Saturday, January 30, 2010

New York City

Today was an unimaginably cold day. It should never be as cold as it was today. My friend Donnie and his wife just had a baby, a little boy. He's wonderful. I drove into the city to see them. They live in the Upper West Side.
I went down via the West Side. But by about 158th Street, traffic locked up the Henry Hudson. I got off the highway and hit the streets. I zigged and zagged my way south passing Grant's Tomb and St. John the Divine.

I spent some time just meandering through the City. I forget sometimes, just how much I love New York. All the time I was driving , I was listening to Jonathan Schwartz on WNYC. Sinatra, Fitzgerald, Tony Bennett. That music just bore into my heart. It brought about a windfall of memories and dreams. I thought about the six years I spent living on that blessed isle.

And I listened to that music. The Great American Songbook. I thought my heart was going to explode through my chest.

In the Pond

A friend recently asked me, 'how do you read so many books?' I truthfully answered, 'I read very short books.'

Ha Jin's In the Pond is a short book but it is powerful and provocative nonetheless. It takes place in a small town in Communist China. A fertilizer factory is lorded over by a pair of corrupt and ruthless bureaucrats. When a dutiful worker named Shao Bin gets passed over for an upgrade to decent housing for his family, he loses it.

In his anger he begins a one-man assault on the micro-system version of the bigger system that governs the lives of the Chinese people. He is a talented artist and most of his vengeance comes in the form of the essays and illustrations he submits to local newspapers. Ha Jin's presentation of the revenge - counter revenge between Bin and his bosses becomes an almost slapstick routine.

Ultimately, this is a story of the little man with a big artistic heart going against the machine. The most powerful passage for me came in mid-story, when an air of conciliation appears to be possible between Bin and his bosses. The factory is preparing to make patriotic signs and banners for an impromptu propaganda effort. Bin aches to use this project to demonstrate his artistic abilities. But knowing this, his bosses purposefully keep him out of the project:

"We know you're talented, but we don't want to utilize your talent...we've decided to have someone from the outside and let your talent rot inside you. Go back and learn to do your own work well. Stop dreaming that heaven will drop a roasted quail into your mouth."

A stab in the heart to any artist shackled to a day job.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

The 2010 New York Mets

It appears as though the Mets have announced their 2010 rallying cry: "We believe in comebacks!" Okay...glad we cleared that up. I've never understood this - why the Mets need to reaffirm themselves as a product - does a baseball team really need to say it's the 'choice of a new generation' or 'we're there when you need us'? Baseball is not something plucked from a supermarket shelf and I resent that my team feels the need to brand itself.

I must say they don't brand themselves well. (Do you know one year, their slogan was "Show Up at Shea" - I love that. Show up. Just show up. You don't have to cheer. You don't have to buy anything. Just show up.)

Since I find "We Believe in Comebacks" below par, I've recommended a few new slogans for the 2010 season:

"The 2010 New York Mets - all right...we're going to give it another chance."

"The 2010 New York Mets - You're gonna come see us, right?"

"The 2010 New York Mets - We're Ike, You're Tina. What do you want?"

"The 2010 New York Mets - Look, it's only baseball...don't freak out so much!"

"The 2010 New York Mets - you know, we told Beltran NOT to do the surgery."

"The 2010 New York Mets - Doing anything? No? You can play if you want..."

"The 2010 New York Mets - No. Go ahead. Hit the concession stands....please...really."

"The 2010 New York Mets - Hey, why don't we just talk about how great Citi Field is...can we just do that...please?"

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Tea Party People, Unite!

In all fairness, I do believe that my grandchildren will open their history textbooks and read about the Tea Party movement that we're seeing today. I'll give them that credit. (BTW - a great article in the Times about it all). And when they do, they will read of the Tea Party's myopic exploits the same way we now view the 19th century's Know Nothing Party fiasco.

Last week, Ted Kennedy's senate seat went up for election and a republican won: former nude model, Scott Brown. Now it's important to note - when it seemed like Brown's victory was a lock, stocks for medical insurance companies and Wall Street stocks shot up. (See how that works folks? Funny, ain't it?).

So now it seems as though 2010 may bring some pretty significant changes. Unfortunately, the 2009 Democratic party, like the 2009 New York Giants, forgot to play defense and essentially let the opposing team run rampant.

If I were a betting man, I'd predict that health care reform won't pass. The GOP will clean up in the 2010 elections, packing congress with some more white guys who'll contribute no ideas - other than the "git that dadgum government out of folks' bidniz" mantra...which is what got us into this whole mess. After all - why do something, when we can do nothing? Why open our eyes to the fact that over 30 million Americans, working Americans, can't afford health care - when we can just sit back and further embolden health care corporations. That's the easy road.

(By the way - if you truly believe that Americans who can't afford health care are just lazy (an ideology that borrows from the Reagan-era welfare-queen mythology) check this out. You won't believe that this actually has to take place in America.).

President Barack Obama has been in office a year now. I'll be critical and say that maybe health care reform, though incredibly needed, should not have been his play book strategy on 1st down. But let's also be honest about something else. The vitriol against health care reform was and is derived from something else. Look at the nonsensical townhall smackdowns from the past year. These were filled with people who hadn't read a piece of legislation in their life, yet were appalled that no one was reading this one. Their "by-the-people for-the-people" civic conscientiousness is admirable but really could have come in handy when we had lousy WMD evidence jammed down our throats and as a result, went out and started killing people. Talk about death panels.

If Scott Brown's (did I mention, former nude model...are you listening McJesus rightwing crazy people?) victory had occurred somewhere other than Massachusetts, I'd just attribute it the blatant anti-intellectualism, anti-internationalism, anti-whatever that seems to endlessly float up from our culture's lowest common denominator.

But Massachusetts? Kennedyland? It's an important lesson to the Democrats. Control the message or the gnat-like attention span of the American voter will knock you out like James "Buster" Douglas.

After all - since we all believe America ends at the foot of our exurban driveways, since we all measure America's strength in terms of our own strength to purchase cheap crap made in China - we all know that 14 years of destructive economic policies should have been solved in twelve months time, right? Right? I mean c'mon, Barack!

(Did I mention that Scott Brown was once a nude model?)

Friday, January 15, 2010

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Help for Haiti

By clicking on this link, you can be connected to a page that lists a number of organizations that are in need of our support during this unimaginable disaster.

Similar to Hurricane Katrina, we're bearing witness to a tragedy on top of a tragedy. It's my hope that our governments and private institutions keep Haiti in our minds for a long time and use this as an opportunity to make a substantive improvement to the poorest nation in our hemisphere.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Let the Great World Spin

When I started to read Colum McCann's Let the Great World Spin, I got that buzzing sensation I get when I'm experiencing some piece of art that feels as though it was created especially with me in mind. I had that feeling early in Jonathan Lethem's Fortress of Solitude, another great book set at the same time as this one.
It's New York in the early 1970's and in that broken city, McCann presents a cast of broken souls. A Quixote-like priest lives among destitute drug addicts and hopeless prostitutes of the South Bronx. A group of women console one another having all lost sons to Viet Nam. A judge who must deal with a daily parade of the city's worst stories. McCann presents all of these lives with grace and a kind of impenetrable beauty that can only come from a disaster area.

All of these stories intertwine at some point in the book but one event occurs that brings the whole city together: Philippe Petit's transcendent walk across a tightrope strung between the Twin Towers on August 7,1974. For all us New Yorkers, we remember a very different day when all our eyes were locked on the World Trade Center. On September 11th, we were a nation that had been overconfident and perhaps oblivious to the hardships of life. But on that day, we were forced to witness an unimaginable horror as a communal act. Petit's walk in 1974 however, delivered a kind of communal joy to a city that on the contrary had been overwhelmed with hardships. Without directly addressing 9/11, McCann makes us realize that in both times, there had been a joining of lives, great and small. It is this mystery, this joy that this book so beautifully explores.

Let the Great World Spin was a gift from my brother whom I love very much.

Let's Go Jets!!!

Do it boys!

Channel the great Klecko and McNeil.

Let's do this!!