Saturday, January 20, 2018

Flu or Fly

It's going around. This cough, spasms of it and unproductive. No other symptoms just this damnable.....

Yes, doctor, one year ago I swallowed a fly. I don’t know why I swallowed a fly. He is buzzing around in my eye and he’s in my brain besides. Sometimes I laugh but more often I cry. 

I’ve been watching the specimen through one-way glass. How he frets and struts. What he spouts and flaunts. A few others have swallowed this fly… about 100 million of us and are also watching and listening to him. We’ve never seen an Ego and Id of such abnormal size.

Abe Lincoln and Mary were watching the play when Booth shot him four score and seven times, took his stovepipe hat and became president. It’s all theater, he said and you people, of, by and for…your name is now Mudd. Robber Barons were next on stage whispering in Oval Office ears. They bequeathed it to lynchers, Birchers and Birthers and a mix of Archie Bunker Elmer Gantry and Citizen Kane.

I don’t know why this nation keeps swallowing flies. When the fly hasn’t reached its demise we swallow a spider that wriggles and jiggles and tickles inside her. That must be this dreaded cough. Then we swallow a bird, how absurd, in order to swallow the spider. Maybe we will swallow a swallow. Perhaps we will die.

Men and women in white coats, scholars, and writers are up all night chronicling the specimen’s actions, transfixed on his slurs and rants, his boasts and blather. He’s got us. We don’t know if he is ill or brilliant, half deranged from the Cuckoo’s Nest, half Tony Soprano and the third half, Mortimer Snerd. If he is Mr. Magoo or was born on Krypton with a chest of superlatives. He is that fly on the wall. He has me climbing the wall. No, not that wall.  

Don’t you think it is time to turn away? Yes, doctor, I wish I could cough it out. You say the condition is not covered by my HMO. But it has reached pandemic proportions. The fly eats up my day. I see it in every book, every film. It’s in Greek drama. In Shakespeare. He's the poisoned apple in my fruit salad, the toxic mushroom in my pizza. Schedule me for surgery. Call it elective.

Friday, January 12, 2018


News thy name is mud. Tons of the stuff. Tragedy and grief for the un-evacuated after torrential rain. Mudslide in Montecito, at the rate of one inch deluge every fifteen minutes, like a broken spigot, unstoppable, mountain-side rushing to the sea, rivers of scorched and slimy earth and ash, high-end debris, downed oak trunks, roots, overturned cars, twelve dead, make it fifteen, boulders, swamped living rooms, current of drenched soil, rescuers falling into swimming pools, man holes, upped now to seventeen.

Felled or falling also that team from the tower on 5th Ave. He in his slipping down life, never humbled but ever bumbling, he appears to be tweeting bird-droppings with a wounded wing. Humpty-Dumpty fell off his wall. Humpty-Trump also falling into a swamp of dossiers, Papadopoulos yapping, Flynn flipping, Manafort in muck up to his ankle bracelet, mud-slinging from on high. Bannon falls from grace for running off at his mouth. Time to evacuate with an avalanche of un-fake facts, corruption, collusion, obstruction, obfuscation, indictments, truth leaking in torrents, streaming, men in suits falling, first family falling, incumbents dropping out.

Stars from Alabama falling, leading men toppling, directors, producers in high chairs and couches are falling like flies (unzipped), hierarchies, and patriarchies crumbling with a thud. 

Empires fall. The Romans fell famously with barbarians at the gate. Britain did it quietly. Communism fell in velvet. The U.S., no longer exceptional, is withdrawing stage right and falling.

Falling in love is a divine falling. Downed by Cupid’s arrow. Something seismic shifting, something yielding, Apollonian walls crashing, hormones dripping. On our knees struck but lifted, buoyant in a floating world. Waving, not drowning. Chirping not tweeting. Something singing like sycamore flushed with hues falling.

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

What's New?

Everything and nothing. It’s a new year, a new day, a new ballgame. 

New, may be our favorite word here in the New World. After all, Reagan declared, it is Morning in America. FDR brought us a New Deal. JFK brought us to the New Frontier. My toothpaste is New and Improved. The advertised cars are brand new, though they all look the same to me. When restaurants have new menus that means they’ve just raised their prices. God wasn’t given to so many temper tantrums in the New Testament as he/she was in the Old.

How do we become new, I ask you? Change is on my mind. It seems to me very few public figures have undergone a makeover in terms of their political stripes. And yet ....

A few years ago I wrote a blog called Black and White. It was about the two Supreme Court justices who, amazingly, did become new in their coloration. Byron (Whizzer) White was an All-American football player and a liberal appointee by John Kennedy. He ended up dissenting along with Republicans on both the Miranda decision and Roe v Wade. Before him was Hugo Black picked by Franklin Roosevelt in 1937. In his early years Black was a member of the Ku Klux Klan. But he turned out to be a major voice in the Civil Rights decisions. 

In fact California Governor Earl Warren, once an advocate of Japanese internment later repented as Supreme Court Chief Justice to lead his associates to a unanimous decision desegregating public schools. Go figure!

Newness can happen. Give me twenty minutes and I’ll think of something I can testify to……… I used to hate walnuts; now I love them, if caramelized.

In today’s polarized spectrum it strains credulity to imagine Sean Hannity and Rachel Maddow switching channels. However in a recent segment on Sixty Minutes a former skin head / American Nazi revealed how he had a sudden moment of enlightenment when making eye contact with a Black man he was beating up. He has since rehabilitated dozens of hate group members while risking his own life.

Eye contact can be a mirror into oneself. Trump is, of course, beyond repair but there must be others with a full functioning brain and consciousness capable of compassion. A few retiring Senators, no longer for sale, have dared utter truth in defiance of their benefactors, at least rhetorically. Faustian pacts have their expiration dates.

If detergents and I-phones can be NEW why not greedy, climate-change deniers or at least the voters who installed them in office? 

Friday, December 29, 2017

Goodbye / Hello

I don’t know why you say goodbye / I say hello.
                                                            The Beatles, 1967

So long 2017; yes it has been so very long. How did we ever get through this first year in the reign of Trumpdum? It has been a great year for Ignorance, Greed and Mendacity. For buying the second yacht or seventh home or leaving a billion to that good-for-nothing son.

I am left with T.M.J. from gnashing my teeth. I lost a molar which I shall not replace. My tongue enjoys the cavern too much. My blood pressure went up twelve points. And now I am either losing my hearing or all my friends have conspired to talk softer and mumble. I‘m scheduled for an audiogram in a few weeks and probably a hearing aid. Maybe my ears have been numbed by Trump-trash. It can be said with certainty that as I approach eighty-five all my body parts are also eighty-five and out of warranty….. no longer returnable even at Costco.

But we’re still here. Americans have witnessed a decline in civility, compassion and decency while cringing, and reaching for new adjectives to describe the menace. We disown the man who speaks from the Tower, not in our name.

The Dow-Jones bubble grows larger and thinner and we wait for crumbs to drop, off-shore money to return along with those factories in China.  We say hello to the upcoming election; may it be momentous.

We said Hello to the record rainfall which painted the desert floor with wildflowers galore. And more recently Goodbye to the fires and floods. Hello, climate change. Hello, darkness my old friend.  Hello, Robert Mueller, let us hear from you.

It has been the year of women's voices raised exposing perverse male behavior. Goodbye Harvey, Roy, Matt et al. Yet the Predator-in-Chief still presides.

Hello, new movies: Phantom Thread, Loving Vincent, The Post….my favorite English language films of the year. Best foreign: Foxtrot (Israeli), The Insult (Lebanese) and Loveless (Russian). Hello also to the great newly found streaming site called, Kanopy. (It’s free…with a Los Angeles library card) which provides access to hundreds of movies including documentaries.

Hello to new poems from Peggy whose muse has taken permanent residence. She sees vividly into the opaque, overhears conversations in the next booth, raids the inarticulate, sends tendrils of connectivity to disparate species and strikes the dark air for music. All this visits her in a divine frenzy and creative burst. A gust of wind fills the room which sustains my blogs.

Goodbye to fallen friends whose absence is deeply felt. Hello to orchids unfolding which I'm counting on this spring, more birthdays and to the wonder of it all.

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Humbug, Home-Coming and Ho, Ho, Ho

I’ll be home for Christmas / You can plan on me / There’ll be snow and mistletoe / and presents by the tree.

Hallmark provides the answer to all the dread of our times. The company has been producing cards for over a hundred years reminding us of those white Christmases we ought to have had. They also churn out their own made-for-T.V. mushy movies whose theme seems to be the perpetuation of the Norman Rockwell canvas. Warm hearth and good cheer with frost on the window and presents galore. There is usually a heartless Grinch around the edges who just doesn’t get it. He is probably one of those urban sorts who has lost his way unlike the real Americans in the rural heartland.

Humbug is a forbidden word. It is practically subversive to resist the monetizing of the holidays or the family traditions associated with it. Somebody once said, tradition is the illusion of permanence, but he has been gagged with duct tape and deposited in the basement for the duration of the season. I have come around to accept many of these family rituals as serving a valuable human need. In these days of social upheaval and divisiveness the agreed-upon customs shall prevail. They cut across tribal tents, even joining coastal with fly-over America for the last two weeks of the calendar.

As for Christmas childhood memories I have none. My mother declared it a goyish holiday and Chanukah hadn’t much traction with us either. I worked in a Christmas tree lot one year in Forest Hills but didn’t return when my nose fell off into a cup of hot cider. As a designated Listener in elementary school I was consigned to the last row as the (mostly Jewish) class sang about Baby Jesus born in Bethlehem. Why not? It’s all part of the package.

Absent any snowmen or sleds here in Southern California there is still the coming-home of grown sons and daughters. The home, the haunt. That word, haunt, originally meant to visit or appear frequently or as the noun... an old haunt. Nothing haunts us like memory. So we return hoping to recover shards of it which is to say, to recover our youth as it might have been but probably wasn’t.

In Greek mythology Agamemnon returned from the Trojan War and got a short, sharp shock in his kishkes by his wife, Clytemnestra. Ulysses took his time. After bouncing around for ten years he assumed a disguise before revealing himself to Penelope. Take note, prodigal children. Being expelled in Greco-Roman times was the closest thing to capital punishment. Ovid was exiled and never heard from again.

Peggy and I are celebrating our 33rd holiday time together. The shower of presents has been abolished; we’ve also given up the tree. What’s left is my step son and extended family of two more generations. We feast, we giggle, we wow at the tree, remember absent members and marvel at the new. All illusions of permanence we happily endow another year.

My brother was never at home in this world. He returned after three years in the army and remembered why he had left. Within a month he was gone again in the grip of his haunts.

My life is haunted by visitations. Not spooks but good spirits hovering. My three daughters are thousands of miles away yet they feel close to me, in this room. We are singing off-key in our separate versions of what was, exchanging the gift of ourselves and our amazing journeys.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Winter Solstice

Darkness is descending over this land. Deep shadows are falling. But enough about Trump.

No, Virginia, there really isn’t a Santa Claus. Get over it. Chanukah and Christmas are pagan (peasant) celebrations and that’s good enough for me. Our ancestors were the ancient star-gazers in awe of the diminishing light. Who knows what they thought as December 21st approached with its early sunset and late sunrise? 9 1/2 hours of sun, 14 1/2 hours of dark. It could be the end. We better make a fire and sacrifice a goat or chant until the sun reappears.  

Our Judeo-Christian holidays are magnificent metaphors; festivals of candle lights and ornaments to compensate for all that is gone. Drag a tree inside, ever-green, gift-wrap our eyes. We have an urge for renewal, a child maybe with a fabulous back-story.

It’s all good. It works every year. The unconquerable sun will inch northward granting us shorter nights and longer days. We’re good to go for another round.

Ignorant armies clash(ing) by night* … might cease and find their commonweal. Might all the Ebenezers among us pause and dare open their hearts and wallets to care for the Tiny Tims in our midst? Words, dormant all year can be heard… jolly, merry, good cheer. Memories of winter scenes that never happened come to mind. Choirs will carol familiar songs to the waiting choir.

As for St. Nicolas and paraphrase the poet**, Over golden groves unleaving / It is for childhood you are grieving. We believe in Santa until we become him finding within us that gift of giving.

Will it last as days lengthen, candles go out and the tree withers? Can we remember that brief peace, generosity and the will to do good…and what we have bequeathed to our newborn? The peasant in me says yes we must. In the end, that’s all we have.

·                 * Mathew Arnold’s,  Dover Beach

 **Gerard Manley Hopkins, Spring and Fall 

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Living History

It's splendid to be a great writer, to put men into the frying pan of your imagination and make them pop like chestnuts. -Gustave Flaubert,

We’ve been served an inordinate number of bio-pics this past year. I’ve seen or read about films depicting the highfalutin and erudite like Albert Einstein, the Austrian writer, Stephen Zweig and Srinivasa Ramanujan (The Man Who Knew Infinity), plus Emily Dickinnson (A Quiet Passion) to the low-falutin Tonya Harding (I, Tonya). We were served two Grahams from Gloria (Annette Bening) who didn’t quite die in Liverpool to Katharine (Meryl Streep) who rescued the Washington Post by publishing the Pentagon Papers.

Last year Bryan Cranston popped out of the frying pan as Lyndon Johnson and this year Woody Harrelson took his turn as LBJ. It seems like all chubby British actors get their licks as Winston Churchill. Albert Finney was followed by Toby Jones in past years and this year we were well-served by Brian Cox (Churchill) and Gary Oldman (Darkest Hour). Sir Winston is getting to be as popular as Hamlet; everyone wants to give it a go. I almost expect Meryl Streep to step into his cigar in 2018.

A bit of hokum is to be excused for dramatic purposes as long as it doesn’t come from the fake news fabulists of Breitbart whose fidelity is to their delusional narrative rather than to the actual.

Sally Hawkins made a great Maudie as the real-life naïve folk artist while Vincent Van Gogh was played by the Polish actor Robert Gulaczyk in a most dazzling display of painterly animation.

(Back in the day we kids thought Don Ameche invented the telephone and Spencer Tracy was Thomas Edison. Maybe in times of upheaval folks need their heroes to cling to. I was so confused I imagined Tracy picking up his light bulb and saying, Hello?)

Who am I forgetting? Oh yes, there was Marshall (Thurgood Marshall), Victoria and Abdul, The Crown, Billy Jean King and Bobby Riggs (Battle of the Sexes) which I found unwatchable. I also saw the story of Mark Felt who was known to Woodward and Bernstein as Deep Throat. His leaks led to the ignominy of Richard Nixon who left the presidency uttering, I am not a crook.

We live in an age of rapid news cycles with executive tantrums, blurts and exposes; skeletons are falling daily out of closets. Yesterday’s news is already regarded as stale and ready for the history books. People hunger for a good story and everybody has one, which can be rushed to the big screen with a bit of doctoring and embellishment.  

J.D. Salinger made it with (Rebel in the Rye) along with Tupac Shakur (All Eyez on Me), and P.T. Barnum (The Greatest Showman). Why bother with the latter when we have his incarnation sitting in the oval office elected by the mobocracy of Suckers born every minute.

All of this makes for a sort of living history for those born after World War II, Vietnam or Watergate. The generations following Baby Boomers seem to have a remarkable disdain for antecedents so all these movies might whet their appetite to investigate what really happened and how we got to this sorry state.

I expect more of the same in 2018. I’m sure the Harvey Weinstein story is going through final drafts along with accounts of the Al Franken / Roy Moore debacle. But the grand prize must go to the decline of the presidency from Barack to Donald, the most precipitous fall in American history since Mrs. Lincoln’s moving van pulled away making room for Andrew Johnson to sleep on Abe’s pillow.

You can’t make this stuff up, this absurd tragi-comedy script unfolding daily. There is no fiction that rivals the dystopic horror movie we are living in, each of us with cameo roles popping like chestnuts.