Saturday, October 28, 2017

Stuff Happens

I should have known it would be a bad day when the morning paper didn’t arrive. Then my shoe lace broke. When the toilet backed up I called the plumber. (What’s a “b” doing in there?). The guy swiped $75 from my drawer when I was in the kitchen ruining Peggy’s blintzes, one of which opened up. The crooked plumber then wanted to replace a root-encrusted pipe for $3,000 which prompted my landlord, in a drug-induced stupor, to scream at me till his wife told the guy to get lost.

I then drove to the airport to pick up my daughter, Lauren, at the Southwest terminal. Push button but no ticket. The gate of the parking garage won’t open. Five cars behind me are cursing. We all have to back up in a stream of traffic. I could fudge and report that when we tried to leave we were hemmed in by a construction truck whose driver decided to park behind me blocking our way…but that happened the last time I was at LAX.

To conclude the day, the World Series game ended badly for my team but worse than that the remote control was inoperative. I couldn’t get the mute button to work so we had to endure all the commercials.

It is tempting to make of this a metaphor…something to do with Trump… but sometimes, Dr. Freud, a cigar is not a phallus; it’s just a cigar. No women I know have penis envy, I think. In fact, if a bunch of guys were trying to problem-solve it would help if one of them had a vagina. But I digress.

When things go wrong it has reached the point that we, (alright, I) re-contextualize the schmutz, the broken blintz, the stuck gate, and assign every unmuted ad, a false attribution. The danger is in aligning our own moments of existential angst and random despair with the political minefield and wasteland. There may be a correspondence but we can’t allow this Age of Blight to contaminate our psyche and reinforce our cynicism.

Yes, the guy in the Oval room is beneath contempt. Yes, we’ll be fortunate for the planet to weather his tantrums and inanities but let’s not cede our inner landscape to his ravages. Eventually gates will open, news will arrive and it won’t be infantilized commercials.

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Harvey and the Greeks

The Greeks have bequeathed us a great deal…. Socrates, Sophocles and Laryngitis. Philosophers, dramatists and language itself. They modeled a form of democracy, warned (some of) us about hubris and attributed much of what is inexplicable to a roster of gods.

In his monumental work on Greek mythology, The Marriage of Cadmus and Harmony, Roberto Calasso writes that the role of men is: slayer of dragons. Woman are notable for their betrayals.

At this point I stopped reading and paused. Hogwash, say I, after thinking about Brutus and Judas et tu all the heads of state who betrayed and lost a generation in 1914 and later in Vietnam while suffragettes slew the dragon, injustice, to get the vote. I never met a dragon-slayer among my buddies. Nor was I ever betrayed by her or her.

He cited Ariadne and Medea. Sure, the former may have defied her father, Minos, by laying down thread, like breadcrumbs, for Theseus to find his way out of the labyrinth after he killed the Minotaur. In some versions he married her (that’s the least he could do); in others he just jilted her holding the thread. Who is the betrayer there, I ask you?

Medea got bad ink for killing her kids but that was less a betrayal than revenge. Besides, it was only Euripides account. The other playwrights did not have Medea committing infanticide though she is described as a sorceress. As a moon-goddess she  was deemed a lunatic by the Greeks. It was not uncommon labeling women as such, their ways being mysterious to men.  

In fact it was husband Jason who betrayed Medea by leaving to marry for money. You’d think the Golden Fleece would have been enough.

It seems to me this notion of female double-crossing was a fiction written by a fraternity of power-grabbing, insecure and domineering men who believe that sexual intercourse is what happens with one consenting adult….which brings me to Harvey Weinstein. He wrote the book.

Give a guy with an appetite below the belt, in a position of power within a culture of attractive women competing for parts. Put him in a room with one or two couches and the next thing you know the only dragon he’s fighting is his own demons. Harvey meet Donald. This is not eroticism, it is bullying and violation, Zeus asserting his dominance. It is betrayal of self as well as one betrayal after another against Mrs. Weinstein. Men betray but they don't call it that.

I wonder if the Greeks would call the dozens of women coming forward against the gropers, harassers and rapists as betrayers. That label is the twisted thinking of a newly emerged patriarchy obsessed with curses and revenge. All this in the Golden Age of Pericles upon which our Western Civilization is modeled. Harvey’s defense might be: the devil made me do it; an old story for which there is no corresponding myth except for Zeus, the predator-in-chief.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Light in the Dark Ages

Imagine living between roughly 500-1000 AD. If it wasn’t Goths pounding at the gate, it was the Visigoths.  No sliced bread, Saran Wrap or Seinfeld re-runs. They couldn’t even watch TV by candlelight.  But nobody knew it was dark until the lights went on.

Of course all this is the Eurocentric view. In the Middle East and Asia great civilizations were sprouting…which, in turn, sent armies of Christian Crusaders off to do battle with those infidels and later to colonize. In Africa it was the same story. As Desmond Tutu put it, When the missionaries came to Africa they had the Bible and we had the land. They said, let us pray. We closed our eyes. When we opened them we had the Bible and they had the land…. which, more or less, brings us up to date. 

Today in Trumpdom we live in the shadow cast by his dangerous decrees, appointments and blurts. Our Western clock is being set back to end time. An ill wind blows fanning fires, leveling islands, raising sea level. The wrath of ignorance prevails while we watch comic books on big screens. We have become a nation of bar room brawls and shoot-outs at the OK Corral.

And yet…… there is not only good news to be found on page 11 or 23 of the newspaper but an occasional lotus can be seen pushing up out of the mud. I could cite the latest Dodger victory but that meant bad news for the poor Cubs.

In fact, kindness and generosity are so pervasive they wash over us unnoticed. Even those otherwise deplorable, paramilitary, climate-denying sheep who Bah mindlessly over Fox News, display continuing instances of normalcy, unlike their inspirational leader.

As we were driving to a non-power lunch yesterday the thought of road courtesy occurred to me. How we obey stop-signs (more or less), traffic lights, automatic signals and lane changes. How our very driving grants us the opportunity to practice civility. Without it we’d be bumping into each other. Thanks to the car we create our own psychic space and have learned to observe and honor our fellow strangers. And no highwaymen as in the Dark Ages.

It has taken a Trump to bring me to this search for acts of common decency. A very small sample size of glorious fall foliage is happening outside our window. Soon winter camellia will appear and then bulbs will return with their new spring collection of dresses. I expect there were also moments of illumination in that other Dark Age along with random acts of true spiritual humanity even within the stranglehold of the Church.

Saturday, October 14, 2017

Epistolary Exchange, 1951

Dear Mrs. Trump,

I’m so sorry you and Mr. Trump couldn’t make it to open-school night. As Donald’s kindergarten teacher I wanted to reach out to you regarding your little boy’s behavior.

Perhaps you are not aware of some disturbing issues which have come to my attention ranging from knocking down classmate’s building blocks to verbal abuse to apparent embezzlement of money as milk monitor.

When one of the new boys wet his pants it was unkind and disruptive for Donald to berate him in front of the class particularly as the child was a refugee from war-torn Poland having witnessed the extermination of his family. Nor was it gracious of Donald to ridicule his cerebral palsy classmate for failing to stand for the national anthem and calling him a loser.

Your son’s habit of running with scissors is also a menace to the health and safety of our otherwise well-behaved group of five-year olds. Evidently he does not believe that rules of decency and civil conduct apply to himself.

I feel an intervention is necessary at this early stage to remedy the situation before it becomes irreversible and I urge your immediate attention.

Miss B.H. Lieberthal

Dear Miss Bleeding Heart Liberal,

My husband and I do not appreciate your fake assessment of our son. What you cite as irregular behavior we regard as strength of character displaying leadership qualities. May I remind you that my husband sits on the board of this private institution and you serve at his pleasure?

Our boy, Donald, is by all accounts a gifted child far ahead of his fellow students with whom he is greatly esteemed. He may, in fact, be the smartest child to have ever entered your class. This was amply demonstrated when he parlayed the milk money into an investment fund paying twenty percent interest…until it went bankrupt due to excessive government regulations.

Mrs. D. Trump

To Whom It May Concern,

Be assured I do not plan any legal action against the school or its board of directors for my precipitous removal with neither cause, warning nor severance pay.

I am now well situated in my new position helping troubled children with full parental participation. My experience in the classroom served as a cautionary note for early detection of aberrant behavior though I doubt little Donald will be able to mature into a good citizen without prompt remedial action.


B.H. Lieberthal  

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Windows I Have Known

No, not the eight, nine or ten………point opposed to a Mac. We're talking apples and oranges. The kind of window you pressed your nose against and breathed a puff of cloud. No, not that new cloud of which I know not and hope to live my remaining allotment of days without. All of which reminds me of that dropped cloud on the foggiest night of my life when I was driving in the soup to a Thanksgiving dinner in 1954 and I drove up into the freeway landscaping mistaking it for an off-ramp.

Can we drop the I.T. altogether and speak as if I.T. was a pronoun? I am only fluent in Luddite. There’s a troglodyte in my chair and he was here first.

I’m looking out of our breakfast table-east-facing window. On a sunny morning it lights the leaves on the coral tree. Birds visit. You can see the dew congeal. But today the sun can’t break through the cloud-cover. We have off-shore flow, a.k.a. marine air situated as we are six blocks from the ocean. The weather page of the newspaper agrees. I am not complaining. Another six blocks east and it’s probably blue skies. Still, this glass is also a window within.

It takes me back to those artfully cluttered window displays. My father’s drugstore had one. Empty boxes of Bromo Seltzer stacked and pinned alongside Epsom Salts and Ex-Lax. The man was a sort of artist deftly arranging the merchandise with crepe paper and some eye-catching photo advertising Evening in Paris perfume. Art and artist both gone, victim of progress.

My mother knew all there is to know about windows. She held the secret of rooms…before Feng Shui. It is, of course, cross-ventilation, opposing windows. Air in, air out. She knew the difference between deadly drafts and fresh air. The former is disease carrying miasma air to which all childhood sickness could be attributed and that other, invigorating air to which one is banished to refresh the lungs before returning to school. Windows held the key to this arcane practice of restorative healing. 

Then there was that window on the 95th floor of the Hancock Building in Chicago we looked out from, while celebrating our anniversary about ten years ago. We were about to exchange poems, as is our custom, when Peggy realized she left hers back in the hotel room. I whizzed, not out the window, but down the elevator, ran across the street to the Seneca Hotel, collected her poem and raced back up the 95 flights before our dessert arrived. A falcon right outside our window looked on in amazement.

I might also tell about that window I peered out of as I was flying my two-engine propeller plane in reconnaissance behind enemy lines during World War I…..but I really don’t want to talk about it.    

I must return from this wind-driven reverie to my trusted Windows Ten Point One before these allusions escape out through the glass opened a crack to the fast-disappearing world.

Saturday, October 7, 2017

Archie Lives

Whew! Glad to be done with this novel which is a 250 page descent into the hellish thought process of the Old South. Walking in the narrator’s shoes is tough going as he relentlessly and increasingly reveals himself as an insufferable, racist misogynist unable to reconcile himself to modernity.

The novel is a good lesson in remembering not to conflate the author, Walker Percy, with the voice of the narrator. Just as Orson Welles was not Citizen Kane nor was Norman Lear, Archie Bunker.

Of course, Donald Trump seems always to be lurking in one’s mind these days. Is there anyone, real or imagined, analogous to our head of state (I cannot bring myself to write, President T…..) in terms of poverty of intellect, arrogance, vulgarity, soullessness, deceit and malice?

In the aforementioned Walker Percy book, Lancelot, the protagonist speaks while confined to either a prison or psychiatric hospital. The only question in my mind is whether our Donald will be removed in handcuffs or a straitjacket. This is a Reductio ad Absurdum presidency. What seems so obviously wrong-headed on its face apparently is not to a big chunk of America.

Can it be we are living inside some comedic sit-com? Archie is president without a laugh-track. No Edith or Meathead to set him right. What we thought was dead forty-five years ago must have been buried alive.

As old beliefs die they become an art form. We can joke about them…or so we thought. Old World superstitions. The British Raj. Sailing off the edge of the flat world. Victorian manners. Child labor…. no strike that, it’s on the GOP agenda.

It turns out that, All in the Family’s, Archie Bunker, was seen by half of America as an identifiable model. They didn’t get the joke and now the joke is on us. Norman’s Lear’s miscreant clown roams the heartland.  

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Yogi, Peggy, Hillary and the Whole Damn Thing

Since Trump has embraced football, at least the anthem and concussion-causing tackles, Clinton would do well to ponder the wisdom which baseball has to offer.

If Hillary had listened to Casey we wouldn’t be living in Trumpastan today. No, not Casey at the bat but Casey Stengel, the sage and mentor of the great philosopher of the 20th century, Yogi Berra. Stengel said that the art of managing is to keep the guys who hate you away from the guys who haven’t made up their minds yet. Hillary failed to keep the nasty nincompoops away from the mindless morons.  

Casey also warned that games are not won, they are lost. It was Hillary’s to win but she fumbled the ball on the one-yard line. Ooops, wrong sport.

Everything we need to know about life is in baseball; coherence and chaos, precision and randomness, certainty and mystery all in an eternal rundown between 1st and 2nd base. It is a board game played on grass, seemingly linear with one pitch, one batter, one inning at a time. But in fact it is simultaneous with nine players shifting an enormous step or two anticipating the strategies dictated by stats compiled by nerds. Yet when all is said and done none of it matters because each situation is its own unquantifiable puzzlement. It remains for us, like Talmudic scholars, to ponder the metaphors.

Baseball came out of the primordial ooze when some Neanderthal broke off a tree limb to propel an on-coming rock. Oh, what fun said he and the next thing we know grown men in some sort of matching pajamas are getting paid millions of bucks. Overpowering brawn is cheered but so, as in life, is a crafty klutz.

It’s been said that much of what Yogi is said to have said he never said. However his most profound statement was when he advised a slumping teammate to try swinging at strikes. Pause and consider these words to live by. First it means recognizing when a strike is right in front of you. Then it means not swinging when a pitch is out of your zone but going for it when it is.

Take it out of the ballpark. We are all standing at the plate with a bat in our hands; we’re all seekers. Few of us are finders because we are not seeing what’s right there. Poets see. They pick up what others let go by. Nobody I know swings at strikes more often than Peggy. Her bat is an antennae. She welcomes the world and makes something out of it the same way William Carlos Williams wrote how so much depends upon the red wheelbarrow glazed with rainwater beside the white chickens. Peggy will write about the still life of bowls and cereal boxes at our breakfast table…even motes. As the poet Eleanor Graham put it, Life gives us moments and for these moments we give our lives.

I call these strikes. It’s alright to swing and miss. It’s even OK to swing occasionally at balls high and wide. Yogi Berra was one of the greatest bad-ball hitters and yet he rarely struck out. He almost always put wood on the ball.

Trump was on his own portable mound he takes everywhere, throwing wild pitches which his throng bought hook, line and sinker. Hillary didn’t see the fat fast ball down the middle.