Manly Men

I’m writing this in order to find out what I think.

I do not expect this to be easy. I am treading in weirdly dangerous territory, and I will probably get things wrong, or “wrong,” because there just aren’t that many ground rules, and they keep shifting. Plus, there’s the shame and guilt. And I don’t want to go there, which is often a pretty good reason for going there.

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Dude!

 

I am a white cis-gendered male. I am a former member of the mass media, and am a current member of overcrowded blogosphere. I am richer than my parents were. I am old, and I have problems associated with aging, but I have good and stable healthcare. Although I have driven an unregistered car with a broken tail-light and an ounce or two of marijuana barely hidden on the floor, I have never been arrested and/or beaten. I am luckier than 99.99 per cent of the world, and 99 per cent of Americans. I have privilege coming out of my ass.

I am thus, in the opinion of many, what’s wrong with this country. My attempted empathy and my specific actions of support (marching, donating) are seen as too little, too late, and probably pathetic.

Or at least, that’s how it seems. I am another white guy whining about something. Why would you listen to me? Hell, why would I listen to me? On the other hand, I had no say in being born white and male and heterosexual. I did not ask to be normative.

Still, I’m aware of the dangers of this kind of essay. Said danger is best encapsulated here.  One indeed might write a parody of woman talking about oppression, but McSweeney’s wouldn’t buy it. We know who the villains are.

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Standing on horses: A bonding experience

Which is fair enough. I know that men wrote the Koran and the Bible, those two sustaining monuments to the patriarchy. Another male invention: ISIS. Also brothels. White men did not invent slavery, but they brought their capitalist know-how to the institution and made it an international cartel of human misery.  So, yeah, guys.

I’m hip to all that, but I didn’t actually do any of it. There’s certainly sexism in my past; I’m 73. I had a lot of assumptions given to me like gifts; even my single mom had ideas about the way men and women should act. They should be “ladies and gentleman,” which is a codified set of genteel rules shaped to prevent the male from being a brute until certain matters were safely negotiated. That construct denied both female sexuality and male tenderness.

But today…I think I’m not on the right mailing list. Things are more fluid than is ideal. Like how LGB become LGBT, which became LGBTQ, although apparently LBGT is still also okay. (When did the Q get delisted?)  Can I subscribe to something where these changes are announced? I didn’t get “cis-gendered” because it was based on an obscure Latin prefix. I did know about “cis-alpine” (“Veni vidi vici” and all that), but I somehow didn’t get that it was the opposite of “trans-alpine.” Across the alps. Long way to go to get a metaphor.

I understand that the culture has left me behind. I don’t remember it happening. One day I could identify all the major pop artists just by hearing their voices; the next day I didn’t know who anybody was.  Michael Bolton and Notorious B.I.G.: Both equally mysterious.

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Fighting: A recreational opportunity

I know about mansplaining (because a woman mansplained it to me) and manspreading, and they are both real and useful. I try to do neither, although thigh spreading in seating comes natural to overweight people. Blah blah blah.

Jump in any time.

Drum circles do not do it for me. I like sports because I like rituals of competition, which I guess is manly. Although is it really manly to watch “Battle of the Network Stars” to  see whether Suzanne Somers can beat Jamie Farr in the 100 yard dash? Plus, I have learned through diligent research that many men are interested that (fun facts from Wikipedia) David Letterman, Penny Marshall, Brian Stokes Mitchell, Lynn Redgrave, Michael J. Fox, and William Shatner  were all on that show, so it’s not quite the career killer one might assume.

(Tracy: “I don’t care about any of these people.” Me: “Exactly.”)

Enjoying sports means I am able to talk to any male in America and not feel overmatched.  In other circumstances (like, say, standing around a gas station garage talking about cars), I tend the develop a weird hillbilly accent, dropping my g’s and drawling my vowels. You’ve heard about gay panic? I have man panic.

I am not the male oppressor you are looking for.

So how do I solve the problem of being history’s primary villain without having any of the fun of villainy. No mustache to twirl, no peasants to abuse, no sacred monuments to destroy. And yes, I was once a 10-year-old boy, so I do understand the intrinsic beauty of blowing things up. Maybe I am the male oppressor you are looking for.

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Marketing for men

I’ve been marginalized, and I imagine many women and POC will be saying, “See? No fun, is it? And that’s just a taste. Until you have to deal with weekly tit grabbing or bogus traffic stops, you got nothing at all to complain about.”  And yes, right, you bet. But then…

All I can do is shut up. Things are getting a little tribal now, but also more open because internet, so there are lots of conversations taking place in newly accessible ways, and I get the privilege of listening to them.  It’s good for white men to shut up in mixed company. If the goal is an equal and harmonious society, we need active and intelligent listening.

That could be just a primary application of the first law of holes (“If you find yourself in a hole, stop digging.” The origin of that is unknown, but the first recorded mention is 1911. Men love shit like that.)  Being still will be good for me.

I think it’s all good. I know that incidents of hatred and violence have occurred more frequently since Trump got elected. But those people didn’t start hating in the last nine months. Now the cover is off; it’s good to know where the enemy is and what he is saying. Black Lives Matter has not achieved results yet, but it’s put police departments on notice — and it has taught to rest of us a new way of seeing. Denial doesn’t work any more; now you’ve got to deal with it.

So if my particular assumptions get destroyed, it gets my brain fired up. Maybe I’m just looking for safer ground, or maybe I’m learning to live in the new paradigm. Looked at a certain way, it’s actually a lot of fun.

Me, I’m going to cool out listening to this white guy. I might have a chicken on sourdough with plenty of mayo sandwich. That white enough? Then, in the privacy of my office, I will dance an embarrassing white guy dance, filled with uncontrolled arm movements and maybe a little overbite to indicate sexual passion.

However you self-identify, you’re welcome to dance too.

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Got that?

 

 

Photography by Tracy Johnston

Useful thingies: Michelle Mizera

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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The man in my head

Tuesday, May 22: So lucky today.  Shana is in New York with her friend (and mine) Gypsy Snider.  Complicated machinations, but: Shana has an extra ticket to Shakespeare in the Park (friend-in-the-cast ticket, so no waiting in line) and Gypsy has an extra ticket for Hamilton.

I went to Hamilton.

So I watched, and I thought this clichéd thought and that clichéd thought (because every possible thought about Hamilton has already been expressed, at least twice, once in German), and somewhere in the middle of the rap battle between Hamilton and Jefferson, I realized that the actor playing Hamilton probably had a greater understanding about the founding of the American banking system than Donald Trump.

Because at least he’d had to learn his lines.

Heck, I have a greater understanding of the founding of the American banking system than Donald Trump, because I read a BOOK. Trump didn’t even read his own book.

The show that Tracy went to see? Julius Caesar, directed by Oskar Eustis, in which Caesar is a Donald Trump (!) lookalike who gets stabbed to death halfway through the play, as is traditional. Caesar is all “et tu, Brute,” but he shoulda read the play. This staging of a 400-year-old play with a kinda obvious spin — and make it relevant — indicates that Shakespeare knew a few things about how people work. But the production has caused a stoopid kerfuffle with large corporate sponsors pulling their support from the Public Theater, which Eustis heads.

Super secret fact: Sometime in the 80s, I went to see a production of Julius Caesar in Berkeley. Caesar was portrayed as a Reagan type who sought to enslave his people through television. That production was directed by Oskar Eustis.

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Broadway Lafayette station; waiting for the D train (note woman on left)

 

Wednesday, May 23: Steady rain. The Whitney Museum Biennial. Survey of work by young artists of every race, ethnicity, gender, ability, and they all live in Brooklyn. They’re here, they’re woke, and they’re pissed off. Some attack environmental degradation, some battle against oppression of sundry minorities, and some bite the hands that feed them, linking big art donors to the worst evils of capitalism.

At the Whitney. Where investment banks and secretive multinationals have their names on galleries, floors, cafes and drinking fountains. And suppose those works attacking the art-industrial complex wound up being purchased by the patriarchy, allowing the artist to have a somewhat nicer Brooklyn studio from which to pierce the dark heart of corporate cronyism.

Spiraling ironies.

And all of this before the elevation of Donald Trump, who thinks irony is what you make steely out of. Imagine how pissed off the artists are now. Trump is like this magical alchemical substance; add him to anything and he makes it six times worse.

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Lower East Side, Rivington St.

Thursday, May 25: Went to Sweat, a play about what happens in a small town in Pennsylvania when “the plant” closes. Compelling story, well-acted, blah blah blah. These are the people Donald Trump says he’s fighting for, and of course that is fake truth.

How could so many of my fellow Americans be so gullible? Trump is friends with the people who own the plants that closed down and threw millions into economic misery. Except probably the plant owners try to avoid Trump because he makes vulgar jokes and sits down as though he’s been invited. Now they’re probably sitting on an advisory committee for ending poverty in our time.

This is not new. Trump has been exposed more times than, hell, write your own comparison. It’s all old news. I am not thinking new thoughts about him. I want to think a NEW THOUGHT. I like traveling because it often forces me to think new thoughts.

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Aboard the A train to 125th St.

Friday, May 26: Off to the New Museum, that little slice of  heaven on the Lower East Side. Women artists on every floor. I wonder what Donald Trump thinks about women artists. He probably doesn’t even know they exist, a list that also includes quarks, cassoulet, Muddy Waters, the Solomon Islands, Millie Bobby Brown, Edgar Allan Poe, meerkats and human decency.

I have a latte served by authentic hipster youth. I also taste the bitter dregs of Donald J. Trump.

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New Museum; art by Lynette Yiadom-Boakye

Sunday, May 28: Grand Central Terminal. One of greatest public spaces in the world. Sitting on the cool marble steps. Staring up at the astrological ceiling. Built in 1903, at a time when America believed in spending taxpayer money to build astonishing public infrastructure. The astonishing NYC subway system opened the following year.

How fabulous. How spirited. How, well, infrastructure is now just an empty promise and our bridges are crumbling, as is the very fine subway I rode here on and the train that will take me up the Hudson. And with the Chaos-in-Chief running things, God knows, GOD knows. Nothing is getting done at a pace remarkable even for the 21st Century.

Turns out I have fucks left to give.

Train time. Be glad to get out this depressing dump.

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I mean, who knows? Sixth Avenue.

Tuesday, May 30: Bedford, New York. Staying with our beloved friends Rachel and Joe. I had suggested yesterday that maybe a trip to Vassar would be an amusing outing.

My mother went to Vassar. When we were living in Pasadena, she was a honcho of some kind in the Vassar alumni association. She spoke of it as a high point in her star-crossed life. The rolling green lawns, the sympathetic professors, the endless opportunities for reading. I wanted to finally see the place.

It was a entirely wonderful. The dining hall where she would undoubtedly have eaten was being remodeled but not torn down. The student union, where she would have undoubtedly wandered, was still standing. There was a plane tree that was mature when she walked to class, probably wearing saddle shoes.

Of course, education is one of the glories of western civilization, along with math and writing and math and astrofuckingphysics, all of which Trump disdains, although of course he knows nothing about it. Resist, Vassar. Resist! Also, get a real bookstore. Books! Damn!

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Vassar. Looks like heaven, doesn’t it?

Wednesday May 31: Off to Hyde Park, ancestral home of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and his fabulous wife Eleanor Roosevelt, who really should be on some kind of currency. The house is meh, but the Museum and Library were amazing, worth a detour, allow a few hours.

 

OK, can’t avoid it. Presidential comparisons. FDR courageously refused to let his polio define him, and won the governorship of New York just seven years later. Trump courageously recovered from the bone spurs that made him ineligible for military service. FDR said, “The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.” Trump said, “I have all the ratings for all those morning shows. When I go, they go double, triple.”

FDR said, “Human kindness has never weakened the stamina or softened the fiber of a free people. A nation does not have to be cruel to be tough.” Trump just lied about something.  He doesn’t care.

The Roosevelt presidency started in a great depression and ended in a great war. And yet it seems a golden time, with adults in charge of everything and a huge push for social justice that dominated those famous first hundred days. Now, babies and cowards are in charge of everything, and nothing whatever is getting done.

Plus the babies and cowards are still whining about Hillary Clinton. She’s the defeated candidate, and somehow she won anyway because no one loves them.

FDR said, “In politics, nothing happens by accident. If it happens, it was planned that way.” Is this still true?  Discuss.

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Every building needs one of those

Friday, June 2: Philadelphia. Baseball game. Giants vs. Phillies. Giants doing very well. Sun goes down. Eat hot dog in a cold bun with radioactive mustard. Has Donald Trump ever eaten a hot dog in a cold bun? It’s an American experience, but Trump is not really an American. Hold that thought.

Saturday, June 3: Today was patriotism day. We went on a tour of Independence Hall, where a few things happened, like the signing of the Declaration of Independence (John Hancock sat right there). Eleven years later, after contentious debate (Franklin used to enjoy tripping delegates with his cane), the Constitution was likewise ratified. The Constitution. That makes it a rather more important than the damn Liberty Bell, which had nothing to do with anything.

There are two facts about those events that I have always loved. First, both took place in the hellish Philadelphia summer, in a smallish fetid room. How could they even think? Second, most of the delegates had some form of dental trouble. And, sweaty and throbbing and often angry, they wrote the two most important documents in the history of democracy. Beat that.

But even better was the lesser known Congress Hall, where both the Senate and the House met in the early years of the Republic. The room is elegant, cool even on sunny afternoon. And it was there that John Adams took the oath of office while an apparently relieved George Washington looked on.

The orderly transfer of power, baby. Lots of governments start with high-minded promises, but the Yu-Nited States of Murica made it happen. The king-god Washington of Virginia allowed a short sour lawyer from Massachusetts to take all the power, without hesitation; that’s what we do. We have, in the course of our history, done many grotesquely awful things, but we have also done that. Every time, we have done that.  Which is why it was meaningful that Barack Obama graciously received the incoming president and rode with him to the inauguration. Because that’s the way we do it.

Could almost make a man cry. Did make me cry, in that cool dark room.

And you can write the rest of the column. Does Donald Trump know what city Independence Hall is in? Does he care? Did he appreciate his participation in the one of our most significant civil ceremonies? Oh, of course not. He’s a worthless grifter and threadbare mountebank. And I wish he’d get out of my head.

I had a great vacation, a fabulous vacation. I should be chill, but  Donald J. Trump is taking up space in my head, always whispering, “this is crap. It’s all crap. Danger Danger DANGER I am here and I hate civilization. Hate! Civilization! (Derisive laughter).”

I will arise and go now, and go to Innisfree, and a small cabin build there, of clay and wattles made. And wattles don’t come cheap.

 

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Sign on a church, Society Hill, Philadelphia. Pray for the wretched.

Photography by Tracy Johnston

Random helpful stuff by Michelle Mizera