Monday, October 31, 2016


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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Dear Ilaria...Born October 12, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Coulda Woulda

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, October 17, 2016

Looking Backward

Certain years pop out right off the page.

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

Friday, October 14, 2016

A Bus To Elsewhere

There are times, like now, when we might wish to do a Rip Van Winkle and wake up when it’s all over or crawl into a sensory-deprivation tank or join a religious cult and chant to the wall in a loin cloth. My favorite letters of transport are lines of poetry.

I’m a lucky guy. Every morning, without fail, for at least four years Peggy has written a poem. She sits three feet away breathing some rarefied air transforming what is finite into the sublime. I get to inhale what she exhales gasping for breath, scratching on the window of her bus as it leaves the station.

Mine are the first eyes to be mesmerized by her poetry. Sometimes I struggle to find a way in. It may require realigning my consciousness to hers with risky leaps off linguistic cliffs or constructions only granted by poetic license.

The result is transportation out of the fray, this daily morass. It’s like having a private Uber to the land of elsewhere where newspaper-English is no longer our first language.

It has been said that every poem fails because words are incapable. They can reach but not grasp the ineffable. Peggy says it is not the words but in among them, what is glimpsed or barely suggested. As Keats wrote in his ode, Heard melodies are sweet but those unheard / Are sweeter.

Maybe elsewhere is not necessarily the desired destination. The muse, be it music, visual or composed on the page can deposit us straddling the tent with one foot inside and the other one outside. Lifted yet grounded. A flight with return ticket.

The choice of Bob Dylan for the Nobel Prize can be seen in these terms. Not so much a blow to the literati as one of inclusion saying, make room. A populist note not in the Trumped-up sense but that other authentic one of this land made for you and me. Song as literature is a reach back to the Homeric tradition. Certainly his lyrics pass the sniff test. They are often as bewildering as a John Ashbury poem as if written under a Coleridge hallucination. The honor is also a nod to Woody Guthrie’s voice as well as Odetta’s and Joan Baez and others over the past six decades.

As a mode of transcendence religion has its place. Not for me but I can imagine getting swallowed in the orthodoxy. Ben Lerner writes about stepping into an elevator at a Jewish hospital in NYC. He got spooked on his way to the 7th floor when the door opened at every floor though no one got on or off. He got out on the 4th and took the stairs only later realizing it was a Sabbat elevator for those who are forbidden to touch the button. To be fully observant one could get lost in the literal with every floor presenting more prohibitions and mandates.

More meaningful ways of renouncing this world of increasing folly and indecency come to mind. As a devout atheist I thank God for all the windows, doors and off-ramps leading out. To each his flying bus.

Monday, October 10, 2016

Thank You Now Please Leave

2016 will go down in history books as the year we almost lost our collective mind thanks to Donald Trump. Yes, we ought to thank him the same way we should show our gratitude to everyone on death row for enacting the deed that the rest of us have repressed or at least learned to contain. He has given license to our most loathsome impulses.

The candidate is nothing more than a yuge mirror, wavy and cracked held up to the mindless face of America. He has helped us see ourselves in the aspect of a self-aggrandizing lynch mob in a prolonged tantrum. Shocked and awed as we were maybe, just maybe, we will wake up and take a long look at what we have become.

Yet all this begs the question: From whence he came? Like Schrodinger’s cat is he part toxic wave, part orange particle? How did such a creature emerge?

I would argue that The Republican Party of the past eight years has seeded him. They have pandered to the God and Guns discontents, given rage to grievances, incited them to loathing and fanned a latent native racism to delegitimize the President. My guess is the cauldron will continue to simmer for a long while.

It is nearly the bicentennial of Mary Shelley’s, Frankenstein. Her monster actually had no name. We have appropriated the doctor’s name as his own. Whether she was warning of the menace of an Industrial Revolution or bad science or a dozen other interpretations the experiment got out of hand. Unlike in movie versions her creature spoke, even recited Milton’s Paradise Lost. But he was also so repulsed by his own distorted image he turned destructive. Our man Donald shows no such discernment. He can’t get over himself, his genius, his lovable nature, his magnetism and irresistible appeal to woman everywhere.

Trumpenstein didn’t rise from a scientist’s table on a dark and stormy night. He is more of a Golem assembled from grease, poison clay and mud, an inevitable result of malicious leadership in Congress,talk radio and cable TV. The creators are now themselves fleeing to nether regions, disowning their creation. Sorry folks, he is yours.  He roams and blurts with impunity. He is the newest American horror story.

Wednesday, October 5, 2016


It all comes down to this….how to stay in the moment, above the fray, while preparing a table in the presence of mine enemies.

Last week I called a Canadian pharmacy to order one of Peggy’s meds. In the course of conversation I asked the gentleman if he had a spare bedroom in the event Trump gets elected. He cracked up in piteous laughter. Easy enough for him to live in the moment.

My moment is all static. On the tube voices barbed and shrill(ary) / Speaking of Trump and Hillary / He to the dump / She to the pillory. Last night in one corner was the man with the evangelical hair trying to walk with Jesus. Except that he is running with Zeus, that mischief-maker and hurler of lightning bolts. His opponent was all jabber and jibes, leaving limp words on the floor and bad optics. I’m done with it.

So here I am staring at this mostly blank page. My moment. Word-squiggles come and go like dog paws in the snow. Much can be said for absences. Yesterday I had a bone density test. It’s official: there are two inches less of me than ten years ago. I miss those inches. I’d grown emotionally attached to my spine and all surrounding tissue yet if I had it back I wouldn’t know what to do with it. I still couldn’t slam-dunk.

I’m back now, back in the moment. Digressions are allowed, I think. I must fact-check that. The peach is mealy. My fern looks distressed. But the hummingbird seems to be applauding at the feeder. I wouldn’t want to interrupt his ovation. The shrubs are still verdant and nameless flowers are flowering. I’m thankful for this kind weather and the sundowner breeze at 15 mph. Peggy is at my side still robust and nubile. She is a Millennial of the previous century. Yes, this is my green pasture. As close to Eden as I’m ever liable to row. I shall not want for anything more.

My Rx is to grow a portable Walden, a place of retreat. Disobey civilly. It’s all right if Ralph Waldo drops off some bagels in the morning. Even an afternoon stroll through Concord is allowed provided with deaf ears. The perturbations seen and heard on T.V. and social media are just gnats to be swiped. Sheep bah. Equine nay. America is being grated again. I will not allow the noise into this moment. The silence is a psalm, enormous. I am no longer at two with Nature, these paths, that still pond. At the table before me bread will be broken. No more exhausted words. Stringed instruments are permitted. Oboes too and bassoons. Now reeds. Here is my cup running over with water music, waves of fanfares and adagios. Can we not begin here?

Sunday, October 2, 2016

In the Emergency Room

There has been a weather change,
a stain on the fabric releasing foul air.
Birds of paradise lost. The candidate
is only the face of it, Bozo poster-boy.
Poll numbers putrefy our name.
What reeks most is the festering mass.

Orifice below the belt are said
to be indecent subjects,
better left unsaid. Mine
shut down. No waste water, no waste.
Shush! Have I no decency?  No,

far greater is an impacted mind, un-oxygenated,
fertilized for still-born ideas, deaf to the logic of civility.
Am I to bear witness to 1933, the year of my birth
and death of civilization in the land of Ludwig
and Johann? Will the world ask again, Why? How
could this have happened in the country of
Gershwin and Whitman and Emily Dickinson?

Are we to shred and disown what Lincoln
conceived and dedicated, Twain’s eye for hypocrisy,
FDR’s Nothing to fear, Kennedy’s, Ask not?  
Jimmy Carter reminds us that a strong nation,
like a strong person, can afford to be gentle,
thoughtful and restrained, can afford
to help others. It is a weak one that behaves
with bluster and bragging

Yes, you are scared. Yes, yes, and nobody hears you… except.
The promised rose-garden, Good-Humor truck, good work
in the widget-mill, familiar faces in the barber shop
mirror…all of them gone. Your man will clean
the excrement of America the same way
Joe the Plummer is the guy you call to perform a bypass.

My Trump moment. I am down in the mud hurling invectives.
I shall deny I just said that. He’s got to me, your honor,
insinuated himself, choking my duct, clotting the stream,
causing road-rage on the grid. Miasma hovers. Avoid inhalation.
America is in the emergency room, catheterized upon a table.
My mother knew back then. She understood duality.
How the dreaded draft causes disease cured only by fresh air.
I’m counting on this wind to shake dead leaves from the bough,
to urge lotus out of the mud and crocus to push up from dead land
to aerate our hearts.