Thursday, May 30, 2019

Proxy Wars

In a sense I suppose all wars are. Heads of State have tantrums and the next thing we know Joe the Plumber is fighting Charlie Lunchbucket. Those leaders who belong in Anger Management Class never met a war they weren’t happy to send others to die for.

Our own Revolutionary War could be seen as another chapter in the European battle for domination, an extension of the never-ending conflict between France and England fought on American soil which was, of course, still Brit soil when it began. But soil is famously fickle having been stolen from the indigenous people, then labored over by imported Africans and finally declared our own. And now to be trespassed by those neighbors to the south whose ancestors once lived here. Shocking!

After the Second World War the Cold War began when the U.S. fought the U.S.S.R. over who gets the best German Scientists. They plucked their share from East Germany, Poland and Czechoslovakia but the Allies snatched the greater number. Werner Heisenberg, of Uncertainty fame, was certain he wished to cast his lot first with Great Britain and later in West Germany where he continued work in advanced physics and as head of the Max Planck Institute. Another prize was Werner von Braun along with his team of rocket scientists. He lived happily ever after in the U.S. in spite of the great Tom Lehrer song….

Gather 'round while I sing you of Wernher von Braun
A man whose allegiance
Is ruled by expedience
Call him a Nazi, he won't even frown
"Ha, Nazi, Schmazi" says Wernher von Braun.

Don't say that he's hypocritical
Say rather that he's apolitical
"Once the rockets are up, who cares where they come down?
That's not my department" say Wernher von Braun
Some have harsh words for this man of renown
But some think our attitude
Should be one of gratitude
Like the widows and cripples in old London town
Who owe their large pension to Wernher von Braun

Fast forward to our present day where Russian intelligence nerds are working through the night with their nefarious deeds having first elected Trump in 2016 and now to reelect their guy in 2020. One can imagine Chinese hackers also busy at work…and there are more of them. Our hotly contested presidential election may well get decided not in an Iowa caucus over cable news but in the basement of a boiler room in Beijing or Moscow.

Each country has skin in the game. Trump has bifurcated the world with enemies also in Iran. They too have an educated elite, computer savvy. Since the McConnell Senate refuses to meddle with the meddlers maybe we deserve our fate. Hack away, hackers. They can do no worse than the nincompoops of the U.S. who voted for the would-be Fuhrer in the White House.

Saturday, May 25, 2019

Car Talk

I’ll never forget my first drive in a car…. possibly because it may never have happened. I was six years old at the 1939 World’s Fair. The big attraction was the Futurama exhibit by General Motors. I could have sworn we got into a car and it drove itself around a series of what we now know as highways and cloverleafs looking down at the City of Tomorrow. No traffic. No horns. No road rage or fender-benders. The vehicles were driverless and set apart at reasonable Intervals from each other. Yet when I now Google the adventure it seems to be a model of a city we were looking down upon from a revolving seat.

My relationship with cars went downhill from there. Driving in reality could never live up to that first encounter. Cars have never got much love from me. As a kid in NYC cars were that hulk intruding on our stickball game in the street. With a subway stop around the corner my family didn’t own a car until I was in college. I couldn’t tell a Studebaker from a De Soto. I marveled how my friends could identify the make when I blindfolded them. To me a car was a horizontal elevator. It wheeled me from A to B. I learned to add water to the radiator and oil to whatever it is one adds oil to… but I didn’t know a gasket from a flywheel.

I suppose a lot happened in my car over the years. I lost my virginity and found fallen keys, credit cards and smart phones. One day while driving on the slow lane a driver suddenly decided he needed the off-ramp and cut in front of me. To avoid a collusion I swerved up the embankment into the landscaping. Better to go up the greenery than down into it. This was to be my fifteen seconds of fame, as a helicopter flew overhead, I was the morning’s Sig Alert.  

My other incident happened on a very foggy Thanksgiving evening in 1954 or ’55. I was traveling through the thick with zero visibility on a freeway. I exited at what I thought to be the off-ramp. It was, instead, a few bushes and a boulder. To commemorate the occasion one might say my Plymouth landed on a rock.

Our present car is the color of dust or duct tape. It blends in with an overcast day or a marine layer of off-shore flow. If it weren’t for the license plate I’d never be able to find it in the parking lot. It has a pre-existing condition of being a salvage car and I’ve already added a few scratches to its pedigree. Past cars I’ve owned were named Burgess, Trevor and Fred. This one remains nameless. It may be our last one before we turn to Lyft.

If driverless, electric cars take over it will be a return to the Futurama as promised by General Motors. I have another powerful memory of that World’s Fair. I was walking along holding on tight to my father’s coat when I looked up and saw it wasn’t my father. I was lost in the crush of human sardines between the Trylon and Perisphere. If this were Dickensian times I might have ended up in a workhouse begging for more gruel or salvaged by some real estate magnate and sent to a private school full of little Donald Trumps. But, alas, my real father plucked me from such a fate.

I think I’m ready now to get into my nameless Toyota and take a leisurely drive to Oz where there’s no rush hour nor ever any jacked-knifed big-rigs or looky-loos. 

Friday, May 17, 2019

13 Ways of Looking at Donald Trump

A dozen plus one blackbirds just flew out of Wallace Stevens' poem expelling him from their nests.

Taking him out of the equation there are still dental appointments and dead batteries.

Does enormous red tie signify enormous red tie to Putin in plain sight?

Bound and gagged in an abandoned warehouse on the other side of town for 30 months while he ransacks our house.

After this morning’s rain each blossom on the coral tree rimmed with a silver lining making me hopeful for the 2020 election.

Sociopathic mob boss, pathological narcissist or flim-flam con-man… or all of the above?

Bill Sikes surrounded by versions of Uriah Heap. The Dickens you say.

Peaceable kingdom of squirrel, two mourning doves and hummingbird bullied by a crow. I refuse to think of him. 

As he worms his way into my psyche I finally get a chance to end a sentence with the word vermifuge.  

Red cap, orange hair, Pinocchio’s nose, forked tongue… no bird tweets so much.

After his rally the undocumented clean up the illegalities.

Opera composed each day with arias of false notes.

From high in the tower at 4 A.M. blurts drop from the weight of their deceit. Garbage truck awaits.

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Mumsie: Woman of the Century

My mother claimed January 1st, 1900 as her birthday and NYC as her birthplace. I’m told many others born offshore and prior also chose that day but I happily grant her that auspicious date as the curtain went up for the 20th century. If nothing else she deserves credit for creativity.

It took a good deal of pluck and spunk to get by with five brothers to contend with in the mean streets of the Bronx as her father scraped by as a peddler and house-painter. I expect my uncles teased and tormented her in those tenement years. She learned how to become tough.

I addressed her as Ma early on. Mother was out of the question. Later she was Mom and after she died I somehow hit upon Mumsie as her reference for reigning matriarch; meant as a term of endearment along with my daughter’s memory of her unforgettable ways.

Mumsie did battle with the world. Marketing was a form of combat. Eyeing the fruit vendor if he put a thumb on the scale. If the butcher gave her a proper cut and good weight. If the landlord cheated on the radiator heat. If that truck was an assassin as we crossed the wide avenues. All this time, while she fought in the trenches, my father was behind the lines back in general headquarters, strategizing our survival, sticking pins in the map.

I remember how she would climb up the three flights of our walk-up apartment with groceries from the A & P, put everything away and then check the addition wondering what cost eleven cents. After ten minutes of verbal abuse she would say, Oh, yeah, the lemons.

She got my father through the high school equivalency test. And then tutored him through Pharmacy College which was a mere two year course. My Dad was a very slow reader, probably dyslexic. He was as non-confrontational as she was in your face. She cursed the shopkeepers (gonifs), damned the landlord (the momser should burn in hell) and even cursed God for God knows what.

I was called a good-for-nothing-kid. Not entirely inaccurate. I also had to fend off a barrage of Yiddish damnations, which supplied me with a rather limited vocabulary of the mother tongue. Suffice it to say Mumsie had a mouth on her. My well-being depended upon turning a deaf ear to her rants, a faculty I borrowed from my father.

However all is forgiven. She was making her way in what she perceived as a hostile world, masking her fears, which morphed into nastiness. I suspect my mother had many models of behavior by siblings in her growing years and later in those hard times during the Depression. I never heard of such a thing, she often muttered when someone crossed the line, a demarcation which left her behind. I also doubt that she ever heard her own words. They just poured out of her unconsciously. She gave voice to the aggravations of a generation.

Yet in spite of all that she also nurtured, encouraged and offered affection that only I could have received. The fundamental values came through so I was deprived of a deprived childhood.

She was fierce in her need to assimilate. To speak with proper, unaccented grammar and elocution. To dis-identify with old world ways. We observed no holidays yet in her rush to become WASPY she got a bit confused. Maybe she couldn’t cook a turkey because Thanksgiving was decreed to be for gentiles.

In her twilight years Mumsie mellowed revealing a frightened little girl. Even if she never ran from Cossacks she carried the shtetl in her bones. When I drove her around neighborhoods with pretty homes and flowering trees she couldn’t take her eye off the road warning me of reckless drivers. Mumsie, dear Mumsie, what a price you paid… not for the flounder at the fish market but for those decades unable to laugh at jokes or see a bloody rose bloom on the apron of the butcher in the midst of sawdust and fly paper.

She had a thing for cross ventilation as if bad air like an ill-wind, could enter from one window and exit as fresh air through another. I’d like to believe she left this world transformed having rid herself of a dreaded miasma able to finally manage a deep inhalation in the safe unknown.      
She had  for cross ventilation s if bad air like an ill-