Tuesday, December 15, 2009

One Hundred Years Ago. . .

. . .your great grandparents were in their prime (do you know who their parents were? and isn't it bone-chilling to realize you may not, and that your own full, passionate life may be subject to the same oblivion but a hundred years hence?).

Please read on, fellow mortal.

Your great grandparents, probably without understanding exactly why, were standing at the portals of a momentous period we have come to call "The American Century". That century has come to an end. The 21st got started with awful news from Dade County and then worse news from the corner of Liberty and Church in Lower Manhattan, followed by even worse news a couple of blocks south at the corner of Wall and Broad just across from where a certain American General was sworn in as the nation's first Commander in Chief. Obama may be President today, but he's inherited a deflated-balloon of a nation hissing out its remaining air in a way that sounds an awful lot like the mindless drone of tea-baggers and other ill-tempered opponents to common-sense.

But hope cannot be lost if we look back on what was going on a hundred years ago, when the prospects for the nation loomed great, but when the United States, culturally at least, was unsound and notably laggard--perhaps much as it is today.

Here are a few examples of what made the papers (ref: "America's Taste 1859 -1959, NYT Books):

1908: New York Camera Club Ousts Alfred Steiglitz
They accused him of malfeasance but he said the reason was they just objected to his realism. They called him and his followers "the Mop and Pail crew", mocking their penchant for photographing the city's streets and its people. For quite some time, cubism's forward-looking works on canvas could be seen only at Steiglitz' New York Studio. Incidentally, Picasso's earth-shaking "Les Desmoiselles D'Avignon" with its distorted monstrous nude ladies with African masks was revealed to a generally horrified public in 1906.

1906: Sinclair Lewis' "The Jungle" is panned by the critics but becomes a best-seller anyway.
"I aimed for America's heart and hit it in the stomach" said Lewis. For those who don't know, "The Jungle" is a novel about labor injustice and woefully poor hygiene in the meatpacking industry. Apparently the latter descriptions were so disgusting that the public grew outraged and soon insisted upon, and got, the US government to inspect food processing and keep it at least effectively clean enough not to sicken any noticeable percentage of those who partook. Lewis had in addition hoped to spur similar outrage at the labor malfeasance thereat, but as any Mexican working in a chicken-parts factory knows, this part of the outrage never became as popular with a feasting American public.

1903: Carrie A. Nation is jailed.
Her axe-wielding quote: "You have taken me in as a lamb but I shall come out as a lion". And thus was born the movement that would eventually become an ignominious chapter in our history known as Prohibition; and concomitantly we'd see the rise of a ruling class of Gangsters in America. What Carrie couldn't understand was that you can't stop people from ingesting what they want (see above) no matter what method with which you regale them or punish them. Carrie A. Nation, an Oklahoma girl, had in her later years decided, it seems, that Demon Alcohol was the ruin of lives and families and that alcohol-bars must be cut up with axes. She may have had a point. But it is a little known fact that she was equally and as vociferously against "fraternal orders" such as the Masons, the Odd-Fellows, and probably, if they had existed, Ralph Kramden's Raccoon Club. One imagines these groups were far more influential then than now--or perhaps we just don't realize what they are up to these days (Skull and Bones anyone?). I know I haven't a clue. Having discovered this latter nugget of information, I must admit, is forcing me to give old Carrie a second look.

Finally, and this is about inflation:

1909: Holbein Portrait sells for $400,000--a scandalous sum for a painting at the time.
Now of course we would be well into the multi-millions for same. Fifty million? Maybe. But $400,000! Today you might get a weatherbeaten Manhattan co-op with a view of the air shaft for that much, provided you could convince the bank you really didn't need the money in which case they would guardedly lend it to you (still owing all that TARP money to the government).

So, while we might still may be driving the bus in the ditch, we can safely consider ourselves well ahead of our great grandparents in some ways. For instance, there is no chance they carried around supercomputers in their pockets. Nor would they have been lucky enough to be able to argue about universal health care (in an age when "dropsy" was a significant ailment).

In any case, why is everyone so excited about any of these? A hundred years from now it will all seem so quaint.

Monday, September 21, 2009

How Can Ya Be So Stupid?

I am talking about the so-called "working class" in this country. More narrowly, the white, self-identified "working stiffs" who probably don't belong to a union. Many are blue collar, some are gray collar, some certainly work in cubicles like girls at their sewing machines a century ago, very few are college educated, and nearly all have seen their economic prospects eroded--no, washed away--in a dam-burst of corporate exaltation and profit since the days when their first insidious hero, the now-underestimated Tricky Dick Nixon first bestrode them with a so-called "Southern Policy" that made the Republican party a manipulator of souls.

This post is inspired in part by Timothy Egan's "Working Class Zero" article in the NY Times today. But I have blogged of this working-class disconnect (or mis-connect) before.

My premise is that the American working class is easily in competition for the dumbest in the world, if "dumb" indicates an unquenchable thirst for doing what is diametrically opposed to one's self interest.

For instance, these sad Tea-Party buffoons that showed up in Washington last week: what was their purpose? Waving placards the collective sentiments of which ran the gamut from hate to contempt and back again to hate, they prompted me to ask myself if they had any clue what their actual message was, or if they knew what any coherent message might be. Did any of them seem to have a notion about what in public policy might in practice make their own lives better? Not a one, it seems. Much of the rhetoric was overtly racist (and many thanks to the Man from Plains for being plain-spoken about a very deeply shameful fact that even Obama wants to shrink from: that millions of American loathe him and his beautiful family because of the color of their skin). Race-hate seemed to be the message that got the most attention, whether the Tea-Baggers wanted it to or not. This alone makes my skin crawl, but let's not get too hung up on that just yet.

I imagine that astute observers around the world, especially those who've striven for "workers" over the long decades, including unionists, non-American centrists from large, industrial nations, socialists, and perhaps, if there are any who aren't thinking about nuking their neighbors due to their own brand of moronism, Communists, must be marveling at the overwhelming success the ruling class (roughly speaking) has had in dividing and conquering the peasants and serfs in the United States.

Where else are people who desperately need government regulation to keep themselves from being preyed on by giant conglomerates, instead spewing hate at "big government" and waving the flag for Capital? Where else are people who struggle to pay bills on the family Caravan deluded into thinking their taxation-policy should be in line with the taxation-policies that benefit those who pay with pocket change for their Bentley? Where else are people first robbed and cheated by a rapacious health-care industry literally from the cradle until the grave, then found crowding the airwaves with screeching-points written for them by the public relations experts employed by that very industry? Where else are people proudly betting their livelihoods and the livelihoods of their children on policies touting "self-reliance" and "faith" and "freedom" when what they are handed, once the race is run, a ticket worth little but an insecure, dead-end job in which they are totally dependent on plutocratic whimsy, not a nickel's worth of real assistance from their ermine-coated clergy, and a way of life constricted by prejudice, gun-violence, lack of access to facts, and only the mobility to traverse the lonely highways looking for the next town and the next job and the next mortgage?

For now, I will leave-off any discussion of the toxic form of Christianity that has taken hold of so many of these folks, for that is a subject both too deep and too complex to share space with any other. It is also a most wearying subject, and thinking about that plus the racist idiocy of the Tea-Baggers has left me in need of either a good strong drink or a restful nap.

I would like to say our nation can continue like this, with about forty percent of the country's populace living on a moonlet untethered to fact or any semblance of enlightened self-interest, but I don't think it can. The smart people won't always have an Obama to elect (and even he's got troubles in this environment); and it is in the cards that somehow, some way, a demagogue pandering to these Tea-Baggers will get put in the White House, and then heaven help us all.

Oh, wait. That already happened. I forgot, for a second, that George W. Bush had been President for eight most regrettable years. I guess I am afraid the next time it will be worse.


Thursday, September 10, 2009

That Lady that Drove the Wrong Way on the Parkway

For those of you who live either far away from the Hudson Valley or have been sailing 'round the world in a one-person craft the past couple of months, I am talking about the woman who got onto the Taconic State Parkway going in the wrong direction with a carload full of kids, drove several miles in the wrong direction (in the fast lane of oncoming traffic), then crashed and killed everybody in the car including herself and a couple of others in an oncoming car.

They said at first she had been "disoriented" and had called her brother (not her husband) and he had told her to stay off the road. She didn't listen.

Then they said she drank a half-gallon of vodka, smoked several joints and was as wild as a polecat when she got on the highway.

In either case, the result was a near-incredible tragedy the horror of which one struggles to contemplate.

Me, I am not buying the drunk-as-a-skunk business. I know we'll probably never know, but there's got to be more going on (a stroke?) when you are observed getting into a car sober (full of kids), then make a call that you're not feeling well, then commit a colossal and fatal error (or not!) that seems to have bordered on the far fringe of madness.

Can I picture the Long Island mom with her and her neighbor's kids in the car, chugging the hard stuff and smoking like Bob Marley somewhere between the exit for Poughkeepsie and the one for Garrison? Frankly I cannot. It doesn't "feel" plausible--that's all I can say about it.

I think the cops wanted to "solve the mystery" in a big hurry and so they did. I'm not saying there might not have been alcohol in her and I'm not saying there might not have been THC in her. I'm saying I can't imagine how she could have gotten that drunk and stoned that fast, and that this made her drive the wrong way on a parkway for several miles until dead.

They should probably exhume the poor woman and get some further testing done. And my heart goes out to all those who lost someone in this epochal automobile tragedy.


Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Yesterday I Saw an Orange Leaf

A friend of mine who grew up in the Midwest says that after living here in the Northeast for several years, he observes that on September 1, the light changes, the air changes, and everything about summer begins to wane rapidly.

I still keep trying to tell myself it's psychological conditioning (back to school--all that stuff); but there is always, for me, a wistful quality to early September and I believe my friend's insight about the angle of light, coupled with the onset of no-longer-deniably shorter days, has something to do with it.

I have already blogged about how winter excites in me a seething hate bordering on that of the birthers for Obama. I have unfortunately allowed that hate to overflow into a near-dislike of everyone's favorite season (fall) on grounds that it is simply an early phase of winter and harbinger of much worse to come (weatherwise).

Now that we have been handed a summer generally so wet it might have been able to confuse the Creature from the Black Lagoon into relaxing on my front porch thinking he was still underwater, I feel like I must fight to deny fall any toehold--the better to forestall the onset of the great unhappy freeze that reduces the Northeast to a soggy, sad excuse for staying indoors and looking at art and watching movies instead of, say, roasting kielbasa over a propane fire.

Hence my denial of all signs of the arrival of a season not called summer but that inevitably seems to follow it in the seasonal cycle. Perhaps perversely, I have therefore grown keen-eyed in my scan of the summerscape, looking for signs of decay. For several days into September I saw no change. Even a patch of new grass seed I had recently laid had sprung and grew thick and yet wispy like the hair of a green young angel. Even until today there has still been no thought of needing a thing called "jacket".

But yesterday, on my way back from the County Fair up in the Hudson Valley, I spotted, quite suddenly and in a place it had certainly not been noticed the day before, a tree with leaves beginning to turn orange. I caught my breath. Summer was beginning to fail me--faithless, green summer now beginning its long swoon to the crackling ice and black sucking mud and the dark, unforgiving days of winter. In summer, people can picnic in the woods. In winter, people who are stuck in the woods freeze to death. Freeze to death! Winter is an indignity not to be borne without strong resentment.

And now we are on our way. The leaves have (in the Hudson Valley anyway) begun to turn. Before we know it, we'll be trying to keep our ears warm (a ridiculous notion!).

I am determined to remain in denial for at least several more days. I think I can last until the twentieth of the month. Then, kicking orange leaves with my boot, I will have to think about raking them and piling them and to begin counting the long days until spring.


Friday, August 28, 2009

Where is California's Car Genius?

Or genii as I am pretty sure the plural is written.

It has long been evident (to me at least) that part of the reason the American car industry has crashed like a Mastodon on thin ice is because it looks for its creative spark in, of all places, Detroit.

I don't have anything against Detroit. I wish it were a better place. It happens to be a bad place--one of the worst cities in the United States. Does anyone with world-class creative juices, connections, or even just iPod-like coolness live there, or want to live there? I know I am going to sound parochial by saying it, but I suspect the answer is "no". Or if they do live there, they are hurting to leave (didn't Madonna grow up near Detroit--and scrammed as a youth for a flophouse in the junkiest part of Manhattan?). You will argue that it produced tailfins and huge engines and large success for many years. I will say I agree, but that the Pinto and the Aspen and the Suburban have long buried that glory in a mound of disgraceful and now very disfavored automotive junk.

So we are expecting a city with a wretched recent history, zero creativity and all the verve of a bag full of jello and marshmallows to come up with the next great automotive idea? Don't bet the house on that. Don't bet a nickel. They may be able to build them there--but they sure as heck don't seem much able to design them there.

That's where the Golden State comes in. After all, where would Detroit be without Los Angeles to buy Cobalts and Magnums and Azteks by the boatload? How many cars do Californians buy a year? I don't know--but it is a sick number I am certain. So why don't the folks up along Sand Hill Road recruit the next Bid Daddy Roth and come up with some butt-kicking car ideas and ramp up a company kind of the way they did with software? Kind of like the dreamers in Hollywood came up with Titanic and Coraline and the cinematic version of Chicago? How about combining the best of California--entrepreneurship, a taste for the greener choices in life (and I don't mean just money) plus the old razzle-dazzle--and putting that considerable energy and money and brainpower behind a new automotive industry?

Do I think it can happen overnight? No. Do I think that in twenty years we'd be driving 150mpg cars that look like Excellence on Wheels, and for which the world will clamor (the way it does for software and movies)? I do.

I know California's not exactly in great shape these days either. But on its worst day, it's got about a thousand percent better chance of coming up with a winner than the Glyptodonts in Michigan who've spent the last forty years lying and dying and losing and snoozing.


Monday, August 24, 2009

How Does Anyone Stomach the Purchase of a New Car?

I am driving a car with a hundred thousand miles on it. I happen to like it and take pretty good care of it. It's one of those 4-cylinder ugly-cute hybrids that the Japanese seem so good at making, and you can pretend it's an SUV on some days but you don't have to pay for all the gas you'd need if you had the real thing.

One day I thought I'd see about getting a sedan from the same company--I like sedans, too, and I like it when they are pretty sleek and pretty good on gas. So I went to a dealer whose name seemed to profess a propensity for being Friendly, not expecting them to be anything but ordinary and somewhat on the slimy side.

I came away with my convictions intact: I find it hard to believe that anyone can stomach the purchase of a new car except very rarely or when one really needs to do so.

Of course, I started my research on-line and found out that leases were going off at two-twenty nine a month and that my car had a blue-book value of around sixty-five hundred bucks. The amount owed to the bank was a little less than that amount. Perhaps perversely, I wanted them to take my car instead of the up-front fees they usually ask for (a couple of grand) to get the lease started.

Maybe this is what doomed the transaction from the start. But I got the distinct impression that the dealership expected to relieve me of my vehicle for considerably less than it was worth, sell it for considerably more than it was worth, and still make me pay full freight on the lease. Why not?

The offense is in the way this transparent unfairness is often tricked up by car dealers. I think they believe their customers must be idiots (because buying a new car is inherently stupid?--I don't know).

It started with the salesperson telling me that a certain "he" had said my perfectly presentable car was "in rough shape" and that they couldn't come anywhere near blue-book. When I pointed out the difference in dollars and cents, I was told that "he" would not "insult me" with an offer that approached the blue-book value. Also, that the blue-book "didn't really follow the market", which was an amazing thing to say about the industry-standard price guide.

I figured this combination of reverse terminology and outright denial of fact must be part of the not-so-subtle bag of tricks the salesperson deploys to confuse the buyer. It confused me, but only in the sense that I wasn't sure if it was a trick or if the salesperson might be running low on batteries somehow. The resultant lease offer was fully more than a hundred dollars a month more than my research had suggested it might cost (and what the company's national advertising campaign proclaimed).

Then came the math part. "Even if I could get you another thousand" on the car, it would only bring the price down by thirty dollars. On the other hand, if I paid them two thousand up front, the price would come down by at least a hundred dollars--a three-to-one ratio in their favor.

I asked what happened to the two-twenty-nine, since we weren't even close. "Where did you see that?" It was as if I had brought in a dead rat and had asked to have it appraised. That it had been seen in a "national advertising campaign" was treated as if it had been transmitted to me by aliens in a heiroglyph unreadable in the car-dealership domain.

This led me to the conclusion that they had no need to sell a car to me, and I shook hands with their salesperson and left.

I may hang on to my car for another hundred thousand miles. It may be less insulting to my pride to drive around in a dented old rustbucket than to feel the chill of car-dealer slime applied liberally about my head and shoulders any time soon.

So my question remains: how can anyone put up with it? No other type of transaction is ever as rife with chicanery. How do they sell even a single car except to the careless, desperate or innocent? I will continue to ponder.


Thursday, August 20, 2009

Howard Stern: What a Chump!

Remember "The King of All Media" with his easy sneer and his Quivering sidekick, making fun of big boobs and retards and minorities and talking about dicks and farts and occasionally about politics as if anyone cared what he thought about anything but the way he described the nether cheeks of any of a dozen visiting whores and cum-bunnies?

Remember how he was always picking on the easiest targets, and how he always got away with sneering at people who were truly different by hiding behind his self-professed ugliness, gratuitously his Jewishness, and the platitudinous Negritude of his helpmate?

Remember how he seemed to be the voice of every teen boy and undersexed twenty and thirty something male in the whole wide universe? How he made it seem, if you squinted hard (really, really hard), that it might be cool to be a wisecracking nobody with no friends and nothing better to do than snarl and chuckle and hope that some chick will do something dirty for you without you having to pay?

Remember his front-page battles with the mean-old government that wanted to keep him from cursing on-air? And then how he figured he'd get the last laugh by doing his show the way he'd always wanted to do it? On satellite radio? With, like, twelve people listening?

Well, I am sure he's sulking all the way to the mouse-click that shows him his hefty bank balance, but can it really be the case that in a very short time indeed, he has become totally, utterly, incontrovertibly irrelevant?

When was the last time you heard anyone--I mean anyone at all--mention good old Howard Stern? Does he still have a show on satellite radio? Is there such a thing as satellite radio anymore?

Isn't it wonderful how the world's biggest jackasses so often end up tripping over their own big floppy egos and landing face down in a lonesome puddle at the end of the field where nobody's watching anymore?

If only Rush Limbowel would go where Stern went. But he's never made the mistake of overestimating his viewers. He knows they wouldn't bother to buy into some cockamaimie monthly service plan just to hear his drivel.

Poor Howard. Where do you suppose he stands on the Health Care issue? I'm sure he'd think of something dirty to say about it. But it's too late. Nobody cares what he says. Not one person.


Tuesday, August 18, 2009


Some poets, not all, are social behaviorists. Confined to paper are countless psychiatric observations and self-analyses in the poetic medium that supersede some of the impressions and theories of psychologists, therapists, and anthropologists. But the poetic terrain is not an exclusive domain for saber-sharp diagnoses and deliberations on the varieties of human experience. I would wish to recruit all artists, regardless of their field or vision, to begin a push towards renewed interrogation of human folly in the form of splenetic, crude, and darkest satire.

While we at the moment derive great entertainment from political and social satire these are mostly television-based and intend to poke fun rather than stab violently. Jonathan Swift! The age has great need for you! There are people who die in car accidents because they are chatting on their cell phones and not paying attention to the road; train conductors who kill themselves and passengers because they were texting; teenagers and adults alike who devote more time to video games and sudoku than they do discussing their deliberations of the world; a culture of attention deficit disorder growing more adept at inattentiveness and amnesia; an electorate which still in the main believes in its leaders and thinks "Change" is a jingle by which one washes one's laundry. Swiftian spears need to be thrown and hit their targets dead-on. If the subjects are killed or otherwise are compelled to reform their misbegotten ways, all the better. The Age of Harsh Satire must commence now! J/C

Friday, August 14, 2009

In Support of Poets

I am in full agreement with the economic analysis put forth in the most recent All Poets Are Thieves posting.

I moved to Manhattan when no one (apparently) wanted to be here and got an admittedly rather crummy apartment for a hundred and fifty dollars a month. If that same apartment today were not ten times as expensive--maybe more--I would be shocked.

Today, the notion that one is young, ambitious, creative and pretty broke yet able to find a home in the canyons of the great City of Dreams, is chimerical. Even as rents fall by fifteen and twenty percent (at most), the city, and especially Manhattan, is still held in a white-knuckled grip by landlords (and co-op owners and condo-owners to a lesser extent)who seek crazily to drive every penny of profit out of each and every livable space between the Battery and Spuyten Duyvil (and beyond).

This did not happen in a vacuum. Certain large areas of Manhattan were, for a long enough time, a bargain for the creative minds that powered it--until there were enough of them to crowd out the junkies, thieves, creeps, drunks and filthy whackos that used to lard the populace and help keep the whole place somewhat on edge and somewhat undesirable to those seeking a proper, hassle-free lifestyle. Many of those who arrived as broke creatives became loft-owners and wanted nothing less than a hassle-free lifestyle and then fully supported the various crackdowns and price-runs that eventually created a city that now resembles the city of old only in its pace and its linear height.

So many of the old charms (yes, charms) of Manhattan are now gone. Small, cranky shops that could be found nowhere else are now nowhere to be found. Does anyone remember places like Magickal Childe where you could buy henbane and skulls, or 13th Street Lumber where you could buy pieces of wood small enough to carry home yourself? One could go on--the loss of diners, the loss of bookstores, the loss of non-chain-store coffee shops, the loss of cheap junk shops with really cool stuff in them--in essence, the loss of uniqueness that made Manhattan a place where one could manage to live well and cheaply and just beyond the clutches of landowners and great corporations that had moved to the suburbs.

Manhattan today, even as it suffers a severe economic downturn, is no place for the young dreamer of little means. Today's rag-tag dreamer has become a victim of a previous generation of dreamers' success. This is terribly sad. But young dreamers will find their own places--some have gone to the Hudson Valley for instance, and some to still-marginal sections of the boroughs (not including Williamsburgh which is well-trodden and unjustifiably expensive). Manhattan will be the richer, but also much the poorer--and certainly far, far less interesting.


Monday, August 10, 2009

Saturday, August 08, 2009

All Poets Are Thieves!!!

Dateline, Tri-state Area (NYC, NJ, CT)...

I enjoy misnomers, especially when they are used by me. No, Virginia, not all poets are thieves and some are quite affluent, by birth or art endowment. These types don't need to steal literally or be tempted to do so. But many writers whatever the material shapes of their imaginations must peddle their wares and lives in quiet or noisy desperation. They do not necessarily wish to join the ranks of the financially comfortable and very few would be inclined to steal a penny, a pen, a penthouse, what have you. For any artist any decade, any century, it is, in general, tough to survive the world and striving with expenses and extra-artistic labors to make ends and odds meet can be a genuinely disconcerting life-long condition. Comparatively, it might have been easier in past decades, say, the seventies, to live cheaply in the tri-state area, the waters have always been rough, here, there, everywhere. Yet now it is more difficult and Mayor Bloomberg, if his vision of New York City as a haven for the aristocratic elite and no one else can be related back to classical philosophers, is like Plato, inadvertently* banishing the poets and all other artists to the margins or the sub-suburbs.

Manhattan is treacherous for the creative mind not equipped with a hefty check book and some neighborhoods seem peopled with the folks e.e. cummings warned us about: "...the Cambridge ladies who live in furnished souls/are unbeautiful and have comfortable minds..." For "Cambridge," think "Soho" or most other neighborhoods south of 96th Street. One can only hope that Poet's House, Stanley Kunitz's marvelous institution, can redeem the upper end of Battery Park City, when it relocates there very soon from 72 Spring Street in what real estate developers call "NoLita" and poets call "lower East Side." The new location is one of the unpoetic spaces in Manhattan so I hope its presence can miraculously bring beauty where now only the nouveaux riche and Wall Street execs prance about the corridors of their eco-friendly luxury condos in unbeautiful ungestures to culture.**

* I do hope Bloomberg is not intentionally wiping out artists or the working-class. What's your take, o reader?

** The other half of Battery Park City, Gateway Plaza and downward, still has charm, some fine people, and persevering sense of cosmopolitan self.


Friday, August 07, 2009

Saturday, August 01, 2009

The Abject Failure of Existing Government Health Care

We know it mostly as "Medicare" and it's for old folks. It doesn't cost anything. It's run by the government. By all accounts, it is a 100% failure.

In fact, by every account I know of, it is universally lethal. Have you heard of any old person ever having survived the onslaught of Medicare's pill-slinging, hipbone-setting, cardiac-massaging minions? Of course not. Every single old person under its care ends up dying. This is a great tragedy--an American holocaust. But of course no one--not even anti-government teabaggers--dares talk about it. This is because everyone knows that one day, they too will end up in the deadly clutches of Medicare. Evidently they are hoping their silence will buy them an extra few years before, in its mysterious, inexorable way, Medicare oversees their death.

The worst part of Medicare is that everyone gets it. If you were poor and uninsured at 64, you are, when you turn 65, still poor but also in the deadly grip of Medicare. And you have no hope of survival. Seniors, frightened and intimidated by the certain death awaiting them at the hands of Medicare, say nothing. The quietest among them accept the care for many years--and survive sometimes to celebrate their one hundredth birthday. But no one survives much past their centenary.

Who knows how long seniors might live without this deadly government program? A hundred and ten? A hundred and twenty-five? A hundred and seventy-five? Five hundred? Have we no right to find out? Of course not. The government has made certain there are no survivors.

Take heed, America. The silent acceptance of Medicare by seniors is evidence enough. They are too frightened to tell you what it's like to have free medical care from the government--too scared to tell you that it will eventually kill you.


Wednesday, July 29, 2009

If I were in My Home and. . .

If I were in my home and, having shown I.D. to a policeman or woman proving I lived there and was not wanted on an outstanding charge, I would expect them to leave on the double and issue a public servant-like apology for having wasted my time. I would expect to accept their apology, but, while it might be nice of me to be nice about it, I would be under no legal restraint to keep my mouth shut in any way, shape or form.

Of course the charges were dropped (in Cambridge, against Professor Gates, if you have been skindiving in Tuvalu for the past week)! "The Cambridge Police acted stupidly". Obama got it right the first time (he usually does).

This may be about race as much as anything else, but to me it is more about a citizen's constitutional right to privacy and the limits of police power.

The police were right in investigating the 911 call. As a citizen, I would want them to respond to a possible break-in at my home. That said, the citizen is under no obligation to be polite in his/her own home in order to avoid arrest. This is where the cops got stupid.

Of course Gates was unwise to have been shouting at the police. Of course the police account is at odds with the facts in a manner supporting police rectitude. These are human beings looking out for themselves.

But here we must stand fast against an obvious tramping upon a citizen's right to privacy. A policeman no longer in pursuit of a criminal on private property has no reason to be present upon said private property. Much less should he/she have an expectation that the citizen owes him/her some sort of "respect" or even "politeness". And especially not so as to avoid arrest.

The notion that the Cambridge police felt endangered by Gates in a manner requiring the application of handcuffs, or that there was "tumultuous behavior in a public space" beggars belief. Once the cops had seen his ID as proof of residence, it was time to go--with a handshake or under a hail of invective. The citizen in the case had no responsibility to politeness towards anyone, and that included the police.

Anyone dragged out of their own house in handcuffs having done nothing but perhaps yell at a cop has a right to be awfully annoyed. I am bound to wonder what will come out of Obama's post-racial cocktail party--I hope it includes an admission from the cop that he really ought'n't've arrested the guy.


Tuesday, July 28, 2009


Today I read of a certain esteemed poetry foundation/academy/institution (I'll keep them anonymous for their sake and mine) which just awarded several young poets cash awards as seed money to further launch their careers. The amount to each budding bard was a cool $15,000. Yes, $15,000. As a poet myself, I am a little bewildered about how one would spend this cash cow newly grazing in one's purse. The notice of the winners mentioned that the money could be spent in any way. So, established is a poetry prize for which poetry is not the primum mobile of the endowment.

Were I to construct a poetry-financial portfolio, I should invest in gold-enameled pens, red carpets in every room of my apartment to feel as if I was "Versifier of the Year" (for every year), and perhaps subsidize my copious imagination which costs a lot in this dour day and augue-riddled Age. No, I'm frankly against money emollients for poets unless to aid the aged, the infirmed, or for those encountering recent financial or existential difficulties. Although conceptually more money in the midden might seem a saintly arrangement, especially by some of the hand-to-mouth word-mavens I know (I'm not on the poverty line but I see it slicing across the stanza-steppes and poesy-plains), it would institutionalize the work and I never see such cosseting or incarceration (which is it?) as salubrious to craft. Recall Samuel "Dictionary" Johnson's rejoinder to his faux patron, Lord Chesterfield, and be cautious of transactions with Moloch. J/C

Sunday, July 26, 2009

The ride back

is always shorter than the ride down.
Maybe because today the train
isn’t running counter to your meeting schedule
like yesterday when it seemed the conductor
invented new cities to stop in
just so you’d have to run for a taxi
to your crucial lunch.

a third of the way home, or so,
when the lucky ones are all sleeping
and the rest are doing crosswords in pen,
you sit up, knowing where you are
and happy to be just passing through
the ruins of this brown city, and you remember
the brief tour, the sharp angle
you will cut across these streets, with the halves
of houses, the weed-sprung yards and all
their white plastic chairs stacked high – next
comes the empty ball field, and then a factory,
beside a low building studded with truck bays
where some hour of some day, you would see
men, and teams of men, all busy
loading boxes, or unloading, hauling furniture
or maybe milk crates, or newspaper bales,
some smoking cigarettes where they stand
in twos and threes, before hurrying
back to their homes, too.

Mark Aiello

Tuesday, July 21, 2009


Dash Snow 1981-2009 (photographer...?)

Yes, Virginia, by the looks of it, Dash Snow was a poseur with a purse, a decadent with no use for more than two and an half (and more so!) decades. The work was not rich but the maker was-- profligate and prolific, yet not arriving near "good," the benchmark of even mere attention. J/C

Thursday, July 16, 2009

My Favorite Stationery Store

That's right, it's spelled with an "e". How many times have you seen that word spelled with an "a" as if it were describing something that is remaining in the same place? These days, probably more often than not.

But a stationery store, while usually stationary, is spelled with an "e", and in a world of Staples and Office World and of course Wal Mart, the stationery store often goes the way of the passenger pigeon.

I do, however, know of one that has managed to outlast the local Staples in Midtown Manhattan. It's on 47th Street and I don't know its name and it is run by a couple of argumentative Orthodox Jews, an African American man who seems to be the one who keeps the place running, and a near-deaf old woman probably the mother of one or both of the argumentative bosses. They keep the place a dreadful mess and the farther back into the store you go, the less you feel like you're in a store but more like you're in an egregiously disorganized back room filled with cardboard and old sandwiches. They write orders out on paper--carbon copy provided. They have a guy who "runs things over to Morrie" or whomever. Their pen collection is tired and dusty. They have odd things on the shelves, like white-out tape, that it seems no one has asked for since the mid nineteen-eighties.

And yet, and yet: they seem to maintain a thriving business. People are always coming in for reams of paper and paper clips and weird pen refills that are no longer manufactured. If you want something, you ask for it (like the old days) and they shuffle back into the dim recesses of the store, or they shove around some boxes under the counter and they get it for you. None of this "self-service" stuff at this place. They sell some up-to-date stuff too--lots of Moleskine notebooks. You can pick these out yourself. But most important, they have outlasted the local Staples.

In a previous post I had made note of how moms and pops fail in the face of the big boxes because they often have a poor attitude and don't seem happy to help. These guys have a swagger, but it's pride of place, and of the certain knowledge that whatever it is you want, they have it somewhere in that unholy mess and will excavate it for you and you will buy it. I've never bothered to compare their prices but I don't think they are the cheapest place in town.

There used to be so many shops like this in New York. Maybe everywhere. This one is hanging in there. I give them business whenever I can, even if the boxes are dented and the pens have to be wiped off before using them.

Staples closed up about a month ago.


Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Tuesday, July 14, 2009


Recently I noticed how over the years I've acquired a curious collection of redundant t-shirts and I wonder if these retro and now meaningless visual compositions announce something ominous or else silly about their wearer. Among the shirts which should accessorize the dustbin of history are "Free Buddy-- Providence, RI," referring to jailed former Providence Mayor Buddy Cianci. He's been out of jail now for over five years. Another t-shirt advertizes "Patsy's," the pizza joint in DUMBO now called "Grimaldi's" after losing a legal battle and being forced to cede the old name to a patsy not in Brooklyn. It's been "Grimaldi's" since about the time that Buddy fled the clink. Several shirts are fabric commercials for record stores primarily in New England and all now closed. Then there are the slew of bands, ever obscure and only really embodied in their emblematic incarnations on these moldy shirts. I've no nostalgia for criminal mayors, re-named restaurants, or defunct stores or musical groups. Perhaps, however, I do have a soft spot for the person I was when these garments were first bought, stolen, or offered. Several selves are in those shirts, not all of them waiting to return to new t-shirt vividness and some not willing to be expunged or faded. J/C

Monday, July 13, 2009

Another Crank Complaint About a Common American Pastime

This time it's the ubiquitous practice known as "running"; and perhaps more in general, "exercise".

Like the moon-shots, this American obsession with fitness began with that well-known gymnast (at least between the sheets), JFK--who was, as the cognoscenti know, usually in severe pain due to this back, and on a frightening amount of drugs that helped him overcome a debilitating case of Addison's disease, and who was often too sick to get out of bed for weeks at a time. Perhaps it was this personal dichotomy--his severe illness coupled with his at-the-time successful projection of a youthful vitality--that drove him to promote personal vigor and especially exercise as almost a patriotic duty.

What I am almost certain will make my post seem especially perverse is the raw numbers of the obviously unfit in our nation, the one-hundred million-man/woman Army of obesity thundering around our big-box stores (or gliding in self-propelled I'm-too-fat-to-walk buggies).

I am not talking about them. They are, for the most part, beyond the help that even moderate exercise might bring. What they really need to do is just stop stuffing their pie-holes. But that is another post.

I am talking about the so-called "fit" and also the hopefully fit. Let me be clear: I hate running and other forms of exercise. I dislike them because they seem so pointless. Where am I running from/to? Why all the huffing and puffing (I have thought while on an exercise bike--an occurrence I admit is rare as a butterfly at Christmas). I seem to have no purpose other than a purely selfish one: make me thinner (for the record, the writer is somewhat overweight but not, I like to believe, anything like nearly obese).

So here is my complaint and it's more or less one of morals, or of social responsibility at least: if all of the runners and spinners and lifters have so much energy to burn, how about doing something constructive? There are lots of meals to be lifted to the hungry; plots to be dug on weekends for affordable housing; assistance needed for the straw-limbed who really cannot walk; children to be carried at hospices. You get the idea.

Or how about a proposal that would seem to satisfy so many if it could be implemented: why not pass a law (in NYC for example) that all exercise machines, especially those that don't pull electricity, must be hooked up to the electrical grid in order to generate energy. What if a runner could (voluntarily) strap on a belt that would transform the running motion into energy stored in a battery that could then be used at home to recharge cameras, ipods, robot vacuum cleaners and so much more?

Maybe then I would feel that all this running and spinning and in-place-jogging-while-watching-CNBC-while-listening-to the Black Eyed Peas weren't anything more than a madness born of self-absorption, vanity and a nitwit hunger to waste one's energetic years in pointless, repetitive motion.


Sunday, July 12, 2009

The ugly girl

I watched the women in their short skirts
look up from their magazines and then away
when she squeezed in with the rest of the crowd
crossing the platform from the express.
The doors closed and she stood back
from everyone, holding her books
in front of her so no one
would touch her and then
have to say anything. I watched her -
the ghost of her face in the window
watching the tunnel the whole way,
as if where we had left
or where we were going
mattered as much to us
as to all the other pretty faces.

Mark Aiello

Wednesday, July 08, 2009


Goddamn it!

The day was going so well (actually, it was akin to the opening of Sam Beckett's MURPHY: "The sun shone, having no alternative, on the nothing new.") until I read Renaissance's posting about Karl Malden. Now the eyes tear-- and, no, that's neither an exaggeration or dramatic flourish-- and the heart writhes and, alas, one re-visits recent yet old knowledge-- Karl Malden is dead! And all too young, even at ninety-seven. He was the most distinctive everyman I've witnessed.

And then next Wednesday will commemorate the sixth anniversary of the death of Chilean novelist, short story writer, and poet, Roberto Bolano. He died in Barecelona, Spain on July 15, 2003, the very day I arrived in that splendid, secretive city. Next week, July 15, 2009, I will fly to San Diego and, in utmost honor of Roberto, will resurrect him. Yes, I will. J/C

Karl Malden, one of the Best

In downtown LA they were celebrating the life (the good parts) of Michael Jackson; meanwhile reports said the coroner still had his brain, and there was no plan to bury the body. His death certificate did not say how he died.

In another part of the world, a man of 97 years passed away leaving a long legacy of great cinematic performances. His name was Karl Malden.

He was the priest in On the Waterfront. The well-meaning schlub in Streetcar Named Desire. The nemesis in One-Eyed Jacks. In each, he played against another great actor named Marlon Brando and because he was so different from the brooding Brando, because his face with its large, off-center nose and his piercing, searching eyes and his ability to be both unassuming, honest, threatening and familiar all at once, he never seemed to be in Brando's shadow, but fighting right alongside as an equal.

He didn't have a wealth of sex appeal (I don't think). But he had enormous appeal as a regular guy, a smart guy, a tough guy. You didn't mess with a Karl Malden. You figured you could kid with him for as long as you wanted, but if he got tired of you, he might easily kick your ass and not feel guilty about it.

Karl Malden played cops and priests and truckers and cowpokes and detectives and was the everyman every man could aspire to be--he not only had plenty of self-respect, but he commanded respect.

I confess I had no idea he was still with us when he died. 97 is pretty old. My guess is he had a pretty good life. I know of no scandal, ever, involving Karl Malden.

Good-bye, Karl Malden. You were one of the best in your profession during the golden era of movies between World War Two and the resignation of Richard Nixon. I am sure you've already got a star on Hollywood Boulevard. One hopes they have recently applied to it some extra polish.


Monday, July 06, 2009

Saturday, July 04, 2009

Witness to an Economic MegaTrend?

The theory I will put forth in this post will be highly unscientific in that its data points are truly minimal and entirely personal. But two experiences--one in 1975 and one yesterday--have made me wonder if we have not come to the end of an age.

The age I am talking about is the one where bad old times are put to rest, the value of nearly everything rises, and those who have made the right moves will have profited handsomely, especially in real estate. Moreover, the age I am talking about does not just encompass the recent bubble but goes back much, much farther than that--to a time when derelict housing was "rediscovered", brought back to life, and certain of our American downtowns resurrected from the ashes in which post-war, suburban flight had left them.

First let me digress to say that I believe the suburbs are doomed as a way of life and that this will only become apparent as gas prices permanently exceed $5.00 per gallon within the next five years. But that is another story.

In 1975 I was young and out of work in Portland, Oregon where Victorian houses could be had for a song (but more of a song than I had in my pocket). Having found work at a cunning sandwich shop run by a gay couple, I later found work helping their friends clean up hulking old relics that had been inhabited by shut-ins and old ladies for decades, that they had bought with a small portion of their savings, and would soon fix up and become the harbingers of a nationwide trend of spontaneous urban reclamation. One of them, William Jamison, was so successful that, after he died of AIDS, they put up a park to honor him in the Northwest Portland neighborhood he helped revive.

The rest of the country followed suit. Where, except for the most neglected regions, have we not seen smart people take old forgotten houses and remake them into modern success stories (and see their real-estate value quintuple or do even better than that)?

A riverside town in upstate New York--which I sometimes visit--gives me the coda to my story. I happened to notice a yard sale that looked more interesting than most, as it was in front of a Victorian-style house that had obviously been reclaimed in typical fashion. I encountered the owner, an older gay man in high-heeled cowboy boots selling everything he owned because he had lost his antique business ("no market! burn it all! a dollar a pound!"), lost his lover to AIDS and now was in foreclosure. He said that the mortgage was $360K, he cannot make the payments, is being offered $275K for the house and can't take it; and that three years ago someone offered him a million dollars for the house and he did not take it then either, believing it would continue to increase in value. He claimed he would soon be homeless. I cannot claim I did anything heroic. I bought a doorknob and left.

But I left thinking that I had seen the opposite side of the curve of a megatrend in values. Let us suggest that the last "oil crisis" and the resignation of Nixon was a former low-point for this country in terms of value (and I can prove the undervalued nature of things at that time by pointing out that I signed a Manhattan apartment lease for $150 dollars a month in 1978). And so after almost forty years of rising values for things like housing and antiques and art and stocks and bonds and automobile industries, now the same types of people who were early in the real estate market and leading the way to rediscovery of our undervalued treasures (these were, and have long been mainly gay men), now are selling off everything they own at firesale prices or worse, and being thrown into the street.

Maybe it was just a chance encounter and without much meaning. But there are an awful lot of shut-up storefronts around; in small downtowns, at megamalls, on Fifth Avenue; and I begin to wonder what is going to replace those stores, those jobs, those livelihoods in a society that had become almost fatally overavalued and overbuilt.


Wednesday, July 01, 2009


I am not one to immerse myself in celebrity death culture but I just heard Karl Malden passed away, close to one hundred in age and whose performances and personality were always 100%. Here's a true cause to mourn--the other folks who are again bringing their hits to the obits, should stand aside for Karl. I can think of few character actors to rival him. Well, one, yes...and he died this year too, but more than three decades younger than Sir Karl. I mean Lux Interior, singer for the psychobilly bad-asses The Cramps. When I saw The Cramps play New Year's Eve 1988, I felt I was attending a religious ceremony; Lux seemed a priest, a black mass-savvy Father Corrigan. You remember Father Corrigan, right? The union-charging priest in ON THE WATERFRONT, played by Karl Malden? Oh, alas, I've succumbed to celebrity death culture--but only for Lux and Karl. Goodnight, fellas, I'll really miss you. J/C

Monday, June 29, 2009

Saturday, June 27, 2009


Apologies for lateness, slow-downs, and work stoppages: 2 jobs and miscellaneous writing projects have kept me from the console. If you read books, and I know you do, you might find some of my recent book reviews for The Brooklyn Rail. Also, in addition to publishing a chapbook of poetry with Dos Madres Press out of Loveland, Ohio, I am collaborating on a spoken word project with two Newark-based filmmakers, Marylou and Jerome Bongiorno, whose documentary REVOLUTION 67-- about the Newark urban rebellion-- is a must-see. The project has been commissioned by the Newark Museum in celebration of its 100th year. More on that in future posts...

So Ed McMahon, Farrah Fawcett, and Michael Jackson died-- international tragedies, I suppose, similar to the situation when any human being passes away. An Iranian comrade reports that on Twitter, someone posted: "While you in the West mourn Michael Jackson, the Iranian government is still killing us over here." Ah, the priorities of the public. Celebrity culture reigns as do auto-theo-crats: nothing new. But in tandem to Renaissance's damning, delightful, and on-the-mark post from yesterday, I would have to add my voice to chastising the woeful disrespect to, if not outright negligence of, essential human events and reportage. The cult of the celebrity, the cult of the personality, whether in terms of aesthetics or politics is all pervasive and a sad commentary on us. Or at least some of us. J/C

Friday, June 26, 2009

Tread Lightly as the Gloved One Departs

A thin, not to say skeletal figure lay wound in a white sheet, transferred from helicopter to white van on the roof of a medical center in Los Angeles. As always when big news happens in that city, the main visual feed is itself by helicopter. There is an eerie feeling imparted by the drift, silence and weightlessness of these helicopter feeds. But in this case, the eerie nature of the affair was extraordinary in its own right.

Those who have been tramping through the Amazon or lost on the wrong side of an Antarcitic mountain may not know, but the rest of us know that Michael Jackson is dead at 50. I will bet dollars to doughnuts he was badly overmedicated and that his handlers, especially those with trunks full of pills, will have much to answer for in the coming months.

In fairness to my own musical taste, I must state up front that, no matter how sad or how evocative I might find his passing, his music never worked for me even a little bit. I found it strangely cold and unappealing despite my acknowledgement of its technical mastery. The same for his dancing: wonderful in its way, but robotic, alienating, icy. The school of dancing characterized by many dancers simultaneously making the same elaborate, jerky movements has always struck me as not a little fascistic (and clearly militaristic) in nature.

He presented, more than anything else in the past decade, a figure twisted by multiple, compounded tragedies. His horrid visage, his trysts with children, his queer amusement-park "ranch", his bizarre liaisons with the mothers of the children of which he had custody (not his biologically), his obvious financial and physical frailty, his long train of lawsuits and his multitudinous retinue of handlers and sycophants--not to say the millions of fans who (to me inexplicably) responded viscerally to his showmanship; all of these curious strands of human entanglement were wrapped tightly around the singular musical and physical talent that seemed to possess him.

In a rush to lionize him in the first flush of sadness over his passing, the mainstream press focused on his obvious achievements in music and often went too far in calling him a "groundbreaker". This in particular mystifies me--he didn't break any ground not already trod by the truly great Muhammad Ali, and while he did cross the color barrier, the newsbreakers seem to forget that musically, the color barrier had already been crossed by Motown years prior (though admittedly whites and blacks by the early 1980s had stopped listening to the same music with the advent of Album Oriented Rock radio stations and the attendant Caucasianization of that blues-based genre).

Those African-Americans who were heard commenting on his passing were--and perhaps they can be forgiven for this in their surprise and their grief--apparently willing to ignore the very obvious and major flaws that in the case of his relationship to young boys may have in fact been villainous; and to focus entirely on his worldwide fame, his "wonderfulness" as a human being, and of course his record-shattering musical achievements.

Mr. Jackson's life and death are far, far beyond the capacity of this blogger to do more than briefly comment upon, and yet I am, like the rest of world, caught up, for now, in the mystery and the wonder of his outsized persona.

It is perhaps as interesting to note the items driven like stricken hounds from the world's front pages by the Jackson death: first, Iran, where a great nation lies torn and beaten after a week of shocking events; second, the inept amours of the smitten governor who disappeared to Argentina without seeming to understand how it might affect his public duties; third, and very sadly, the same-day-death of the extraordinarily popular and most talented actress Farrah Fawcett (whose charms also were mostly lost on me)--and whose passing would certainly have dominated the news had not the earth suddenly quaked in that rented Los Angeles home occupied by the Gloved One.


Wednesday, June 24, 2009



Bing was a Crooner

Have you heard?

Now you can make better decisions. With Bing, the new "decision engine" from Microsoft!

Ads for the new Google-competitor from Redmond actually suggest you can change your life with this wonderful Bing thing--avoid getting a Mohawk, for instance (I think that's what they were driving at)? Or learning to play guitar at the age of six or seven? Bing will help you decide.

How exactly does this astonishing new decision engine work? Maybe I am missing something, but I could swear the decision engine, having responded to my quest for an answer about "clean energy", gave me--and let's not get too excited waiting for the revelation here--a list of links with the words "clean energy" in them! And the top spot in the "sponsored" section was for the clean energy giant we all know as ExxonMobil.

I don't have a problem with ExxonMobil--somebody's got to sell me all that gasoline I use--but if I can have just a brief word with the guys over at Bing, I would like to tell them that they need to fire their ad agency.

I don't have a problem with Microsoft, either. They've managed to produce a suite of tools that somehow satisfies about a trillion people last time I checked and there's not a lot of smoke belching out of the smokestacks at Microsoft HQ either. So it isn't as if they don't create a pretty popular and a pretty green product out in the land of Gates.

But the ads for Bing are nothing less than insulting. Okay, MSFT wants to have a Google-killer. Good luck with that. At one point they thought MSN was going to kill the Internet (you can choose not to believe that, but it's a real-live data-point from the mid-nineties). Aside from a wonderful spin-off called MSNBC, I can't see where they created anything better than Hotmail with that gargantuan effort.

But back to my annoyance with Bing, and how the ads are insulting. What's with "decision engine"? That's not what it is. It would have to be far more sophisticated to approach that realm--something like an expert system (still a chimerical goal for visionary developers) that would somehow divine your intent and deliver wisdom.

It's like calling a car an airplane. Bing is a search engine--it's just like Google! The notion that we should be encouraged to "Bing and then decide" is worse than cute and silly. In my opinion, calling Bing a "decision engine" borders on misrepresentation and falsehood.

But then, Microsoft has always seemed to have a tin ear for marketing. That's a whole 'nother blog post.

For now, just remember that Bing was a Crooner popular back during World War Two. He was not a decision engine.


Sunday, June 21, 2009


See the man.

Alone on the subway platform.
Note the crazed hair, a nimbus around his head,
a halo teased by distracted fingers
for hours while he hunched over his book.

His cardigan, buttoned by its sole button,
frayed and evanescing into flocculent haze.
Cat’s hair clings to him,
interweaving white and dark into the interstices.
The force of static alone
knitting an exo-sweater in the atmosphere around him.

He holds his broken-backed book an inch from his eyes,
his free hand absently plucking random cat hair.
Holds them
at arm’s length,
releases them.
They drift, in dense currents of subway air,
falling back into the gravity and mass of his body.

Mark Aiello

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Tehran a-Twitter

Journalists have been under virtual house-arrest as the mullahs in Persia try to squelch what started out as a stolen-vote protest but is now evidently a youth revolution. Youth revolutions, as we know, are tough to squelch without either pots of money to bundle kids off to college and the suburbs, or a deep roster of brutal bench-players ready to come on the field with brickbats and piano-wire.

As the mullahs whirl and wobble in the wind of protest, and as journalists speak sotto voce into secure phones, what's kept CNN and the rest of the West informed are the so-called "social networking" technologies now come of age.

Witness Twitter--of which much fun has been made when, say, an Ashley Tisdale-level celebri-star lets her followers know her hat-size. Now it is the single best source of immediate news coverage on the scene of what is certainly the most important political movement in Iran since they took the hostages. Like a thousand tiny salamanders slipping through grasping clerical fingers, these brief missives from the angry streets are letting the world know of thousands on the march, men and women, of beatings, of tear-gas, of open revolt against the foundational, turban-bedecked figures of the regime itself.

Witness Facebook--where the opposition leader Moussavi has pronounced his readiness to commit himself to martyrdom. Proving itself more than just a place for posting pix of beer-pong escapades, Facebook has now given voice to perhaps the most profound promise every posted to it.

During the new Iranian revolution Facebook and Twitter, streaming out images and commentary banned by the regime, have combined to make quite obvious the power that the atomization of mass media has long promised.

Facebook and Twitter prove that media--and information--really do want to be free. And they prove that when in the hands of those not just longing for freedom but with little left to lose, they become powerful weapons beyond the control of even the most sullen official opprobrium.

We have yet to see what happens when the youthful string of Iranian frustration plays out to its fullest length. But however it does so, we know even now that "social media", heretofore considered a lightweight in the world of communications, will have helped define it.


Wednesday, June 17, 2009


Heartworm, a small press out of Philadelphia, has just published Chris Leo's FEATHERS LIKE LEATHER. This volume is a magnificent miscellany of lyrics, sketches, vignettes, stories, squibs, and unclassifiable (and all delightful) lessons of a multilingual lexicon. Aesthetically, this book is gorgeous-- a perfect-bound spine that rests gracefully in one's plying fingers, paper stock that indicates that this tome is for the ages, and a cover illustration by Andrea Ambrogio, who must be, should be, painting large canvases over New York City to cover its new steel and luxury-atrocity edifices. Leo's mischievous and musing mastery is apparent throughout the various pieces, pieces which, when contemplated coherently, make for a streamlined narrative. The first printing is already sold-out; the press will make more available in July. Grab a few for yourself and any readers, bards, or ballladeers you know. The website for Heartworm is at www.theheartworm.com. J/C

Monday, June 15, 2009

Thursday, June 11, 2009

A Modest Proposal

There is no compelling reason for any car company to build more than a couple of thousand cars a month for the foreseeable future.

They should all switch to building mass-transit vehicles,including buses, light rail, bullet trains and airplanes with bigger seats.

For the next ten years, we should learn the one lesson Cuba has to teach us (besides some great musical riffs): fix the old cars. Keep them on the road. When everyone is driving a ten or fifteen year old car, and when our nation is crisscrossed not with highways but with much-more-efficient mass-transit of every kind, then the car companies can go back to building pleasure-mobiles.

In particular, General Motors, which we now own much of, should begin doing this right away. No more Chevys. No more Caddies. During World War Two they stopped building LaSalles and instead built the Sherman tanks and B-29 Superfortresses that cemented our position as a world power even up until today.

Now we are sucking down foreign oil like nobody's business, and the suburbs have proven a bad idea soon to be depopulated in an emerging, less-wasteful economy, and we have succeeded in creating some of the ugliest landscapes in the world with our obsession with parking lots and malls; and it is time to call an end to it.

General Motors, your orders are as follows: no more cars for a while. Buses and trains are what we need.


Wednesday, June 10, 2009


Like most participants in this still nascent twenty-first century, I am a citizen in search of an identity. Therefore, I fret little about identity theft. No, it doesn't occur to me to become concerned about the pilfering and appropriation of my "information." Nevertheless, I am besieged by passwords, codes, and pins for my various on- and off-line activities. So far I've managed to accrue passwords, codes or pins for my work email, my personal email, my banking statement, my student loans (3), the door to my workplace post office, my Amazon account, my Alibris account, the site to which academic recommendations are kept on record for me, various sites to which I send academic recommendations for students, several online music sites, my Netflix account, and on and on. It has become difficult to remember all of the passwords, codes, and pins and the very little identity which seems viable is being vitiated by the mental effort of recollecting what password goes to what account. Locks and keys are replacing any lyricism in life and it's become dire enough that one thinks seriously about committing identity theft against oneself to see what happens. Or doesn't. J/C

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Please Stop Taking Pictures, Please

Too many people are taking too many photographs.

I blame the digital revolution--in which data storage has become geometrically cheaper each year, thereby enabling more and more photos to be taken with better and better resolution at almost no cost except the purchase of the camera itself.

(Disclaimer: occasional snapshots have my complete support, especially when populated by family members smiling and hugging.)

My problem is with the quintillion photographs that are destined to mean not much to anyone, including the photographer. To me, it seems these photographs are being taken, often by travelers weighed down with brand new-looking SLRS, in pursuit of what I imagine to be "experience" or "sensation" or perhaps bragging-rights.

I believe, perhaps like an old-fashioned Photographer might, that one has the right to take photos (save snapshots) only if one understands what type of relationship one is taking to the subject matter.

No longer part of the scene, the person behind the lens has removed him/herself from the experience and has sublimated the direct experience for the flattened, miniaturized memory. This can create the comfortable sensation that all the world is just an arrangement of shapes passing by our rangefinder (or by proxy, someone else's). Grandeur is reduced to banality; compassion and empathy to passing interest; awe to intellectual criticism.

Ultimately the great digital photography revolution is creating a race of lonesome hunters, each seeking to capture some solitary image cropped and presented to one's self (and others) as the essence of experience--in total ignorance that the actual experience of plain "being" has passed them by.

When traveling, I recommend the type of camera that can fit in your pocket--if that. This way you don't need to worry about that brick of digital circuitry hanging like an albatross around your neck. Postcards often work well as a substitute for all but the most spectacular photos you might take yourself. Of course, be certain to record you and your friends and loved ones in those special places you've visited.

But other than this--please get your face out from behind the camera and spend some time being fully present in the world you inhabit.


Sunday, June 07, 2009

Speaking to the sun

the title you asked me to pencil in
above the picture you had drawn, your head tilted
for ten minutes or more, intent on creating a garden
more perfect than the one we had worked in all morning.

Done entirely in orange crayon, with sunflowers
and a farmer and the sun itself
all the same size and color, and all
smiling to each other like neighbors
over a fence.

Each drawn with a certain weight -
sunbeams and flowerstalks in the same confident strokes
as the ones that framed the lone human
you’ve allowed into your garden.

Even the balloon around the words
you have her speaking, now that you ring
my title with your fat orange crayon -
all the same, now you’ve forever linked
the speaker with her words of one moment.

And it is suddenly apparent that you’ve created
that alchemical moment, that I’m forever spelling
my way towards and never achieving,
and your garden, your art become the place
I wish we lived, where every element
is perfectly evident, where our words
will not let us throw them away, and remain with us
warm and honest in the ringing air.

Mark Aiello

Wednesday, June 03, 2009


My personal computer has been on a gradual decline for quite some time. Then the curtains closed or rather the screen went black the other day. I've ordered a new laptop but it hasn't yet arrived; only sporadic access to this machinery has restricted the flow of rhetoric and rant on this here site. So my apologies.

But let's digress and retort and rant...

Kindles, resembling those old toy scribal standbys, Etch-a-Sketch, might one day be used by me but will never meet my books or bookshelves. There's just no reason for them to know one another and upset each other's essential natures...

I love dust jackets, they're like dinner jackets for books, and Kindle lies naked.
How profane.

Pages have splendid threaded textures, Kindle has metallic surface. What's more aesthetically pleasing?

I can write in books and reflect on the comments of my former, naive self. Where should I preserve my marginalia on/in Kindle? In my handwriting? Just some thoughts... J/C

Monday, June 01, 2009

Sunday, May 31, 2009

There is a set of numbers that equals You

Somewhere the series exists.
It’s just that no one’s discovered it yet,
though it may be only a matter of enough lab hours
or sufficient monkeys banging away at copious typewriters.
You are adequately described
by comma after cool comma
in a series maybe a mile long.
You might have heard it once
in the late night call of a numbers station
broadcasting from somewhere off the Labrador coast
and didn’t even know that it was the dit dot dash
of precisely your own heartbeat,
the periodic table that is yours alone,
the recipe for the boy that your mother has always thought
was beautiful, that spells out everything brewing
in the chemistry set you’ve carried all day,
every day. You, my friend, are knit of pulses
and vital stats, of ounces and mass
and instances - all numbers on a map
that looks just like you. Is it humbling
to think that even your deepest thoughts
during maudlin sunsets were pure output,
were just pennies fallen down the tubes
of some hyper-Fibonacci sequence?
All algorithm - your love of redheads, vanilla,
racket sports and mystery novels -
all predictable. Try to relax and listen
to the whispering song of those sigmas and deltas,
and be lulled even by the little subtractions
that happen to your equation every day.

Mark Aiello

Friday, May 29, 2009

Sonia from the Block

I don't know whether or not I agree with the way she ruled on the New Haven firefighter test. I don't know whether I believe a Latina woman will automatically come up with a better decision than some white dude (and I don't know if I much like the word "Latina", which for me has a whiff of condescension about it).

I don't know whether she got some kind of break somewhere because she's Hispanic, but I do know that lots of white kids got breaks because they had connections and she is where she is and unless you're Clarence Thomas, you don't get that far because you always managed to be the convenient racial choice--you probably had to be pretty much better than pretty much everybody else. They don't give away grades at Princeton, I know that, and they don't give you the Yale Law Review editorship because you batted your big brown eyes at somebody either.

I don't know whether her so-called brusque manner is going to impede her ability to adjudicate on the highest court in the land (I pretty much doubt it will); but I do know that I am not surprised she might come across as blunt or sharp, because if you grew up in the Bronx and you live in the West Village that makes you a New Yorker and chances are you don't take a lot of shit from people. Sometimes New Yorkers get accused of being rude but mostly it's that we're impatient with morons. Maybe she has a little of that in her--I don't really know.

I know one thing, though. I am supporting her. Not because she is Hispanic, or a woman, or because she is Obama's well-considered choice. No, I am supporting her because she is from the Bronx. I don't care what anybody says, the Supreme Court needs somebody from the Bronx. Somebody who knows where Jerome Avenue is and knows what it's like to stand on an elevated train platform on a winter afternoon. Somebody who knows how bad traffic can be on Fordham Road on Saturday. You get the picture: somebody who knows the sights, sounds and smells of the real world. Plus, she saved baseball, for heaven's sake!

Sonia from the block? Maybe she is. I don't know. But let's go for it.


Wednesday, May 27, 2009


A poem for the state of California, having legally overturned same-sex marriage:

Ecce Homo

you who confuse
sacrament & genital
righetousness & rite--
pull down your pants
& my duel-sexed piranha
will take a bite &
within its serrated teeth
your genitals will make a wreathe
of red righteousness & rite
as you sacrifice your life
for "your" sacrament
which bans banns
for queers undeserving
who murder babies & spread death
or so you would have it, you on the picket
without a crotch with which to stick it
much less a mind... J/C

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Now, About That Big "Terror Bust". . .

Either we are much, much safer than we might have hoped (because the would-be terrorists that just got arrested seem to be some of the most inept creatures on god's green earth), or we have an anti-terror constabulary focused on giving themselves big, neatly wrapped presents with bows and ribbons and bells even as real terrorists smirk and keep silent and continue to plot.

I am not qualified to know which is closer to the truth.

But I do know there is something of a "you've-got-to-be-kidding" air about the latest terror-ring bust. This is the one where a handfull of career petty thieves (one of them has been called by his older sister "the stupidest man in the world") were hanging around a Catholic drop-in center in a downtrodden Hudson Valley town, then apparently knocking back 40 ounce jars of malt liquor on their broken-down porch and talking about hating Jews and finally "located" at a local mosque by a shady police informant who plied them with money and radical jihad yammer until they believed they were actually going to shoot down planes with rockets and bomb the hell out of Riverdale.

Can anyone rationally believe this is a meaningful moment in the fight against terror? Or is it a case of police collaboration in the creation of a "plot" that never would have amounted to more than a few slugs of rotgut and a long nap had there not been ready cash, promises of grandeur, fake weapons procurement, free transportation, and logistical planning all courtesy of our collective anti-terror tax-dollar?

Not that the clowns who got hauled away having planted what they thought were deadly bombs outside synagogues deserve any quarter of sympathy--let them rot wherever they are tossed. But this was not, by any stretch of the imagination what one police official called "a textbook anti-terror operation". No, this was more like the fireman who went into the woods with matches and then rushed back to the firehouse yelling fire--soon to be crowned hero having doused the flames he sparked.

As I was saying--either all the would-be terrorists are idiotic to a degree that beggars belief, or the anti-terrorists are just not noticing what the smart ones are really up to.


Thursday, May 21, 2009


This APAT!!! post is coming in one day early as I'll be on the road most of Friday. No Memorial Day weekend for me (and how could I observe a holiday for a country that replenishes its amnesia all too often?): a celebration, in part, for the publication of my father's new book, SAMUEL JOHNSON, THE OSSIAN FRAUD, AND THE CELTIC REVIVAL IN GREAT BRITAIN AND IRELAND." In ULYSSES, Stephen Dedalus muses that "paternity is legal fiction," which for the creative endeavor is true enough; however, I am very proud to be the son of Thomas M. Curley, a saint, scholar, and superman. His new book is just out and his birthday anniversary is tomorrow: a sweet convergence. Cambridge University Press is publishing Curley's new tome and it's only $95. Buy yourself a copy or else patricide, parricide, uxoricide, or infanticide might be visited upon you or someone very close to you. J/C

Tuesday, May 19, 2009


Yr. correspondent is no longer down for the count and has returned for the fight. Just back from Sarasota, Florida, where "NoBama" decals festoon S.U.V.s and churches open their doors to evangelical beach bums. Somehow, I prefer the novel sight of "Black Power Ices"-- yes, in Newark, NJ you can patronize a vendor whose summer treats have some affinities with Stokely Carmichael, the Black Panthers, Eldridge Cleaver, and the rest of the stalwart radicals of yesteryear. I will have to sample the goods and see what, in fact, a Black Power ice tastes like.

An event I encourage all Tempest-types to attend:

At the Strand Bookstore on Thursday 5/21 at 7pm is a cavalcade of writers and readers regaling you with the literary equivalent of swine flu. I will be in attendance both on and off the stage. From the official Strand website announcement:

"The troubador/flaneur Chris Leo responsible for giving us the novel WHITE PIGEONS as well as bands like The Van Pelt, celebrates the release of his most recent collection with readings by Eric Paul, Jon Curley, and Samuel Menashe."

Should be a toxic blast: come get exploded. J/C

Sunday, May 17, 2009

The not so fun house

I could have put up with all of it -
the toilets that clanked in the night,
the kitchen light that sparked
before anyone touched the switch, the windows
that rattled when even the ghost of my neighbor
walked his dog past my door, the voices
that muttered of blood and worry
from the washing machine in the basement.

I only worried when the mirrors stopped working,
so hard to shave staring into nothing at all,
or watching the reflection of some other self
staring back, doing nothing, bored as hell.
The worst was when the bedroom mirror
only showed me alone under a white sheet
in a silent room, and that little man would shiver
as if he felt me watching him for hours
and it even creeped him out.

That was when I decided to move,
but I thought it was a nice touch
when the thief in the hall mirror
dropped and shattered my television set
just so he could wave goodbye.

Mark Aiello

Friday, May 15, 2009

Car Dealership Closing? Boo Hoo!

Sorry to seem (and be) so unsympathetic to the plight of the poor, unwanted car dealerships that are losing their license to sell GM and Chrysler cars.

But I think I am not alone in estimating, based on experience, car-dealerships among the most dishonest storefronts on the American highway. How many times have we all had to deal with their "lowest I can go" chicanery and "your car's condition is killing you on the trade-in" and the transparent foolery of "going to talk to my boss" in trying to get a price for a new car? Can anyone say that the act of buying a car is almost always (foreign dealerships not excluded) deeply unpleasant and often at least moderately threatening in nature?

I remember going to buy a new car once not long ago and letting the sales guy know I didn't really want the fanciest version of the model I wanted, but a trimmer version at a lower price. He said "You're gonna hurt yourself!"

"What are you talking about?"

"At trade-in time!"


I went to a different dealership. They didn't treat me much better, but they didn't leak slime all over me, either.

Guys, sorry if your ride is over. I wish I could say I thought it was a pleasant one.


Thursday, May 14, 2009

Cheney's Reasons

Observers of the 24/7 news marathon Dick Cheney has decided to run, can be forgiven for wondering why a man who spent eight years in a brooding cone-of-silence has now become as chatty as a new intern trying to make an impression on his boss. And he's chatting about torture no less!

He has two reasons, really: one, he is trying to reach the potential jury pool that might eventually form when his minions and perhaps even he himself go on trial for un-American activities and lying to the American people about the purpose of the incredibly wasteful war in Iraq.

Second, he probably understands better than anyone that he has certain senior Democrats in a trap--because it will soon be revealed fairly clearly that they also knew what was going on in the detention centers. I am talking about Ms. Pelosi, Mr. Reid and several others who were senior enough, and acquiescent enough, at the height of the Bush/Cheney reign, to have heard the details and to have been able to make their objections known, but who did not.

Keeping these powerful Democrats from appearing to be collaborators will keep the torture prosecutions off the table.

Cheney will keep torturing us with torture until we stop talking about further investigations. Then he will go back to adding that extra room onto his house and leave us all alone.


Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Another in a Series of Ground Zero Observations

Because I get to see the mess every day, I get to talk about it more than would seem entirely called-for, and since I "was there that day" I am likely to say things that don't seem all that polite or correct.

First: give up the dream that goes something like "We shall rise again".

We're not that kind of crowd anymore. We dicker and bicker and let things get too sacred and in an effort to over-assuage and over-consult and let property-ownership play too big a role, we end up with what now is certainly going to be a big hole in Manhattan for many years, perhaps decades to come. I don't necessarily like to say "I told you so" but I won't pretend I didn't say it already: there's nothing much going on there, and all those derricks and cranes are a big show for tourists.

Second: except for the first couple of years of bedraggled piety that seemed to overcome everyone who got near the site, tourists now come to gawk and buy "disaster" booklets on their way to Wall Street or other nearby attractions. Which is fine.

But about a week ago I finally saw for the first time--the only time--what I thought was a suitable reaction. A Japanese tourist overlooked the mess, briefly bowed with hands clasped, and then proceeded to take pictures. It was a gesture of acknowledgment without the kind of sanctimony that has trammeled half of what might have been good about a rebuilt Ground Zero in time.

Third, and this will be ignored, but here goes: can someone please get rid of all the cranes that won't be used until 2020, sod that vast are over, re-instate Fulton Street so a person can walk across the taxpayer-owned region without having to traverse a tarp-covered bridge and a soggy boardwalk for the next forty years, and take down the damned Deutsche-Bank building quickly as if it were the disgraceful eyesore that everyone knows it to be and not some delicate instrument that needs to be disassembled in a vacuum-sealed laboratory?

Fourth: So far, Osama has gotten all he might have asked for and more with his strike: a great nation has been distracted, suckered, half-broken and turned inside-out with fear and foolishness and humiliating "airport security" rigmarole (when all they needed was to lock the pilot's cabin door); a great city sits with a miserable hole in it that the effete residents seem too afraid to just rebuild as if rebuilding were the point.


Monday, May 11, 2009

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Those places between other places

Three hours out from the bridge
with the broken toll basket and just
one hour after every song on the radio
became wrong, there is nothing left
but to busy ourselves with the calculus of travel -
the speed that will get us there fastest
without a ticket, or how many miles
before we definitely, without question,
will need to stop for gas, or how
the mile markers steadily decrementing
still seem to never lessen.

The fringe of far woods, out there,
just over your left shoulder might be beautiful,
touched here and there by the pink and slanted sun
of a summer evening. It could all be lovely -
the broad lawns where rabbits stand tall
with their shadows running away from them
as far at the next highway exit,
the barns and silver ponds
where no one at all is fishing
from boat or shore. It might be perfect
if only we could afford the seconds
to turn and look as we blaze past.

This far out, the names of all the towns
seem to be either Finnish, or made
from Scrabble tiles, and the low stores
waiting at the end of each off-ramp
look like they carry only brands we never heard of
and we ask each other what it must be like
to come home here each night
from god knows where, pulling up
in front of one of those new houses
on a street with a blandly pretty name
to dinner with a pretty enough wife.

Look up from your magazine, now and again
and allow your eye to trick over all the work done
just so our passage would have a backdrop -
the distant aqueduct of the interstate
where the signs decree that East and West first divide
and 105, somehow, becomes 287,
the impossibly intricate refineries
all latticed walks and bristling stacks
raised so we have something to see
between exits 62 and 65.

Does it seem incredible
that all this was laid out
just so our bright car, our earnest faces
both fixed straight ahead
would seem even more beautiful
against such scenery? I’m sure
that someone in each car
that passed here all day long
thought the exact same thing.

Mark Aiello

What's the Big Deal with Bicycling, Anyway?

I have owned several bikes in my time--a homemade one crafted by a handy cousin was my first, and I enjoyed it. On the block it, and I, were known to be "fast". That was cool.

But since then the bicycle has become virtuous and one is supposed to wear a helmet while "getting one's exercise", and I no longer see the bicycle (as I did when I was ten) as a rapid-getaway machine in a mixed-housing suburb.

I own one now--living in an aparment building with an elevator and a promenade nearby--and have come to think of it more as an encumbrance, or to be more precise, a pain in the ass. It takes up a lot of room in the apartment and I keep trying to think of its clear virtues and am having a tough time coming up with any.

For instance, where can I go with the bike that I cannot walk to in not much more time and with much less hassle over locks, keys, and bringing stuff back home; or that I cannot get to by subway swiftly, effortlessly, and again without the annoyance of having to tote a helmet and secure the darn thing with a lock on some traffic pole; and what more exercise do I really get, unless I am bound to be ostentatiously strenous (sweating in pursuit of some virtuous condition known as "fitness"), that I could not get by walking a mile or two--again, unencumbered my anything more difficult to manage at journey's end than a jacket or small backpack (and even the backpack seems more than absolutely necessary to a person who recalls things called "pockets").

And then there is the urban bicycle journey itself. Far from relaxing or exhilerating, it is more a tortuous gauntlet of either "watching out" for what always appear to be clueless pedestrians walking expansively and very much too slowly in your path; or worse, "watching out" for vehicles thirty and forty times your size that pass you by at a distance of mere inches and which might, at a mere flick of the driver's wrist crush you like a sparrow. I watch bicyclers in Manhattan traffic and think of the madness of those who run with the bulls in Pamplona. How can a sane person subject one's self to the snorting, reeking, onrushing menace of internally combusted vehicles without realizing one is engaging in an activity not much less dangerous than dawn patrol in Sadr City? My conclusion is, one cannot.

My advice: unless you live in a bike-path-only environment and have no need to carry more than a few bananas and a stick of butter back from the market to your nearby home, or unless someone is paying you to ride in traffic--put down the bike. Get a pair of walking shoes. Take a walk. Relax. Take a nap in the park. Then walk home. You'll feel much better for it, and much more civilized.


Saturday, May 09, 2009


Apologies Readers & Comrades for being away from these computer-generated pages. The excuse and ruse have to do with my day-job working for a large financial institution, by which I mean an "university." The end-of-the-semester turmoil has passed, as have most of my students, so we can resume this silent dialogue.

In addition to making up for lost time and getting back to my backlog of books to be devoured, I am honoring the opus-organum of various authors in the next several months. So...I'll read or re-read Shakespeare's 37 plays, one after the other, and then maybe dash off to read G.B. Shaw in sequence, although I read all of his plays in disorder long ago. Then maybe I'll tend to all the Prefaces to his plays. Afterwards, the Bible, the Koran, and then...well, even if I get nowhere with this project, the spirit will remain, the spiritual protest against the magpie-like, attention-deficit-disordered reading habits of most contemporary denizens of our overwhelming media village. 'Tis time that we resurrect diligence, attentiveness, concentration, and critical scrutiny before those faculties are dissipated forever, becoming vestigial ornaments of a human mind no longer able to settle itself into deliberation and sensitivity. J/C

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Exit the King (sort of a review)

I am probably one of the least likely candidates for theater criticism, owing to my long-standing habit of falling asleep for at least a brief period during nearly every live performance I have ever attended--and that has included rock concerts, flamenco performances and comedy shows--but since I only fell asleep very, very briefly during a recent performance of Ionesco's "Exit the King" on Broadway, I figure I am, at least in this case, well-enough qualified to comment.

First, let me say that if you are prone to being depressed about things like the economy, death, and the possible presence of a nearby psychopomp, you should not see this show.

For those of you who do not read H.P.Lovecraft and do not have a preternaturally broad vocabulary, a psychopomp is a being or spirit that leads you from life into death as you are dying. Legend has it that whipoorwhills are psychopomps--they cry loudest around houses where someone is dying (it is told).

But back to the Ethel Barrymore Theater and the play:

Susan Sarandon plays the psychopomp, though you don't realize it unitl the end. In flat, unsympathetic tones, she, the older queen, informs the King he shall soon die. The King denies all--selfishly, moodily, and with a certain goofy grandiloquence. His younger "queen" denies it as well, but only as it serves her--she eventually accepts his imminent death.

There is a doctor who helps us understand that the very heavens are cracking, but he struck me as near-irrelevant. As did the armor-clad simpleton who made press-conference-like announcements. A servant-woman was more pithy and anchored the story some.

In the end, the king accepts that he is to die, as is his kingdom to perish entirely and clearly this is metaphor for all life and all death: postulating that what we perceive as us and ours ceases to be--literally--at the moment of dissolution.

Perhaps that's why the elder queen became a sympathetic character at the end, leading the king through the necessary portals to his doom.

Here's to the psychopomp! As necessary as a crossing guard, perhaps?

In the meantime, if you enjoy comedy of the blackest sort, do see the show--it is well acted and Geoffrey Rush is up for a Tony.