Saturday, November 21, 2009

Diego Rivera - Assistants Remember the Genius

In March, 1986 I went to the Detroit Institute of Arts to interview Lucienne Bloch and Stephen Dimitroff, two fresco artists who worked on the famous Industrial murals produced by Diego Rivera in the 1930s. I wrote this piece for the Observer & Eccentric Newspapers, where I had a weekly book column and wrote occasional freelance articles. This piece was published on March 20, 1986. Lucienne and Stephen were in the area teaching and lecturing for a couple of weeks, and we talked on the phone a few times so that I could clarify some of the info in my notes. Once we got the business out of the way, our conversations usually turned to the difficulty of being liberals in the Land of Reagan. I wish I had had the good sense to have recorded those conversations.

Lucienne and Stephen were funny, smart, quick and totally devoted to one another. Even after all those years, Stephen seemed still in awe of the fact that Lucienne, the daughter of a famous composer born into a family of means, was his wife. She knew it and used it playfully. They were quite a pair.

Lucienne wrote to me after she got back to California and invited me to their ranch. I never went, of course, and I don't know how sincere the invitation was, but the invite itself was enough for me. I still have it, along with the copy of Dimitroff's book, which Stephen insisted I keep. When I asked him to autograph it, he was as flustered as I would have been, had he asked me for mine.

_(photo 1985, courtesy of Alexander Kaloian)_____________

March 20, 1986:

When artist Lucienne Bloch was a young girl in her 20s, during the height of the Great Depression, she gave up a job teaching sculpture for Frank Lloyd Wright at Taliesin to grind powdered paints for Diego Rivera--a backbreaking, poor-paying, thankless job, at best.

She met the famed Mexican muralist in 1931 in New York, at a banquet given in his honor during an exhibition of his work. "My romantic notions of art and life, at age 22, were knocked out of joint by this burly giant of a man, and I marveled at his preposterous opinions," Bloch wrote in a recent article for Art in America titled, "On Location with Diego Rivera".
What swayed her the most, Bloch wrote, was Rivera's notion that man doesn't control the machines, "The machines control us," he told her. "We are the catalysts that transform the raw materials of the earth into energy. We are the continuation of the geologic process."

Last week Bloch and her husband, Stephen Dimitroff, another of Rivera's early assistants, stood in the Rivera Court at the Detroit Institute of Art, transfixed by the 53-year-old Detroit Industry murals. They stared at them, moved closer to pick out certain touches, and delighted in them as though they were seeing the 27 frescoes for the first time. As though they themselves had not worked on them.

"Can you imagine the genius of the man?" Dimitroff said. "He was incredible. It was the thrill of our lives to work for Diego."

When Bloch asked Rivera at the banquet if he would let her grind colors, the muralist already had a reputation as a self-centered perfectionist who worked his assistants until they dropped, then refused to pay them a dime when a nickel would do. He had the energy of 10 men half his age, and if he worked 20 or 30 hours straight, as the Dimitroffs said he often did, his assistants worked as long, without questions. And there were plenty of young artists, including Dimitroff, who begged for the job.

Stephen Dimitroff was born in Bulgaria but his family eventually settled in Flint [Michigan], where he and his father worked in the auto plants. He went to Chicago to study art, but left in a fury when the art school wouldn't recognize his three yeas of night art courses in Flint.

In his book, "Apprentice of Diego Rivera in Detroit", Dimitroff remembers:

"An overwhelming urge to reject art schools and meet a living, active artist, Diego Rivera, had propelled me by night bus and streetcar to the DIA. That early chilly November, 1932, I ran up the marble steps boldly. I winked at the bronze hulk of Rodin's The Thinker - then the fact hit me that this was Monday, when all the museums of the world are closed!"

Dimitroff cajoled the guards and finally got in by saying he had to get back to Flint
"where my dad was laid off from Buick". The guard turned away,saying, "Well, son, if I don't see you go in I can't stop you."

He met Rivera and told him he just wanted to watch. He did that for days, going back each night to his $2.50-a-month room, until finally somebody let him grind colors.

"It was the depression then, you have to remember, and nobody mentioned money," Dimitroff said with a laugh. "But I was there to learn. It was what I wanted to do." He was finally hired when one of the assistants suddenly quit.

Rivera asked to see some of his paintings and the young man was terrified. "I showed him landscapes and still lifes and portraits of my family, including one of my dad coming back from the factory with his lunch pail. [Rivera said] 'Very fine, sketches good--but you you not paint workers' factory? That's interesting.' I was stunned. I didn't know how to answer. The factory was just plain routine to me."

At one point Dimitroff stopped working long enough to pose for Rivera, whose habit it was to choose real people for the subjects of his paintings. He appears as a pink-shirted worker on the North Wall lifting a motor block with another Rivera assistant, Art Niendorf.

Stephen Dimitroff, DIA, cleaning his 1933 portrait

Though Bloch and Dimitroff both worked with Rivera in Detroit, they didn't meet there. "I left for New York one day, and Steve showed up in Detroit the next day," Bloch said. They met for the first time months later in New York when Dimitroff and Niendorf came to her door begging for money.

They'd been sent from Detroit to Rockefeller Center to prepare the walls of the RCA Building lobby for Rivea's next job--three frescoes commissioned by Nelson Rockefeller depicting "Man at the Crossroads". Rivera kept "forgetting" to send the two men their living expenses and they were dead broke.
"You're the only one we know in New York," Niendorf told Bloch. "Can we borrow $20?" When Bloch hesitated, Neindorf said she could be chief photographer for the Rockefeller project. Bloch says now "It was the most significant $20 I ever parted with."

Throughout her days with Rivera in Detroit (where for several months she shared an apartment with Rivera and his wife, Frida Kahlo) and in New York, Bloch managed to find time to keep a diary. A passage, dated March 20, 1933 has Bloch looking for the Riveras in New York after they'd arrived there fresh from the Detroit project:
"I met Dimi (Stephen Dimitroff) at RCA. We went together to the Barbizon-Plaza and looked all over for the Riveras. They were in (Mexican artist) Covarrubias's apartment. They looked great! Diego is relating with hilarious gestures the scandal in Detroit about his frescoes. There are many 'experts' who want to remove them--or whitewash them. Puritanical groups are shocked at the big nudes. Some object that the workers in the factory scenes don't look happy. But the greatest of the commotion is the panel which some call a 'travesty on the Holy Family'. This is a small panel, glorifying the great medical research work of science. It shows a blond baby (The model, Bloch said later, was the kidnapped Lindbergh baby, which Rivera sketched from newspaper photos.) gently held by a nurse with a pretty white cap framing her face. A doctor, the likeness of Dr. Valentiner, director of the DIA, stands by, vaccinating the child. In the foreground are the ox, horse and sheep--the source of serums needed to control epidemics. A beautiful theme! Newspapers are having a holiday on the furor the mural causes. Luckily Edsel Ford shows real GUTS not to weaken before the hue and cry of the bigots. I'm impressed. Maybe he's got some of his Dad's stubbornness. Diego says that thousands of people are visiting the Art Institute who never went there before."
Today, a half-century later, Rivera is back at the DIA, in the form of a major retrospective on view through April 27 before going on to Philadelphia, Mexico City, Madrid and West Berlin. It includes Rivera's huge preparatory drawings--or "cartoons", in museum lingo--found in the basement of the museum in 1979, after the Dimitroffs and others assured staff members the drawings existed and should be there.

And the Dimitroffs, major forces during Rivera's United States stay, are back, too. They're here at the DIA's invitation to teach and lecture on Rivera's Detroit frescoes. Twice a week they're at Detroit's Norther High School teaching the lost art of fresco painting to gifted students who "with such joy, do all the dirty work", Bloch said.

The adults in the class come from Cranbrook. "There's a 70-year-old man who's just marvelous," she said, adding, "He's so full of life!" Bloch herself is a 75-year-old dynamo who admitted she works all the time. "We're only happy when we're working," she said, "Our work is our joy."

The lecture schedule is filling up: Oakland, Jackson, Flint, Adrian College and more, before they head back on March 30 to their home in Gualala, 125 miles north of San Francisco, on the edge of California's wine country.

And if the year 1986 is significant at the DIA (the retrospective celebrating 100 years since Rivera's birth is a major event designed to coincide with the DIA's Centennial celebration), it is no less significant for the Dimitroffs. In September they celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary.

The two fell in love in New York while they worked on the ill-fated Rockefeller Center frescoes. After seven months of work the murals were almost completed when Rivera, an avowed Communist trying to get back in the good graces of the party, painted the head of Lenin into one prominent scene. The sponsored protested, but Rivera refused to remove it. All work stopped and the murals were eventually smashed to bits.

As Dimitroff and the other assistants ground colors and applied the five coats of plaster needed for Rivera's style of fresco, Bloch shot roll after roll of film. Later, when the assistants got wind of the shut-down, the photographs took on a new importance. Near the end, when RCA guards were ordered to confiscate cameras, Bloch tucked her little Leica into her blouse and entered the building with Dimitroff, saying they had last-minute work to finish up. While Dimitroff pounded on boards to mask the sounds of the clicking shutter, Bloch took the final photos of the murals--including the controversial head of Lenin.

"It was insane, that destruction," Bloch said. "Ill never understand why they couldn't just cover the murals with canvas. To destroy such a work. . .and to think it could have happened to the Detroit murals, too."

Rivera went back to Mexico and the Dimitroffs never saw him again, though Bloch corresponded with her friend, Frida Kahlo. The Dimitroffs set up a lecture tour to discuss the "Fresco Debacle", as they called it, and when the interest waned, Bloch signed on as a WPA artist.

"You had to take what they called a 'pauper's oath', saying you didn't have any money, " Bloch recalled. "Steve absolutely refused to do it, even though he was so broke, but I wanted to. They asked me how much money I had and I told the truth--I said I had $60. They weren't going to let me sign up and I said, 'Listen, by next week I'll have nothing. My rent is due and I have to eat.' Well, they wanted a woman fresco painter so they let me go."

She painted two frescoes in New York City, one at the Washington school, since torn down, and one at the Women's House of Detention.

About that mural she later wrote," Conversations with the inmates revealed with what sarcasm and suspicion they treated the mention of art. I chose the only subject which would not be foreign to them--children--framed in a New York landscape of the most ordinary kind. In their make-believe moments the children in the mural were adopted and renamed. Such response clearly reveals to what degree a mural can, aside from its artistic value, act as a healthy tonic on the lives of all of us."

They moved to Flint, Dimitroff's hometown, where he worked as a machinist and later a draftsman, and she taught art classes twice a week at the Flint Institute of Art.

"After we'd been there about eight years--by that time we had three kids and a house--we proposed a mural for the offices or dining room at General Motors," Bloch said. "Something in the style of Rivera. They weren't the least bit interested. That's when we decided we had done all we could in Flint, so we sold the house, loaded up the kids, tents and sleeping bags into the car and headed out west.

As they surveyed the frescoes at the DIA last week before rushing off for another speaking engagement, Bloch said, "Since those days with Diego, Steve and I have never stopped working together. And our great love is still fresco painting. We do other things out of necessity. You can't make a living from frescoes--each one takes too long--so we've done book illustrations, mosaics, anything anyone asks of us.

"Sad to say, fresco painting is become a lost art. It's scary to see in print how much work goes into it. It sounds more complicated than it really is. There's a joy to it. You can see it in the students at the fresco workshop. But it is very difficult work--time consuming--and artists nowadays sem to want to do everything spontaneously. They don't seem to understand that even the spontaneous Japanese and Chinese brush painting is done only after 30 years of studying. Very disciplined study.

"So our joy is turning people on to painting frescoes again. Aside from a man we heard about in Texas, we seem to be the only true fresco painters left in this country. And that is so sad."

( Stephen died in 1993 and Lucienne in 1999. Her NYT obit is here)

Saturday, August 22, 2009

In 1983 - Programs--or People?

(This is the second in a series of columns I wrote during the 1983 recession in Michigan. To read them in their proper order, either start at the bottom (A Community Call for Help) or click on each post in the Archives to the left.)

January 26, 1983 -

Last week I went to a conference in Romulus called "Serving the Poor and New Needy - A Community Challenge". Most of the participants were people who were involved in one way or another in community-needs programs. Some have had their acts together for years now and probably shared more information than they received. Others were just beginning and were there for guidance and direction.

The information was there in amazing abundance and I haven't yet had time to digest it all or put it in any kind of order, so that will come later. I do know, coming out of that workshop, that if I were in any kind of trouble--whatever it was--my first call would be to Community Information Services. They are the know-alls, hear-alls, see-alls around here and can direct callers in a matter of minutes to the right places.

The main purpose of the workshop was to bring all those Community Needs people together to pool all of their resources and talents into one giant task force and come up with a well-coordinated master plan for taking care of the needy in the out-county area. An ambitious project, to be sure, but if the outpouring of care and energy was any indication, it'll happen--and happen soon.

Of everything I saw and heard--and as impressed as I was--I can't get the workshop's keynote speaker out of my mind. The Reverend Edwin Rowe is pastor of the Cass United Methodist Church and champion of the "old poor (as he calls them) in the Cass Corridor.

Feeding the poor is nothing new to him. His church feeds upwards of 1200 people each and every week of the year. But there are some distinct differences between the old poor and the new poor, he says, that must be recognized. There's a toughness in the old poor--a lack of panic--that you don't find in the new poor.

"When you're finding ways of feeding people, it isn't enough that you worry about their nutritional needs. You have to worry about what it does to these people when they have to stand in line for three hours."

There was a certain arrogance about Pastor Rowe as he talked about the arrogance of the people who have elected to take on the task of feeding the "new poor". As one participant said later, "He was a real downer".

But if some of his words struck a nerve, very possibly it was a nerve that needed to be struck. Listen:

"We should stop going to meetings about the poor where only staff people are and start going to meetings where the poor people are. And if you're going to feed them, don't just feed them. Sit down and talk to them."

"What goes on is not feeding people but being known as a person who feeds people. There's a real temptation to grandstand. I call it the "Mother Waddles of the Year" syndrome. If we're going to be at all effective, we have to get our own need to be stars out of the way."

"There's a real arrogance in making people stand in line for food. Give them money instead, so they can go into stores like you and me and buy the same junk food (if they want) that we're able to do. When we give them vouchers (food stamps, etc.) we put a sign on them. If you give them money, nobody has to know who's unemployed and who's not."

"If we're not careful we will allow ourselves to set up an entire 'poverty industrial complex' where we will be in complete control and we'll expect people to be thrilled about the coming of surplus cheese. 750,000 poor people is an army which you and I have refused to organize. If we told these people the real truth about how it got that way, then they would insist on organizing and our jobs might be on the line."

". . .and we have to get the federal government not to get local communities to take care of their own, but to take responsibility for what they've done."
Whether you agree or not, it's all part of the "awareness" we've talked about so often. When you stop thinking about the poor as people and see them only as a part of your program then you're doing it for you and not for them.

A few of the people there were honest enough to admit that it's real easy, once you get into this thing, to focus only on ways and means and numbers--forgetting that these are real, live, feeling people you're supposed to be dealing with.

As one woman said to me, "The people with the food--and thus the power--have to ask themselves why they are offended, or even frightened by the suggestion that the poor be given back a certain amount of control by giving them money to spend as they choose. They have to ask themselves if they aren't enjoying too much the power they've been given."

Update: Rev. Edwin Rowe, quoted in this piece, worked tirelessly during that period to ease the woes of the people so devastated by the recession. I lost track of his activities over the years, but I searched his name today to see if he's still around and still working at it. To my great joy, I found that he is. As you can see in this YouTube video, he's still actively working for the poor and the disenfranchized, organizing and marching and being the kind of man of the cloth that would do his Maker proud.

In 1983 - A Community Call for Help

This is the first in a series of columns I wrote in early 1983, when the recession that devastated the country and nearly decimated Michigan was just beginning to wind down. I've never really understood the reasons for that recession, and even now there are a multitude of theories, but I didn't need to understand it in order to grasp what was happening to real people because of it.

These pieces are necessarily local, as I was a columnist for a chain of weeklies that covered the communities of Western Wayne County, outside of Detroit. Very little content has been changed, except where I felt the need to clarify. (Keep in mind that I was still a novice, so cut the writing some slack, okay? I present these now only as an example of how people dealt with that particular recession in a place that was hit harder than most. It is the same place that is being hit harder than most today.)

I'm posting the picture of me that appeared with my column then. Don't laugh.
January 12, 1983 -

Last week Mayor Pickering called together community leaders and organization heads to talk about the hunger problem in our community. At the outset of the meeting, Pickering jolted the group by telling them that, of the 84,000 people living in our city, roughly 25 percent of them were receiving some sort of public assistance.

But those figures, startling as they were, didn't begin to tell the whole story. As Pickering noted, these numbers don't reflect the number of people hiding out there. They are people out of work with no more unemployment money coming in, but with accumulated assets such as a house or a second car that keep them from qualifying for welfare benefits or even food stamps.

"These people don't want to be identified," Pickering said. "Their pride is all-important. Many, many of them have never had to live like this before."

Out of that meeting came an encouraging number of offers to help. Scout leaders will step up food collections, Skateland will host a skate night with all proceeds going to feed the hungry, the Lions Club will recommend a "can a man" from their membership and will loan their bus at any time.

The Goodfellows and the Jaycees will continue their good Christmas work. The Kiwanis, the VFW, and the Senior Citizens are all itching to get into the battle, and Councilwoman Nancy Neal wrote a check on the spot for $1000, representing one half of her council salary.

Tyrone White and Gerald Arbour were there to explain AAA's "Operation Foodbasket", an effort to collect food for the hungry in western Wayne County.

The outpouring of concern at that meeting was overwhelming, but it is only the beginning. There are still problems to be worked out--from identifying the hungry and the "new poor", to coordinating the programs so that everyone isn't doing the same thing, to spreading the message and getting enough food, money and volunteer help.

I've spoken in the last few days to numerous people involved in programs in their own communities, and I'm getting many different pictures:
In some communities they've been prepared--and have been doing--for a long time. In others, the impact of the unemployment situation in our county is just now hitting them. Some of them haven't even thought about programs until now.

AWARENESS. That's the key word now. There are people out there, in every community, in desperate need. There are no jobs and they're running out of money. People aren't making house payments and they can't pay their utility bills. They've reached the bottom of the barrel and there's nothing there. And they're convinced it must be their fault.

AWARENESS. Someone has to tell those people--the people with no jobs and no money--that it wasn't anything they did or didn't do. They are victims of rising inflation, of Reaganomics, of the decline and fall of the auto industry. They're not alone in this; eveyone is feeling the effects. There's nothing to be ashamed of.

AWARENESS. Everyone can help. Even those people who need it. The out-of-workers with nothing but time on their hands can volunteer to help fill food baskets--even if delivery is slated to his or her house. There is no "charity" when everyone is working together.

AWARENESS. For the next several weeks, I will devote this column space to spreading the word. We'll share information about community efforts and we'll take a deeper look at the hunger problem in our area. We'll look at how we're coping and how we're helping and we'll find out what the banks, stores, utilities companies, schools, churches and social services people are doing.

In this newspaper we've provided a box called "Hunger Hotline". It's a listing of community programs and contact people. The listings are far from complete but it's a start. If you have information to add to it, send it to me here or leave your name and number and I'll get in touch with you.

There is no shame in needing help. The shame comes in not giving it.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Unemployment: Who's to Blame? (1980s)


The problems began in the auto industry. The Big Three automakers -- Ford, Chrysler and General Motors -- built 9.3 million vehicles in 1978. Three years later they built only 6.2 million. Their losses were the worst in the industry's history. There were two culprits: a severe nationwide recession and cheaper imports from Japan. Between 1978 and 1981, 300,000 auto jobs were lost. With fewer cars sold, fewer parts and less steel was required. By the end of 1981, Michigan's unemployment rate stood at nearly 13%, while the national average was 8%. Business and personal bankruptcies tripled. Mortgages went unpaid, medical bills mounted, soup kitchens proliferated. Laid-off workers were hard-pressed to find any kind of employment. Living in the Rust Belt proved impossible for many, who packed up their families and migrated to the Sunbelt. At times there seemed to be as many Michigan license plates as Texas ones on the streets of Houston, only one of several southwestern cities that boomed in the first half of the decade. (Living in the Rust Belt)


This is a piece I wrote in 1982. Ronald Reagan was president, interest rates and oil prices were high, outsourcing had begun, and nearly the entire country was in a recession. But in Michigan it was an all-out depression. We were one of the Rust Belt states and thousands of our auto workers were leaving the state looking for work, mainly in the Texas oil country. Our State Joke was "Will the last one out of Michigan please turn out the lights?" Others took it up as their own, but I remember it starting in beautiful, devastated Michigan:

Unemployed: Who's to Blame?

I didn't catch all of "Donahue" the other day, and maybe it was a good thing, because what I did catch really threw me.

His entire audience was made up of unemployed workers. His entire panel, likewise. As near as I could tell, Donahue was the only person in the group who had a job. But that wasn't what threw me.

What threw me was where those out-of-work auto and steel workers laid the blame. They didn't blame management for greed and stupidity. They didn't blame the government for greed and stupidity. They didn't even blame the Japanese--much.

They blamed welfare cheats.

They could barely control their rage as they talked about them: The so-called "men" who would rather be on welfare than do an honest day's work; the mothers who kept having babies so they could make more money off of the taxpayer; young people getting married and starting families without a thought to where the money was coming from.

They went on and on--the gist of it, if I got it right, being that the entire economic breakdown of this country came about because of welfare cheats.

The men talked about their lives now. About what it felt like to stand for hours in an unemployment lines. What it felt like to sit around and do nothing. What it felt like to watch their wives go off to work for a half or even a third of what the men could make if they could only get their jobs back. Some of them, as they talked, were close to tears.

Nobody could take away their right to be mad. Nobody wanted to. But what sat me upright was the direction it took. They weren't mad, for instance, at the heads of the corporations for whom they had formerly worked. They saw no problem with the fact that, though they were out of a job--due, supposedly, to declining profits--those same corporations still showed colossal end-of-year profits, and the corporation heads--the very same who had decided the out-of-workers' fates--still wined and dined in splendor and had no intention of giving up even one little country club membership.

They saw no problem with the fact that out-and-out greed kept the interest rates so criminally high that, even with a job, they couldn't afford a house or a car or any big-ticket item.

They placed no blame on the powers-that-be who decided on a staggering $10,000 as a nice round figure for a brand-new, no-frills, no-nothing standard mode of transportation. (Remember, this is the 1980s!)

None of that, even though it was discussed, was important. What was important to them was that there were people out there getting money from the government who didn't deserve it.

If it weren't for them taking money that wasn't rightfully theirs, one man said, therw would be more money to go around for the people who really need it.

"Why don't they go out and work?" the unemployed-man-with-no-prospect-for-a-job wanted to know.

Did those unemployed workers feel that, unless they made it clear, we would think they were one of them? Did they somehow think that, even though the money they were collecting while being out of work was money earned and due them, they were still "cheating" in some way? Or did they honestly think the poorest of the poor were really the bad guys in all of this?

Is that the American way of life now? The rich get richer and the poor get the blame?

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Images - January 20, 1981

This column first appeared in a suburban Detroit newspaper chain
, where I had a weekly column for more than two years. When I look back on the events of that day it still seems surreal. . . First, that Ronald Reagan, of all people, was actually going to be President of the United States, and second, that the Iran hostages were going to be released on Inauguration Day, after 444 days in captivity. We had heard rumors all morning that the hostages were likely to be released, and we kept hoping that if it was going to happen it might mercifully happen before noon, on Jimmy Carter's watch.

But of course it didn't happen that way. There are some who still maintain that Republican operatives worked behind the scenes to guarantee the dramatic timing of the release. The talk was out there as I wrote this, and I wholeheartedly believed it, but I kept the snarkiness to a minimum--something I probably wouldn't do today. (I would probably write it better, as well, but this was about as good as it got for me back then.)

Otherwise, this is how I saw things transpire on that day:


It is mid-morning and Walter Cronkite is announcing that the hostages are about to be released: "There is no truth to the rumor, however, that they are in the air."

Walter doesn't sound very excited. Why isn't Walter excited? "They are reported to be in two buses, waiting to board the two Algerian airliners a few feet away on the tarmac. . ."

Walter is talking through his teeth; terse, almost angry. This day--Inauguration Day, Liberation Day--was to have been Walter's finest, final hour. On a par with lift-off on the launching pads in the old days, Walter's favorite reporting assignments. All is finally right with the world, and Walter--Walter is mad.

Why? Walter, ever the professional newsman, isn't saying. Partly though, it has to be because this was to have been Jimmy Carter's final finest hour, too, and the barbarians have cheated him out of even that. (Cronkite was forced by CBS to retire. That may explain it, now that I'm looking back.)

We wait with Walter all morning, hoping they will be released before noon--swearing-in time. Please, let Jimmy Carter have this one last moment of glory. Let it happen during his presidency.

We watch the platforms being built, the parade preparations, the sleek, black limousines coming and going through the gates at the White House. We switch back and forth to reporters at separate vantage points to make sure they're ready. We talk about what a beautiful spot this is, on the south lawn, looking out at the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument. We wonder why no other president before Reagan has chosen it as a place for swearing in.

Every now and then we quit the small talk to question the motives of the kidnappers in Tehran who chose this very moment in American history to cause another historical event. Who was it to bother? Jimmy Carter? Ronald Reagan? We Americans in general?

Just before noon we switch to Tom Brokaw. He is announcing that momentarily Ronald Wilson Reagan will be sworn in as either the 39th or 40th president of the United States, depending on how you look at it--but first this from Kimberly-Clark. (I don't remember why the question came up. Couldn't find an answer to this.)

NOON. The swearing-in. Nancy is wearing a bright red dress, clearly visible even from the helicopter overhead. Rosslyn is dressed in beige and has not smiled once. The camera swings by her, never to return. Ronald Reagan introduces, for the last time, President Carter and Vice-president Mondale. He is raising his right hand.

The weather in Washington is an enchanting 50 degrees and sunny, as every commentator on every channel relentlessly reminds us. Many minutes of reportage are spent watching for an impending cloud cover.

At lunch, less than 20 minutes after the ceremony, now-President Reagan makes the announcement that the hostages are over free air space. He does it in fine actor-politician style and everybody cheers. No one asks where Jimmy Carter is. No one thinks to stand him in front of a camera to get his reaction.

Someone asks Barbara Walters how she feels about the hostages being released, and she says, strangely, "I feel guilt." Nothing more. Just "I feel guilt".

The interviewer doesn't ask why. Was it because the media played the incident up too much? Not enough? Does she feel guilt because all of her usually effective powers of persuasion might as well have been so much marshmallow for all the help she was to the hostages? Or is it because one newscaster is asking another newscaster how she feels instead of asking someone whose opinion might have mattered?

Never mind, Barbara. Jane Pauley is doing that. Jane is asking hostage family members, "How do you feel now that the hostages have been released?"

The family members each smile and say variations of "Wonderful! Just wonderful!"

Jane's next question is, "What will you do when (fill in the blank) comes home?" The loved one has to think about that. Finally he or she grins and says, "I really don't know--just go back to a normal life, I guess."

Jane grins, too. There isn't much more to say. Back to you, Tom.

Then someone says, "We mustn't forget the seven Americans who died trying to rescue the hostages. They mustn't have died in vain." The mood is spoiled. Back to earth. . .

Now someone is asking why didn't we do the yellow ribbon bit for the POW's? Well, we did--sort of, someone on a panel says. We had I.D bracelets, remember? But, look--you can't compare the two. The POW's were soldiers. They are subject to that kind of stuff--even trained for it. These hostages (the 52) were trained for diplomacy. Makes a difference.

Someone else asks, "Why are we calling them 'heroes'?" But then the trailer carrying the Mormon Tabernacle choir rolls to a lurching stop in front of the reviewing stand. They are singing "Mine eyes have seen the Glory of the coming of the Lord". Tears glisten in the new president's eyes. An American smile crinkles his face. The camera never wavers.

Moments later the local cameras take over and we see the front door of the [Joseph Subic, Jr.] home. The Subics, however, choose to remain indoors, away from the cameras. We become quickly bored with watching a front door and move on to other things.

Robert Ode's people are "just folks". Michigan gothic. We love them.

Earth mother Mattie Jones is holding the phone and crying. We love her, too. (Please, Mattie--don't let us in again.) (Mother of Charles A. Jones, Jr.)

The scene shifts once more and --is it?. . . It is! Yes! There they are! They're coming down the steps of the Algerian airliner, passing through a gantlet of people--only this time the people are smiling and patting them on their backs.

Former hostage Richard Queen is doing the roll call for us as each hostage comes past the cameras. Barbara Rosen is in the studio. She tells which one is her husband, Barry. "There he is. There's Barry," she says, barely smiling. It is almost an apology.

But, yes. . .we can breathe easy now. We see them and they're smiling. They're free.

This is the day we've all been waiting for. Now the emotions, checked for so long, can flow. Soon the tears will come. . .

Incredibly, they do not. It's not the way we wanted it to be. We didn't want to share the day with even a new president. We wanted Jimmy to leave happy, feeling fulfilled. We wanted Walter to leave happy. We wanted it to be like the year the Tigers won the World Series. We wanted to open doors and hear the shouting and the cheers. We wanted to decorate our cars, our trees, our houses with symbolic yellow ribbons.

It happened too fast. We didn't have time. The thugs, with their on-again, off-again promises--their malicious timing--robbed us of even that.

A psychiatrist is telling us that it is absolutely essential that we allow the 52 a speedy return to normal life, else we will have 52 basket cases on our hands.

An entrepreneur is showing the camera several styles of hostage tee shirts, hostage buttons, hostage bumper stickers. "It is just our way," he says, "of showing how much we care."

Suddenly we're exhausted. It's been a long day . We'll sort it all out tomorrow, but now--we can't turn the TV off fast enough.