When We All Wanted To Be Hemingway

Ernest Hemingway, just days before turning 60, steps out of the swimming pool at the Davis family villa where he spent the summer o 1959. (From 'Looking for Hemingway' (Lyons Press)

Ernest Hemingway, just days before turning 60, steps out of the swimming pool at La Consula, the Davis family villa in Malaga, Spain, where the world’s most celebrated writer at the time spent the summer of 1959. (From Looking for Hemingway: The Lost Generation and A Final Rite of Passage, Lyons Press)

A CHILD OF THE BOOMER generation, I grew up desperately wanting to be Ernest Hemingway. To run with the bulls in Pamplona. To hunt big game in Africa. To roam the streets of Paris with the Lost Generation. To live the adventurous life of Nick Adams. Years later, I would learn that I was hardly alone among young people of my age. We all wanted to be Ernest Hemingway.

Today, those of us who have survived can take great pride. We are Hemingway.

Sadly, though, we likely are the Ernest Hemingway that I’ve written about in my new re-issued (in softcover) book, Looking for Hemingway: The Lost Generation and A Final Rite of Passage. It is the Hemingway at that age we all dread of being: Old, losing our train of thought, unable to do what once came so easily, too quick to show our frustration at our slowness but still holding on to the hope of one last glimmer of youth.

I recently read a quote – I can’t recall by whom (that thing about losing our train of thought perhaps) – that you can’t really face getting old without having the courage for it. And I thought that was such a Hemingwayesque thing to say: grace under pressure and that whole Hemingway credo about life.

Hemingway entertains two young women he added to his entourage traveling from bullfight to bullfight in Spain, 1959. (From 'Looking for Hemingway,' Lyons Press)

In Pamplona, Ernest Hemingway entertains two young women he added to his entourage that traveled with him from bullfight to bullfight in Spain, 1959. (From Looking for Hemingway: Spain, The Bullfights and A Final Rite of Passage, Lyons Press)

And there was another quote, this one from Dame Muriel Spark, the Scottish novelist, that “being over 70 is like being engaged in a war — all our friends are going or gone, and we survive amongst the dead and the dying as on a battlefield.”

Ernest Hemingway undoubtedly would have loved all that talk about war, the dead and those dying on a battlefield.

So you get what I’m driving at. Getting old was no more kind to the author of The Sun Also Rises, For Whom The Bell Tolls and The Old Man and The Sea than it is to most of us. And most of us still here are now older than Hemingway when he was found dead of a self-inflicted shotgun wound in the head at his home in 1961, just 19 days shy of his 62nd birthday.

51huzvrohyl-_sx329_bo1204203200_Looking for Hemingway is about the Nobel Prize laureate two birthdays earlier, set in Spain where he celebrated his 60th in a magnificent celebration attended by actress Lauren Bacall and many of his other famous friends. He was, after all, the most celebrated literary figure of his time and few saw him as being in the twilight of his life. Hell, he was Ernest frigging Hemingway.

Hemingway was there on a quixotic quest to recapture the sentimental Spain of his youth in the 1920s when he had written The Sun Also Rises, his breakthrough novel that made him fabulously famous. His plans were to write an epilogue for a reissue of his bullfighting nonfiction classic Death in the Afternoon. But it turned into a summer-long extravaganza following the two greatest matadors in the world — the young, dashing Antonio Ordoñez and his much older brother-in-law Luis Miguel Dominguín — who were facing off in a mano a mano, a bullfighting World Series and Super Bowl rolled into one.

The adventure would be Ernest Hemingway’s last hurrah. And it would almost kill him — and possibly contributed to his end.

At 59 years of age, Hemingway had the stamina if not the strength of his youth. He and his entourage criss-crossed mountainous Spain numerous times traveling from one corrida to another, partying and drinking themselves to exhaustion each night, as he tried to pick up every pretty girl he met.

Hemingway was traveling with his fourth wife Mary, but you can sense he might have been looking for wife No. 5. He treated Mary cruelly in front of his friends who allowed it. Traveling across Spain, he forced her to ride in a following second automobile while he gave a seat in his car to the attractive young women who had joined his cuadrilla. By the end of the trip, Mary returned to America alone, seriously thinking of leaving him.

But she sensed what no one else did. That while Hemingway sought to catch an inspiring last taste of the past, he had a tragic short life ahead. And that is the unexpected twist of Looking for Hemingway as it became a portrait of a prismatic vision of the dying artist, a complex and profoundly dramatic story of a man’s extraordinary effort to stay alive.

For me, there has always been in the story of Hemingway and Spain an allure so sharp and fresh that there was never any question of writing this book. There was, from the start, the joy of rediscovering the world in which he walked and traveled, both in the 1920s and again in 1959. Here was a canvas as generous, colorful, and grand as any in Hemingway’s life. As the story pushed forth, there was at every turn the excitement of history never told, of connections hidden for decades, of old mysteries answered.

My friend Teo Davis chats with Ernest Hemingway pool side at the Davis family villa in Spain, La Consula, where the author lived for months in 1959.

My friend Teo Davis chats with Ernest Hemingway pool side at La Consula, the Davis family villa in Spain, where the author lived for months in 1959.

The story of Hemingway the icon was well known. The story of Hemingway the man on this last romantic journey had been largely buried. Getting that story was slow work. After a good while, I felt I had become the crypt of Hemingwayolé en España. As my patient wife Renee used to say (but seldom aloud – for which I thank her) about this project, great effort went in but nothing came out until now.

For me, too, as a child of the 1950s who read The Old Man and The Sea thinking I was the boy Manolin in the story, I suppose I have been looking for Hemingway all my life, and perhaps it seems fitting that I found him at an age when I now see myself in the novel’s old man Santiago. For some this is not an easy age to face, publishers in particular. More than a few just flat out said they didn’t think any readers, especially Hemingway fans, wanted to read about him as an old man, pathetic at times, feeble and paranoid.

Being a life-long Hemingway lover, I found that hard to believe, unless it’s just simply old age some of us don’t want to face, whether Hemingway’s or our own. For those who fear this life stage, I can only say that I found it inspiring in the research to learn that Pablo Picasso in his sixties was having affairs with gorgeous youthful women more than forty years younger – young enough to be his granddaughters.

Today, the aging, dying Hemingway is one I have come to love and appreciate as much as the young romantic Hemingway, for in his mortality lie the same fears, regrets and self-recriminations that all of us face in our own way as we reach that stage in our lives.

Hemingway’s final adventure would produce his posthumously published book The Dangerous Summer, and that mano a mano bullfighting circus proved to be a story made to order for the dying man’s need not to die.

Not surprisingly, Hemingway would end up creating the two brave matadors – and, by extension, himself — as more than just heroic. He portrayed them as immortals, of course, for isn’t that the way famous people avoid the reality of old age and death?

Tony Castro, a former political reporter and columnist, is the author of seven books, the most recent being Looking for Mantle: The Best There Ever Was (Rowman and Littlefield).

Prince Tut in Excelsus

PUBLISHED: November 12, 2002, The Los Angeles Times


LOS ANGELES — The most brilliant man I’ve ever known died last week, far too young in life and certainly too premature for me to tell him how much he had meant to me.

John Tuthill at Choate, 1963

But chances are that my friend, John Tuthill, who died of pancreatic cancer at the age of 57, wouldn’t have wanted to hear it. Tut, as I called him even long before the name became commonplace in our culture, was also the most humble person I ever knew.

I met him in Dallas, but it would have been inaccurate to say he was from Dallas. He was born in Washington, D.C., educated at the Choate school in Connecticut and the University of California, Berkeley, and later lived in Minneapolis with his late wife and son and daughter.

Most people who met Tut when I knew him were initially intimidated by him. For most people, it was his height — he was six feet, six inches tall and appeared even taller — and his looks. Tut had eyes the color of the Pacific at dawn and, though starting to lose his hair prematurely, he could strike the pose of an Olympic god. 

But I was also intimidated by Tut’s mind, which is why I was hesitant to be his friend at first. Tut, however, wouldn’t allow me to slide out of his life. A couple of drinks led to several dinners, then some sets of tennis and a Dallas Cowboy game or two. Soon Tut was a regular weekend guest at the new home my wife and I had just moved into.

We were fascinated by each other’s backgrounds. I enjoyed hearing Tut talk about going to prep school at Choate, where President John F. Kennedy had been educated, and about being at Berkeley during the free speech protests of the 1960s. Tut wanted to hear my stories about growing up in the heart of the Bible Belt, about the identity crisis I was going through, having grown up Latino but feeling Anglophile, about being a newspaperman and the struggles of marriage.

Often we filled our Saturdays playing chess and tennis and poured out our souls about our dreams and our insecurities. Tut wanted to write but feared he couldn’t, even though he had shown me notebooks filled with promising prose and short stories. 

The most memorable of those stories was an account of how he and his fraternity pals at Berkeley would often skip classes for long drives south to Los Angeles to watch John Wooden’s great UCLA basketball teams of the 60s that featured Lew Alcindor, who later became Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. But the story smacked not only of UCLA basketball, but of the free spirit of his youth, a 1960s Jack Kerouac. 

Tut, meanwhile, was the only person to whom I ever confessed the nagging insecurity that I then felt. I had been the first person in my family to graduate from high school as well as college. Yet every time I traveled back east, as I had several times for fellowship and job interviews, I felt extremely inferior intellectually — a phenomenon not uncommon then for Southerners I would learn later from Southern writers such as Larry McMurtry and the late Willie Morris.

One day Tut showed up at my home with a book by Robert Hutchins, the noted educator who championed a renaissance in liberal arts education in America and the Great Books program at the University of Chicago. Tut insisted I read the book and that I begin reading Plato’s ”Republic.”

Over the next months, our weekend games of chess and tennis became backdrops to Socratic dialogs about the books Tut was having me read — from Aeschylus to Augustine, from Homer to Hobbes, from Dante to Darwin. I often joked to friends that I was only then getting the education that I had missed at Baylor, my alma mater. It sounded clever, but sadly it was true.

Several years later, I studied Homer at Harvard under Homeric scholar Robert Fitzgerald, who gave me the best compliment I think I have ever received. He said I had a good mind. I was speechless, but I knew who was largely responsible. Tut.

It’s strange what happens with friendships, especially with teachers. Although you move on in life, part of them stays with you. I moved from Dallas. My personal life at the time was unraveling as Tut’s was taking hold. He married and started a family as I was going off on a writer’s sojourn. 

Every so often we would touch base. I think a part of Tut envied my seemingly romantic existence as a writer in Los Angeles. I envied his stability as a businessman in the Midwest. I remarried, had two sons and developed a completely new set of friends in L.A., and many of them came to know that someone named Tut had been one of the most influential people in my life.

Some friends thought I had made him up — that Tuthill was a make-believe friend I had concocted to explain why I had bothered to read Plutarch or could quote Long Day’s Journey Into Night or recite the prelude to The Odyssey in the original ancient Greek. Maybe, as someone once said about Mickey Mantle, if he hadn’t existed, we would have had to make him up. But Tut was real.

Once when I used his name for a character in a screenplay that was in pre-production, I called just to make sure he didn’t mind.

Tut was intrigued. “Who do you have in mind for my character?” he wanted to know.

“Nick Nolte,” I answered.

“Yeah?” he said. “Well make sure he’s sober. Is there a love interest?”
I told him I had written her with Kim Basinger in mind.

There was a long pause before I asked him what was wrong.
“Nothing’s wrong,” he said. “I’m just fantasizing.”

That was Tut. Insisting on living out dreams. Good night, sweet prince, and flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.

Children of Two Worlds, Two Cultures

PUBLISHED: March 20, 2008, The Los Angeles Daily News


HOLLY DAGRES MIGHT BE ONE of the few women who can steal some of the thunder from Hillary Clinton at one of the senator’s presidential campaign rallies. 

Dagres drew much of the attention at a recent rally at the California State University, Northridge, Grand Salon, distributing souvenir combs engraved with the name and office number of her boss and Clinton backer Rep. Brad Sherman, D-Sherman Oaks. 

Holly Dagres in 2016 when she married CNN Cairo correspondent Ian James Lee. https://www.nytimes.com/2016/07/03/fashion/weddings/holly-dagres-ian-lee.html

Tall, blond, model-svelte and elegantly dressed in black, Dagres looked more confident than her intern position would suggest, disarming a questioner who wondered whether she had ever used the long silk scarf around her neck as a mantilla at church. 

“Actually, when I lived in Iran, I used it to cover my head and shield my face,” Dagres said. “I’m also Iranian. Actually, I’m half Iranian.”

Dagres, an honor student at Pierce College and an aspiring clothing designer, offers a window into an American experience rarely seen: The children of Iranian-American marriages crossing ethnic, religious, cultural and even racial barriers. 

It is an issue especially poignant as Iranians in the United States celebrate the Persian New Year – Norooz – that began last night and occurs every year at the spring equinox, the first day of spring. 

In the San Fernando Valley, many of the region’s 200,000 Iranians gather annually at Balboa Park to indulge in traditional food, dancing and cultural activities and to shop the booths of vendors. 

On March 30, those vendors will include the 22-year-old Dagres and her upstart clothing line, much of it bearing ancient Persian designs. 

“I consider myself truly American and Iranian, and I celebrate both cultures and heritages,” Dagres said. “I can’t separate one from the other.”

It is an unusual pedigree, not unlike the children of other mixed marriages that have continued the historic cultural blending in the U.S. – African-American and white, Latino and white, Latino and black, Asian and non-Asian, Jewish and non-Jewish, Muslim and non-Muslim. 

There are no exact numbers of offspring of Iranian-American marriages, but Dagres and other Iranian-Americans estimate there are hundreds – if not thousands – in Los Angeles alone. 

Getting assimilated

At Pierce College, Dagres’ entourage of friends includes several from mixed marriages – among them Star Safari, 18, of Granada Hills, the daughter of an Iranian father and an African-American mother. 

“I consider myself to be very blessed with my background and the fact that I am able to speak Farsi better than many of my Iranian friends whose parents are both Iranian,” said Safari, whose mother insisted that she immerse herself in the culture by living in Iran from 1999 to 2004. 

“It was not the easiest of transitions going there and later coming back to the United States. It was quite hard, in fact. But I would go back there in a heartbeat.” 

Today, Safari is a nursing student at Pierce, where she befriended Dagres. Experts say they and others like them are just part of the phenomenon of Iranians as the latest immigrant group becoming Americanized over time. 

“We as a community are becoming more assimilated,” said Nahid Pirnazar, professor of Iranian studies at the University of California, Los Angeles. 

“So having an American member in the family is not an inconvenience but a sign of sophistication.” 

Those unions, however, have not come without their problems. 

Dagres had her childhood in the San Fernando Valley turned topsy-turvy by her parents’ bitter divorce. At one point, she said, her father accused her mother in court of being a terrorist – an inflammatory claim in the charged atmosphere of family court. 

By age 13, Dagres found herself in culture shock, living with her Iranian-born mother and her new stepfather in Tehran, Iran, where Dagres attended an international school. 

Sense of alienation

A sense of alienation and of not belonging soon became a daily staple. Not only was she a light-skinned, hazel-eyed American girl living in a world that despised Americans, she also wore a back brace to correct a spine condition. 

“I was not only too shy to do what the other girls did, but I was also scared, too,” Dagres recalled. “I was an American living in Iran. I wasn’t safe. Everyone told me I wasn’t safe.” 

Dagres also had to struggle with religious isolation in Iran – as did Safari, who is Baha’i. Dagres’ father is Christian, her mother Muslim. 

“I don’t consider myself Christian or Muslim,” she says. “I consider myself a part of all religions, even Jewish.” 

Dagres returned to the United States in 2006 at the age of 20, after trading the traditional American teen experience of malls and cheerleading for exposure to a side of her heritage that she found equally as important. 

“It also opened my eyes to the reality of life and everything here that we take for granted,” said Dagres. “It makes you appreciate it all the more. 

“But I also came to appreciate being part Iranian. I didn’t look Iranian, and (in Iran) I sometimes had to explain that, especially speaking Farsi with an accent. 

“When the kids there would find out that I was also American, they’d say, `Are you crazy? Why aren’t you in America?”‘ 

A new understanding

Today, Dagres lives in Northridge and hopes to develop her design line – Nekropolis Clothing – as she continues her education. She also is interested in studying international relations, hoping to one day work at the United Nations. 

“I know that I can help America reinterpret its understanding of Iran,” Dagres said. “Just as I know that I can help Iran reinterpret its understanding of America. 

“Despite their differences, the United States and Iran – and their respective interests – are interwoven historically and economically. And there will be a time in the future when we all come to understand that.” 

Last summer, Dagres returned to Iran to re-establish ties with former classmates – many of them also the offspring of mixed marriages. 

“I think I offer a unique window to a part of America and a part of the world that is different from the mainstream, but which is becoming part of it,” she said. 

“When I left Iran, I left with many hopes and dreams, even if, in a sense, back home I have felt so out of place. 

“I am American – but not a typical one.” 

PUBLISHED: January 16, 2008, The Los Angeles Daily News


VAN NUYS, Calif. — It was the picture perfect setting for Barack Obama’s first visit to the San Fernando Valley. 

A fan palm waved behind him. The branches of orange, tangerine and lemon trees hung overhead. A light breeze kicked up, the first sign of the Santa Ana winds that would soon arrive.

Senator Barack Obama meets with Southlanders in the backyard of Mimi Vitello’s Van Nuys home for a discussion on the economy Wednesday, January 16, 2008.

“I wake up to this every morning,” his host, Mimi Vitello told the Democratic presidential candidate as they walked from her small home into her backyard where the media horde, down to Inside Edition, prerequisite of all super stars, awaited them Wednesday afternoon.

“I love it,” said Obama, smiling confidently and looking at ease in shirtsleeves. “You have a nice home.”

In the backyard of a cozy Van Nuys home, the presidential campaign had finally come to the Valley.

Fresh off the warm and fuzzy Democratic debate the night before in Nevada, Obama joined with Vitello and three other Valley residents for what his campaign called an “economic roundtable” discussion on the economy. 

The four Valley residents listened intently to Obama outline a $10 billion program to provide financial relief to homeowners in danger of foreclosure, a cornerstone of his plan to deal with the lending crisis he said has cost the California economy $23 billion.

The Illinois senator also pledged to provide tax credits to 10 million middle class homeowners struggling with out-of-control mortgage costs — among them 850,000 homeowners in California alone.

In turn, the four Valley voters put a human face to the economic problems he says are facing America’s middle class. 

Kerry Bryant, an African American woman who has stumbled into credit card debt helping finance her son’s college education.Carlos Garcia, a Latino school maintenance worker who has been turned down repeated trying to consolidate his debts and worries about how his high-school age son will pay for college.Gustavo Lizarde, a Latino auto repair shop owner who has fallen increasingly into debt that he can long longer pay for the health insurance he needs.And Vitello, 52, a registered nurse, concerned about the improvements she needs on her house and about the adjustable interest-only $335,000 loan on the 980-square-foot home in the 14300 block of Miranda Street.

Vitello especially offered Obama the ideal jumping off place to talk about the home foreclosure crisis.

As he did in the previous night’s debate, Obama criticized Countrywide Bank for its role in the subprime lending debacle and the controversy surrounding Countrywide’s former CEO getting a $110 million resignation package.

“That’s outrageous,” said Vitello, putting her hands to her mouth.

“This is a Countrywide mortgage, isn’t it?” Obama asked.

Vitello nodded.

“Well, maybe you can get him to help you with (repairing) your fence.”

Obama drew laughs from his roundtable partners and many in the news media corps.

“My priority as president,” said Obama, “is going to be to restore a sense of fairness and a sense or responsible oversight in the lending industry.”

Possibly the most moving account of their problems was detailed by Lizarde, the small business owner who said his credit card debt mounted with increased interest rates until he could no longer pay his $700 health insurance premium.

“The question is: When does this stop?” Lizarde asked “I’m not the only person in the country in this situation. There are thousands of people.”

“Millions of people,” said Obama, who appeared moved by the accounts.

If elected president, Obama said he would crackdown on unscrupulous lenders and introduce a “credit card bill of rights” requiring disclosure of hidden credit costs to protect consumers lured by low credit card rates only to wind up over their heads in debt.

As he was leaving the backyard economic roundtable, Obama was asked about reports that he has compromised his attacks of the role of big money in politics and the influence of corporations by taking money from Wall Street interests.

“There’s no doubt that I got money from Wall Street because that’s where the money is,” he said. “We have a lot of supporters and a lot of contributors. We’ve raised, frankly, an awful lot of money in this campaign.”

Obama maintains that the bulk of his fund-raising has been from small contributors.

He was also asked how many credit cards he owns — two, he said, both with a zero balance.

“It hasn’t always been the case,” he said. “These stories are familiar to me.”

Obama said that it had not been too long ago that he and wife Michelle had debts from college loans and used credit cards to get by. 

“When I got out of law school and we got married, our combined student loan debt was higher than our mortgage,” he said. “It took us 10 years to pay that off, which meant that we couldn’t save.

“It meant that we weren’t socking away for our kids’ college education. It meant that there were times where you had to use the credit card to close the gap. There was a time when we had some significant balances.”

The Obama financial picture changed with publication of his best-selling autobiography, “Dreams From My Father,” and a $1.9 million publishing deal for future books.

“We’ve been blessed over the last several years, but that’s a blessing,” Obama said. “It’s not that I somehow was smarter than everyone else.”


The Inevitably of Hillary… or Not

PUBLISHED: January 18, 2008, The Los Angeles Daily News


NORTHRIDGE, Calif. – Thousands of supporters braved chilly conditions Thursday in the San Fernando Valley to hear Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton reiterate her plans to stimulate the country’s troubled economy on a day when fears of a looming recession sent the Dow Jones Industrial Average plunging more than 300 points. 

But hundreds of backers were left out in the cold at the Clinton rally at California State University, Northridge, where her campaign had booked the campus’s Grand Salon, which could seat only 250. 

Reaching out to those left in the elements, the New York senator personally greeted and shook hands with many outside the hall who had waited for hours. 

“Thank you! Thank you for coming!” Clinton said to some of them, waving to the crowd along with Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, one of her national co-chairmen who campaigned with the former first lady throughout the day.

Clinton earlier appeared in Compton, where she invoked the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr. to the African-American congregation of the Citizens of Zion Missionary Baptist Church. 

Clinton’s visit to the Valley and elsewhere in Los Angeles was part of a two-day political blitzkrieg by the three remaining major Democratic candidates less than three weeks before California’s Feb. 5 presidential primary. 

Sen. Barack Obama campaigned in the Valley on Wednesday, and former Sen. John Edwards exhorted labor leaders for support Thursday in downtown Los Angeles. 

In his rally, Edwards called his campaign the “cause of my life” and appealed to union workers to create a “tidal wave of change to sweep across this nation.” 

“All of us together, we have a message for all America,” Edwards told more than 300 SEIU Local 721 workers gathered on the rooftop of its downtown Los Angeles building. “We are engaged in a battle for change.”

The rally signaled the start of Edwards’ effort leading up to Feb. 5. In his remarks, Edwards touted his proposals to provide health care for Americans and fight for the middle class. 

“The difference between living in poverty and the middle class … is being a member of a union,” Edwards said. 

The Los Angeles campaign swings come just two days before the Nevada caucuses and South Carolina GOP primary and just two days after a near love-in Democratic debate, but there were indications the gloves had begun coming off. 

At CSUN, Clinton renewed an attack on her chief rival by questioning Obama’s experience and leadership abilities. 

Both Villaraigosa and Rep. Brad Sherman, who represents the surrounding 27th Congressional District, stressed the need for political experience and leadership. 

“Many people have raised their hand to be president and though some are very qualified, Hillary Clinton stands heads and shoulders above them!” Villaraigosa told cheering Clinton supporters. “Because experience matters!” 

Experience is the reason Emily Ysais, a small-business owner from Van Nuys, said she is backing Clinton. 

“I have been waiting for her,” said Ysais, who attended the rally with her girlfriends. “She is experienced. She knows what she is talking about, and she’s a true leader … simply a strong woman.” 

Clinton’s gender was noted by many of the women in the crowd, though some said their support for her transcends that single issue. 

“I wouldn’t support just any woman,” said Shaina Lunde, a CSUN art history student. “But I support her.” 

In his remarks to the crowd before Clinton’s arrival, Sherman also alluded to Obama’s appearance Wednesday in Van Nuys where he held an economic roundtable discussion. 

“He met with four residents in the backyard,” Sherman said, contrasting that with the more than 2,000 people who showed up for Clinton at CSUN. “We did all this in a day and a half!” 

But Clinton herself seemed conciliatory, especially in a question-and-answer session when Carlos Aguilar of Arleta – a Cuban-born American who has lived in the Valley 41 years – asked whether she would consider Obama as a running mate. 

“Let me say that I can’t think that far ahead because it’s bad luck,” said Clinton. “I’m very superstitious and I don’t want to be presumptuous – but he is an extraordinary man, and he has so much to give our country, and I hope that however this works out that he will be a major figure in American politics for years to come … I certainly support that.” 

In her remarks, Clinton again vowed to push tough measures to help distressed homeowners. 

If elected, she said, she would impose a 90-day moratorium on home foreclosures and call for a five-year freeze on interest rates. 

Clinton also said she would move quickly to help the 47million Americans without health-care insurance by proposing that uninsured people be covered by a variation of the program that insures members of Congress. 

Clinton’s health-care work dating back to husband Bill Clinton’s administration appeared to be one of the reasons some of the supporters Thursday were willing to stand in line for hours to see her. 

Among them was Jennifer Strigle of Canyon Country, who said that under the Clinton administration she was able to receive government funding for a series of treatments for epilepsy. 

“She was there for me when I needed her support,” Strigle said. “She did a lot then, and she is still talking about making the health-care system better now.” 

In a lighter moment during the question-and-answer session, Abraham Lutfi, who said he was an Iraqi by birth but had been in the United States for 47 years, addressed Clinton as “Madame President.” 

Clinton responded with a smile. 

“That sounds good,” she said. 

Lutfi said he was a doctor who had just returned from treating U.S. service members for the past three years, and he told a touching story about soldiers who would ask him why they were fighting in Iraq. 

“I don’t know,” he said, then proceeded to feign not knowing Vice President Cheney’s first name. 

“Dick,” said Clinton, unaware she was playing Lutfi’s straight woman. 

“Oh, that Dick,” said Lutfi. “You’re right.” 

The crowd – even those outside in the cold listening to the exchange via loudspeakers – roared. 

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