Fortitude and Patience

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Fortitude masked outside the New York Public Library.

Friday, July 3, 2020.  Very warm and sunny, yesterday in New York. Humidity. The kind of summer day when you’re outside and it’s getting to you, and then you walk into an air conditioned lobby, and suddenly you’re a new person, instantly revitalized. 

Humidity aside, we’ve had very nice days for the past week, and interspersed with rains passing through to water the earth for the trees, the plants, the sidewalks, and us. The city is still opening up, but the traffic is back to its metropolitan abundance. Plus now there is always a variety of bicycle traffic. The personality of the peddler, like the personality of the driver,  is the same. In other words, watch out!

Tomorrow is the Fourth of July, the most important national holiday of the year, and the biggest summertime holiday, too. The weatherman is predicting temps in the 80s, sunshine and clouds and less humidity — perfect weather for a family picnic.

Family time in Central Park to kick off the holiday weekend.

Reading my emails. I get a lot of them daily. Into the hundreds. On their way to the trash. Ads, promo, requests  for contributions by the score.  New products, more new products, clothing, you name it. Then there is the daily bulk hawking contributions for political races all the way from Prez down to Congress, gubernatorial, to mayor, and councilman.  

The political mail is new. I don’t recall ever getting so much, and daily. This has been going on since last March. From both parties. And ultimately they want know who you’re going to vote for. And “why.” I grew up in a world where political choices in the voting booth are private. This was agreed upon by all.  Polling.  I get requests for donations from many states. I have no idea how I got on some lists. I don’t write about domestic politics. 

I get it. I’ve worked as a volunteer in seven different campaigns when I was in my 20s and 30s. The first being for Carter Burden when he ran for City Council in 1969 of what was referred to then as the Silk Stocking District. It was this same neighborhood I’m living in now. 

I never knew Carter. He had a public image by then, a Vanderbilt heir who came from, and lived the life of a rich man. He had a beautiful young wife, Amanda Mortimer, the daughter of Stanley Mortimer and Babe Paley. After Harvard and Law School, he went to work for Senator Robert Kennedy.  Just the year before — 1968, it looked like Bobby Kennedy was going to the White House. 

The campaign headquarters were in an abandoned supermarket on the corner of 2nd Avenue and 79th Street (now a 35 story luxury apartment building) In those days, much of the Upper East Side east of Third Avenue was the neighborhood of Yorkville or what many residents still called German town. Real working class neigborhoods, four and five story brick, walk-up apartment buildings. Many were elders in first and second generation families who had emigrated from mainly Europe, still living in the neighborhood.

The volunteers’ assignment was canvassing a neighborhood — going door-to-door, usually two of us, starting in the early evening after office hours. Our job was to tell them about Carter but also: find out what their issues were; and in the end, get them to vote for Carter. 

Susan and Carter Burden in 1988, photographed by Mary Hilliard.

The result of this, however, was the rich and memorable experience of meeting the neighbors and promoting a good cause (Burden) with those of us in need.  That, to me, is the wealth of politics when it is practiced with honor toward all, which is a major challenge for many if not most of us humanoids.

Robert Kennedy’s murder had changed everything for Carter Burden.  With Kennedy he had developed the consciousness to understand the needs of those of us who were not rich. He took Kennedy’s work (for the people) as inspiration. He served two terms on the City Council and at some point decided it was not for him. His first marriage ended also in 1972 after eight years.

A person who worked closely with him told me years later that Carter was disillusioned by the process and how it neglected the voters needs. Before he left, however, he’d created something in the neighborhood to assist the needs of his constituents (many of whom were seniors). A little one room office in the upper East Eighties — the Carter Burden Center — is, a half century later, a leading neighborhood proponent of helping thy neighbor as The Carter Burden Center for the Aging under the guidance and direction of Carter’s dynamic and devoted wife and widow Susan Burden.  

I was a registered Democrat by whatever voting requirements. All of the candidates I worked for were Democrats although I always voted for the candidate, not the party. I volunteered for Ed Koch’s Congressional campaign (also for the Silk Stocking district) where he’d be standing greeting commuters at subway entrances during rush hours “Hello, I’m Ed Koch; how’m I doin’?” 

But I also admired John Lindsay, who had been Mayor of New York and happened to be a Republican. I admired him even more after he left office, not rich and highly rewarded for his public service, but a kind man and a gentleman. 

I did the same for George McGovern in Connecticut. My father who was a Nixon man asked me “why George McGovern?” When I told him it was partly because he reminded me of him, he didn’t get it. I meant it — the best part of him, my father, the man I came to know in manhood through retrospection. He wouldn’t have got it if I told him.  He was not specially educated and  was a child of the hard knock early 20th century New York. Son of Irish immigrants, he learned the rules early. Here in Manhattan and Brooklyn.

George McGovern: Psychedelic Campaign Poster.

I was very disappointed that George McGovern did not beat Nixon who always had a kind of snotty arrogance about his public image. In retrospect, I’m inclined to think Mr. Nixon was doing his best, given his set of circumstances in coming to the fore. That is not to say he was “all wool and a yard wide,” as they’d say in New England about the quality of a man.

Politics and Poker. In the early ‘70s I had a retail business with a store in Greenwich. A young woman working for me, a Cuban girl who emigrated to Greenwich during the Cuban Revolution. She was member of a very nice, sophisticated family. They had been prominent in pre-Castro Cuba. During the 1972 Presidential election, I off-handedly asked my employee whom she was going to vote for. She responded: “President Neexsin.” 

Truly just curious, I asked her, why President Nixon? She responded proudly: “Because he and my father planned the Bay of Pigs invasion in our living room in Havana.” I did know that her father had been important in the battle because he was specifdically captured by Castro’s forces during the Bay of Pigs, and imprisoned. The family paid a six figure ransom to free him and allow him to come to America.

Castro’s takeover killed business for many American interests, especially Mafia-associated hotels and casinos. The plans of Nixon and the anti-Castro Cuban failed entirely. The results, however, led  fantastically to Las Vegas.

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