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

 

 

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Suffer the little children

I have no opinion about KinderGuides, which publishes picture books based on works of classic literature designed for 6-10 year-olds. So far, they’ve got “On the Road,” “The Old Man and the Sea” and “Breakfast at Tiffany’s.” Their version of Kerouac classic does not mention drinking, drug taking, casual sex, unacknowledged homoerotic thoughts, or unsafe driving.

It is, apparently, like an adventure story, with some talky guys involved in G-rated hijinks. I haven’t read it, so (as I say) I have no opinion about it. As to whether classic novels should be repurposed as kid’s books — well, if I came out against it, I would also have to oppose movie versions of books, television mini-series based on books, satire and pastiche, interpretive dance and murals, and so forth. And I don’t oppose those things, so I cannot oppose kiddie books based on adult favorites.

 

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Also wants to learn where Zaphod Beeblebrox is

Apparently, the issue of whether Holly Golightly was a prostitute (and she was, of course) is not brought up in little people’s version of “Breakfast at Tiffany’s,” so apparently she’s just a high-spirited girl with an independent income. Who…well, it’s hard to see how a version of the story without the sexual tension would interest anyone, much less a seven-year-old girl. But what do I know? If I knew how to write successful children’s books, I’d be living on Maui, importing celebrities for raucous  games of strip poker, and making personal appearances with stuffed toys bearing the likeness of Maybe Henry, the hero of my ghost/adventure series The Maybe Gang.

“The Maybe Gang Meets The Headless Horseman” has been translated into 13 languages. But I digress.

Nor do I have an opinion about Cozy Classics (I am not making this up), the book series that reduces classics to just 12 words. (Real example, for “War and Peace”: “Soldier friends run dance good-bye hug horse boom! hurt sleep snow love”). This seems more like a conceptual art book for adults rather than a real kid’s series, but apparently many parents are buying them and leaving them around the playroom for their offspring to find.

 

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Also wonders what happens to the ducks in Central Park in the winter

Still, not everyone was happy. One Amazon reviewer described the Cozy take on “Jane Eyre” as “weird, dark and not the most appropriate for kids who are reading board books.”

Well, (a) it’s a book in which a madwoman locked in the attic is a central plot point, so what were you expecting? and, (b) who says kids don’t like dark books? Some parents seem to have forgotten what it was like to be a child. Sure, there are innocent childhood delights, and wonder at unexpected things that adults are too jaded to appreciate, but there’s also fear, lots and lots of fear, and many mysterious threatening things, some of which can be put down to wind during a rain storm, and some of which can be put down to abusive drunk dangerous parents.

We don’t live in a totally sunny world, and our kids live in the same world we live in. Nothing can protect them from darkness and weirdness, certainly not dark weird people like us. The Grimms were right: Children need stories that tell them they are not crazy, that homicidal wolves and wicked stepmothers are indeed part of the landscape, whatever Sesame Street says.

What did I love most when I was 7 or 9? Edgar Allen Poe stories, for one — “The Pit and the Pendulum” I found particularly enthralling, and when I realized what was going on in “A Cask of Amontillado,” I was genuinely thrilled. Plus lots of gore and soupçons of sex (sex!) in science fiction and murder mysteries; hints about dark secrets as yet unexplored. My whole life was sort of a murder mystery; I kept trying to figure out what happened to my dad.

My, that turned weird all of a sudden. Proving my point.

Lemony Snicket understands that. J.K. Rowling understands that. What do people think is going on in Harry Potter, anyway? A very evil entity kills Harry’s parents, and he spends seven books seeking bloody revenge. Plus, there’s Stephen King. He writes books that young people read, whether they are appropriate or not.

(My experience: Calling something “inappropriate” is a sure-fire marketing tool. Big cover blurb for “Flesh Eating Zombies of the Apocalypse” goes like this: “It’s inappropriate! — Your parents.”)

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Wonders if she too is being borne back ceaselessly into the past

May I make a serious point? I think parents are way too fretful about what their kids read. With some obvious exceptions (let ’em watch pornography in secret, as God intended), parents should just open the keys to the library and let ’em browse. And when the kids hit the Internet, it will be time to acquaint them with the real facts of life — people lie. Unwitting people repeat the lies. Don’t be caught! Think for yourself! And when your kid asks you for cites on some unsupported piece of bullshit you’ve just promoted, you can congratulate yourself on having done your job well.

If your kid is a smart-ass, so much the better.

And finally: What you do when your kids are around is far more important than anything they read. Inevitably, it is your behavior they are copying — not the behavior you recommend, but the things you actually do. The apple doesn’t fall very far from the tree, and you’re the tree. Water, prune, fertilize, don’t commit murder. The metaphor just broke down. Writing is hard.

The way to make sure that your kid is a good person is to be a good person yourself. Or as Cozy Classic might put it: Child watch kindness generosity imitate help homeless heal kiss grandma read books!

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A whole damn column without Donald Trump. That felt good, didn’t it?

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Does not care at the moment who John Galt is

Photography by Tracy “I have too many children!” Johnston

Useful services by Michelle Mizera