Thursday, December 25, 2003

Our Louisianan

Here's another family story, about a death and a birth and the consolation in continuity.


Date: Thursday, December 25, 2003
Edition: Palm Beach Section: LOCAL Page: 1B

On this morning given to pondering the miracle of new birth and the promise of ongoing life, I have a story to tell.

You couldn't call it a Christmas story, for that holiday is not the tradition of our family, and this story is personal. But its meanings are open for anyone, and you are invited to pick your own.

It begins with a man named Lee Rubin.

Around his adopted town of Lafayette, La., he stood out for his red hair and for being a Jewish New Yorker who had drifted south and reinvented himself as a red-necked Louisianan.

He was a stubborn and independent guy who, in his younger days, could be counted on to start a barroom fight or drive his pickup into a ditch at the end of a hell-raising Saturday night.

When I met him, about 15 years ago, he was taking pride in a prodigious beer belly. And he was getting ready to marry a woman he'd met in Mexico named Maria Teresa and to bring her to the United States to live with him in Cajun country.

They wed. They had a son. And Lee settled down into an irregular domesticity. He worked weeks at a time offshore in the Gulf of Mexico, helping energy companies figure out how to get their drill bits down to where the oil was.

On the job, he was a respected engineer and decision-maker.

At home he became a board member of his synagogue, a small but stubborn group with roots in Lafayette dating back to 1869.

He was my wife's younger brother. But he was distant from us in some ways that went beyond geography, and we didn't connect with Lee and his family very often.

That would change this year.

Thursday, October 30, 2003

Porn for pistols candidate bares all

Californians had a goofy election to replace the governor they threw out, Gray Davis. I was thrilled to find a South Florida connection. Of the 132 candidates, perhaps the very goofiest was one of this area's own.


Date: Tuesday, September 30, 2003
Edition: Palm Beach Section: LOCAL Page: 1B

Mary Carey, a part-time resident of South Florida who is running for governor of California, is behind in the polls. Still, she sees her campaign so far as a success.

"I've shown that just because I have blonde hair ... and do porn, doesn't mean I am not smart," she said.

She has shown a definite genius for publicity. One of the 132 people on the ballot in Tuesday's election to replace California Gov. Gray Davis, should he be voted out of office, Carey is inevitably singled out for mention as the field's 23-year-old porn star.

While not the only film actor in the running, she is the only candidate whose credits include Double D Dolls 3, Hot Showers 6, Sweatin' It 7 and Decadent Divas 18.

As if that makes the election out there weird, or something.

Thursday, October 16, 2003

Waving that Confederate flag

One sure way to engender angry reader reaction is to criticize the Confederate flag. Every time, I was inundated with enraged and footnote-studded letters and emails from Georgia, Tennessee, Texas - the whole Old South. Not that it stopped me.


Date: Tuesday, September 16, 2003
Edition: Palm Beach Section: LOCAL Page: 1B

"The past is never dead," William Faulkner wrote. "It's not even past."

All his writing life, the Nobel laureate from Mississippi grappled with the legacies of his native South.

Faulkner didn't write much about Florida. But he would have appreciated a couple of recent news items.

First off, Martin Luther King III explored conditions in Belle Glade over the weekend and concluded that a long history of second-class treatment and intimidation shaped that black community's perceptions of a controversial hanging.

King, who heads the Southern Christian Leadership Conference co-founded by his illustrious father, talked to residents and leaders of the western Palm Beach County town, where inequalities between whites and blacks almost outdate the sugar cane in the surrounding fields.

Today, in fact, marks the 75th anniversary of the horrendous flood of 1928, where even death followed the pecking order. Almost 700 black victims from the Lake Okeechobee area were buried in a mass unmarked grave in West Palm Beach -- while 69 whites were interred with the dignity of individual grave markers.

As King found out, blacks in Belle Glade still fume over a paucity of economic opportunity (black unemployment is seven times greater than that of whites). There's a persistent distrust of local authorities (though the mayor is black, the police chief and most of the force are white).

"People have been consistently living under a state of fear," King said. "Whether it's realistic or not, it's realistic to them. Historically, people are concerned about intimidation. They say, `If I come and tell the police, then I'm going to be harassed by police.'"

This could have been his father talking 40 years ago in Selma or Montgomery.

A public inquest in July persuaded most people that Feraris "Ray" Golden's death on May 28 was a suicide.

But, according to King, the intimidation factor kept some people from coming forward with evidence supporting suspicions Golden was lynched.

King called for further investigation.

Because the racial history of Belle Glade won't go away, neither will the uneasiness over Golden's death.

Sunday, September 7, 2003

Abortion center violence

Clinic relieved that no violence followed execution
Published September 7, 2003

It was a normal Friday at the Presidential Women's Center in West Palm Beach. A day for follow-up appointments, consultations, HIV tests -- but, as customary, no surgeries.

Two days after the execution of Paul Hill, whose intense opposition to abortion led to double murder, there were no signs of heightened threat, said Mona Reis, director of the county's oldest clinic openly providing abortions.

This was a relief because Hill had given a calm and chilling last statement Wednesday. Strapped to a gurney, he advocated more acts like his own when, in 1994, he killed a Pensacola doctor and his security escort with a shotgun.

Yet a normal day at the Presidential Women's Center is not like a normal day everywhere else. It is a day under siege.

Sunday, August 24, 2003

Baseball dreams

A local kids' team made it to the finals of the Little League World Series. It made me think about the value and emphasis we place on kids' sports, and inspired this column.


Date: Sunday, August 24, 2003
Edition: Palm Beach Section: LOCAL Page: 1B

A game of catch.

That's how it starts.

A father throws a ball back and forth with a son. Or, increasingly, a daughter.

And he starts building a mostly wordless bond that links his memories of being young to his dreams for his child's future.

In our culture it's a primal bond, even as it's challenged by the kicking of soccer balls, or the swinging of tennis racket and golf club. For a few minutes -- before dinner, maybe, or in the quickly fading light before nightfall -- father and child step outside and reconnect by means of ball and glove.

Back and forth. Back and forth.

As if you didn't know, East Boynton Beach's Little Leaguers won the U.S. championship over Saugus, Mass., Saturday night. Today this appealing crop of 11- and 12-year-olds will be playing Japan for Williamsport's whole enchilada: the world championship. But long before they reached the televised pinnacle of the Little League World Series in those little jewels of baseball diamonds in the Pennsylvania hills, each Boynton kid started with a game of catch.

Sunday, March 16, 2003

Silent battle

I wrote this as an exercise at the Poynter Institute, in a workshop on persuasive writing. The assignment was to write about something personal, and this was a subject I'd never committed to paper before. The piece was a big hit with the editorial writers and columnists at the workshop, so I offered it to the Features department when I got back to Fort Lauderdale. Our paper ran it, and so did the Chicago Tribune. I heard from many readers for months afterward, thanking me for describing their own situation or giving me suggestions for cures. By the way, my hearing is better than it was - another attempt at surgery, in September 2008, had happy results.


Date: Sunday, March 16, 2003
Edition: Broward Metro Section: HEALTH & FAMILY Page: 1E
Byline: By Howard Goodman Staff Writer

Listen. If we're going to talk about this, you'd better speak up.

If you don't, I'm afraid I'm not going to hear you.

I wear a hearing aid in each ear. They're pretty well-hidden in the thickness of my hair, so maybe you didn't realize it.

But no day goes by without my hearing problem being a problem.

Tuesday, February 25, 2003

My man Koufax

In learning to be a columnist, I had to get used to the idea of using my own feelings and memories as material. That's very different from the journalism that I was taught to practice. This column won the Sun-Sentinel's readers' poll for their favorite commentary of the year:


Date: Tuesday, February 25, 2003
Edition: Palm Beach Section: LOCAL Page: 1B

I was about 10 years old, sitting in the box seats with my dad at Wrigley Field, cheering for the visitors.

The Dodgers were my favorite team, though I was a Chicagoan who had never been to Brooklyn or Los Angeles. I loved their lore, their soul, their exquisite heartbreaks against the Yankees.

Out of the bullpen in the late innings, the Dodgers called on this kid Koufax.

"Oh, I've heard of him," I told my father. "He's really fast."

I'd heard right. Tall, gangly, strong, the young Sandy Koufax threw the fastest balls I ever saw.

And they were balls, not strikes. Koufax kicked his big right leg high, stretched it impossibly far, uncoiled his long left arm and sent the ball sailing into the backstop.

A couple of years went by. Koufax learned control. And dominated baseball as perhaps no pitcher ever has.

In four incomparable years, 1963 to 1966, he pitched four no-hitters, including a perfect game.

He led the Dodgers into the World Series three times. And in 1965, he refused to pitch the Series' opening game because it was Yom Kippur.

Out of respect for his forebears and the sacrifices they made for their beliefs, he wouldn't play that day. He taught a couple of generations of Jewish kids that some things were more important even than the World Series.

Long into adulthood, many of us -- even the doubters and disaffiliated -- would consider it sacrilege to work on the High Holy Days because of Koufax's unforgettable example.

And then he was gone. Quit at age 31, after winning 27 games in 1966, rather than risk permanent damage to an elbow rent by arthritis.

Sandy Koufax became a willing ghost, a legend who resisted the limelight.

"Sandy is somebody," his biographer, Jane Leavy, has said, "who craves his anonymity."

Tuesday, February 18, 2003

Marching to Iraq

This column seems tame now. But I wrote it at a time when anything less than 100 percent gung-ho agreement with the White House brought you heaps of invective. I heard from a lot of angry readers over this one. Many of my misgivings look prescient, but I too was fooled into thinking that Iraq was hiding WMDs.

Date: Tuesday, February 18, 2003
Edition: Palm Beach Section: LOCAL Page: 1B

Like many Americans, I am divided on Iraq. My lack of resolve shows in the internal polls I've been taking.

According to my mind's pollster, I am 85 percent certain that Saddam Hussein is an evil dictator whose greatest contribution to the world would be to leave it.

I am 95 percent sure that Hussein is hiding weapons of mass destruction, including terrible gases, chemicals and germs. And I am 75 percent sure that the United Nations will lose even more of its credibility if it lets Hussein off the hook.

But I am 90 percent sure a U.S. invasion of Iraq will bring death to many innocent people, encourage Hussein to unleash the very weapons we fear he has, and radicalize new generations of Arab and Muslim suicide bombers to haunt us.

Those aren't the only conflicting opinions I'm holding.