Thursday, December 8, 2016

Preparing For Trumpery Years

In an alternative universe Medea did not kill her kids. Only Euripides version had it that way. Maybe Helen never went to Troy. That was her phantom, the idea of Helen, her simulacrum. And in another iteration Hillary is the one and Donald is calling for recounts. How long will this delusion hold? It’s time to stop wringing our hands.

Enough analysis of what went wrong. The fact is we did win by a yuge margin. If we want to take the next election all we need to do is spread out. Scatter. Migrate with intent.  Relocate in those gerrymandered districts. We in California can spare 2-3 million to turn the tide. We need volunteers to reacquaint with real weather in the Rust Belt. Let’s not always see the same hands!

Now that that’s settled I’m looking for ways to batten the hatches for the self-inflicted inclemency ahead. While Trump commands the narrative I’m searching for meta-narratives, pockets of bliss, digressions, tributaries, untrodden peregrinations.

Old recordings of Ella or Sarah, Roy Eldridge solos, Benny and Artie can easily fill up an afternoon. I could get lost listening to Frank, Mel Torme, Anita O’Day or Keely Smith. Throw in some Kander and Ebb and I’m transported. I still shiver hearing Paul Robeson or Odetta. And then there’s Joan Baez in those good old draft card-burning years. I almost left out our Nobel Laureate Dylan in his early days before the music stopped for me. My loss, I know.

Haydn’s Trumpet Concerto answered by Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto and a medley of Wolfgang’s biggest hits, selected Beethoven and just about any sound emanating from Joshua Bell’s Stradivarius and I’d be impervious to Trump for weeks at a time.

I might confer with that controversy of crows staking out territory in squawks and caws or the hummingbird, its laborious wings beating the air just to stay still. I could stand watch at the feeder or track the shedding of eucalyptus bark.

While the Repugnants have their way with us pushing the clock hands back a century I could dream of revolutions at the all-night laundromat watching the spin cycle. Here I am fluff and folding myself into a cocoon.

There goes a cloud that looks like Kentucky. I count five birds of paradise flowers ready for flight. I’m preparing for take-off. I just added a marshmallow to Peggy’s cocoa. I am melting with it in a sea of chocolate.

Gazing into my tea leaves I see our prez-elect leaving after eighteen months when he’s amply demonstrated he has made America great again. No, Donald, please don’t go. Your subalterns waiting in the wings are worse. All things being relative I could even learn to love you. I love you for your flip-flops, for all the things you said but didn’t mean. If you can stave off Paul Ryan there will be a space for you on Mt. Rushmore. Muzzle Jeff Sessions and I’ll even lick your stamp in ten years. It has come to this.

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Tis the Season To Be Listing

It must be December. Year-end lists are appearing with the ten best and worst everything. Friends will soon be sending their personal chronicle for 2016. All a way of punctuating time, wrapping up one chapter and starting a new one. If only this past year could be so easily dismissed.

Looking over my shoulder has become a habit I’m not likely to break at this age. My body has been insulted here and there with scans, blockages and biopsies just as the body politic has quaked the needle off the Richter scale. Organs are making noise and it isn’t Bach. Nor is it Barack in macro terms.

We are still listing seismically from the election trying to retrofit ourselves. Hillary fumbled the ball while levitating toward the glass ceiling and with a sleight of hand Donald flipped a 2 and half million vote deficit into a landslide victory leaving us scratching our heads and gnashing our teeth for the next four years. It isn’t even officially winter yet but we’ve already begun our discontent.

The little list I don’t have shall never be missed. Lists are too vertical and hierarchical. And besides my short-term memory blurs after a week or two. Who can remember back to February and March? What I do recall turns out to have happened three years ago. Or never.

I can report that this past summer four bookcases were divested of their books which I hope have found new homes. We still have ten others crammed with voices in constant conversation. The pre-eminent short story writer, William Trevor, died last month. Every book he wrote remains on our shelves. I intend to re-read each one next year,

Our extended tribe has increased by a significant one; Ilaria by name. My daughters and steps continue on their respective journeys, some more arduous than others. I was about to say that friends have died but I think that was the year before. Each is still very much present for me. Time collapses and swells like the respiration of an accordion.

We now have a new car, called Blanca, actually 2-3 years old but as yet undented like our previous one. White doesn’t show dirt easily but it does reveal scratches which I’m sure will appear given my proclivity to squeeze into cramped parking spaces.

There are no travels to recount except those excursions by family and friends which have taken us vicariously from Portugal to Patagonia, from Myanmar to the Scottish Highlands. Judy, our intrepid photographer friend, provides us with near-daily wonderments her eye plucks from the passing parade.

Great writing deserves mention just so I’ll remember if I re-read this next year. Two recent books which rank high are The Sporting Life by C.E. Morgan and The Maid’s Version by Daniel Woodrell. Both novels describe lives I would not otherwise ever know and they do it with language that sings. We just now watched what I crown the movie-of-the-year, Neruda,
brilliant conception, performances and mythical in its power and poetry.

2016 also saw the birth of Peggy’s book of poems, Under the Unwed Moon, published by Letters at 3 A.M. Press. Her poetry continues to amaze; how she transforms the quotidian into her realm of otherness, sometimes edgy, sometimes a sensory feast. I close the year in this intoxication, this lift. As daylight decreases we can find incandescence in transport and love. Two esentials on my list.   

Wednesday, November 30, 2016


For $1,933 you could buy three cars that year or one Hoover vacuum cleaner for $19.33. But that wouldn’t be enough to clean up the dust bowl. Or as they say in the United Kingdom, to Hoover the dust. It says a lot about a noun that becomes a verb particularly when the noun is a brand name.

Here in the U.S. we never took up the verb. Maybe because we already had too many Hoovers. Herbert, the out-going president, had a popularity close to zero. He won just six states in the 1932 election. A dozen Hoover vacuums couldn’t suck up the landslide.

The vacuum cleaner was invented by a department store janitor named Spangler in 1908. He passed it on to his cousin, Susan Hoover and the rest is history.

Nor could Hoover, the vacuum, clean up the mess in the wake of J. Edgar Hoover.  By 1933 he was already nine years into his tenure as head of the F.B.I. He had a remarkable nose for sniffing out bootleggers, anarchists, agitators (especially from the left) along with civil rights leaders but his olfactory sense was clogged when it came to proto-fascists in the decade of the Depression. Hoover reigned for 48 years through the terms of eight presidents. By 1960 the F.B.I had files on 432,000 Americans. It didn’t hurt that he not only procured the negatives of films from all their office parties but kept enough wire-taps and surveillance tapes to scare the bejejus out of everyone in Washington.

1933 was the worst of times and the wurst of times. Breadlines here and sausage (wurst) in Germany. Hitler assumed power that year being mistaken by the German people as the worker’s friend in ways that have resonance today. He posed as the messiah leading them to the Promised Land which turned out to be Czechoslovakia, Austria and Poland and he Hoovered the rest of Europe ending up making sausage of civilization.

It was also the year of my birth so I’m taking credit for FDR as well as the chocolate chip cookie, drive-in movies and the board game, Monopoly. But the signs of things to come were also in the tea leaves with King Kong and the song, Stormy Weather.

The lesson from all this is murky. Is there a pendulum swinging from Hitler to FDR, menace to salvation? It seems we proceed on two tracks at once revealing our most loathsome and noblest intent.  Perhaps our dangerous folly at the polls will wake up the slumbering masses. This new Age of Trump is already seeding its own destruction with reckless Tweets and cabinet appointments who have been salivating for many years to bring us back to pre-Roosevelt America.

In the King Kong movie we see the beast climbing the tallest building in NYC, pounding his chest and going on a rampage. Sound familiar? He is brought down by the beauty, Fay Wray. If Beauty and Truth are one our country is littered with smears, fibs and fake news. The Hoover called Truth is always at the ready to vacuum away the debris. 

Friday, November 25, 2016

Us-ness, Them-ness

Those of my generation suckled on Hollywood Westerns saw dozens of them from singing cowboys to cattle rustlers and barroom brawls. From them we learned the language of film, the shorthand of cinema, how a mustache or clean chin could tell us all we needed to know. At least for a while.  

When the scene shifted to the big city the genre became film noir with the sheriff as detective or private investigator. The hero was suddenly grizzly with the baggage of a back story. Wide open spaces morphed into back alleys, hangman trees turned into hung juries and slick lawyers.

Vigilante justice may have galloped off in the sunset but it returned at sunrise. American mythology, even in its faded state, still pits the rugged, ragged doomed individual against the forces of institutions be they railroads conglomerates, banks, crooked politicians or government itself. When the little guy is wronged, framed, abused, or neglected he strikes back in ways which may be abhorrent to our sensibility and humanity; he may even rob banks as they have robbed him. And he is likely to elect a demagogue who can turn a grievance into a vote.

Think Bonnie and Clyde (1967). Now think this year’s Hell or High Water in which two brothers, not the sort you’d want your sister to marry, go on a spree of bank hold-ups in wide open Texas pursued by Jeff Bridges and his Indian sidekick in an update of the Lone Ranger and Tonto.  This may sound like the sort of movie you’d do your best to ignore but you’d be wrong. It may be the best of the year. It is not only the most class-conscious, anti-bank film I’ve seen in recent memory, adding a new dimension to the genre, but it also peels a layer off the Trump voter in flyover America. The brothers are shooting their way out of a gone culture just as their president-elect has shot from the hip a fusillade of blurts and bluster.

There is a telling scene in a restaurant in which the two Texas Rangers prepare to give their order to an aging waitress. She’s quick to tell them there ain’t no menu. This place only serves one thing. Eat it or leave. Contrast this with the scene in Five Easy Pieces (1970) where Jack Nicholson steals the movie with his antics ordering a chicken salad sandwich, no butter, no mayo, no lettuce, and hold the chicken. 

They had choices then and individuality. Today, options have been pinched and the little guy has been swallowed. The towns are a wasteland where the Last Picture Show closed decades ago and the Last Train to Yuma left the station without them. Now their job is on a Slow Boat to China. In this setting of desperation and moral ambiguity they can excuse, even admire, Trump for what ever he gets away with. The only fault is being caught.

So enraged are the dispossessed that they can champion a billionaire 
poseur who spouts hollow ways out. His outrageous rhetoric is mistaken for their rage. When Trump boasts about not paying taxes, they cheer. When he gets no endorsements, that counts as another plus. When he is caught with odious behavior toward women that reinforces their manhood. It has become a twisted and shadowy world since Gary Cooper faced his mythical shoot-out at High Noon.

We could spend the next four years gnashing our teeth, mourning the loss of a lifetime of progress or hurling a litany of adjectives at Trump and his constituency or we, the Us-ness, could spend some time getting to the task at hand empathizing or at least connecting with the Them-ness. Even though there are more than two million more of us urban-urbane coastal folks, it is imperative that we get to know those Thems. Whether Trump is seen more nakedly and deposed or he just returns to his golf course and casinos there will be others to speak for those who lost their pension, their home equity or have been otherwise left behind in this globalized world.

The movie ends on a peaceful yet uneasy note where the hunter and hunted acknowledge each other’s deeds with few words and no bullets. An existential stand-off. The scruffy face is shaven. He gets away with his crime just as Wall St. got away with theirs.  Perhaps it could be summed up with, I got mine.  Small victory but ain’t this the American way?

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

Good News, Bad News

First the bad news. Yesterday I woke in the recovery room after two hours of general anesthesia and Donald Trump was still president-elect. I had hoped four years had past

Last week in consultation with a specialist I was advised to immediately have a biopsy on my pancreas. It’s the only one I’ve got and we’ve grown close over time. Those two words¸ biopsy and pancreas in the same sentence can generate dread. Enough to consider (God forbid) calling dial-a-prayer. The line at the Suicide Prevention Center has been busy ever since the election.

Monday I left for the hospital driving under the influence. Not of drug or drink but with Peggy’s enormous love and spirit and her creative burst. If she were an Olympic athlete they would test her urine for P.E.Ds...Performance–Enhancing-Drugs. Life itself is her performance always enhanced and whatever drugs she carries are self-generated with the energy of Adrenalin, euphoria of endorphins and allure of pheromones. I took the spell with me to seduce whatever deities still hang out on Mt. Olympus. It is really about obsessing less with worry and dwelling more with one’s inner resources. Joy and woe both engrave the face. Might as well do our best with the sculpture.

All these affirmations helped during my 2 ½ hour wait in pre-op. I also drifted off to one of my favorite places in the world located outside of Brantome, France,
A small inn and restaurant with windmill, a meandering stream and willow trees.  And why not have a dish of pumpkin-peach ice cream along with wee drap of their finest aperitif to challenge my pancreas?

The procedure is called an endoscopic ultra sound. Fluid is drawn out of the larger of two cysts which has doubled in size since my last cat-Scan. And the good news is….

Benign, according to the doctor’s preliminary finding. He made this determination from the low viscosity of the fluid within. The full pathology report may take 7-10 days. A friend suggested a second opinion from another pathologist if there is any uncertainty in the final diagnosis. At this point I am borrowing from Donald Trump’s playbook. If I don’t like the result the election is rigged; if I do the buck stops here.

In the baseball game of life I stepped to the plate over 83 years ago and I’m still running out a home run rounding 3rd base on my way home. It looks to be up-hill from here and that can last years.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

Finding My Perch

I just read that if someone today viewed our planet from 60 million light years away he would see dinosaurs. If the viewer were a mere two weeks away he might still have seen our reptilian brain at work. I’m trying to find the right distance to cope with this triumph of dunces and yet close enough to find the common thread.

Almost every sore or cyst, busted shoelace or book I read or movie I watch has become for me a metaphor for Trumpian malevolence or its antidote. The T.V. series, Designated Survivor, strikes me as a model for depicting a deliberate, rational and compassionate president, in other words an anti-Trump. Novels written ten years ago seem to be prescient, in a symbolic way, describing our current descent into a dystopian society.

Even at this advanced age I cannot remember traveling so far, so fast and 
being deposited in a country unrecognizable in terms of incivility and retrograde policy. America has become sharply tribal with different vocabularies and values. I understand this year’s Thanksgiving table has been torn asunder by the great divide. Yet we shall find a way through this misalliance, even transform it into a teachable moment.

I think back to the union songs of Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger, the 
unshakeable solidarity among workers, minorities and those living a marginal life. It all slipped away starting with hard-hats support for our Viet Nam misadventure, the so-called Reagan-Democrats followed by two decades of trade pacts and globalization. As Democrats inched to the Center, Republicans drifted further to the right. Today we have three tents: The God and Guns Party, Democrat-Paleo Republican Centrists, and Socialist-Green Party.

We have much to learn from the aggrieved and they from us. The 
unemployed and under-employed must be heard and their issues addressed not by empty promises, slogans or stoking hatreds but by real job creation. Common decency and empathy need not be a price to be paid but a precept to be cherished above all else.

Our pledge says, one nation indivisible. Right now we are less a nation than a confederation of states clinging to an 18th century anachronism…
and sharply divisible. Our task is to come together, perhaps not altogether, but at least sufficiently so the popular vote aligns more closely with the geographical. The sandwich of America is two great coastal, crusty breads filled with a vast salad and grains of the heartland. Without the one it would fall apart and without the other it would not be worth the bite.   

This shall be my perch, at some mid-point with a listening ear trying to keep the creativity alive with the ferocity of love.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Painting By Numbers

Once again we have painted the American flag, red, white and blue and white wins by a wide margin. White as in absence. No-shows are half the electorate while the reds and blues fight it out at 25% each.

White is our symbol of innocence, virginity. In this most historical and hysterical of elections fifty percent of the people couldn’t be bothered or had a mind they couldn’t make up. Or maybe they were too busy caulking their bathtubs on Tuesday. In political terms white is the word for duh.

In Asian cultures white syymbolizes death or mourning. Inscrutable as
they are the Chinese got it right. White is the absence of color but not of light. In fact it contains a spectrum of every wavelength of light. If voting were mandatory nobody knows who these non-voters would be. They could stretch from urbane cynics to know-nothings. More’s the pity.

Hillary is approaching a 700,000 plurality in the popular vote. The problem is one of distribution. All we need to do is move 120,000 Blues of the 2 ½ million vote margin in California to Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin. We can spare them. Now let’s see a show of hands ready to relocate.

How to explain ourselves to the rest of the world? The Electoral College is the last vestige of the 18th century. It is a form of voter suppression, an indefensible hurdle to representative democracy. It is now theoretically possible for a candidate to win the presidency while winning just 11 of the 50 states. Or for a third party to garner twenty million votes and not a single electoral one. (Think Ross Perot). This will be the fifth time in history that the presidency was awarded to the loser of the popular vote.

The abolition of the Electoral College requires a constitutional
amendment. It’s time we graduated from this college but it ain’t going to happen. There is another path which is also a longshot. It involves each state to pledge their electors to vote according to the National will rather than their State preference. So far eleven Blue states have signed on to this. Notably the Reds, unblushingly, have not.   

In Dec. 1940 there was a professional football game between the Chicago
Bears and the Washington Redskins. In an amazing upset the Bears won 73-0. They used a new offense called the T-formation for which Washington had no defense. I thought of this Tuesday night trying to grapple with what had just happened.

Hillary ran her campaign by the book. But the book was an outdated playbook no longer relevant. Trump created his own, instinctively. It was one of daily outrage and inanity. We Blues spent the entire contest attacking his character instead of addressing the rage of his constituency. His Reds paid no mind to his temperament. We won the talking points. He won the day.

Numbers count but only on the electoral scoreboard.