Sunday, February 16, 2020

What Breaks

By the dawn’s early light

breaking news can break your heart.

But the heart grows by breaking

into chamber music. Breakfast is

buttered lemon by the sun.

Humpty-Dumpty broke into a yellow scramble,

then reassembled as omelet, as amulet.

Today has never happened before

with this morning’s minion

until now with its bulletin from the East.

This light through yonder window breaks

more urgently than ignorant misspelled tweets

giving songbirds a bad name. Together

we break bread, break into song,

decontaminate the air with random grace.

The newspaper screams yesterday’s news

which broke like waves on the beach

with enhanced interrogation of the shoreline.

Today we go for broke.

Thursday, February 13, 2020

What Were They Thinking?

2020, USA, is not unlike 1932 Germany. Hitler’s National Socialist (Nazi) Party held a minority in parliament. The combined numbers for the centrist Social Democrats plus the Communists on the left could have defeated the fascists. That the extreme left stubbornly chose to remain pure in their ideals and did not join in a United Front is the tragedy of the 20th century.

In the past twenty-five years from Lewinsky to Zelensky our political landscape has drifted far to the right. Arguably it set the conditions for a proto fascist like Donald Trump to rise to power and trash the Constitution.

Opposition to his second term now has echoes of Germany’s bungled defense against Nazism. The election in Nov. 1932 made it clear that a distinct majority opposed the fascists. The two major parties who stood in Hitler’s way reached 47% in parliament compared to 31% for the Nazis. If the minority far left party would have joined forces with the centrist Social Democrats the Holocaust may have been avoided. But they did not. They chose to remain pure in their agenda and not contaminate their minds with compromising ideas. They defined the moderate Social Democrats as the enemy and spent their political capital against them. When the Fuhrer took over as Chancellor he immediately banned the Communist Party, and murdered the leaders. So much for unyielding purity.

My reading of the Iowa and New Hampshire results shows the aggregate vote for the three Centrists at 54% compared to the combined Progressives at 44%. Much as my heart leans toward Bernie and Elizabeth my head demands joining the Centrist candidate whomever that may be. And I hope it isn’t Joe Biden.

Taking the pulse of the body politic is a high art. It is particularly difficult when much of the electorate is moribund. However it strikes me that the sum of Never-Trumper Republicans, plus Independents plus traditional Democrats plus low-information disengaged voters is significantly greater than the Progressives. As Bernie Sanders’ support drops precipitously among the elderly and people of color this broad coalition of Centrists is our best hope. Ousting Trump is the only issue; not healthcare, not immigration, not gun control, not climate control…and yet all of them would be addressed by any of the candidates in one form or another.

By the time a United Front was organized against Hitler it  
was too late. The Democrats must come together very soon to 
nominate the candidate with the broadest base. Egos will be bruised. Supporters bitterly disappointed. Get over it. It’s called politics. To the millennials I say, learn how the game is played. 

Compromise is the operative word. And money is required 
to offset the Koch Bros., fossil fuel industries and Big Pharma. 
Being sanctimonious about not accepting corporate funding impresses me not at all. First we must win the White House and Senate. Then we can pass campaign finance reform.   

The consequences of another term for Trump are of a magnitude never imagined before in our history or the planet’s survival. The usurpation of executive power will continue as Trump lives his out his pathology. Our grandchildren will ask, as we asked of the Germans, What were they thinking.

Sunday, February 9, 2020

Searching for Watchables

Most evenings Peggy and I waste quality time scouring our streaming sites in quest of a watchable movie or series. I have a feeling we’re not alone. Folks of a certain age have little patience for the computer-generated action thrillers churned out by studios targeting fourteen year-olds with big-screen comic books. We’ve also had our fill of Scorsese’s mobs which romanticize power or Tarantino’s orgies of revenge. There are enough gangsters in the White House.

Add to this our aversion to horror, brutality, Nazi-era depravity, apocalyptic dystopia, monsters or graphically depicted diseases ala mode. There must be a wide spectrum between all this and the Hallmark-type faith-based mush. I suppose this is what to expect from a country engaged in endless wars with domestic violence on the rise and hate groups legitimatized by the administration even as we profess evangelical religiosity.

We yearn for images and narratives of people in relationship; something with a touch of soulfulness conveyed in the visual language of cinema.

Yes, I know the world has changed. And yet something human prevails even though Barbara Stanwyck and Spencer Tracy are still dead. There has been no one to replace Jean Arthur. If Gregory Peck were alive he’d get my vote for President.

We have an array of choices presented by Amazon, Netflix, Acorn and Kanopy; thousands of movies to choose from and yet it’s a nightly chore. Of the past twenty films seen only two or three have been English language and these are Canadian or British. Most of the watchables are Asian, Israeli/Palestinian, Turkish, Iranian, Hispanic or European.

We yearn for the creativity of Krzysztof Kieslowski whose films are zingers which probe and penetrate the human heart. Dennis Potter also had the chops to lay bare the inner landscape with emotional resonance. Both directors are gone but very present by the void they left.

Perhaps we are knights-errant like that man from La Mancha tilting windmills, lost in time. I’d like to believe the art of cinema is still alive beyond murder and mayhem, as evidenced by the current oeuvre of Nuri Bilge Ceylon, Wong Kar-Wei and emerging artists in South Korea and South America.

Saturday, February 1, 2020

The Super Bowl and Why I Watch It

Yes, I know it looks brutal because it is and people bet and lose money they shouldn’t have and the half-time shows are beyond my threshold of endurance and owners are selfish and largely conservative and militarism and phony patriotism are on display and who really gives a damn??  And yet……

It is a distraction from Trumpian politics of deceit and predetermined outcomes. At least the game cannot be hacked by Putin, influenced by Mark Zuckerberg or subverted by Mitch.

Because it taps into my reptilian brain dating back 40,000 years to Uncle Igor or Otto who thought they had to defend their cave by scrimmaging in the mud with the cave across the river.

So I can sit on my couch and pretend that it matters while the players pretend that they care.

So as a history buff I can relive World War One when trench warfare and a few yards won the day.

Because fans have a knack of growing fangs for a few hours and identifying with their team if they win or disidentifying if they lose.

Because exercising our lungs and exorcising our rage every now and then cannot be a bad thing. Freud, I think, would agree.

Because sports are a human drama unrehearsed and un-rigged. Nor will the team with most points be declared the loser, overturned by some archaic electoral contrivance.

Because for those of us who understand the game football is the most brainy, most analytical of them all with volumes of plays to be memorized and countless strategies and assignments for each player on the field. It is chess with stretchers. The game will be won as much by the coaches who have devised defenses against their opponent as by the uniformed men on the field.

I almost forgot the huddles. Imagine all the Brotherhood that brings.

Sort of like a junk food and drink-Thanksgiving enough to make us crapulous. It is one of the few communal experiences shared across the spectrum though I prefer to watch it alone. It shall be my time to confront the mystery of life where rationality doesn't reach.

Saturday, January 25, 2020

Remedy for Situation : Utterly

Trial by Senate brings to mind a few dire images. First is one of those boxing matches in old movies where the fix is on. No matter how many blows are landed the referee turns a blind eye. The outcome is foretold. Big bucks have been laid down by the mob. It’s curtains Lefty.

I’m also hearing echoes of Gilbert & Sullivan’s first collaboration, the one-act operetta, Trial By Jury.

Hear me, hear me if you please / These are very strange proceedings / For permit me to remark on the merit of my pleadings / You’re at present in the dark.

Indeed Mitch and his kangaroo jury have shuttered and snoozed through four days of evidentiary pleadings having reached a verdict months ago without benefit of witness or document. They have shamed their institution. The word subversive seems fitting.

No minds will have been changed because no words have been listened to. The conclusion will follow script having been ordained by the Little Foxes of Rupert Murdoch, The Federalist Society and an army of Deniers and dunces.

All of which brings me to an antidote for this poison. To reclaim my sanity I recommend a book which sings with humanity. One such is Niall Williams’ latest, luminous novel, This is Happiness set in a small Irish town in the 1950s. I’m savoring it with a slow read pausing on almost every page, every paragraph, at the marvel of his language perfectly pitched.

There is an embrace of life in all its contingencies. One woman is described as having received two bits of bad news and waiting for the third. Another looked like he was in mid-sum realizing he had forgotten to carry the one. Just being alive is all the happiness we need and that includes the sorrows of it all.

In the wreckage of what Trump has wrought we hunger for writing like this. To be enchanted. To be restored. The rapture of being alive resonates in the fullness of each person’s ordinariness, their malarkey, their lore, piety and quirks.The cast is simple and sumptuous at once. I won’t say more.

The curtain will soon go down on the impeachment theater followed then by nine months of political utterance. The air will be foul. We need our oxygen and the Niall Williams book offers a deep inhalation.

Friday, January 17, 2020

My Afternoon at the DMV

I didn’t have to go. I could have stayed home gnashing my teeth while watching Cable News and count my brain cells sloughing off. But enough about Trump.

I received notice in early Dec. that my license is up for renewal on March 21st. 2020. Naturally I put it aside for two weeks. I was still digesting Thanksgiving gluttony. And naturally when I remembered to make an appointment the first available was April. 7th. I was forced to give up on-line in favor of in-line.

I saw myself standing behind fifty others at 7 A.M. in the brisk morning air to beat the crowd. However I got a hot tip from a dear friend which I shall now pass along. Don’t get there early, get there late. You might as well get a good night’s sleep. And don’t bother reading the manual. You’ll forget everything anyway.

I was there for two reasons: license renewal and a Real I.D. card which requires multiple confirmations. Several folks ahead of me in line had to drop out because they didn’t come with the requisite papers. Still one window shuffled me to another and I waited over an hour to watch the screen for my number to come up.

This was the sea of humanity I’d heard so much about. A cross section of America, Black and Brown, Asian, Anglo, Millennial, Gen X, Boomers and pre-Boomers. Faces registered agitation, annoyance and apathy in equal parts. These are also the voters who will either throw the man-child out of office or drive us over the cliff….a question which would not appear on the test.

I had no book to read. This would be my time to wonder instead of ponder. Just stare. Just be. I can’t say enough about clearing the head. It’s like cleaning the refrigerator, dumping that forgotten leftover, the green cheese in the back, wilted lettuce and stale bread.   

In by 2, out by 4:30. It could have been worse; I could have failed but I didn’t because I had an uncluttered head…uncontaminated by double yellow lines, which way to point the wheels when parking uphill or speed limits in a hospital zone. It was a triumph of common sense over rote memory. 

Here is another bit of advice: if you don't know the answer, skip the question. You are allowed three of these. I let one such nonsensical Q go unanswered. It had to do with the penalty for evading a police officer. Suspended license? A year in jail? or $1,000 fine. Who cares? If I ever run from the law I wouldn't stop to weigh the consequences. 

I must have been carrying a fair amount of tension because I felt lighter driving home. My neck was unstiffening, my hair didn’t ache anymore and I could enjoy the art of forgetting. Order had been restored. My unthinking body parts had been returned to preside over my cerebral cortex. As Queen Victoria said, Home James and don’t spare the horses!                                  

Saturday, January 11, 2020

The Day I Left the Flock

Flock as in sheep. The supernatural Lord was no longer my shepherd. I found no external rod or staff to comfort me. Instead I began to grow my own. It all took place in what was formerly my father’s corner drugstore.

My father opened his pharmacy in 1929. He was located on a highly trafficked street with six apartment buildings across the wide thoroughfare and a subway stop close by.  A few years later the Grand Central Parkway replaced that road. It became a cavernous hole in the ground impassable to those in the apartment buildings and it slowly destroyed his livelihood. He gave up the store during the war years and it remained vacant, with Glasswax on the window for two years.

My father was, in my mind, a shaman. Deliberate over the torsion scale, quick with a cinder in the eye. He had a way of Being which aligned him with his customer/clients. They always had his ear. The vapors from apothecary jars had seeped into him. They offered assurance and a measure of herbs and fluid extracts direct from a garden of sorcery. When he dispensed a prescription it worked as if everything he believed in was contained in it and because he said so with a quiet authority.

What I’m describing was witnessed by me as a child but I’ve not had reason to alter my memory down through the thirty more years he lived. In fact his presence cannot be captured in mere words. I would now call it transformational.

In the summer of 1946 I had lately become a Bar Mitzvah. Doubt and Faith were already slow dancing in my head. The empty store was on my path to the schoolyard. I had just bought a first baseman’s mitt and soaked it in Neatsfoot oil the night before to soften the leather. So it was that I wore that mitt when I was stopped in my tracks.

As it happened the space was no longer vacant. It had become a storefront synagogue behind the white-waxed windows. A man in orthodox garb intercepted me. He asked if I had become a Bar Mitzvah and, if so, would I please come in to make a minyan. Apparently God didn’t bother with anything less than the requisite ten males. Females need not apply.    

I was appropriately fitted with a yarmulke and prayer shawl and probably lip-synched the arcane mumbles. The Torah had been housed just about where my father presided in a raised place between globes of colored water. As the other nine davened in that direction I swayed in honor of my father and sensed my own personal shepherd. I was smelling green pastures and was transported besides still waters. As for protection from evil or the shadow of death there would be no out-sourcing. I would be a pilgrim in the landscape within. I shall not be wanting. The actual raised to sublimity carries with it far more spiritual moments than any sacred scroll.

I left those confines and have rarely returned to what we call religion. The root of the word is to bind which evolved to a deep reverence dwelling on the divine. For me that divinity is within. Religion has nothing to do with edifice or prescribed behavior or ancient text. It is in the lift, the experience of oneness. Religion, the noun, is lost on me; I have only the adjective, religious. Yes, there are religious experiences and they're least likely to happen in a place of worship. That word is nearly exhausted in favor of transcendence which doesn't have the reach either. As for the flock, the congregation, I can only say Bah.