Welcome to Potomac Place, a serene environment where I have lived for many years. Countless birds, mischievous squirrels, ever-present deer, and other critters abound here just twelve miles from the White House. It’s where I constantly read and occasionally write, when life doesn’t intervene.

I hope to provide you with a new story every few weeks. Read, enjoy, and comment if you chose.

As they say on the radio, “Stay Tuned.”


Acropolis, Athens, Greece.

POTOMAC PLACE

Now You Know, Joe - Things Have Changed

July 1, 2018

The results of the recent Democrat primary in New York surprised many, but it was a change in the making for many years.

The media and many political savants were stunned when 56-year old Joseph Crowley, the powerful chairman of the Queens Democrat Party and the 20-year incumbent Member of Congress representing New York’s 14th Congressional District was pummeled in his 2018 primary contest by a 28-year old savvy and articulate Latina, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who up until a few months ago was tending bar in a taco restaurant in Manhattan’s Union Square.

There’s a lot happening here that Ocasio-Cortez obviously knew and Crowley should have. Obviously a keener observer, she seized on Crowley’s hubris and his energetic support of New York’s financial community and its generous support for him. Crowley had made the classic mistake of moving his family from Queens to Virginia, which she made issue of in their only debate, noting he didn’t live here and he’s the big bankers go to guy and vice versa. Simply put, he’s not one of us. Another and important factor was that she was a key organizer in the Bronx for Bernie Sander’s 2016 Democrat presidential primary campaign. Sanders beat Hillary Clinton in many parts of the 14th Congressional District. Further, more familiar with social media, she doubled Crowley’s effort both in Spanish and English on Facebook and Instagram. She effectively waged a digital door-to-door campaign. The ground was plowed and the seeds had been firmly planted.

I know the area well. I was born in Jackson Heights and raised in Woodside. Whenever I visit New York, I stay with my sister Carol in Woodside. Three of my father’s sisters lived in Parkchester, a huge Bronx apartment complex where Ocasio-Cortez resides. I have many cousins living in the Bronx. My sister Carol being treasurer of the Queens Historical Society, a few years ago I was invited to address the Society on the significant demographic changes in Queens. The demographic data was eve-opening. What Crowley didn’t recognize was quite obvious. All you had to do was ride the subway, which he never did.

My lecture, The Changing Face of Queens, also appearing on this blog, notes that the seeds of change were planted by the U.S. Congress in 1965 when it liberalized U.S. immigration policy. In the space of 50 years, Queens became a haven to immigrants. Now more than 50 percent of its residents are foreign born. The experience in the Bronx is similar.

It was there for all to see, new faces, new ideas, and different needs. Another important factor is the escalation in the costs of housing. Young people, with rental costs in Manhattan, and now Brooklyn, soaring, found refuge in the close in Queens’ neighborhoods of Astoria, Sunnyside, Woodside, and Jackson Heights that have more affordable rents and access to the subway. These new arrivals, the Bernie Sanders supporters, became change agents. Ocasio-Cortez scored better in these neighborhoods than she did in her native Bronx. She beat Crowley 59 to 41 percent in Queens, five points better than her 54 to 46 victory in her native Bronx.

As Bob Dylan said, Joe:

Come senators, congressmen
Please heed the call
For the times they are a-changin.

A Day at the MVA

June 6, 2018

Tags: Short Stories

We've all had those frustrating days at the MVA either renewing our driver's licenses or getting new license plates. This is the story of Miles Reardon's day at the MVA:


I can’t remember why I chose that Tuesday to visit the Motor Vehicle Administration (MVA) office to renew my license. I guess I figured it wouldn’t be that crowded. Was I ever wrong? It was packed. And it was slow. It turned out that two of the six people who service, and I use that word loosely, the so-called customers, jerks like me, decided to take sick days, though they might not have been sick. You know the type of employment benefits I’m talking about, you either use them or you lose them. Well they used them, like me, probably figuring it would be one of those slow days.

I learned something else that day. The MVA is now the designated place where resident non-citizens lacking Green Cards go for their state identification cards. And like me and the two MVA employees, they must have also figured it would be a slow day. There was a horde of them packed into the room. I felt like I was at a bus station in Tegucigalpa. Worse yet, the two women who decided to take sick days were the only Spanish speaking employees at that MVA branch office, the so-called “Express Office.”

It was the coincidence of my decision to renew my license that day, the MVA employees decision to take sick days, and the decision of the Central Americans to show up for their state identification cards that affected many lives, mine for the better if only for a few hours.

There I was sitting in this large room holding ticket number 99 and fuming that I didn’t bring along Ron Chernow’s Hamilton, a 750-page door stop, and a great book by the way, that I had checked out of the library over the weekend. I had put it down the night before at the point where Alexander Hamilton had left King’s College (now Columbia University) and accepted a commission as a captain in the Continental Army. As I grumbled to myself, a striking and well-dressed woman sat down next to me. My eyes were immediately drawn to her décolletage and the necklace lodged there. Linked to the end of the thin gold chain was a gold pendant in the shape of a thumb drive. I guessed that she did something with computers. When she smiled at me, I said, “You have nothing to smile about, unless you have a lower number than my 99.”

“Oh, mine’s 112,” she said.

“I hope you have something to read.”

She shook her head. “No, I was told that I’d be in and out of here in a few minutes on a Tuesday.”

“Well, it seems they’re short on people. One of the guys behind the counter said that two people are out sick today.”

She nodded and looked around the room. “There’re a lot of Hispanic people here today. What’s going on?”

“It seems they’re here for their state ID cards.”

“Not licenses?”

“No. Well, to be politically incorrect, they’re illegals.”

“So, what’s with the ID cards?”

I explained that the state legislature passed a law to create ID cards for foreign residents without Green Cards so they could open bank accounts, deposit money, and cash their checks.

“That’s only fair,” she said. She looked around. “They’re hard-working people with families to support. If they get paid in cash, they have to hide it in their crowded apartments and risk being robbed, and if the get paid by check, the check cashing operations rip them off.”

I nodded in agreement. “True. They’re just trying to make it. As far as I know there’re plenty of jobs out there now.”

“Yeah, jobs are going begging,” she said. “I read somewhere the unemployment rate is below five percent.”

“Somewhere down near four percent, I think.”

She nodded. “I don’t understand why our representatives were afraid to allow them to have driver’s licenses.”

“Cautious politicians,” I said.

“Yeah,” she said. “No courage. Instead they compromised. They eased their guilt by limiting them to ID cards.” Shaking her head, she moved her arms hands back and forth. “What a mess. How do they expect these people to get around?”

“Yeah, guess how they got here?”

She laughed. “Yeah, they drove. They drove without licenses.”

“Yeah, and without insurance,” I said. “That’s a formula for disaster.”

“What other alternative do they have? They have to work. They have to pay rent and feed their families,” she said emphatically getting unsympathetic looks from others sitting around us.

“It’s a crazy system, a real conundrum,” I offered.

Just then, a man came out of the back room and said, “Can anyone here speak Spanish?”

All the non-citizens said in a chorus, “Si, si, senior.”

The guy shook his head, “No, no, I meant is there an English speaking person here who speaks Spanish?”

The woman sitting next to me stood up quickly. “I teach Spanish. How can I help?”

“You can be my interpreter.”

“I’ll gladly interpret, but I can do more than that if it’ll get us out of here faster, I’m good with computers,” she said.

“Ok, come with me,” he said.

“Well, I have my assistant with me. He’d be glad to help.”

“Sure, bring him along.”

She turned to me and smiled. “I’m Connie by the way. Connie Joseph.”

“Miles Reardon.”

“Ok, Miles. Let’s show these people how to work smart and fast,” she said, pulling me by the arm.”

Connie and I were processed first. We had our licenses renewed in five minutes. Then, she sat down at the end window and found out what it was she had to do, essentially type information from a form into the word processor, snap a photo of the license and ID applicants, and take the cash fee or the credit card and hand it to the MVA guy. My job was to have the non-citizens line up, check all their forms to see if they were completed in a legible manner, and tell them to have their ten bucks ready.

Connie moved quickly and so did the line. She processed 50 people in about an hour and a half. She typed efficiently, no chit chatting, and moved things along. Everyone there was happy and when we were finished, she looked at me and said, “I need a damn drink after that.”

We ended up in a bar and burger joint on the Pike. When we walked into the place she told me to order her a double vodka martini and she headed for the ladies room. When she came back to the table I noticed that she had put on fresh makeup, but while admiring her, I noticed that she had taken off the gold chain. We drank and talked about life and by three that afternoon we were in bed in the Motel Six across the parking lot from the bar. As I released myself from our embrace she smiled. “We’re a perfect fit,” she said, “perfect.”

I closed my eyes and thought. Is this my lucky day or what? I had been divorced for a little over a year. You see, I’m a CPA. My former wife couldn’t take my absence or catatonic state for the four month tax preparation season. She packed up and left me a note telling me to file my taxes separately in the coming year. I hadn’t dated since then, and hadn’t been intimate with anyone for almost two years. Now, I had the perfect partner, at least physically. But who the hell is she? And, why has she chosen me?

I came out of the shower with a towel wrapped around me. As I did, she sat up in bed, and the sheet she was under slid down. She opened her arms and beckoned to me. Soon, I was dead to the world. I woke up hours later to an empty bed. Turning on the lamp, I saw her message thanking me for making her day. No phone number, no promise of more perfect fits, I was crestfallen and again wondering, who is she? When I got back to my place, I Googled Connie Joseph and came up with nothing.

I mooned about her for days, but eventually I got over her and went on with my life. In a matter of months, I met the love of my life. We married a year later, and in another year we had a baby girl and the following year a boy. Life at home was going well as was my accounting practice until two guys in blue suits showed up at my office. New clients, I guessed when I went out to the reception room to greet them, only to be presented with their FBI credentials. “Mr. Reardon, I’m Special Agent Tullis and this is Special Agent Coffey, can we talk with you in private?”

I swallowed hard searching my mind. Was it the tax return of one of the firm’s clients? What could be wrong? The alarm bells were going off. What’s going on here? “Sure,” I said, but I quickly thought that I had better call Jack Brooks, an attorney in the building, who had handled a few cases for clients of the firm. I led them to the conference room. “Could you wait here for a few minutes? I want my attorney to sit in on our discussion.”

“That won’t be necessary. You’re not the subject of our investigation and neither are any of your clients,” Agent Tullis said.

Sure, relax. The FBI is here to help me. No, I’ve been in too many audits over the years, something’s not right here. Out of caution, I told them, “I worked for the IRS early in my career. No lawyer, no discussion; it’s that simple.”

They shrugged, I called Jack Brooks to explain the situation and then served the agents coffee. My nerves were getting the best of me waiting for Jack. When he arrived he went through the stipulations or terms for our discussion. The initial minutes of our meeting were taken up by Agent Coffey’s revelations.

Coffey opened his briefcase and began stacking stuff on the table. I leaned towards him focused on what he was doing. There were passports, credit cards, and drivers’ licenses wrapped in rubber bands and tagged. When he was finished, he asked me if I had a passport. What’s this all about? Puzzled, I looked at Jack, who hunched his shoulders. I told Coffey that as strange as it seemed, I never had a reason to apply for a passport since my only trips out of the country had been to Mexico, Canada, and Puerto Rico.

Agent Coffee smiled. “Well, you have one now, though it’s not signed.” He picked it up and waved it back and forth. Pointing to a pile of forms, he said, “We also have a few credit cards applications in your name.”

I was stunned. My credit was exceptional. My FICO score was in the high 800’s the last time I’d checked.

“What are you getting at?” Jack Brooks said.

“Mr. Reardon’s documents are only one set in these piles of documents,” Coffey said. “We have boxes of similar documents back at our office.”

“It’s obvious that my client is a victim of some sort of credit card scam.”

“Not really a victim as far as we can determine, but he could have been,” Agent Tullis opined. “As Agent Coffey said, his passport bears no signature. For some reason it was never used. The passport is still good. It contains his real birth date and place of birth. The information on the inside page for personal data, his address and emergency contact information is still to be filled in. As for the credit card applications, our inquiries with the issuing companies revealed that they were never submitted. We can assure you that his credit rating has not been affected. That’s part of the reason we’re here. We think Mr. Reardon knows more about this matter than he realizes.”

I sat there baffled wondering what he was getting at when Jack Brooks said, “Let’s cut to the chase, guys. How does this involve Mr. Reardon?”

Tullis reached into his briefcase and pulled out a photo and slid it across the table to me along with the question, “Recognize her?”

I looked at the photo and closed my eyes. Oh, my God. It’s the perfect fit. I felt sick to my stomach. My reaction to the photo was telling. Jack Brooks held up his hand. “My client and I are going to step outside for a few minutes.”

Confused and in total shock, somehow I managed to stumble out of the conference room and into the hallway with Jack. We went into my office and closed the door. I was devastated as I struggled to remember the details of that morning at the MVA. Five minutes later he knew the whole story right through to our afternoon soiree in the Motel 6. “Look, she asked me to help her. All I was doing was making sure that the Hispanics had filled in their forms legibly and that they had their money ready to pay the fee. You know, I was speeding up the process. Look, Jack, I’d never seen her before or after that day. Am I in trouble?”

As Jack looked at me his face tightened. He closed his eyes as he bowed his head, the fingers of his right hand moving up and down his nose as he slowly moved his head back and forth as if uncertain. “I don’t think so,” he said, pausing. “I mean how could she know you’d be at the MVA? She had no idea that you’d be there that morning, and by chance there was an empty seat next to you. If you’d been sitting in the middle of the row, then some other guy would’ve ended up as her helper. In fact she might not have needed or selected a helper. She obviously found you to be suitable for what came later. What I have to do is protect your identity from disclosure.”

When he said those words I felt faint. I slumped over in my chair and closed my eyes as I struggled to process his statement. “Oh my God, I haven’t even thought about that. You have to protect me on this. I can’t be named in this mess. I had nothing to do with it. My reputation, my business, and possibly my marriage are at stake.” I cringed visualizing the newspaper and television stories about the Motel 6 love nest and the gullible CPA who unwittingly assisted in the identification theft of the personal information of thousands of people from the MVA data base, which was used in creating false identities for credit card scams. Yeah, just the kind of person you want handling your most sensitive personal information. I was beginning to lose it. I looked over at Jack who was silent in thought and pleaded with him, “Please, you have to keep my name out of this.”

He nodded in agreement. “Look, it’s obvious that if she pleads innocent and her prosecution goes to trial you’ll have to testify in court to prove that she had access to the data and the opportunity to steal it. If that’s the case, we need an agreement that they’ll identify you as witness A, B, or C in the charging documents. If they agree to that now, you tell them what you know today, and possibly later to the Assistant U.S. Attorney handling the case. They obviously have a solid case against her. Cases like this usually result in some sort of plea agreement with a monetary fine and a negotiated prison term subject to a federal judge’s approval.”

“What if they don’t agree to shield my identity?”

“I think they will. Given your innocent involvement, I see no reason why they wouldn’t agree.”

When we went back into the room I was beside myself as I listened to Jack work out the agreement that my identity would not be disclosed. The sweat had been running through my shirt and into the arm pits and down the lining of the sides of my suit jacket. I had the foul smell of fear about me when I pulled off my jacket. Jack patted my shoulder and smiled. “Relax, Miles. Tell them what you recall from that day.”

I took a deep breath and began to tell the story, hesitating only when I got to our soiree in the Motel 6. On Jack’s demand they also agreed that what happened there would not be part of the record. “What happened on the Pike, stays on the Pike,” Agent Tullis said with a smile.

When I was finished with my story, Agent Coffey revealed that inside the pendant on the chain worn by my perfect fit was a real thumb drive that enabled her to download the personal information and photographs of thousands of people who had visited the MVA’s Express Office on the Pike, enabling her to apply for passports and credit cards, and to print driver licenses that she subsequently sold. With all this personal information, she also utilized Turbo Tax software to file bogus tax returns resulting in her receipt of millions of dollars in tax refunds. Coffey also explained that the crowd in the MVA office was part of the scheme. People coming to the office for ID cards the previous week were told to report the following Tuesday at 9 a.m. The two employees taking sick leave was also a contrivance. They were not involved in the scheme, but their supervisor was. He had told them to take the day off. During the previous week he had also enjoyed the same Motel 6 privileges. It appears that he, too, was a perfect fit.

I sat there in silence thinking how lucky I was that she hadn’t left her phone number or had called me. I didn’t want to think about what might’ve happened if we had connected again.

Cinco de Mayo - A Trans-formative Day at the Brooklyn Navy Yard

May 16, 2018

Tags: Cinco de Mayo and U.S. Navy

Naples, Italy, Monday, April 27, 1958: I checked out of my Naval Security Group office on the heights of Posillipo and walked to the Personnel office in the adjacent building to pick up my departure orders and personnel and pay records. Gil McDonald, one of my suite mates at the Hotel Tricarico, where we were billeted, was in charge of the transportation office. He gave me my choice of returning to the Brooklyn Navy Yard for my discharge by either ship, a one-week monotonous voyage on a troop transport, or by plane, via Paris. Naturally, I chose Paris.

I left Naples early the next morning on a Navy diplomatic courier flight and landed at Le Bourget Airport later that morning. I checked into the Hotel Le Littre, a facility managed by the Air Force for U.S. servicemen and their families in transit. I had spent two fun days there earlier that month on my way to the opening of the World’s Fair in Brussels, and things were normal with the usual hustle and bustle in this glorious City of Light. Things had changed in that short span of time. There was tension in the air. Paris was in political turmoil. U.S. military personnel were advised to be careful and return to the hotel no later than 2300.

I quickly found out why. The French Army had taken control of the politically unstable Algerian government and was demanding the return of Charles de Gaulle to lead France. In a few weeks, the French Parliament returned him to power as Prime Minister; and at the end of the year he was elected President of France, and would serve for another ten years. Leaving the hotel that afternoon I found Gendarmes standing at every corner in Paris with automatic weapons at the ready. It would be the only time in my countless trips to Paris over the years that I was anxious to leave.

Late the next day, I boarded a Military Air Transport Command (MATS) DC5 and via the Azores and Newfoundland arrived at Maguire Air Force Base in New Jersey at noon the next day. An Air Force bus dropped me and about ten other sailors off at the Brooklyn Navy Yard at four that afternoon. After checking in at the Navy Receiving Station on Flushing Avenue, I was home at our apartment in Woodside at six o’clock with my sea bag and all my gear. After greeting the family, Dad and I had a drink with some of his friends at a neighborhood watering hole before returning home for dinner. Following dinner, I reunited with a girl in Sunnyside who I had dated while on leave in 1957.

Early the next morning, I took the subway to the Navy Yard with an overnight bag packed with working shoes, dungarees, and a foul weather jacket. After turning down an assignment to pick up a prisoner in Buffalo and return him by train to the Navy Brig, I was put in charge of a line handling party to assist the debarkation on an aircraft carrier and its three destroyer escorts. That proved to be a considerable challenge since my working party was replete with lazy misfits.

The following day, Friday, May 2nd, I was called to the Personnel Office and informed that I would be discharged the following Monday, May 5th, nine days ahead of my scheduled May 13th discharge. I also learned that I had passed the test for First Class Petty Officer (E6 rank). It was quite an accomplishment for someone a week shy of 21, but the promotion would not be effective until June 1st. The “Catch 22” was that the promotion would only be awarded if I extended my enlistment for another year. I was willing to extend my service for another three months, but another year, even in Naples, was out of the question. I never doubted my decision. Looking back, in John Greenleaf Whittier’s words, it was never an “it might have been” moment for me. It was an easy decision. I was foregoing the security of a Navy career and taking the opportunity the G.I. Bill offered. I was going to college that fall.

The morning of May 5th proved to be both a serious and amusing moment in my life. The night before, Joe Aigner, a colorful character that my sister Rose was dating, offered to drive me back to the Navy Yard in his 1956 black Pontiac convertible and pick me up the next morning outside the Receiving Station. Joe, 6'2" and weighting about 225 pounds, was a fun-loving, carefree, larger-than-life guy you were immediately drawn to.

After morning chow, I stripped my bunk, turned in my Navy issued and well-worn blanket that had traveled the world with me, to the Quartermaster’s office, and checked out of the Personnel office, where I turned in my ID card was handed my personnel records, final pay, had my photo taken, and was issued an Inactive Navy Reserve ID card.

There were about 25 of us being discharged that morning, most from the New York Metropolitan area. We assembled outside the Personnel office on the main deck and marched to the front entrance and down the steps into a small courtyard surrounded by a chain link fence. The Brooklyn Navy Yard band was playing a medley of marching music as we assembled in two columns. Outside the fence on Flushing Avenue, Joe Aigner was waiting in his convertible with the hood down and the radio blaring.

When the Navy band finished playing, a flustered young lieutenant had to compete with James Brown singing “Good Golly Miss Molly” as he vainly tried to wish us farewell. He paused and turned towards Joe who was leaning back behind the wheel, a cigarette in his mouth and a wide smile on his face as he tapped the steering wheel to the rhythm of the music. “Does anyone know this person?” he asked. We all looked at each other and hunched our shoulders everyone smirking, including me. I wasn’t about to test the lieutenant and admit that Joe was there for me. I wouldn’t be officially discharged until he said dismissed. I waited with baited breath until he did.

Thankfully, there was a brief lull in the music from Joe’s car radio as the lieutenant continued to speak, but he was soon interrupted by the Everly Brothers singing “Wake Up Little Suzie.” At that point, the lieutenant gave up, wished us good luck and stormed up the steps and into the building just as the Navy band struck up “Anchors Aweigh.” We all turned and saluted the flag before we walked out onto Flushing Avenue, where I shook hands with a few of the guys and said good bye. As I nodded at Joe to drive to the corner, someone asked me, “Who is that guy?” I smiled and said, “One of the many characters from my neighborhood.” I jogged up the street and threw my gear in the back seat and joined Joe up front. He was laughing. “I hope I didn’t screw things up for you,” he said. I shook my head. Joe was being Joe, and I was setting out in a whole new direction. It was Cinco de Mayo, but at that time I didn’t know the significance of the date, it being the anniversary of the historic Mexican victory over Napoleon’s forces in the 1862 battle of Pueblo. For me, it was a transformative day. My life was beginning anew and that was a significant enough reason for the celebratory drinks that Joe and I would soon be enjoying. Now, when I celebrate Cinco de Mayo I do so with the fond memories of that day in 1958.

The Chappaquiddick Effect

April 1, 2018

Tags: Politics

Chappaquiddick, Friday, July 18, 1969, I well remember that day as if it were yesterday. A new movie by that name now brings that story to those not living at that time or too young to remember that event.

In Washington, D.C., the weather was unusually comfortable, relatively mild and sunny with minimum humidity. I took a taxi from my midtown office to the Watergate office building in Foggy Bottom to the headquarters of the Democratic National Committee to meet with Mark Shields, then a political campaign strategist. We talked for a few minutes and then left the building and walked under the “K” Street Freeway to Chadwick’s, a popular bar and restaurant in Georgetown.

At lunch, we talked about the state of the nation under the new Nixon administration and the potential Democratic presidential candidates who might have a chance to beat him in 1972. I had been an advance man for President Johnson and Vice President Humphrey and Mark had served in the same capacity for Senator Robert Kennedy (D-NY). His wife, Anne, had worked on Robert Kennedy’s staff. We both agreed that Senator Edmund Muskie (D-ME), who had been Hubert Humphrey’s running-mate, had a fair shot for the nomination. Mark would eventually work on his behalf during the 1972 primaries. There also was Senator George McGovern (D-SD), who would eventually get the nomination. At that time, however, we didn’t think he had a chance. In our view, the nomination was a “done deal” for Senator Edward M. “Teddy” Kennedy (D-MA), should he decide to make the race.

We finished our beers and cheeseburgers and walked back to Mark’s office. After we fixed a date when he and Anne could spend the weekend at our place in North Bethany, Delaware, I took a taxi back to my office.

When I arrived back at the office there was a message to call Mark. I did. He grabbed the phone on the first ring. Mark, always self-assured, as those who see him on PBS every Friday evening know, was anything but this time. He told me what he had learned. It was a hazy story about a place called Chappaquiddick on Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts. A place where a girl named Mary Jo, who had worked with Anne Shields on Bobby Kennedy’s staff, had died in an auto accident earlier that morning. Teddy Kennedy was the driver. That was all he knew.

For the next few weeks that was all we would know. Unlike Mary Jo Kopechne, the story would not die. Mary Jo had drowned in the shallow water of Poucha Pond when Kennedy’s car went off Dike Bridge, a short, narrow, and unlit wooden structure lacking guard rails. Kennedy had made it out of the car and left the scene. His story was questionable then, and still is now. Kennedy had told Dominick Arena, the Edgartown police chief, that the accident happened on Thursday evening at 11:15 p.m., but he had waited until 9:30 a.m. on Friday morning to report it.

Bob Clark (Robert G. Clark, Jr.), a friend of mine from Georgetown Law School, who lived in the dormitory town house next to mine, represented Kennedy in the Edgartown court before Judge James A. Boyle. Kennedy pleaded guilty to leaving the scene of an accident, and Boyle accepted the agreement that Clark had worked out to suspend the sentence of two months in the Barnstable Jail. It might have been the best lawyering that Bob would do in his long and distinguished career, although it was never mentioned in his May, 2013 obituary.

Chappaquiddick killed Ted Kennedy’s chances for the presidential nomination in 1972 and forever weakened him as a political figure. But by the end of the 1970’s, Kennedy’s popularity had strengthened due in part to his leadership on social issues in the U.S. Senate and the weakened position and unpopularity of the incumbent President James E. “Jimmy” Carter.

Kennedy’s popularity rang true for me in a personal experience in 1979 on the occasion of Pope John Paul II’s visit to the White House on October 6th. Having previously represented the Pauline Fathers, a Polish order and the Shrine of Our Lady of Czestochowa in Doylestown, Pennsylvania, and in addition to my fund raising efforts on behalf of President Carter, my wife, Mary-Margaret and I were invited to the White House ceremony on the south lawn along with a few hundred others. We had seats close up. Sitting to our right was U.S. District Court Judge John Sirica, who had presided over the prosecution of the Watergate case defendants, and to our left three young Polish-American priests from Detroit, a city which then had a large Polish-American population.

It was an exciting day, all of us gawking at the familiar faces of numerous and distinguished people from politics, finance, the arts, theater, television and film. The crowd was abuzz in anticipation of seeing the Pontiff close up. The good mood spurred greetings and extended conversations. At some point in my conversations with Sirica and the priests, one of the priests mentioned that he thought that President Carter was weak on foreign policy and that he planned to support Ted Kennedy.

I pondered his words briefly and responded irreverently: “Father, with all due respect, how could you support that man who had left that sweet Polish-American girl Mary Jo Kopechne to drown in Chappaquiddick?”

He lowered his head and raising it, smiled slightly and responded, “Have you no forgiveness in your heart?”

At that moment, I knew that memories were short, that Chappaquiddick had faded, and that Jimmy Carter’s days might be numbered.

You Too

February 11, 2018

Twice annually for the past 16 years, as the representative of an international organization of governments, I have gone to the United Nations Headquarters in New York City to participate in drafting sessions on model laws on the arbitration, mediation/conciliation, and the settlement of contract disputes. Gathered at these session are representatives from over a hundred nations along with non-government organizations dedicated to dispute resolution of international trade contracts.

At a luncheon at this month’s drafting session on the enforcement of international settlement agreements, I sat across from a Beijing attorney and arbitrator. In the course of our conversation about our respective careers, we discussed my experience negotiating contracts with the Chinese government, the agencies and individuals I had dealt with, and my general familiarity with navigating through the sometimes obstinate and opaque Chinese bureaucracy.

In discussing our educations and legal training and other life experiences we inquired of each other about whether we had served in the military. I mentioned my Navy service. His face lit up. He, too, had served in the Navy. He asked what ship I had served on and what I did. I explained that I was in communications and served on shore stations in the Pacific islands of Guam and Okinawa, and in Italy and England in the mid to late 1950’s. His face widened in a smile. He, too, had served in communications from a base in Shanghai. We reviewed the tenseness of those times, the daily Chinese shelling of Quemoy and Matsu, islands off the coast of Taiwan, and the then anticipated Chinese invasion of Taiwan.

There was a reflective pause in our conversation as we both leaned back in our chairs and smiled. I suspected that he might have done what I had done, and sensed he had the same feeling about me. Our identical and simultaneous questions crossed each other as we asked and answered them. It was a “you too” moment. I listened to the Seventh Fleet, he said. I knew all of your ships. And I copied your ships, but we had more of them than you did, I responded. We both laughed and agreed that for sure we were both still doing it. He noted that the Chinese navy was listening to us from bases all along its coastline.

We discussed the improved state of diplomatic and commercial relations between our two countries in the past 50-years. Both of us agreed that China, despite its increased defense spending, was no longer a military threat, but instead a commercial concern to its Asian neighbors and the western world. China had come too far in its economic growth and commitment to globalization to jeopardize its manufacturing and trading advantages. His presence and participation in the drafting sessions was further evidence that China is a commercial player that intends to remain a force in world trade.

Life often leads us to interesting cross roads. How often do two lawyers interested in facilitating the resolution of trade disputes discover they were once on opposite sides during the Cold War listening to each other’s communications, perhaps in preparation to either prevent or provoke a dispute with possible cataclysmic results?

The Changing Face of Queens

December 22, 2017

Tags: Demographics

Demographics play an important role in our lives, determining the outcome of elections, media advertising, store locations, the type of food available in stores and restaurants, the disposition of federal, state, and local funding, private grant funding, the type of entertainment, including music, television shows and movies, literature, the composite of neighborhoods, and so much more.

On a trip to Cuba, this month, a prominent University of Havana sociology professor, Dr. Marta Nunez, had difficulty explaining the specific racial composition of the island nation originally settled by the Spanish and supplemented by West African slaves to work the sugar fields and Chinese to build its railroad network. Nunez explained that over the years, interracial marriage had resulted in a complex mixture of its people making it difficult to pinpoint people as white, mixed, or black compounded by many people of mixed heritage identifying as white. Simply put, the blurred demographic reflects a unified culture with everyone proudly identifying themselves as Cuban. While the sight of many mixed couples on the streets and in restaurants suggested a lack of prejudice, it plainly exists with the darker skinned people living in the run down areas along with few blacks attending the more prestigious universities.

Here in the U.S., census data paints a clearer picture, though here, too, people get to choose their ethnicity. A few years ago, preparing for a speech to the Queens Historical Society, I researched the available data on the changing face of Queens County, New York, where I grew up in another era. The demographic data has changed significantly with the new immigrants, as they did in the last two centuries, clustering together until their subsequent generations begin to discover and intermarry with other ethnic groups. Overall, it’s a fascinating picture of a nation poised to change dramatically, much to the chagrin and opposition of those who yearn for a day that will never return. (more…)

The Cajun

October 1, 2017

Picking up a menu recently one of the featured dishes, Cajun Style Catfish, brought a smile to my face. Cajun was the nickname of the late Gary J. Lemoine, a well-known character in the cotton industry, who died earlier this year. The Cajun had his ups and downs in life. The ups were great, while they lasted, but the downs, over time were ruinous.

Gary had an insecure childhood in Louisiana. He told me that he was an orphan, but was vague on how he was raised. He was smart, wily, outspoken, and quick to admit his mistakes. He was generous to a fault when he was flush, and when he was broke, somehow he usually managed to pay his debts. In many ways he was a paradox. He started out with the U.S. Department of Agriculture as a cotton classer for the Agricultural Marketing Service. He was an excellent judge of cotton, its value, and knew the Mid-South market where he had worked as a government classer for five years before becoming a successful cotton buyer at various gins under the name Cajun Cotton.

I first met the Cajun in the 1970’s. He was a handsome man with a full head of salt and pepper hair, always with a bright smile, and dressed in flashy clothes. His shiny suits, bold silk shirts, and alligator shoes were a sharp contrast to the buttoned-down look favored by most people in the cotton industry.

The occasion of our initial meeting in Memphis was an effort to resolve a problem with bale weights that had cropped up at a few west Tennessee gin points. The ginners had cooked up a scheme to short the bale weights. Instead of running the industry-standard weight bales through the gin, the process was manipulated to deliver bales lighter by some 50 to 80 pounds. Through this scheme, the ginners, acting as agents of the farmers, were defrauding the buyers. With cotton selling at 75 cents a pound at the time, the weight losses incurred were running from $38 to $60 a bale or $3,800 to $6,000 on a 100 bale sale. In the case of the Cajun, he had purchased a thousand bales and was in the hole for about $50,000. Sales of cotton in the mid-South territory were also subject to weight penalties in addition to the actual monetary loss.

George Martin, the Executive Vice President of the Southern Cotton Association (SCA), requested my assistance in my role as General Counsel of the American Cotton Shippers Association (the SCA being an affiliated member) to accompany him and the Cajun to a meeting with a gin manager and the farmers to help resolve the matter in the Cajun’s favor. When George and the Cajun picked me up at Memphis’ iconic Peabody Hotel in the Cajun’s new Cadillac, I asked George where his old Chevy was parked. “I’m sorry, Cajun, but your chances of resolving this problem tonight are going to be a lot better if you would make a more modest appearance.”

The Cajun smiled. “I get it,” he said. “That’s a sign of a good lawyer.”

I shook my head. “No sense making the problem any worse than it is already,” I said, and looking at the thick gold chains hanging out of his shirt, the large gold rings on each hand, and a diamond studded gold Rolex watch hanging from his left wrist, I continued, “That also goes for the jewelry.” I took a handkerchief from my pocket, unfolded it on my lap, and said, “Let’s have it.” I tied up the jewelry, which was quite heavy, and put it into my briefcase.

“Good idea,” he said with a big smile, and turning to George Martin, he said, “So far, this guy’s full of good ideas. Let’s hope he gets my money back tonight.” We did. The farmers were contrite as was the ginner. A compromise was reached. We waived the bale penalties, a new contract was signed, and warehouse receipts for cotton valued at $50,000 were given to the Cajun. He was made whole and he was happy.

From that moment on, each year, I could always count on the Cajun to give the $5,000 maximum contribution to the association’s political action committee in addition to him making individual contributions to various candidates.

His business prospered and within a few years, he owned a radio station in Louisiana, a few farms, a luxury suite at the Super Dome, and a bar in the French Quarter of New Orleans. The Cajun had truly arrived. He also had re-married to a beautiful, physically attractive, sweet, and well-mannered woman, who was always exquisitely dressed, albeit in provocative clothes. When questioned why he encouraged his wife to dress that way he would smile and say, “Because it turns me on.”

Over the years, the Cajun would make huge amounts of money and feeling confident about his market prowess would often take contrarian market positions and end up losing his capital. Trouble seemed to plague the Cajun often in the form of fast women, liquor, and in choosing his business associates. Since he always managed to make good on his debts, a few large merchants were willing to provide him with financing. He usually ended up on his feet until his hubris, resulting in flawed judgment, involved him with the wrong guy that would lead to his undoing.

In that case, he hooked up with a partner who claimed to have purchased a large quantity of cotton, but for some unexplained reason needed the Cajun’s involvement to legitimize the transaction. The partner produced warehouse receipts to evidence the ownership of the cotton allegedly stored in a Missouri warehouse. Though he had doubts about the reputation of his partner, the Cajun decided that in this particular transaction he was worth the risk. The only problem being that the warehouse receipts turned out to be bogus. The product stored in the warehouse was actually baled gin motes (short immature fibers with limited use and of lesser value) and not the premium cotton represented by the fake receipts. To get around this problem, the Cajun’s partner retained a young man with limited mental acuity to torch the warehouse containing the gin motes. Following the destruction of the gin motes an insurance claim would be made for the loss of premium cotton, and the Cajun and his partner would cash in.

The torch job went off without a hitch, the fire destroying all of the cotton in the warehouse. There was a problem; however, the young man had torched the wrong warehouse. He had actually destroyed another party’s premium cotton. Following a serious geography lesson, the nascent arsonist upped his game and managed to torch the correct warehouse. Unfortunately for the Cajun, the young man shared his experience with others and soon all involved were arrested.

Even though a few cotton men on Memphis’ fabled Front Street referred to the Cajun’s partner as “Sparky,” the Cajun claimed in his discussions with me that he never knew what was up until after the fires. Knowing the Cajun’s guile, I had my doubts that he lacked knowledge of the plot going in.

The Cajun was convicted as a passive conspirator, non-the-less a conspirator, and served time at a minimum security federal “country club.” Having Rush Limbaugh’s brother, a former U.S. Attorney, as his lawyer helped limit the length of his sentence. Following his release from captivity, the Cajun returned to Louisiana and took up a new venture, selling used cars. Always the optimist and prone to put a positive spin on his circumstances, he considered his new occupation as akin to a public service, telling me in our last telephone conversation that he was dealing in previously owned vehicles for people with limited financial resources.

A Sad Labor Day Memory – Grandpa Jim

September 4, 2017

Tags: Loss.

When I awoke, Grandpa Jim had left – left this world and I didn’t get a chance to say goodbye. I had fallen asleep in a chair beside his bed with my great aunt, Lilly, standing beside me. It must’ve been around 3 a.m. when I nodded off. Prior to that, when Lilly was out in the kitchen, he’d asked for a drink of water and then told me to open his drawer. “Look in the plaid shirt. There should be four envelopes.” I pulled open the drawer and near the bottom was a new plaid shirt, a gift from last Christmas, unopened and covered with cellophane. I pulled back the scotch tape binding the cellophane and reached inside the tissue paper and pulled out four white envelopes of various thicknesses. They were marked Rose, Anne, Gracie, and Lilly. The thickest of the four were for his daughters Rose and Anne. I brought them over to his bed. He beckoned me towards him and in a faltering voice said, “Give them separately to each of them after the funeral. Don’t tell Rose and Anne about the envelopes for Gracie (niece) and Lilly, it’ll only cause hard feelings. They were good to me, too – they need something for their troubles. And you, young man – I think you’re going to do all right without any cash to burn holes in your pockets.”

Aunt Lily came into the room after I put the envelopes inside my shirt. “Can I get you anything Jim?” He looked up at his sister-in-law, shook his head and smiled. He was always in love with her. They both lost their spouses at an early age in the influenza epidemic of 1918. “I knew him too well to marry him. He was full of mischief,” she said.

She had called me that afternoon as I was relishing the enjoyment of that 1962 Labor Day weekend at the house a group of us had rented in the Hamptons. At the time, my mother Rose was on a cruise to South American, and their being separated, Dad was living at the Elks Club in Elmhurst. I rushed back on the first train from West Hampton. When I arrived home she explained, “I’ve buried two husbands. You can tell by their eyes. When they begin to roll up – you know the time is near.” She rested her hand on my shoulder as we watched him struggle with the heat and humidity in our apartment that was not air conditioned.

The next thing I knew, she was griping my shoulder when I awakened. “He died a few minutes ago,” she said. “You better call Quinn’s (funeral home). Oh, my God. He’s gone. He’s gone. I looked at the clock through my tears. It was 6 a.m. I had missed the chance to say goodbye – say goodbye to the person who, up until then, mattered the most in my life.

Concussions

September 1, 2017

Tags: Concussions

A few weeks ago, I received a post card from the “NCAA Student-Athlete Concussion Injury Litigation.” The class action plaintiffs’ committee notified me (some 58 years after my brief time as a student athlete) that a proposed settlement had been reached, and that my rights “may be affected” by this action.

A few things immediately came to mind: New York University and the NCAA keep excellent records; I have no recollection of a concussion; and every day my right knee reminds me of a torn meniscus incurred in countless practice drills diving for loose balls. I’m wondering when someone will file suit for the more prevalent knee injuries, a given for young men and women who gave their all even in practice?

Knee injuries are gnawing over time, but concussions affect your cognitive ability and can eventually kill you. I saw it in a number of my late father’s (Pat Gillen) associates. He was a successful amateur and professional boxer with over 100 fights in the lightweight division. It cost him the loss of an eye, but his quickness saved him from taking too many head blows. He took me to the fights as a young boy, fights at the old Madison Square Garden, St. Nicholas Arena, Sunnyside Gardens, and Eastern Parkway Arena. He also forced me into boxing lessons at the downtown CYO gym with his friend Pete Mello, who coached the successful U.S. boxing team at the 1952 Olympics in Helsinki, Finland. I had quick hands and could hit. I landed many punches, but they had no effect on my opponents other than to anger them. The resulting punishment impelled me to focus on other sports. (more…)

Ischia and Two Lovers I Knew

August 2, 2017

In the heat of August one often dreams of beautiful islands like Capri where the warm sun is tempered by a constant cool breeze off the Bay of Naples. The same can be said of the nearby island of Ischia, long considered the poor man’s Capri or the anti-Capri. Today, Ischia is still a place mainly for Italians from nearby Naples. Unlike Capri, Italian not English is the language you will hear on Ischia. And like Capri, Ischia I’m told can be a captivating place.

It was a recent article by Nathan Lump in Departures Magazine that rekindled memories of Ischia and my only trip there early in 1958.

My invitation for the trip was from Leslie “Les” Smallwood from Rockland, Maine, a fellow Second Class Petty Officer in the Naples office of the Naval Security Group. Les was infatuated with Maria Varella, a beautiful young Neapolitan, who worked in the Hotel Tricarico, where we resided. Les desperately wanted to date Maria, but in those days the Italian customs were far more stringent than they are today. A single woman could only date a man, whether or not he was Italian, in the presence of a chaperone, most of whom were close relatives dedicated to keeping the couple at arms-length. Holding hands was permissible at times depending on the chaperone, but kissing was out of the question. Courting was a long, tedious, draconian, and frustrating process for the couple.

Les and I had recently returned from temporary duty with the Royal Navy in Scarborough, England, monitoring the communications of some 200 NATO nation warships in Operation Strike Back, an exercise simulating a mock Soviet invasion of Norway. Les was a quiet and introspective person. While he had a light side, he was extremely dedicated, serious, and considerate in how he went about his job and things in general. When he approached me and asked me to do him a personal favor that weekend, I knew it had to be something important. Much to my surprise the favor was to act as one of the chaperones on his first officially sanctioned date with Maria. The flip side of being a chaperone is that my accompanying chaperone would be a female who I would meet when Les and I arrived at the ferry pier at Molo Beverello in the port area. (more…)

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