Friday, August 21, 2015

Pumpkin Spice

September for me has always symbolized a fresh start, essentially the beginning of the year as I've always experienced it. Starting school in August feels profoundly wrong. On Sunday August 16, I notice at the Glendale Americana that odious Pumpkin Spice has returned. Today, at the Rite Aid, fall d├ęcor, candles and baskets and plastic cornucopias are already marked down and there is an aisle full of Halloween merchandise. As my days grow more numbered the passage of time seems hyper-accelerated anyway and I am frustrated by the forces conspiring to make the years fly by even faster. The kids and their back to school gear returning to the Mount Washington School and the flame retardant superhero costumes at the drug store are bizarre and cruel. It is still summer.

I look at my sprats and remember how differently I experienced the flipping calendar pages while I was in my twenties. A friend of Joe Workforce visits. We haven't seen the lad for about five years but he sits with us at the same table, set with the same plates and likely eats a meal similar to the ones he was served years before. Himself and I are grayer but otherwise little has changed. But the high school kids who ate us out of house and home and replaced the liquor from the bar with water, are young men. College graduates. Employed. Erudite, and frankly way more interesting than they were five years ago. Although likely disappointed that we haven't bothered to restock the bar.

While the grown up-ish kids are better conversationalists I still get totally stoked when they actually need me. At the last minute Spuds' new boss says he can take a few days off. He had been sad to miss the FYF Festival and I guess he likes seeing us too. Plus, Himself is too cheap to get a haircut at a barber and the next opportunity for Spuds' to cut his hair would have been late October when we go back for family weekend and it is already overly shaggy. I am charged with booking flights for Spuds and his girlfriend. It is very challenging as fares increase exponentially every time you check them. I am finally able to find Spuds a cheap and convenient enough flight that I can cover with miles. But when his girlfriend, who needs to convert waitress tip money into a debit card, goes to book the same flight several hours later the price has increased $300. The girl is in tears. I spend several hours, in my element and nearly delirious with adrenalin, using aggregators and hacker fares and find a flight she can afford on a different airline albeit requiring a three hour stopover in Philadelphia.

Now that the kids require so little I am indolent most of the week. I disappoint myself with erratic progress on other writing projects but I self publish here most every week. I always wake up on Friday morning agonizing about what to serve for shabbat dinner (tonight steak for Joe Workforce, and tilapia for Him and myself plus challah made from scratch). And what the hell I'm going to write about. On Thursday night I watch Scorsese’s documentary about Fran Leibowitz. This is probably a very bad idea on the eve of the only day that I actually summon the discipline necessary to craft a short essay. Leibowitz is famous for her lack of productivity, which she refers to as “writer's blockade.” Her two books of comic essays were best sellers in the 70s but since then she's only produced a children's book and some magazine essays. A novel, apparently in the works for nearly four decades, was scheduled to be published this year but it looks like she's missed another deadline.

Leibowitz at least is very self aware and refers to herself as the laziest person on the planet. She does speaking engagements and had a recurring role as an acerbic judge on the show Law and Order. But, unless her friggin novel actually happens and is brilliant, Fran will be remembered for the accomplishments of her twenties and thirties. She says repeatedly that it is better to be in your twenties than in your fifties. I do not agree.

Despite the staggering amount of time I spend in the dental chair or observing the weird effect the ravages of time have had on my body, I would rather not be in my twenties. My twenties were spent ignoring my parent's advice, agonizing to impress shallow people and spinning my wheels. Now I cherish my invisibility. I can go out without makeup. I can wear the same outfit three days in a row. I don't have to waste time with the unscintillating or with those whose standards I don't meet. I have written, at least sporadically, for as long as I remember but I find now that the confluence of how I have lived and what I have observed increases my own satisfaction with my work.

There are a handful of readers who tune in here regularly. This is meaningful and important. Often however, someone will admit sheepishly, “I don't read your blog,” in the same tone as they'd say “I ran over your dog.” Of course I like it when people read and comment but truly, this is my departure from selfless Jewish mother mode. I like it if you like it, but it is more meaningful that I like it. I could not have written like this when I was in my twenties. Shabbat dinner and Casamurphy are my weapons against the sonic passing of time. And fuck pumpkin spice. It is still summer for another month.  

Friday, August 14, 2015

Tweaking My Legacy

I have nothing to complain about really. Maybe it's brain chemistry or the void that's left as the sprouts grow up and require less full throttle mothering but lately it requires conscious effort to keep from wallowing in my own lack of accomplishment and future prospects. Recent studies about depression ironically reinforce those tiresome homilies that people who practice gratitude and compassion are generally happier. Lately it is somewhat of a struggle to channel this but this week at least, I tentatively give myself a pat on the back.

Joe Workforce was home last summer. He worked briefly but etched on my memory, was coming home from work to find him on the couch in his underpants watching TV with a coaster-less beer on my good coffee table. While in New York I learn of his last minute change of plans to return home for this summer. I love the child but after two years without a full time kid, for all of my empty nest issues, we have become set in our ways and the indolence of the previous summer has left a bad taste.

Stagnant in my late fifties I forget how much difference a year can make when you're in your twenties. Since the summer of sloth, Joe Workforce has served as a Resident Adviser helping a bunch of over dramatic freshmen navigate their first year of college. He himself now has graduated. He gets a good job one week after returning home and then a month later, gets an even better job. Dinner now is the three of us. I remember being somewhat impatient with the stream of consciousness naivete of a college student and not really partaking of dinnertime conversations but now I actually look forward to hearing the kid's car chugging down the street so I can ask him about his day, feed him and then let him choose a film for us to watch.

I listen to the same alternative rock day in and day out. I dabble in Drake and Kanye and recently Kendrick Lamar and an interesting woman who calls herself Tink. I love the energy which is lacking in a lot of the old spacey alt stuff I mostly play. We talk about Straight out of Compton and I note that N.W.A. and most of their predecessors in many ways haven't well served the neighborhoods they hail from. I am bothered by the vulgarity, misogyny and materialism that hip hop promotes. Joe Workforce sets me straight and compares my perception of hip hop to that of my parents to Elvis's gyrating pelvis. He points out that it's all theater and the art isn't about creating culture but reflecting on it. Rappers shouldn't be held any more accountable for what they observe than any other artist. The Rolling Stones were never role models but are never called out for this.

It is gratifying that the kid is becoming an adult that I respect and whose company I enjoy. When he was a tiny baby my dad held him close and caressed his head and signed, “My God, I've seen so many changes in my lifetime, I wonder what he'll see in his.” When the boy saw Dad's old typewriter at the office he asked why the keyboard had no monitor. Once as a child for Halloween I found an old refrigerator box and painted it with knobs and dials and awkwardly trick or treated as a computer. My children have never not known computers but both now carry phones with a zillion times the capacity of computers of their childhoods. I suppose self driving cars and drone deliveries will be commonplace. I worry though that the sonic growth of technology will only further widen the economic divide. The ramifications of Citizen's United and the conflation of money with free speech threatens to further unbalance a country where already a single family (The Waltons) controls more wealth than least wealthy 40% of individual Americans combined.

When I was fifteen I spent all of my after school hours working in a campaign office for George McGovern. I was frightened that the war in Vietnam would go on indefinitely and that boys I knew would be drafted and killed. The results of the 2016 elections will probably not have a profound effect on my day to day life but could well have a lasting impact on the future of my children and grandchildren. Under Bill Clinton regulations against the banking industry were lessened which resulted in the largest economic downturn since the Great Depression. Under Reagan's aegis standards were relaxed and now the F.C.C. has no oversight of bias or fairness in news reporting. The restriction of the number of news outlets a single corporation could own, a measure to insure our access to accurate information, disappeared under the Gipper so that now six gigantic corporations control over 90% of the media in this country.

I understand why the abhorrent Trump continues to poll well. For all his crass vulgarity and insane ideas his message that politicians are beholden to giant corporations resonates. I fantasize about Trump vs. Sanders in 2016 although while it looks like the primary season is going to be a fun and wild ride it will likely be Bush vs. Clinton. Still, I love Bernie and haven't been this invested in an election since McGovern in 1972.

Himself and I have been united now for over a quarter of a century. I guess we would both be branded liberal intellectuals but I will vote for a lesser of evils and he steadfastly will not. Since our lives and finances have become one, the only candidate we have both agreed to donate money to has been Jerry Brown. You're welcome. While I will likely end up voting for Hilary and he for some Green Party crackpot, we both love Bernie Sanders.

We sign up online to attend this week's rally at the Sports Arena. We receive an e-mail asking if we'd like to volunteer and say “what the hell...” We are told to report to the venue at 2:30 and waltz right in with about a hundred volunteers. The group is a mixed bag, young, old, multi-ethnic but a couple of folks, give off sort of a creepy vibe and I am a bit anxious that we are all admitted to the building without passing through any sort of security.

I understand that the Sander's organization is a bit taken aback by its own success and that the L.A. event was planned at the very last minute. Supplies are short. The only merch available are white t-shirts which quickly sell out and for which they are set up only to receive cash. When I express my concerns about security to the volunteer coordinator he acknowledges this but explains that the decision not to have the security team on duty earlier was a financial one. Himself and I are charged with collecting names and e-mails of attendees. Unfortunately, the fields on the forms we are given are awkwardly designed and space for the e-mail address is so tiny that most addys will be illegible.

Many volunteers are sent to scour the long lines of people waiting for admission and get folks to sign our registration forms. Each registrant is given a sticker. Our responsibility is to patrol the foyer, searching out the stickerless, and encouraging them to register. I stand at the other side of the turnstile and catch people right as they enter the door. The security force is now on duty and people are stripped of food and beverages. I doubt if this makes the venue any safer but it does make the concessionaires selling overpriced crap, a bit richer. Unfortunately, mine is the first face people see after their fancy dinner has been dumped in the trash. My volunteer badge I guess gives people a license to spew invective although almost everyone is cooperative at least about providing a name and e-mail. When my voice goes out I scribble out a sign that says, “There are still plenty of seats. Please register before you enter.” I hold this until my arms ache, every last seat is filled, and thousands are relegated to watch via big screens erected in the parking lot.

We are told first thing that we are there to work and not to expect to see the actual speech. But in that there are no real duties to perform, almost all of the volunteers sneak in and crouch in the aisles to hear Bernie. He appears in rolled up shirtsleeves and in a remarkably economical one hour speech boils down cogently what's gone wrong in our nation and poses practical, realistic remedies. I even get a bit choked up. Bernie describes the America I want for my children and their children. It might not be the time, but we elected an African American President and codified equal marriage far sooner than I would have predicted. I'm going to stick with it. Perhaps I'm setting myself up for disappointment but at least my kids will know the kind of America I hope they'll inherit.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Last Week This Morning


Thursday is a big night for Fox News. They have whittled down, the still ridiculously large, pool of Republican presidential candidates and John Stewart has signed off forever. The Republican debate is fascinating spectacle. Even though I find most of the participants to be creeps, I was touched a bit by the palpable desperation of the would be presidents. Most potential candidates completely blow off questions in order to distinguish himself from the crowd. Pew Research reveals that the percentage of Americans who identify themselves as “religiously unaffiliated” is about the same as those who report that they attend church weekly. While I don't think religiosity has decreased to the same extent in the U.S. as it has in Western Europe, there is a definite trend and church membership is steadily declining. Even though I expected it, I wonder if all of the Christian rhetoric and literalism is really going fly with religiously indifferent conservative voters.

As much as I deplore Fox News I admit that Megyn Kelly asks a number of provocative questions. An example however of the power that behemoth corporate media wields, is that the choice of the main ten debaters and therefore, ultimately the candidate, completely rests on Fox News calling the shots. The small comfort I guess is that Fox has effectively quashed the candidacies of Lindsey Graham, Bobby Jindal, and Ricks Perry and Santorum. Only ten assholes left to go. Maybe nine as John Kasich demonstrated reason and compassion and therefore of course has no chance of being chosen.

I am not particularly surprised at Donald Trump's popularity. Some might use this as evidence that our country is growing stupider but the star of Bedtime for Bonzo spent two terms in the White House. However to me, showman Trump bears more similarity to P.T. Barnham than Ronald Reagan. I think calling liberal lesbian Rosie O'Donnell a fat pig or claiming “Our leaders are stupid. Our politicians are stupid,” is fine by a number of Americans. The accusation that the Mexican government is smuggling rapists and murderers across the border and we need a big old wall probably satisfies those who bristle at Spanish signage and bilingual ballots. Trump presents himself as a self-made man although he was born into wealth. The majority of Americans, when asked about achieving the American dream dismissed luck or family connections. Trump presents himself as having become powerful and wealthy due only to hard work and wile. Americans just can't let go of this grit and determination narrative, despite tons of empirical evidence to the contrary. Instead of quoting bible verses Trump, who has traveled extensively in liberal circles, attributes his change of heart on the issue of abortion to having known a woman who was considering an abortion but then went ahead and gave birth what turned out to be a “superstar.” No professional politician would dare utter such a thing but it does make the issue more relatable than bible verses for much of the populace.

My suspicion is that Trump will fade away or go Ross Perot. I note that Bill and Hillary, even when asked about his incendiary comments about Mexicans, are very careful not to disparage Trump--a big donor to their foundation. Given how cowed by Trump the Clintons are, a Hillary vs. Donald race would be fun but I predict it won't happen. Following the money trail, it looks likely that it will come down to Dynasty vs. Dynasty. Jeb, unfortunately, is the bottom of the Bush barrel. His stiff, uncomfortable mien evokes a middle school student caught cheating on a math test.

My gut feeling is that the candidates will be Bush and Clinton and that Bernie Sanders is going to break my heart. Still, I am looking forward to are the six Clinton vs. Sanders debate. Sanders, I think, has the same populist appeal that Trump is riding the wave of, but he's the real deal. I will vote for Hillary against any Republican because I think she's right minded on a lot of issues but the advantage she's taken of Citizen's United renders her impotent and beholden. I look forward to Sanders voice reaching beyond the usual suspects and perhaps informing to an extent the Clinton presidency.

I confess that I miss Colbert more than I will likely miss Stewart. Himself despised The Daily Show. Not for the message but for the messenger. Often Stewart's manic shrillness gets on my nerves but at its zenith the show was brilliantly written and unburied a shitload of dirt that the audience likely wouldn't have known about otherwise. While Fox News was the most frequent target, the show often broke ranks and lambasted the liberal side of the aisle, including the disastrous roll out of Obamacare. And without The Daily Show's drawing attention to the matter, chances are the measure insuring heath care for 9/11 first responders would not have become law. Whiny and neurotic, nevertheless, Jon Stewart is very good for the Jews. And I bet his mom's proud.

The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore is uneven and I hope it finds more solid footing. If you can find it on You.Tube there is a Susie Essman monologue about female Viagra which is absolutely brilliant. Wilmore, who created the wonderful Bernie Mac show still seems a bit uncomfortable in front of the camera. Perhaps some of the better Daily Show writers and researchers will end up with Wilmore and he'll find his groove.

The other alternative until the new host of The Daily Show arrives, is John Oliver's HBO series “Last Week Tonight.” The show is much in the vein of The Daily Show, which Oliver hosted while Jon Stewart was off shooting a film. Because its weekly, and not daily, the format is different, segments averaging in the fifteen minute range. The spirit of news comedy lives but despite the spoonful of sugar the show packs a wallop and is probably good enough in itself to merit a subscription to HBO.