea, a woman who moved to a larger apartment up north of Central Park with her ageing mother. It would be okay if I still found the department store flyer, restaurant coupon or campaign ad with Ms. Laurea’s name in my mailbox. But I have two blue envelopes that probably contain checks from the Department of the Treasury and one white envelope that appears to be money (or maybe a summons) from New York State. Seeing as how this lady hasn’t been here for almost a year and I haven’t picked up mail since I left NYC for Montana in early October, you’d think she wonder what happened.

If Ms. Laurea doesn’t “need” the money, can we really dub these checks ‘social security’? At some point, at the point where you don’t realize you’ve forgotten to deposit several of them, isn’t it just extra income? Am I really in support of “means-testing” social security? I guess, at a certain point, which is probably right here, yep. I am.

Don’t worry, I’ll e-mail her. I have her forwarding address somewhere, but this is getting old. The same thing happened with these checks the last two times I came to NYC. It doesn’t look like our government’s giving grunions to Leo and Doris Borg, former residents of apartment 11 J, who have missed an official envelope from the IRS. As a Star Trek fan, I can’t resist picturing the Borg Collective owing money to the Internal Revenue Service. I must enclose a note to Leo and Doris, if I find them: “resistance is futile”. When I googled the Borgs, the first hit that came up was a picture of a 94-year old Doris Borg, “the oldest prostitute in Malta. If that’s you, Doris, don’t come back to Manhattan. The competition is fierce.

Someone from a charity called “The Doe Fund” is looking for a Gentile in my apartment. Ain’t nobody here but this disaffected Jew, but at one time there must have been a Michelle D. Gentile who lived here. She sounds so Christian, so benign, a bit vulnerable. I picture her with one of those buns under a white net. Gee, I hope she’s OK. The most pathetic correspondence belongs to Elizabeth Librizzi: a Christmas card with no return address, written by someone who appears to be a left handed girl under fifteen. Turn me in: this is where I broke down and broke the law. I opened up Elizabeth Librizzi’s mail.

I hoped to find a return address, but inside there was one of those charity cards that could have been painted by someone overcompensating for a missing appendage with an overdose of angelic kitsch. “May angels light your way with peace and joy,” signed “Mark, Marianne, Erin and Jamie Rose.” Awww…shit. Can’t throw it away, can’t keep it. If I can’t find Elizabeth Librizzi, I can’t forward it. I’m tempted to re-seal it, invent an address and drop it in the mail, turning the whole matter into someone else’s problem.

Politicians at least understand apartment turnover (or bulk mail laws). There were a good half-dozen congressional, assembly, and other political flyers in my ten-inch pile of mail, and each bore the salutation “or current resident”. Several of them, including New York Senator Thomas K. Duane, sent three letters addressed to different people ALL residing at my apartment. Damn, how did they all fit in here? …Wait a minute, three disappearing voters? I demand a re-count (especially if the Republican won). I got my apartment key from Edda Laurea. I know she exists. Elizabeth Librizzi, Michelle Gentile, Jane Williams, when did you live here? I hope you weren’t assimilated by the (Star Trek) Borg, or maybe… hmmm, you’re all women... Doris Borg! Shame on you. Did you teach these ladies another, more lucrative profession and move them to a Mediterranean Isle? Is this my destiny??? If you read this post, Ms. Borg, please reply. By mail. You have the address.

The Voldemort Rule: Let’s not Create a Mantra for Madmen

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Hitler. Idi Amin. Osama Bin Laden, Anders Behring Breivik, Jared Lougher, Wade Michael Page. The names of the damned have a power of their own. Just saying them aloud sets up a vibration, a vulnerability, the kind of infamy that could tilt the head of an unbalanced Soul…and make him pause at the local gun show or weapons store, smack-dab in front of a semi-automatic weapons display. He might picture his face on Fox, CNN, NBC, ABC, CBS, Google, YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, or on the newswires of AP, Reuters, and of course, the hometown newspaper…complete with a signature expression or unusual hairdo.

A rogue sicko looks in the mirror and imagines being dead and infamous. Alive and anonymous does not create the kind of notoriety these killers feel they deserve. If a madman makes a horrible choice, I’d rather not hear his name, over and over again, against my will. I’d rather not see him in article after article, along with the details of the senseless act and the plodding due process that we have a right to cherish.

I’m not advocating that we erase Hitler, Idi Amin, or Bin Laden from the history books. We need to guard ourselves against demonic, magnetic individuals who managed to attract followers from, profiteers and soldiers. We need not only to remember their names, but we need to repeat them, despite our discomfort, to keep ourselves vigilant of their ilk. Lone assassins, crazed gunmen, they are a different story. The media should use their names when it’s necessary, not bandy these gruesome monikers about, granting lone killers, alive or dead, the opportunity to inspire more of their kind.

While most of us could point to Wade Michael Page or Jared Loughner in a lineup, we can’t name a single victim of a recent mass shooting, unless it’s Gabrielle Giffords, and that’s because she had the temerity to survive. And she had some fame to begin with. And she’s pretty. And white. And she had a hell of a backstory.

Dear Print Media:

How about naming the assailant ONCE in every story, and not in the first three paragraphs. If the reader wants to know the *******’s name, (s)he’ll have to read below the fold.

Dear Broadcast Media:

Instead of creating a mantra for madmen, how about showing some restraint: limit the mention of the shooter’s name to say, once an hour during the first day, and only when there’s a reason, thereafter. It’s not just the name: Loughner’s one deeper set eye, Holmes’ blood-orange dyed hair, Page’s round-faced mug shot. Today, the dead Texas A&M cop shooter, is primed for a pirouette and posthumous bow in the media spotlight.

I don’t want to recognize the features of a new shooter’s face. Instead, I want to hear intelligent talk about the underlying causes of mental and emotional illness, to debate access to semi-automatic weapons. I want the names of the victims along with a restrained respect for their families. Explore the factors that shooters have in common without granting them the gift of infamy. Show us the protocols and priorities we can create, as individuals, and as a society, to curb senseless bloodshed.

My friends in the media need to act like grownups with a big, powerful, double-edged power tool. I don’t care if it is a slow news day and a juicy multiple homicide has the potential to entertain millions.Unless it’s absolutely necessary, He-Who-Should-Not-be-Named doesn’t deserve the coverage.

Your Salsa is from New York City? My New Yorker Comes from Boone, Iowa.

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The first letter came without a threat last May, in a plain white envelope. It was from the subscription department at the New Yorker with a return address in Boone, Iowa. I felt like one of those cowboys around the campfire lamenting the origin of their salsa: my New Yorker magazine comes from… Iowa? If there was a terrorist plot against effete rural liberals, a renewal notice from the New Yorker, postmarked from a town named after the symbol of rugged frontier justice would be just about right.

I shook the envelope. Something awful, like anthrax or Sweet&Low might pour out. Above my name, in caps, “EXP FEB 13.” Even if this renewal notice was legit, my subscription didn’t expire for ten months. Either the terrorists would have to try harder, or I’d hear from the New Yorker again. I tossed the unopened letter in my desk.

Within a few weeks I got another friendly reminder, same return address. This time I googlemapped Boone, Iowa. No magazine fulfillment center. I thought about staking out the Boone post office, waiting for a dandy with a top hat and a monocle to unlock P.O. Box 37685. Wait. Why does Boone, Iowa have 37,685 post office boxes? The population, according to the 2010 census, was 12,635. I’d be damned if I opened that letter. Something wasn’t right.

The third notice came from a different P.O. Box, three doors down from the old one. It had the word “REMINDER” in all caps, above my address. Kind of classy, like the guy at the opera who coughs and stares at your crotch to let you know you forgot to zip. I had 33 issues left, a little over nine months of New Yorkers. I ignored their request. I admit that I am easily annoyed. I’m taking pills for it now, but they are obviously not working. It tightened my gut that Condé Nast, the publisher of the New Yorker, was rubbing its hands together, wanting me to feed the beast. I understand beasts need to be fed. I throw money at open mouths too. I’m offended to be asked to throw money at Boone, Iowa in May for a New Yorker subscription that runs out in February, that’s all. I also resent anyone trying to con me into paying far in advance for goods or services yet to be rendered. That’s called ‘playing the float’.

Could my highbrow magazine be attempting to shave a few issues off if I renewed early? No… The New Yorker would never commit such a low-down offense–though there have been legal settlements in the past for ‘short sheeting’ subscribers in the periodical biz. What they are unquestionably guilty of is negligence. The New Yorker farms subscriptions out to CoMag, a company, until recently co-owned by the publisher of the New Yorker, Conde Nast, along with archrival mega-publisher Hearst. Hearst and Conde Nast sold their distribution monster to a third party, Jim Pattison Co.. Pattison already owned NewsGroup, which distributes 1.5 billion periodicals per year.

Picture (an as yet, uncalculated) huge percentage of all the print magazines published in the U.S. and Canada, throw them into a pile of glossy glued bindings, and run them all through the same huge stainless steel distribution funnel. Publishers shove the stuff in the big end, they wash their hands, you pull it out the small end. You can’t blame me for being annoyed and suspicious. No one is washing my hands.

The New Yorker is a top tier magazine. Erudite cartoons pepper pithy reviews; insightful, vetted commentary is quoted worldwide; their exasperating feature articles beat a topic with a stick, soak it in quotes, hang it out to dry and then fold it like origami. It’s a thing of annoying beauty. Why would this bastion of intellectualism farm out their subscription service to a company that cajoles, pokes, prods, threatens, and lies to a loyal subscriber?

It’s even worse that they can shrug their shoulders and say they had no part in it. Yep, they lie. I received at least three reminders with the words “Last Chance.” (Obviously not). Two others said “Final Notice.” White ones, manila ones, blue ones. One was emblazoned with a huge militaristic “DEADLINE EXTENDED.” Several featured a Stars & Stripes stamp. Is there a battle going on? Is it my patriotic duty to renew?

Within the past few weeks, as my subscription was truly about to expire, their tactics changed: they wanted me to think I’d already renewed, and that I just needed to send in the “Confirmation Notice: Enclosed.”Last week the Crooked Tree Coffeehouse here in Great Falls, Montana received their January 28 issue. I did not.

Had the New Yorker given up? A few days later, I got my copy, with a thick paper overlay: LAST ISSUE ALERT. The attached “Pay me later” prepaid postcard offered only one alternative for last-minute renewal “$99.99 for 47 issues. 64% off Cover Price!” I was only mildly tempted. On Thursday, another issue arrived. Surprise. My “last issue” wasn’t the last issue after all. It’s not the last issue I have with the New Yorker. Or is it?


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The New York Times last week had a feature story on the value of souvenirs, those special mementos that that transport us to special places in our past. Here’s the link (you may have to copy and paste, I’m having a hyperlink issue). I brought something special from my childhood travels with me to New York City. Here’s my memento, ’Flipper’.

I slept in closest to the wall, in a double bunk that had been stitched from unbleached canvas and strung between two six-foot lengths of half-inch lead pipe, just sixteen inches from the ceiling of our travel trailer. On the outer half of the bunk was my little brother, Roger. Below us, where big sister Cheryl slept, the dining table of our travel trailer seated all seven Reicherts at mealtimes (someone usually pulled up a camp chair).

Mom and Dad had the couch that folded out into the best substitute for a real bed, and from what I remember, my brothers, Greg and Robert, were outside, sleeping in a tent, where, Dad was sure, boys belonged. If anyone had to pee at night, everyone woke up. Even if I was about to burst, I wouldn’t even open my eyes until four a.m., when I smelled coffee and Canadian bacon. To this day, the mingled scents of salted flesh and chocolate earth make me wistful. Mom cooked at home, but in the trailer, an hour before the morning rise of his favorite rainbow trout, Dad was chef.

My dad always wanted an Airstream. With five kids and a fireman’s salary, just four years before he died, my dad and Duke Tedford built the best he could afford, a white-paneled job, barely big enough for the whole Reichert clan. Me? I always wanted my own penthouse apartment in New York City. You know, with a balcony overlooking Central Park, a personal trainer and a guest bedroom. Like Dad, I lowered my expectations. Like Dad, I’m happy with what I got. And it’s a little bigger than Dad’s travel trailer (but not much).

A decade ago, before the trailer bid its final goodbye to the concrete pad in my mom’s backyard, I sat on the hideous brown plaid couch and dug around in the kitchen, eight inches away. Inside a rickety drawer, I found this flipper. I saw it in my Dad’s big mitt; I could almost smell breakfast at four a.m.. I might have asked, but I didn’t. I took it. It’s not “stuff”. It’s not a souvenir. That flipper is a goddamn icon.