Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Nothing Happens... And Yet

Most movies, particularly American, make a lot of noise if not in decibels than in the commotion around plot. You can hear the twists, the levers and squeaky doors opening and closing. Denouements have a way of knocking over furniture with contrivances. The more preposterous the louder the thud.

This could be why I welcome the quiet movie, usually low budget, where very little happens. All the tell-tale signs go nowhere. The gun, in close-up, is not fired and if it is it squirts water. The headache does not mean a brain tumor is coming. Much as I love that movie cliché where all the suspects are gathered in the library of the manor house and the chief inspector exposes the lies in everyone’s alibis to reveal the killer, tension is ratcheted followed by the clatter of spilled beans. Give me the hushed movie where seemingly nothing happens with no crescendo of a resolution.  

Of course much is happening when nothing happens. It may be implied or discovered between the words or in the way the character walks or holds a cup of coffee. In the new film, Paterson, we follow a bus driver in his routines from morning alarm clock to an evening with his wife at the movies during which time the dog eats his notebook. His unremarkable daily patterns seem like stanzas of a poem with their own internal rhyme scheme.

The title of the film is both the protagonist’s and the city’s name as well as the name of an epic poem by William Carlos Williams. In fact the great doctor-poet shadows the narrative as if his own work might have been derived from the same mundane material in plain language. The English bulldog, the waterfall, home-made designer cupcakes, the local bar are all characters in their repetitive ways. Patterson doesn’t say a lot but he listens well or rather overhears passengers in the front of the bus or from his bar stool. We see him dwell on a match box which turns into a love poem. He jots lines on his pad during spaces in his workday much as I used to write poetry in the pharmacy in between labels. This is not the stuff of grandiose Whitman in mid-19th century who hears America singing. This a contemporary voice of small epiphanies, an egoless, Zen voice who shrugs when his art is destroyed as if he knows anything done is done forever. The end is the beginning with a book of blank pages.
   
The poems composed during the film were written by Ron Padgett, he of the so-called New York school of Frank O’Hara, John Ashbery, Kenneth Koch et al. Here are a few lines from a Padgett poem not in this movie which seem to me emblematic of the story. Take care of things close to home first. / Straighten up your room before you save the world. / Then save the world.  
   

 Paterson is one of several recent films featuring working stiffs. The 
 brothers in Hell and High Water shoot their way for a piece of the rock. Fences peels the layers off the character of a garbage man struggling clumsily for empowerment and Manchester gives us a handyman carrying the world on his back. We see the face of loud and quiet desperation. Yet Paterson strikes another key with a man heroic in the way he is both caught in a scheduled life and at the same time has found access to the floating world through his imagination. I know the feeling. It took me years before I found my way as a pharmacist, beyond counting and pouring, to get closer to patients, to their troubles and small triumphs and, by extension, my own resources.


This sort of movie slows the senses even as it wakens them just as the blockbuster ones numb the mind as they rattle it with razzle-dazzle. Finding a portal to the inner life of a character requires a sure hand and the presumption that there is an audience out there eager to have some demands made upon them. It is particularly needed now in these days when our sensibilities have been shredded by special effects and our brains twittered to narcosis.

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Remaindered Thoughts and Resolutions

It’s over. We who fancy bagels, baguettes and almond milk and read the N.Y. or L.A. Times lost to those who buy white bread and six-packs and get their news from The National Enquirer.

This election may have done America a favor. It has taken us to the sausage factory to see how it is done, given the heartland someone to hate and revealed how rapacious Capitalism functions based on greed and deceit, unregulated, untaxed and unaccountable. It has multinationals salivating. Now let us see if working men and woman can live on their drool and crumbs falling off the boardroom table.   

Seems like the time to wrap it up and look around the corner. Courage is a word I keep running into. To that I shall add, inconvenience. We need to do what is disruptive and what can be more so than calling the moving truck and relocating to those gerrymandered districts to color the map blue. Hillary won California by 4.3 million votes. If 10% of that plurality moved to Red America we would re-claim the House, the Supremes and the Oval office. Even 5% would have been more than enough. Feel the rust. Income distribution would follow population redistribution. If you can’t handle the cold move to Arizona. If that’s too hot we need you in Wisconsin. Central Pennsylvania is bucolic. Michigan is close to Canada. North Carolina has the most flagrant redistricting of all but with a rich cultural heritage. It’s time to toss the salad and stir the soup.

In the meantime our inspirational leader is unable to find any entertainers for inauguration day. He may have to settle for the marching band of Alabama’s football team. Surely there must be some down and out guy in his constituency who can play the harmonica or the washboard. Or maybe he can hire a stripper to do the hoochie-coochie.  

As for resolutions I wish I smoked so I could stop. My weight is what it was sixty years ago but I have less height to carry it. I vow to exercise more in 2017. I’m going to start by getting up from the couch with no hands. I can still put on my pants while standing as long as there is something to lean on. Yes, I shall drink more water though my doctor says water is over-rated.  And yes I’ll make an attempt to organize my papers, clean the refrigerator and find a good home for another slew of books. I may even learn how to use my smart phone with all its apps and clouds….but I doubt it. I wish I remembered my taste for an occasional wee drap. I do love martinis but not so sure how my esophagus feels about that.

Love is always the answer……regardless of the question. We, as a nation, need to cuddle more. To cherish each other and say so. Ah, the consanguinity of kindred spirits! To put flowers on the table. To care-give. I need to write more to my grandkids so they know how weird I can be and they can learn to cultivate their own eccentricities. Maybe we can even love Trump to death. To fill the country with so much creativity and soul it will devour the unreason and malice, to kill it softly with a song...to be reconciled, not resigned.

I can feel it. Songs are being composed. Books written. Poems. Visual art. Euripides is writing another subversive play. Artists are still free to create though it may become an underground activity conducted in Anne Frank’s room or over a barber shop in So-Ho where Salman Rushdie hid. But it will happen. We’ll have our day again.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Winter Seen

Putting aside all so-called religious fables which are more tribal than spiritual we are left with a shared calendar. Even then, in the Northern Hemisphere, winter shows its many divergent faces. The only true commonality of the day is the solstice, the dying and reemergence of the light; from here on daylight makes a comeback.

During my first 21 winters in Forest Hills / Kew Gardens I was the kid with two or three sweaters under a hooded Mackinaw with ear muffs, gloves and scarf dragging my Flexible Flyer three blocks to a dip in the topography we called the Toilet Bowl. It was a perfect place for sleds however if you went too far, too fast you just might end up in the Grand Central Parkway never to be heard from again.

Today the difference in temperature between here and there is about 45 degrees. Sleet and slush are not in our vocabulary. Styrofoam snow or Glass wax on windows don’t quite conjure up the white stuff that piles up in driveways and streets back east causing skidding and white-out conditions.

We pretend to keep the Norse legend alive. What can hurt? More than that we need our seasons as Vivaldi heard them. We need to end the imaginary year, to slow, be still, correspond to skeletal trees, to keep to the cycle of life, and listen to the stillness of everything gone. We need the mind of winter.

Short days, long nights give us ample time to align ourselves with the natural word of death and rebirth, our fears and hopes, as well as the urge to compensate for the cold and lifeless dark with hot toddy and gift-wrap under lit evergreens. We Jingle-bell the silent night and decorate the barren landscape with bulbs and seasonal language.

This year, more than ever before, it is hard to escape a sense of dread owing to what appears as the death of decency, inclusion, progress, science, of the planet itself. After these most noisy and nasty months we might welcome the solstice for its elongated shadow that signals introspection even as an ill-wind blows.

The ancients feared the sun might never return.  We know the feeling. We can join Europe in doom-saying as available light is rekindled. Or we can take it as a time to access our faith, yes faith, in a compassionate and equitable society and seed those values to reassert themselves in their own time. The solstice is the day for renewal of what must prevail. Otherwise we risk riding our sleds into the toilet bowl and disappear in the traffic of history.  

Thursday, December 15, 2016

The Life and Death of Language


There’s nothing more organic than words. They rise and fall at the speed of an idea. Even dumb ideas. There goes another one. This past year has seen a proliferation of adjectives…crooked, rigged, stupid, light-weight (Marco Rubio, Megan Kelly, Lindsey Graham), moronic, disastrous (them), amazing, tremendous, smart, great (him). All rather juvenile language he made even more so.

Politics has a way of killing words through repetition whether on Teleprompters or Tweets. In this devolution of Life as a Reality TV Show audiences have come to accept agreed-upon lies as part of the theater. Candidate as celebrity. Go ahead, blurt. Its shelf-life is less than 24 hours.

Bernie bequeathed us,Yuge. Hillary’s camp has given flesh to bully, xenophobia, misogynist, narcissist, demagogue and denier. All clinically correct. Psychologists, sociologists, historians and writers will have material enough for at least a century coining new phrases to describe what just happened. That child running with scissors has become the man running the country cutting it to shreds.

Sixty years ago the word to describe the Republicans would have been, Reactionary, meaning regressive or resistant to new ideas. I suppose that one fell into disuse through exhaustion. I can remember when the tag, Liberal, was a pejorative to Progressives. Maybe it still is or have we drifted so far to the right that Conservatives have targeted their venom for the lesser label? Be careful what you say, warned Dennis Potter, you never know whose mouth those words have been in.

A reconfigured world requires the demise of old terms and birth of new ones. Red as in Red-Baiting has died and then flipped in its new life as Trump’s new best friend. We are about to enter into the Age of quasi monarchs in a club of oligarchs. The billionaire is now the champion of the down-trodden masses. Marx is turning in his grave.

Rhetorical flourishes can reinvigorate discourse but it usually renders words limp and hollow. I turned a deaf ear to the constant use of regime-change until I realized that describes what has just happened in this country. From Lincoln’s of, by and for the people to FDR’s nothing to fear to JFK’s ask not what your country can do to Obama’s there aren’t two Americas… aspirational language even if untrue. But for this past year we witness high and lofty eloquence sink to the gutter and locker room. Obsequious words get rewarded; dissent is met by an arsenal of abuse. In either case our vocabulary is soiled.

It was Mario Cuomo who said that politicians campaign in poetry and govern in prose. If that was poetry we just lived through we’re in bigger trouble than I had thought. Poetry tells the truth, metaphorically, obliquely, sometimes clumsily but doesn’t set out to deceive.

Words can be weapons particularly when spoken at the right pitch to receptive ears. This faux-poetry we heard on the stump was not highfalutin oratory but low falutin sloganeering that mimics the common tongue. 

The fall of democratic values is accompanied by the death of language itself. Poets to the rescue....free of political jargon, fake news or fluff. Truth is on life-support. Get us to triage and then to the maternity ward not necessarily to give birth to new words just offer the existing ones a smack and breathe new life in the body politic.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

One No-Trump

I haven’t any idea what this means in Bridge nor do I care to know but for me it’s the challenge of filling up a page without once mentioning Donald except to say how this country has already been transformed. The past four weeks feel like four years. We are now a reality show nation of Winners and Losers. The former are generals and captains of industry or bullies, crooks that didn’t get caught, and those born on third base who think they hit a triple. The latter describes the rest of us.

Card-playing is yet another talent for which I am unfit. There are many other skills that consign me to the loser column in the administration's great divide. The new paradigm has me revisiting some early failures which disqualify me, thank God, from his inner circle. So pervasive is his impact that the bus to elsewhere is no longer running.

By age twelve the person I would never become was made clear to me. I shall never forget 7th grade. By any measure I should still be there repeating three classes for the 72nd year.

First there was Art. This time of the year we were expected to draw a Christmas scene. I imagined Santa stuck in a chimney or sleigh rides in Manhattan traffic but I was thoroughly incapable of representing them. I usually settled for a snowman traced by a quarter, nickel and dime. In compensation I’ve learned to paint with words.

Second was singing as in Glee Club. I could not carry a tune from here to there. Flat remains my default position. I was relegated to the back row with other remedial lip-syncers. My official designation was Listener and I embraced the role. Anyone can shut up but listening is a skill.

The third class which defines me to this day is my abject failure at wood-working. We were assigned to produce a bread-board from a slab of wood. What could be easier? All we had to do was make the four sides straight, square and smooth. Maybe I was entranced by the knots and burls or intoxicated by the wood-shavings. I would run a plane on the surface but the teacher’s T-square revealed unevenness. By the end of the term my bread-board was about the size of a large splinter. Color me uneven.

I had no idea what I would be when I grew up or if indeed I ever would but I would certainly not become Norman Rockwell, Frank Sinatra or Mr. Fixit. Over the years I have learned to change the paper toweling without calling in a handyman. I’ve even assembled a bookcase from Ikea but invariably there are left over screws.

My brother got the DNA that prepared him for manual arts. He had a tool kit. I had a library card. Possibly at one time in the pre-history of my double helix I also could work with my hands but that skill was dissipated after my ancestors built the pyramids.

How I ever got to 8th grade was an act of mercy and resignation by the faculty of P.S. 99. They probably figured I could do no harm singing in the shower. One day I might write a book entitled, How to Make Fire-Wood Out of a Coffee Table. For now I shall return to my coloring book. Pass the crayons.

The purpose of recalling these minor traumas is not to wallow in my ineptitude but to re-imagine them as soft clay and to sculpt those moments by addition or subtraction. Ultimately to accept my flawed self and set it all in a larger context. In this new country we find ourselves in I offer myself to the Loser column failing again to compose a blog of No-Trump.  


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 turbulence 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 essentials on my list.   
  

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

1933


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. In 1950 I attended some Marxist classes filled mostly by FBI agent reporting on each other. 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, http://www.moulinabbaye.com/en/
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.



Wednesday, November 9, 2016

It's Our Movie


Like it or not and I don’t.
But we are part of it, bit players in this epic.
What started out as Three Stooges
rolled into one man, nasty-funny,
became, Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.
In the meantime Henry Fonda, as Tom Joad
ate grapes of wrath from a dustbowl
ending with his I’ll be there prayer overheard
by Citizen Charles Foster Kane who built a paper
empire selling yellow journalism, promising
a Wonderful Life which turned out to be empty
as the Maltese Falcon till it flamed out
with his Rosebud sledding to hell and high water
but more than Twelve Angry Men are mad as hell
and aren’t going to take it anymore. They’re done
Singin in the Rain and listening to 76 Trombones,
wondering where Joe DiMaggio has gone.
They looked out the Rear Window into the noir,
saw that Americans are Strangers on a Train headed
East of Eden. Atticus Finch is nowhere in sight.
We are a nation in Vertigo, on a Voyage
of the Damned when who should come but the Wiz,
the Godfather who promises a rose garden
with an offer they couldn’t refuse.
Could this be The Day the Earth Stood Still?
The Third Man has slithered in on a zither
with a smirk from out of the sewer.

                                                                                         

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Penal Servitude


Let me get this straight.

The curtain goes up on a limp Bill Clinton after one of his Liaisons Dangereuses. He is pondering how his childhood, with a stepfather who abused his mother, somehow accounts for our most libidinous president since his model, JFK. Neither can keep his pecker in his pants but Bill gets caught in his own Bay of Pigs. Hillary sort of forgives him his zipper. Instead she lashes out at the bimbos, knowing where her future bread is buttered.

Enter Congressman Weiner who is well-named and possibly well-endowed for all I know. He becomes a pathological exhibitionist more interested in being erected than elected. His wife, Huma, puts up with his virtual penis, not wanting to hit below the belt.

In this comic opera Huma is Hillary’s confidant. The two Good Wives could sing a duet. They thought a good man was hard to find but a hard man is even gooder until one day….. they un-envied the respective penises.
Enter Donald, the diva, stage right, who is fluent in Locker Room speak. Was he a sexual predator or are we to believe that he never said what he is said to have said? His habit of stiffing contractors may have extended further than that. He brings the House down with his aria of bragadocios in a falsetto voice. He is Don Juan in the gutter, three marriages of Figaro, taking cues from Wagner's Die Meistersinger. When Little Marco the Rubio questions his size Donald almost unzips. His phallic Tower is proof it’s not just another Babel even though he lives in a bubble. Any mud you can throw he can throw further.

Now Comey, the Lord High Executioner, in an orgy of dysfunction finds a little list of songs and snatches, of emails hacked and hatches of plots. All ejaculated from Weiner’s famous weiner. Hillary seethes. Donald blusters. Bill takes cover in his Foundation.
As the curtain goes down a chorus of 200 million aroused voices is heard, the cacophony of America, the grabbers, the groped, the gullible and misbegotten. Our fate lies with the genitalia of the former Congressman still stuck in his erogenous zone. Let us gird our loins.


Monday, October 31, 2016

Commodification


I keep running into this word. Not like an old friend but a nearly invisible, insidious process so pervasive it has become the new normal.


Commodification is the act of monetizing a product or symbol or person, cashing in on their implied message. It could also define turning something of no value into a marketable product. Think, pet rocks or pandas in the zoo.
Take a look at the people in the stands of a ballgame. There will be a sea of blue or red or green jerseys bearing names of the players. Now look at a car commercial showing a farmer… in overalls, of course. Or a series of images with voice-over of a familiar folk song used to sell smart phones or was it insurance? One picture is worth a thousand pick-up trucks or a billion burgers.

The athletes are being exploited, however outrageous their salaries may seem. They no longer own the rights to their name. It is even more contemptible in collegiate sports where they earn billions for universities without any compensation.  The image of an independent farmer (fast disappearing) suggests a tableau of heart-warming, old-time American values attaching themselves to consuming a brand of cereal, or soup, or car or candidate. We are nothing if not consumers.
Welcome to the era of symbols. Bumper stickers have yielded to tattoos. It’s as if we are nobody if we don’t advertise ourselves, the last gasp of a lost identity. Now we are flooded with comic books (graphic novels) and emojis. Why articulate when we can just point to a ready-made image? The universality is not lost on me but I mourn the death of language, victim of a society hurriedly on its way to nowhere.

Fashion magazines reinforced by T.V. have objectified and commodified women’s bodies. They are presented with Extreme Makeovers, creams, lotions even surgery to be tucked, sucked and plucked. Trims are a growth industry. Our illustrious candidate has been known to assign a number to woman’s bodies. Arguably Donald Trump has commodified himself transforming a real estate mogul into a celebrity and then trading on his name into a candidacy for President. Whether his name confers anything more than ignorance, narcissism and megalomania remains to be seen. Would that he be reduced to an emoji !!
Artists and writers have long been held hostage to the marketplace. A blank page or canvass is suddenly worth thousands of bucks or, more often, deemed unmarketable…as if that were the true measure of the work. In a reversal of this I have recently learned of the Salvaged Art Institute in NYC where damaged or defaced art is held. It has been de-commodified.  

In a world of inequality money talks loud. It tilts the scales of justice and compromises morality. Tired of long lines at the airport? You can buy yourself a bypass. Want to see Hamilton on Broadway? Pay someone to wait 18 hours in front of the ticket line. Is it special privilege you want from your doctor? Get concierge service. Politicians are bought and sold; Republicans by the N.R.A. and Big Pharma. Democrats by Wall St., Walmart and the war machine....and these are all Interchangeable.
Newspapers which were once regarded as a public trust are now deemed as nothing more than a commodity answerable only to stockholders. Are libraries next? We have already privatized our prisons. Even our military has become something close to a mercenary force. There were more contractors in Iraq than servicemen.
Commodification even follows us beyond death. For $20,000 your survivors can wear a one carat diamond version of yourself as a necklace made from your very own ashes. Is that an I.D. or a price tag on my big toe?
Perhaps it was always thus and in my dotage I have just taken notice. The grouch in me is finding its voice. What to do about it, I ask myself? Think globally and act locally….and morally ….and simply. I shall take my cues from Peggy who is a world-class Finder. She doesn’t curse the darkness but finds a candle. She cuts a path through the wreckage. Those pebbles under foot she makes jewels of.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Dear Ilaria...Born October 12, 2016

Welcome to this wondrous place with patches of woe here and there which our love for you and your newness shall overwhelm.

We have much to learn from you. There is a message in your eyes and in your reach we once knew but have lost. That first engagement where everything is astonishing, is it innocence or first knowledge, a knowing long forgotten by us we long to recover? Already you have given us a glimpse of where we began.

We have tried to prepare a garden for you with hanging fruit, petals and scents, with turtles and turtledoves and winding paths but we also urge you to taste what is forbidden and find your own way off the beaten.

Your name alone promises one-of-a-kindness. There will be hills to climb, small rises and falls with vantage points never seen before. You shall discover the night sky on your own to reconfigure and commune with the stars. You shall open doors, create new windows, listen to flowers and see through what we thought was opaque.

You have been seeded by shouts of joy and harvested with pumpkins in a season of love and a spectrum of foliage. Three generations of arms receive you... Mom and Dad and theirs, grand and great-grand .....and I, your step, who sheds those adjectives great and grand. In time I hope to change the step to step-less at no remove, to watch you flower even in this imperfect world we have bequeathed.


Thursday, October 20, 2016

Coulda Woulda


In the summer of 1954 I got both my marriage and pharmacy license. Poetic license would come later.  I also changed address from Forest Hills to Los Angeles.
Meanwhile back in my old neighborhood Donald Trump was in the 3rd grade attending Kew Forest School located directly across from my apartment house. The thought of it blemishes my idyllic childhood.
The bad news for the country is his chronic misbehavior and nasty tongue. The good news is that he may, one day, leave his brain to UCLA for further research. We may then discover whether it was a genetic defect, early trauma or acquired behavior on his way to becoming a superior being.

Maybe it could be traced to an election for pencil monitor that year when he insulted everyone in the class including the teacher and then promised to remedy their private grievance be it long lines, having had a toe stepped on or being bumped in a crowded elevator. When he accused the private school of rigging the election he may or may not been sent to the principal’s office but his father was on the board of trustees so the incident would have been expunged from his record.
Kew Forest School is still seen by those to the manor born as an early prep school for future captains of industry. For me it was a chain-link fence to be scaled in order to access a grassy area where we kids without breeding could play a game of football or hit some fungo.

By 1954 my father’s corner drugstore had been closed for about ten years. He relied on those kids from Kew Forest School to buy a bottle of Evening In Paris now and then but my memory is of a boy and girl occupying a booth for hours at a time sipping a cherry coke with two straws.

I’m sorry the store folded before our illustrious candidate was born. I could have been an eye-witness to history. After Kew Forest Pharmacy closed down it was vacant for a year or more. Then one day glass wax came off the window and it became a store-front synagogue
Around 1948 I was passing by with my 1st baseman’s mitt in hand on my way to the schoolyard. After it was established I had been Bar Mitzvahed I was pulled in to make a minyan. I mumbled the holy mumbles looking up at the Torah but feeling my father’s presence where he had presided between globes of colored water. He was a shaman of sorts.

Given the chance he might even have had some healing effect on the candidate. My father’s gift for listening could have been the prescription young Donald needed to tame his rants and check his narcissism. Whatever it was missing from the young man my Dad, given the chance, would have given him a glimpse of self-esteem without arrogance, leadership without braggadocio and permission to lose without losing face.  No, Donald, dropping a pop fly does not make you a loser nor is that G.I. who was taken prisoner and now working behind the counter making your milk shake.

Monday, October 17, 2016

Looking Backward

Certain years pop out right off the page.

Starting with 2016 which shall warrant future study for pondering whether it be a hiccup of history or a point of no return in which we fall on our sword as a nation of decency.  
2010 Arab Spring, now many seasons later is back in its winter of discontent. The road to self-determination is a bumpy one with pot holes, detours and dead ends. Still too tribal for civil discourse especially in countries created by Western Europe while carving the turkey at Versailles.
2001 will be remembered for 9/11, the time when globalization meant the two oceans no longer granted us immunity from the clash of civilizations. Legitimate grievances fell into the hands of demagogues and thugs. The have nots of the world still have not.  
2000 stands out as the year when the judiciary usurped the power of the electorate and deposited a frat boy with diminished capacity into the Oval Office.
1989 saw the crumbling of the Berlin wall and other such curtains. Revolutions were fortunately velvet. A creative burst was unleashed in Eastern Europe with Gorbachev as a poster boy. The USSR got trimmed by 25% to merely Russia.
1975 was the year of the grand and messy pullout from Saigon ending the dumbest war since WWI. 52, 220 U.S. soldiers died for we know-not-what. The fall of Saigon for us was the liberation of Ho Chi Minh City for them.
1964-65- LBJ pushed through long overdue civil rights legislation as well as New Deal entitlements which the people were entitled. And all this with blood on his hands conducting a tragic war.
1963- JFK is gunned down by either a single nut case or the Mafia or Cuban exiles or the CIA or God knows who. He asked us to ask not… That day in Dallas led to a decade of assassinations. 
1945- FDR dies in April, the demi-God whose intonations I mistook for Yahweh’s. V-Day in May and V-J Day in August and everything changed when we dropped the two bombs.
1941- That Sunday of infamy followed by a gift from Hitler with his invitation for us to join the Allies followed by, I’ll Be Seeing You, Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree and They’ll be Bluebirds Over the White Cliffs of Dover.
1933- FDR takes office and I take my first breath. Umbilically speaking I’d been hearing his voice before in that embryonic sea. I knew everything would be all right from then on even though I didn’t understand why I had nothing to fear but fear.
1929- Dow chokes Jones and both come crashing down. Uncle Max is wiped out when someone on Wall St. jumps out of a window and lands on his pushcart. Executives become hobos and few people could spare a dime.
1920-21 130 years tardy, woman finally win voting rights correcting an outrage. Yet another shame of America. The Lost Generation is already lost but Peggy finds her blessed way and nothing will be the same again.
1918- Armistice declared ending the crime against humanity called the Great War. But not soon enough to save poets Wilfred Owen and Rupert Brooke or a generation of men in Europe.
1908- The Chicago Cubs not only won the World Series but were considered so good they would be a dynasty and dominate baseball for years to come. Prognosticators also declared this was to become a century of peace, prosperity and enlightenment. So much for predictions. I attended one or two games with my good friends, Mark Twain and the James brothers…not Jesse and Frank but Henry and William who we called Hank and Bill. My mother was also there wondering why they left those pillows on the field. I tried to explain they weren’t pillows, they were bases but after all I was minus 25 at the time.