Friday, February 28, 2014

What's It All About, Alfie?

I gave it a rest, took a step back to get a better vantage point. It didn’t help.  I know this much.  Writing is therapeutic. I suffer without the illusion of putting the world in order.

We saw a one-man performance of three Samuel Beckett works. Barry McGovern was superb; words poured out of him at the speed of our mind’s gibberish, stinging and tickling, at once. I can’t go on. I can’t go on. I’ll go on. Nobody I know captures the absurdity of existence as well as Beckett. Mortality hangs overhead yet we go on with a torrent of  words let loose as if from a broken spigot, hunting, grasping for some measure of meaning or control of it all, as though….

If I were the last one standing to greet the visiting aliens they might wonder why they went to all that trouble.  I haven’t the vaguest idea how anything works in this clutter of things. Not this computer I’m typing on or the bulb in my lamp or the TV, telephone, car, even how my clothes came to be. The only technology I might explain is an ice cube tray……but then again I don’t know what makes a refrigerator refrigerate.

It gets worse. We don’t know what we’re doing here except to multiply the species and enjoy our allotted time. Maybe register our wonderment and leave our mark.

So I witness the passing parade as if some clues might appear to my inner Sherlock in this era of connectivity. Two T.V. shows, House of Cards and Downton Abbey, have found their audience and I find myself looking for a common denominator. In a word it is, Control. One mirrors the slime of Washington D.C. ratcheted up a notch perhaps…or maybe not. The other transports us to those years when the last gasp can be heard of the British manor house, with its order and civility in which everyone knew his place.

Machiavellian ambition, however treacherous, seemed easier to take with a British accent. Peggy enjoyed Ian Richardson’s nefarious climb up the ladder but has trouble watching it Americanized in the hands of Kevin Spacey. Like it or not we find ourselves identifying with Francis Urquardt, now Underwood, in his calculated rise to the top of the heap. Adrift as we are in this sea of flotsam I suspect we can’t resist clinging on to anyone who pulls the puppet strings. He navigates deftly through the maze. Never mind his deceit, disregard for human life or indifference to values. He is the ultimate pragmatist. Obama, he's not. He leverages like LBJ, charms like FDR, plots like Dick Cheney. Politics is chess and he’s four moves ahead on the board. If he has sinned (and he has) and dies (as he must) trying to grab the reins, he has died for us, the congregation of the lost. A sacrificial offering who gave us a few dozen hours of a fabled climb up the beanstalk.

As opposed to this downtown alley we can always escape into Downton Abbey where the rituals and traditions, however anachronistic, are rigidly maintained. After all, one can’t expect the lord of the manor to put on his own pajamas. The place reeks of order and we love this tidy world. Of course melodrama is made of sterner stuff and there is no shortage of scandal and misdeeds to put to rights. The nobility of upstairs is matched by the hierarchy of downstairs. The butlers know when to become invisible. The titled class observes what is bred in the bone except for minor transgressions which can be remedied. The operative word is still, Control. We can’t get enough of that wonderful stuff.

Beckett’s characters are closer to the authentic self. But who wants to think about that? Better to live through our small screen plotters and players of a bygone time with a few hours of imagined control over this fractured and mysterious life.     

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Old Heroes New

Back in the day I had my heroes. There was the Man of Steel who leaped tall buildings and then returned to his bespectacled life. Then there was Elizabeth Cady Stanton or Florence Chadwick who swam the Channel both ways. I also idolized Jackie Robinson and Sandy Koufax.

All of them acted as singular individuals taking matters into their own hands and pushing the margins of what was thought possible.  They embodied the American Dream. Heroes and heroines must have an adversary. Athletes have the record book. The Suffragettes and minorities have the weight of social mores. Superman had gravity, itself.

With some sophistication and a broader view of the human psyche came the anti-hero. We took our heroes down from the pedestal for closer inspection and maybe recognized ourselves….on a good day. Over the years the anti-hero became more and more blemished. Redemption was hard-edged, hard-earned or hardly worth the time.

All of which leads me to our latest version in the virtuoso performance by Matthew McConoughey in, Dallas Buyer’s Club. Here we have a poster-boy for the guy you wouldn't want your sister to marry...a red-neck, womanizer, misogynist, homophobic Aids victim whom we are asked to cheer because he single-handedly defies the Food & Drug Administration and by extension, the government, Big Pharma  and Science itself.

I have no use for pharmaceutical companies but in our system they are the arm of research, manufacture and marketing. I do not condone their abusive practices or exorbitant profits. However this film takes down evidence-based science and a vital federal agency along with it.  

In its place we are asked to support renegade science based on anecdote and driven by loopholes and a good-old American entrepreneurial device for personal gain. This script could have been written by Ted Cruz from the Libertarian handbook.

First we are told that the FDA is the villain for withholding AZT from the market. Then the drug is deemed to be toxic when it is released. In fact it was made available quicker than other drug in history because of the AIDS epidemic in the late 80s. And why was it delayed at all? Because clinical trials first had to be made to evaluate benefits against risks. And why were their deaths associated with it in the early days? Because the optimum dosage had yet to be established. In fact AZT has become part of the cocktail successfully treating millions of AIDS victims for the past twenty years.

Vigilante justice is a running theme in Hollywood. The sheriff in High Noon became the Clint Eastwood revenge-seeker. We love our protagonist to break out of the herd, bring down the authorities and make his own rules. Now the cowboy has put on a white coat and become a doctor scheming to circumvent rational medicine. And he even get his woman in the last reel.

What’s next, stem-cell research? Climate change? Evolution?

Friday, February 14, 2014

Love Is the Answer

Even if you forgot the question. Not for cynics who avoid the word and sentiment, those who can’t get past the commercialism of the day, who scoff at flowers, candy and Hallmark cards. Get over it. It’s far too easy.

Phooey on them. Why not celebrate, embrace those in your life….life itself? Today is a reminder to express the most important feeling we can offer. Better yet to live the love daily, beyond the words which have been degraded by overuse. As Shakespeare almost said, The quality of loving is twice blessed….to him that gives and to him that receives.

Maybe it all starts with forgiving yourself..........for the blurt that came out of your mouth you want back or the words you didn't say but should have or the library book you lost but then found looking for your lost keys or the cup you chipped and the sock that  got away in the last laundry.  

Love is a large word. It can be Putin believing in his manhood enough to keep his shirt on. It might be Ruhani trusting Israel and Netanyahu returning the trust to Ruhani. Maybe even the Repugnants finding a smidge of humanity in their hearts or John Boehner loving himself enough to stay away from the tanning parlor.  The U.S. Olympic team loving their sport more than the medals. It might be forgiveness for that guy who got in front of you at the check stand or even the Donald Trumps of the world who are to be pitied for the hatred that poisons their mind and impoverishes their souls.

So this evening Peggy and I go out to a candle-lit table, toast our good fortune, family and friends and exchange poems. To be met, heard and seen, fully received. I know of nothing worth doing more than this.

And not once did I mention, Valentine’s Day.

Sunday, February 9, 2014

Shalom Slalom and Lots of Lutz

Imagine whizzing down your favorite icy freeway at 80 mph with speed bumps and mandatory lane changes. Don’t try it without a note from your mother. You must have bravado, strength, agility and a touch of self-destructiveness. I shall never understand the impulse to stare down death to feel alive, or more alive than the rest of us mere mortals. So it goes with giant slaloms and moguls.

Is it Mt. Olympus they are racing down after consorting with the gods? Maybe they pass Sisyphus on his way up. It looks life and death to me but not to Norwegians or Alpine skiers who probably regard the steepest slope as little more than a hill of beans.

As for the Lutz it involves reaching back, vaulting and rotating but on the outside rather than inside of the skate. A trained eye is alert to a mere flip which cheats by turning on the inside of the skate. This has become known as the Flutz. I now know more than I did twelve seconds ago.

Being a world-class Klutz I can’t imagine a Lutz. But I honor and respect all the athletes from 80 countries. Every one of them doing things I’ve never tried from skiers to skaters to sledders….even the three-time lugers who give mortality the finger at 96 mph.

The winter Olympics is both a coming together and a coming apart; a gathering of nations with good will and friendship and a fierce exercise in nationalism. Better to compete than blow each other up.

The opening ceremony was both buoyant and flamboyant. (Ras)Putin strutted his stuff with a pageant of Russian history and cultural heritage. We got the white-washed Disneyfied version minus serfs, pogroms, purges, gulags, Stalin or Lenin but that's all right. We couldn’t expect any better from the Texas school board’s redacted version of American history. Putin was hardly recognizable with his shirt on. I almost expected him to jump out of the stands bare-chested and wrestle a Siberian tiger. In fact earlier in the week he was photographed cradling a leopard.

Aside from power on display we were treated to references from the Russian pen of Pushkin the playwrights and novelists. It was topped off by ballet dancers choreographed with artistry and technological brilliance.

From where I sit transfixed on the couch watching the human body extend itself twisting, speeding, soaring beyond the imaginable everyone looks like a perfect ten. I don't want to hear about the ice dancer who performed with grace and verve but her twizzle fizzled while I'm still having my razzle dazzled.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Hit Him and Pass the Guacamole

Super Bowl Sunday is America’s highest holiday. It noses out Jesus’ birthday and resurrection. It dwarfs all the presidents and M.L. King. It rivals Black Friday which now occurs on Thursday night. It far exceeds any other event of the year based upon T.V. viewing audience (approximately 115 million). S.B.S. bails out every pizza joint, salvages the avocado crop and probably moves pre-diabetics into the full-fledged category. We don’t mute the commercials which cost 4 million bucks for half a minute. We eat. We bond. We buy and we bet. What can be more American?

I bet my friend Ralph $50,000 that Seattle would beat Denver. With the score 22-0 at halftime I told him I’d settle for $25,000 if he paid me now. He then haggled me down to $14,000 for paying cash. We agreed so now I am going to receive $1 dollar a year for the next 14,000 years.

Super Bowl Sunday brings out the glutton in us. We gobble with imagined impunity. Any New Year’s resolution we may have made about good nutrition is set aside which is why the event is held so early in the year. Carrot juice and celery sticks are not part of the ritual. We’re talking beer and munchies.

Certain vexing questions are answered this day such as how to eat pizza properly. Those with a college degree and library card eat with a knife and fork while the rest of us pick up a slice, fold it in half, drip a little and it disappears in that orifice below the nose. Since Obama took office and compromise is in the air I understand that the acceptable way is now to start off with utensils in hand and then revert to Neanderthal mode.

The game itself is just something to do while we’re eating. However some men slip into their game-face with paint and fangs. Hormones are tweaked. They growl and sneer at the mercy of their glands particularly if they’ve joined the office pool which can be for total points, number of touchdowns and just about any statistic.

I wonder if Romans got so worked up going to the Coliseum to watch the lions. Sunday’s game was between seahawks and broncos. The four-legged creatures did stand a chance.

Football is a sure sign of American exceptionalism. The rest of world plays and watches soccer and the players don’t end up with nearly as many concussions, stitches, fractures and neurological damage. We alone breed 300 pound plus Goliaths. We love to watch controlled violence just as long as the gladiators turn off the spigot a few seconds after the clocks runs down. Swagger is fine between the lines where Trash is the first language. We pretend it’s all about humility, sportsmanship and Aw Shucks. For us on the couch it’s a spectacle, pass the guacamole. For the players it’s a grunt & grind, show me the money and show me the way to get home without crutches.