Sunday, February 28, 2021

In the Time of Two Viruses

(This not a poem. It only looks like one in which some paragraphs got pretentious and thought they were stanzas. But it has no lift. I’m hearing a final thud.) 


Even as our arsenal of antibodies delivers its shock

Covid is not in awe, busy unmuting its mutant.

It’s tit for tat, is it? Then take this and this!

And we still have that other toxic miasma,

Trump residue, against which we have not

achieved herd immunity. What’s heard

is the herd of sheep. Bah! 

 

Donald, part Big Mac, hollow and where’s the beef?

Part duck, he quacks and everywhere a quack, quack. 

Over his four years, virus-Trump has morphed

from stormy erection and MEGA resurrection

 to rigged election to mindless insurrection.

 

Masked in flim-flam, delusions and lies

his cover has fallen away and he walks unmasked

having washed his hands of a half million deaths,

a government in shambles, a nation divisible

and an ignorant army of somnabulant thugs.

 

 

Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Each from his Perch

When I had my pharmacy Wilt Chamberlain walked in one day. I had my head down and when I looked up, I thought a tree had made its way into the store. He was wearing a  cropped tank top and I found myself staring into his belly button. In my brief conversation he told me he was returning from a volleyball game. At 7 ft. 1 it seemed unfair but then again Kareem Abdul-Jabbar could look down on him. Now I’m wondering what it must be like to see the world from that angle.

Yogi Berra was with the New York Yankees for eighteen years as a player. He stood at 5 ft. 7 in. In fact, his position as catcher lowered him another couple of feet to approximately 3 ft. 7 in. He spent his time situated between the umpire and the batter at a level with their belly buttons. From that crouched perch he looked at his teammates in the way conductors, with their backs to the audience, observed their orchestra.

As Berra said, You can observe a lot by watching. He did a lot of watching and orchestrating. From almost down in the dirt he was grounded in common sense. Some of his wisdom can only be understood as inside baseball talk as when asked what to do about a teammate’s batting slump. Berra’s answer was, Try swinging at strikes. 

Translation: Only commit to what IS hittable; don’t chase bad balls. The pitcher will know this and you will never see a strike again. Or to put it another way, seize what you can and don’t waste your time running after foolish stuff or you will strike out. It doesn’t matter that Yogi didn’t follow his own advice; he was probably the best bad-ball hitter in the game.

Books have been written about all his pithy pieces of wisdom, many of which he says he never said. Maybe that is the ultimate honor to have words attributed to you which you might have said but didn’t.

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar is also a valued voice. At his height, 7 ft. 2 inches, he is closer to the gods of Mt. Olympus. He has gone on, after his basketball days were over, to become an author, historian and spokesman for Civil Rights issues. He has transcended those days as the highest scorer in the history of professional basketball. He contends that his mind is his greatest resource.

Yogi wrote that one cannot think and hit at the same time. It takes a fine mind to make such a statement. Berra is referring to all those failures in the batter’s box who tried to outthink the pitcher. They would be advised to rely on their muscle memory and not take themselves out of the moment to analyze what they were doing wrong.

Both Yogi and Kareem exceeded their dimensions. They saw things from a different latitude. The statistics they posted may never be reached again but they have achieved a life even beyond those numbers.

One was a common man whose utterances have become immortalized as the epitome of common sense, awkwardly expressed. Berra was an imp who played tall and saw with a street-smart erudition tapping into a larger humanity. Listeners come away scratching their heads and nodding in agreement.

Abdul-Jabbar is that rare combination of a scholar-athlete whose lofty words have a special ring of truth, whose perspective is not often articulated. His sky-hook shot was unstoppable. His insights come from the rarefied air he breathes.                                                                                                      

Monday, February 15, 2021

Q and A

No, not Qanon. They are a different question and answer.

In the decade of the 1930s when capitalism was on the brink of extinction, I look to pop culture to describe the way it was. Movies provided us with the stuff of dreams. Crooners crooned, killing us softly with a song. Ma Perkins always had a pie in the oven. Dr. Goodfellow would be making a housecall soon and scribble a prescription that would make us whole in seven days whether we took it or not.

Jigsaw puzzles were the craze. I had a few myself. I vaguely remember spreading out all those pieces looking for the straight edges of cloud or brook. And when I finally got the brook to stop babbling along with all the other irregular shards it was always an idyllic scene as if, as Rimbaud said, It was of Eden I was dreaming.

Detective stories were also widely read, watched or listened to. We wanted answers by the last page or final reel. This disintegrating, baffling, indifferent world must be put to right, brought to justice or tidied up. Somebody was to blame and we had Ellery Queen, Charlie Chan or Sam Spade to dig up the truth along with an army of private eyes, cops and mild-mannered guys with a cape under their white shirt to do battle with evil, those crooks, rustlers and mad scientists.

Radio also gave us answers with Dr. I.Q., Information Please, the Quiz Kids and the Answer Man to name a few. Life was a quiz. If only…….

Today we’re still looking for What’s Wrong with this Picture. The Republican Party is a jigsaw with leaders talking out of both sides of their irreconcilable mouths. Some voters can’t make up their minds as if they had a mind to make up. What evil lurks in the hearts of men? What drives a person to relinquish his autonomy and hand it over to a flimflam artist? What primal fear compels a man to become a feral beast? How does a nurturing woman who fiercely advocates for the life of a fetus care not a hoot about the life of a person born? Why would a voter turn against government, the very institution, which provides them with healthcare, unemployment insurance, living wage, clean water, unadulterated medication, and old-age security? What makes a person militate against their own well-being?

Sorry, Virginia, there are questions with no answers. Live with it. For some, Mercury is always in retrograde. Nothing aligns. There are pieces missing to the puzzle and no straight edges. Crimes, against which Captain Marvel is still marveling and Krypton looks like that proverbial Better Place we all seem to go according to the obits.

Yes, the world is in flux…….but it’s always been fluxing. What was good enough for Grand Dad was not really good enough for him. He, too, was yearning for an imagined time. The elevator operator lost his job. So did the Chinese laundryman. And the soda-jerk. The milkman is finished and the guy who drove the Good Humor truck. Where are all the floorwalkers? All gone. Get over it.

Those early movies taught us an essential life lesson. We learned to distinguish between the real and the fantasy. We walked into the dark theater with eyes still wide with the sun and staggered out three hours later as if back to Kansas from Oz. We knew to expect that bullet aimed at our hero’s heart was only a flesh wound requiring a bandaged head by next Saturday. We didn’t live in that penthouse with parents in tuxedos. We just accepted the illusion and somehow knew it wasn’t our reality. Not an answer to hard-times, just another piece of the puzzle we instinctively put in its place. The answer may be blowing in the wind but it is just out of reach; we need to keep yearning.   

As for Qanon they need to be either arrested, committed or deprogrammed, one nitwit at a time. 

 

 

Sunday, February 7, 2021

My Godfather


I’m reading another book about my Godfather. I was born a couple of weeks after he took over and he died fifteen days after my twelfth birthday. Of course, I never met him but I felt he knew me. I did see him once riding in a convertible in the rain. Actually he was to me more of a God than a Godfather.

The April Thursday he died I cried along with almost everyone else I passed coming home from Hebrew School. God was dead I told the rabbi. He said God didn’t care what I thought. I’d never hear Franklin Roosevelt’s voice again, that patrician intonation as if from on high.

The book I’m reading is The Defining Moment by Jonathan Alter. It’s the fourth one I’ll have read about my childhood hero. The more I know the more I’m baffled about this demigod. He was duplicitous. He was empathetic. He charmed. He was a visionary. He had brilliant political instincts. He made a Faustian Pact with Southern Democrats, turned away a ship of Jewish refugees and interred Japanese-Americans yet he, arguably, saved Democracy in 1933 and again during World War II. According to Oliver Wendel, Holmes, Roosevelt was a man of second-rate intellect but first-rate temperament. He was, in his bones, an optimistic man whose sunny outlook was contagious as if he had a hidden resource. Carl Jung found him impenetrable.

When Eleanor was asked by a reporter about his thinking about so and so, My boy, she replied, the President doesn’t think, he decides. In a meeting with Orson Welles, Roosevelt said, Orson, you and I are the two best actors in America. Politics is, to some extent, theater and FDR knew his audience. In those hard time with banks closing and people lined up to withdraw their gold the cry was to install a dictator. He answered that call as someone who could set things right but he did it through congressional acts. When he threatened to publish the names of those who had hoarded gold if not returned to their bank in two days no less than 300 million dollars in gold was promptly returned. Almost sounds like a Frank Capra movie.

Not a hundred days but about a hundred hours after assuming the presidency he presided over a banking bill which was so hastily composed it was presented to the House of Representatives on a napkin. The Speaker said, Here it is. Let’s pass it. They did on a voice vote without reading it. This is stuff of a Frank Capra movie.

Naturally, I knew nothing of this at the time. I only knew that he followed me as I grew up with his picture on the walls of my classroom, posters of the Four Freedoms taken from his speech, the presidential buttons I wore on my beanie, and that voice coming out of the art deco speaker of our console radio with his Fireside Chats that grew an audience of up to 62 million. I bought War Bonds because he said to. I also knew the collection box for polio passed around during intermission at the Austin theater during Saturday matinees.

I read about him now as if to get the full story about a family member, long gone. The complete words by Holmes of that oft-quoted assessment is, In my meeting with Franklin Roosevelt I’m reminded of his cousin Theodore…second -rate intellect, first-rate temperament. Nobody thought to ask which Roosevelt he was talking about. In any case FDR carried the day and the next twelve years through breadline and headlines of a war fought across two oceans.

What got us through the Depression was his disposition, perhaps more than legislation with the exception of Social Security. Nothing to fear, he proclaimed, but fear itself. I dimly recollect those words spoken while I was still in that embryonic sea doing the backstroke. Who wrote them and that whole Inaugural Address is still a matter of speculation. Jonathan Alter argues it was largely Roosevelt, himself. He delivered then and he embodied them. His smile, buoyancy and projection of happy days again were the right message then and they work for me now in these equally perilous times.                                        


My Godfather- Cancel

 

Thursday, February 4, 2021

The Right to Sleep

Given our allotted time on this orb it seems unfair that we must spend about one-third of it on our pillows, oblivious to all the adventures that waking life holds. That works out to between twenty-five and thirty years, for us late octogenarians, considering my infantile period, day-dreaming and the occasional afternoon nap. However unaccountable sleeping may be, it certainly isn’t wasted. In fact, we can’t do without it and it is more to be cherished as we go into our dotage.

I’m now at the point where a good night’s sleep is more than a gift; it’s an inalienable right just behind the Pursuit of Happiness. No, pursuit won’t do; I want the attainment. Pursuit feels like the definition of, insomnia.

How I get to sleep is of little importance. I deserve it. After all, I almost fell asleep writing this page, then at 4 P.M. with a book on my chest and again on the couch watching a movie when the room went dark. Now here I am at midnight fidgeting around trying to empty my ever-diminished brain. I start thinking about virulent mutant strains ... but enough about Trump. The prospect of an apocalypse or even a toilet paper war is not a prescription for somnolence.  

Instead, I go to images of babbling brooks, or silent stretches of green fields and swaying trees. The next thing I know I’m naming body parts with three-letter words, eye, ear, lip, jaw, etc... I’m up to twelve from top to bottom. Don’t ever try this. Every new word charges the synapses congratulating myself with applause and I want to get up and take a bow.

I’m told there are some among us who fall asleep as their head hits the pillow. What a talent! I’d gladly trade my skill-set for this except I don’t have anything much to barter. I can’t ski, surf, sky dive or sing. Maybe I could have learned to carry a tune if I had just not slept for so many years. I’ve also never sailed a boat, submerged into a shark tank or slam-dunked. The list of non-achievements is enough to keep me up another hour.

Butterflies, bull frogs and baby dolphins never sleep and giraffes get away with a half hour nap now and then. Even if they wanted to, where would they put their necks? The more I think about it the less complaint I have. 

Now I’m growing increasingly bored by all this and my lids are getting heavy………….zzzzzzzzzzzzz.

Monday, January 25, 2021

How Am I ?

Thanks for asking. Or was that just me wondering out loud in my daily assessment? Considering all the body parts I would give myself a high grade. Of course, some are growing weary and others are sloughing off altogether. Then again I understand a million or more cells have recently been added. Welcome, have a piece of fruit. Don’t ask how many planks in this architecture I’m walking around with.

I just Googled that question and see there are 206 bones and 600 muscles to say nothing of connective tissue and assorted organs humming away. Fortunately they all quietly take their rightful place but some are loudly asking for attention with itches, cramping, inflammation or burning as in the neuropathy in my toes. Others may be silently plotting my overthrow with nefarious deeds. How are you, spleen? Getting enough love? What’s happening kidneys? At least my lungs and kidneys have good company with their twin.

How amazing, this specimen we are!  With the Stay-At-Home order my face is slowly disappearing behind a shrubbery of hair, not only covering the east, west and south of me but, to the north, my eyebrows have now joined the crop on my head. I am now a bushy beast with an opening at the mouth and a protruding proboscis. The hair on my head looks like an untended garden as if I’m a client of Albert Einstein’s barber. What used to be a clean-shaven fallow field is now a bumper crop of random seedlings. It wouldn’t surprise me to see a dandelion sprout up any day now.

Remind again me why are we are upright? Between my several auto-immune disorders and side effects from the medications I'm being brought to my knees. I have a distant memory of walking on all fours. Imagine getting shoes for our hands or gloves for our feet. It would certainly relieve the strain on my back. I’d just have to remember to avoid those gravelly roads. I could even learn to love bananas while swinging from trees.

Admittedly, I’ve never been much of a nature-lover. I’m hopelessly a big-city guy. I don't remember even having any stuffed animals as a child. I never met a tree I felt an impulse to hug though I do admire the spectrum of their dying leaves. Nor do I feel any love for crocodiles or snakes. However, I’m now ready to make amends and proclaim kinship with my furry cousins. There are worse ways to spend my next incarnation.

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

A Bit of Wisdom, A Bit of Folly

Love is a verb. It is how we meet and care for one another. A dance of anticipation. Mattering like nothing else. But more than transitive doing it is intransitive being. Watching the squirrel. Listening to the Bolero. Sharing cauliflower souffle.

God is a question………..and that’s not a bad thing. Though it isn’t a word in my vocabulary. An interrogation of the unknown. What we wonder.  The imponderable. 

Poetry creates silence….even as it sings. The poem blesses and it curses. It leaves a residue. It has tiny apertures for the reader to enter.  It goes beyond rhetoric, beyond all those words dead from exhaustion. Or it uses those words in new ways to reinvigorate them. It makes me wish I wrote them.

Morning is an exclamation point. The time when all those vivid dreams vanish. Maybe the melon ripened overnight. Maybe it hasn’t yet. The possibility of an intruder. How strange the banana looks all of a sudden from this angle. The eastern sun printing a bouquet on the wall. A chill different from the evening.

I’m growing a beard. It feels like a crop on the arable soil of my face. It has been in wait all these years, regularly mowed but now sprouting. Maybe I look like Sigmund Freud. If I leave it alone I’ll resemble Walt Whitman.

I just read a novel I greatly admired for the first 75 pages. Then it seemed like a one-note story. The author teetered brilliantly on the verge of the apocalyptic. As it went on it became more menacing and more unreal. I got bored. Why isn’t the human predicament enough without lapsing into dystopia? I regard that as a failure of the imagination.  Virginia Woolf didn’t need a comic book to explore the vast interior landscape.

Am I alone looking forward to the baseball season?  It restores order or at least the illusion of permanence. My metaphor for life………..precision (the infield) mingling with randomness (the outfield). The lesson of living with failure (the best team loses sixty games a year). I like to pretend it matters. Stats and the X factor. Slumps and streaks. Ultimately the triumph of the inexplicable.


Thursday, January 14, 2021

How Did It All Begin?

January 6th 2021, another day of infamy. I would have thought one was enough in a lifetime. That other, so named by FDR, was called sneaky; this was naked in broad daylight with ample warning. Of course, we’ve had many such infamous days during my brief candle.

But how did it all begin?

This attack on the People’s House of Congress could be seen as a continuing act of incivility in our most deadly conflict, the Civil War. Ironic that the Capitol was largely built by slaves and now defiled by White Supremacists. Our War Between the States has never ended. Reconstruction soon became deconstruction for Blacks. Descendants of plantation owners, southern farmers, merchants and working people kept their hatred alive for the past century and a half against descendants of those in bondage. Today’s lynch mob of the ignorant, aggrieved and gullible has been uncaged and is now feral having been legitimatized by our most ignoble of Presidents.

But how did it all begin?

We were founded as a country of Europeans in flight from persecution and conscription as well as those seeking a new beginning heedless and unconstrained of rapacious behavior. Along with White opportunists came Blacks in chains. We thought nothing about displacing and eliminating the indigenous people.

But how did it all begin?

When our ancestors came out of Africa some settled the western part of the Eurasian land mass. Didn’t Europe look west to the Americas after Greece went east to Troy and Cain was banished east of Eden? It has always been thus, barely contained

Most of us have at least a modicum of introspection with displays of empathy, forgiveness and love. But there are those among us who are loud and quick to anger with a muscular mindset. Their reptilian brain cedes autonomy to an authoritarian figure. Enter Donald J. Trump, delusional, pugnacious and pernicious; we have seen the consequences.