Friday, August 28, 2009

Ted Kennedy Goin'Home

Yes, of course I watched the news feeds of the motorcade going from Hyannis Port to the JFK Library in Boston. For miles and miles up Rte. 93 there was nothing to see. But I timed it right, and when I tuned in the cars were gliding through Haymarket past Faneuil Hall, through the North End where Rose was born, across the Rose Fitzgerald Memorial Greenway which was a dump in my pre -big- dig era. And thus to the Kennedy Library with the wall of glass overlooking the harbor and JFK's boat, the Victura.

If you go into my grandparents' house, in Arlington, Massachusetts today, and my 85 year old uncle still lives there, you'll find the Infant of Prague statue, probably very dusty but complete with dress, a framed blessing from Pope John XXIII (go look him up if you're so disgustingly young) and a larger framed photo of JFK, faded and worn out but with dried palm branches above the frame, no doubt from Palm Sunday circa 1966. That's what you'll find in my grandparents' house in Arlington, Massachusetts if you were to visit today, in 2009.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Ted Kennedy and "The Rascal King"

I suppose I should be sadder than I am over the passing of Ted Kennedy. He wasn't the martyred saint of my childhood the way his bothers were. He was, happily, able to live out a full span of year and die an old man in his bed, not in the back seat of a car in Dallas or on the floor of a hotel kitchen in L.A. It may be because his death was not appalling or horrific. Ted didn't seem to touch me the way his brothers did (though Bobby seemed rather a shit). With all the health care chazerei in the press these days it will be both sobering and useful to become better informed about his decade long fight for health care. The remarks today insist Ted Kennedy was comfortable with everyone and worked hard to improve the lives of minimum wage workers. That is ringing true. But by the time I was old enough to take it in, Chappaquiddick had happened and his reputation never really recovered. Not among the Boston Irish politicos I called family forty years ago. Smarter, savvier people you'll never meet, with a low tolerance for bullshit (they called it 'blarney' in those more genteel days!) unless they were slinging it themselves (and oh, boy...). It does seems Ted earned his rest after a long career helping others. There were bumps along the way, but who among us hasn't sinned?

I don't know why I've been thinking so much of a contemporary of Ted's parents, the raffish James Michael Curley (1874-1958) the oft elected Mayor of Boston and Governor of Massachusetts, one of whose favorite mantras was "Vote early and often!" Not for our James clean electioneering. Your grandmother and all her lady friends would be casting their ballots for "James Michael" in every election in spite of the fact that Grammie and the ladies had long since called Gate of Heaven Cemetery home. You didn't have to alive to vote for James Michael Curley! There were shamrocks cut into the expensive shutters of his white brick palazzo in Jamaica Plain, Massachusetts. Run against him? Rose Kennedy's father tried it. At the same time the hapless Mayor Fitzgerald was rumored to be enjoying the charms of one Toodles Callahan, a hat check girl in a downtown boite. James Michael, a fabulous public speaker with no shame announced he was giving a series of lectures in history at the Boston Public Library, the first to be called "Great Love Affairs From Cleopatra to Toodles." You could love a guy like that.

Ted Kennedy learned shame and humility with horribly difficult lessons that left one woman dead. He was successful is restoring dignity to his life. Today, with his passing, the newspapers don't ignore Chappaquiddick and the aged frat boy bouts, but they give plenty of space, top of the fold, to decades of selflessness and public service as well. As it should be.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Excerpt from Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl

The experiences of camp life shows that man does have a choice of action. There are enough examples, often of a heroic nature, which proved that apathy could be overcome, irritability suppressed. Man can preserve a vestige of spiritual freedom, of independence of mind, even in such terrible conditions...We who lived in the concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of human freedoms--to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way.

...And there were always choices to make. Every day, every hour offered the opportunity to make a decision, a decision which determined whether you would or would not submit to those powers which threatened to rob you of your very self, your inner freedom; which determined whether or not you would become the plaything of circumstance, renouncing freedom and dignity to become molded into the form of the typical inmate.

Seen from this point of view, the mental reactions of the inmates of a concentration camp must seem more to us than the mere expression of certain physical and sociological conditions. Even though conditions such as lack of sleep, insufficient food and various mental stresses may suggest that the inmates were bound to react in certain ways, in the final analysis it became clear that the sort of person the prisoner became was the result of an inner decision, and not the result of camp influences alone. Fundamentally therefore, any man can, even under such circumstances, decide what shall become of him, mentally and spiritually. Dostoevsky said once, "there is only one thing that I dread, not to be worth of my sufferings." These words frequently came to my mind after I became acquainted with those martyrs in camp, whose suffering and death, bore witness to the fact that the last inner freedom cannot be lost. It can be said that they were worthy of their sufferings. The way they bore their sufferings was a genuine inner achievement. It is this spiritual freedom, which cannot be taken away, that makes life meaningful and purposeful.
--Viktor E Frankl (1905-1997) "Man's Search for Meaning" (1959)
pp. 65-67 Beacon Press edition

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Dublin Grand Opera Society

This just in from the September 09 issue of OPERA NEWS, in a "Letter from Dublin" by Brian Kellow:

There's still a conservative faction to contend with, however. In 2007, Opera Ireland presented Gavin Quinn's sexually charged production of "Cosi fan tutte". "There were two chorus members on the floor at one stage", recalls COO Claire Kendlin, "and I took a complaint call in the office. This person said, 'They were fornicating onstage'! I went down and said, 'Listen you two, I took a complaint about last night'. The girl said to me, 'Last night? No. Last night, we were fine. If you'd said Monday night, I would have said, yeah-we actually were having sex onstage. Are you sure it was Monday night?'"

From "The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas" by Gertrude Stein

Gertrude Stein was born in Allegheny, Pennsylvania. As I am an ardent californian and she has spent her youth there I have often begged her to be born in California but she has always remained firmly born in Allegheny, Pennsylvania. She left it when she was six months old and has never seen it again and now it no longer exists being all of it Pittsburgh. She used however to delight being born in Allegheny, Pennsylvania when during the war, in connection with war work, we used to have papers made out and they always immediately wanted to know one's birth place. She used to say if she had been really born in California as I wanted her to have been she would never have had the pleasure of seeing various french officials try to write, Allegheny Pennsylvania.

Monday, August 17, 2009

reading the autobiography of alice b toklas

well this is a fun summer read but I have read this before but still enjoyed it it seems gertrude stein for years nagged alice b toklas into writing her memoirs she said you could call it wives i have sat with or my twenty five years with a genius or something and alice b toklas said i don't have time to be writing on top of everything else i have to do so gertrude stein wrote this book and it made her famous in america not three lives the making of americans and not certainly tender buttons but this witty book written in alices voice a memoir going back to 1903 and has chapter headings like gertrude stein in paris i come to paris the war and like that alice recalls the vernissage in paris around 1907 when the portrait by matisse of his wife made such a scandal people attacked the painting and tried to scrape off the paint but gertrude stein bought the portrait and hung it on the all of her atelier at 27 rue de fleurus and nobody could say why the portrait antagonized people so until it was revealed that the woman whose face looked like a horse was matisses wife it was thought insulting but alice goes on to say lovely things about madame matisse and tells a story of the five year old son of the janitor at 27 rue de fleurus who when all the paintings were ignored that is all the paintings on the walls of gertrude stein's atelier the paintings werent worth anything nobody wanted them that is to say nobody thought they wanted them the walls were filled with nudes and braques and cezannes and matisses and picassos this little boy jumped into getrude steins arms and looked over at a large nude and cried oh la la une femme and gertrude stein knew then the paintings would be worth something some day later gertrude stein told alice b toklas to take french lessons from fernande olivier who was picassos mistress because they were splitting up she and picasso and fernande needed the money and alice was agreeable fifty cents hour the problem was that for all the conversation and fernande was lovely and had a beautiful speaking voice and spoke elegant french but for all that fernande only had three topic hats perfumes and ive forgotten the third topic thats why gertrude stein said later oh wives bother me they bore me they bore me to tears helene was a wife she was also the femme de menage or housekeeper for gertrude stein and her brother at 27 rue de fleurus in fact helene being a wife became a problem since her husband made her quit the household he did not approve of helene working for americans but helene was a thrifty and efficient housekeeper i can feed the entire household on five francs a a day it is my pride she would say and so she did sometimes if company was expected she had to go up to seven or eight francs that was her pride also after all but she resented guests who would invite themselves to dinner she resented matisse who once asked in advance what was to be served then later gertrude stein told helene monsieur matisse will stay to dinner and helene said in that case i will fry the eggs rather than making an omelet it requires the same amount of eggs and butter but it lacks respect he is a french man and so he will understand and if youre looking for a fun read to the end of a hot dull summer do yourself a favor and read the autobiography of alice b toklas by gertrude stein the end is funny as i said earlier gertrude stein had been after alice toklas to write a memoir for years and alice b toklas said im not a writer and i dont have time so gertrude stein said well you know what i am going to do i am going to write it myself the autobiography of alice b toklas and she did and she has and you should read it

Thursday, August 13, 2009

A Wonderful Way to Go

Yesterday a colleague and I had a lunch date scheduled with Nancy, who used to be a colleague but has now gone on to a new job. We waited and we called and finally reached Nancy who was in crisis mode. She works in a nursing home and a resident had just died. Back at the office this e mail from her was waiting. I thought it was lovely, and in a way life affirming, and wanted to share.

Nancy writes as follows:

So sorry to stand you up but things got quite out of hand here. During the 11:30 aerobics class, Pennsylvania 6-5000 was just getting the ladies going when Anna seemed to stumble and fall. No nurses around, so who gets called? Yours truly. No pulse, no breathing, a peaceful expression. Death is pretty easy to identify. I ask that she not be moved, and go to find the nurse practitioner. She's out to lunch, and the doc is never there on Wed. Somebody official has to certify the death, so my only alternative is to call the squad, so I call. The other ladies in the class pull up chairs and wait prayerfully. They know how to do this kind of thing with real grace. Rosaries appear, and they all somehow agree to recite the Lord's Prayer for Anna.

EMT's arrive-but so does Anna's daughter, THE MESS as she known by the other ladies. And messiness ensues. She tries to do CPR, although Anna has a do not resuscitate order (and is wearing the bracelet), The wonderful EMT man and woman try to deflect her, but nothing doing. Full hysterics, and the EMTs have to treat her with oxygen and hook her up to a monitor because she says she's experiencing chest pain. The ladies ignore her, and one of them says I might call Anna's pastor, who comes to see her weekly. I get his cell phone number from her records and call--he is minutes away and I think might be good for the daughter, and the other ladies as well. The aerobics instructor has disappeared--I hope she doesn't quit.

I stay with the ladies, who seem to be taking it all in stride. Anna is on the gurney now, and covered with a white sheet. One of the ladies keeps a hand on her arm "so she knows we're helping her get to heaven-in spite of the distractions." Eyebrows raise and all gaze at the whimpering daughter who is clutching the wrist of the handsome young EMT.

The pastor arrives WITH A COOLER. He opens it and pulls out a full plastic pitcher, and 3 Tupperware containers: orange slices, maraschino cherries and ice. Plastic wine glasses and napkins appear. He says, "Anna loved to have a whiskey sour when we visited." The ladies smile at him and hold out their glasses. We all have a belt (except the EMTs and the daughter, who is now wailing and hiccoughing) and then he says like he does this every day (and maybe he does!) "let us pray for our deceased sister Anna as she enters the mansion of our heavenly father." I love that man. I haven't had a whiskey sour that good since Christmas 1962, when my Uncle Pete made one for me on the sly.

So, how was your day at work?

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Eunice Kennedy Shriver

The Kennedys still push the old Boston-Irish-sentimental button with me. I'll probably have a good cry when Ted dies. What can I say? I remember JFK, I was six when he was assassinated but I still remember all the hoopla surrounding his Presidency. I remember being in the car with my parents, box cameras the the ready, sitting in stopped traffic 100 feet form the Kennedy compound in Hyannis Port. The state police allowed you to get but so close, and no closer. Snap, snap, snap. The flag was flying on the lawn because the President was there visiting his parents. We actually got close enough to see the front porch. That would never happen today.

Eunice for me was a mouthy, toothy lady with a raspy voice who looked her age. Until I became involved the world of special kids. Then I looked again. I saw someone who banished the word 'retard'. More importantly, she banished the entire idea of wasted, useless under utilized lives. If you have two legs and two feet, use them. If you have one leg, use it. Find a way. Get up and do. And Eunice Kennedy Shriver seemed to say, as she lived her life, If you can't really get up and do on your own, don't worry about it. We'll get someone to help you until you can manage on your own. And you will manage on your own. Period.

RIP. The lady has earned her place in heaven.

Monday, August 10, 2009

"I'm as mad as hell, and I'm not going to take it any more!"

I spent a hot Saturday night, after the disaster of kayaking (q.v.) watching "Network." I hadn't seen it since its original release in 1976. You remember "Network". Faye Dunaway, William Holden, Robert Duval and above all Peter Finch as Howard Beale, the mad newscaster. He harangues us all, via TV- the great leveler, the 1970s Valium , to get up, GET UP! go to the window, open the window and yell, "I'm as mad as hell and I'm not going to take it any more!" And people do. In Keokuk, Kalamazoo, Kenosha and Kentucky, you name it, windows go flying open and neighbors, probably many of whom had never met the guy next door, scream "I'm as mad as hell!" out into the night..

I loved every line of this film. I don't remember if it was a shocker back in 1976. It did win a spate of Academy Awards. Good. Thirty- three years later isn't this relevant? Peter Finch/Howard Beale/Paddy Chayefsky were predicting the Howard Sterns and Rush Limbaughs who would make huge livings tapping into the public rage. And you can go ahead and rage against Stern and Limbaugh et al all you like. You can also turn them off and ignore them. Too many people don't do that. Don't blame the messenger and don't even blame the broadcast hucksters who fan the flames. Blame us. Blame me and blame you. We listen to them. Not enough of us direct our mad as hell moments to elected officials and big business-those who control the destinies of the rest of us. You don't like it? Don't buy it and don't vote for it and tell your friends why. It's your right.

Back to the picture. It's the work of director Sidney Lumet and the great Paddy Chayefsky (1923-1981). I need to read more of Chayefsky's work and learn more about him. I know his plays were called "kitchen sink realism". This comes from television in the 1950s. Loretta Young might have been glamorous and Pat Boone was selling big cars, but Chayefsky was writing about lonely people living ordinary lives. That's his gift: the ability to resonate completely with his audience. In "Network" we watch in horrified fascination at Faye Dunaway's man- eating robotics, and in horror at Peter Finch's meltdown. I suspect most of us would like to be Peter Finch long enough to tell the world via TV to fuck off; or be William Holden so we can be a decent man who stumbles long enough to have sex with Faye Dunaway and regrets it.

Chayefsky wrote "The Hospital" "A Catered Affair" (superb!) and above all "Marty" which swept the Oscars twenty years before "Network". Rob Steiger starred in the 1953 TV production. Ernest Borgnine won an Oscar for the movie three years later.
"Network" was an accurate mirror in 1976. It seems more accurate now. It did pave the way for the shit of yak radio. The missing ingredient is art.

Monday, August 03, 2009

A nice compliment?

A few weeks ago I heard from a colleague about a friend who had called in during a recent talk show I hosted. The friend had never called such a show before and was nervous. We get a lot of calls so its hard to remember a specific guest. This woman was so pleased with her call and the show that she reported "Christopher took my radio cherry!"

You can't make this stuff up.