A conversation: Words of advice along the Hudson

BY JERRY TALLMER  |  The terrace of a large and lovely house up the Hudson, 90 miles north of New York City. Going on 11 a.m. of a sunny, windy March day. A man of some years, his legs in metal braces, is sitting in one of two chairs at a small table, coffee cup in one hand, that morning’s New York Times, folded back, in the other. A cane rests against the table. From the large house a considerably younger man, tall, slim and limber, emerges. A female employee points the visitor toward the sitting man and then takes her leave.

SLIM MAN: Good morning, Sir. I’m sorry to barge in on you like this …

OLDER MAN: Nonsense, don’t apologize. They told me you were coming. Do, please, sit down.

The slim man does so.

OLDER MAN: And what did you want to ask me? What do you want to know?

SLIM MAN: Well, Sir, all sorts of things. But just for openers, how does one cope with the Supreme Court? I mean, right now, with the whole national health plan up for grabs — the thing these primitives have been screaming their heads off against ever since we powered it through, thank the Lord, a couple of years ago. A great safety net that didn’t even exist in your day, Sir …

OLDER MAN (laughing heartily): I’m a fine one to ask about the Supreme Court. I got blasted for calling them the Nine Old Men, and then got blasted all over again for trying to “pack” the Court with new, added appointees.

SLIM MAN: It was this very Supreme Court, by and large, that gave us eight years of George W. Bush.

OLDER MAN: Which made your victory in 2008 — our victory — all the sweeter. But see what I mean? All you can do about the Supreme Court is argue your case before it — and pray. Next question.

SLIM MAN: What do you think we should do — I should do — about Afghanistan, a battle zone where the collateral damage seems to include lots of women and children?

OLDER MAN: We should — you should — get out. Pronto. Afghanistan has been chewing up Brits and Russians and Americans ever since the era of Rudyard Kipling. Don’t try to be a Lyndon Johnson with Vietnam carved on his belly. Leave that to dear Mr. Cheney and his new heart. Even a lot of — dare I say the word? — a lot of Republicans will be glad for us to get out. Any more questions?

SLIM MAN: Speaking of Republicans, it seems to me they’re a lot more vicious nowadays than when you were in this job.

OLDER MAN: Don’t kid yourself. In my day we had, among many other things, Father Coughlin, the German-American Bund, Charles Lindbergh and every wild-eyed variety of America Firster. The Republicans were the least. I’m sure you’ve played and replayed how I handled them at the Garden in 1936: “They hate me, and I welcome their hatred.” sThen, too, I had another pre-election ally: my little dog Fala. But much more vicious than anything those haters ever did to me, or wanted to do, was their spineless unending mockery of Eleanor. The attacks on your wife can’t hold a candle to it… . I don’t mean to be impolite, but I’m a little weary. Anything else?

 SLIM MAN: Well, Sir, what if you were in my shoes? I mean, up against either this Mitt person or this Rick person — the snooty phony or the fanatical nice guy? Which would you choose to run against?

OLDER MAN: Oh ho ho. That one you’ve got to figure out for yourself.


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