All through this long holiday period, I have been thinking of people who set an example for the rest of us.
Now I wish I had not found this one.
In the final week of an unsettling year, a young soldier – an immigrant, yes – risked his life once, twice, three times, four times, to save people in a horrendous fire in the Bronx. And then he went back a fifth time and did not survive.
A week before, I had filed my final post of the year -- a reminder (to myself) to light a candle rather than curse the darkness. (Whole lot of cursing going on.)
Emmanuel Mensah from Ghana personified the selflessness we all like to think we could demonstrate, if we had to….if it presented itself….
I came up with other examples, people I actually know.
My friend Mendel of Jerusalem is a rabbi and family therapist (and writer, and runner, and Mets fan from Queens) who volunteers as a counselor with EMT units.
We met for lunch on Long Island during his home visit. He told me that while trained medics deal with the physical part of a crisis, Mendel finds anybody who needs support.
He never knows what language or accent he will hear when he takes somebody’s hand. They could be Jewish or Muslim or Christian. He does not care. He ministers. He lights the candle.
Then I thought about my wife’s uncle Harold from Maine. He recently turned 95 and can no longer have home-made fish chowder and pie waiting for us when we drive up U.S. 1.
Harold says he would like to be “with family” – aging, scattered -- but his “family” is right there in Bath, where he has lived most of his life.
There is Ace, a surrogate son who returns regularly from the Southwest, and Cookie, a surrogate daughter who drives up from southern New England; they have skillfully handled the complicated details of a loved one who lives a very long time.
There is Eric, whose family has been intertwined with Harold and his late wife Barbara. There is Martha, who drives Harold to the doctor even as she works full-time. There is Ann, the friend and nurse who has given diligent counsel.
There is Germane and her daughter Diane, and Rich and Suzanne, and Bill, an in-law, and Kristi, retired Army colonel and nurse, who watched over Harold in a lovely retirement complex, as long as it was feasible.
We have witnessed the best example of a classic American town, actually bustling with work (building warships on the Kennebec River, which Harold dredged in 1941) and the good will of people who know who they are, where they are from.
But let’s double back to Emmanuel Mensah, from Ghana. The Times says he joined the Army National Guard and recently passed basic training. He planned to go on active duty, but before he did, there was a fire in the building.
At the end of a dark year, I visualized Emmanuel Mensah’s military training – the preparation to protect people, to back up your buddies, to serve. In the months to come, I count on that developed impulse to follow rules.
I suspect Emmanuel Mensah’s fine instincts as a human being, from his homeland of Ghana, were encouraged by the American military: when bad stuff is happening, go toward it.
Emmanuel Mensah, an immigrant, saved lives in his final minutes on this earth. In the new year, his example shines.
My wife received a Christmas email from Manjusha, a social worker in a poor corner of India, a friend since Marianne was doing volunteer work with children there. Manjusha added, “The life is really uncertain – maintaining internal peace is the only aim.”
Her message struck a chord with both of us. In the past year I have found myself reciting the Serenity Prayer to myself:
God grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.
It works just as well if addressed to a higher power, or to common wisdom. In a dark time, it helps.
*-- Quote often attributed to Confucius, or Eleanor Roosevelt, traced to sermon by William L. Watkinson, USA, in 1907.
+- Serenity Prayer attributed to Reinhold Niebuhr. Full version.
This is the best news I have heard in a long time. My friend Omar Minaya is coming back, restoring his talent and personality to the Mets.
This is what I wrote about Minaya's homecoming in 2006:
I will let fans and writers have their opinions of Minaya's regime as general manager. I only know what with his eye for talent and his positive view of the world he makes the Mets better on this homecoming.
Bienvenido a casa. Benvenuto a casa. Welcome Home.
METS NAME OMAR MINAYA SPECIAL ASSISTANT TO GM
FLUSHING, N.Y., December 22, 2017 – The New York Mets today announced that the club has named Omar Minaya a Special Assistant to General Manager Sandy Alderson.
Minaya, 59, spent the last three years as the Senior Advisor to the Executive Director for the Major League Baseball Players Association. Minaya worked for the Mets from September 23, 1997-February 11, 2002 where he was a Senior Assistant GM who was responsible for overseeing the Mets International Scouting department. He returned to the organization on September 30, 2004 as the club’s General Manager, a role he held until October 4, 2010.
“Omar has a long history with the Mets,” said Alderson. “He has served the club well in many different areas. Omar will be a resource on scouting and player development, will consult on player acquisitions and will serve as a community ambassador. We are very happy to have him back in the organization.”
Minaya became baseball’s first Hispanic GM when he was appointed by MLB as the Vice President and General Manager of the Montreal Expos on February 12, 2002. Minaya served as the San Diego Padres VP of Baseball Operations from December, 2011-January, 2015. He worked for the Texas Rangers from 1985-1997 in the scouting department. Minaya was a member of the Selection Committee for the United States Olympic and Pan American Baseball teams in 2000, when both won gold medals.
“I’m excited to return to an organization that I love,” said Minaya. “I’m thrilled I can return to scouting and developing young talent. I look forward to working for Sandy and his staff.”
I am ecstatic for Yankee fans, really. Happy they have Giancarlo Stanton to go along with Aaron Judge. More homers in the Bronx. The natural order.
Mostly, I am happy for good friends like Big Al, like Marty, who share their Yankee highs and Yankee lows with me.
Now I read that the Yankees have signed the aging warrior C.C. Sabathia for $10-million for another season. How nice to have owners who spend money like that.
But: it’s that time of year – the holidays, good will to all.
I must admit, I am feeling the opposite emotion of the holidays –deprivation, not getting enough toys.
As a Met fan, cooped up indoors at this time of year, I remember how Mets games helped get me through last season, trying to avoid unpleasant subjects I will not mention.
I rooted for Curtis Granderson and Jay Bruce and Neal Walker and the best defensive catcher on the team, René Rivera, and Addison Reed, with his cap cockily tilted sideways after a successful inning. Then they all got shipped out.
The Mets have a new manager I never heard of.
They just signed a long reliever I never heard of.
Now I find myself playing a mental game:
Name one position in the Mets lineup, offense or defense, that is really secure.
C: Travis d’Arnaud tries hard. Kevin Plawecki is big. The Mets are bringing Jose Lobatón into camp, as a non-roster catcher. Adds up to – what?
1B: Dominic Smith showed some power but other times looked like the second coming of Mo Vaughn.
2B: Nobody has mentioned Weeping Wilmer Flores, who is what we Brooklyn fans used to call “The Peepul’s Cherce.”
3B: Asdrubal Cabrera aged five years last year. Jose Reyes is unsigned.
SS: Amed Rosario showed youth and flash. But Ron Darling or Keith Hernandez were often saying (but nicely): “Oooh, he shouldn’t have done that.”
LF: Yoenis Cespedes was dragging in the first television spring exhibition. He kept breaking down. I suspect that football physio from Michigan only made Céspedes worse. Maybe terminally.
CF: Juan Lagares is altering his swing for more power. Three years ago he looked like Curt Flood. What went wrong?
RF: Michael Conforto was having a streaky year. Then he got hurt.
Pitching: Jacob deGrom. The best we have. Thor better stop lifting those freaking weights, or maybe it’s too late. The Dark Knight needs to leave Gotham City.
None of this is any consolation at the onset of bleak winter.
I cannot imagine watching this team, even as distraction from unpleasant subjects I will not mention.
I am happy for pals like Big Al, like Marty. Very happy.
But I am just asking: in the grand tradition of my home town, with all those gift packages heading to Yankee Stadium, would it be so terrible if something happened to, um, fall off the truck?
While waiting for the Alabama results to solidify Tuesday night, I was reading the obit for Roy Reed.
Roy was the great stylist when I was a rookie on the highly literate National staff of the New York Times in the early ‘70s. He could describe the exotica of New Orleans, where he was based, with the same fervor and grace he had shown in the head-breaker Deep South of the Civil Rights decade.
For me, he was the correspondent to emulate. I even noticed the conservative dark-blue pinstriped suits he wore on more formal occasions, making him look like a senator.
Roy Reed was from rural Arkansas and he never forgot it. I know he would have loved the campaign in Alabama – a candidate who prosecuted the murderers of little black girls vs. a candidate who stalked teen-agers in shopping malls and outside public buildings.
Fortunately, the Times and other great journals have deep and talented staffs these days, to capture the ludicrous spectacle of a hustler from New York conning people out there in America.
Also fortunately, I was able to hear Howell Raines, another of those great southerners who have graced the Times, talking about his beloved rural Alabama on MSNBC Tuesday night and also via a recent op-ed piece in the Times.
There was a great tradition of writers on that National staff when I joined it in 1970. Gene Roberts, who had covered civil rights and Vietnam, was the national editor, expanding his staff, and he called this young baseball reporter and said, “I like the way you rot.”
I sussed out that this was the charming accent of a self-styled “freckle belly” from eastern North Carolina who meant “the way you write.” Gene sold me. He and his deputy, David R. Jones, sent me off to Louisville to cover Appalachia.
What a staff. Roy Reed in New Orleans. My dear friend Ben Franklin plus John Herbers and so many other good people in the Washington bureau. Jon Nordheimer and Jim Wooten in Atlanta. Paul Delaney in Chicago. B.D. Ayres in Kansas City. Jerry Flint in Detroit, John Kifner in Boston and so many others further from my region.
(There was only one African-American, Delaney, and no women; the only way I can explain it is, “It was 1970.” Further down the decade, under Dave Jones, the NYT added Grace Lichtenstein in Denver as the first female national correspondent and later Molly Ivins, Judith Cummings, E.R. Shipp and Isabel Wilkerson, who would win a Pulitzer under Soma Golden's editorship.)
In my years, a kind day editor, Irv Horowitz, in New York, kept track of us, and great copy editors had the time and mandate to ask you to rewrite something so it would read better.
We communicated by telephone – not email and not cell phones. Such a primitive era. I relied on these older professionals to teach me something, anything, by osmosis.
I would like to correct one statement in that obit concerning Roy Reed: It said he was down the road getting a soft drink when James Meredith was shot on his epic protest walk through Mississippi in 1966, and that Roy’s respectful colleagues later presented him with a Coke bottle trophy that said “WHERE’S ROY REED?” in memory of his brief absence.
The fact is, there was another day when Roy turned up missing.
Dave Jones, our ringmaster in New York, was trying to find someone to get to a story in the South that seemed urgent at the time. (I can no longer remember what it was.) Dave tried me in Louisville. No answer. Dave tried one of the Atlanta guys. No answer. Dave tried Roy Reed in New Orleans. No answer. Ever diligent, Dave solved the problem some other way, and the world went on.
A few days later, the mystery was solved. A delightful March zephyr had moved north from the Gulf into Louisiana, into Georgia, and even to the southern banks of the Ohio River in Kentucky. All three correspondents had been, shall we say, indisposed.
On the phone, I asked Roy where he had been when the office was looking for us.
In his Arkansas drawl, Roy said: “Hidin’ out.”
I adopted his phrase for times when I was unfindable. Bless the era before cell phones. Bless the southern phrases, the southern outlook, I learned to understand from my colleagues, better reporters than I ever would be. And bless Roy Reed, for writing about a region that continues to produce great stories, from the new generation.
Nina Simone was voted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame this week. She passed in 2003; what took them so long?
Not sure what Simone would have thought about that, but she surely would have loved the vote in Alabama Tuesday night.
A candidate who was receptive to the integration of his high school back in the day beat out a religion-spouting accused pedophile who thinks slavery came during a good time for families in America.
Simone knew it all, put it into her music. She was an American treasure.
She mentions Alabama way up high in her signature song, “Mississippi Goddam.”
Ladies and gentlemen, Miss Nina Simone:
One of the best things on television in the past decade was The Brain Series by Charlie Rose.
The body of work exists – on line, easily accessible, and etched in the memories of viewers like my wife, who listened and learned.
The leader of the discussions was Dr. Eric R. Kandel of Columbia University, whose knowledge and manner commanded the screen. The other guests were also brilliant, and Rose raised his game considerably, moving things along and actually listening to the experts.
Now we are left with the image of a powerful man parading around his apartment in an open bathrobe, terrorizing young female colleagues.
How do we process this?
The series remains. I suspect the science and the humanity will remain pertinent, at least until future discoveries add to the knowledge.
Can people live with a focused Charlie Rose moderating a landmark series?
Can people live with their vinyl and CDs and downloads of James Levine conducting opera?
Everybody has to live with their memories. I won’t miss Matt Lauer because I never, ever, watch morning TV. I don’t know how to gauge the widely variant charges or suspicions about John Hockenberry and Leonard Lopate and Jonathan Schwartz (and Charlie Rose), all of whom have interviewed me respectfully, let me hustle my books. What was it like for the capable women in those studios who made a visit so successful?
Harvey Weinstein is easy. He is a monster who produced some great movies but he is a monster just for what he did to that beautiful and spirited and talented Annabella Sciorra, whom I have loved since she sang in "Mister Wonderful."
(Go ahead, look at the video, watch her ex eat his heart out.) I want to be on the Weinstein jury. That’s all I’m saying.
Then there is Garrison Keillor. There were years when we built our Saturday afternoons and evenings around his radio show – times when my wife and I sat in a parking lot outside a restaurant until he finished his weekly visit to Lake Wobegon (the one about a man driving his young family back to Minnesota for the holidays, the one about the pioneer who dies in the badlands, never getting to see the Pacific.)
Keillor never presented himself as anything more than flawed. (His radio alter ego was reminded of this by his own mother, who couldn’t remember his name.) He added his human complexities to his voice, his words, his image.
Now he is accused of – he says – sliding his hand into the back of an open blouse. A mistake, he says, which happened while consoling a woman. Keillor says he is not a tactile person, and I believe it. In past decades, I interviewed him maybe half a dozen times on the phone but never quite got to have a conversation even at rehearsals at Town Hall in New York. He nodded in recognition -- and kept moving. A shy guy. Who knows about him?
Keillor played himself in a movie about his last radio show, art predicting life. The Robert Altman movie, “A Prairie Home Companion,” has an amazing cast, not the least of whom is Virginia Madsen as a redhead in a white raincoat who, he realizes, just may be an angel of death, with her eye on him. (She died in a car wreck while laughing at his radio joke, she tells him, as he edges away.)
The movie (Altman’s last) is classic Altman, in that you have to listen to overlapping conversations – a stretch for younger audiences. One of the subplots involves Meryl Streep as a country singer on the show, who was once Keillor’s girlfriend, and every so often she reminds him of exactly that.
He knows she is in pain that he caused. The ringleader figure in the movie is a creep, but a talented, sensitive, guilty creep. How human, art imitating life.
Now the question is, what do we do with the education, the art, the culture, from people (men, in this context) who seem to be varying scales of creep?
We have a major creep running for the Senate in Alabama.
We have a serial creep as President.
We have creeps of all major parties.
Meantime, I can watch Keillor in that movie over and over again. Some day when I grow up and develop a brain, I plan to watch the Brain Series, but for the moment we are left with the major creep in the bathrobe who caused such pain.
David Vecsey's sweet tale of distant love before the Web, now NYT Podcast, narrated by Griffin Dunne. Please see:
George Vecsey is Hofstra University's Alumnus of the Month! Read a Q&A with George here.