Monday, October 31, 2016



Legalization sounds like a good idea—until you dig deeper.  

No need to guess what occurs when you legalize pot. Colorado and Washington, our guinea pig states, are back with reports--and most of what happens is bad.

According to “Triple A” (as in cars), the state of Washington has now seen a 50% increase in fatal accidents involving stoned drivers. Bad enough--but added to this, it’s currently impossible to conduct roadside sobriety tests for THC (as is done for alcohol). Thus, the degree of impairment is known only after blood tests. Also, even if limits could be set for safe, drug-lowered driving, marijuana affects different people in such different ways, a baseline acceptability would be hard to determine.

Also hard to determine is the amount of THC in any given batch (seldom known to the user.) “Some pot is so strong,” said one occasional smoker, “that a few hits leaves you with your head spinning. You can’t even function.”     

Sixty Minutes (October 30), thoroughly documented the marijuana issues in Colorado. Supporters all believe legalization takes out the crooks. In Colorado, it didn’t, not even close. The bad guys flooded the state with illegal plants and sold their stuff at great profit outside the borders. The marijuana police, digging up plants, have been busier than ever.

Worse . . . the state’s emergency rooms have been busier than ever. Kids who gobble up brownies, cookies, and gummy bears with unknown quantities of THC, now end up in hospitals, their lives threatened.    

We all know marijuana damages developing brains. In Colorado, pregnant mothers who smoke give birth to babies with THC in their systems. Pediatricians deduce these infected babies will have impaired mental development. “But marijuana is legal,” the mothers protest. “I thought it was safe to smoke.” Local doctors disagree. Vehemently.  

We’ve heard all the arguments: kids will get marijuana whether it’s legal or not. True enough . . . But when parents smoke the stuff—legally—or ingest it in food, how likely can they keep it from their children?  Illegality has its advantages.

Sixty Minutes laid a last, scary indictment against the drug. While, within a given time frame, alcohol entirely disappears from the human body, marijuana does not. Instead, it lodges in the “fat” cells, and particularly the brain, and there it stays—length of residence unknown.

As Orange County Sheriff, Sandra Hutchens, protested in a letter to the Orange County Register, Why are we choosing increased tax revenue over the brains of our children?  

 P.S. Medical marijuana is in a different category, and its importance and usefulness is not at issue in this article.  

Thursday, October 27, 2016



I couldn’t help noticing—that in one month we saw the worst and the best among us. 

A recent edition of a magazine, THE WEEK (October 21), offered a hard-to-believe story: those Newtown, Connecticut, parents who lost their children to an insane gunman shooting up the school, now have to endure the taunts of “Conspiracy Theorists.” Out of the woods they came, a few crazies who decided, based on nothing, that the tragedy never took place.

Hoaxers, it seems, always concoct theories--meaning their twisted brains demand justification: A. The Newtown massacre was staged by some kind of New World Order bent on taking away guns. B. The parents can’t be grieving because their children never existed in the first place. C. The drama was enacted by “Crisis Actors.” D. Obama was behind the whole event.

While some conspiracists bombarded parents with skeptical questions, others painstakingly created You-Tube Videos (“The Sandy Hook Shooting—Fully Exposed”) or wrote books (“Nobody Died at Sandy Hook.”)  Among the worst: The conspiracist who demanded of a father, “If you want me to believe you had a son who died—exhume his body!”

Until the story appeared in THE WEEK, many of us had never heard about this ongoing saga, lying like an atomic cloud over Newtown. I, for one, would never have imagined that a catastrophe like Newtown would attract so many ghouls.  


How comforting that the month also included a number of heroes.

On a recent segment of the evening news, a young high school boy comes to his football coach with a rare admission.  “I have no one,” he says.  “I have no one who cares about me.”

Two years earlier, at age 14, unable to endure his family, the boy left home—and also school. When he finally found his way back to high school a year later, his admission to the coach stirred something in the older man. He brought the youth home—to a caring wife and their two daughters.  Soon the young man found himself surrounded by the love he’d yearned for all those years. 

“It’s like I’ve always been here,” he said. “These have become my parents—and I can’t even remember anyone else.”  By segment’s end, this amazing family noted that when their new son turned eighteen, they planned to adopt him. 

And herewith another wonderful story:  

On CBS News, (Friday nights), Steve Hartman’s “On the Road,” told of Heather Krueger, a lovely 27-year-old, who was in stage-4 liver disease with only months to live—and realistically, no time to find a donor. She said to Steve Hartman, “I could feel my body shutting down.”

In the nearby village of Frankfort, Illinois, ex-marine, Chris Dempsey, now a code-enforcement officer, happened to hear the news from others in his break room.  I’ve never run away from an assignment, he thought, wondering if he might be a fit. Hey, if I can help, I’m going to help. 

It turned out he was a fit.  The two young people met for the first time at noon, and Heather said, “He even bought my lunch.” The next scene shows the two of them in their separate hospital beds after the surgery.

In the final scene, a year and a half later, Heather is dressed in a beautiful wedding gown.  And, as Hartman reports, “They got so close that Chris was at her wedding . . . but then he added, “He had to be . . . what is a wedding without a groom?”   

We next see Heather gazing up at Chris and saying, “You are the most incredible man I’ve ever known. You believe in me, and you make me feel amazing every single day. Because of you, I laugh, smile, and dare to dream again.” The two are next seen standing together at the altar, leaning close for a kiss.   

Hartman says, “When Chris decided to give an organ to a random stranger, he had no idea he was saving his own wife.”  At the end he adds, “Such is the way of goodness. The more likely you are to live for others, the more likely you are to live happily ever after.”   

Saturday, October 15, 2016



Remember the second debate, when Trump followed Hillary as she approached the seated Town Hall people?  Many of us, including members of the press, could see him back there, looming over her, as though physically threatening her.

Yet in the last couple of days he claimed, “She invaded my space.”  Meaning something twisted in his brain.

When he finally capitulated on the “birther” issue, he said, “Hillary started it.” Another weird conclusion emanating from a damaged psyche—which he isn’t able to recognize. Instead, the candidate forgoes sleep in favor of sending out threatening tweets at 3:00 a.m. .

For our Republican nominee, this has become an ever-increasing mantra. “The elections are rigged.” “The Republicans are conspiring against me.”  “The media can’t be trusted. Get that reporter out of here!”  “I didn’t do any of those things. They’re all lies.” We see more of it each day, that he’s no longer functioning as a plausible candidate . . . that instead, his darkest suspicions are taking over.    

If this progression weren’t so dangerous to our country, the deterioration of our Republican candidate would be a fascinating psychological event, played out before millions. I am no psychiatrist, but in another individual I’ve watched the changing nature of paranoia up close.  And this is how it begins.

Overlooking the worst of his behavior—Trump’s laser-focused, wholly bizarre approach to women—he now reminds me of the person I once knew who was headed for total collapse.  First, the vague suspicions about “others” whom the victim perceives as unfriendly. Then the growing conviction that these unfriendly souls have somehow morphed into enemies, ready to inflict actual damage. Eventually, the final step—an overwhelming need to protect oneself against one’s attackers. 

In the person I knew, this eventually meant cowering on the front porch with a covering of tinfoil over knees and head, necessary to ward off evil rays. With Trump, extreme paranoia could result in other defensive behaviors; I shudder to think what those might be.          

Having just had a call from a friend, a woman who grew up in Nazi Germany, I recognized a voice tremulous with fear--a panic that mirrors all our feelings. “He reminds me of Hitler,” she said. “In the end, he was crazy, too.”  We didn’t discuss the next step—that Hitler’s generals saw him as deranged and tried to assassinate him. She added, “How do we know that Trump won’t win?”

“He won’t win,” I said. “He’s unhinged---a word the press now uses constantly. The electorate (at least most of it), doesn’t want a psychopath in charge.”    

She thanked me and hung up.  I just wish this wasn’t bothering me so much—watching with morbid curiosity as a public figure slowly descends into his own mad, mad world.   

Thursday, October 6, 2016



When you look back, con games are always so obvious . . . if not to you, at least to your adult children and all their laughing friends.

How was I to know I’d get hooked by an actor good enough for a role on Broadway? That the young man who phoned would use the same opening words as my grandson, Brandon, or that his voice would sound so vaguely familiar?  

“This is your favorite grandson,” he began, “I’m really glad I reached you.”

Instantly dubious I said, “You sound different, Brandon,” to which he quickly explained, “That’s because my nose is broken.”  

“Oh, Brandon. What happened?” 

“I was in a car accident. Last night I was in the hospital.” 

I was hooked. From then on, I never doubted I was talking to Brandon.     

This, in spite of the fact that Rob and I have routinely ducked those “free millions” from Nigeria, emails from friends in Europe who supposedly lost their wallets, dozens of messages declaring, “The IRS has a lawsuit against you,” heavily-accented voices claiming, “Your computer has a virus,” and the weirdest of all, the phone request, years ago, from a guy who said my daughter had been abducted from elementary school, and I could secure her release just by undressing and describing over the phone what I saw. (Back then, it would have been good.)

Of course I called the school immediately. She was fine. But I was still shook up.

How, then, did I find myself, two days ago, listening with such rapt attention? 

Partly because the young man made the circumstances sound logical. He said he’d been to a friend’s birthday party the night before, that he was driving them both home, that he was behind a very slow vehicle ahead, that he’d passed the car and hit another coming the other way. “I only had two drinks, but they’ve got me for a D.U.I.” He and the others had been taken to a hospital—where he’d flunked the breathalyzer test.  With that he began to cry . . . small sobs that were subtle but unmistakable.  

Oh, Lord, Brandon weeping over the phone. I’d known him from babyhood, but never heard this. Which made me overlook, momentarily, his near-perfect driving record.

I managed to say, “But Brandon, you never drink.” 

“It was just a large beer,” he said, through hiccups.  (I should have noticed the story change.)  “I’m in a holding cell. Will you speak to my public defender?”

By now my heart was pounding.  I said I would, and a public-defenderish voice came on. He introduced himself as David Wiseman. I immediately pointed out that my grandson never drinks. Smoothly the lawyer explained, “Well, his blood alcohol was only 0.09—just one point over acceptable.”  Then he added, “The people in the other car were three times over the limit—enough to be in jail a long time.”   

He let me digest this. “They were REALLY in trouble,” he added. “But it happens your grandson hit a car full of diplomats. They won’t be charged because they have diplomatic immunity.”  Another pause.  “The good news is, diplomatic immunity extends to your grandson. But he had to sign a waver that he’d never speak about this to anyone. And you have to get him out of jail, fast. Get us the bail, and I’ll have a confidential talk with the judge. Otherwise he’ll have a D.U.I. on his record.  And that will stay with him for years.  Forever.” 

By now Wiseman had woven a perfect web.  I was frantic, said I’d have to wake up my husband—a lawyer, I added.

“What kind of lawyer?”

“He doesn’t do criminal,” I said. “Just Medical Mal.” 

“Oh,” said the man. Did I catch a note of relief?  “Go wake him up.  I’ll call back in five minutes.”

The next scene was terrible. Rob said, “This is NOT how I begin my day. Don’t EVER wake me like this again, unless the house is on fire.”  He began wheezing, unable to catch his breath. “Make me some coffee.  Quick.”  When I returned with a cup, he waved away the ringing phone. “You handle this. I’m not getting on the phone. Period.”

“But Brandon was crying,” I said, holding out the dangling instrument. “He’s devastated.”

“Handle it then. I’m not paying any bail.”   (Oh, Lord, why didn’t we just call Brandon? But why would we? He wasn’t home, he was in jail. ) 

Another few seconds talking to Brandon . . . “Hurry,” he said, with another sob. “I’m in a holding cell.  I can’t talk long.”

Then back to Wiseman, who explained calmly that we’d have to get gift cards from Target, “because the court has an arrangement with them.  But don’t say it’s for bail, say it’s a wedding gift. Bail is five thousand dollars. After your grandson is out, you’ll get the money back. All of it. Within three days someone will come to your house.  Call me when you have the cards.”  With that, he gave me a phone number.    

All through this, my heart had never stopped racing. Though I had an appointment with my hairdresser for 12:15, I knew I had to accomplish the bail issue first. Rob and I had had no breakfast. Quickly I made something, said I’d have to dash to Target.

By then Rob’s mood had radically changed. “You’ve handled this wonderfully, Babe. I’ll drive you to Target.”

Nothing at Target was easy. Right off, the credit card company denied this sudden request for $5000 worth of gift cards. Many phone calls later they finally agreed. Gift cards in hand, we returned home, where I quickly phoned Wiseman, gave him the serial numbers off the backs, and raced away to my appointment.  But I can’t talk to Alice, I thought, not with the Diplomatic Immunity issue hanging over everything.

Lucky for us, I was still so shaken, so much the pent-up lady who needs to share, that I DID talk to Alice.

I’d barely started the story when she broke in. “I know how this is going to end.”

I was shocked. “You do?”  How could you possibly know?     

“This place is like the Internet. We’ve heard this story before. Many times. You’ve been scammed.” 

“Scammed?”  I almost leaped out of my chair.  “We’ve been scammed? Are you kidding?”

“We’ve had other customers with the same story.”  She paused. “In every one you’ll find people with diplomatic immunity.  Keeps the victims from talking.”     

In spite of black goo all over my head, I grabbed my cell phone.  “Rob,” I found myself shrieking, “Call Brandon. Call him fast. Then call me back.  It’s a scam.” 

Within a minute Rob was back. “Brandon’s at home. Doesn’t know what I’m talking about. I’m calling Target. Lucky you left me the gift cards. Gotta reach them fast.” 

The rest of the appointment should have been normal—except it wasn’t. My daughter stopped by to bawl me out. “Mom, how could you fall for this?” She glared down at me. “Next time, call ME FIRST.  Will you do that? Do you promise?” Suddenly I was six years old and she was forty.  I nodded.  But I’ve learned, Tracy. There won’t be a next time.

The story ended badly for some and good for others. Rob reached Target before the crooks had a chance to use the cards. Headquarters cancelled them, but it took additional hours to get the local Target on board and willing to issue credit slips.My other plans for the day--a book-signing--slowly vanished.  

But still we were touched by luck, that a hair salon is the ultimate Water Cooler. Thanks to Alice, Rob and I learned a horrific lesson—and together we saved our five thousand dollars. The actors, as good as they were, got nothing.

Only later did I realize their elaborate story was full of holes—for starters, the court’s supposed connection to Target. And second . . . besides being a non-drinker, Brandon is a terrific driver who would never cause an accident. Trouble was, I assumed I was actually talking to him.  And maybe, just this once . . .

In the end, all Rob and I lost was one entire day.  But that day comes in multiples: overnight we’ve become a great deal wiser.