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Cha-Cha at the Supermarket

Dear Diary:

On a Friday night this month, I was shopping at the Food Emporium on Sixth Avenue in the Village. The store was largely empty, and a group of Hispanic women, cashiers whose checkout counters were free, were joking with a younger colleague as I approached.

“I can’t believe you don’t know the cha-cha,” one said to her. She responded defensively, “It was before my time.”

Impulsively, I chimed in, “I can do the cha-cha!” They all looked at me in astonishment.

“Prove it,” one said, as the group began spontaneously singing Tito Puente’s theme song, “Oye Cómo Va,” clapping the classic five-stroke clave beat. I began doing the steps I’d learned at Catskill hotels and at Latino dance halls in New York in the 1950s. Two of the cashiers started dancing with me as passing pedestrians stared through the supermarket’s windows at the impromptu dance session.

My groceries paid for and bagged, I started dancing out of the store.

“Where did you learn to dance like that?” one shouted to me.

As I exited, I shouted: “Where else? The Palladium.”


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Trying to Solve the Great Trump Mystery

Life, as we know, is filled with mysteries. Some are cosmic, like who was the first to catch a lobster and think anyone would want to eat something that looked like that? Or where do the children of circus performers run off to when they rebel against their parents?

The Day

Clyde Haberman offers his take on the news.

Then there are trivial but entrenched mysteries like one that has bewildered countless thousands of New Yorkers. It is the mystery of Donald J. Trump, or as the conservative commentator George F. Will called him, “this bloviating ignoramus.”

What prompted that outburst from the normally decorous Mr. Will was Mr. Trump’s revival of his “birther” nonsense, an insistence that President Obama was born outside the United States despite ample evidence to the contrary, not the least of which is Mr. Obama’s Hawaiian birth certificate. Mr. Trump’s latest birther spasm coincided with a new flowering of the bromance between him and Mitt Romney, who has sewn up the Republican presidential nomination. The buddies were together again Tuesday night at a fund-raiser in Las Vegas.

Mr. Will couldn’t understand why the candidate would have anything to do with the television performer and New York real-estate nabob. “The cost of appearing with this bloviating ignoramus is obvious, it seems to me,” he said on “This Week,” the ABC News program. “Donald Trump is redundant evidence that if your net worth is high enough, your I.Q. can be very low, and you can still intrude into American politics.”

The commentator thus neatly captured the great Trump mystery: How is it that so many presidential aspirants and other leading Republicans — Newt Gingrich, Sarah Palin, Michele Bachmann, Herman Cain, Rick Perry, Mitt Romney, one after another — all feel obliged to go to Mr. Trump in supplication and kiss his ring? As Mr. Will said, referring specifically to Mr. Romney, “What voter is going to vote for him because he is seen with Donald Trump?”

New Yorkers certainly know better. They’ve long recognized Mr. Trump for what he is — a man beyond caricature, what with the hair and the pomposity and the sheer ugliness of his remarks (and of his buildings, some would add). For them, the mystery of the lobster is far easier to crack than the one about these Republican pilgrimages on bended knee.

In search of answers, we turned to Republican political consultants in the city, serious people like Susan Del Percio and Michael McKeon.

Ms. Del Percio acknowledged that “as a Republican watching all of this unfold, I don’t get it myself.” She, too, had trouble understanding why Mr. Romney allowed himself to be “caught up in this Trump nonsense” and be “trumped by Trump.”

But “one thing I am sure of is that this doesn’t happen by accident, and polling on Donald Trump is probably very good,” Ms. Del Percio said. Beyond this city, she said, Americans may view him more favorably than jaded New Yorkers do, and he seems to do better among them when it comes to raising money for politicians.

“Sometimes,” she said, “you have to get out of the New York, L.A., D.C. world and see that he does have a lot to offer in the sense of celebrity. He’s successful. There’s a reason he has a top-rated show.”

Mr. McKeon, who used to be a spokesman for Gov. George E. Pataki, agreed.

“I’m not going to argue with your logic,” he said after hearing our puzzlement over all the ring-kissing. But “at the end of the day,” he said, “here’s a guy who’s had some success in business, and that’s what the candidates were looking for — that kind of blessing, that ‘Yes, these guys have a plan that’s good for the economy.’”

Mr. Trump is “a validator” of the candidates’ credentials, Mr. McKeon said. Then too, “he can be a very potent fund-raiser.”

Still, “bloviating ignoramus” is a label that Mr. Trump may not shake anytime soon.

For New Yorkers, his insatiable craving for attention is a dreary, stale routine. In his own way, he’s not unlike the performer who bursts into the subway car demanding your immediate attention, when all you want is a few minutes to yourself. You may keep your head down and pretend not to see him, but there is no escape.

It’s the same with Donald Trump, constantly thrusting himself in front of you, begging to be noticed. No matter how much you try to look away, it’s hard to tune him out entirely. Only he has none of the subway supplicant’s redeeming qualities. And that guy at least apologizes for the intrusion.


E-mail Clyde Haberman: [email protected]

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A Word From Our Sponsor On How Excess Workers Compensation Can Assist You

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On the Train, Taking a Moment to Look Up

Dear Diary:

Scene 1: On the subway and surrounded by five people reading real books: “The Catcher in the Rye,” something by David Sedaris, something about the Medicis and two I couldn’t catch.

Scene 2: On the Long Island Rail Road, waiting for the doors to open, standing toe-to-toe with a gentleman whose head was in his hand-held, and I said:

“No one looks at anyone any more; everyone’s into their hands.”

And he looked up into my eyes and said: ‘I’m looking at you now.’

And we both smiled as I exited the train.

Maybe there’s hope.


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Remembering the New Yorkers Who Served

For New Yorkers in uniform, death these days has mercifully been absent with leave.

The Day

Clyde Haberman offers his take on the news.

The welcome news on this Memorial Day weekend was that no serviceman or woman from the five boroughs had been killed this year in the United States’ remaining combat zone, Afghanistan. Since Memorial Day a year ago, there have been “only” two deaths of city residents.

“Only” is sandwiched between quotation marks for obvious reasons. There is no such thing as “only” for the families of those most recently lost to war: Marine Lance Cpl. Jabari Thompson of Brooklyn and Pvt. Danny Chen of Manhattan.

On Monday, during ceremonies at the Soldiers’ and Sailors’ Monument in Riverside Park, their names were read aloud by Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg as he noted that 91 New Yorkers had been killed in America’s decade of war in Afghanistan and Iraq. Understandably, the mayor did not go into details of the latest deaths. It was hardly the occasion for that.

Corporal Thompson, 22, stepped on a roadside bomb — an improvised explosive device, in military jargon — while on patrol last July in Afghanistan. Private Chen, 19, the son of Chinese immigrants, is believed to have killed himself in Afghanistan last October after enduring vicious hazing by soldiers in his battalion. Eight of them have since been charged criminally in connection with his death.

This was hardly material for an ennobling Memorial Day tale of sacrifice and devotion to duty.

From purely a statistical analysis, one could argue that New York City, battered so fiercely on 9/11, has fared better than the rest of the country in the wars that followed that monstrous attack in 2001. It has 2.7 percent of the American population but “only” 1.4 percent of the 6,471 American deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan, as recorded by iCasualties.org, a Web site that keeps close track of the fallen.

Once again, “only” must be in quotation marks. Figures of this sort surely mean nothing to the families of the 87 men and 4 women from the city who were killed in these wars.

Someday, a major New York monument to them may rise, comparable perhaps to the haunting Vietnam Veterans Memorial in the financial district. This sort of thing takes time, especially with unpopular wars of seemingly endless duration.

“There’s usually a lag of 10 or 12 years,” said Cal Snyder, who wrote a book on such tributes, “Out of Fire and Valor: The War Memorials of New York City From the Revolution to 9-11” (Bunker Hill Publishing, 2005). In the meantime, Mr. Snyder said, “there’s an enormous Web memorial presence.”

“I think the Web is going to be increasingly important for this, as it is for everything else,” he said.

Ceremonies of remembrance, while essential, unintentionally reinforce the widening gap between those in uniform and the rest of society. It’s a chasm, really.

“We are placing a disproportionate burden on a shrinking number of volunteers,” Representative Charles B. Rangel of Manhattan wrote in an opinion article on Monday in The Daily News. Mr. Rangel may have his ethical and political troubles. But as a Korean War veteran, wounded in battle, he knows combat, and he is a rare voice in favor of compulsory national service to distribute the weight of war more fairly, so that those from the ranks of the unprivileged are not virtually alone in paying the steepest price.

Not that military conscription is about to make a comeback. The chasm is likely to remain intact.

It is reflected strikingly in our political leadership, at all levels.

Two decades have passed since New York had a mayor who was in the military, David N. Dinkins, and three decades since the state had a governor with such a background, Hugh L. Carey.

More significantly, when it comes to choosing a national leader, Americans may pay ceremonial tribute to those who fight our battles, but voting for them is another matter. In each of the last five presidential elections, the candidate who had never served, or who had figured out how to keep himself far from harm’s way, defeated a candidate who had gone to war. This year, for the first time since World War II, neither major party will nominate a presidential candidate who is a veteran.

So it is certain that a relatively small cadre of volunteers will keep bearing the burden. The best that the New Yorkers among them can hope is that death continues to take an extended holiday.


E-mail Clyde Haberman: [email protected]

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An Upper West Side Drag Race

Dear Diary:

The scene: Corner of West 72nd Street and Columbus Avenue.

Two elderly men, stopped at a red light, were comparing their respective vehicles.

They compared speed, agility, range and various other features with obvious pride in their choice of transportation.

When the light turned green, they sped off … in their motorized wheelchairs.


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