Saturday, May 28, 2016

Breaking News

Donald Trump does not exist. He is the vacuum nature abhors, the no-there-there, the nothingness beneath the orange hair, the card-sharp with fake watches up his sleeve who came in on the last train from Yuma and just left. He’s the rumor of gold in the hills, the petrol-spill who slid in on snake oil with a pocket full of panaceas. The wagging tongue, the trouble in River City, alien landing in Grover’s Mill. He is Friday’s circus, Saturday night’s bacchanal, and Sunday morning’s brimstone. The shadow lurking in the hearts of men, the recall of hot air bags, miasma from the swamp, the choke of smoke-stacks and cigar fumes from the boys in the backroom. He is the exudate of our sap. The residue of killed dreams. The man who promises to move the clock hands back, to restore America to a Norman Rockwell magazine cover. He hurls abuse from his Tower of Babble. He shouts hallelujah to God, guns and now gas enough to frack us to the Promised Land.

That is why Trump is so beatable.

And this is why he is not:

He has come with the wind, as the zeitgeist. He smells the fear behind the gates, the snarl in their teeth. He channels the massive blurt of America, the distilled and refracted rage of shuttered factory towns. Trump has triggered his twittering finger, aligned with the worst case new, the buzz. He is tomorrow’s tabloid headline. He feeds them red meat, tracks the convulsion in our heartland, arrives with a bag of empty answers but he can mimic the mood as the ventriloquist of discontent.

Trump is what Marshall McLuhan predicted. He is the unscripted orator / conversationalist. Casual not canned. He is hot because he is cool. Cool enough to be a blank screen upon which any projection obtains. There is no debate, no issue to chew on. He has made ignorance an asset, replaced substance with a mash-up of hash tags. He broadcasts ten times a day from his Twitter-feed. He understands the erasure of the American mind. He has captured the antennae and dodged the narrative but owns the meta-narrative. His incoherent static is the media, is the message, is all there is. The message is that there is none. He presumes we are somnambulant with an attention span of seconds. What he says will be forgotten by tomorrow. We love that he says it like it is even if there is no “it.”
e promises

The breaking news is that the news is broke, fractured into bites, then particles, now dust. In Donaldom the treasury is broke, government has broken down. He is the broken-field runner without a huddle, zigging and zagging downfield, stepping out-of-bounds, breaking rules, past missed tackles. He is Groucho in his gait, Mussolini with his chin out, Chaplin’s tramp turned Trump, turned Fuhrer.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016


A friend used to say it was reduced from one dollar.

My view is that I was probably reduced by virtue of being there for nine years, kindergarten plus 1st through 8th, housed in the same building at age 13 as those age 5. This might account for my social retardation. I’m not sure if I had a long adolescence or no adolescence at all. At age 29 with three daughters I was ready to be a teenager. Chronology doesn’t always follow the book.

I shouldn’t blame P.S 99. It was my cradle and my crucible. The testing ground. My first act played unrehearsed. It never occurred to me how everyone else was also improvising. Being smart was far easier than being confident or popular, athletic, artistic, mechanical or musical. I wasn’t even particularly smart but I paid attention. God, did I pay attention! I did well on tests which is altogether different. But I was not a reader of books. We had none in my house. I memorized my way through majoring in rote.

I can still smell the place, hear and see it. The wooden chairs, metal stairs, chalked erasers, wood shavings from pencil sharpeners, the pitted desks with ink wells, saw dust sprinkled on the floor where some kid threw up. I can hear the thud of the basketball on the dead backboard in the schoolyard with a handball court behind the shortstop. Somewhere along the way I was transformed from klutz to sure-footed, running down a fly ball or driving in for a lay-up.

My elementary school is remembered for its elementary rules like bricks upon bricks. The wardrobe rule, no-talking rule, sitting-up-straight rule and penmanship commandments. I learned to obey. Walk in a single file. The war was going on. We were well-behaved; that’s the least we could do. We had air-raid drills. Bond drives. Two close friends were refugees. My tin foil collection might win a battle. I even knitted squares for quilts.

In Art class I barely mastered stick figures, triangles for Christmas trees and snowmen composed of dimes, nickels and quarters. If justice was to be served I’d still be in 7th grade repeating Shop class for the 71st year. Nor could I carry a tune from here to there. They labeled me a listener and consigned me to the back row where I excelled in lip-syncing. But I also became a world-class listener.

Every teacher’s name has been retained and I can recite each person in my graduating class. To the grand processional from Aida we marched into assembly. I was done with the place just 4 months after Hiroshima. The synchronicity was not lost on me. My penal servitude, that war with myself was done. I was to enter high school as the post war period began. It felt as if my life was being orchestrated.

Aside from Shop, Music and Art my toughest class was Composition. I couldn’t prepare. I had to call on my imagination, that room in my brain still shuttered and inaccessible at the time. These 635 blogs written over the past 7 years are my make-up exam.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Lamb Chops

Driving in Hollywood, an area we do our best to avoid, Peggy said she has a yearning for lamb chops. As a rule I don’t carry them around with me. Not having charged my mobile phone and barely knowing how to use it anyway we did not go to Musso and Franks where great lamb chops are served according to their website which I found out when we got home.

Next time we find ourselves in that area I promise to drop into to Musso and Franks noted for their brusque waiters and lamb chops. Both are traditions going way back to when assorted movie stars and wannabes hung around waiting to be noticed by gossip columnists; also frequented by mobsters waiting not to be noticed except by Raymond Chandler. What was a lamb chop to a bad guy was bread and butter to Chandler.

I think I like surly waiters more than I like lamb chops. A friend once complemented a waiter for his speedy service and was told to put his money where his mouth is. Waiters like that can make a person feel like chopped liver but nobody can make you feel like a lamb chop.

I haven’t had lamb chops in so long I forgot why I dislike them. In fact maybe I got over that. I expect there’s an unpleasant association buried deep in my psyche. Maybe an MRI would reveal a lamb chop lodged in my memory bank the same day my shoelace busted or I caught my pants in a bike chain. For some reason rack of lamb sounds more promising to me than lamb chops. After the Rams moved their football team to St. Louis some restaurants offered Lack of Ram to remind us. But I digress.

Tha Hollywood famous eatery may be one of the last restaurants that also serves Welsh rarebit and lobster thermidor.  And if they don’t transport you back to the Golden Age there’s always their famous chicken pot pie, available only on Thursdays.

When I first heard the name, Musso & Franks, I thought they featured some sort of Greek dish and hot dogs. I wouldn’t advise ordering a dish of Musso. You might find yourself on next week’s menu. If you’re looking for Miso try Little Tokyo; or for matzo go to Fairfax. It turns out that Joseph Musso partnered with Frank Toulet 97 years ago to open the restaurant. In those days movies were as silent as the “b” in lamb. In 1927 it was sold to John Mosso. You can’t make this stuff up. It was just a case of moving their vowels.

The place was a hangout not only for Chaplin, Garbo and Bogey etc… but for an A-list of mid-century American writers including Faulkner, Hemingway, Hammett, Fitzgerald and Saroyan. I’ll bet they all tried the lamb chops. It worked for them. After a 3-martini lunch one could stagger down the block into the wet cement of Grauman's Chinese theater.

I can see myself in a back booth of Musso & Frank’s staring at a lamb chop. One bite takes 65 years off the calendar and suddenly I’m in the company of half the Algonquin Round Table; a time when Red Cars crisscrossed our sprawl, Gene Kelly hadn’t yet sung in the rain and Donald Trump was still in pre-school knocking over other kid’s blocks. To think what I’ve been missing all these years.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Balderdash, Poppycock and Hogwash

Sounds like a law firm in the Beltway with Falderal up for partnership as well. For the next six months our threshold of noise pollution and mendacity shall be put to the test. The assault on our hearing will lead us to shut down our antenna and cultivate our cynicism. Maybe that’s the whole idea.

Both presumed candidates have opened themselves up to volleys of negative ads simply because there is so much to be negative about. One represents establishment politics with all its dysfunction, exhausted language and tone-deaf ears. The other is the poster boy of exurbia, know-nothing, pseudo-evangelical, pandering populist claptrap.  

Hillary has the Benghazi albatross around her neck along with her email indiscretions, husband Bill’s peccadilloes and the Goldman Sachs speech to answer for. The Donald blurts for breakfast, boasts for lunch and spouts blathering nonsense for dinner. Then he bloviates his way to sleep.

It’s all part of the great American tradition of political vitriol except back in 1790 the average guy could tend his field or garden and never hear the foul mouth and forked tongue of our illustrious founders.

Jefferson called Adams a hideous hermaphroditical character with neither the force nor firmness of a man or the gentleness and sensibility of a woman. T.J. was scolded as obnoxious for his hypocrisy and liaisons with Sally Hemmings. Even Martha Washington got into fray calling Jefferson, detestable. Hamilton was attacked as illegitimate, vain and a self-conceited coxcomb. Too bad he couldn’t have answered these scurrilous attack with a hip-hop number back then.

Parliamentarians in our mother country make sport of their well-rounded vituperations. Prime Minister Cameron has already engaged in verbal combat with Trump. The Donald has all of Europe holding their breath but not their tongue. All except Putin who has a muscle in his head where his brains belong.

Insults tend to slide as hides get thicker but hogwash has a way of sticking to the commonweal. Trump supporters care nothing about fact-check. His poll numbers get a bump with almost every fib. At least lies are fresh and authentic while canned rhetoric hits the snooze button. Trading barbs is fast becoming our national pastime. I’d rather watch the hum-drum chess game on grass we call baseball.  Even as politics worms its way onto the sports section and entertainment pages it is neither spectacle nor amusement.

None of the words in my title actually describe the gravitas of Trump’s poisoned rhetoric. Just as Hitler was dismissed as a clown so too has media been complicit in legitimatizing Trump into public discourse with a shrug and a smile.   

Thursday, May 12, 2016


It began during the 2008 primary. I started getting solicitations from the McCain campaign. I would send back an empty envelop so they’d have to pay for the postage. But that didn’t matter. I continued receiving letters of thanks for my considerable contributions.

Clearly they had me confused with another Norm Levine…some wealthy and badly misguided mogul. I was his generic equivalent and we know about them, not-to-be-trusted.

I remain on the Republican mailing list. This must be how I was invited to their inner-circle meeting at an undisclosed located between Oklahoma and Wyoming. I was deep behind enemy lines in the company of Kochs.

I can report to you they are all in a frenzy. The dinner party guests, in mandatory golf shirts, almost ended in a food fight when a contingent of red-capped Trump henchmen threw caviar at some Dump-Trump Old Guard retro and they retaliated with oysters.

We all retired to the situation room and calmed down with Courvoisier and cigars and the strategy session began. An aborted threat to place favorite son candidates on every ballot was shouted down. The hope was that both Donald and Hillary would be denied the needed majority of electoral votes and the election decided by the Republican House of Reps.

Agreement was reached to throw our money with Trump and urge him to go nasty. Attack Hillary with his inexhaustible arsenal of insults. Nobody likes to see a woman go shrill and off the rails.  If that doesn’t work, make nice particularly when speaking before the PTA.

I had to rearrange my face in a constant sneer to blend in. I knew when I got the invite that my Ross-Dress-for -Less wardrobe would not do. I was forced to borrow clothes from my cousin. Fortunately I spotted a chair the same color chip as my shirt and I disappeared into the upholstery. 

The plan was to launch a 500 million dollar ad campaign against Bill showing clips of Monica, Genevieve Flowers and assorted bimbos with Hillary as the ultra-enabler. It could open with a giant zipper going down. 

I tried to wrestle the cell phone out of my shoe to record the strategy but the room was designed to scramble all messages. They called that the Romney maneuver.

Even the bullies concurred that Donald must never say anything of substance. Stay away from issues. No programs. No policy. Provoke, provoke, provoke. All blather, all the time. Keep her on the defense. 

By this time the Vulgarians had merged with the paleo-Conservatives. Everyone agreed with themselves.

The beast had been uncaged, now he must be fed. Stoke the anger. Stoke the fear. With a little luck a terrorist attack could occur. A sub-committee was assigned that task.

In a passionate plea by Sheldon Adelson the assembled were reminded that a White House takeover would win all three branches for a generation. And he was giving odds for this at his several casinos. He then said to get out our check books.

At this point the real, rich Norm Levine showed up. I disappeared in the cigar smoke, slithered away and finally scaled the wall….unlike that other wall which Canada may have to build to keep millions of Americans from seeking asylum. 

Sunday, May 8, 2016

The Great American Sandwich

I haven’t had a BLT in 70 years, give or take a decade. I distinctly remember the sign over a soda fountain in my father’s drug store showing the sandwich along with a coca cola for 29 cents. I should have bought a few dozen back then. If we’d only had zip-locks bags instead of Cut-Rite wax paper.

These days I have a weakness for tuna melts and, when no one is looking, a Reuben sandwich slobbered with sauerkraut, 1000 island dressing and the obligatory swiss and corned beef or pastrami. Enough to raise my vital signs and look for someone who knows CPR.

86 on the BLT-down. Pure poetry. Could be a first line but I gladly relinquish it just as America has given up on Wonder Bread. Furthermore none of this has anything to do with what I want to talk about.

Here comes the pivot….

The American sandwich I had in mind is the Atlantic and Pacific coasts as bread with a heartland on the inside. The two coasts are artisanal ciabatta, focaccia or corn rye while the stuff in the interior is exceptional 100% American cheese, caged-chicken or slaughtered cattle and mayo.

The electoral map is a sandwich of blue bookends and red meat. The three Pacific states weigh in with 74 electoral votes while 14 Atlantic states, including Pennsylvania (Philadelphia is considered an Atlantic port city) and Vermont along with purple North Carolina comprise 166. That adds up to 240 blue votes out of the 270 needed for a Democratic victory. No sweat.

Why is our population so distributed? Probably because the coastal states took in the immigrants which created dense and diverse cities. This led to more empathy, more compassion and a generally liberal persuasion. Urban centers demand infrastructure and public policy, all the ingredients for liberal thinking.

This can also be true of cities in the mid-west particularly along waterways but manufacturing centers come and go as the rust belt has shown.  As points of arrival coastal cities refresh the population with constant youth and vitality.

This doesn’t mean that anomalies don’t pop up from time to time. Witness California’s contribution to Western civilization in Tricky Dick, Donald Duck and Ronald McDonald and more recently Arnold and Ronald. Now New York has bequeathed us the paragon of socio-political retardation, Donald Trump.

However, in general, rural America is last to accept change. What Donald is really saying is, Make America White Again. Maybe BLTs are still there at Woolworths in Wichita. As if someone can take a bite and return to 1950 in a time machine.

I’m getting hungry again thinking about the submarine sandwich I had yesterday. The one at our local Bay Cities Italian Deli is called a Godmother on crusty home-baked Italian bread and the kitchen sink inside. I think of it as cosmopolitan, inclusive and spicy enough to accommodate the palette of every country. Someday soon this will be a sandwich to represent all America. Something to live for.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

No End In Sight

As the whale said to the herring, You call that a fin?

Movies and books seem not to end anymore; they just stop. Maybe it’s the same reason poetry doesn’t rhyme….because life doesn’t either and it keeps going on.

When asked to describe his style John Coltrane said he starts in the middle of a sentence and works his way in both directions at once. I sort of get that.

Irresolution is all the rage. The reader or viewer is left to imagine the possibility of multiple endings. The faint of heart who can’t handle the maelstrom of being deposited in that land of uncertainty can always turn to the comfort of a football game which demands a finality in sudden death overtime.  

In defense of endings what would a joke be without a punchline? Two favorites that come to mind are, So where’s the toast? and My wife is from Minsk. (For 11 cents I'll tell you the rest of it.)

The pendulum swings between art and artifice. Lovers of classical forms such as opera, 19th century literature and deathbed scenes in movies are comfortable with artifice. Be it happily ever after or when the bad guy falls from the rafters in an abandoned warehouse on the other side of town.

My preference swings back and forth. I like a minor key, understated epiphany. No grandiosity. Just an aha. I’ve been conditioned by stories that constantly ask…and then what. Samuel Clemens has Huck Finn’s last sentence, But I reckon I got to light out for the Territory ahead the rest. Because Aunt Sally she’s going to adopt me and civilize me and I can’t stand it. I’ve been there before. This strikes me as both conclusive yet open as can be.

Fitzgerald told his tale of Gatsby and ended it perfectly with, So we beat on, boats against the current born back ceaselessly into the past. Of course this becomes more profound as one has a past to reference. When you’re 18 it doesn’t work so well.

The indifference to conventional endings not only subordinates a wrapping up of conflict but also shows an indifference to plot itself. A recently watched Italian film, The Dinner, ends with a screeching car off camera and then the screen goes black. We are left to write our own finale or better yet return to explore the beginning and middle of the narrative to feel the impact of what was intended.

Oh Mama, can this really be the end / To be stuck inside of Mobile / With the Memphis blues again. (Bob Dylan) or as Herman Mankiewicz put it, when he was in New York, Oh, to be back in Hollywood, wishing I was back in New York.

Maybe that is our lot, having been expelled from the garden, always a bit out of place longing for home. The story is without end. But the real point I want to make is…..

Monday, May 2, 2016

Peggy Day at 95

No, no, don’t tell me the secret
of your alchemy, how every morning,
in your elongated moment, you conjure   
another jar on a hill in Tennessee
with the arrangement of bagel and bowl
in the still life of our breakfast table
or hear in a riff of Ella singing Gershwin,
a phrase the shape of things to come
on your smoky white page
where a dog-walker becomes Max Planck
and Bogey in his mole-hill of beans
is suddenly a sherpa tribesman in his climb
of mountains doubtful as white elephants
or an emperor stripped of shmatta
scoops stanzas of ice cream. Like Stevens
you take a two mile walker-walk
from room to room, light bulbs overhead.
Still in your peignoir prime, ever nubile
in your unstoppable streetcar named Desire,
you are altogether you
there in your sunny chair,
with late frothy cappuccino,
peeling the cara cara orange
from its old chaos to autumn auroras.
You have not yet learned how
to act your age, not yet
in the mind of winter.
You are my runcible spoon,
between mince and quince, half here,
half fiddling on your un-wed, sliver
of a lunatic moon with cows jumping.
What say you, Camus, is there no point
even with a sharpened number two pencil
that can travel 35 miles in absurd scribble?
Preferably Not said scrivener Bartleby
but Yes, Barnacle said, Yes,
on the last page after the final No,
Yes and one more Oh!