Friday, February 27, 2015

Citizenfor

I poke around the net for new running shoes and a shower enclosure. The next day ads in my Facebook feed are for a shower enclosure (hideous) and a not bad pair of Adidas sneakers. I'm accustomed to this. It seems inevitable and being from an era of letter writing and black and white TV it's sort of marvelous to behold. I admit that most of my sponsored ads are for clothing items. I truly do way more browsing than actual buying. Most of my acquisition of wardrobe, and just about everything else is on-line but there's a tiny store in Felton and an outlet in San Francisco where I sometimes pick up stuff retail. One of my favorite dresses is from the little Felton shop. I am wearing in while I log on to Facebook and find the exact dress featured in one of the sponsored ads although it's a brand that I have never purchased via Internet. It makes makes me laugh at the time.

The result of my very long marriage to the pessimistic, misanthropic, vaguely paranoid and psychically
Catholic Himself is that I have matured into the role of counter balance. And vice versa. He keeps my Pollyanna inclinations at bay and I keep him from opening a vein. Himself takes great pains to stay as incognito on the Internet as possible, constantly changing passwords and handles. My philosophy is no matter what efforts I take toward anonymity, the Internet has me down pat and knows me better than I know myself. My rationale for not being threatened by this is that I have (particularly with the advent of legal medical marijuana) nothing to hide.

Laissez faire about personal privacy in the digital age, I watch Citizenfour (research provided by my pal and colleague Rosemary Rotondi). For cave dwellers, the film chronicles the release, by NSA contractor Edward Snowden, of thousands of classified documents revealing the enormous scope, rationalized by 9/11, of illegal cybersnooping and wiretapping. The scale with which the NSA intercepted the communications, not only of U.S. citizens, but even world leaders considered allies, is astonishing. Snowden had voiced his concerns about NSA overreach but was essentially counseled to keep his mouth shut. His breaking point came when the Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper was asked by the Senate Intelligence Committee in March of 2013 whether the NSA spied on hundred of millions of Americans, Clapper responded, “No.”

The film chronicles the remarkable circumstance and immediate consequences of the documents being released. Snowden ends up, pretty apparently by U.S. design, stranded in Russia and it seems that big diplomatic guns are employed to insure that he stays there, the implication being that Snowden was a spy for the Russians all along. The whole situations smacks of Cold War in a Francis Gary Powers sort of way. I glean from Snowden's communications that he isn't really beholden at all to the Russians, his presence there being enough of a slap in the face to the U.S.

Snowden however has received a number of awards and is internationally recognized as a hero. The embarrassed administration, through Eric Holder, offers Snowden a deal to return. He would be tried only on two charges, each of which bears a ten-year maximum sentence. Snowden refuses because due to the Espionage and Sedition Act of 1917 the content of the materials that were released to the public is inadmissible as trial evidence. An example of this antiquated law in action is the 35 year sentence imposed on whistle-blower Chelsea Manning.

When Citizenfour begins Snowden is holed up in a Hong Kong hotel room.  He is visibly nervous but articulate, handsome and appears healthy.  In the later footage of Snowden in Russia Snowden is gaunt and pale.  There are dark circles under his eyes.  Even though only a year has transpired, Snowden appears to have aged a decade.  Apparently he is treated well in Russia and is free to travel about the country freely.  His girlfriend is able to visit for extended periods.  Still, the consequence of his action, which I perceive as patriotic ones, have resulted in enormous personal sacrifice.  I wonder if I were in the same position if I'd have the courage for this risk.

The Snowden case challenges my “I have nothing to hide,” position. It occurs to me that privacy is fundamental to liberty. I never particularly valued my own personal privacy but the realization that we live in a society where, via government fiat, the only truly private place is your own personal brain is sobering. I guess some feel that keeping track of people in this fashion is necessary in order to prevent another 9/11. Unfortunately, it also has to has the potential to prevent the dissemination of opinions and ideas.  I am aware now of how vulnerable we all are and that this is indeed significant and perhaps not as inevitable as most of us have accepted.  For now I guess I am indeed an open book.  Still, I'm going to change all of my passwords.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Boys and Girls and Girls



This week it is announced that The Replacements are playing at the Hollywood Palladium on April 15. It is also announced that Joe College will receive his baccalaureate degree in a ceremony on April 9. I am grateful that these dates do not conflict. It would have been a tough call. I am still chewing around that the boy is on the verge of completing college. These four years I'm sure have been among the most formative of his life but as I look back, not that much has happened to radically impact my own. At age 22, four years of college represent about 20% of the boy's life so far. Four years represent less than 3% of my own. During the time Joe College has transitioned from a nervous 18 year old freshman to a poised 22 year old big man on campus I've mostly done a lot of walking and TV watching.

I read this week that writer/neurologist Oliver Sacks suffers from terminal cancer. In his disclosure of this, Sacks expresses gratitude for having had a life well lived. He also, for the days he has left, has absolved himself from watching the news or fretting about the fate of the planet. He says that there's nothing that he can do now but that he is optimistic about the citizens of the future. I still watch the news and worry but accept, given my dotage, that what ails the world is pretty much beyond my realm of possibility.

I don't know the date or even proximity of my own death sentence, just that I wake up every morning one day closer. Therefore, I particularly resent the (fortunately rare) week-long cold that renders me even more indolent than usual. I failed to write here last week not because I was too ill with a mere cold but after a week of Kleenex and chicken soup on the couch I had nothing I deemed worth saying.While one week for me, particularly compared to the sprats, ages 19 and 22, is just a blip I am still bitter at having lost it.


My sick leave is consumed by three very different TV shows with the commonality of being created by and starring young Jewish women. I've been resentfully watching Girls since it previewed on HBO. I actually liked Lena Dunham's Tiny Furniture and with Judd Apatow at the helm, Girls has a great pedigree. I've seen every episode and it will likely remain a top priority for the DVR but while I think the intentionality of the show is that you root for the “girls” to grow up and get it together. I find their obstacles underwhelming and with the exception of the ambition-less Jessa, I am most gratified by the girls' failure. I even resent the casting. All of Dunham's supporting actors have insider connections. Jemima Kirk's dad Simon writes music for films, Allison Williams is the daughter of the truth-challenged Brian Williams and Zoisa Mamet's dad is playwright David Mamet and mom is actress Lindsey Crouse. Zoisa's character Shoshana is the Jap-iest, whiniest of the girls. She has that strident, entitled thing down so well that it suggests type casting. I realize however that Zoisa also played self confident and decidedly un-whiney lesbian Joyce Ramsey very convincingly on Madmen. So, despite probable nepotism, Zoisa, I have to admit, is a more than formidable talent.

Blonde, patrilineally Jewish Amy Schumer, with her Kewpie face and pursed mouth is first and foremost a stand-up comedienne. Her show, “Inside Amy Schumer” is uneven but in a forgivable anarchic kind of way. The show's a pastiche of Schumer doing stand up, conducting interviews and performing in skits. Schumer's a Jewish girl in a strapping Wasp body. Because most of her humor is rooted in self-effacement, Amy, with her goyishe punim can get away with being jaw-droppingly politically incorrect and dirty. She's indebted to Sarah Silverman and Margaret Cho who share that earnest guilelessness that lets them get away with being blunt and filthy, but in a woman-ish way. These women aren't trying to out “blue” the boys. Their humor is filtered through feminine eyes. The greatest tribute I can pay to Schumer I guess is that Himself, who leaves the room like a bullet when “Girls” comes on, actually laughs audibly at the Schumer show.

If you want to hate Broad City, watch it with your sons. A friend from college is home with them when they watch an episode. I ask him, “Would you watch this with YOUR mom?” and the answer is “No Way.” Still, I find the co-stars Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer buoyant and engaging so I go through both seasons of the show during my stint on the couch. Taken individually, the episodes are truly funny. The girls smoke a lot of pot, have dead end jobs, engage in a lot of casual sex but the show's more than a riff on male slackers. Whereas the girls in “Girls” frequently end up sleeping with each others' boyfriends, Abbi and Ilana are true to each other. Just seeing the two together on camera is delicious. In their indolence and haplessness Abbi and Ilana are more self aware and actualized than the girls in “Girls.” While some of the situations in this situation comedy hark back to I Love Lucy, the arc of the episodes combined seems sort of a blueprint for what girls in their twenties can be. Both girls suffer disappointments but neither become fraught or angst-y. Broke and rudderless Abbi and Ilana's friendship feels more real and satisfying than anything the Girls girls have accomplished in five seasons.

Abbi and Ilana are free of the self hatred that dogged me while I was in my twenties and that continues to plague Lena Denham's quartet. Like Oliver Sacks, I know it's time to start turning things over to Joe College and his contemporaries. For all the very bad news they'll inherit it seems that we're at least approaching a time where girls don't hate themselves or each other.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Way Too Many Birthdays

My dad loved to run movies and was a compulsive photographer. The draft board branded him 4F at the inception of the Second World War due to a stammer. He completed a speech therapy program in the late 40s and was able, except when anxious, to communicate normally. Still, showing films or taking photos kept him on the comfortable periphery the social events he loved to plan and host.

I return to my photo scanning project this week and remember why I burned out the first time around. I find the green scrapbook that documents the years on Fulton Avenue before my sister's “trouble” started and my parents divorced. Cocktail parties and screening nights. The beautiful house with the perfectly detailed screening room that they took so much pride in. My sister dancing the twist at her 17th birthday party. My parents doing the Cha Cha and smoking Kents and sipping martinis. The end, with the acrimonious fighting is what I remember most but the old Kodachrome photos attest to what I imagine is the happiest time in their lives.

On the day of my 58th birthday my friend Richard calls to remind me that my birthday mate Zsa Zsa Gabor is turning 98. This makes me feel downright juvenile. My physician marvels at my annual physical that I have the heart rate of an athlete or someone very old who's about to drop dead. Due to other test results he's going with the former. I notice that he has put on a few pounds himself so I am spared a lecture about my own increased tonnage.

How funny to be at the stage in life where the yearly physical exam is anticipated with high anxiety. I try to remember what I thought about and hoped for when I was 19 (Spuds) or 22 (Joe College). I remember the music, books and films I liked. There were jobs and travel and friends for life whose names escape me now when I look at old photos. I can't however tap much into the stream of consciousness that accompanied this period of my life. The one thing I am absolutely certain of is that I never ever thought about being 58 years old.

It is no surprise that our new glasses are stronger than last year. We go to York Avenue in Highland Park to fetch them. The gentrification of the area is a huge thorn in Himself's butt but it doesn't bother me all that much. It boosts our home equity. Like just about everywhere else we go, we have the dog. I walk her while Himself goes to get his specs. There is an upscale design store offering a row of typewriters as d├ęcor objects. My kids regard my having typed on one of these for decades just like I consider the tales my dad told me about having to crank his first car.

A trendy shop sells pressed juice, acai and pitaya. Because I don't really know what these things are, it is clear I don't need them. Particularly as most of the items on the menu cost ten bucks or more. Next door is a shop selling vapes and e-cigs. Gentrification it seems means the sale of expensive things that aren't for me in places I don't need to be. Although the establishment called “Donut Friend,” may be an exception.

For the most part I feel good. The weird thing is now that most of my decisions don't evolve around the kids, at 58 it seems like every choice I make is complicated by not knowing when I'm going to die. Will I soldier on like birthday mate Zsa Zsa or should I make sure my affairs are in meticulous order? Will I regret having spent money on traveling or when I am no longer fit to wander the world will I regret not having done so? Should I opt for the expensive dental procedure that will last thirty years or is the cheap fix just fine? I've been worried about this stuff for some time now and the older I get, the more preoccupied I become. Those “Will you outlive your money?” commercials sure don't help.

Vinyl records, typewriters and princess phones, the accouterments of my youth are hot shit nostalgia items. Pressed juice, Instagram and streaming torrents elude me. My dad was mystified by the fax machine, computer and cell phone. I love my Iphone, Kindle and Roku although I often have to confer with the kids for functionality issues. I love that if I wanted to I could move this whole paragraph to the top of the page with two keystrokes. I love not having to use carbon paper or White Out. I love that my kids don't have to worry about finding a payphone when they're in trouble. I love that all of the music I need is on my phone. I do not particularly love that every morning when I rise I am another day closer to inevitable death but I love that at least this increases the imperative to suck the marrow out of every moment.  The green photo album shows my parents happy with a beautiful home and a new baby in the late 50s.  This clearly was the time of their lives.  Perhaps I'll live until I'm 89 just like my mom and dad but maybe such longevity is not in my cards.  I still believe though, that no matter what, the best is yet to come.