LIPS THAT TOUCH LIQUOR

Once upon a time, Americans had national fit of self-righteousness and decided alcohol was the root of all evil.  To rectify the perceived problem, the nation rose up on its collective hind legs and passed the 18th Amendment to the Constitution. This amendment established a legal prohibition of recreational alcoholic beverages in the United States.

The separate (but closely related)  Volstead Act specified how authorities would actually enforce Prohibition, including the definition of “intoxicating liquor” — for anyone who needed an explanation.

VotedDry

The folks who needed an explanation were not your average Jill or Joe. Jill and Joe knew how to get drunk just fine, but apparently lawmakers, politicians and gangsters-to-be needed clarification. The gangsters needed to know what they had to do to cash in on this opportunity and the others, how to persecute people in the name of the law. Many beverages were excluded for medical and religious purposes. It was okay to get drunk as long it was accompanied by an appropriate degree of religious fervor. Or you could get a doctor’s note.

That left a lot of room — a barn door-sized hole — through which an entire generation strolled. Many people began drinking during Prohibition who had never imbibed before. Whereas previously, alcoholism had no social cachet, during prohibition it became fashionable. As with most things, making it more difficult, expensive, and illegal made it more desirable and sexy.

Regular folks, society leaders, and criminals all basked in the glow of joyous illegality. A whole criminal class was born as a result of prohibition. If that isn’t clear proof that legislating morality doesn’t work, I don’t know what is. It didn’t work then and it won’t work now. Whether the issue is booze, drugs, abortion, prayer, same-sex marriage, or term limits … law and morality don’t mix.

prohibition-6

Passing a law limiting how many times you can elect a candidate rather than letting you vote for any candidate you want isn’t going to improve the quality of legislators. You’ll just wind up voting for a bunch of clowns and opportunists who don’t give a rat’s ass about government while dedicated potential candidates won’t bother to run because there’s no future in it. Making drugs illegal, especially marijuana, has created an entire drug culture — exactly the way making booze illegal created an entire criminal class based on rum running.

There are no fewer gay people because we make their lives difficult, any more than segregation made the world safe for stupid white people.

Illegal abortions kill not only fetuses, but their mothers too. You may not approve of abortion, but do you approve of forcing women to risk their lives to not have babies they don’t want? How is that better or more moral?

This kind of knee-jerk “lets solve social issues by making bad laws” causes a lot of pain and suffering. As often as not, you end up legislating your way into a vast sea of exciting new problems you didn’t have before.

Throughout history, laws designed to force everyone to do what someone else deems “right” have failed. Monumentally and spectacularly failed. You’d think citizens and lawmakers alike would notice this recurring theme, but remarkably, we seem unable to connect the dots.

If you never drank before, bet this picture could change your mind.

If you never drank before, bet this picture could change your mind.

We haven’t learned anything at all, probably because no one is aware history is repeating itself. Many of our citizens apparently don’t know any history, so how could they?

Prohibition agents destroying barrels of alcoh...

Prohibition agents destroying barrels of alcohol

The 18th Amendment was ratified on January 16, 1919 and took effect a year later, on January 17, 1920. Immediately, the demand for liquor increased. Producers, suppliers and transporters were turned into criminals, but drinkers were not prosecuted. What could go wrong with that? The entire justice system — courts, cops and prisons — was buried under a landslide of booze-related busts. Organized crime went from being a minor group to a major social force. Progress?

Having achieved results way beyond the wildest dreams of the amendment’s creators, prohibition was repealed in 1933 via the Twenty-first Amendment, the only time in American history an amendment was repealed.

Every time I hear someone on Facebook declare how we need a constitutional amendment to solve a political or social problem, I contemplate how successfully we got rid of alcohol in 1920.

No one has had a drink since!

The next time someone tells you history is meaningless, tell them without history, they are meaningless. They won’t understand what you mean, but a bit more confusion can’t hurt them. Saying it might make you feel better.

GOOD MORNING BABY

Reverse Shot – What’s your earliest memory involving another person? Recreate the scene — from the other person’s perspective.


You asked for an early memory. This certainly fits that bill. Funny how I have to come back to life to write this for you, but we all live on, at least in the memories of our children, friends, family.

It was a cold, pre-dawn morning in New York. Marilyn was in her crib. We were still been living in that terrible old house in Freeport because Marilyn was not speaking yet. After she found her words, she never stopped talking … so this had to be early.

I heard her crying. When I came into the room, she was standing there, in her crib. Just looking around at the lights, at the old dresser. There wasn’t much light. No sun is shining at four in the morning and in those days, you didn’t automatically turn on lights when you entered rooms. The legacy of the war, I suppose.

The room was mostly empty except for my little daughter, that old dresser — I think it came from my parents house — and the white, wooden crib. Painted white. Probably with lead-based paint. We were terribly uninformed in 1948.

MarilynApr1948

Marilyn, April 1948

I stood there. Looking at my daughter. She stood there, looking at me. And smiling. I was so tired. The house was cold. The steam wouldn’t be up for hours yet. But she was happy, glad to see me. Too young to worry or be afraid. Life is simple for the very young.

We watched each other. Exhausted mommy, perky baby. After a few minutes standing, holding onto the crib’s railing, she let out a wail. It startled me and I turned on the lights, lifted her from the crib. She cooed a little something. A happy noise. I cooed in answer, a mommy sound with no special meaning. What mattered was I was there and holding her. Easy to make a little one happy.

She stopped crying. Mommy was there. I wrapped us both in blankets, moved the rocking chair in front of the still-dark window. Then, we sat, rocked, and waited for sunrise. And the steam to come up.

KILLING TRAVEL NOSTALGIA

I’ve read a lot of posts that wax nostalgic about the old days, of trips down country roads at a slower pace. Driving through little towns. Past farms, fields, woods, and streams. No super highways with their sterile rest stops and fast food outlets. Driving through the real America.

Leaving Jackman, Maine on Route 201

Leaving Jackman, Maine on Route 201

Those were the days, we say. The good old days which we remember from the back seat. Where we were pinching and pummeling our siblings while nagging our parents to stop for ice cream. Or asking the deathless question: “Are we there yet?”

Everyone who ever waxed poetic about the good old days of travel should take the drive from Jackman, Maine to Danville, Vermont.

It’s 231 miles from Jackman to Danville unless you travel through Canada, which we did not want to do. Just going through the customs checkpoints would have added hours to the journey. Unless you go through Canada, there’s only one route. Take 201 from Jackman to Skowhegan. Hook a right on route 2. Drive. Keep driving. Behind pickup trucks and aging SUVs veering erratically while never exceeding 28 miles per hour … the exact point at which the car changes gears. The engine lugging relentlessly as it tries to find the spot.

There is food to eat and gasoline to be pumped as you pass through all those little towns. There’s always someplace selling pizza, baked goods, sandwiches, and cold drinks. Usually a toilet, too. You will get a chance to visit every little town in the mountains between Maine and Vermont. I found myself staring at the map, hoping a faster road would magically appear.

Talk about ambivalence. It’s the middle of October. The trees look as if they are lit from within. The mountains are covered in Technicolor autumnal glory. It is so magnificent it doesn’t look real. Combine that with an overwhelming urge to find a high-powered weapon and blow one of those pokey drivers to kingdom come.

Route 2 through the mountains, heading west

Route 2 through the mountains, heading west

“Wow,” I say, “That’s incredibly beautiful” as we loop around an especially breathtaking curve in the road. I’m trying to control my peevish aggravation with the current slow driver riding his brakes in front of us. It’s as if they wait for us. As we are about to pass, they pull out in front of us and slow to a crawl. The beauty of the mountains, lakes, streams, trees, sky, clouds, villages, farms, towns morph into a seamless continuity as we endlessly follow bad drivers whose feet never leave the brake pedals.

It’s nearly a religious experience. Aggravation wars with appreciation for nature — and a passionate need to get where we are going before nightfall. Garry is exhausted, irritable, frustrated. I’m empathizing with Garry to the point of offering to drive. Whoa! It took most of a day to make the trip. A crow could have done it in an hour and a bit, but we don’t fly. We crawled through Maine, crept through New Hampshire, limped into Vermont. Maine is a large state.

Our most startling moment was looking up and seeing a sign — a huge, brightly painted sign — that said: “WELCOME TO MEXICO.” Mexico, Maine. There were no Mexican restaurants, or at least none we could find. Lots of Chinese, though. After we drove out of Mexico, we came upon another huge, bright sign. “WELCOME TO MEXICO,” it said.

“Didn’t we just leave Mexico?”

“Maybe,” says Garry, “this is the village and that was the town?”

“Or something.”

“Or something.” I wondered where the rest of North America had gone. Never mind. It was time to face the inevitable. Garry and I had to fill the gas tank. Ourselves. Without help. Oy.

Me, Garry, the road and an atlas

Me, Garry, the road and an atlas

Back home — a town which had seemed rural and quaint, but now seemed sophisticated and metropolitan — the stations provide service. This was not the case in wherever we were in very rural New England. Together, Garry and I pondered the problem. We had to remove the gas cap, which was stuck. Garry looked at me. He was doing the driving, so it fell to me to deal with the gas cap.

I pressed. Twisted. It was the child-proof lid from Hell. Eventually, it came off. Whooping in triumph, I fed our bank card into the pump’s reader and selected the grade of gasoline. Garry, feeling his moment had come, removed the pump from its hook, stuck it in the hole and pressed. Gasoline started feeding into the tank. When it snapped loose, Garry looked at me.

“Does this mean it’s full?”

“Yes,” I exalted. “We did it. We put gas in our  car!”

We gave each other a high-five and continued our journey.  We have developed a deep appreciation for the interstate highway system. And lost every trace of nostalgia for the old days of travel.


 Genre Blender

WINNING

SWEEPING MOTIONS: My desk and bedroom are fine. Even our car is tidy. I’m sure I have a messy closet somewhere. It’s my brain which could use a thorough tidying. Here’s a great memory moment from the clutter of my brain. One of my favorites.


In the mid 1980s in Israel, I worked at the Weizmann Institute in Rehovot with the team developing DB1, the first relational database. Those familiar with databases and their history should go “Ooh, aah.” Feel free to be awed. These are my bona fides certifying my “original geekhood.”

I was never a developer, just a computer-savvy writer, but I worked extensively on Quix, the first real-English query language and documented DB-1. I was eventually put in charge of creating promotional materials to sell the project to IBM. They bought it and from it, DB2 and all other relational databases emerged. Cool beans, right?

Technical writing was new. In 1983, it didn’t have a name. I was a pioneer. I didn’t chop down forests or slaughter aboriginal inhabitants, but I went where no one had gone before. Breaking new ground was exciting and risky.

The president of the group was named Micah. He was the “money guy.” Micah knew less about computers than me, but wielded serious clout. His money was paying our salaries, rent, and keeping the lights on. The definition of clout.

As the day approached when the team from IBM was due, it was time for me to present the materials I had created with Ruth, a graphic artist who had been my art director at the failed newspaper I’d managed the previous year. (This was well before computers could generate graphics properly.) Ruth was amazing with an airbrush. I’ve never seen better work.

The presentation materials were as perfect as Ruth and I could make them. I had labored over that text and she had done a brilliant job creating graphics that illustrated the product, its unique capabilities and benefits. And so it came time for the pre-IBM all-hands-on-deck meeting.

Micah didn’t like me. His dislike wasn’t based on anything I did or even my disputable personality. He didn’t like women in the workplace. I was undeniably female. As was Ruth. Strike one, strike two. At the meeting, he looked at our materials and announced “We need better material. I’ve heard there’s a real hot-shot in Jerusalem. I’ve seen his work. It’s fantastic. We should hire him.” And he stared at me and sneered.

Onto the table he tossed booklets as well as other promotional and presentation materials for a product being developed in Haifa at the Technion. I looked at the stuff.

“That’s my work, ” I said.

“No it isn’t,” he said firmly. “I’ve heard it was created by the best technical writer in the country.”

“Yes,” I agreed. “Me.”

He was not done with humiliating himself. He insisted a phone be brought to the table and he called his friend Moshe in Jerusalem. I’d worked for Moshe, quitting because although I liked the man, he couldn’t keep his hands to himself. I had a bad-tempered, jealous husband — something I didn’t feel obliged to reveal.

Moshe gave Micah the name of The Hot Shot. It was me.

“Oh,” said Micah. I didn’t say anything. I didn’t have to. The deadpan faces around the table were elegant examples of people trying desperately to not laugh. Micah wasn’t a guy you laughed at, not if you wanted to keep your job.

It was a moment of triumph so sweet — so rare — nothing else in my working life came close. I won one for The Team, for professional women everywhere. Eat it, Micah.

IF ONLY I HAD AN EXTRA HOUR

Twenty-Five Seven

Good news — another hour has just been added to every 24-hour day (don’t ask us how. We have powers). How do you use those extra sixty minutes?

Twilight over the hills, Peacham, Vermont

Sunrise over the hills, Peacham, Vermont

If there were another hour in the day, it wouldn’t be enough. If there were another 5 or 6 hours in the day, it still wouldn’t be enough. Because sooner or later, you have to stop what you are doing and rest. Take a break. Stop moving, stop talking, stop the world. It’s time to get off.

Morning again and the mist

Morning again and the mist

The last couple of days have been continuous great conversation, fabulous food. Magical panoramas of a countryside so beautiful it seems like a dream. It’s been amazing. There aren’t enough hours in the day. Not enough hours to eat, talk, tour, take pictures, process pictures, write, answer comments. Socialize. Remember. Not even close.

I find myself having to face my own limits … I cannot do a single thing more and maintain any kind of balance. Yesterday, I realized I was not going to answer all the lovely comments and I was certainly not going to get to reading — or even skimming all the blogs I normally follow. I had been saving them, hoping that “later” I would get to them, but later, we were talking, remembering, laughing. Discovering we’d read the same book, shared many interests we’d never imagined.

Morning light on trees and fields

Morning light on trees and fields

Of course we know many of the same people. We knew that. We all went to the same college and worked at the same college radio station … that’s where so much of our lives because.

Our host was one of the early arrivals along with my first husband and a few others. They were the guys who turned it into a place where magic happened, where we invented ourselves, invented many things that are now part of media history. There had to be a first time for everything, but it is weird to realize that you were there — as an observer and sometimes, as a participant — in the creation of things that are now so basic to the broadcast industry that they seem to have existed forever.

72-Peacham-Monday_022

Yet they had a beginning. WVHC at Hofstra University was an incubator, a rich supportive environment for a bunch of creative kids who had ideas. New ideas. Because it was a different time, freer, with looser structure at the school — before so many rules and limitations were put in place — we had a chance to create new ways to do stuff.

Quiet country roads

Quiet country roads

And here we are, remembering, savoring people we know, the parts we played. Recognizing that things we and our friends did — invented — have made a difference. Truly changed the world and our industry. We really did it.

And all of this in beautiful Vermont where the leaves are golden and the last corn awaits harvesting. It is magic time.

THE FAMILY AS WE MEET

Delayed Contact – How would you get along with your sibling(s), parent(s), or any other person you’ve known for a long time — if you only met them for the first time today?


How would I get along with them today? If I had just met them?

96-Matthew-HouseOnPaloAlto-1953

Probably not well. Mom might be an interesting person to talk to about her experiences in the thirties and forties. Her cynical take on politics and the way the world was going. Her disdain for government and the people who run it. Her dislike of “the old boys network” and the “old boys” in it were eternally amusing. She had a sardonic way of expressing herself that I think I have inherited. I miss her. She always had a unique “take” on whatever was going on.

I loved my brother though we had little in common but DNA. Our interests were so different. Our ways of dealing with the world almost diametrically out of phase. We shared a common understanding of how hard it had been to grow up in our world and come out unbroken.

96-MatthewAndMarilynApr1948

It’s a bit of a moot point whether or not we were unbroken, but we hid the damage well and managed to have productive lives. We were deeply supportive of each another. Yet I wonder. If we hadn’t been born to the same parents, would we have ever sought each other out? If Matt had lived longer — and so wish he had — we might have discovered more common ground as we matured. I wish we’d had the chance.

My sister was the odd child. Socially awkward and very much her mama’s darling, I think she watched me — especially me –with much envy and resentment, never understanding what it had cost me to break free of the family so young (I was barely 16) and go it on my own. I know she found me a hard act to follow … but she found life a hard act. By her mid 30s, she had retreated not only from the family, but from the world. She was a modern-age hermit and as far as I know, still is. Drug-addicted and lost, somewhere. She does not leave a forwarding address.

I’m always a bit envious of close-knit families, though I wonder what is hidden in there, what lies beneath the cheery surface. Maybe everything is just as you see it. Maybe not. It’s a bit late for me to find out because so much of my family has passed.

Maybe next time around the wheel.

TEN FAVORITE MOVIES* 2014 EDITION – GARRY ARMSTRONG

The title has an asterisk because this is an impossible post. I can’t begin to do justice to all the movies I love when limited to ten. However, a dear friend (and fellow movie maven) asked me to compile such a list for a project.

Inside the Loew's Valencia. Queens, New York.

Inside the Loew’s Valencia. Queens, New York.

I saw my first film at age four in 1946. I recall relatives saying I talked like a grown up, spouting familiar lines. Frequently they were lines from movies. That quirk would continue for the rest of my life right to the present.

I’ve had the good fortune to spend time with many of the legends from old Hollywood, which sometimes clouds my perspective. I become totally immersed with movies. I become part of the film, sharing the feelings of the characters. Love, hate, joy and sorrow. And now …

GARRY ARMSTRONG’S FAVORITE MOVIES –  SEPTEMBER 2014 VERSION

THE BEST YEARS OF OUR LIVES – 1946. The first movie I saw. I was 4-years old. Mom and Dad looked like a celebrity couple. Dad, just back from active duty in World War Two, seemed 10-feet tall in his uniform. The film’s theme, GI’s readjusting to civilian life, would become a personal issue in our family.

THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN – 1960.  If I love movies, I am passionate about westerns! I saw “The Magnificent Seven” 6 times during its first week in the theater. Steve McQueen was “the man”. All the stars were so very cool. Eli Wallach was a hoot as the Mexican bandit leader. His line, “Generosity, that was my first mistake” is my email tag.

INHERIT THE WIND – 1960. Every time it’s on, we watch it. Marilyn and I smile, anticipating the lines, waiting for the Spencer Tracy/Clarence Darrow monologues. The Tracy-Fredric March courtroom scenes are perfect. Two masters at work. Gene Kelly does his best dramatic work as the acerbic H.L. Mencken character.  The film’s an excellent classroom tool for anyone unfamiliar with the Scopes trial.

THE AMERICANIZATION OF EMILY – 1964. If you love great script and dialogues, this may be the all-time best movie. The real star is the script and its writer, Paddy Chayefsky. James Garner’s favorite movie and best film role. Garner was brilliant! Ably supported by Julie Andrews (her first dramatic role). Hard to watch a gung-ho action war flick after viewing this one.

TOMBSTONE – 1993. I came on board after the second or third viewing of this one because of Marilyn’s love of this version of the Earp saga. It’s fast-paced, well-acted, relatively authentic and beautifully photographed. The film gives us a jolt of vicarious pleasure as the good guys mow down the bad guys. We have coördinated Tombstone tee shirts.

GIGI – 1958. I remember seeing this first run. I was 16, head over heels in love with Leslie Caron. A couple of years earlier, I’d waited outside the tiny Trans-Lux Theatre in Manhattan where Caron’s “Lilli” had a record-breaking run. A wonderful musical. Music, sets, cast. Marilyn and I know the songs and sing along. It never gets old.

SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN – 1952. Maybe best musical. Ever. So many wonderful “numbers” including Gene Kelly’s iconic (I know the word is overused) title tune sequence. Once upon a time, I used to dance to work in the rain, just singing and dancing — like Gene Kelly. I got more than a few stares.

SHANE – 1953. Marilyn and I both saw this first run at the Loews Valencia in Queens, New York, but not together. The Valencia was like Radio City Musical Hall. Fantastic and huge, with a starlit ceiling. Alan Ladd’s finest performance thanks to director George Stevens. I’ve seen Shane dozens of times and still marvel at its photography and editing. “Reb” funeral scene is classic, cinematic magic.

S.O.B. – 1981. Blake Edwards scathing take on Hollywood. It didn’t endear him to tinsel town’s movers and shakers and they tried to sabotage S.O.B.’s distribution. William Holden and Julie Andrews head a wonderful ensemble cast. Holden’s dialogue to a suicidal friend could well have been Holden’s own eulogy.

CASABLANCA – 1943.  Who doesn’t love this film? I met co-writer Julius Epstein in the 70’s. He shared lots of great stories about the making of Casablanca. He said every day was crazier than the previous one, with new dialogue arriving as scenes were set up. We saw a remastered Casablanca on the big screen last year, a celebration of its 70th anniversary. Bogie and the gang were in their prime.


Ask me to my ten favorites next month. Different answers! Hoo-Ray for Hollywood!