Monday, January 26, 2009


I went to see the Wrestler yesterday. Sad movie. Last night I lay awake in bed, replaying the final scene in my head, accompanied, as it is in the film, to that good old Guns N Roses classic, Sweet Child O Mine.

What kind of dreams does such a soundtrack produce, you may ask?

I don't remember much, except that it involved my boss. And Tobey Maguire. And the parking lot of my high school. What adventures awaited us out in front of HPHS, I couldn't say. But I do remember my dream self thinking: "Wow. This is going to make an awesome blog entry!"

And didn't it?

Wednesday, January 21, 2009


The introduction to Lawrence Ferlinghetti's book, A Coney Island of the Mind, reads like this:

The title of this book...expresses the way I felt about these poems when I wrote them--as if they were, taken together, a kind of Coney Island of the mind, a kind of circus of the soul.

I went down to Coney today. Because I had to see if the rumors were true. They were:

The Shore Hotel for Lease
More stuff for Lease

The Wonder Wheel with no cars on it

Just some lady walking around in the freezing cold in her pajamas.

Commerce. Greed. Property. Equity. These are not the makings of a circus, not for the soul or the mind or the heart. If there is any kind of festival left on Surf Avenue and 8th Street, it is of the memory.

A man saw me taking pictures. "Getting your last ones in, huh?" he asked me. "It's so sad, ain't it?" He told me he'd been living in the neighborhood for thirty-three years. "It used to make me so happy," he said, "come summertime, when you'd see all the crowds coming off the subway. I came home from work, it was nice to see people have a good time."

People who thought Coney Island was depressing--because of its seediness, the poverty, the projects--they missed it.

And yet gobble up at last
to shrive our circus souls
the also imaginary
wafers of grace


Barack is the first president to be a lot of things: black, Hawaii-born, part Kenyan. But there is one other thing that is often overlooked.

We now have sworn in the first White Sox fan in the history of the presidency.

Go Sox!

Monday, January 19, 2009


The front page of the Sunday Arts section of the New York Times featured this article by Monohla Dargis and A.O. Scott called, "How the Movies Made a President". The writers claim that fifty years of edgy portrayals of black men in the movies have prepared the country for Obama's presidency. The piece is basically fluff; the writers go on to name black male types as they have appeared in film and television, many of whom have nothing at all to do with Barack Obama. The "black provocateur", for example, in the Richard Pryor tradition is really more Jesse Jackson than Barack. "Black Yoda"? Okay, Condi Rice, maybe, Colin Powell. But Yoda is a behind-the-scenes kind of fella, and there is nothing behind-the-scenes about a presidency. It is both oversimplified and overly inclusive to plot the cultural journey that led to Barack Obama's acceptance by the American majority using every single black man we have ever seen on the big screen as stepping stones.

But about halfway through the article, the writers land on something interesting when they get to The Cosby Show.

"The novelty of that series, at once revolutionary and profoundly conservative, lay in its insistence, week after week, that being black was another way of being normal.
The traditional composition of the Huxtable family, with the father as its benevolent, sometimes bumbling head, was part of the series’s strategy of decoupling blackness from social pathology. “The Cosby Show” did not deny the existence of serious problems in black America — not least the problem of absent fathers — but the presence of Cliff Huxtable, in his own home and yours, suggested that the problems were not intractable."
Could Barack Obama have been elected without the Cosby Show? Who knows? I think that Bill Cosby did a lot of work for Obama. We already have a cultural memory of feeling totally comfortable, feeling right at home, in the house of two highly educated, wealthy, successful black adults. Can't you just picture the Obamas in that Brooklyn Heights home we loved so well? Maybe its Christmas Eve, the girls, who are supposed to be asleep, are huddled on that great staircase. Michelle, looking fierce, is "mad" at Barack for sneaking a cigarette (his version of Cliff's weakness, the hoagie), but they're smiling, so in love, he gives her an early Christmas gift, tickets to see Harry Belafonte or an original issue of her favorite Ella Fitzgerald record, she forgives him his weaknesses. Then the doorbell rings, its Bill and Hillary from across the street, coming to bring some side-character Christmas cheer, it's Michelle's mother, who calls the girls down, everyone can see them anyway, and they all gather together on those couches that may as well have been from our own childhoods, we know them so well.

Roll credits.

Sunday, January 18, 2009


A friend of mine (a cantorial soloist) argued that really good Jewish music can be as joyful and transcendent as good gospel music. I am currently listening to Aretha Franklin's album, Amazing Grace. Now, nobody loves the hora more than I do. The sweaty-handed, nauseating circle-of-fun, accompanied, as it so often is, by the terrified expressions and white knuckled chair-grips of the uplifted guests of honor, is my favorite part of a Jewish wedding. I have been known to rock out to a good V'shamru or Adon Olam, as well. But as much as I love Barbra and Bette and Benny Goodman and the Gershwins, nothing makes me want to sing Hallelujah! like a large-boned, big-titted black lady. You be the judge.