Sunday In Elvira’s With Joe

You never know who you’ll run into in Westport.  I’ve seen Diana Ross, Brian Williams and Manute Bol, to name 3 random famous folks.

Last Sunday at Elvira’s, Sef Brody saw Joe Lieberman.

The 1990 Staples graduate did more than just say, “Good morning, Senator.”  Here’s his story, direct from his Tumblr, “Brody Post.”

He was wearing a baseball cap in front of the deli counter, standing with his wife and 2 friends, wondering out loud what kind of egg sandwich to order.  I had just rolled out of bed but there was no way I could miss that face.

Half-hidden under my green hoodie, I told the former vice president-elect that they make delicious spinach and feta at this place.  He wanted to make sure it was vegetarian.

He asked me my name and what I did. We talked about our shared Hebrew name and its origins.  He told me a related story about his wife.  I told him I grew up in the neighborhood and that I got my first job in this same deli when I was 15, they put me to work integrating the various sections of The New York Times in the back garage before dawn on weekends, that now I’m a clinical psychologist living in Paris.

He said that sounded pretty great, how’d I manage that?  Not wanting to get into it, I said, “It seems you’re not doing too bad yourself.”  He introduced me to his Westport friends.  For a man who I’ve come to see as a total disgrace, whose politics I detest, I found this guy very charming in person.  I imagine he must share this trait with most successful politicians.

Joe Lieberman, the senior senator from Connecticut.

Itching to talk politics, after we both ordered I started asking him questions.  I shared my concern with him that the next financial crisis will be worse than the last one, asking him how realistic our chances were to break up the mega-banks before it’s too late.  He said that funnily enough someone just asked him the same question— as if “too big to fail” was a new concept— and went on to blame Republicans for blocking reform.

I said, mistakenly, “You’re caucusing with them now, right?” He looked down and away sheepishly, replied that he’s still caucusing with the Democrats.  I responded, “But you can understand why I could make that mistake, right? Everybody’s like, ‘What happened to Lieberman?’”

Wondering about the best way to broach US-Israeli injustices towards Palestinians, a topic of deep personal concern to me and one in which he holds unique power, I asked the chairman of the US Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs another crucial question:  “Don’t you wonder whether we’re endangering both US and Israeli security by lending full support to Israeli aggressions?”

He responded that “it’s not a blank check” we’re giving Israel.  He claimed that Israel has so few discussion partners in the region that they’ve become “paranoid”— he puffed his chest out and balled his fists to demonstrate what he meant.

When I bemoaned the lack of real public debate on such a serious issue in the US compared to the relatively vibrant debate happening in Israel, he corrected me that there’s actually plenty of debate happening in the US — “just not in public.”

Sef Brody, the clinical psychologist from Paris.

I very much wanted that conversation to continue but he eluded further clarification, and left to join his wife and friends at the picnic tables outside.  I stood there thinking that despite the mysteriousness of that last response, it was very revealing about how he views American democracy, about how he understands the way it’s supposed to work.

What would you say or do, given a surprise opportunity to face a contemptible politician mano-a-mano?  Throw your shoe?  Spit in his general direction?  Curse him out?

It might have felt good to let out some real anger, to at least remind Lieberman of his deep betrayal of Connecticut voters, or about how profoundly he has shamed himself and the United States.  I might have liked also to ask him which country he wants to invade next.  Or about how many civilian deaths he thinks he might be personally responsible for across the Middle East and Central Asia.

I instead asked myself, What approach is mostly likely to have a desirable effect? Looking into the sympathetic eyes of a man who has successfully mastered an enormous, complex and corrupt political system, I found myself taking the polite-but-critical tack.

Leaving the store, still groggy and hooded, I headed toward Compo Hill Road, coffee and egg sandwiches in hand.  He waved goodbye, and called out to me by name.  I swung around past his table, put my hand on his shoulder and reminded him of one short-term need that might possibly get through.  “Break up the mega-banks, Joe.”

He turned and called out, smiling:  “That’s the message of the day.”  

50 responses to “Sunday In Elvira’s With Joe

  1. See a shrink.

  2. Sef Brody apparently is unaware of the unwritten Westport rule that we leave celebrities alone when we find them in our midst.

    • When you are entitled no rules apply to you, written or unwritten.

    • Carl Addison Swanson

      Unwritten rules are as good as the paper they are written on. I hate autographs but certainly would not hesitate striking up a conversation with any of your so-called celebrities, especially if they are my elected representative. I would prefer Blumenthal, however. Rehash some ‘Nam stories.

      • LOL I am interested in Lieberman’s opinions, but I could care less about Brody’s. BTW I thought it was “the paper they are unwritten on” Either way, you made your point.

        • Legal dictum: “Oral contracts are as good as the paper they are written on.” And thus, the tangential paraphrase.

      • Bet Bloomie’s got some doozies! A Marine too. Up in I Corps against the NVA. BAD ASS MF! You bet! Call me when you get together. Bring Dan along. LMAO.

  3. Here’s a nice summary of Lieberman’s career, and why I find it so utterly contemptible:

  4. Joe the Plumber would have been more interesting. Turncoat. Backing McCain was the ultimate slap in the face. Go whine someplace else, Senator.

  5. The Dude Abides

    Wow, I’m a “clinical psychologist living in Paris”. What a pickup line.

  6. Wow. Not sure where to begin Can’t say I hold him in contempt, but I don”t look forward to the next 20 years in the middle east. Going to be ugly

  7. Why does Dan care what Brody thinks?

  8. I can’t imagine Lieberman “puffing out his chest.” Like a old rooster banting his wings.

  9. Holy Joe – one of the most offensive members of that great bastion of representative democracy… the United States Senate. He will not be missed.

  10. Is a currently serving senator really an off-limits celebrity? He’s a public representative, not a movie star, and anyone has a right to engage him in a discussion, especially about his views. Brody was well within his rights, and I don’t think Lieberman would ever say otherwise.

  11. Amighty (sic) is right. Joe should be one of the boys. Plus, you have a much better chance contacting him in person than you do via his office.

  12. Not sure who is more offensive: A self-loathing Jew or a self-loving Jew! At least the latter has a record of public service — some of it good; some not good.

  13. Boring, worthless…

  14. at first read i cringed at the thought of someone looking under someone else’s baseball cap to see who they are; so invasive. but the ‘article’ itself, the conversation, is pretty fantastic; it seems like the senator is a good old fashioned politician in that he really enjoys discussing politics with his constituents. thank you for sharing this. very encouraging.

  15. I love anyone who uses the word “bemoaned.”

  16. I agree the blogger was well within his rights to raise these issues with Senator Lieberman at a casual setting and thought he expressed his views forcefully but respectfully. At the risk of being the next target of inane personal attacks, I find it disturbing that some equate criticism of Israeli foreign policy with a “self-loathing Jew” and a politician with a celebrity. A celebrity represents only himslf/herself. A politican is elected by his/her constituents and should have to answer to these constitutents. Challenging a politician keeps a democracy vibrant. If you disagree with the blogger’s views or tactics, then address them directly. Our public discourse is demeaned by deriding his profession, place of residence, or religious identity.

    • I agree with this comment. I find all these anonymous personal attacks really strange and disconcerting. I thought Sef’s questions were thoughtful, and his approach to Senator Lieberman friendly. Politicians are used to people engaging them in conversation in public – that is completely expected, and hopefully should be encouraged, in our society. If you disagree with the opinions expressed, then by all means offer critical feedback or engage in an intelligent debate. But what’s with all the anonymous name-calling? Who are all these “anonymous” people?

      • Ask Woog. He doesn’t ask for valid email addresses and makes it easy — too easy — for commenters to post anonymously. Heck, maybe all these anonymous posters are the same person, someone with a multiple personality disorder!

      • Why is it important to you WHO says it as compared with WHAT is being said?? This blog allows people to say what they feel without fear of repercussions (as there have been). We have a rich history of pseudonyms and anonymous exchange dating back to our Founding Fathers. In this day of hacking and Google (yes, named blog entries go right to Google), I am not sure why anyone would want to use their given name.

  17. I think it’s funny. The whole thing. I commend you for taking the initiative. I feel, like you, that Lieberman is beneath contempt. So, for me, I couldn’t see myself engaging him in a conversation of any kind. He is, like most politicians, in it for himself, to give himself pleasure. That’s it. He doesn’t have any over riding philosophical objectives. He is there to maintain himself and his power base because it makes him happy, like a drug.

    In any case, I think it’s very interesting and fun to read your interaction with him. As someone else pointed out, he’s a public servant not a celebrity. You are well within your rights to have a conversation with him. But I hope you know it’s just for fun. These guys are totally inert. They could care less about your opinion or anyone else’s. It’s the power and status that motivates them, not anything else.

  18. There are now two Joe Lieberman’s… the great guy who grew up in Stamford, boosted all things local, homegrown, and authentic and worked his heart out for the real causes. That’s the guy that I and countless others remember and value from our days at Stamford High School. Joe made everyone who knew him proud by attending Yale, entering public service, and doing his best for Connecticut.
    Then there’s the Joe Lieberman who got bruised by the vicissitudes of national politics, the rough and tumble it takes to deal with the seductions of the wealthy, and the Joe who seemingly betrayed many in his constituency, adopted a contrarian, nay-sayer role… the Joe who may have felt his constituency betrayed him.
    In any case, I hope my old high school friend finds his way back to the sort of public role that has long endeared him to those who care about the important issues in Connecticut: education, class disparity, opportunity for all… Joe still has a big job to do, and with our support, I bet Joe will be part of the solution.

    • I am glad to hear that good ole Joe is a good ole boy from Stamford. He did a masters thesis in political science in being elected in ’06. However, he seems to be part of the problem now rather than much of a solution. I am afraid ego got the best of him.

  19. Thanks Sef for your political vignette. I’m surprised you were as nice and polite as you were with someone who has acted like they could care less about their true constituency and is totally kept by the insurance companies in the state. Probably living in Paris is affording you an extra layered perspective on US politics since you’re getting European news reports – especially related to Middle East issues. People who I know personally have a very different idea about Palestinian rights since they know Palestinians and Israelis personally and have visited the region. One is not a “self-loathing Jew” just because Israel is not supported without questioning its actions. Even Israelis are split about the complex issues, and many live in peace with Palestinians. (I do find a person who judges Jews the most offensive.) Keep up the discourse – it’s democracy at its best!

  20. “I do find a person who judges Jews the most offensive.” Agreed. They are also called anti-Semites.

  21. Anon posts enable a person to be candid, sarcastic, or angry at a poster or about a subject, without having that single comment “define” the individual. It would be better if Dan required / suggested some name so the Anon’s would have some sort of identity, Right now, you can’t tell if it’s the same one or a repeater. it would liven things up.

    • Good suggestion. I don’t think I can edit the “comments” box to add this, however — it’s part of the WordPress platform, not something I created.

    • Why is there this need for CONTROL of who says what and who is who and what is what?? This blog is total freedom. Complete freedom of speech. I guess SOME people can’t handle that?

  22. re. anonymity, i always thought the ‘blog owner’ could see IP addresses, and from that ID if he wanted to he could at least have an idea who & from where they were being sent. i don’t think that anyone is really, totally anonymous.

  23. I grew up with Yosef. He was a nice guy… funny enough I remember him being shy. Anyway “clinical psychologist living in Paris”? Boom.