I just finished…

…Joshua Ferris’s “The Unnamed,” an Adele recommendation.

It took convincing, but she got me to read it. I am glad I did. It is imaginative and compelling, with my expectations, one after another, having the rug pulled from beneath them. I like that in s novel. It was deep too — and daring — and creative in its approach and execution. John Updike meets Samuel Beckett. A significant achievement.

My only disappointment which engaged Ferris about it. In fact, the reviews, while in quality places, were oddly mixed.

These reviews were wrong. Adele was right.

10th & Bainbridge Blues

My latest is up at http://www.firstofthemonth.org/archives/2015/03/10th_and_baimbr.html

It begins

I met E. Martin in 1958 at summer camp, where he was not only our bunk’s starting shortstop and point guard but the only one among us who read I. F. Stone’s Weekly. He went on to courageously lead the anti-war movement at the University of Pennsylvania Medical School, admirably participate in Physicians for Social Responsibility, and steadfastly practice psychiatry from a self-characterized “radical social/economic justice perspective.” At age 70, he relocated from suburban Boston to a sustainable farming community in western Massachusetts. When he recommended reading Wendell Berry’s The Unsettling of America, I did.

True Romance

My latest is up at http://www.tcj.com/reviews/inner-city-romance/

It begins:
Shortly after the underground comic Inner City Romance debuted in 1971, with its surfeit of pimps, smack, revolutionaries, and ho’s, the Afro-American cartoonist Grant Green bet cash money that its creator, Guy Colwell, was a brother.
Green lost.

A couple million for your thoughts

My latest has gone up on-line here:

It begins

I may have been unkind to the Supreme Court.
I had been calling Citizens United the most wereweasel-bit decision of the past 50 years in its likely social devestation. I had it bunked between Dred Scott and Korematsu in the jurisprudential Hall of Shame. By okaying corporations to dump unlimited cash sacks into the back pockets of electoral candidates, it seemed to have laid its crop against the flanks of the rich, goading them to trample our last pretensions to representative democracy.

Thought for Today

My PTP, Dr. Zowie (not his real name) is an alternative-minded cat. When I told him yesterday about a mid-afternoon, 20-mile, stop-and-go freeway traverse I had pummeled myself with the Thursday before and my incredulity that people could suffer this, both ways, five-days-a-week, he remarked upon how “we blind and deceive ourselves through various belief systems. Here we are the richest country in the world and look what we do to ourselves. Chronic diseases. Stress. Cardio-vascular disease…” He looked at me pointedly, with that one.

“It’s the great joke,” he went on. “We all want security, but we aren’t looking the one place it is. We look at the future. We look at the past. But it’s right here. Right now. This moment. That’s all there is. I can hear God. And she’s just laughing.”

To which Adele replied, after I’d reported this conversation, “That’s right! Blame it on a woman!”

Numbers Game

A lefty, ex-pat buddy of mine, who enjoys nothing so much as sending out e-mails linking to articles trashing the USA (unless he has some sexual preoccupation for which he has another mailing list entirely),sent one today with a subject line of “How ignorant r most americans.” The link was to a Politico article noting that 29% of us regard Fox News as the most trustworthy, while only 22% favor CNN, 10% favor CBS and NBC, 8% favor ABC, and 7% MNBC. But if look at this another way 29% favor Fox while 57% favor someone else, not including those who opt for PBS or, like me, don’t watch any of these clowns. [Moreover, among Democrats, only 3% favor Fox.)

Another thing: I have this rule of thumb that 20% of the people will believe anything. This derives from the study that found that 20% of the population believes extra-terrestrials are cruising around kidnapping human beings to experiment on. So Fox News-believers rank 9-points above that.

My conclusion is Three cheers for the red-white-and-blue!

I just finished…

…Ira Katznelson”s “Fear Itself.” It is no easy read, but I found his analysis of how the south, through its domination of New Deal and post-war legislation, shaped our country today quite the head-buzz. I also was comfortable with his view that fear – first economic, then of war, then the bomb, then communism (and now radical islam) has been a primary shaping force too, though there my sense is the south has been only of secondary import. All parts of the country are equally capable of being spooked.
Just as a side thought, Katznelson often mentions “the national security state.” Makes me wonder when and with whom that phrase originated? It’s a term, like “paradyme,” which I never used to encounter and then suddenly seemed all over the place.

I just finished…

…”The Children Act,” by Ian McKewan. Adele, whose evaluation I trust over my own in this case, found it “beautifully orchestrated” and was engrossed by the depiction of the inner states of the central character. I admired the level of excellence McKewan brought to each sentence and his ability to focus upon and bring to attention details in the least consequential of moments, but I found the book too clock-like in its workings, too carefully thought out and controlled, not unruly enough for my taste in novels, more an over-blown short story or novella.

The Playing Fields of Wynnewood

My faithful reader Budd is eager for my revisits of my adolescence, since no doubt since it over-lapped with his. So here’s the next one. I never submitted this for publication, which suggests I had my doubts about it, but since a majority of my readers appear to be robots…

The Playing Fields of Wynnewood
Friends Central, which I attended from 4th through 12th grade (1951-60), believed in mens sana in corpore sano. So we had compulsory sports, fall, summer, spring.
This was fine with me. Sports were fun; proficiency was valued by the culture; and, among my classmates, seemed more important than, say, mastery of Latin. I wanted to be seen as a Regular Guy and accepted by the Right Crowd, and this seemed to require demonstrating athletic skill, of which, fortunately, I was not devoid. (Once, my fifth grade teacher asked us to list what qualities were most important in our choice of friends and, in recognition of the world I saw around me, I included “good in sports.” She either couldn’t comprehend the truth of this insight or censored it, for when translated onto her master list, it had become “good sport.”)
Baseball had initially been my favorite. But my career ended in 10th grade, when, having driven in the tying and winning runs of our opening game, our coach benched me for our second, as far as I could tell, only because Rickie Dickers had just come out for the team, and his father gave money to the school – while mine only muttered darkly in private about its cost, my underachievement, and what he was getting for his dollars. My principled response to the coach’s personnel decision – quitting – was probably not admired by the Athletic Department, but I never played baseball again.
Basketball I rejected for sounder reasons. I couldn’t shoot; I couldn’t dribble; I felt totally humiliated by the process. Every school, it seemed, had its tall, uncoordinated center, with glasses, and I was ours. In hindsight, had we a minimally competent coach, which we didn’t, I might have been instructed (nicely) to not shoot from further than one-foot from the basket, to grab rebounds, at which I had demonstrated some adeptness, and to immediately convey them to a guard, who would be properly positioned to receive outlet passes, as opposed to ours, who, for usefulness, might as well have been in the biology lab. I would have also been allowed to set picks, but that was a word I did not even hear uttered until my freshman year at Brandeis, a school not exactly known as a repository of jock wisdom.
Football became my best sport. But my career peaked in 10th grade, when I was a prototypical “Mad Stork” defensive end on an excellent JV team. I hardly played, deservedly so, the following year on an undefeated varsity, but in 12th grade, when I expected my star to rise, I scarcely saw greater action. I realize Forgiveness is an important virtue, but I am damned if I can get past Coach Gogg on my master list. I don’t know if his shunning me was due to my being Jewish or a “wise guy,” both of which were true, but suddenly fellows who had played behind me for four years were logging more minutes on the old gridiron than I was. (In Coach Gogg’s defense, I would note that the only other Jew on the team, when asked by me a few years ago, denied ever sensing any anti-Semitism directed toward him. But then, he was a “star,” and I was not, so I have not been led to eliminate all-other-things-being-equal…)
I replay the palpable injustice to this day in my head and gut, while others, academic and social, have morphed into smiles. It says more about me than anything else, I am certain, but I have yet to figure out what or why exactly. If I do, maybe I will let it go. Or maybe I will settle for the attar of wisdom to be derived from retaining Grudges.

Since writing this piece, I have discussed it with the noted theologian Benj DeMott. He provides the dispensation that “forgiveness does not apply to coaches of high school athletics.”


Last Night

Things began slowly. The poster from Fantagraphics, Guy Colwell’s publisher, said he and I would be “in conversation” about his new book, “Inner City Romance,” at Pegasus, a downtown Berkeley bookstore, at 7:00, and at 7:00 our audience was 31 empty chairs and my wife Adele. Then I noticed the poster from Pegasus said we would be conversing at 7:30 and relaxed.

A photographer from a Berkeley paper arrived, took our photograph — and left. By 7:20 our crowd had not grown. “Maybe if it was warmer,” Guy said. “Parking is a problem,” I noted. Guy gestured to two rows, a dozen seats he hoped to fill. “My expectations are low,” he said.

I had personally hung five posters. (One had been torn down and one taped over. I had never seen anyone so much as glance at the other three.) A friend had said she would come, but Adele had given her the wrong date, and by the Time Adele corrected it, the friend had other plans. Fantagraphics had said it would include copies of my books in its shipment, so I could sign too, but none were in evidence. So this is not my problem, I thought.

Eventually — and miraculously — we scored about 16 listeners. Impressively, except for a couple who were friends of Guy’s and a fellow I knew from the Wrench Café, none had a personal connection to either of us. (The listener who interested me the most was a rabbinacally-bearded-and-then-some gent I had seen around town for years. He would open the door of a café where I would be seated, look around, and continue on his way without entering. Now, not only had he entered, he had stayed and sat. I would like to think this was due to the nature of our discourse, but it ay have been the wine and cookies Pegasus was offering.)

Guy and I filled our aimed-for half-hour comfortably. The Q&A went on about as long. People asked about Guy’s other books and how the current art scene regarded his figurative social surrealistic work, and a tattooed young man, who’d served two years in the military, asked about Guy’s time in prison as a draft resister. “I respect your right to do that, sir, but…”

Guy sold several books, and one of the buyers told me how much he’d enjoyed “The Pirates and the Mouse” and “Most Outrageous.” The man in line behind him said he’d read neither but had heard they were good.