Now that the ordeal of Yom Kippur has been surmounted and my month-long jury duty has finally come to an end (two voie dires but not once selected for a jury), it is time for me to survey all that remains in the coming months of 2009. Believe it or not, the first of several coronation balls started this past weekend, signaling the beginning of the Carnival celebration in New Orleans. No, Mardi Gras is still scheduled for February 16; that hasn't changed. It's just that the powers that be have dictated this is the time of year to prepare for the inevitable. It is time to announce at a private gathering just who is going to be king or queen in the forthcoming year for each respective krewe as well as the other members of each royal court. It is true that the School of Design's Rex and his queen are only known to family members in addition to the captain and officers and that the identity of Comus known by a close coterie of family, friends and officers will never be revealed. But, then again, neither of them has asked me to narrate their balls. This is an exciting time for the krewes with whom I do associate and my job is to accomplish several things. First, make sure all of the names are pronounced correctly. Second, coordinate with the musicians to cut the music on cue. Third, make it fun. By far and away the first two take the most time, but the third, while the most elusive, can oftentimes be the most rewarding.
I noted with sadness the passing of political pundit William Safire, the New York Times columnist, from pancreatic cancer. Safire, 79, follows Patrick Swayze as another highly visible victim of this insidious disease. His "On Language" column found in New York Times Magazine was a must-read for lovers of English grammar and a lexicon for would-be writers the world over. His rules for writing included "Remember to never split an infinitive. Take the bull by the hand and try to avoid mixing metaphors. Don't overuse exclamation marks!!" Safire got his start in politics working with Richard Nixon. In fact, he set up the so-called "kitchen debate" between Soviet Premier Nikita Khrushchev and then Vice-President Nixon. When that title changed from Vice-President to President, Nixon invited Safire to become one of his leading speechwriters. Yes, he was responsible for coining the term "nattering nabobs of negativism" when referring to the members of the media. But, I won't hold that against him. Safire was also a tireless supporter of the State of Israel and counted most of its political leaders as acquaintances and friends. In fact, he and Ariel Sharon were very close. Yet, it is important to recall he did question actions by the Jewish State and on several occasions openly criticized Israel when he felt leaders had crossed a moral or ethical line. Safire was a frequent guest on NBC's "Meet the Press" and I expect there will be a tribute to him next Sunday morning. A recipient of the Pulitzer Prize in 1978 for his investigation surrounding Carter administration member Bert Lance, Safire had an uncanny habit of making friends out of enemies. Later, when the charges against Lance were not proven, he and Safire became pals. Eight years ago Safire suggested that Abe Foxman, the director of the Anti-Defamation League, should resign because of the ADL's successful campaign to gain a presidential pardon for Marc Rich from Bill Clinton. He also was highly critical of Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak for his part in the affair. Foxman responded by criticizing Safire for his having worked for Nixon, whom Foxman considered anti-Semitic. Safire took the criticism in stride and later he reported that the two of them had reconciled over coffee and wished each other a "Happy Passover." Safire was a four-time novelist and had several works published on language as well as his memoir of the Nixon administration "Before the Fall." He leaves behind a wife, daughter, granddaughter and millions of devoted readers who will truly miss his wit and prowess over the printed word.