Love ‘em or hate ‘em, the New York Yankees have produced the best players in baseball through the decades and the All-Star game sendoff last night for retiring closer, Mariano Rivera, produced one of the single, most iconic moments in the history of the sport.
When the best reliever to ever play the game was brought in to pitch the 8th inning he did not know there was a conspiracy afoot. The players on the American League squad had worked it all out. With the exception of the catcher, they would not take their places in the field until after the standing ovation from the New York crowd. And so the Panamanian-born Rivera stood alone, by himself, on the pitcher’s mound, his eyes welling up with tears. His fellow All-Stars from both leagues lined up in front of their dugouts, applauding.
As he was showered with love and respect from the players and fans and umpires, Rivera, as he has throughout his career, epitomized dignity and grace. And sheer talent. You don’t see too many 43 year-olds playing this game. But this is no ordinary player. He wasn’t selected for the All-Star game for the sentimental value. He got selected because he’s still earning it. He has an ERA under 2.00. He has 30 saves. He is a living legend and we are all fortunate to have seen such a talent sometime in our lives.
I am old enough to have seen Mickey Mantle, but at the time he was just a shadow of what he’d been. It was maybe five years ago when my friend from ABC News, Jeff Fitzgerald, invited me to a Yankee game back when I was living in the Big Apple. I distinctly remember Mariano coming into the game in the 9th for the save and Jeff saying, “You know, that’s the greatest closer of all time.” And everyone has known it for damn near two decades now.
So just for the record:
- 638 saves, already a major league record with about 20 more to go for the season at his current rate.
- A win/loss record of 77-60 and a career earned run average of 2.20.
- 13 All-Star games
- 5 World Series rings
- 1 World Series MVP award
- 1 ALCS MVP award
- 3-time League leader in saves
Not goodbye quite yet, Mr. Rivera, but that was one magic moment last night. Baseball fans from every nook and corner of the world, no matter what team they root for, will always remember him for his skill, that unhittable cut fastball and for being one of the class acts in the history of the game.
Baseball players can be jerks. Sometimes they ignore fans or practically snarl at them or walk right by when approached for an autograph or a photo. And talent is not a good indicator one way or the other of what kind of a human being a player is.
Bryce Harper has immense talent that is self-evident. A 20 year-old with the maturity of a 35 year-old in his approach to the game, he has an equal maturity as a just plain-old decent human being.
The picture above taken by Washington Post photographer John McDonnell (who used to work for the Loudoun Times Mirror eons ago) features Bryce shaking hands with Little League player, Gavin Rupp. Gavin has an inoperable tumor in his brain. Prior to his terminal prognosis, he had undergone surgery and other treatments and still kept his starting shortstop position on his youth travel team.
Word of Gavin’s situation reached the Washington Nationals and so it was that last Friday with the San Diego Padres in town, the club invited Gavin, his parents and his siblings to the ballpark. As Gavin’s family watched San Diego take their batting practice swings, Bryce Harper emerged from the dugout. Harper asked if they wanted to go out on the field. And they did. For a full hour, Bryce engaged the young man, took the lead in drawing him out and making him feel welcome and comfortable, gave the kid the cap off his head and treated him with the greatest dignity. Ball players don’t do this sort of thing for sixty minutes. Here’s The Post’s Adam Kilgore with the full story.
And then came July 4th. Bryce Harper lives in a penthouse apartment in my building in Arlington. He’s a rare sight. He drives his white Mercedes with the Bam Bam 34 plates directly into the garage, gets in the elevator to his floor and the only people who ever run into him are those folks who just happened to select the same elevator.
Every 4th of July, the management of the apartment building holds a little party for the tenants in the common ground with music and cotton candy, popcorn, burgers and dogs. And there he was this year, in a t-shirt, shorts and red sneakers, holding his sister’s brand new baby in his arms, hanging out with his girlfriend, family and a couple of other friends while his chocolate Labrador retriever, Swag, rolled in the grass. There were about 300 people at this event. Everyone knew Bryce was there. And everyone left him alone. Bryce, after the Nats had played the traditional July4th 11am game, felt comfortable enough to hang out with the residents and the residents minded their own business and just let him be.
Finally, Harper and girlfriend left the common ground, walking to a nearby restaurant and it was there he was finally approached- not by a resident, but by a casual fan walking down the street who happened to be wearing a Harper #34 uniform shirt. I overheard the exchange. “Oh my God- you’re Bryce Harper!” Bryce stopped and smiled. He immediately posed for a cell phone camera shot and shook the fan’s hand before moving on. He really does love the fans. At the player’s parking lot at National’s ball park, they’ll yell to him as he’s making his way to the white Mercedes and he waves and calls back at them with an ear-to-ear grin.
I’ve had heroes in my life. Mickey Mantle was one of them. He was Bryce’s hero too. Bryce wears #34 because the numbers 3 and 4 add up to 7- Mantle’s number. But my Mickey was deeply flawed. The first one, late in his life, to confess he had squandered one of the great baseball careers of all time, drinking and partying with the likes of Whitey Ford and Billy Martin. We all loved Mickey for his raw skill and seeming humility but in the end it turned out the bright lights were too much for the kid from Oklahoma. Too much pressure. Too much fear he would die young like many of the men in his family including his father. Too much, too soon.
Harper has none of this baggage. He has a large and supportive and healthy family. He is the definition of clean living. And he wears all that fame and talent with a great humility off the field, a great arrogance on it- the way it should be.
It is so nice to have a hero again. A guy you can look up to not just for his stats or hall-of-fame potential- but for his decency and kindness and understanding that while damned important, baseball, is part of life, not all of it.
It’s been an interesting journey to say the least but I am officially back at work at NPR today. So far so good. My colleagues have been so very kind and welcoming. I did not wilt in the heat. I did not get hit by cars in the street. My Dr. Seuss imitation will not be beat.
It’s been 7 weeks since the big cancer surgery. It feels like it’s my very first day at school. I went through the checklist before I left the apartment in the morning. Metro card- check. Reading glasses without which I would be blind- check. Cash- check. Sharpened #2 pencils- not necessary but you know what I mean.
My son, Charlie came up from Nashville and visited me over the weekend. “So how do you feel about going back to work, Dad?” The appropriate, manly, puritan work-ethic response would be, “Can’t wait!” The reality is that it’s another transition in a series of them.
First, a day before surgery you prepare yourself as best you can for uncertainty and what will be a long period of recovery. Psychologically, it’s like you get in the fetal position, let them do what they need to do and then just deal with it. I got through my 7 days of indignity at the hospital. The nurses and docs were all great, but it is just not possible to lie in bed with a tube attached to your nose that goes into your stomach or wear flimsy little hospital gowns and maintain any sense of decorum.
Then there’s the transition home and recovery. It’s a tricky business. You need to rest and sleep. You also need to walk and stay active. Too much rest and you just turn into a tub of Jell-O and your aches and pains get worse not better. Too much activity, and you get ashen-faced and literally hope you didn’t just bust a stitch.
A big transition, frankly, is when they take those stitches out. It’s hard to feel normal when you look down and see 36 metal staples holding your stomach together. After those puppies are gone, you start feeling a little less like Frankenstein.
And what did you do with all that time off, Robert? Well, I’d like to say I did research into the mating habits of Bonobo monkees or wrote a paper that helped to further define Einstein’s theory of general relativity. But, no. I read some great books. I watched three entire seasons of the Walking Dead (because who doesn’t enjoy eviscerating zombies) and two seasons of the Sopranos (which explains why I was overly distraught about the demise of James Gandolfini last week). I walked just about every day. Took in a couple of Nats games because, really, what an honor to be able to watch the worst offense in baseball in the past 30 years. And I completed a 5K walk in memory of my late colleague, Brenda Box, and in the process, raised a little money to fight pancreatic cancer.
And mostly, I attempted to accustom myself to the new rebuilt me. I call it Garcia 3.0. They took out a whole lot of my stomach so eating is a different kind of thing now. I can pretty much consume whatever I want, just smaller quantities, more often. I’m sometimes on the edge of nausea but it never lasts long. It happens if I don’t eat enough, eat too much and this is really interesting- when people get repetitive and annoying, particularly people on cable TV.
Next week, I start taking these chemotherapy pills. Hugely better than having to get infusions. The strategy as I understand it from my doctor, is to take 2 pills in the morning, 2 pills at night, Monday through Friday and do the best you can. You get weekends off to recover. On Fridays, they tell me, I’ll be beat and worn to a nub. But this particular regimen rarely results in either nausea or hair loss. Should I be the rare exception and lose my hair however, I’m telling you right now- I’m getting an earring.
So you take as much of this as you can for a minimum of four months, preferably six. Japanese doctors have their stomach cancer patients take the pills for a year. And when completed, presto! Cancer stays gone and 5-year survivability rates increase from 50 to 70%.
Next transition- getting home from work!
I am so psyched and happy to say that I’ve signed up to participate in a 5K Walk, June 15th, benefiting Purple Stride, an organization dedicated to fighting pancreatic cancer, which claimed a much beloved colleague and friend earlier this year.
Brenda Box was the afternoon editor with NPR’s Newscast unit. A kinder, warmer, funnier, sharper, smarter journalist-human will never be found. Here is a tribute to Brenda from a few months back. Accomplishing this 5K for her and in her memory is going to be very special to me. As Brenda’s health deteriorated last year, I developed a few complications of my own. It bonded us a bit more than most, I think. The very day I had an endoscopy this year that would find the cancer in my tummy that I’ve had to deal with, was also the day of Brenda’s memorial service which I proudly, if woozily, attended (they put you out for an endoscopy).
I walk about a mile a day now. Basically, to complete a 5K you take about 4,800 to 5,000 steps. I can easily handle about 2,400 currently. But I’ve got two weeks to build up to it. I can do this. It’s one hour of walking, for Christ’s sake.
One of the reasons for 5K walks like this, of course, is to raise money for the cause. Here’s a link if you would like to sponsor my walk. The group I’m with at Purple Stride is called the Boxtops. I would be very proud to raise money for any organization dedicated to the fight against any cancer.
I’m doing this for Brenda because I will always love her. And I’m doing it for me so I can prove to myself that I can take 5,000 steps six weeks after major cancer surgery. In some silly way, I feel like I’m taking the torch from Brenda, and having been given the gift of a curable cancer, that I am literally finishing the race for her. That will be her gentle push at my back. And her prankster foot I dodge in her ill-fated attempt to trip me. I’m on to you, Brenda.
I don’t mean to turn this blog into a personal medical site, but God apparently did, so….
We’re just past the halfway point of the short side of the theoretical recovery period after most of my stomach, a piece of my liver and my gall bladder all sacrificed themselves in an effort to annihilate a 5cm tumor that turned up in my stomach 14 years after receiving unnecessary radiation in that vicinity following a bout with testicular cancer.
OK, with the background out of the way, what’s it like to recover from major gastro-intestinal surgery? Meh. Some days are better than others. Some days are high energy, some days are low energy. What is a constant is sleep. This is the magic potion of healing. I can drop a 2-hour nap in a New York minute (I know- that sentence must be a gross metaphorical violation of some sort). The trick is getting 10-12 hours of sleep a day but not turn into a piece of the living room furniture. You have to get out. You have to walk. You have to get in the sun. You have to breathe the air. Sometimes easier said then done.
A few days ago, I made my first distant foray from home besides the hospital to take in a Nationals game that reliever, Drew Storen tried to ruin for me but it’s not really his fault- he didn’t know I was sick. The point is that when I mentioned my outing on Facebook, a friend noted “great you should be feeling so well to get out and about.” In fact, without going into any detail, I will tell you categorically that was the single worst day of my recovery that I have had. And that is precisely why I pushed on and decided it was imperative to get out and get TO the ballgame. And it worked. The field, the wind, the night air, the best game ever invented in the history of mankind- all conspired to make me feel vibrant and alive. It did wonders. Thanks to Drew, I got to leave after the bottom of the 8th and beat a lot of the subway crowd so even the Metro experience was pleasant.
This is about pushing the limits of your physical and mental boundaries.
One of the things I’ve done mentally, is divorce myself from the news within reason. I am in the news business so it goes against instinct. But I’m sorry, there is just too much conflict, violence, blood, natural disaster, evil, ego, banality, superficiality, celebrity-worship and general bullshit out there for it to possibly be healthy in any way to consume in large quantities at this time. I’ll catch up later.
One of the larger adjustments is in the area of nutrition, appetite, food. After leading a life, like most others I think, in which meals are defined by their taste, all bets are off now. Foods that I used to secretly crave (and which are advertised more than any other) like cheeseburgers, french fries, fried chicken, have lost their appeal. Food just tastes different. With a smaller stomach, I also eat much smaller amounts. And my appetite is all over the place. Sometime I have one, sometimes I don’t.
The trick now (and this is too funny for words) is keeping my weight up. After years of trying to watch my weight, I am currently losing about 4 pounds a week. Add it to the weight loss that occurred after surgery and a week of hospitalization and we’re talking nearly 30 pounds. Eventually this has to stop but right now, it feels great to be lighter.
In a couple of weeks I begin a discussion with my doctors about chemotherapy. They seem to be all gung-ho about the poisonous little cocktails they want to give me to prevent any return of cancer. They are going to have to convince me with science, research and logic. The white coats and air of authority will not be enough. Don’t get me wrong. I love my doctors. They have saved my life. I just don’t want a repeat of 14 years ago when the prevailing medical orthodoxy was to radiate the crap out of people. It’s one of my own doctors who tells me he is now constantly running into patients with tumors who received radiation 15 and 20 years ago. A debate for another day. For now, a few more weeks for healing from the sharp, steely knives.
They say God works in mysterious ways. I do believe the dude has tried to kill me several times in order to make me stronger and healthier. Eventually, this time, I think it’s going to take.
I last posted the night before major cancer surgery, expressing both confidence and alarm. It’s now been about ten days and I am doing extraordinarily great, especially considering the circumstances.
Here’s kind of a blow-by-blow:
Arrived at the Georgetown University Hospital Surgical Center Thursday, May 2nd at 6:30am. Everyone and I mean everyone on Georgetown staff is so cheery and positive and kind. Where do they find these people, I ask myself. They are like cheerful mutants from a faraway galaxy where there is no such thing, for example, as road rage.
I pick up my bracelet with my name and birth date so from here on out, no one accidently removes wrong body parts or gives mistaken medications. The bracelet also contains the bar code on which thousands of dollars of medications will be charged in the days ahead.
In the actual operating room I have a brief chat with the chief surgeon and crew. The gentleman performing the operation is the Surgeon-in-Chief of the Lombardi Cancer Center, Dr. Waddah Al-Refaie. I ask the doctor if he had a good night’s sleep and he confirms he is well rested and ready to rock and roll. At this point the anesthesiologists suggest that considering the length and complexity of an operation expected to result in the removal of 60% of my stomach, would I be up for an epidural? Incredibly strong pain killing meds delivered right into the spine and nerves? Yesireee, I would like that, gentlemen!
And that was the last thing I remembered. They put a tube in me to do the breathing while I was gratefully and completely and totally out like a light for the next 7 hours, 6 of which were actual operating time. Operations are like time travel. Your loved ones get briefed once an hour on what’s happening but for those of us on the table there is only before and after. There is no time in between.
I awake in post-op and my girlfriend, Millie is letting me know that while I was away, the surgeon did, indeed, take 60% of my stomach. And, oh, an extra 10% of ye’ old liver. Oh, and the gall bladder. Gall bladder’s gone but they found nothing wrong with it and they put it back. Still groggy, I make a mental note to revisit this analysis. I would be correct. Poor Millie had gotten lost in the fog of war. They don’t put stuff back after they take it out. But she was right that there was nothing wrong with it. They saw something they didn’t like that turned out to be benign. Goodbye gall bladder. Of questionable value as a mere bile creator to help the stomach handle fatty foods, I will not even miss the little guy. “And so…” sums up Millie, “The operation was a great success!”
I smile to hear this; still slightly alarmed they took some liver. But hey, it regenerates!
The next two days were mostly a sleepy haze. The boys with the epidural did a masterful job. Patients in hospitals are always being asked to gauge their pain on a 1 to 10 scale. The first 48 hours after this big a surgery I had pain of 0 to 1. That’s amazing. For all the advances in medicine, the single most important has got to be anesthesia and the art of pain killing.
But, alas, Saturday came and they’d have to stop the epidural- can’t keep that going for long- off to the land of IV drugs!
I honestly didn’t even look at my sutures until day 3. Nice job. Very handsomely done. I counted about 36 staples from below the belly button to the solar plexus. And they all hurt just a little bit! Dilaudid into the veins helped.
All of this stuff, by the way, is measured in small hourly and daily victories. The catheter comes out. Yay! Day 4, a day earlier than I thought, they pulled the NG tube. This is a fiendish device that during surgery is put into your nose and way down into the stomach. A kind of suctioning event is generated and bile and other bad things from the belly go into a vessel and the pressure also helps the stomach in some way no one adequately described to me. The NG tube was an unwelcome addition to my head. It also tethers you as much as an IV does. It’s really fun when they pull it out too. Oh, the laughs.
Run for your Lives- It’s Cable News!
And now here was the part of the hospital visit that sucked the very most. It wasn’t nurses and techs walking into your room at 4am to take your vitals or give you another blood-thinning injection. No, it was no longer being groggy enough to sleep the day away and being awake and alert. And ready to become the unsuspecting victim of CABLE TELEVISION.
This was the day Cleveland police officially arrested Ariel Castro and two of the three women the horrible little man tortured for a decade, returned to their homes. This was the day America’s favorite villainess, Jodi Arias, was convicted in the gruesome stabbing death of her boyfriend. This was the day of the Benghazi hearings. In other words, this was the kind of day that was created for Cable News. And, here I was, comfy in my hospital bed with my right trigger finger on the remote control.
Over on CNN, they covered everything in great detail, concentrating about 70% of their programming on the Cleveland House of Horrors. Nice coverage- couldn’t complain about a thing. They didn’t get any facts wrong. They brought in solid contributors along with their own paid experts and personalities like Nancy Grace. Over on Fox, no developing story of any magnitude could budge the network from its breathless coverage of the Benghazi hearings. One guy at the witness table almost cried. Another had triple the normal amount of emotion in his voice. I didn’t see what else there was to it by way of red meat…or new facts. And this is categorically not a political view on my part. I was just a highly drugged-up guy in a hospital bed switching from cable channel to cable channel.
On one channel, live TV crews watching the Cleveland women arrive home, stunning police news conferences; bizarre, sick revelations about the nightmare decade for these poor women. On the other channel, congressmen getting pissed or preening depending on their political persuasion and more white guys in suits at witness tables. Every now and again, Fox News anchors went away from the hearings to Fox News reporters to explain to people the significance of something that just happened in case they couldn’t discern it for themselves.
And then….the Jodi Arias verdict! This time, Headline News jumped into the fray, primed as they were positioning themselves as the Arias Verdict Network. This hurt them early in the week as they went live to Phoenix repeatedly for two days before there was any verdict or news. But now that the jury was back- Christmas for Headline News!
CNN adjusted and did a pretty darned good job covering both the Arias verdict and the House of Horrors. Over to Fox; continued highlights and analysis of the Benghazi hearings. By 6pm, even a Fox News anchor made reference to the fact there had been a lot of breaking news on this day but maybe tomorrow when it’s her birthday, they’ll let her cover all these other stories.
Then it was off to sports where I simultaneously monitored the Washington Nationals and Caps- the Nats on radio the Caps on the tube. Nats won, Caps lost. And they lost the next night too. I came close, but would later dismiss notions of suing the Capitals for emotional distress.
I wrapped up my TV orgy day with the Science channel and three straight one-hour episodes of Stephan Hawking on space travel, space aliens and wonders of the cosmos. It was an absolute pleasure to watch houses of horror, Benghazi hearings and murder verdicts shrink to their appropriate cosmological scale.
And I Thank You for Your Support!
Within two days I would be discharged. And here we are, about four days at home. I just got back from my first post-op consultation with the surgeon. The tumor was larger and invaded a bit more territory than everyone first thought. But no lymph node cancers. And none to be found anywhere else in the body. I am officially staged at stomach cancer 2b. This gives me about a 65% chance of living through the next five years, odds I gladly accept.
I will likely get some chemotherapy this summer and fall but the all the cancer has been surgically removed. We’re talking preventative measures. Then after a few months of that loveliness it’s just a matter of monitoring until five years from now, we can all declare, “case closed.”
And I do not accept alternate outcomes.
To my friends:
I thank you for the books, the magazines, the musical play lists, the T-shirts, the kind sympathy cards, the wicked-funny cards, the thoughts, prayers, animal sacrifices and smudge ceremonies and as the three words on my blue left wristband say- for the love, the hope and the faith too.
We are beating this together. Thank you for that.
The following account includes details of human biology that could make normal people a little queasy. It’s an honest account and, I might add, a therapeutic one for the author.
Last time somebody opened up my stomach and took a gander it was all quite spontaneous. You see, the stomach is supposed to be a sterile environment. But in my case last October, an undiagnosed ulcer perforated. It was a mess. Suffice to say I was en route to getting numerous rapid and intense infections that would make me, if left unattended- a dead man by morning. But waking up that day not knowing I would later be taking an ambulance ride to the ER had its advantages. At least I had no idea what was about to take place.
Now, some six months later, after an endoscopy performed to check on my progress from the perforated ulcer operation discovered- oops- a tumor- they’re going to open me up again. Only this time I know exactly when; 8am, ET, Thursday, May 2nd, 2013. They’ve blocked off 6 and half hours of operating room time to get a 1 to 2 centimeter superficial carcinoma out of my body and cure me. I’m grateful for that. It was caught early. Stomach cancer is not curable in later stages. And, of course, to be on the safe side, cancer-fighting doctors are using an AK-47 to wipe out a gnat, so they’re also going to remove 60 to 70% of my stomach.
I am likely to be going from being an overweight former smoker, to being a perpetually slender and much healthier former smoker. God works in mysterious ways.
But the knowing is not fun. I am sentimentally enjoying meals I know I am not going to be having again for six months. Even sipping from a water bottle is a luxury. In less than 24 hours, I will be lying in a Georgetown University hospital bed with a tube running from my nose into my stomach while an IV pushes saline solution, antibiotics and painkillers into my bloodstream. No water or even crushed ice for at least 2 to 3 days. You get nothing but a moist tooth brush type thing to keep your mouth sort of hydrated. You know it’s bad when you start salivating at the mere thought of green Jell-O. Forget solid food for 3 to 4 weeks. Welcome to the wonderful world of nutritionists teaching you how to eat six small meals a day.
I generally have a very good attitude about these health things. But only because I suspect I’m going to live to laugh about it. I would not be this sanguine if the situation were dire. Still, dark thoughts enter the mind from time to time. Will this be the 5% of operations that have complications? What happens if they mess up the anesthesia and you have a massive coronary or something? Do you see the white light and the tunnel and everything if you’re knocked out on heavy drugs? Who do I bitch to about a bad outcome if I’m, like, dead? Will they get all of it so I can avoid post-operative chemotherapy? What if it’s worse than they thought and I awake from the operation and they tell me the whole stomach or some other organ is gone?
But then I remember they have done about 3 bazillion tests on me so they have a pretty good idea of what they’re dealing with. I have Dr. Waddah Al-Refaie, Surgeon-in-Chief (that’s his actual title) of the Vince Lombardi Cancer Center at Georgetown University performing the operation. I also realize how fortunate I am to be alive in this day and time when there is so much knowledge about these terrible diseases that used to be death sentences. Perhaps most importantly, I remember there are so many folks so worse off than me and my stupid stomach.
I have a health directive in place. Finances are in order. My peeps know who to call if stuff goes south.
To my many wonderful family, friends and co-workers with whom I have shared the cancer news in recent weeks and who have been so sweet and supportive- THANK YOU! But just because it’s early stage cancer and an operation may cure me, doesn’t mean you can stop praying. No siree. Keep those going please. Especially from 8am-2pm on Thursday, May 2nd.
Speaking of prayers- here’s an Irish joke somewhat appropriate for the occasion:
An Irishman is flustered not being able to find a parking space in a large mall’s parking lot.
“Lord,” he prays,” I can’t stand this. If you open a space up for me, I swear I’ll give up drinking me whiskey, and I promise to go to church every single Sunday.”
Suddenly, the clouds part and the sun shines on an empty parking spot. Without hesitation, the man says, “Never mind, found one!”
I vented about this almost two years ago and there’s a growing chorus of respectable journalists like Tom Brokaw who have vocally joined the cause. Whatever the hell that function is that used to pass as the White House Correspondents Dinner is now so over the top, so disgusting in its opulence and crassness and such an incestuous and inappropriate coupling of the so-called independent media and those they are supposed to cover impartially- that it’s no wonder the public can’t stand either the blowhards who populate politics and Hollywood or the blowhards who cover them.
But as the Washington Post points out, the dirty little secret is that this dinner is actually about corporate interests. The celebrities are really the window dressing; the honey that attracts the corporations- i.e.- potential advertisers that populate the Washington Hilton dinner tables and after-parties as much as the so-called stars. Yes, cash-strapped news organizations that fire journalists every quarter, spend upwards of a quarter a million dollars a year without batting an eyelash in order to host a party that draws the stars that, in turn, draws the CEO’s and CFO’s and maybe, if they’re lucky, get a little money spent on banner ads and 60-second spots. There’s no way of knowing how much return there is on the investment. And no, you can’t blame media companies for trying to find funding- but this really has become an unseemly orgy of power, celebrity and money mongering.
Not that the celebrity portion of this is tasteful or measured in any way. For example, it was revealed this week that the White House Correspondent’s Association is threatening to sue a company over its use of the WHCA name to invite celebrities to its “gifting” suite on the night of the dinner. That’s right, a “gifting” suite. Bags of expensive swag only for the celebrities being invited by the various media companies. This is like the goodie bags they hand out at the Oscars. New this year and offered as yet another exhibit of the superficiality of this once fun and interesting event.
The point of this event used to be to give reporters an opportunity to invite their sources to a nice dinner where there would be humorous speeches by special guests as well as the President of the United States. It all changed in the 1980’s when then celebrity-of-the-moment, Fawn Hall, got an invite on the strength of being Oliver North’s secretary. Then the following year, Donna Rice of Gary Hart fame got an invite. Now, media companies shell out 1st class airfare, hotel suites and cold, hard cash to get the buzziest celebs.
So as this celebration of incestuous trough feeding continues to morph into the grotesque, with Lindsey Lohan and the Kardashians supplanting the Donna Rices and Fawn Halls, let’s call this what it really is: the erection of more and more walls separating politicians, corporations, and the media from the public- the people who elect the pols, give corporations their profits and read, listen or watch the media. The little people are not welcome on this day except behind the rope lines to watch the preening on the red carpet.
The current President of the WHCA, Ed Henry of Fox News, justifies all of this decadence by pointing out that over $100,000 is raised to support needy kids hungry for scholarships. A good cause, indeed. But considering the money media companies spend to put on their parties and fly in their celebrities, really, 100K is chump change. It ought to be more like a cool million. So here’s an idea, Ed. For 100K, hold a friggin’ bake sale. Hey- it’s all about the scholarships. Right.
Well, NPR is moving. Most everyone except Newscast, Digital News and Technical Operations has left the old building at 635 Massachusetts Avenue for the beautiful new headquarters building at 1111 North Capital Street. We, the stragglers go last- next week.
What will become of the old building that housed NPR for some two decades? It will be destroyed in just a few weeks; demolished and turned to dust. So….what do a few hundred snarky, already cynical NPR-types do to a building they know will cease to exist in a few short weeks?
Graffiti! Big time Graffiti. On all the walls, the elevators, the CEO’s old office bathroom. You name it. The entire place has been turned into a kind of performance art canvass where features of the building itself are part of the show. We have been unleashed like 6 year-olds with finger paints.
Here’s the old, handy, 3rd floor defibrillator:
NPR’s Supreme Court/Legal correspondent, Nina Totenberg, is photographed by White House correspondent, Ari Shapiro as she leaves behind her mark…
Later, an unnamed colleague added their snarky rejoinder:
The old building had its quirks. There was only one elevator that actually took you up to the 7th floor cafeteria. All other elevators took to you to the 6th floor and you’d have to walk up a flight of stairs. But that one elevator that went all the way up was also very, very popular. It could take up to 5 minutes or longer before you’d hear the cheesy little bell that signaled its arrival.
This is one of the other elevators. It featured a special guest rider all Friday afternoon. I maintain we are the only major radio network in the world with a headphone-wearing mannequin.
And continuing with the elevator theme- some are taking the move rather philosophically:
We always wondered what this old 3rd floor valve did, exactly. And we still wonder but just to be on the safe side….
For some reason, beards have been a big theme this week. It started Thursday when I attended a Washington Nationals baseball game and my good friend, Walter Ludwig, whom I had invited, noted the very excellent beard sported by right fielder, Jason Werth.
Exceptionally full and outdoorsy, even woodsman-like, I’d say.
The beard theme continued Friday when I read this article in The Hill about the creation of a political action committee dedicated to the financial backing of bearded candidates, regardless of party affiliation or ideology.
This PAC is for real. The paperwork for the Bearded Entrepreneurs for the Advancement of a Responsible Democracy (BEARD) was filed with Federal Election Commission Wednesday by a Jonathan Sessions, who describes himself on his website as a member of the board of education in Columbia, Missouri.
Sessions notes, as did this fine article on Slate.com nearly a year ago, that Benjamin Harrison was the last U.S. President to fashion a beard and that it’s high time political beards came back into fashion.
As this touches on Presidential history, one of my absolute favorite areas of study and expertise, some cursory research finds there were five American Presidents with actual beards:
Rutherford B Hayes
This period of 1861 to 1893 was truly the high point for Presidential beards. The only exceptions were Andrew Johnson who had no facial hair at all and was, perhaps not coincidentally-impeached; Chester Alan Arthur, who did sport impressive mutton chops- and Grover Cleveland, one of our four mustachioed Chief Executives (the others: Arthur, Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft). Early Presidents, John Quincy Adams and Martin Van Buren were also mutton chop enthusiasts but did not have mustaches (or beards).
Since Taft, we have had nothing but clean shaven Presidents beginning with Woodrow Wilson who was inaugurated in 1913. The first patent for a safety razor, by the way, was issued in 1880 but even then the early razors still needed to be sharpened by professionals. The point is that about 1916, some 15 years after the release of the first disposable razor, there was widespread adoption of this remarkable tool from Gillette. Politics has not been the same since.
The political beard article in Slate, by the way, points out that recent adoption of beards was significantly stymied by the images of both hippies and Fidel Castro.
This trend could have been stopped dead in its tracks had Richard Nixon done a Richard Nixon to China thing with beards (the analogy that’s probably outdated now about how only an anti-communist could escape political peril offering peace to communists).
That is, I must say, a pretty cool looking Tricky Dick.
And then, of course, there’s this gentleman:
And that, ladies and gentlemen, makes beards as American as: