YOUR HUDDLED MASSES

In 1883, Emma Lazarus wrote the poem “The New Colossus” to help raise funds for a base for the Statue of Liberty. We all know, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” What to make of those words today?

I love the Statue of Liberty. In February 1906, Chaim Shlioma and Kayleh Perelstein, their 2-1/2-year-old son Moishe—my father Morris—and two daughters, Elka and Etka, sailed into New York Harbor. They’d left Warsaw, Poland, then part of the Russian Empire, because opportunities there for Jews were scant and pogroms frequent, like those in Kishinev and Kiev in 1905.

I fantasize that my grandfather held little Moishe aloft and pointed to “The Lady.” America!

From 1885, Eastern Europe’s huddled masses—Jews, Poles, Slavs, Italians, Greeks (many Germans and Irish came earlier)—entered America by the millions. In 1924, Congress slammed the door shut. America, which long excluded Chinese and savaged its black citizens, had grown increasingly anti-Semitic. Only white Protestants need apply.

Sounds familiar? Yet the huddled masses continued to bring their dreams from every corner of the planet and helped build—and defend—this nation. In one generation, the descendants of the “wretched refuse” became “real” Americans. Should America now fear new additions?

It’s sensible to continually reassess immigration policy, because while history may repeat itself, it’s neither cyclical nor entirely linear. But change is real.

The Perlsteins (we later dropped an “e”) arrived in New York only 12 years after the American frontier was declared closed. Oklahoma, New Mexico and Arizona were territories. (Alaska and Hawaii became states more than 50 years later.) In 1906, America’s population was 85 million. The nation sought immigrants to work on farms and ranches, in mines, steel mills, factories, stockyards and urban sweatshops. Immigrant laborers would swell production and also serve as consumers.

The dream of America in a challenging world continues. But our population is 330 million while our land mass remains the same. That population has shifted. As eastern and northern cities aged, we flooded the Sun Belt. Oklahoma City has more people than Baltimore, Albuquerque more than Cleveland, and Phoenix—the nation’s sixth largest city—more than Boston and Detroit combined. Our most populous state? California.

We’re now post-industrial with artificial intelligence threatening millions of jobs. We need fewer strong backs, more education. As always, the poor will need help. A century ago, family along with religious and community groups helped pave the way. Public assistance wasn’t an option. There was none. Today’s non-profits will need to step up their game.

This stated, we can and should welcome new immigrants. We still need farm workers, meat packers, restaurant workers, roofers and healthcare workers. More doctors and nurses, too. So, how many of who?

We’ve yet to hold an objective, expertise-based national discussion. Congress concerns itself with the immigration’s politics. The president, a nativist, and his far-right supporters want educated Europeans—whites. The far-left preaches virtual open borders, leaving unconsidered impacts on federal, state and local budgets, as well as on social upheaval.

It’s critical to salute the ideals represented by the Statue of Liberty while seeing things as they are—to be hard-headed without hardening our hearts. I believe that “The Lady” I love gets that.

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GUILTY ME

Not to demean or dismiss America’s recent mass shootings in California, Texas and Ohio, but I want to point the finger at the next culprits: me and my family.

You can take President Trump’s word. Last Monday, he cited several factors contributing to the nation’s wave of mass shootings: the Internet and social media, “gruesome and grisly video games” and mental health laws. True?

I use the Internet, although I limit my social media to Facebook where someone I know occasionally re-posts vile stuff. So maybe social media doesn’t make me a threat.

Video games? My son Seth works as a hard-surface modeler for a New Orleans studio supplying visual elements to major video game publishers. He’s also a big gamer. Violent? No.

I don’t play video games, but I read books and watch TV. I recently finished The Thirst by the Swedish mystery author Jo Nesbo. Grisly. I’m concluding another Swedish mystery with a historical setting, The Wolf and the Watchman by Niklas Natt Och Dag. More grisly. Carolyn read them too.

TV? We loved The Sopranos, Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones. Also, we just finished season three of Stranger Things: a monster, gruesome deaths and legitimate killings by a police chief using a machine pistol. Are Carolyn and I candidates for mental health intervention? I don’t think so.

Yes, I believe hate posted on the Internet and violent media may stir those with mental-health issues to commit violence. Online white supremacy and anti-Semitism can, too. Do the latter represent forms of mental illness? They’re abhorrent, but I’m not sure. Either way, I support red flag laws and background checks. But consider this . . .

Americans are 10 times more likely to be killed by guns than people in other developed countries, according to The American Journal of Medicine. Yet our rates of mental illness are about the same. Moreover, people in other countries play violent video games and see violent movies as much as we do. So why are their gun-death rates so much lower?

Per capita, Americans own far more guns. These include military-style weapons designed solely to kill other human beings in war. What reason is there for civilian ownership? Military-style weapons have nothing to do with the Second Amendment—or the Second Amendment needs repealing. Such weapons, using high-capacity magazines and clips, deliver high rates of deadly fire that overwhelm the muskets and single-shot, ball-and-powder rifles and pistols of 250 years ago.

Will we get rid of all military-style weapons? Alex Kingsbury in today’s New York Timesdoesn’t think so. Many will be hidden away and, if cared for, remain functional for a long time. But criminalizing ownership along with the manufacture and import of these weapons can make a difference.

The NRA opposes this, and they exercise clout. Donald Trump and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell snuggle up together in the NRA’s pocket.

I don’t suggest that removing Trump and McConnell from office, while highly desirable, should involve violence or insurrection. That’s wrong morally. Also pragmatically. Federal law-enforcement professionals would be knocking on my door with their AR-15 rifles and similar weapons

And yes, the FBI’s weapons are similar to those we let anyone purchase in much of this nation.

Talk about mental health issues—that’s crazy.

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OUR CHILDREN, OUR CHOICES

Americans love choices. But choosing can be frustrating. Which flavor? Style? Color? Buy a house? Rent? New car? Used? Leased? But not everything in life involves choice. If a large segment of Americans comes to see that, our nation will come closer to upholding the family values they promote.

Last Sunday, Carolyn and I went to the brunch drag show at Hamburger Mary’s on Castro Street. A friend of Carolyn’s was performing. A ballet dancer and choreographer who grew up in London, Rex enjoys entertaining in drag and is a wonderful performer. No one high kicks like he does. Going on stage is Rex’s choice. Being who he is—a gay man—is not.

Many Americans still believe that people choose to be gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, transgender or “other.” Not so. I never chose to be a straight guy. I just am. Same for Carolyn as a straight woman. And our oldest son Seth.

On the other hand, our son Yosi never chose to be a transgender man. He discovered that’s who he was. His choices involve expressing who he is. The same is true of my son Aaron and his husband Jeremy (who celebrate their 7th anniversary in a week). Being gay is who they are. Yet they make an important choice every day—to be proud of who they are as human beings. And they have lots to be proud of.

Of course, Carolyn and I had a “choice”: accept or reject Yosi and Aaron. No contest. They are our children. We loved them from the womb. We love them still. All we wanted from our kids is that they be true to themselves and live their own lives, not lives imposed on them.

Still, choices confront us daily. Some are trivial, others critical. One supposed choice should be seen as no choice at all: Do unto others. Let all people live their lives unmolested as we wish to.

Unfortunately, bad choices have emanated from the White House. Donald Trump decided that transgender men and women may no longer serve in our military. Many patriotic trans Americans chose to shoulder their part of the burden of the nation’s defense. Some served in war zones. Yet our president, who chose to avoid military service during the Vietnam War, rejected them.

Yes, some choices are highly complex. The International Association of Athletic Federations (IAAF) is mulling whether woman runner Caster Semenya of South Africa, born with testes, should take drugs to reduce her high levels of testosterone usually found in males. I believe that Semenya, who was brought up and identifies as female, has an advantage over her competitors. Her levels of testosterone have produced greater bone density and more muscle mass. But world-class athletes, male or female, with “normal” hormone levels boast obvious genetic advantages over the rest of us.

I don’t know what the IAAF will do, but I hope they make the key choice to avoid determining whether Semenya is “really” female despite her intersex characteristics. Caster Semenya may not be usual, but she is normal because she is, above all, a human being.

We’ll soon hear a lot of political jabbering about family values. Fine. Let those who preach them walk the talk by choosing to love allour children.

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MY MOTHER THE CRIMINAL

A century ago, Jewish immigrants from Eastern Europe produced many infamous American criminals. They included killers, such as Ben “Bugsy” Siegel (a key character in my novel in progress), Dutch Shultz and Abe “Kid Twist” Reles. Another legendary Jewish criminal was a woman. Well, not a criminal by yesterday’s standards. I give you my mother Blanche.

San Francisco recently passed a law making selling furs illegal. Criminal! Yet in New York back in the ‘50s, my mother sported a mink coat, mink stole and Persian lamb jacket with mink collar courtesy of the most honest man ever—my father Morris. So how would local progressives view my mother? Fuhgeddaboudit!

She also consorted with mobsters. Kind of. A friend’s husband brought his “business associates,” Johnny and Tommy Dio (Dioguardi) to the Queens League for Muscular Dystrophy’s annual dinner dance. My mother, active in the chapter, served as president. The Dio brothers’ contributions, like everyone else’s, went towards research. The police never cited my mother for meeting them. Ultimately, she received a certificate from the comedian Jerry Lewis, who raised millions to conquer the disease.

Big time as a mother, Blanche Perlstein was small potatoes as a “criminal.” Her nefarious activities focused on relieving airlines of blankets (remember them?) and coffee mugs. A pink floor mat in the bathroom of our apartment in Rego Park (Queens) bore the logo of Miami Beach’s Eden Roc Hotel. Fortunately, the statute of limitations has passed.

Still, when I graduated from college, my mother advised, “If you’re ever going to steal, steal big.”

Go ahead. Laugh. Done? Now, let’s get serious.

My mother wasn’t telling me to become another Meyer Lansky—the Mob’s money man and inspiration for Hyman Roth in The Godfather, Part II. She was letting me know that the occasional airline pillow or nightclub ashtray aside, real crime should never besmirch the family name. Before considering doing something wrong, I should ask myself, “Is it really worth it to disgrace my family? Can my integrity be bought?”

The only conceivable answer, no matter how large the score: “No.” The Perlstein name is not for sale (although my books are).

If only that message got through to the millions of Americans who sold their souls in the 2016 presidential election and are preparing to do so next year. I particularly address evangelical voters who, in the name of Jesus and morality, supported one of the most ungodly, immoral men in the nation. (Grab women by the what? Pay off a porn star for what?)

Their candidate promised to deliver on their social issues, chiefly abortion, secondarily opposition to LGBTQ rights. Many bought into now-Vice President Mike Pence’s assertion that God wanted Donald Trump to be president. (Maybe God told me otherwise.)

Thus people of supposed great faith defined hypocrisy by stealing from America’s integrity and, in doing so, greatly diminishing their own.

As I prepare to say Kaddish for my mother next Friday night—she died twenty years ago at 88—I remember her with great love. The legendary Jewish gangsters might have been disappointed that the beautiful doll Blanche Perlstein was, pardon the pun, a straight shooter. But I think they’d agree that in never letting greed erode her integrity, she set a standard even they could admire.

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DETROIT AND PROGRESSIVES

How do you lose a presidential election? By harnessing Newton’s Third Law: For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. A recent hubbub in Detroit offers Democrats an important lesson.

Several weeks ago, the promoters of Detroit’s AfroFuture Fest announced they would charge people of color an early-bird price of $10, whites $20. Discrimination? The $10 fee, said promoters, would make the festival affordable to people of color. Whites have money.

Are people of color really less well off than whites? Overall, yes. But the people color I know don’t need a discount from AfroFuture Fest any more than I and my codger friends need senior discounts at movies theaters or restaurants. Being over 60 or 65 does not automatically place someone at or near the poverty line. I’m an individual, not a stereotype.

One of the festival’s featured performers, the rap artist Tiny Jag (Jillian Graham), threatened to withdraw. She’s bi-racial. Maybe she’d be allowed in for the lower fee, but why should some of her relatives pay more? The festival backed off. Everyone would pay $10.

As to the campaign, defining people—and voters—in ethnic terms is nothing new. Donald Trump again spewed white nationalist rhetoric when he said that four Democratic Congresswomen—Alexandria Octavio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley and Rashida Tlaib—could go back where they came from. They came, respectively, from New York, Minnesota, Massachusetts and Michigan. Trump’s ugly comments aroused pushback from people not embedded in his base. That’s good.

Not good: Progressives using Trump’s horrific comments to push the Democratic party to the far left—just where Trump, on the far right, wants voters to see it. This will distance the Democratic party from many who will decide the election—white liberals, middle-of-the-roaders and moderate conservatives in swing states. Of course, it’s not that simple.

The Times’Jamelle Bouie points out (7/18) that “African-Americans are the most heavily Democratic group in the country, with a large presence in many of the most competitive states. Small increases in their participation would have an outsize effect on the electoral landscape.” Democrats could falter by catering only to whites expressing doubts about Trump. I agree—with a caveat.

Many black, brown, yellow, red and other liberals and centrists remain wary of the progressive stance on eliminating private healthcare insurance (rather than making it optional alongside government coverage), refusing to discuss limits on abortion (I’m pro-choice; some limits may be reasonable) and responding to Trump’s “we’re full” immigration policies by advocating for virtual open borders (I love immigrants—my father was one; bad idea).

Could progressive politics cost Democrats the 2020 election? New York Times columnist David Brooks (7/17) notes that “… many of today’s young leaders, and their older allies, don’t want to work within the liberal system. They want to blow it up.”

Detroit demonstrates that we can’t fight injustice with injustice. “I want it all and I want it right now” may represent a moral position, but it can become immoral by undermining Democrats’ White House chances.

I hope progressives will think hard about the realities of this campaign and, while maintaining the moral high ground, convert self-righteousness into humility. Then we can send Donald Trump back under one of the gold-plated rocks from which he crawled.

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OVERHAUL THE FLAG

After 243 years of American independence, I’ve discovered that it’s time to do away with deceptive symbols representing our nation’s history. The starting point? Overhaul the flag. I have that on good authority.

Ten days ago, Nike withdraw a special July 4th shoe featuring the 13-star Betsy Ross flag after Colin Kaepernick, former 49ers quarterback and current Nike marketing/cultural advisor, called the company out. It seems that white power groups have adopted the Betsy Ross flag, the stars representing the 13 original colonies, all of which permitted slavery.

That got me thinking. Giving up a classic symbol of our struggle for independence represents a small sacrifice to stand against racism (and hopefully, anti-Semitism). Still, I’m puzzled.

Who owns a symbol—or a word? Whites used the N-word do denigrate blacks. Blacks threw it back in their faces—or ears—by appropriating it. “We’ll take the sting out of it by using it ourselves.” The LGBTQ community transformed “queer” from a word expressing deviation and sin into a state of less usual but normal sexual preference. Can’t non-racist Americans take back the Betsy Ross flag?

Some people think not. And I’d hate for anyone to think me insensitive. So I propose we give our flag a makeover.

For starters, we’ll dump those 13 red and white stripes. Like the 13 stars on the Betsy Ross flag, they symbolize the original colonies, which celebrated freedom in 1776 while tolerating—and promoting—slavery. I suggest five stripes. The number’s basic, like the fingers on a hand. But we’ll replace the red—this nation has shed much blood—with green, representing our commitment to the earth. The white stripes? (If you have to ask, no need to finish reading this.) Let’s do purple for purple mountains majesty.

Now the stars. We have 50, one for each current state. But many once were slave states and others also legalized slavery. Those stars are out. Still, racism—and this isn’t just an issue for African Americans—has been endemic in all states. So let’s just display a single star.

But it can’t be five-pointed. That’s what the old stars looked like. Six points? The far right will bellow that it looks like the Star of David symbolizing hated Jews while the far left will associate six points with the flag of hated Israel. (Funny that it works for many police and sheriff’s departments). So, we’ll do a starburst. Gold? Nope. Promotes capitalism. It’ll appear in black, brown, yellow and red representing people of color. Add white? Get real.

Last, the field. Presently, it’s blue. But thinking about America’s near-quarter-millennium of existence makes any virtuous person blue. We’ll go gray. Depressing? Maybe. But gray expresses how so many Americans feel about the U.S.A.—except when our women’s soccer team wins the World Cup.

Let justice reign! Our new flag will boast five stripes—green and purple—plus a gray field with a single starburst representing the ethnicity of what soon will represent half of America’s population.

Then let’s blow up everything else associated with the nation’s history—the Statue of Liberty has to go—and obliterate every shred of its past, because micro-aggressions have no place in our present.

As to the future, damned if I know whether it’ll last another 25 years let alone 250.

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IRAN AND INCOMPETENCE

Usually, Donald Trump creates distractions from critical issues facing the United States. This week, the Democratic presidential debates performed that function, if not with the same intent. But let’s keep our eye on the ball—a specific one (of many) ignored at our own peril.

In September 2012, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the United Nations that Iran was close to developing a nuclear weapon and urged a military strike. Barack Obama disagreed. In July 2015, six nations, led by the U.S., plus the European Union signed an agreement with Iran. In return for relief from economic sanctions, Iran would halt its uranium enrichment process. This would postpone—though not permanently eliminate—its development of nuclear weapons.

In May 2018, Donald Trump, again expressing his hate-Obama fetish, withdrew America from the agreement. He imposed more American sanctions on Iran to further choke its oil exports and make life miserable for the Iranian people.

I detest the theocratic-kleptomaniacal rule of Iran’s ayatollahs and Republican Guard, who profit quite nicely despite the sanctions. But Tehran kept to the agreement. Iran still doesn’t have a nuclear weapon. Yet.

Pushed into a corner and proud of its ancient Persian culture, Iran struck back. Tehran’s Houthi proxies continued making Yemen a hellhole. Iran-backed militias have been active in Iraq and Syria, and support Hezbollah in Lebanon and Syria.

Recently, Iran started blowing holes in Persian Gulf tankers—not to sink ships but to raise insurance rates and thus oil prices. Then Iran shot down an American drone. Did it fly over Iranian or international waters? We don’t know. We may never know. Trump sought to respond. He screwed up—and dangerously so.

Trump approved a military strike on several Iranian missile/radar sites. At the last minute, he called off the attack because 150 Iranians would be killed. America’s response would be disproportionate. Sounds statesmanlike?

Indeed, killing 150 Iranians would have been foolish, escalating tensions. The issue? Trump and his team’s gross negligence. Reports are sketchy—misleading might be more accurate—but here’s what we have:

Either Trump never evaluated the consequences of an attack when considering his options—he said he learned about the estimated deaths from a general ten minutes before the release of warheads/bombs. Or, according to some reports, he knew of the prospective deaths at the outset and approved the attack anyway. Then, perhaps at someone’s rational urging, he ordered the strike force to stand down.

Trump demonstrated that he is in no way capable of handling the role of America’s commander-in-chief in addressing complex geopolitical challenges. Strategy and tactics are always subject to debate, although perhaps not Tuesday’s threat to obliterate Iran (dumb). But what’s damning is any president’s failure to do due-diligence—evaluate proposed actions, consider their consequences and role play the other side’s responses then yours to them. Only long-term thinking can prevent short- and long-term disaster.

More than Trump’s covering up during the Mueller investigation into the 2016 election (Mueller appears before two House committees on July 17), his response to the drone incident demonstrates a level of incompetence that should send a clear message: Donald Trump should be removed from office via the 2020 electionat the latest. At stake are the lives of Americans and a great many others.

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The post will take off next Friday and return July 12.

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THE VIEW FROM NORWAY

Eighteen months ago, Donald Trump called for more immigrants from Norway (aka white people). Norwegians seem content to stay home. Derek B. Miller, a Massachusetts native and author who lives in Norway’s capital, Oslo, offers some perspective.

Miller wrote the best-selling novel Norwegian by Night. He provides a sharp take on the country of his birth in a follow-up, American by Day. It’s as didactic (unfortunately) as it is witty (very) but worth examining.

A female Norwegian police chief, Sigrid Ødegård, travels to northern New York State to search for her missing older brother. Speaking with a younger American policewoman, Sigrid declares that American culture is all about individualism. “The way you perform individualism is through self-reliance. But acting self-reliant usually means acting alone.” That, says Sigrid, weakens America as a community. “You worry that working together undermines your myth of self-reliance, so you hyperexaggerate its value to mask the fear.” America, Sigrid warns, is “basically doomed.”

Yesterday’s cowboy movies and today’s superhero films establish the rugged individual—often a rogue—as a prized figure in American culture. The Hollywood icon John Wayne played those types to the hilt and was himself deemed an American hero. (For the record, he was acting).

Many Americans in rural areas and their relatives in red-state urban and suburban areas sized from Waco to Houston (I lived in Texas long ago) still cling to the myth of the rugged individual and reject the role of broad community. This while the carpool has replaced the roundup, the gas grill the campfire. Yet Montana author Ivan Doig, in novels like Dancing at the Rascal Fair, shows how important community was in settling the West.

Still, the rugged individual remains the conservative ideal. The mountain man went off on his own to trap, hunt and scrounge off the land with little or no connection to the new towns growing around him and certainly not today’s shopping malls to which conservatives flock. Self-reliance—forget Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid—means everything. Failure warrants censure. Can’t find a job or one that pays a living wage? Can’t afford health insurance or medications? Can’t pay for college? Your fault. Me pay taxes—if I have a job—to help alleviate your problems? My right to say “Hell, no.”

Liberals often thrive in older urban environments, which historically drew large numbers of immigrants and retain many of their descendants. These Americans survived—and thrived—by organizing ethnic and religious communities, as well as supporting labor unions. Unlike many conservative communities (yes, they exist), these groups often formed coalitions with others unlike them but also looking to government, the broadest form of community, for solutions to difficult problems.

Individualism, Sigrid advises, is “why you all buy guns rather than build institutions. None of it makes you safer, but it does make you more American.”

Given the 40,000 annual gun deaths in the U.S. (2016, CNN) and a homicide rate seven times greater that Norway’s (2010-12, nationmaster.com,) plus many other grave problems, Derek Miller, through Sigrid, makes us think.

Perhaps Mr. Trump might have someone read the novel for him. Then he might understand why Norwegians no longer flock to our shores, and why instead we attract so many desperate people from other countries whose governments represent not the solution but the problem.

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15 MINUTES OF FAME

In 1968, the artist Andy Warhol wrote, “In the future, everyone will be world famous for fifteen minutes.” Until last Sunday, I found myself fourteen minutes short. So I added a few seconds to my meager sum.

I held a launch party for Big Truth: New and Collected Stories. My guests gathered at Lokma Turkish restaurant in my neighborhood. They found parking! I enjoyed treating them to Turkish appetizers, selling some books and, most of all, reading two very short stories and the beginning of a third. Hear for yourself on YouTube.

Yes, I’d love to top Warhol’s 15 minutes. My book Solo Success: 100 Tips for Becoming a $100,00-a-Year Freelancer sold about 3,300 copies, and I was interviewed for radio and print. I relished the whole process, but as I stood in the national spotlight, it barely flickered.

In truth—a big truth—life owes us nothing. Most of us live in anonymity, although I’m delighted to say that I’ve had a very nice life. So when you have the chance to celebrate something special—something that means a lot to you—you jump on it.

I’ve never been taken with recurring calendar dates. They strike me as artificial. In this regard, I confess to not caring about my approaching birthday. It’s for family and friends to say, “Glad you were born.” The accomplishment belongs to my parents, Morris and Blanche. Another big truth: My mother did the heavy lifting. It’s doing something yourself that calls for a little back patting, even if you risk dislocating your shoulder.

I admit to being picky about celebrations. High school graduation? No biggie. A diploma was an expectation and never in doubt. College? The same, although I confess that my four years as an undergraduate were the worst in my life. The fault was not the school’s—Alfred University in western New York is wonderful—but my own. I had no idea why I was so often miserable and detached. Only later did I understand that I was a fairly extreme—if functional—introvert. It took decades for me to come to grips with, although not perfect, myself. I get by reasonably well now, but I avoid situations I know I’ll find uncomfortable.

Then there was graduation from the Army’s Infantry Officer Candidate School at Fort Benning, Georgia in 1967. OCS was a challenge and thus something to celebrate. Getting my M.A. from St. Mary’s University in San Antonio? I worked for an ad agency days and went to school on the G.I. Bill nights—three courses per semester for two years. No free time. But Carolyn encouraged me. That was worth a little applause.

But I’ll always revel in bringing out a new book. Readers often have no idea about how much effort and psychic pain is involved along with the joy of creating a story. If I flog my books—and ask people to read them—you know why.

Now, I’ll back away from another date with celebrity until my newest novel, almost completed, comes out. I hope it will bring my minutes of fame—among family and friends at least—up to two or even three. I also hope you’ll celebrate yourachievements and the few minutes of fame they’ve earned you.

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DEATH OF THE DINER

My father Morris would have been 116 today. He’s been gone 36 years. I miss him every day. Now, I’m coping with the loss of something near and dear to both of us. New York’s diners are disappearing.

The New York Times reported (May 24) on “New York’s Vanishing Diners.” Since 2014, fifteen diners have been sold, those who owned their buildings profiting from developers’ visions for their land. Many more lost their leases. This included the Shalimar (I’m near tears as I write) on 63rd Drive in Rego Park (Queens), which closed late last fall. My parents enjoyed several thousand meals and evening desserts there, and my mother Blanche alone many, many more until she died in 1999.

The loss followed the June 2018 closing of Ben’s Best delicatessen on Queens Boulevard, possibly Queens’ last kosher deli. Carolyn and I visited there a year earlier. I used to bring Ben’s knishes home from my solo visits to my mother. We had a family-related connection.

The Shalimar opened in 1974, the year Carolyn and I moved from San Antonio to San Francisco. We and the kids ate there on our visits. After my mother died, we still strolled the old neighborhood (I had to stop just now; I cried), always with brunch/lunch at the Shalimar. Of late, the place was going downhill, but we went for the vibes. The Shalimar often served as a meeting spot for family and friends.

This hurts even more, because I love diners for breakfast, brunch, lunch, dinner, a late-night snack. They’re are for big fressers(eaters). The Shalimar’s menu was vast, the portions huge. The entry showcased Danishes on steroids. As someone who eats kosher-style, I struggle in most restaurants obsessed with drenching every dish in butter, cheese, bacon and/or ham. I thrilled to the Shalimar’s variety of choices.

Being in Rego Park, the Shalimar served lots of Jewish dishes although, like most diners, it was owned by Greeks. In its heyday, you started off with a basket of challah plus pickles and green tomatoes. For brunch, I ordered eggs, onions and lox. A bagel, of course. My mother and I often went for dinner, as well. I had Romanian steak.

Foodies may turn up their noses, but here’s another thing I love about diners—casual democracy. Diners are affordable and without pretense. Everyone’s welcome. You can come in jeans or shorts, sit in a booth—I love booths—and relax. Okay, there’s better food out there, but I’ve never enjoyed any meal more than one I’ve had at a diner.

You can still find “diner-like” places. My favorite is San Francisco’s Town’s End on the Embarcadero, open for breakfast and lunch. The food is far better than the Shalimar’s, and I love going there, but where’s all the neon and chrome? The juke boxes? The waitresses (Denise looked after my mother for years—I’m tearing up again) who ask you about your family and tell you about theirs?

I’ll be 75 in a month. My time is limited. I accept loss. In Manhattan, we’ll stop by the Brooklyn Diner on West 57th. If it remains. Of course, Carolyn and I will go back to Rego Park, but it won’t be the same.

The price for living is mortality. Memories, at least, defy time.

My new book, Big Truth: New and Collected Stories, is available at Amazon and bn.com in paper or e-book. Or, ask your favorite bookstore to order a copy.

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