Monday, April 6, 2020

Spring, All At Once


Persephone arrives on time again

and April is busting out all over on the desert floor.

Lit bulbs called poppy, called hyacinth or tulip.

Technicolor urgency / emergency in their fabulous rising

into fables of resurrection, insurrection, erection

as in testaments from testicles (swear to God),

horizontal across forty years or vertical as in 

Easter like yeast, a souffle rising, leavened /

unleavened with bitter herbs and shank bone

as sweet chariots swing low.

No time for corn rye sliced with seeds,

but yes, seeds, for homelands and turning cheeks

for renewal, for overthrow of exhausted words.

Pagans as in peasants started it with awe

and gratitude. How spring is sprung another year.

Eliot knew how cruel April could be

turning dead roots into petals 

turned treacherous into particles,

their tribe increased in our soil. Banish them 

in a miracle exodus as in a C.B. DeMille movie

so we may once more gather in observance.

Rather than eggs or the prescribed plate

I’ll take wildflowers as my promised land.
  
Listen to the trumpet in the daffodil, 

the saxophone in the foxglove.

Thursday, April 2, 2020

Shifting Pronouns

Overnight, it seems, we have gone from US and THEM to US and IT. IT may yet bring us together as the unifying force sharing our tenuous destiny on this orbiting hunk of dust. IT seeps under and over walls and gates and gulfs and chasms indifferent to the folly of borders and artificially color-coded maps. 

Yes, of course, there is ample blame to be assessed but it serves little purpose at this point although cable news thrives on it. It seems too easy. Vehemence has worn thin. The time to mock, vilify or (God forbid) praise HIM has passed. Leave that for historians. He has already established himself by a unique combination of arrogance and incompetence. But why waste our breath in condemnation; it could be our last.

It seems we stood and talked like this before
We looked at each other in the same way then
But I can't remember where or when.

MY impulse is to look back in history toward those instances where the US and THEM dissolved and then resolved themselves. In 1905 Theodore Roosevelt presided over peace talks between Russia and Japan ending the Sino-Russian War in which both imperialist countries fought over control of Korea and Manchuria. For this T.R. was rewarded with the Nobel Peace Prize.


As a goodwill gesture Imperial Japan sent over scions from thousands of cherry trees which were planted along the tidal basin in Washington D.C. During World War II our bombers destroyed Japan’s prized trees. After their surrender we sent cuttings from our cherry trees back to Japan. Years later, when ours died from some sort of blight Japan sent cuttings again to revive our Washington cherry trees. US and THEM had vanished. Humanity can be a force more powerful that distant pronouns. THEM got replaced by WE.

This could be the propitious moment to find our commonweal. Sporting events are a paradigm for competition but they are also a model for hugs as we see in the NBA where arch rivals often engage in a long post-game embrace. It is, after all, a form of theater.

If all this sounds like I am over-selling the positives I don't disagree. I'm trying to convince myself as I write.

When the last ventilator becomes an objet d'art in a museum exhibit alongside Duchamp's urinal we will ask ourselves, What just happened. Greed and virulence lost to community and survival. Scientists along with that person who waters the lettuce in the market won the day. There is a substance within that prevails. Damn the C-virus but without it we forgot how we share a fragile tenancy on this place called Earth and how much we need each other as custodians. Otherwise we may lose our lease. 

In addition we are encroaching on wilderness land with no resistance to their many virus. Another teachable lesson to be learned. Globalization is a double-edged sword creating great wealth for some and destitution for others. I suspect this will help return some vital supply sources back to our shores.  

It does feel to me this is OUR existential moment. Whether we survive is paramount and how we regard one another and our kinship to our fellow survivors is where our focus needs to be. As the poet, Auden, wrote, we must love each other or die. 

This crisis may just be prelude to the next as chunks of the polar ice cap raise ocean levels and islands disappear. The message is to listen for whom the bell tolls. It tolls for all. 

Saturday, March 28, 2020

Objective Reality

By the time I was sixteen I was already damaged goods. Too old for my age. It has taken me decades to find my child again. I was too serious. Too afraid to enter that forest of menacing creatures, of mystery and uncertainty. After all, a wild boar might run off with my shoe… and then what?

The deal, unwittingly, was to trade imagination, nuance, and doubt for the sanctimonious safety of dogma. For a few months I attended The Jefferson School in New York City, taking Marxist courses in such light-weight frivolity as Dialectical Materialism or Subjective Idealism and the Masses. Neither, your average beach book. The classes were at least half-filled with F.B.I. agents probably reporting on each other. Ironically on the other side of the wall was Dashiell Hammett teaching a class in I know not what. He was the author of one of my favorite films, The Maltese Falcon. My road not taken. 

The very name Jefferson attached to this school reveals their faulty thinking. Jefferson was an elitist polymath slaveholder who did not include Native Americans or African Americans in his lofty words having inalienable rights. Apparently the American Communist Party was blind to his hypocrisy just as they ignored the oppression and ruthlessness in the Soviet Union. 

Of course I had no idea what I was missing. After reading the assigned books about Marxist philosophy I had a firm grip on Materialism and it had an even firmer grip on me. A certain rigidity had set in. I had all the answers but forgot the questions. The key phrase was the primacy of Objective Reality. Looking back I suppose this was the basis of establishing the undeniable plight of workers in the class struggle. It could not be denied or wished away. Objective Reality affirms the truth independent of perception.

Yet there is a price to be paid for such tidy thinking. It doesn’t accommodate the full range or reach of the imagination. It refuses entry into messy humanity where art begins. It settles for the rational and abhors the inexplicable. In her masterful novel, To the Lighthouse, Virginia Wolff explores this other dimension of subjective reality, the free-floating ramble of one’s inner life and its startling connectivity. She goes beyond Materialism and deposits her readers in irresolution, that country of elsewhere to fend for ourselves.

Wallace Stevens created a world where Reality and the Imagination are in a continuing irreconcilable marriage. Reality is what he calls the Necessary Angel which grounded him yet Seeming allows him to fly. It accounts for that green cockatoo in the poem, Sunday Morning and communion by way of late coffee and oranges in a sunny chair.

Objective Truth need not be absolute but is more than an agreed-upon lie. Context matters. We are not allowed our own set of facts to suit our purposes. This is now Saturday morning in Los Angeles. It cannot be decreed Thursday night.                                                                                                         
Now we have the phenomenon of Donald Trump out of whose mouth comes a litany of self-serving lies. He has tortured Truth in his reign of tyranny against the English language. He has a profound disregard for both the Science of Objective Reality and the full flowering of artistic sensibility. He could be a poster boy for nescience. Another four years of him will revive the Marxist axiom of Objective Truth reminding us of what we have abdicated. I’d hate to think I've returned to that place where I began. 




Tuesday, March 24, 2020

Googling


I tried Goggling myself this morning to see if I really exist. I do not. Maybe I'm too analog in this digital age and have been struck from the grand ledger. There are many Norm Levine impostors or what I like to think of as my generic equivalents but, I suspect, we all prefer to regard ourselves as the name brand.

There are Levines noted for their norms and other Norms who didn’t know how to spell their last name having dropped the final e. Then there are Levines as in serene and other Levines whose name rhymes with divine or sublime. I’m more comfortable with serenity than divinity. Maybe the Levin name was designed to resonate with heaven. Granted the better climate up there, to paraphrase Mark Twain, but all my friends would probably be in hell.

There’s someone using my name who finished a marathon race crossing the finish-line from the wrong direction. Then there was my namesake who is some hot-shot insurance salesman. This must be my disowned self. I couldn’t sell Greenland to Trump.

When I had my own pharmacy there were seven of us in the San Fernando Valley, alone. One was a customer for a while. I couldn’t help giving him preferential treatment.

Driving through the Hudson River Valley we slammed on the brakes having spotted a bookstore whose proprietor bore my name. I met the man and noted he was my age. Apparently British names were in vogue circa 1933 especially for Jewish families wishing to dis-identify with the Old World. In fact this Norm Levine had a brother named Mitchell which was my brother’s middle name.

Here’s a Norm Levine who was a much-admired Canadian writer of short-stories, poetry and novels. He died with an impressive body of work. I see his obit from fifteen years ago. If that’s me it must have slipped my mind.

Googling oneself can be a deflating experience. Proceed at your own peril. If you are not listed better check the mirror or call your mother. There were times in my life when anonymity was devoutly to be wished for. I can remember how I wore a shirt to class in college which I hoped would blend into the seat rendering me invisible. The subject was Physical Chemistry which required us to memorize structural formulas. I should have known then to change my major.

Come to think of it being un-noted in this info-glut is quite an achievement. Something like leaving a zero carbon footprint. Living all these years without a trace…but famous among huntsmen and herdsmen, in the words of Dylan Thomas. Those adventurers were merely the imaginary friends of his youth.

Oh, here I am on page three. Just another one among many Norm Levines. That suits me fine. Maybe I’ll make page one posthumously. Given the threat of all Creatures Great and Small I should probably start planning my afterlife. I wonder if we have any input as to our next incarnation. There are so many rooms in the mansion I’ve never visited and Google has yet to take notice.

Friday, March 20, 2020

Pan

Listen. If you hear a rustic flute in the far distance or spot a half goat roaming the countryside that would be Pan. That very early Greek God who made off with nymphs and liked to frolic in caves and grottoes. Pan comes down to us in pandemics, pandemonium and panic but he also is embedded in companion, panoply and Pan American.  

Pan has an appetite for mischief. Legend has him evoking fear when his shouts upon waking are enough to cause a stampede among flocks. Pan also means all as in pandemic which literally means upon all people (Demos).

Peter Pan was a boy who never grew up. He consorted with other Betwixt and Between characters such as fairies, mermaids and pirates from Neverland. Could this damnable virus be his pixie dust? Maybe the coronavirus has mistaken our pulmonary tissue for his natural habitat in the fields of Arcadian antiquity.

I’m glad we’ve cleared that up. We need to know whom we are dealing with. With parents like Penelope and Apollo or Dionysus we are against some heavy hitters with temper management issues. 

We have to change our way of living and if that ain’t enough? /  We have to change the way we strut our stuff. 

For those who believe this viral visitation serves some purpose it may be a test of our assumptions and adaptability. Maybe work doesn’t require being there. Traffic has vanished along with air pollution. There are signs of global consciousness even as xenophobia is used by demagogues to stoke fear and blame. Neighbors are caring for neighbors. This morning our friends shopped for us and now we received a note from our new neighbors concerned for our well-being and offering their help in shopping.

Two hundred years ago Haiti was liberated from Napoleonic rule thanks to the Yellow Fever epidemic. African slaves had immunity but the French did not. A case could be made that the Louisiana Purchase was a further extension of Napoleon's fear of the microorganism.  

We will not emerge from this scourge unchanged. Science itself has been at risk against the forces of ignorance and deceit issuing from the President. Hopefully truth will be restored and we'll gain an appreciation for the essential role of the federal government to provide and protect the population. Pan is out of control and demands nothing less.

Monday, March 16, 2020

NEWS


Games Over. That was the headline of the six-page reduced Sports Section of the newspaper last week. The next five pages consisted of stories about the closure or suspension of the baseball season, basketball tournament, hockey championship playoffs, golf etc... In other words, life as we know it. Sports have long blurred into Finance, Theater and front-page news but never before into a sweeping Obit.

What more endearing and enduring signifier for spring than the crack of the bat, green grass and the smell of hot dogs? Our National Pastime is now out of time. For grown-ups none of this matters much but for those of us who never grew up our alternative universe just disappeared.

My memory bank just opened its vault to my twelve year old innocence when I imagined the demise of all newspapers in NYC during the summer of 1945. Up until August that year I had been avidly following the progress of the war on the front page of the N.Y. Times (morning) and N.Y. Post (evening). I must have thought that all news was war news and it was all good as the Allies pushed across Europe and the Pacific Islands. With the surrender of Germany in May and Japan in August hostilities came to a screeching halt and I wondered how the eight newspapers in New York would ever survive. Of course my worry was about 65 years premature.

News is what's happening and also what isn't. When the voter turnout for the recent primary was only a mere 25% in some counties that is news. When the pomegranate, now regarded as the true forbidden fruit in Eden, is said to contain 613 seeds matching the number of commandments (mitzvahs) in the Old Testament that was news to me but doesn't qualify as newsworthy. 

It also happens not to be true but that never stopped our illustrious fable-maker, the incorrigible liar-in-chief from tweeting himself down the toilet. Bad news seems to have more legs than the good. I recently read that the Israeli/Palestinian corridor is a fly-over migratory route for 500 million birds twice a year of 483 different species. Ironic how birds and butterflies know whose woods these are while humans continue to build walls and check points.

News is not an acronym for North, East, West, South. Nor does it stand for News Events, Weather and Sports. It is simply the English form of the Latin word for New as in novelty, supernova or renovate. Sometimes we see things that aren't there like the peach in impeachment, juicy as it was.

Peggy has a sign over her bathtub which says, Make It New. These are the words of Ezra Pound, that politically misguided Modernist poet. He was better at mentoring others (Eliot, Hemingway, Joyce, Williams) than he was a poet or pundit. 

I should add that the word NEW has long ago been hijacked and subverted by the advertising world. New and Improved usually means neither.

No news, these days, is good news since we are being fed a diet ranging from the calamitous to the dire. Could it be that this dreaded virus will bind our national wound communally even as it takes its toll? Friends and neighbors are looking out for one another. It feels like a return to that summer of '45 when chapter one of a new narrative was happening with everyone on the verge instead of on the brink. 
NEWS


Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Notes on the Anniversary of Myself

I have a birthday coming up in ten days. I’ll be glad to get past number eighty-six since a psychic predicted this would be my last one many years ago. I think I paid her five bucks for that news; for ten dollars I might have bought immortality.

Preoccupied as I was, if I go into a deep trance I can almost remember that day in 1933. There I am doing the backstroke in an embryonic sea when my umbilical life was shattered. It took me years to stop crying. Or that could have been because my brother never forgave me for ending his status as an only child.

Birthdays are a sort of punctuation. Some are merely parenthetical to the chronicle. Others signify a moment of pause while end of decade years deserve an exclamation point. A jab of jubilation along with a sometimes agonizing reappraisal.

I have no memory of celebrating my birthday as a kid. Maybe nobody showed up for my party. More likely there was none. Times were tough. Cakes and candles were a luxury and my mother was a no-nonsense person. If I wasn’t invited to friend’s parties it was because singing Happy Birthday would have been embarrassing since I couldn’t carry a tune. I was designated a Listener by the music teacher and consigned to the last row at school where we were told to lip-sync the Star Spangled Banner.

Claude Monet lived till eighty-six; many seasons of hay stacks. He is experiencing a remarkably extended after-life on museum walls and that lotus pond at Giverny as well as images on coffee mugs, calendars and umbrellas. On the other hand when Vincent Van Gogh was my age he’d been dead for forty-nine years.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez also died at my present age. The last book of his I read was Love in the Time of Cholera, not to be confused with Trump in the time of Coronavirus. The two men 
stand in stark contrast of how much and how little one can enhance the progress of civilization in their allotted time. 

However prodigious the body of work contributed by great writers and artists that cannot be the measure of the person or the rest of us wouldn’t get through heaven’s gate. It is something other than the achieve of.  

Too late for greatness. It’s enough to be good. Noble even, at times. Caring. Open-hearted. What David Brooks describes as a depth of character infused with gratitude. Anne Lamott calls laughter a form of carbonated holiness. That’s my kind of worship….worthship of fellow human beings.

Age is, of course, the supreme fiction. The calendar documents our years but our real age is in our spirit, not our weary bones; how we enthuse, our juice, our appetite for meeting each day. By this measure Peggy, nearing 99, is still in her youth and has blessed me with some of that nectar.

As for a bucket list I have none, except, for a pie in my face. And I’m not so sure about that unless it be key lime. I suspect there may be a hole in my bucket. All my grand wishes come down to one...dump Trump. I would hate to leave this realm on such a retrogressive note. I prefer to keep the illusion that we are progressively moving toward a larger pie, key lime or otherwise, with portions enough for all. 

In addition, as long as it doesn’t cost anything, I wish I could listen better to what flowers have to say and for my bones to be more fluent in the language of music and my hands become  instruments to strike the dark air for mellifluous sounds.


Sunday, March 8, 2020

Going Viral

I’ve never cared much for dystopian novels but I’d rather read one than live in it as we are now. It is as if the virulence of Trump’s world has been made manifest by this corona virus. His toxicity found its corporeal match.

For the past three years we have been delivered to the time when German fascism took root. Now we are about to feel the sting of the 1918 influenza pandemic. What’s next? Another Dust Bowl? Locusts? No need for any re-enactment. I’ll take their word for it. 

I suppose microorganisms need love too but must we really provide them with a homeland? They appear to be shaped like some sort of spiked wheel, similar to the icon for settings. Here I am hitting the delete button. Nothing happens, proving that there is a world out there, actual, besides virtual.

Before antibiotics I dodged diphtheria in my day. Scarlet fever got me red-faced and left behind a murmur of the heart to be remembered by. I whooped past whooping cough, loosened the vise of the Grip and defeated polio with coins in the March of Dimes collection box . Chicken pox, measles and mumps had their way with me but German measles with its tiny swastikas never got past my Maginot Line.

If the Putin-Trump Axis had designs to sow chaos within our borders they might as well not bother any further. We've endured their ethical pestilence. The landscape is already unrecognizable. Language itself is on life-support. Dow and Jones are in mortal combat. People are masked, quarantined.  Shelves and stadiums emptied. We have become even more atomized than before, shut-ins. 

In the last chapter of Jose Saramago's dystopian fable, Death With Interruptions, he depicts Death as defeated by the music of a cellist. Death succumbs to the resonant chords of Bach's Suite Number Six. Finally a work of fiction I'd be happy to inhabit. Let Art have its way; its transport may be our best hope. But just in case better wash your hands again.

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Oh, To Be Wrong Again


As the story goes….two friends go to the racetrack. They are losing every race but notice that the couple in front of them are winning big. One friend suggests the other follow the couple, stay close behind and lay your money exactly where they put it. Ten minutes later he returns with two hot dogs a beer and a coke.

That’s me, the guy on the wrong line. I have a history of losing. If someone had followed me for the past sixty years and done exactly the opposite as far as buying and selling real estate, he’d be a very rich man today. It doesn’t get much better in politics.

At age fifteen in 1948 I knew everything, in absolute terms. Armed with stacks of leaflets I scampered from door to door, from floor to floor of apartment buildings, just ahead of the superintendent. This was Truth I was putting under each door like some sort of messianic zealot. I was convinced Henry Wallace and the Progressive Party had it right. Of course, they didn’t win a single state.

I voted for Eugene McCarthy rather Hubert Humphrey in 1968. Big mistake. In 1972 I was out there again ringing doorbells for George McGovern. He carried Massachusetts and lost the other 49.  

Never trust a political junkie. We know too much which is to say we know nothing. My calculus is based on the past which can be misleading in times of epochal change. Trump’s victory in 2016 and his takeover of the Republican Party signals an upheaval of the old two party agendas.

I look at the constituencies and see a greater number of moderates than either polarity suggests. The far right makes noise. The Bernie left is equally passionate but they would seem unelectable since their numbers are less than the sum of the 4-5 candidates in the center. I see no sign yet of any of them dropping out. Perhaps each is counting on a brokered convention determined by establishment Democrats. In the meantime Putin and Trump relish a Bernie Sanders candidacy just as I recall salivating over a Trump nomination. My most recent blunder.

Maybe I’ve got it all wrong….again. Could it be that the Democratic Socialist will draw from that vast pool of disaffected voters who normally sit it out? Maybe it takes a rabid anti-Trump Populist to defeat the pseudo-Populist, Trump; not a reasonable, dispassionate Centrist but a firebrand, unashamed Socialist with a clear, hard-driving narrative and enough savvy to make space for the Never-Trumpers, traditional Democrats and Independents.

I still believe the overwhelming imperative is to oust Trump before he eviscerates our government with incompetent toadys, pardons everyone from John Wilkes Booth to Bernie Madoff and puts the planet at risk with his monarchical impulses. 

The prospect of a Bernie Sanders candidacy must be regarded seriously as our consensus nominee. The very idea goes beyond my vision and therefore might be another instance of  the new landscape which escapes my historical grasp.   

If Sanders goes into the July convention with a ten point spread over his nearest rival but less than a majority, I believe the Party will crown him the winner by acclamation. To do otherwise would be political suicide. I’m girding my loins for such an outcome. Maybe this time around Bernie can make the association between Socialism and Social Tea Biscuits and he’ll ride his horse into the Oval Office.

Monday, February 24, 2020

Scanned, Scoped and Snipped

The bad news is that Trump is still the guy in the Oval Office. The good news is that my pancreatic and liver biopsy is negative ....which is the most positive news I could be getting after being scoped, scanned and sniped. I was hoping that maybe Trump was all a bad dream and I'd be waking up to greener pastures but that will have to wait till November.

I must admit I enjoyed having a couple of hours subtracted from my consciousness. Given the toxic Zeitgeist it is an attractive alternative. Easier than moving to Canada.

For a while it seemed that my entrails were enacting their version of Trump America or, as John Dean famously put it to Nixon, that a cancer was growing on the presidency. The words, suspicious, lymph nodes, biopsy and pancreas are not the sort one wants to hear in the same sentence. 

Instead I'm told words like like normal and benign. .Even if normalcy has never been a state devoutly to be wished for in this case I'll take it, as long as I can still cultivate my eccentricities.

Now I must get the word to my organs so they can do as they please as benignly as my DNA commands them. Let them stage a a Bernie-like insurrection. Let them overthrow their humdrum secretions. Go ahead, speak Truth to Power but just don't go wild and colonize the ducts and connective tissue... and no regime change.

Now I must return to the barricades, pancreas and all. This is History we are living. I wouldn't want to miss this chapter as America wakes.

Sunday, February 16, 2020

What Breaks



By the dawn’s early light

breaking news can break your heart.

But the heart grows by breaking

into chamber music. Breakfast is

buttered by the sun. Humpty-Dumpty

broke into a yellow scramble,

then reassembled as omelet, as amulet.

Today has never happened before

with this morning’s minion

until now with its bulletin from the East.

This light through yonder window breaks

more urgently than ignorant misspelled tweets

giving songbirds a bad name. Together

we break bread, break into song,

decontaminate the air with random grace.

The beacon of America is broken.

How many will it take to change the light bulb?

Strange how bro and ken spell split,

not as pea soup or bananas

but split into pole dancing at extremities. 

The newspaper screams yesterday’s news

of a brokered convention, of a party

severed at the seams, fracked

and breaking like waves on the beach

with enhanced interrogation of the shoreline.

Today we break new, go for broke.


Thursday, February 13, 2020

What Were They Thinking?


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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Sunday, February 9, 2020

Searching for Watchables

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, February 1, 2020

The Super Bowl and Why I Watch It


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Saturday, January 25, 2020

Remedy for Situation : Utterly


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



Friday, January 17, 2020

My Afternoon at the DMV

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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