INS Takes Elian Gonzalez by Force, Reunites Him with Father (April 22, 2000)




I was visiting my mother in Pittsburgh for Easter in 2000 when little Elian Gonzalez was forcibly removed from his relatives' Miami home by an INS SWAT team.  6-year-old Elian had become an innocent, and adorable, political football ever since he was rescued from a piece of flotsam off the coast of Florida during Thanksgiving weekend in 1999.  He, his mother and twelve others set off from Cuba but their boat capsized and Elian was just one of three to survive (his mother died). 


Elian's US relatives wanted custody of him but his father in Cuba demanded his return - and he was backed by the US judicial system.  The little boy's relatives, however, resisted and put up countless legal challenges.  Finally, having lost patience with the family's willful ignoring of court orders to turn him over, the Justice Department took action the day before Easter.  In the pre-dawn hours an INS SWAT team swiftly and forcibly removed Elian from the relatives' home in Miami's Little Havana neighborhood and reunited him with his father, who had been allowed into the US.




Justified as this action was, I found it a bit jarring coming as it did during Christianity's most sacred time of year.  And as we dyed Easter eggs it was hard to get the above image (seen on the front page of every newspaper) out of my mind.  A few months later, after more legal attempts by his unreasonable relatives were exhausted, he and his father quietly returned to Cuba.


From the time of this incident Florida has regularly been the center of various controversies.  Later that same year it was the focus of the disputed presidential election.  Then in 2002 Rosie O'Donnell brought attention to the state's gay adoption ban.  2005 saw the political grandstanding over the pulling of the plug on comatose Terri Schiavo.  After the nation's financial meltdown in 2008 Florida was one of the states hit hardest by foreclosures.  And then just a few months ago (in 2013) the Trayvon Martin shooting caused a nationwide uproar followed recently by a backlash by Cuban Americans after Ozzie Guillen, the new manager of the Miami Marlins baseball team, made pro-Castro comments.    




Terror Unleashed by Poison Gas Attack in Tokyo (March 20, 1995)

Tokyo_terrotistsTokyo_sarin_attackI was starting a new job on March 20, 1995 at ad agency Foote Cone & Belding where I was hired as media research director of its New York office.  When my clock radio went off that Monday morning is when I first heard the news about the gas attacks on Tokyo's metro system during the morning rush hour.  Members of a Japanese religious cult known as "Supreme Truth" carried out the attacks by puncturing small packages containing a liquid form of the lethal gas, sarin.  They did this on three train lines; once leaked, the liquid turned into a vapor which felled thousands of passengers and killed twelve.   


Of course, this was especially chilling for the millions of us who used New York's subway system to commute to work every day. 




OklahomacityOne month later homegrown terrorism visited our own shores when a truck bomb laden with explosives tore apart the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City, killing168.  Unlike the Japanese terrorists, one of those charged in the U.S. attack, Timothy McVeigh, was executed.


Now_and_again_tv_showThen five years later an episode of a new show on CBS, Now and Again, brought to mind the Tokyo attacks.  A villain known as the Eggman (played by Chinese actor Kim Chan) cracked open eggs filled with noxious gas on a New York subway.  All of the passengers died, but in a somewhat more gruesome fashion than those who died in Tokyo.   



Hitler Seizes Czechoslovakia (March 15, 1939)




My grandmother, Margaret Cerovski (nee Revay), arrived in the US from Czechoslovakia in September 1920 (she celebrated her 21st birthday while crossing the Atlantic).  After being processed at Ellis Island she continued on to Pittsburgh where her brother Michael lived (their 11 brothers and sisters remained back in the "old country"). 


After she and my grandfather (from the Croatian region of Yugoslavia) became citizens in the 1930's Grandma thought about visiting her family because her mother was in declining health.  She also wanted to take my mother and uncle, who were teenagers, with her.  However, Czechoslovakia was being slowly partitioned by Nazi Germany and Slovakia, the eastern region of the country my grandmother was from, was agitating for its independence.  For these reasons my grandfather wouldn't allow Grandma to take Mom and Uncle George.  And then on March 15, in 1939 Czechoslovakia's beleaguered president (pictured with Hitler, below) signed over the country to Hitler, and the thought of Grandma even visiting by herself ended.  WWII would begin six months later.




Although she never visited her homeland, Grandma kept in touch with her brothers and sisters.  She was the middle child but managed to outlive all of her siblings and died in 1999 just six months shy of her 100th birthday.





(I've also written about the 1968 Soviet invasion of Czechoslovkia: Soviet Army Crushes Prague Spring.)  


The First Gulf War Begins (January 16, 1991)

1st_GulfWar_USAToday The evening the war began, Jan. 16, 1991, found me sitting at a "welcome" table in a meeting room at the Gay & Lesbian Community Center in Greenwich Village where the gay professionals group Out Professionals was holding its monthly meething.  I was treasurer and collecting the meeting fee when a member approached the desk at around 7:30 and excitedly tried telling me something.  However, because he had a pronounced stutter it took him a while to get out what he wanted to say - that the U.S. bombardment of Baghdad had begun.  (The guessing game as to when this would occur had been the week's #1 topic of conversation ever since Congress voted the previous weekend to give President Bush authority to go to war.)




Operation_desert_storm The following evening, a Thursday, found me at HMV Records on the Upper West Side where I had gone after leaving a work-related function at Tavern on the Green (both establishments are now out of business).  Instead of playing music over its speakers a radio broadcast was reporting the chilling news that Iraqi missles were being fired into Israel.  At this very early stage of the war I was feeling a bit uneasy, wondering what Saddam Hussein might have up his sleeve for our troops or here on U.S. soil (he had promised the "mother of all battles").  This feeling of unease was in stark contrast to the party-hearty lyrics of a very popular song playing on the airwaves at the time - Everybody Dance by C & C Music Company.  To this day whenever I hear the song memories of the war come to mind.


(One of George Clooney's earliest films, 1999's Three Kings, was inspired by the first Gulf War.  Other war related films include Jarhead, starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Jamie Foxx, Courage Under Fire and Towelhead.)

Saddam Hussein Captured (December 13, 2003)

Saddam_hussein_captured Nine months after the war in Iraq began and 4-1/2 months after his two sons were shot dead (which I heard about while on vacation in Iceland), Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein was found by U.S. forces hiding in a hole on the grounds of a farmhouse about 80 miles from Baghdad.  On him was an AK-47, $750,000 in cash and some chocolate.



Although his capture occurred on December 13 it wasn't until the next day that the news was made public.  I was in the midst of doing holiday-related chores that snowy afternoon (i.e. shopping at Union Square's Christmas fair, writing Christmas cards, sending checks to favorite charities) when I turned on the TV to check football scores. Instead, a news report was on showing video of the capture.  On Monday the NY Times ran a scary/unflattering photo of Hussein front-and-center on Page One. 




Three years later, on New Year's Eve, he was executed by hanging.  The capture (which was the real reason for the war) served as a diversion for the Bush Administration from the fruitless search for the non-existent WMDs.  



Pearl Harbor Attacked (December 7, 1941)


Many thanks to my mother for filling in for me to recount her memories of the day Japanese planes attacked Pearl Harbor, an act that drew the U.S. into World War II.




Sunday, December 7 was a sunny, but cold, early winter day in Pittsburgh.  After going to morning Mass and having lunch, Mom went visiting at a girlfriend's house where their socializing was interrupted by a news bulletin on the radio reporting on Japan's surprise aerial attack of the U.S. Navy base in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii shortly after sunrise.  Shortly afterwards, her friend Ginny's brother-in-law, who was home on military leave, received a call ordering him back to base immediately. (The book At Dawn We Slept is one of many on the subject of this sneak attack.) 


Because Pittsburgh was one of the centers of U.S. military production, there were fears about it being bombed as well.  This led to regular blackout exercises whereby residents were required, upon hearing air-raid sirens, to switch off all lights and pull down window shades.  The goal was to make streets and landmarks harder to pinpoint in the event enemy bombers were overhead.  Mom's brother, my uncle George, was a senior in high school at the time, and upon graduation was inducted into the Marines and sent to Paradise Island for training.  He then spent the next three years in the Pacific Theater repairing planes.  And Mom, then a junior in high school (her "sweet 16" birthday was the following week, on Dec. 14), helped with the war effort by distributing ration coupons.  Then, after graduating in 1943, she got a job documenting and tracking supplies of ammunition loaded onto supply ships sailing to Europe.  





Although it was a time of great worry, Mom didn't recall feeling fearful but instead there was a sense of purpose and solidarity with neighbors and schoolmates as each made contributions to the war effort.   

As recounted by Mary Frydlewicz

Nuclear War Movie "The Day After" Airs (November 20, 1983)




ABC aired the chilling, and controversial, movie The Day After on the Sunday before Thanksgiving  in 1983.  It depicted a conflict between the U.S. and Soviet Union that escalated into nuclear war, and the consequences suffered by a family living in Lawrence, Kansas after a nuclear bomb was dropped nearby.  I watched it with my ex-boyfriend Rick at his apartment. (We had broken up a few months earlier but would reconcile and move back in together a week before Christmas.)  I have to admit it was weird watching a movie depicting Armageddon just as the holiday season was getting underway.   




The movie (starring Jason Robards) had a grim storyline with no happy, or even hopeful, ending.  It was even more sobering because of real-life tensions that had been building between the U.S. and Soviet Union during the first Reagan administration.  Despite the fact that it was expected to attract a huge audience, the movie aired with limited commercials (and none after the missles were launched) as very few advertisers were willing to air in it.  This apprehension prevented ABC from charging high rates  for advertising time; therefore, the few advertisers who took advantage got extremely good deals.  One ad I remember seeing was for Orville Redenbacher microwave popcorn.  I thought the juxtaposition of a nuclear blast and corn popping was amusing in a black humor sort of way.   




By the standards of today the special effects are quite cheesy and have a slap-dash look to them, but even today the five minutes showing the attack are sobering.  As expected, the movie delivered a huge 46 household rating/62 share, making it the highest rated TV movie of all time and 3rd highest rated program of the year (behind the final episode of M*A*S*H and the Super Bowl).  Soon afterwards a parade of TV movies with "socially relevant" storylines would follow, including Something About Amelia (incest); The Burning Bed (wife beating); and An Early Frost (AIDS). 


Upon the movie's conclusion a special episode of Nightline aired to discuss the movie with a studio audience.  I had seen enough and didn't need to immerse myself further in the grim subject so I walked home in the rain to my apartment in Manhattan's East 20s.  After what I had watched tonight I was looking forward to spending time with my family back in Pittsburgh for the Thanksgiving holiday.


Americans Taken Hostage In Iran (November 4, 1979)

Iranian_revolution_1979A new pope, the Village People and the 3-Mile Island meltdown all upended the world order in 1979.  But the year's biggest news story was the revolution in Iran, which had major implications for the U.S. since the revolutionaries considered us its greatest enemy (the "great Satan") because of our support of the Shah during his 27 years in power.  To retaliate they instituted an oil embargo, worsening America's already floundering economy.  Their enmity towards us worsened in late October when president Carter allowed the Shah to enter the U.S. to receive cancer treatment.  


American_hostages_iranHowever, the year was a momentous one for me as I graduated college (Penn State) and joined the workforce, hired at New York ad agency Scali, McCabe, Sloves where I worked in its media department.  Seven months after beginning my job a furious mob broke into the U.S. embassy in Tehran (in response to the Shah coming to the U.S.) and took 54 American employees and diplomats hostage. 


TIMEMagazine_HostageCrisisEndsI was anxious over this turn of events because there was talk that the U.S. might reinstate the draft and go to war.  (And less than two months after the hostages were taken the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan.)  However, after a number of months that possibility seemed to have passed, even if it took more than a year before the hostages were released (444 days, to be exact, with their release occurring the day of Ronald Reagan's inauguration in January 1981).


Ben_affleck_argoAll of my feelings of anxiety from this grim time in U.S. history came flooding back in 2012 when I went to see Ben Affleck's new movie, Argo, about six Americans who managed to escape the U.S. embassy in Tehran when it was overtaken.  The film perfectly captures the pervading sense of despair, impotence and anger felt in America at that time.  





Marveling at History Through the Covers of TIME Magazine

Newsstand2When I was growing up magazines were always found in our house.  We had subscriptions to Time, Sports Illustrated, Good Housekeeping, Look, Money and Consumer Reports.  Thrown into the mix were subscriptions my older sister had to Cosmo, People and Rolling Stone.  And I had my own subcriptions to Jack & Jill (when I was in grade school), Weatherwise and Baseball Digest.  And I've always been drawn to magazine covers. During my sophomore and junior years at Penn State I stapled covers from various magazines to the ceiling of my dorm room to give it a unique look.  (I still collect covers that catch my eye and I've amassed a nice collection.)


Until this decade, when newsweeklies began struggling mightily for relevance due to the draw of the Internet, there was a certain cachet attached to appearing on the cover of TIME Magazine (however, unlike Rolling Stone, a song was never written about it).  Since it began publishing in March 1923 approximately 4,600 covers have been published.  I recently surveyed these covers and was mesmerized by the wonderful review of US and world history they provided.  




In Times's first few decades covers were relatively uninspired B/W portraits but they slowly evolved and became more eye-catching, incorporating a mix of styles, e.g., photographs, collages or illustrations.  (Covers of the past decade feature noticeably more white space.)  Some were created by well-known artists of the day such as Andy Warhol (first cover, below), Peter Max (middle cover) and Robert Rauschenberg.  Many covers around Christmastime had a religious theme depicted by beautiful paintings.  Covers can be purchased through Time's website; those featuring the likes of Marilyn Monroe, Leonard Bernstein or Jackie Kennedy, for example, are great conversation pieces and make great wall decorations.






As the 1950s progressed cover subjects began to touch upon societal trends and issues.  Many were topics that would have never been discussed in polite company in the first 40 years of Time's existence, e.g., homosexuality, date rape, domestic violence, herpes.  Surprisingly, some social issues of current concern, e.g,. suburban sprawl, salt intake, women's changing roles, obesity, were featured as cover stories 15-25 years ago.






Of course "anyone who was anybody" in the fields of politics, culture and entertainment, religion and sports graced the covers over the years.  However, some personalities slipped through the cracks.  For instance, Judy Garland, Truman Capote, Hank Aaron and Coco Chanel are some of the "movers and shakers" of their time not to get a cover.  And it wasn't until 30 years after his death that Babe Ruth appeared on the cover. (Determining those who haven't been on the cover can be a great parlor game.)




A number of handsome coffee table books are also available including 75 Years of TIME Magazine Cover Portraits and TIME: The Illustrated History of the World's Most Influential Magazine.  In closing, here are a handful of other classic covers:





Time_magazine_ ojsimpson






9-11 Attacks Stun the World (September 11, 2001)



On the morning of Sep. 11, 2001 I left my apartment 15-20 minutes earlier than usual because I wanted to vote in New York's primary election for mayor before going to work.  It was about 8:40 when I left my apartment in the West Village.  A few minutes later as I was walking along Christopher St. I took notice of the roar of an extremely low-flying plane overhead; however, I couldn't see it because of the trees lining the street.  Perhaps 15 seconds later I heard a loud "boom" in the distance, but didn't think anything of it, and certainly didn't connect it with the plane.  I figured it came from a construction site.


As I approached the corner of 6th Avenue and West 9th Street I saw a number of people looking intently southward so I turned to see what they were looking at and was stunned to see a large gaping black hole in the north tower of the World Trade Center with plumes of black smoke billowing out of it.  My first thought was, "how did a plane crash into the building on such a crystal clear morning?"  After 30 seconds or so of incredulous staring I continued on my way to the polling place a few blocks away (walking north).  Traffic on 6th Avenue had mostly stopped as drivers and passengers got out of their vehicles to get a look.  It was like a scene from a movie.




I voted, got on the subway and made my way to work at ad agency Foote, Cone & Belding, which was on East 42nd St.  (At this point this was still just a terrible accident so there was no reason not to go into the office.)  On the train I heard a woman tell someone that it was a passenger jet that had gone into the tower and not a wayward private plane.  At the office I was walking to the other side of the floor for our weekly directors meeting but found everyone crowded into the media director's office watching the TV.  A second plane had just crashed into the other tower and it was witnessed live on TV by millions (however, I didn't see it.)





This was no longer a horrible accident but something frighteningly more sinister.  I watched a few replays of the plane going into the south tower and then walked back to my office.  I called my mother in Pittsburgh who had seen the second plane on TV.  Then I reviewed a few e-mails from friends living outside of New York checking to see if I was OK.  A number of people in the office were frantically trying to get in touch with family members who worked in the Trade Center or in that neighborhood.  It seemed like every 15 minutes something unimaginably horrible was happening, i.e. the Pentagon was hit, then the plane in Pennsylvania went down.  I was listening to a live radio report from the WTC site when the south tower fell.  Shortly thereafter the office closed, largely because we were considered at risk since our office was across the street from the landmark Chrysler Building, which made it a prime target. 





I left my office and walked along 42nd Street to the New York Public Library at the corner of 42nd St./5th Ave. to meet my friend Nina.  Nina lived on Long Island and couldn't get home since rail traffic had been suspended, so she stayed with me until travel restrictions were lifted.  Not surprisingly, the streets were abuzz and crowded with people spilling out onto the streets, but it was a controlled panic.  There were long lines at every pay phone.  I think the day's bright sunshine helped to keep me calm.  




Nina and I casually walked the 40 blocks down to my apartment against a wall of mostly disheveled office workers heading north from lower Manhattan.  We stopped into a Starbucks near Penn Station to use the lavatory and while standing in line I overheard a man behind us telling someone that his sister in Chicago had called to say the Sears Tower had been hit.  Because of all that was happening it didn't seem out of the realm of possibility.  It wasn't until we got to my apartment and listened to news reports that we realized that he was just a crazy guy.




As we neared the block on which I lived we passed St. Vincent's Hospital which had set up chairs and gurneys on 7th Avenue covered in white bed sheets in anticipation of hundreds of injured who would need to be attended to - but none would be delivered.  A strong odor similar to that given off by an electrical fire pervaded the air and the southern horizon was obscured by a thick wall of black, gray and white smoke (the north tower had collapsed by then as well).  Fortunately for my neighborhood, the smoke was being blown out to Brooklyn by a northwesterly wind. 




Later that afternoon the first "Have You Seen ...?" posters of missing office workers began appearing on lamp poles and walls.  Rail service resumed later that afternoon and I walked Nina up to Penn Station (there was still no subway service).  It was eerie because there were so few people on the streets and no vehicular traffic.  The sheet-covered chairs and gurneys in front of St. Vincent's were now gone.  Before going home I stopped into the supermarket across the street from my apartment (I was surprised it was still open) and while waiting in the checkout line I heard on the radio that the 50-story World Trade Center 7 had just collapsed.




For the next few months the odor from the fires lingered and was especially noticeable on days when the wind came out of the south.  We were advised that dust in the air and collecting on surfaces in our apartments likely contained trace particles of pulverized bones from victims of the collapsed towers.  The catastrophe turned out to be the impetus for me to finally get a cell phone.  And to this day anytime the sky is clear and the temperature pleasantly warm I think back to the terrors of the morning of 9/11. 




(The 9/11 Commission Report makes for riveting reading as it goes into great detail about the missed opportunities to thwart the 9-11 attacks as well as the events of that day as they unfolded.)