Hot flashes are usually a private matter. Alison Teal shares hers.

Wednesday, March 31, 2004

Sam and I are back in Berkeley after spending a week in L.A. with our daughters, Teal and Willa. Our initial time together with the girls is always perfect: love and affection, catching up, shopping, and trying on each other’s makeup and clothes. True, Sam’s contribution to the makeup exchange is disappointing and I find the clothes exchange upsetting since I only fit into their scarves and socks. But the girls are delighted with Sam’s ties, worn unknotted but looped around the throat. Everyone talks at the same time and we are filled with a sense of adventure.

After three days, things begin to fall apart.

L.A. is one of those rare big cities that is almost impossible to visit but ideal to live in. Whereas Oakland may have no “there there”, if anything L.A. has too many “theres”.

After her Northwestern graduation, Teal is moving to L.A. to pursue an acting career, so we decided to explore potential neighborhoods. Our friend Larry Lasker says in New York things come to you but in L.A. you have to go out and find them.

People who live in L.A. don’t spend all their time driving. It is only we tourists who do that. Locals live near their work and when they do drive, they travel the byways. We spent our days on the scenic 405 and 10 taking the girls wherever they wanted to go. It is important to point out here that our girls don’t drive. They attribute this to having lived in Austria where you had to be eighteen to get even a learning permit. (They insist I acknowledge they do drive, they just don’t have licenses. This nuance is lost on me.)

By day four, Sam was weary not only driving, but also of being criticized for his lack of speed, inappropriate choice of music, and his totally embarrassing attire. He wears – if you can believe it – shorts and running shoes with his sweat socks pulled straight up to mid-calf. The girls think this is because he is embarrassed by his skinny ankles and, they point out, if he would just scrunch them down it might give his ankles the appearance of being large enough actually to support his bulk. I tell them that you are never really grown up until your parents no longer embarrass you. They ask Sam to drive them to Babies R Us.

Typically, as the week progresses during these family vacations, we start arguing more. We argue about what to do, when to get up and where to go for coffee. We argue about who keeps whom waiting and who hogs the bathroom. We argue about who is more forgiving or more nourishing. (This was the point when Teal remembered she had not arranged for anyone to feed her fish.) Willa wonders why her choice of museum is never heeded. I argue that ambiance is as important as the food in a choice of restaurant. Sam says we are not going anywhere that isn’t walking distance. And everyone accuses everyone else of being inflexible.

By day six, tensions were rising, so we decided to go to Disneyland in order to recapture the halcyon days of “It’s a Small World After All”. We vowed to find common ground, so we criticized Nicholas who wasn’t there to defend himself.

After ten days of togetherness, Sam and I were trying to figure out what was so sacred about family holidays while the girls were checking out ads for homes for the elderly.

Then on Sunday, the girls flew back to their respective campuses and Sam and I drove to Berkeley in a depressed silence. That night Teal called in tears. Couldn’t we drive back through Chicago and spend a long weekend with her before we go anyplace else? Willa emailed us suggesting we schedule Paris for our next family trip. Sam scouted real estate feverishly to overcome his depression. And me? Me, I miss them so intensely I can hardly breath.

Monday, March 22, 2004

From our son Nicholas, who has been volunteering in Chicago:

Primary Day finally hit Illinois last Tuesday, March 16th, and with it, snow and wind hit Chicago. I was up at 3:30 am to put up yard signs for the Barak Obama campaign, and though I had expected primary day, I had not expected the snow and wind. I was breathing icicles and using my teeth to unclench my frozen hands by the time I made it to the polling place to hand out flyers. It was in the lobby of an apartment building uptown where -- the friendly doorman informed me -- the heat was broken. Not to worry though: Illinois election law rightly requires all electioneering (a dubious verb which sounds suspiciously like something pirates might do), to take place at least one hundred feet from the polling place. So instead of having to slowly freeze to death inside the lobby, I was put outside, allowing me to freeze so quickly I could be suspended in a lifelike state for generations. As the snow and wind got fiercer, I hovered in the shelter of a building until someone informed me that sorry, but standing in the shelter of this particular building is actually within one hundred feet of the polling place and I would have to move over to the designated electioneering area, over there by those frozen pirates.

I walked over to the designated spot where I dutifully handed out Obama flyers for a full four or five minutes before going inside, where temperatures were a balmy 35 degrees.

So, most of my work for the Obama campaign involved talking to a pleasant doorman named Steve Astor. Steve was particularly chatty about the history of corruption in the elder Daley’s electoral machine, citing the popular Chicago maxim ‘vote early, vote often.’ I decided to check out the voting system in the hotel and was pleased to note that after all of the election reforms of the last few years, Chicago has abandoned the mob-corrupted elections of the first Daley machine and moved on to butterfly ballots. God Bless America.

Friday, March 19, 2004

You probably know by now that John Kerry won Key West. The question is ‘Does Kerry realize the hard work that went into our delivering it for him?’ It was a nasty job and we have nothing to show for our efforts except a lot of those horrid, plastic, flamingo, drink stirrers.

Sam and I first went to Key West twenty-five years ago, driving from D.C. with our friends, Judy and Don Green, and my brother, Topper. We pulled into the Green’s driveway on a Saturday morning in a second-hand but newly purchased, ’72 Mercedes. A CD of Jimmy Buffett’s ‘Margaritaville’ was playing. There were thermoses of Pina Coladas next to a silver ice bucket in the back seat and a tray of deviled eggs was on the armrest between the driver and passenger seats. We were looking forward to a really swell time.

The car first broke down just outside Fayetteville, North Carolina. We checked into a motel to wait for parts. As it turned out, the motel people were having their own bit of bad luck. They had totally overlooked a scheduled wedding reception. Dozens of puzzled guests were milling around an empty ballroom with a teary mother of the bride offering cans of soda bought from the vending machine. It was a depressing sight. We couldn’t bear to watch the marriage disintegrate before it was even consummated, so we decided to go shopping in downtown Fayetteville, a miserable excuse for a town. Desperate to spend money, Topper purchased a Naugahyde briefcase that he proudly defended as absolutely, totally, looking just like leather. In a cloud of shame, he flew back to D.C. the next day.

In South Carolina and Georgia, there were two more breakdowns. But we continued on, gathering Cypress knees and mosquito bites until we finally reached Key West. It was hot, humid and late at night. The only guest house with vacancies had heavy red velvet, fringed bedspreads and matching floor-length curtains held back with massive chains. The room was appalling and all four of us were going to have to share it. In an effort not to focus on the decorative arm cuffs dangling from the ceiling, Judy reached out to touch the drapes. An Iguana dropped from its folds. We left. Judy, still resilient, suggested we check out the trailer parks to see if we could rent something there. I remember only two more things about the rest of that night: first, Sam, Don and I followed Judy like dull-eyed sheep from trailer park to trailer park checking out unspeakably dreadful accommodations and, second, we bought a Key lime pie and ate it with our fingers in the motel we finally found way at the edge of the island. THE PIE WAS OUTSTANDING– as was everything else for the next week.

Vacation Saving Key Lime Pie
Do not settle for graham cracker crust. The best flaky pastry crust is essential:
1 1/2-cups flour
1/4-cup butter
1/4-cup lard
1/2-teaspoon salt
Blend four and salt. Work quickly with your hands or knives to cut in lard and butter until pea-sized. Moisten dough with cold water until it holds together enough to roll out on a board dredged sparingly with flour. Roll out and place in a pie pan.

1 – 14 ounce can of sweetened condensed milk
3 egg yolks
12 cup Key Lime Juice
Combine condensed milk, egg yolks and Key lime juice. Blend until smooth. Pour filling into pie crust and bake at 350º for 10 minutes. Allow to stand for 10 minutes before refrigerating. Chill thoroughly.

Meringue Topping:
3 egg white
1/4-teaspoon cream of tartar
3/4-cup sugar
In a large bowl, beat egg whites and cream of tartar with electric mixer until foamy. Gradually add sugar, beating until mixture forms stiff peaks.
Spread over the chilled pie and put under the broiler for just long enough to brown the peaks of the meringue. Serve immediately.

Saturday, March 13, 2004

Our friend, Curtis Gans, Director of The Committee for the Study of the American Electorate,has long proposed campaign advertising be abolished. The airwaves – which we supposedly own – would give equal time to each candidate in the form of talking heads only. I’m for this. But it’s not happening, so meanwhile we have a couple hundred million being spent on dueling ads.

“If we decide we’re going to join the negative attack ads, we have to be ready,” I said to Sam. “No problem,” Sam said. “Our friends, Kathy Dexter and Dan Badger, in London have already developed a few scripts.”

Here they are:


It is late at night. We are looking down a suburban street, illuminated by a sole overhead street light about 20 feet away. A man is crawling around in the street beneath the light, muttering to himself. The camera approaches him and a voice asks:

“Can we help? What are you looking for?

“Car keys.”

“Where did you drop them?”

“Over there, on the lawn.”

The man points across the street into impenetrable darkness.

“So why are you looking here?”

“Because this is where the light is.”

As the man resumes his crawling and muttering, the voice-over says:

“George Bush couldn‚t find the master terrorists where they are hiding -- in the mountains of Waziristan, so he decided to pick an easier place to search in Iraq. There, he found a tyrant, and proclaimed the search a success. Too bad he still hasn‚t found his car keys.”

Waiting in Line

The scene opens with the camera panning over a long line of people waiting to talk to a single attendant at a window such as the department of motor vehicles. The first person in the line is talking to the very bored, apathetic, gum-chewing attendant.

“I would like to understand why our intelligence services were so wrong about Saddam Hussein's WMD program. Can you help me?”

“Yes, we're studying this question, and that information should be available some time early next year. Next.”

The next person in line steps up.

“How can I help?”

“I'd like to know if there’s something we should be doing about the problem of climate change.”

“We have commissioned some very serious studies to see whether climate change really is a problem and if so, whether there is anything that can be done about it. Come back again some time next year, or at least after the election in November, and we’ll give you more information about this. Next.”

The next person steps up.

“I'd like to know what we're doing to try to resolve the situation in Palestine. Shouldn’t we be playing a more active role?”

“We are working hard on this oneand you may know that we have created a road map for reaching a peaceful settlement. Some time next year we hope to see some real progress, so please come back then and we’ll give you more information. Next.”

The next person steps up.

“I'm wondering if you have any new information about the leaking of the identity of a CIA agent by the White House. This happened nearly nine months ago, and…

His voice fades, and as the camera pans back to show the long line of people waiting, the voice-over says:

“George Bush keeps promising to give us some answers after Election Day. Is there something we should know about the answers that makes him reluctant to produce them before the election?”

Gathering Storm
The scene opens on a clear, sunlit sky over a desert landscape. Slowly clouds begin to form. As they become thicker and darker, a rumble of thunder is heard. After a few more seconds there is another rumble, slightly louder. The camera slowly begins to zoom out, revealing that we are looking at the screen of a small TV set on a rickety table in the middle of a bare room, thick with cobwebs. The top of the TV set is covered in dust, as is the table top.. We hear more occasional rumbles of thunder from the TV as the zoom continues, revealing the shaggy, tousled mane on the back of a man’s head -- what Saddam Hussein would have looked like from the rear when he was discovered hiding in his hole. He is sitting in a frayed armchair, motionless, staring at the TV. The occasional rumbling of thunder continues, as the voice-over says:

“George Bush told us that Saddam's program of WMD was a gathering storm. Now we know that for several years, it had only been gathering dust.”

Get a Job
A young woman is working in front of a computer screen. She types into the Google search bar: “A job in Illinois.” Google returns: “No standard web pages containing all your search terms were found.” She tries: “A job anywhere in the mid-West.” Google returns the same answer. Next she tries: “A job anywhere in the USA.” Same response from Google. Finally she tries: “A job anywhere outside the USA.” Google returns a page showing “Results 1-10 of 928,000.” She clicks on the first entry. The message comes up: “Americans not welcome to apply.” She clicks the next entry. Same answer. The third entry gives the same answer. As she continues trying more entries, the voiceover says:

“This is the future George Bush has in mind for our young people: no jobs at home, not welcome abroad.”

Monday, March 08, 2004

MARCH 8,2004
Alison Teal
When we boarded the plane in Oakland, we had a bunch of ‘Kerry for President’ signs. The passengers burst into applause as we lifted them into the overhead compartment. Carrying them through the Fort Lauderdale airport, people shouted “Bring it on!”. When we got on the Hertz bus, the driver went out of his way to tell us he is a supporter and that night at dinner, our waitress asked for a button.
Now that Kerry is the candidate, the feeling is different. As my friend, Ellen Emerson, wrote: “It’s like we’re coming out of a very dark place into the light.”

Florida Democrats are determined to win this next election. No one here is going to lose one vote for lack of effort. After the last presidential election, Julian Bond is credited with saying: “I remember a time when popular music was good and good music was popular. I remember a time when the President chose the Supreme Court and the Supreme Court didn’t choose the President.”

It is clear that Bush is going to use his enormous financial advantage to try to redefine both himself and John Kerry during the next several months. We can respond, but only if we have the resources.

In addition to the energy he brought to the primary process, we should be grateful to Howard Dean for his decision to opt out of federal financing during the primaries. Almost certainly this was the impetus for Kerry to do the same thing. And without that decision, we would be stuck with federal funding limits that would preclude us from raising the money to respond to Bush. There will be no opportunity to contribute directly to the Kerry campaign after the convention in July, when the public financing kicks in.

We can win, but not without everyone’s help. So I’m devoting this email to a plea for campaign contributions. Some of you have given already; some have even maxed out ($2,000 per person). Whatever you can do, or whatever you can get your friends to do, whether it’s $5 or $2,000, please, do it now.

All that is required is to go to the web site by going to: https://contribute.johnkerry.com/index.html?source_code=00012094 and follow the directions on the screen to make a credit card contribution of any amount. You will have to copy the site and put it in to your browser. This site won't allow be to do links. Alternatively checks can be sent to:

John Kerry for President,
Att: Kerry Greeley
519 C Street, NE, Washington,
D.C. 20002.

One additional note before I go to an Internet cafe to post this and before I read your emails telling me what a hopeless speller I am. ‘Fusia’ is ‘fuchsia’. I know. I’d give anything for a spellcheck implant. Meanwhile, I’m really glad it was Dan Quayle and not I who had to spell potato.

Sunday, March 07, 2004

Thursday, March 4, 2004

*It is impossible to think how John Edwards could be more gracious. He’s a great campaigner and has an open boyish charm that competes with The Beaver’s. Yesterday he began his speech with “All my life America has made me smile and today I’m smiling right back.” I hope the future will smile on him.

*We left the rainy beauty of the East Bay this morning, landed briefly in the brown cloud of Denver and arrived in Fort Lauderdale, Florida in time for a late waterfront dinner. The exhausted Volvo remains in Oakland to get four new tires. So this time we took an airplane. Sadly we also took two of those tires with us to Florida – comfortably resting around our waists.

Friday, March 5, 2004

*After the muted spring colors of Northern California, it is alarming to wake up to Florida’s vulgar display of nature. The colors are totally ridiculous: fuchsia, lime green, neon blue and hot orange. The Floridians deal with their over-abundance of flowers by littering your salads and drinks with them. The air is almost obscenely soft and scented. The whole place is sort of an embarrassing parade of flora with palm trees leading the procession. I have always thought palm trees were awkward and somewhat foolish, though I admire their courage.

*Now that Kerry is the candidate (my apologies to Sharpton and Kucinich, but come on, you don’t really think they’re going to be any more national TV debates, do you?), the real work is just beginning. And here’s one of the worst ideas for beginning that work: Some people in the Kerry finance operation have buttons proudly announcing they were For Kerry Before Iowa. Come on guys, you don’t build momentum by closing the doors and creating a hierarchy. I’d rather see a button honoring those who are just coming on board.

*This just in from Rick GrandJean who feels he was treated too gently in my story about the 1968 McCarthy Watts rally: “To enlarge a little upon your story: The former Green Berets and I did feel we should leave the event a little early. A stimulus was provided by the arrival of a well-known militant of the day named Ron Karenga and a large number of his followers. The group called themselves the ‘Mau-Maus’. They were easily identifiable by their faux African attire and their necklaces, which appeared to be made of human teeth. My colleagues and I, in order to avoid becoming accessory items in the wardrobe of Ron and his group, though we had best leave. As we sped away, I think I just caught a glimpse of you running for your life. I am glad you made it. You looked quite fetching.”

In Rick’s defense (something he eschews) Karenga, was convicted in 1971 of two counts of felonious assault and was sentenced to ten years in prison. He is a really scary guy.

MARCH 7, 2004
*I am finally warm. After the last few months, I thought I might never experience warmth again. The cold has been so deep in me I envision cubes of ice where marrow ought to be.

*The colors of Key West – somebody had to campaign here – make the rest of Florida look beige. This whole tawdry town looks like a brothel.
The streets lined with white clapboard houses are currently invaded by ‘spring breakers’ and a threat (collective noun of choice here) of motorcyclists. But I’m not bothered as I sit at the Iguana Internet Shack drinking a piña colada and sending this email.

*In light of Martha Stewart’s conviction, there is a clear void in the home guru market. I have all of the necessary skills to fill this void. I have previously told you of my prowess at making radish roses (scroll down to February 11, 2004 ). What you may not know is that I also have considerable skill in the much-neglected art of napkin folding and Kleenex flower assemblage. On a good day my friend Jane and I can transform a high school gym from an adolescent sweat pit into a Tahitian Holiday Paradise in less than three hours. I can also sew, though I have found a good roll of duct tape to be more useful on the road for things like rips in a coat lining or loose hems.

Tuesday, March 02, 2004

* This just in from our daughter, Willa, who is a freshman at Middlebury:

It's only ten thirty and I've already had a full day. I was determined to help get out the vote for Kerry today, so I set the alarm for 5:30am. First thing this morning I went to Shelburne and Vergennes to do literature drops where I was severely scolded by a take-back-Vermont Republican. Standing in the rain, I listened politely, as both the literature and I got all soggy and limp. (I was remembering all your “Clean For Gene” stories and dad’s coining the phrase “Never offend people with style when you can offend them with substance!”) My teeth were chattering and my fingers were turning white, so I bought a huge latte and set in on the roof of the car while I struggled to put a Kerry sign on the top of a twelve-foot snow pile. Two women drinking their morning tea in rocking chairs watched with amusement through their window as I secured the sign and rushed back to the car to warm up. I quickly opened the door forgetting the latte which flipped over and landed right on top of my head – without its top on, of course. The sympathetic women rushed out and shouted over to me, promising they would vote for Kerry before the day was over.

I should campaign more often. If he takes Vermont by two votes, I’m taking credit.

* Nowhere excites me like the east coast, nowhere feels as homey and comfortable as the Midwest and nothing soothes my brow and makes me weep with its beauty like California. San Francisco is simply the most beautiful city in the United States. You can all argue that with me, but you’re wrong. I’ve lived all over the place and I know.

One of the bad things about living in a lot of places is running into people whose names you can’t remember. Everyone of a certain age forgets names, but I forget faces, contexts and sometimes species. I blame this all on frequent moves and travel, that, and the fact that my brain resembles a withered Portobello mushroom. When I find myself in groups of people who don’t know each other, I used to use a line from an old Michael Cain movie: ‘You all have names, but you can sort that out later.’

Recently a friend out here in California has given me a much better ploy. There are two expressions, she explained, that will always deceive someone into thinking you know who he or she is. So, when a familiar, but unidentifiable person speaks to you, enthusiastically ask:
How was Tuscany?
or put a hand on their arm and exclaim:
I heard you had quite a scare!

Monday, March 01, 2004

* Senator Gary Hart was a surrogate speaker for Kerry last week in Berkeley. When asked about Bush and terrorism, he recounted the history of the U.S. Commission on National Security/21st Century he co-chaired with Senator Warren Rudman. In 1999, the report’s first conclusion said, “States, terrorists and other disaffected groups will acquire weapons of mass destruction and mass disruption, and some will use them. Americans will likely die on American soil, possibly in large numbers.” In 2001 the Commission recommended the creation of a Department of Homeland Security. Hart went on to describe the briefing on terrorism they gave to Condoleezza Rice, Donald Rumsfeld, Colin Powell and others in the Administration warning of the near certainty of an attack on American soil. The Administration did exactly nothing to follow up on this. He concluded by asking rhetorically, “What do you think would have happened to FDR if he had been warned the Japanese were going to attack eight months before Pearl harbor and he did nothing? Impeachment?.”

* The time before last when you heard from me in my not-slavishly-daily chronicle, Sam and I were focusing on the state of our marriage, given Bush’s constitutional amendment. Many of you have responded with utmost concern. A few male friends are putting together lists of potential partners in case of mandatory same-sex marriages and wanted my permission to have Sam on their list, to which I say, ‘Go For It.’

Jamie Wolf in Los Angeles wrote: “... for a moment your e-mail really did make me think something might have gone terribly wrong, and I’m pleased to realize that you meant the two of you simply found yourself among the rest of us who now see that we haven’t been genuinely married for all these years... After all, if ANYONE can get married, what an incredible devaluation of our status it is! You must feel it especially strongly up there in northern California, what with the steps of your city hall having been sullied by people assailing the family obligations we hold so dear...oh, wait a minute... you say they’re seeking to conform their lives to traditional notions of obligation and stability??? That can’t be right...”

My brother adds: The thing about the present debate that keeps getting to me is that people (on, say, radio talk shows) present long arguments about the sanctity of marriage and the dangers to the family of an attack on marriage, in other words, they present a long series of arguments against DIVORCE, and then they wind up by ignoring divorce utterly and directing all their outrage on people who want to get married.

* Okay. Is anyone else ready to say that Al Sharpton is losing it? I love him for his political correctness and humor. But in Sunday’s and Friday’s debate he kept pleading for delegates, his argument being that he should go to the convention and therefore you should vote for him because he’d really like to go to the convention and it would be easier for him to go to the convention if he got votes so he could go to the convention. I am going to the convention whether any of you vote for me or not.

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