Tuesday, November 26, 2019

When the Micro Meets the Macro

There is something in us that looks for correlatives, signs within that correspond to that external world which exists on cable news or right outside the window. It is as if we might align our private life with the events of history on one long continuum.  Historical events we find ourselves in the midst of, have their way with our psyche whether we know it or not. Sometimes we mirror the news, other times we may act out its opposite.

In literary terms the objective correlative can sometimes be regarded as a tired, cheap shot. The patient is dying while outside the bedroom window a leaf is in advanced state of decay. The dark and stormy night references the weather inside the house as much as outside. Yet art of any kind conveys emotion best when revealed indirectly and not told.

When Rudyard Kipling visited Japan on his prolong honeymoon it was Kyoto’s season of cherry trees in bloom. He wrote about walking under this blizzard of petals as well as an azalea tree on the verge of bursting with fruit. All of this was possibly code for his wife’s pregnancy.

Four days ago was the 57th anniversary of JFK’s assassination. The shooting took place one day before my daughter, Janice’s, first birthday. Like many one-year old babies she was not talking yet. In fact she wasn’t even babbling; she was congenitally deaf. We had suspicions but no confirmation of her hearing loss yet I had witnessed her sleeping through loud noises. One doctor brushed it off, another confirmed our worst fears. While probably not historically accurate I conflate the Kennedy shooting with my daughter’s diagnosis. It felt like an assassination.

April 12, 1945, Thursday afternoon. I was coming home from Hebrew School, about a year in advance of my Bar Mitzvah when the news hit the street: Franklin Roosevelt was dead. People were openly weeping as if giving permission to each other. For me it was his voice now gone. Roosevelt was my President, the only President in my lifetime and he was more than that. His intonations shivered me with a beneficent divinity. I realized he was my God. His death was, for me, the death of my religious belief.

My body is in its Trumpian upheaval. A whistle has been blown. The deconstruction of our Democracy under his malicious imbecility is matched by the precipitous fall of my anatomy. Suddenly arthritis is having its way with me from ankles to shoulders. My joints are inflamed and testifying loudly. Bones are conspiring to overthrow my constitution. I am being impeached.

I can’t blame Donald alone for all this. Like the Fuhrer he needed help. I blame the invertebrates in Congress who have made a Faustian pact to throw a blind eye and deaf ear at the miscreant in order to serve another term. Perhaps only a spontaneous remission can save my architecture and the structure of government conceived by our Founders.

The only good that comes to mind about Trump's presidency is the Golden Age of Comedy it has engendered. However Peggy's love along with her irrepressible spirit and creativity are ample compensation for me. The more I moan the more she flows. So I shall shut up; I'm a lucky guy. 

Sunday, November 17, 2019

Messages Unsolicited

It may be mid-day in Mumbai but it’s in the wee hours of the day here when the phone rings. Just one ring is sufficient to rouse me from a hard-earned sleep. One and done. The No-Robo system works that way. All day the damn land-line is tolling. Ask not for whom says the poem. Sorry, John Donne, not for me. When I am asleep I am an island unto myself.

Again with the phone. Now it is ringing in earnest demanding to be answered. After all it could be Publisher’s Clearing House Sweepstakes. Or the Nobel Prize Committee looking for that other Norm Levine. But no. It’s some guy telling me it is open enrollment season. I should only have my health. I figure if they really cared about my wellbeing they’d leave me alone. This time it’s 10 A.M. I am picturing the caller in some rented space between a tattoo shop and Thai massage parlor in a low-rent district in Manhattan. Seven o’clock here so I might as well meet the day.

Another barrage of one-ringers over breakfast which I’ve learned to ignore like punctuating fits and starts, some abortive sound and fury signifying nothing.

Now it is ringing again. Some campaign worker in Arizona working the phones for Mark Kelley or the Ditch Mitch office pleading for a few bucks. Too close to call says the volunteer in Maine telling me everything I already know about Susan Collins. The problem is I agree with everyone and I’ve already pledged on line.

Now it is Doctors Without Borders or the A.C.L.U. or Habitat for Humanity or Natural Resources Defense Council or Southern Poverty Law Center. They send me maps, calendars and address labels. Stop already, I’m not worth it.

This time the phone voice says, Hi, this is Bruce from Microsoft Service Center. You have been hacked by foreigners so you must go to your computer right now or we shall disable your Internet. To which I reply, Two sentences and you’ve lied to me four times. If your name is Bruce, I am Mahatma Gandhi. Secondly you are not from Microsoft; they don’t call people and lastly they never threaten their clients.

Next, I am told, in combative tones, that Social Security is after me or my credit cards are overdue or maybe my sister is stuck in Nairobi and needs money. Good thing I don’t have a sister unless I’d misplaced her at an early age.

Now an online pharmacy is calling because I foolishly left my phone number eleven years ago when shopping for I know not what. By this time I ask the man who is trying hard to disguise his Indian accent if he really wants to spend his life annoying people. Does your mother know what you are doing, I inquire. This always elicits an early click.

(Much can be said about getting rid of a landline. Mobile phones can always be stored in the far end of the house during sleep and set to low volume or vibrate. I might vibrate myself to happiness) 

Email shows a message from my Greek friend, Basil, suggesting a foursome early dinner at a new Mediterranean restaurant next Wednesday. By now I am crusty, cantankerous and curmudgeonly. I don’t like driving after sundown, say I and I also hate goat or feta cheese. I suppose that would mean I’d be stoned to death in Athens or turned into an ox. He says I’d be saved because the gods couldn't ever agree on anything and an ox sent to India would not lead a bad life.

My day was made. 

Thursday, November 14, 2019


Say that we have cleaved and you can’t go wrong. Even the word has been cleaved with each meaning, (separating or coming together) derived from a different source.  It’s one of those Janus two-headed ones staring off in opposite directions. Henry the 8th had it both ways. He first cleaved in marriage and then had some wives cleaved by decapitation if they didn’t produce. He gave new meaning to separation anxiety.

It’s come to this…a bifurcated nation with Us, the Good Guys cheering for Trump’s removal and Them, each watching the news as it breaks and each off to our respective cable-planets. If Trump were dragged from the Oval on MSNBC and CNN, on Fox they’d be showing a car chase in Wichita.

Then we cleave the other way with 100,000 coming together to cheer their team on any Saturday afternoon football game. The Super Bowl gets ten times the rating as the Democrat debate with over 110 million watching, betting, munching, cheering, jeering.

Let us cleave. The Democratic convention next July will be held in Milwaukee, about ½ hour flight from Cleveland. I mark that as a good omen. If the country can’t cleave together at least the Party must. We have the bigger tent, by far. We also have the largest electorate who cleave off in a stupor on Election Day; maybe they still can’t get over Saturday’s big game.

Nearly 60 million people play Fantasy Football. Do they cleave?  I wouldn’t know but in my Lyft rides last week I was able to speak that universal language with three of the four drivers. I doubt if they ever heard of Adam Schiff or John Bolton.

Joe is fading, Pete is rising, Elizabeth and Bernie are neck and neck. Newbies are leaping in. It’s almost like a football game with players being carted off in rhetorical stretchers and non-roster faces showing up not on the program.      Where are the household names, the All-Americans by acclamation? The guy with FDR's voice, JFK's vigor and Jimmy Carter's folksy sweater and Bible creds.  

It looks to me that no candidate will reach a majority. We’ll be looking at a brokered convention probably decided by super-delegates who weigh in after the first ballot. My guess it will likely be None of the Above.

Donald has set the bar so low any used-car salesman might be the one. We need somebody who can have a beer with Joe the Plummer, who can look Charlie Lunchbucket in the eye and talk the talk and at the same time speak fluent soybean with Farmer John and health and welfare to the rest of us.

Or do we need a Black Hispanic woman billionaire with magnetic charisma, name recognition, oratorical skills, unintimidated by the Bozo with broad-enough appeal to Never-Trumpers and who doesn’t strike fear in the Heartland? Did I almost describe Oprah Winfrey? Maybe but…I don’t think she’s the one either. Maybe what I want is a composite. What ever happened to Gregory Peck? Call Central Casting.

I am writing all this to find out what I think. I have until July 13th, 2020 to change my mind but it is becoming clear to me, with a mere 50 weeks to November 3rd, it all comes down to a single issue. We must win the White House or the American experiment in Democracy will cease… to be replaced by four years of tyranny and irreversible destruction to our planet. Nothing else matters for now. Not the form of healthcare nor even income inequality.

Yes, yes, of course I agree with Elizabeth Warren but she is a 
Hail Mary (football talk). Sadly she doesn't connect with enough receivers.

There was a time when no one I knew was to the Left of me. Now there are voices I’m hearing that a Centrist is no better than a Republican. They are wrong. A Biden-like substance would not stand in the way of a progressive Congress, nor would that person appoint judges out of the Federalist Society, nor would he/she block vital climate change measures or sane immigration measures. I don’t care if our candidate takes money from hedge funds. Wall St. Bankers also have grandchildren. Some even have a conscience.

There is no need to score a touchdown to win. A field goal will do; even an extra point. This is the moment for  Americans to cleave as in forming a huddle.