Monday, September 28, 2009

Living in New York City, at a Constant Ground Zero

Foto by tgw, NYC, 2008.

To Forget or Not Forget?
I heard a shocking statement on a PBS literary-type program a few days back. I wasn't watching just listening when I heard the narrator say, "She is said to be currently the greatest writer in the English language...." Then I heard this woman talking and the first thing she said was that she was a Christian. Whooooaaa, saith I. Who is this woman? I thought I caught her name. I caught it as Marianne...I'm not sure, with a last name like Robinson. She teaches at the University of Iowa. How could it be that I an avid reader am not aware of the person who is currently the greatest writer in the English language? [Here she is; I found her on Google, where else. Google must have profiles on every one of us. But here she is, "the greatest writer of prose alive today," according to a London Times article on her I read online; here's an excerpt:

In 1980, Marilynne Robinson published a novel, Housekeeping. It was critically praised, won awards and was filmed by Bill Forsyth. A substantial new novelist had arrived. But she didn’t publish another novel for 24 years. Instead, she wrote a nonfiction book on British nuclear policy and issued a collection of essays. Then, finally, in 2004 she published another novel, Gilead, about a church minister in Gilead, Iowa: more critical acclaim, more awards. And now, only four years later, she has written Home. It is the story of Gilead through different eyes. “In a way,” Robinson says, “the book is about yearning, you know. It’s as if we have some sort of very, very primordial notion. But, in fact, home is the place people leave, but the word is only implied in the sense that either you regret it or you will return to it. It’s a sort of pole.”

Again, I feel sort of left out not knowing who the greatest writer in the English language today is. I remember getting a copy of Bridges of Madison County at the time it came out as it was being trumpeted by the literary world as one of the greatest books ever written. I couldn't get through 3 pages of it before I threw it in the garbage--and I don't throw good books in the garbage. That's why I'd be very afraid to read this woman's greatest English-language writing--what if I find it's garbage, too?]

My ignorance at not ever having heard of this woman could be because I am totally ignorant to what is being called "great writing" today. Yes, I go on wood s lot as much as possible and, yes, I am introduced by MW to all kinds of contemporary writing, world writing, and I try sometimes to read it, but given my growing (growling) and wizening sarcasm about what's advertised to be "the best" or "the greatest" the older I get, like most old fogies, I start belittling these "modern" efforts at great writing with "Oh yeah, you think you can write as well as Toni Morrison (her novel Jazz is truly some of the greatest writing in English I've read in many a moon)?"

These new precious writers: their words seem to tumble back upon themselves as though being pushed onto the page by a bulldozer of a writer, someone following architectural plans to the nth degree. However, the fact that the world's greatest writer in English loves her beer, independence, and eccentricities, makes me curious about her--and might even subject me to trying to devour one of her novels. I, like Norman Mailer and my brother, am not a good novelist. I can't conscentrate on a plot for years at a time; that's why I'm not a good chess player; my concentration is on a bouncing ball that is bouncing across the lyrics and fitting them to the melody of a continuing present tense song--I write one-paragraph novels, maybe as many as 5 novels in one spell of writing. Do I think I'm the greatest writer in the English language? Yes, I probably do, just like any writer who confidently is self-assured he or she is a writer by instinct, by calling, by drive, by performance. I write words which I hope coagulate onto a page into some kind of narrative sense. I consider myself a troubadour and troubadours have to keep travelin' on, coming up with new performances in every byway or big city they appear in.

And speaking of language and writing and language and usage and language and its many eccentricities, niceties, and vulgarities: this morning I was very surprised upon reading yesterday's post where my old pal L Hat commented on the death of William Safire (as LHat said, the name was really Safir; William added the "e" for pronunciation clarity--to put some fire in that fir). In this post, L Hat, a fair man if I ever met one, gave his history of badmouthing Safire for years until he edited a new edition from the Oxford folks of Safire's Political Dictionary and actually had personal contact with the man. Soon, LHat says, they were conversing over the phone as Bill and Steve and even talking about getting together for a beer here in New York City should LHat ever get the nerve up and the gumption up to travel down from the Massachusetts Bay Colony to the Apple, something he has not been in the habit of doing since he moved to that faraway close-by state of cranberries, Kennedys, child-molesting priests, semipublic-option healthcare, and formerly the book-banning capital of the USA (home of Little, Brown and the Atlantic Monthly). L Hat ended the post sort of half-ass in love with old Bill, certainly coming upon a whole new perspective of the man than he once had, though not excusing what he never liked about Mister Bill's linguistic machinations.

I am sorry to say that if I've ever read one of Safire's language columns in the NYTimes I have totally forgotten it--like I say, if I ever did read one. I, like LHat, used to read the NYTimes faithfully daily--and most certainly every late Saturday night (around 9 or 9:30), it was a tradition here with NYC upwardly mobile fame-aspiring go-getters (hey, I got my first job here out of the NYTimes Classified), I would run out to my local newstand (they aren't around my neighborhood anymore) and get the Sunday NYTimes fresh off the presses and just flung off the back of one of those distinctive NYTimes delivery trucks (trucks whose design hadn't changed since the 1930s). You know, you'd come up to the newsstand and the guys would just be putting the Times Sunday Edition out in huge raggedy stacks on the sidewalk everywhere, soon to be gone if you weren't there practically at the same time as the NYTimes delivery truck. Sunday morning breakfasts in NYC were incomplete without the NYTimes being there among the coffee, Parks sausages, slices of scrapple, eggs, toast, and tomato juice (Snappy Tom was my favorite breakfast kick-off juice). All of my wives were into the Sunday Times, too. It really did represent the New York lifestyle we yokels had all moved to NYC from the hinterlands and distant byways to make our own, too [how's that sentence for great English language writing?].

However, I don't remember just exactly when it was, the 70s I'm pretty sure, but one day I got my Sunday morning NYTimes and I turned immediately to the Arts & Leisure section. I was still sort of artsy-fartsy in those days--a musician by night, an editor by day, hobnobbing with the culturally pure in my free time--so I dedicatedly checked the NYTimes Arts & Leisure section right off the bat every Sunday morning. This day when I turned to that section, I was flabbergasted by the front-page feature article. Lo and behold, right there on the front page of that holy section of the NYTimes was a Hollywood-type-canned pulp-puff piece on some trendy new-age hip movie star--an interview with this movie star, a chick whose name I have forgotten, an interview staging stupid questions to this actress bimbo and getting back hyperbolic rather school-girl answers to those questions--all about how tough acting is and Hollywood is but how great and marvelous all Hollywood directors are and how absolutely wonderful the script is and though it wore her out, working on this film was the greatest experience in her life--a long article packed full of that sort of blah-blah-blah crap. I have since college loved dating and living with actresses but I never really thought of them as anything special--troopers mainly--dedicated to their eagerness to be seen and heard and appreciated and "fanned" with applause and "Bravas!" I saw them as totally empty flower vases in which producers and directors put characters modeled on the latest hybrid roses or orchids in those vases--an oogah-like analogy, I know, but that's how I saw actresses. Most of them I dated were little special girls, little princesses, pretty, yes, breathtakingly beautiful in the case of one actress I drooled over and who ditched me and went on to have a fairly successful stage career. They were little mirror-dwellers thirsty and hungry for the lights, the stage, the attention, the glamor, the intense efforts they put into designing themselves, eager for the chance at a leisure life few of us ever get an opportunity at. Acting, to me, is a natural state (OK, I feel that way about everything). We are born actors. Our characters start developing the minute we pop out of our mom's loving or hating womb and our "oval of vision" spots the monkey-looking faces all looking down into our faces and sending us all sorts of goofy symbols to translate and spewing all kinds of mouthings we don't understand and have to translate into meanings, like goo-goo-ing and gah-gahing and coochie-cooing over us. But that's another load of bullshit for another delivery time.

I couldn't believe the NYTimes was stooping to the cesspool lowness of Hollywood PR pieces. This article was disturbing because I'd never seen that kind of article in the Arts & Leisure section ever before. I think their Hollywood puff writer at the time was Ellen Willis--could that be true? Now, I met Ellen Willis one time at Max's Kansas City--and when I start writing about those times I get to thinking how Max's Kansas City is now forgotten except by the oldest punkers and rockers, all of whom from then are now old fogies. I was goo-goo eyed over Miss Willis. She was just my kind of babe, cute, sashshaying, bouncy, so confident in her acting as a writer-critic, so amusing in her observations and quips, though too smart for her own good--you know the type. Her taste in music and her approach to that music's creational aspects were across a broad highway on the far other side of my musical world. Yes, I did hit on her; she was sexually juicy to me--but immediately upon my approach and opening dialog, my manhood wilted. I knew right off the bat that if Ellen Willis and I became a couple we would clash like bickering blowhards date or whatnot over music, writing, desires--we were clashing already during my hitting on her. In those days I put rock and punk down as nothing more than antiparental-generation noise. Ellen saw it as "American music arising to new levels." I'm sorry to say, though I did approach her, took her hand, and batted my salacious eyes over her, telling her as I did how fucking fine she looked to me, she, too, knew we were incompatible and that was it. I never had another chance to see her again; I never saw her again; in fact, I paid so little attention to her after that night in Max's KC, Ellen left the coil in 2006 and I was totally unaware of it until I looked her up in Wikipedia researching for this post. I was shocked by learning of her death like L Hat was shocked to find Bill Safire had died yesterday morning.
Ellen Willis--now come on, folks, man or woman, that's a cute alluring woman in any generational sense. Imagine my coming face-to-face with that face at Max's Kansas City, with certainly several belts of Murphy's Irish Whiskey under me belt--probably the Velvet Underground was playing that night--I've forgotten. I was too cute in those days, too, and the minute I saw her my charm went into overdrive. I shoved Robert Christgau, Dave Marsh, and those Village Voice creeps out of the way...but, alas, Ellen and I ended up two ships passing in the night with only an "Ahoy, permission to come aboard" from me and a "Permission to come aboard denied" from her.

Anyway, as a result of this Hollywood puff piece on the front page of the NYTimes Arts & Leisure section and the intrusive full-page buttered-up Hollywood PR ads that began clogging the arteries at the heart of that section's matter, I wrote one of my brilliant protest letters to the section's editor--Seymore or Sidney or something--I've forgotten his name. In that protest letter I said, if they continued to allow such crap on the front page of the Arts & Leisure section, I'd never look at another NYTimes the rest of my life.

My first Macintosh computer introduced me to the Internet. My first Mac was a Quadra 610--forgotten now? How about Centrises? So after I got a Mac and was able to get on the Internet, yes, the first thing I did on arriving at work was go on the Internet and go to the NYTimes site and read the headlines--sometimes I would read an article if it appealed to me, but mostly I only read the headlines. Soon I even stopped doing that. Soon I stopped going on the Times site altogether. Today, I haven't seen a NYTimes either in person at a newstand or on the Internet in perhaps 5 years for sure. [I quit reading the NYTimes and the NYTimes Review of Books, too, in spite of my brother having pieces in the ROB several times a year in those 1990s days. There was a guy at where I worked then who always clipped my brother's pieces out when they were in the ROB and brought them to me at work. He knew more about my brother than I did for awhile there. I remember one time he came and started talking about how he had just read a NYTimes ROB's piece by Larry McMurtry in which McMurtry had put my brother down as an old fogie in terms of the literary avant garde, of which McMurtry considered himself one and my brother not one.]

I remember William Safire as Tricky Dick Nixon's speechwriter. I despised everything Nixon, including William Safire. And for that Nixon-hating reason, too, I did not give Safire the time of day after he became a NYTimes columnist. In my day, the on-air or on-line language wit was Edwin R. Newman. How many language watchers remember him?

But, on the recommendation of my pal L Hat, I do hereby raise a glass of ale to old Bill Safir's memory--a glass of Ballantine Ale (everybody called it "Ballantine's Ale") would be the appropriate toasting libation except there ain't none anymore.
So we hoist a glass of Ballantine Ale to Mr. William Safir(e) in corporating with L Hat's tribute. Don't you love that opening tag on that ad: "Curl your hand around a frosty glass of pleasure...." That's all I desire to do sometimes, 'tis true.
President Obama Declares Himself a Reagan Capitalist
In case you haven't noticed there was a G-20 bullshit meeting going on for the past week in Pittsburgh. The G20 has been progressively growing from first a G4, to a G6, to a G8, to a G20, and next we assume a Gee Whiz! Yes, 20 of the top Capitalist nations of the world--including former Communist Russia, Communist China, Brazil, Argentina, and India, et. al.--were meeting at President Obama's invitation to come to agreements on the world's environmental problems...and, er-ah, oh yes, do something about the world's financial situation, like pleading with corporations to stop giving out outrageous bonuses--SUCH BULLSHIT!

In actuality, this meeting came to not one logical conclusion or agreed-upon-method of bringing about environmental control or stopping corporations from stealing our money and then giving it to themselves in the form of colossal bonuses--bonuses they say are necessary in order to keep our financial institutions running on the high levels of criminality they are currently running on.

Thousands of protesters, of course, piled into the streets of Pittsburgh, shouting slogans and phrases of courage, and, of course, confronting the friendly, kind, courteous Pittsburgh Police Department--there to protect the citizens of Pittsburgh--oh, I forgot--er-ah, the cops weren't their to protect the citizens of Pittsburgh--oh no, they were there to bust the heads and asses of the citizens of Pittsburgh. They were there to enforce the new "laws" forbidding Americans the right of protest! They were there to guard and protect...well you know who.

When President Obama was interviewed after this meeting and asked what he thought of the protesters, he called them rabblerousers! Yep, he called them "rabblerousers who are against Free Trade Capitalism!" Aha! I've been telling everybody, friends and foes, all along that President Obama is a fucking Reagan Voodoo Economics freak! He's a fucking free-trade-ite. He's the fucking same as Slick Willie Clinton. And just like Slick Willie, our president is also a Dumbocrat Right Winger! THAT'S IT: Obama is a Dumbocrat Right Winger. He's a Dumbocrat G.W. Bush! [At a Ray Kelly press conference yesterday--Ray Kelly is the NYC Police Commissioner--a little Shanty Irish cop--there's tons of 'em on the NYC police force--at which he was assuring us once again that We the People of New York City were once again centered as targets in the sights of al-Queda mad bombers--like this Zazi dude, an Afghanistan-American, he and the FBI had nabbed. And standing behind old alertist Ray Kelly was, of all people, except then I realized President Obama had appointed him to work in Homeland Security, Uncle Joe LIEberman, the renegade Dumbocrat who turned tail and went to the Repugnican Convention where he sang the praises of John "Vietnam Nutjob and Captured Combatant" McCain--and then when old Joe was losing his ass to his Dumbocrat opponent, became an Independent and ran against the Dumbocrat and won over him by gleaning all the mad-hatter and grumbling Repugnican crossover votes. Did the Dumbos punish Joe? Hell no. In fact, they gloated over him and richly rewarded him--just as they are now gloating over and richly rewarding turncoat Repugnican, the creator of the single-shooter theory in the Kennedy Assassination, the former DA, Arlen Specter.]

I hate saying bad things about our president. I really do. I heard him talking very nicely and intelligently about his White mother the other night, praising her for being a woman who fought for equality around the world, equality based on cooperative efforts fueled by progressive ideas. He was talking very frankly and passionately about his mother's work but then he revealed that his emphasis in talking about her was on the fact that she in her progressive efforts had joined with Capitalist entities like the Ford Foundation to achieve her successes. Remember, she worked for Timothy Geithner's
father who was head of the Ford Foundation in Indonesia--also remember, Timmy's mother's father was once head of the Ford Motor Company.

Obama's agenda on just about everything is dependent upon cooperation with corporations, leaving them unleashed and able to do just about anything they want, including stealing every penny out of our Treasury, with impunity. It's so serious that now if we start reproaching this man we are called racists, nutjobs, death-panel promoters, and possibly considered enemy combatants. This president promised us change, but instead of change he's handing us the same old song and dance, the same old bullshit line that we have to cooperate with the corporate-free-trade world and compromise away our majority party rights in order to appease his heroes, the Wall Street investors and shareholders, those who own US (the US) lock, stock, and barrel. We as protesters of Obama's right-centrist ways get called antiCapitalists, which means we are "Socialists," "Lefties," "Commies," "Reds," "Atheists," "Child Abusers," and, hell, probably even "Terrorists."

As a Free-Trade Capitalist (a Clintonista Capitalist)(a deregulation Capitalist)(a Harvard Law School Capitalist), President Obama feels like our only hope is Capitalism. If it fails, we all go down with the ship--except not all of us will go down with the ship. The 1% who own the ship with all of us on board won't even get wet if the ship sinks; they'll be safe on high and dry land when the world's economies come tsunami-crashing down around us and smash our ship of state to smithereens. The ship owners will be high and dry on their private island estates or private mountain-top estates, or ensconced in their bunkers or high up in their well-guarded penthouse retreats.

Obama's living the good life now. He's getting to fly off at will to any place in the world he feels like going in his own private air force; he's eating full meals at groaning tables bent under the weight of the finest foods his private chefs can create; he's tooled around all over the world in custom-built to his design Cadillac SUVs. Obama's now in a position to be a player in the Globalization effort of Corporations to rule the world. To put into effect that New World Order that G.W. Bush and his puppetmaster, Unka Dick Cheney, screwed up. President Obama is movin' on up and knocking at the front door of the Power Elite's private club. He's a real player now. He's a ruler now. He's in what he's always dreamed of as the real world now. We are at his mercy. Prepare for some coming months and years of Lord Chaos at his meanest.

I have been giving out this same railing ever since I seriously started listening to Obama's grand and intriguing speeches--like that first one he gave in the Denver Broncos football stadium--named after Adolph Coors one of the most rightwing assholes to ever become a rich asshole--a man who was so hated he disappeared without a trace out into a Colorado wilderness--something mysterious like that. Obama's speeches were glorious and his "Yes, We Can" was wildly cheered by a mixed chorus of Americans--and yet, to me, those speeches were hollow. They were the same as the speeches he made this past week at the UN and later at the G20 meeting. Like the speeches William Safire wrote for Tricky Dick Nixon.

Here's a speech old Bill Safir wrote for Nixon (that was never delivered):
Fate has ordained that the men who went to the moon to explore in peace will stay on the moon to rest in peace.

These brave men, Neil Armstrong and Edwin Aldrin, know that there is no hope for their recovery. But they also know that there is hope for mankind in their sacrifice.

These two men are laying down their lives in mankind's most noble goal: the search for truth and understanding.

They will be mourned by their families and friends; they will be mourned by their nation; they will be mourned by the people of the world; they will be mourned by a Mother Earth that dared send two of her sons into the unknown.

In their exploration, they stirred the people of the world to feel as one; in their sacrifice, they bind more tightly the brotherhood of man.

In ancient days, men looked at stars and saw their heroes in the constellations. In modern times, we do much the same, but our heroes are epic men of flesh and blood.

Others will follow, and surely find their way home. Man's search will not be denied. But these men were the first, and they will remain the foremost in our hearts.

For every human being who looks up at the moon in the nights to come will know that there is some corner of another world that is forever mankind.

Safire's Memo To Haldeman
This speech is from
At the end of the speech there is a link where old Bill himself tells you about this speech.
We're in for Some Tough Times
I'm a writer. I can lose myself in fantasies when the Chaotic times turn us into a full-fledged National Socialist government--that's short for Nazi, folks, a situation observers like myself have been forecasting for years: since the days of Eisenhower and especially since Eisenhower's "Military Industrial Complex" speech. Here's a link to the speech: NOTE: this link may not be working.

While the SS troops are hauling away the Blacks, Latinos, Jews, Muslims, Gays, Lesbians, Gypsies, Socialists, Nihilists, Anarchists, Atheists, et al., I'll think of myself as a B. Traven-type, going underground, starting an underground press, becoming a writer-protester-anarchist-action-figure, burying my philosophy in inciting stories of revolution and dare. I'll become a rebelling writer with my computer more powerful in my hands than an AKA in the hands of an ill-trained NYPD rookie cop who only has at best a high-school education and who has been indoctrinated with the USA attitude of "kill or be killed," the reason G.W. Bush gave for invading and trying to occupy two sovereign nations that had not done one fucking thing to the citizens of the USA--yet the poor souls of Iraq and Afghanistan and Pakistan are currently paying heavily in terms of their nations being destroyed and their citizens killed--1500 Afghanistanis have died this year--almost 4 times more than were killed last year. The number of US troop casualties is now at its highest ever in Afghanistan.

President Obama is now considering a request from G.W. Bush's handpicked War Generals, Betrayus and McCrystalmeth, for, at first they said they needed maybe 22,000 more boys and girls for canon fodder over there, though now their need is up to 50,000 troops. President Obama is considering their request. 61% of Americans recently polled by ABCNews said they wanted us out of Afghanistan--that the War was getting monotonous--we are war weary--and so are our troops--but not the men who rule us, those who avoid military service at all cost--one of our own presidents having gone AWOL from the Texas Air National Guard in order to avoid having to go to 'Nam--and look at all of our VietNam-serving politicians now, McCain and Kerry especially, nutjobs galore, lost among the stars they never saw shining brightly over our invasion and attempted occupation of VietNam. I just read recently where the global climate changes going on (which our Corporations deny are happening) are eroding the VietNam coastline so viciously old shorelines are disappearing into the sea and new shorelines are forming some right up into the centers of village. (Not so, say our Corporations, our masters.)

So, I'll hide out in the Internet underground when the SS comes looking for me (getting as lost in virtuality the same as Bin Ladin has been lost in some Pakistani virtual jungle) to measure my nose or give me a loyalty test--and certainly ask for my papers. Maybe I'll become a virtual character. A Kilroy. I remember Kilroy, do you?

for The Daily Growler


Language said...

Yeah, Ellen was quite a gal; I wish I'd had the chance to meet her. I gave her a sendoff at MetaFilter when she passed.

The Daily Growler said...

My meeting her was coincidental...but your meeting her in her work turned out better than my hitting on her...I've read her in the Voice but never her Nation or New Yorker pieces. I must take a look at some of it. I'm so old-fashioned when it comes to my contemporaries.

The Wolf Man
(as Lawrence Talbott)