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