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.