Thursday, September 30, 2010

"Electile" Dysfunction

Why do Liberals go limp in November while Republicans are fully aroused? So say the poles..,.I mean polls. All that corporate money pouring in and the power it implies must be inherently sexy. And maybe malice and mendacity turn folks on; a perverse form of ecstasy.

In any case the right wing’s appeal seems more to the glands than the brain. While Democrats split hairs over agenda or lie semi-moribund, conservatives unite, rally around old myths and control the narrative however simplistic and distorted it may be.

A reasoned argument from the Left, supported with policy statements seems to address deaf ears. Indeed the opposition has grasped the concept that arguments to a mass audience can be seductive using simple slogans, images and signifiers.

This seems particularly true in an off-year election in which the task of both parties is primarily the turn-out of their respective bases and secondly igniting the vast, low-information middle. This is where public relations firms and advertisers play a decisive role.

Selling a candidate is indistinguishable from selling a car or a box of cereal. Why do I drive a Honda? On some level below consciousness I have a bought into a cluster of images that makes a statement matching me with my car. I’m not a Mustang. I’m not a BMW…….whatever that means.

Americans are nothing if not consumers. We not only purchase goods but we buy services the same way; evaluating teachers, judging waiters in restaurants and voting for our representatives often by subliminal impressions. Bush’s affability carried the day for eight years. He was the guy you (not I) wanted to have a beer with. If a candidate can fake authenticity the rest comes easily. The media pronounces whether he/she looks presidential as if our leaders should come out of central casting.

The agenda, the record, the issues all become subordinate to a snap assessment of the buyer-voter. A significant portion of the American electorate responds more readily to fear and loathing than to empathy and reason. It is primal; an almost instinctual reaction from the reptilian brain. The Republicans have tapped into this.

In 2008 when Obama won over first-time voters and independents it was also a visceral connection. Some of us projected a lifetime of expectation on him. He received other votes just because he wasn’t Bush or McCain. Since then we’ve been reminded of the deep conservative roots in this country. If an election were Masterpiece Theatre we would witness the paradox of Downstairs voting for Upstairs. The under-served identify with the privileged.

I can only hope those young people, minorities and undeclared voters get Viagrified and see through the slick ads from millions of corporate dollars and turn out as they did two years ago.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Triggering Town

I’m an old cowhand. Like Cooper or Eastwood, a man of few words. And right now even fewer thoughts. The well’s gone dry in my ghost town.

The general store’s boarded up. Yup. The last brawl emptied the saloon. I say set em up Joe but Joe ducked and never came up. The chorus girls left on the last stage out of town with the school marm and preacher. It’s so quiet you can almost here the g’s droppin. Even the posse’s gone chasin the sheriff and his side kick. The card shark’s got nothin but arm up his sleeve.

But this is a triggering town for blocked writers. Wet pencils lookin for words to say what folks say when they’ve got nothin to say.

There goes a tumbleweed scootin down to the old corral. Could be a few nuggets in the dust. Now the air is stirrin. I hear somethin rustlin that ain’t cattle. Could be crickets tunin up but sounds more like the piano beginnin to roll. Darlin Lil is kickin high and showin her garter.

Lightnin just split the hangin tree. Slim Pickens swallowed his toothpick. A new lore & oughta marshal is hitchin up his horse. His gun is cocked over his longjohns. He polishes his silver; gives us all a nod, by God.

The clean-cut good guys are showin gristle and the grizzly bad guys got themselves shaved clean. There’s Tonto telling his side of the storyat Kimosabe College The un-masked Ranger is cleaning his erasers. Doc Harvey, the barber’s doing surgery now, pulls teeth too.

Diamond Jim, the railroad baron, grabbed one too many and took a bullet in his wallet. His ranch got foreclosed in an open and shut case.

Andy Devine’s teaching bible school with Gabby Hayes. Buffalo Bill’s gone vegan. Three amigos are hirin to pick the cactus crop across the border. Prospectors are on their hands and knees panning for g’s as in gold.

The 9:45 from Yuma just pulled in with a fistful of lawless words. Here come the outlaws from central casting, spitting and cussing looking for work in Hollywood Westerns. It’s all over and it’s just begun.

I head over to the telegraph office to send a message shot straight from the hip.. Got me some wagging tongues….stop….. characters wanted….stop… dead or alive.

Thursday, September 23, 2010


Some things will never change like the three cent stamp and nickel cup of coffee. There are eight newspapers in Gotham and that’s the way it will always be. In my previous incarnation I’d just been taken on as a cub reporter for the World Telegram, learning the ropes from Pops. I’d been around the block a few times; even pulled a few strings but that’s nothing like knowing the ropes. Some guys seem like they’ve always known them. Me, I just get tied up in knots.

My big break came when old Pops’ eye went jaundiced from too many idols under the pedestal. He knew he was washed up when he lost the pencil on his ear racing to the nearest phone booth.

They had me covering the trial of the century. When the surprise witness broke down under relentless cross-examining the case was blown open. I bolted from the courtroom for the bank of phones and got the cigarette out of my mouth in time to scoop my rivals. I knocked the Lindbergh kidnapping off the front page and hit the street before the News, Mirror, Post, Times, Herald , Sun and Journal American.

My coverage gave the cigar-smoking city editor a raise and made the pipe-smoking publisher a shoo-in for D.A. Next stop for him was a seat in the Governor’s mansion. What we needed most downtown was an honest public servant to drive away the corruption from uptown.

Trouble was my middle name and I had the nose for it. With some late-night research in the archives under a forty watt bulb I discovered that the governor's wife had been put away ever since he threw her down the stairs when she caught him in a compromising position. I found the poor woman in a rest home on the other side of town registered under Jane Doe Ramey. With a little sweet talk I got her to spill the beans even in her comatose state.

But I can explain everything, the governor said as they cuffed him and hauled him away.I knocked off 500 words and had my second scoop. This time with a by-line. That and two bits would get you a BLT down, coffee and keep the change.

Saturday, September 18, 2010


It’s unbecoming to proclaim my good fortune but I’ll do it anyway. And what better place than a blog? Monday is our 24th anniversary. Considering all the gin joints in this galaxy I’m a very lucky man to have found Peggy. She’s showing me how to be willing to be lucky. When the moon is new I see a sickle; she sees it full.

It‘s actually 26.5 years since we’ve been together and 30 years since we met and mingled. I never did learn dance steps; my feet have no memory. Even the mating dance didn’t come naturally but marriage is a dance I can do; the tango and waltz of it, leading and following, the dips and twirls, leaps, stumbles and recoveries. Feeling the music of our moods; the enthusiasms and the quietude.

To be met fully is rare. To meet every day thereafter, rarer still. It defines love itself. To know that I can simply be and be received and at the same time have the opportunity to grow that same capacity for reception within myself. This is a coming together that also nurtures our solitudes and differences. We muse each other.

The bard said to admit no impediments to true minds. I say admit our faults and flaws and let them be no impediment. I’m a world-class chipper of cups and such. I slouch on the couch and constantly lose bookmarks. Mere misdemeanors. I worry too much, plan contingencies. Peggy refuses to rehearse bad-case scenarios. She lives in the moment and spares herself the what ifs. We’ve come to accommodate each other’s mishegoss.

Most mornings she bounces out of bed with a poem marinating in her head. She is an alchemist stirring yesterday’s conversation with a passing image a pinch of an old movie or song, an odd phrase drizzled with a sliver of a dream. She stirs it all in her crucible, filters the glob through her sui generis voice and distills into a remarkable poem. Her number one pencil is like flint on the page causing conflagrations. Not always comprehensible to my unseeing eyes at first, second or tenth reading but suddenly the opacity lifts and I’m inside the poem. This is a gift beyond measure. The nectar of her flowering.

Even then there’s so much more to each of us not to be entered and revealed. An inner world we know enough to remain unknown. This is an unspoken intimacy we honor.

How we met is a French movie of quakes and rubble, an avalanche from a glance, big hellos, half-bottle of wine and dulcimer, Brandywine café, an open window with a curtain swaying, a three-year walk in that lonesome valley, stump of tree, Miramar mist, ebb-tide, ranunculus, whitewater, close-ups and many a long-shot. A magnificent complication. Rupture to rapture.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Big Noise From The Tea Room

The current crop of Republicans has me longing for that nasty, tricky Dick (I'm not-a-crook) Nixon. On today's spectrum he would be left of Ben Nelson and Joseph Lieberman.

The trajectory since then is alarming. The G.O.P. calculated that electability was the name of game and they needed a less shadowy figure. We were presented with Ronald Reagan, the bad actor in his greatest role, who needed breadcrumbs to find his way out of a sentence.

Then the C.I.A. moved into the Oval Office and we got Bush the Elder who must share the blame for his offspring.

Dubya, ever affable, made Reagan seem like a scholar in epistemology. G.W. Bush was equal parts Forest Gump and frat boy. It as said that he couldn't find Europe on the map when he was offered the job by the Supreme Court.

From scoundrel to imposter to dangerous fool...just when we thought it couldn't get worse it has. All the aforementioned would have to take their place to the left of the Tea Baggers who are now steeping in the hot water we find ourselves in.

The recently nominated candidates from Sharon Engle to Christine O'Donnell to Carl Paladino to Rand Paul represent the voice of inchoate anger and frustration. Indeed there is much to be angry about. But starting a bar room brawl or cheering on the lynch mob does not a solution make.

To the extent this movement is anything more than a hired busload from corporate headquarters it is the rage against an economy which has left them behind and a changing demographic which taps into their latent fear and hatred.

Noise is not discourse. If they had a program for structural change the dots would lead to the very source of their own funding. Out-sourced jobs and institutionalized greed have been displaced by racism and nativism.

This field of candidates may be nothing more than an aroused fringe group among a slumbering electorate. I can only hope the Obama constituency from 2008 will be equally aroused and turn up in November or we may be in for the darkest moment in American history.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Thank You, Glenn Beck

Virulent buffoon that he is...salacious and self-righteous...I owe him one for bringing the issue of Liberation Theology to my attention. I'm for it.

What is the book of Exodus but a story of liberation, out of bondage through idol worship to a new consciousness?

Is it any wonder that slaves found resonance in this narrative? They adapted Christianity for the message of deliverance waiting for that sweet chariot to swing low and carry them home. Today they are no longer willing to wait. The promise of the Judeo-Christian ethic has not been delivered.

Glenn Beck rails against this interpretation as does the Vatican. The message of the good books, of Moses and Jesus threatens the fundamentalist Bible-thumpers as well as the Vatican. The hierarchy is taking cover. With a resume like that count me in.

The modern day movement of Liberation Theology originated in Central America in the sixties around Father Gustavo Gutierrez with its roots in the Gospel. It has become a peasant movement which speaks directly to poverty and injustice as a daily fact of their existence. It addresses the contradiction between the teachings of the Church and need to liberate the people from degrading social conditions. It calls for a Christian response beyond charity. Glenn Beck to the contrary notwithstanding God has always sided with the oppressed.

It is no small irony that even as fundamentalist Christians and the Catholic hierarchy denounces them the Liberationists are the fastest growing sector in Christendom and perhaps the only one not exhausted and irrelevant.

Religion has been given new life outside the church walls. Communities have formed theological reflection groups and human rights organizations which have resulted in land-reform and peasant cooperatives. The Liberation Church played a role in overthrowing dictators like Samoza in Guatemala and the military regime in El Salvador.

For many African-Americans the church has too long been associated with segregation. The Southern Baptist Convention supported slavery until a formal repentance just fifteen years ago. They offered an apology to Blacks for condoning and perpetuating systemic racism.

Black Liberation Theology seeks neither reparations nor reward in an afterlife but a recognition and redress through changes in their social conditions today. It is a living religion and as such scares the hell out of the preachers whose notion of religion is part soporific through the utterance of arcane mumbles and part militant dispenser of fear, obedience and punitive measures against non-believers.

Before the 100,000 assembled at the Washington D.C. mall Beck called Obama a racist. He amended that nonsense the next day branding him a follower of Liberation Theology as if this were an equal sin. I suppose it is to a man on a mission to incite the ill-informed through repetitive lies.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Lunch At The Time Warp Restaurant

The Spitfire Grille feels like a set in a B movie from 1945. It's on the grounds of the Santa Monica airport where prop planes take off with cargoes of who-knows-what to who-knows-where... hot jewels to be fenced or cold cash to be laundered? The sort of place I might have been led to trailing a blonde. One of us is in a convertible and the other in a black sedan with Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett writing away in the back seat.

A man of medium build and mediocre mind had popped into office yesterday; a cross between Sidney Greenstreet and Peter Lorre. When he announced himself as Murray Hill I already had his number. He said he wanted me to keep an eye on his sister. I knew he was lying through his teeth by the way he wiped his sweaty palms with his pink tie. But I had overdue library books to pay off and could use the few bucks.

I head for an outside table with a good angle. The place is swarming with weasels, hoods and undercover cops spying on each other. Looking up from behind my Look magazine I ponder the meaning of life in a godless world forgetting that I already did that in the shower this morning. If I came up with an answer it slipped my mind while sprinkling blueberries on my Bran Flakes.

The sun is just a rumor this summer. It disappeared like a corpse in Edgar Allen Poe's basement. I think of the shape of things and realize that a corpse is not the right geometry to talk about the sun. My attention shifts to an orange Lifesaver and how Hart Crane's father was a millionaire who invented the popular candy but refused to pay for his college education. Crane's revenge was to jump overboard where he still is swimming with the fishes.

With no umbrella to shield the sun that isn't there a round hole remains in the middle of my table. One might say it's a size larger that the .38 caliber slug that just whizzed through my Adam's hat but I would never say that. Instead I put the octagonal pepper shaker in the round hole. It fits.

But nothing else fits in this cockeyed what I'm doing here in this movie with my eye on the blonde who turns out to be the twin of a red-head who took the rap and did a stretch up the river. I remember an old Chinese proverb about never double-crossing a double-crosser.

I'm trying to think outside the box but the box is getting fuzzier and I'm ready to blow this joint when I feel something heavier than a double cheeseburger landing on my head. The world is spinning and I'm deciding to quit this racket and enroll in pharmacy school recalling my mother's words about finding something I can always fall back on,.

Friday, September 3, 2010

A Chance Meeting

Imagine a dinner party with 30 literary and visual arts luminaries and you are the fly on the wall or perhaps in the soup doing the backstroke listening to them jabbering away.

From mid-century 19th to mid-century 20th Rachel Cohen in her book, A Chance Meeting brings these poets and writers and photographers and artists alive on the page. After enormous research from diaries, memoirs and biographies she has found connective threads that became the tapestry of the American literary landscape.

We are treated to a stream of numinous moments such as Helen Keller remarking how she felt, in Mark Twain's handshake, the twinkle in his eye. We tag along with W.E.B. Dubois and his professor, William James on their visit to Helen Keller.

Small gestures are carefully observed as Charlie Chaplin ducks into a Hungarian restaurant to avoid a crowd and stays for four hours studying a violinist whose body movements he will later use in a film. Joseph Cornell is arrested for loitering outside a movie theater. He was entranced by the lit booth of the ticket seller on an otherwise dark street.

We are brought along with Henry James Sr. and his eight year old son, Henry as they have their daguerreotype taken by Matthew Brady. We learn that the self-conscious look on young Henry's face may be accounted for by a remark made a few days before by William Makepeace Thackeray concerning his nine button coat shown in the portrait.

We come to learn of the centrality certain figures played in gathering and supporting their contemporaries. William Dean Howells was such a man of letters. He edited the Atlantic Monthly and lent encouragement to Mark Twain, Henry James and Willa Cather.

Another person to whom his peers flocked was Alfred Stieglitz. His early pictures were seminal in elevating photography to an art form and his gallery in the first decade of the century was the first to show Matisse and Picasso in this country. Stieglitz could talk for eight hours at a stretch. Some visitors to the second-floor gallery would purposely come when he went to lunch just to see in quietude what hung on his walls. This juicy anecdote comes from his elevator operator who also revealed that the door was always kept open. After a Picasso exhibit in which 2 of 85 pieces were sold Stieglitz offered the Metropolitan Museum of Art the remaining 83 for $2,000. They refused.

From Whitman to the Harlem Renaissance we get an inside peek at the passing parade; the same sex loving relationships known as Boston marriages, the father-son affection between unlikely people to the grudging support, jealousies and rivalries. I come away from the banquet satiated and thank Rachel Cohen for the invitation.

Indeed there is a generative body of poets, writers and artists who together can be heard as an authentic American voice, a noisy conversation across the century, unique in its struggle to articulate the inclusive yawp of the newly-arrived, the blues of the underclass, the untamed frontier and urbane East. It’s the hum and the hum-drum, the air we breathe.