Whoever invented the gun should be shot

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So here we are again, in October of 2017, with another mass shooting in America and another great loss of life. Sad to say, it will happen again. And again. Don’t blame the guns, the gun lovers say. Well, why not? Were it not for his 23 guns, this man could not have carried out his heinous mission. Without guns, there is no way he could have killed so many people so quickly.  Without guns, he likely would not have had the courage, or even the idea, to do what he did. Oh yes, the guns are culpable alright, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. The guns greatly facilitated the killing and the murderous intent, making it quite effortless and efficient. Brutally engineered “improvements” and increases in a gun’s killing power over the years make it all so very easy. Does anyone really believe that the normalization and glamorization of gun culture is not a lure for wannabe killers?

And please tell me, why does any private individual need to own an automatic weapon? For protection? From what, and whom? We have a military and police forces for such protection (I know, you don’t trust them, or anyone. See next paragraph). I don’t hear many stories where an automatic weapon in the hands of a private individual saved an innocent, or innocents, from harm. I do hear lots of stories where they cause harm – and great harm. And even if there are cases where they have saved lives, is it really worth the other side of the coin? The side where some whack-job takes out a whole movie theater full of people, or school full of children, or night club full of dancers, or arena full of teenagers?

If we’re going to buy into the argument that people have a right to defend themselves with ever-more destructive weapons, then where does it end? Do we eventually allow private citizens to own nuclear weapons? Absurd, you say? Well, if it is absurd, then you must believe there is a limit. So where is it? The NRA seems to think it’s OK for people to own increasingly, ridiculously lethal weapons with enough firepower to decimate scores of people in one fell swoop. Does that indefensible stance really make sense to anyone? It’s a private-level arms race, a keeping-up-with-the-Joneses, a rationale that the private citizen needs weapons on par with those the government and the military use, to protect themselves from that same government and military. All I can say to that is this: if the government or military is coming for you, there’s nothing you or your paranoid arsenal can do to stop them. So, what was your argument again?

And if people really want to kill each other, make them do it the hard, old-fashioned way – with clubs and knives, or maybe even hand to hand combat. Make them work for it. Make them get their hands dirty instead of hiding comfortably in a hotel room far from the carnage. Make them see, up close, the horror they’re causing, the bloodshed, the pain. Make them be a part of it, not apart from it. Make them settle their blood lust conventionally, one person at a time, and give the people they’re attacking a fighting chance to defend themselves. Do you think some of the overcompensating misfits currently hiding behind their assault rifles would perhaps think twice? Maybe find an outlet for their powerlessness other than the one that uncontrolled firepower conveniently lays at their feet?

Guns are a cowardly way to kill people, and even more so animals, which is what these mass killers seem to be treating people as (hunting is another reason the gun lobby likes to cite as justification for assault weapons, as if deer are such a threat). To call hunting, of animals or people, a “sport” is laughable. Where’s the sport in gunning down defenseless and unsuspecting prey? I’m reminded of a great scene in the movie Crocodile Dundee where a gang of hoods who were shooting innocent kangaroos are suddenly pursued by a kangaroo with a gun (with a little help from the movie’s namesake). Ah, if the tables were only turned, maybe it would be the gun owners who would be crying for armistice.

My condolences, thoughts and prayers are with all those affected by today’s mass shooting, and all mass shootings. I wish I could say it would never happen again. I wish I could say we are learning from these tragedies.

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Five books a year

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I’ve spent half a lifetime accumulating books (anyone who’s helped me move will attest to this). I’ve been fascinated by them since high school, even though I didn’t particularly like being forced to read things that didn’t engage my interests at the time (does Beowulf engage anyone’s interests?). I recall being assigned Return of the Native, Pride and Prejudice, Tess of the d’Urbervilles and the like, none of which I’ve read to this day (thank God for Cliff Notes, the Wikipedia of the seventies). I did like Shakespeare, however, mostly the poetic Elizabethan sentences, and also Homer’s great adventure The Odyssey,  but it was still torture to get me through a whole book. Forcing someone to do something isn’t a good way to win an adherent, but I also had the added struggle of trying to focus my daydream-prone attention (oddly enough I was an honors student, so my focusing must have been selective). In today’s multi-tasking world, where myriad demands needle our frazzled attention spans, focusing is even more of a challenge. Nevertheless, I am more successful with my reading regimen today than I have ever been. Let me explain how this miracle happened.

The first book I remember reading to completion – I have a great habit of starting, but not finishing, books – is Stephen King’s The Stand, which I read during one of my high school summers. Without being forced. A paperback, no less (how quaint!) It was hardly a piece of literature, but I loved it and I felt good about finishing it (it’s a long book). It was a page turner, and King is, of course, an excellent writer.

Soon after graduating, I started collecting fine leather volumes from Easton Press. First I subscribed to their “Library of the Presidents” (a biography on each chief executive), and then to the “100 Greatest Books Ever Written.” They were beautiful books, and looked quite impressive in my oak bookcases with their gold-stamped, raised-hub spines and leathery smell. They also made me look quite erudite to visitors, even though I had hardly read any of them. Who has that kind of time? (the typical American supposedly reads five books a year. Yeah, I find that hard to believe, too. The typical American lies).  I was running my own business at the time and worked sixty-hour weeks, plus I’m a terribly slow reader. The writer in me mulls passages over in my mind and ruminates on them, marveling at their poetic structure or philosophical brilliance, which doesn’t lead to the page being turned very quickly. I daydream, I get sleepy, and before you know it, it’s lights out. So my beautiful books mostly sat and collected dust, moving with me from place to place (to place) while I promised to get to them, someday (retirement? The Old Folks’ Home?) After ten years or more of collecting, I had a good 200 volumes.

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My “100 Greatest Books Ever Written” bookcase

Fast forward a decade, when I decided to complete a degree in English Literature, finally and formally pursuing my interest in all things literary at the ripe age of fifty. Surprisingly, even in this course of study I didn’t have to read many complete novels. It takes much too long, and the curriculum would rather expose you to a wide variety of writers and has only a finite amount of time in which to do so. So while I did read Madame Bovary, Othello, To Kill a Mockingbird, and shorter writings of numerous and varied authors, I was still largely ignorant of many of the classics. This bothered me. How could I claim to be an English Lit major when I hadn’t even read Moby Dick to completion?

Electronic books were becoming increasingly popular at this time, and I started amassing them. They may not impress anyone on a bookshelf, but I could store thousands of these babies on one little device! If I wasn’t overwhelmed before, I sure was then. It was a hoarder’s – I mean collector’s – dream! I could start-and-not-finish books to my heart’s content! I bought each successive incarnation of Amazon’s Kindle e-reader, which kept improving, and when they released one with a back-light I began reading in bed at night. This became a ritual, with the side benefit of making me tired and directing my thoughts just before sleep. I’d developed a new habit, one that I stuck with. Reading in bed became something I looked forward to at the end of the day, a luxury I had never really indulged in before (it was something about the lights being on, I’m sure. My dog would give me dirty looks).

Thanks to the e-reader’s versatility I can read several books at once, but I limit myself to just one chapter from each (lots of the classics have deliciously short, distinct chapters, because they were originally published in serial form). This method keeps my interest alive if one book is getting dull, and even if it is, it helps to know that I’m only committed to one chapter. It gets me through the rough spots. Occasionally, I’ll like a book so much that I’ll violate my rule and read two chapters (yeah, I can be a little wild at times), but if I get too hung up on one book and neglect the others, I end up forgetting their plots and characters (who is Starbuck again?). I’m actually in this predicament right now. I’m currently reading (or re-reading – and you know you love an author’s writing when you want to read their book again, even though you already know what happens) The Count of Monte Cristo, David Copperfield, Jane Eyre, War and Peace, Frankenstein, Don Quixote, The Hunchback of Notre Dame, The Picture of Dorian Gray, King Lear, and biographies on Washington, Lincoln and Nixon (I guess I’ll be forgiven if I confuse Nixon and King Lear). Please, don’t mention another classic to me or I’ll start reading it, too. I need an intervention! It doesn’t help that many of these books are in the public domain and are therefore free to download – a major advantage over printed tomes.

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I know there’s still a lively debate over physical books versus electronic ones. As much as I salivate over a finely designed and crafted physical book, I have to admit that the electronic ones are much more convenient. For one thing, the next time I move, my helpers will be bowing down to the Kindle gods in gratitude. But aside from this physical practicality, you can’t beat the ability to store hundreds of books in the space of one, to switch among them at will, to read conveniently with the lights off, to hold the device effortlessly with one hand, to look up unfamiliar words with one click, to highlight favorite passages at length and collect them in one spot, to share passages on social media without leaving the page, to pull up the first mention of a character whom you’ve forgotten, and to have the device keep track of where you left off and pick right up from there, even if it’s on another device (your phone, your tablet). In fact, because of this marvelous invention I’ve started selling all my fine leather volumes. As nice as they are to look at and behold, they are just tying up money and space, two things that tend to dwindle as you get older. I do keep the ones I’m fondest of*, and you still can’t beat a physical book if there are lots of pictures inside. I also own an 1850 illustrated copy of my favorite book, David Copperfield, the year it was first published. It’s a bit musty and yellowed, but knowing it was printed shortly after Dickens wrote it rather fascinates me.

My 1850 David Copperfield

So even though I’ve overwhelmed myself with reading material, I am confident that, by the end of the year, I’ll have finished more (electronic) books than I ever have before – just as I promised their leather-bound cousins. I’ll probably even surpass the national average of five, which will make up for someone else who’s slacking. Or lying.

* You can read my thoughts on some of my favorite novels and passages here.

Another reason for me to not watch sports

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I’m either blessed, or cursed, with the tendency to sympathize with many sides of an issue. It sure can make it hard to be persuasive  (do I really have to pick sides? As my passive hero, Bartleby the Scrivener, said, I would prefer not to). Such is the case with the recent controversy over professional sports players kneeling in protest during the national anthem.

I understand perfectly how this upsets many folks, and how it can come across, to them, as incredibly disrespectful and ungrateful – especially to those who helped win the freedoms we enjoy. I also understand that those very freedoms include the right to protest. So the irony here is that the people who disparage the kneeling protesters seem to be upset that the protesters are exercising a freedom that they themselves would agree is quintessentially American and that we should all enjoy. It’s hypocritical. But I don’t think anyone is really arguing against the right to protest. Rather, the issue is with its chosen form and venue.

Patriotic disagreements and freedom of speech issues are highly emotional and never simple (disrespecting the anthem is right up there with flag burning), and there are side considerations and corollaries to explore. Let me bring to light a few that have come to my often undecided mind.

For one, kneeling in protest over – I’m not sure over what any more (racial discrimination? police brutality? Trump’s ultimatums? The impetus keeps changing) – during the country’s most revered song at a widely-watched national sporting event that is unrelated to those broad grievances seems like a badly misdirected and overly dramatic stance. The national anthem represents this country perhaps more than anything else, save the stars and stripes. So for the players to vent their dissatisfaction during its singing is to basically thumb their collective noses at America. Is this really the aim of their protest – to say that they hate America and everything it stands for? That they hold contempt for their country?  I don’t think it is, but this is what many people understandably read into it. Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water. There are myriad good things about America and from which they benefit, but the kneelers appear to be trashing the entire American experience by targeting its anthem. Unhappy with race relations in this country? That is a valid and reasonable concern. Your complaint would be better received if it were in a venue more commensurate with the offense. I don’t think professional sports organizations are a huge offender in the racial discrimination department. Maybe try a Trump country club.

Secondly, let’s remember that these people are protesting while at work. Yes, playing sports is a job for them (and a well-paying one, at that). They are representing their sport, their team, and their league when they are in that uniform and on that field. Is it appropriate, then, for them to choose such a time and place in which to protest – while on the clock representing their employer? Would it be OK for me to go to work tomorrow and tell all of my customers what an asshat Donald Trump is (please, can I? Oh wait, they probably already know . . . ) Might I not be reprimanded and ultimately fired for continually doing so? You won’t hear me saying I agree with Trump very often, but on parts of this issue, I do. The anthem-kneelers should indeed be fired, after being adequately warned, if they continue to protest in a venue where they are being paid to be professional. Politics, religion and other controversial topics have no business in a professional workplace. If team members want to protest, they should do so as private citizens and on their own time, representing only themselves.

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Lastly, you can catch more flies with honey than with vinegar. I don’t think the protesters are really helping the causes they care so much about, because they are choosing too provocative and unfocused a disobedience. They would no doubt argue that the seriousness of the problem (i.e. racial injustice) warrants a national stage. It does. However, I think they could find more effective outlets for their message, especially given their high public profiles. They could also find forms of expression that don’t paint themselves as America-hating ingrates. And while I understand that they may not be protesting on their own behalf (after all, they are wealthy and famous American success stories) but on behalf of less-fortunate others, their protest still comes across as more about them. Protest specific policies. Protest specific politicians (and presidents). Protest specific sources of discrimination in more specific places. But don’t damn the entire nation in one blanket protest aimed at our most revered symbols of patriotism.

We all have a right to freedom of expression, but there is a time and a place for expressing ourselves effectively. Because these players made poor choices, everyone is discussing the wisdom of their provocative actions rather than the merits of their justified cause.

 

Confessions of a modern anachronism

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anachronism: a thing belonging to a time other than the one in which it exists

I’ve been reminded recently of an episode of the original Twilight Zone (“Once Upon a Time”), where a man from 1890 is transported by time machine to 1960, a jump of 70 years into the future. The man, played by Buster Keaton, is horrified by the incessant noise and dizzying pace of life in his new surroundings. He simply cannot tolerate it. I’m beginning to know how he feels.

While our hapless time traveler’s jarring experience is largely the result of a sudden and drastic change to his circumstances, this same process happens to all of us – just much more insidiously, like a steady drip to the forehead. The world changes slowly around us, and these changes reach a point when, just like our Twilight Zone friend, we find ourselves in an environment where we really don’t belong.  The older we get, the more we resent having to continually adapt to things and situations to which we are not accustomed, and for which we don’t much care. We want things to be the way they’ve always been – the way we liked them – but they refuse to remain so. The next generation comes along with their own ideas and ways of doing things (most notably in music, fashion, social discourse), and we find ourselves slowly becoming frustrated and obsolete.

One of the most pervasive examples of this is in the workplace. The expectations on the “modern” worker have become ridiculous. Most of us used to work at jobs that were much more specialized and focused, but now find ourselves wearing the hats of several workers and pulled in so many different directions that we can’t adequately focus on any of them. Everything must be done half-assed and under duress. There is no longer enjoyment in anything, just a constant struggle to not fall too far  behind. Multitasking and “doing more with less” (and for less) has reached a point where the worker of today is expected to match the productivity that used to be generated by two or more workers just a decade ago. Positions are eliminated (or slyly redefined) and hours are cut, and those remaining are expected to quietly pick up the slack, with fewer perks and benefits than those they’re replacing enjoyed (pensions? ha!). This is called “progress,” but for whom? The result is a workplace full of stressed-out and demoralized people – especially the older ones, those who know that it used to be so much better. The young ones are deliciously oblivious, and are therefore highly favored by Corporate America. They won’t complain, because they don’t know things used to be better. This is the true basis of age discrimination. The mature workers (who, by the way, usually have a better work ethic than their younger counterparts) know too much for their own good, and if you try to pull the wool over their eyes, they’ll likely speak up (disengaged complainers!) Can’t let that happen, lest the young workers be empowered and the revolution begin.

There is a certain pace and rhythm to life that we become used to by our twenties, and this pace seems to be constantly accelerating. We all remember our grandparents talking about much simpler (and presumably less stressful) times, when life was slower and people had more consideration for each other, better manners, and more patience. Just imagine, people used to actually make an effort to merge onto the highway, whereas now they just barrel on and expect that you’ll get the hell out of their way. It’s all about me! Once, people would never be so rude as to chat with their companion in line while a clerk was waiting on them, but today they jabber on their cell phone during the entire transaction like you’re not even there. Yeah, you have a nice day, too, pal!

As the pace of life gets more hectic and stressful, consideration for others declines because we’re all becoming more self-absorbed, frantically pursuing a happiness that eludes us. What we really need is a break, a slow-down – meaningful chill time that is not constantly intruded upon by the demands of work, social media or our ubiquitous smartphones. I think many have forgotten how to live “off the grid,” how to just be – or perhaps the latest generation has never really experienced this. Read a book, for god’s sake! Does anyone do that anymore? (too unproductive!) We’re like hamsters who don’t know how to get off the exercise wheel. Most days at work, I feel like one of those old ’70s stage performers who tried to keep a bunch of plates on a stick spinning before they all fell to the ground.

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By the time we hit “middle-age,” we’re adrift in a world where we just don’t fit, like our time traveler. It is run by others now, others who are willing (or rather, forced) to live at a pace and with customs that we find quite disagreeable and out of step with our natural inclination. 

Maybe this is as it should be. Maybe, if we’re lucky enough to live to a ripe old age, it makes leaving this world easier, because we no longer admire or respect it. Our gig is up. Good riddance! I hope they bury me upside down so . . . well, you know the rest. Time to make way for the new, just as our eventually disillusioned grandparents made way for us. So I needn’t bemoan my eventual demise, because I know I’ll increasingly dislike the future. It’s not really for me. And this, stressed-out reader, is why the older you get, the more you’ll reminisce about the good old days. Now put down your smartphone and go read a good book set in the past – preferably the three-dimensional kind.*

*Might I recommend Wally Lamb’s “Wishin’ and Hopin’.” It’s not terribly long for you easily-distracted types, and it’s absolutely hilarious. (Personally, I’m currently working my way through “War and Peace.” I’m ready, and it immerses me in a simpler time and place in the past, one of the greatest benefits of reading. But the current generation will just watch the movie. It’s quicker).

Hold On To That Feeling

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I had the privilege this week of attending four concerts at my local arena. It’s just three miles down the road, one of the best entertainment venues in the country (Mohegan Sun), yet I rarely visit. World class entertainment, right on my doorstep. This week, I made up for lost time. In fact, there were so many artists that I wanted to see coming in the same week – Neil Diamond, Train, Bryan Adams, Asia and Journey – that I took a vacation from work. I tend to go to extremes at times.

Nietzsche famously said that without music, life would be a mistake. Music has played such an important role in my life that I’m not going to argue with him. Like many introverts, I am affected by music at a very deep level. I am mainly drawn to pop, rock, Broadway, symphonies and opera, and, diverse as they are, I enjoy them all equally but for different reasons. Rock and Broadway cater to my more carefree moods, symphonies and opera to my more contemplative ones, and pop to both.

Music, perhaps more than anything or anyone, makes me feel. Many introverts like myself may be suspected of not having feelings, but I would argue, at least in my case, that they may be deeper than the average person’s given that I spend so much time in solitude, reflecting and ruminating. Extroverts seem busy to me distracting from feelings rather than experiencing them, at least the deeper and more complex ones. The reason mine may not be apparent to others is because I don’t typically show them. They are there nonetheless, are quite intense, and I cherish them. Occasionally they leak out, and music is a key catalyst (movies can be, also, but mainly because music accompanies the emotionally-charged scenes).

Nineteen eighty-two and eighty-three were probably the two most intense years in my life, largely because I had fallen in love for the first time, and, not surprisingly, also suffered my first breakup, a truly devastating event for me. I suppose it is for many, but the fact that I was secretly gay (this was 1982, when being gay was not acceptable) and had nowhere to go for solace or advice made the crash from ecstasy to depression unbearable. So I experienced both the most hopeful and the most depressing events of my life – even to this day – in the course of those two years. Music was my only friend. Every hit song from that time period triggers heightened memories in my brain, either of rapture (“Heat of the Moment”) or despair (“Open Arms.”)

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Asia and Journey were both at the height of their success during this time period, so they are a key part of my first-love soundtrack.  The very first album I bought and played on my first quality stereo system was Journey’s mega-successful “Escape” from the summer of 1981. I was 18 years old, had recently graduated from high school and opened a business, and my world was opening up in many exciting ways. I still remember hearing the first song off that album on my fancy new turntable, “Don’t Stop Believin’.” What a great test of my new system it was! It kicked, both then and in last night’s show: “Don’t stop believin’/Hold on to that feeling”.

I saw Journey in concert the day before my birthday that same year in Hartford. I don’t remember them being as good then as they were this week, thirty-six years later, but that is likely because I was considerably depressed back then. Plus, I awkwardly and bravely had asked someone to go with me because I was so incredibly lonely, a relative stranger who I had a major crush on, and he said no. So I went alone. I do that a lot nowadays without giving it a second thought, but back then it was a somewhat traumatic experience. It affected my enjoyment of the show, which I spent both feeling sorry for myself and berating my pathetic and self-conscious solitude: Look at how everyone else is enjoying the show! This was way before I had figured out that I was an introvert, and that I didn’t have to be like those around me.

Fast forward to this week, and a more confident and secure me. The opening number was possibly the best of the night. It kicked ass, got the whole arena on its feet (including me – and I was acting without self-consciousness, something I’ve gotten progressively better at over the years), and really energized the crowd right from the get-go. It was 1983’s “Seperate Ways,” a song that brings back a very surreal memory for me of driving through the Mojave Desert on my way from Las Vegas to Los Angeles, alone, in the middle of the night, a five-hour trip on a desolate, starry interstate as this song blared in my rental car (“If he ever hurts you, true love won’t desert you”). This was after the end of my fairy-tale romance, but far enough removed that I was starting to consider that maybe there was still hope.The world seemed full of possibilities for me, and I had a great sense of (cautious) optimism and freedom.

Mid-concert brought another major memory-trigger, the love ballad “Open Arms.” It held number two on the charts for six weeks in the spring of 1982, and it was “our song,” me and my first love. He lived 800 miles away, and, having only an intense phone and letter relationship at that point, the song made us think of each other whenever it came on the radio in our respective worlds. After we broke up, I cried to it more times than I can remember.

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When we finally met two months later, we went to a concert that first night together at Riverfront Coliseum in Cincinnati, the farthest I had ever been from home. The performer: Neil Diamond, whom I was little acquainted with. However, it was the most magical, Cinderella-like night of my life – May 13, 1982 – and when it all turned to shit several months later, Neil’s introspective music would be my only friend and solace. I obsessed on it, seeing him in concert over a dozen more times in the succeeding years, including this week. I don’t obsess on it as much any more, but Neil’s music still gets to me. I teared up at his concert more than any of the others this week. He was there for me a long time ago when I needed a friend. I strongly related to his lyrics about longing and introspection, and he helped me connect to something and feel less alone. It was truly a lifeline. Ultimately, my favorite song of his is a hopeful one (“Holly Holy”), and part of its lyric is the title of this blog – “Take the lonely child, and the seed, let it be full with tomorrow.”

So yes, Nietzsche, music is an indispensable part of my life. It is the soundtrack to my triumph and despair, the guardian of my distant memories, and an understanding friend in my times of need.

New York City Redux

Here I am again at Penn Station, on my way back from what has become an annual excursion to the Big Apple. The trip was shorter this time, though somehow it felt longer. I was even bored at points (!), or maybe just immobilized by being unsure of how best to use my time in such an overwhelming place. I feel a bit worn out, no doubt because I’ve walked more in three days than I normally do all month. This is probably why I saw so few portly New Yorkers. And they must blow through shoes every few months. I’d say that I’ve surely lost a few pounds, but then I remember how much I’ve eaten. New York is second only to cruise ships in constant food availability.

My trip consisted mainly of opera performances, two days at the museum, and several dinners with an old friend. My hotel was – interesting. I was trying to keep things affordable, but I might choose to pay up the wazoo next time. You don’t get what you don’t pay for. Hot water would be one of those things (but, presumably, I paid for that).

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The individual rooms were decorated (I assume for free) by different artists. Mine looked like someone ingested pea soup and then projectile-vomited it all over the room. Everything was slathered in a thick coat of slimey green. A plaque on the wall informed me that the color was called “arsenic.” How fitting. The pukey decor was augmented by images of someone’s trip to uninteresting parts of Asia, complete with paper lanterns and Christmas lights strung  from the ceiling. I felt like I was either in a teenager’s bedroom, or a Martha Stewart nightmare. The room was very hot and noisy, with no way to control either affront to my senses. Sleeping a full night was impossible. It was akin to a night on a park bench in Times Square, except there wasn’t the saving grace of a cool breeze. Of course I didn’t come to New York to sit in my hotel room, but it will be nice to get home to my own digs. Comfy. Quiet. No snot-green anywhere.

When I did leave my room, it was to much more grand surroundings. The Metropolitan Museum of Art is amazing. It would take a week just to give everything even a cursory look. I gave it two afternoons. I was amazed at times by the great detail artists were able to give their items (plates, pottery, figurines, furnishings) long before modern techniques to paint or mold them existed, and with the great condition items were in that were hundreds of years old. I frequently asked myself “how did they do that way back then without modern conveniences?” Astounding how talented and creative people can be when they aren’t filling their every moment with mindless electronic distractions.

As for the operas, always a treat. The Met orchestra is top notch, and while there aren’t superstar singers the likes of Pavarotti or Callas these days, the singing is far better than I’d hear most other places availabile to me aside from my own (massive) mp3 collection.

And speaking of Callas (whose voice I adore), my friend (the one I supped with) gave me a biography of her as a gift. I was very touched. And bemused. The thing is huge and weighs about five pounds (it’s hardcover and full of delicious pics), and here I am trying to travel light, knowing I have luggage to lug through the streets, stairwells, and subway tunnels of New York. Good thing I didn’t fly here, as I’d have to buy a seat for the book on the return trip.

Spring is blooming in the city, and the landscape is full of mass plantings of tulips and hydrangeas, as well as cheery clumps of  flowers ringing sidewalk trees in the only garden space most residents  have. Space is at a premium, and everyone makes the best of it. I had wanted to spend some time in the fantastic green (yes, green!) vistas of Central Park, but it didn’t happen this time. At least I wasn’t rained on the whole trip; it was just dreary and gloomy, kind of like my room.

Again, like last year, I didn’t see a single person who I felt threatened by during all my subway rides and street walks. I’m not sure what to make of this. I kept near crowds of regular shmoes like myself, tried to blend in and look confident and blase (“hey, I do this all the time!”), and never felt afraid. I’d be more concerned walking around certain dank areas back home. Here, there are people everywhere at all hours in a city that never sleeps, most of them just going about their business. Kids, moms, tourists, working people, largely unfazed with their surroundings or the hour, interacting more with their smartphones than the people all around them. Just like me (I’m typing this in the waiting area at Penn Station). See how nicely I blend?

I got out of my comparatively rural surroundings for a few days into one much more cosmopolitan. I heard foreign tongues everywhere. I sat next to a young man at the opera who appeared to be, like me, alone, and during the intermission I asked how he was enjoying it. He was European, and had seen the opera (Aida) many times in Vienna and other European cultural centers. I noted that during the performance he didn’t have his seat translator on, so he was likely multi-lingual, unlike my boorish American and unsophisticated self. It was a bit humbling.

So while it was nice to get away, it will also be nice to get back to my version of Kansas where I (unfortunately) fit in better. This city knows I don’t really belong here, as much as I may aspire to. But I’ll keep trying it on for size nonetheless, and hope it doesn’t take much notice.

The Shock-Jock Candidate

trump

No matter how much they may dislike “Crooked Hillary” and the establishment in Washington, voters in good conscience can not choose Donald Trump to lead the United States of America. The man has, time after jaw-dropping time, consistently proven himself to be reckless, prejudiced, reactive, selfish, unstable and juvenile. Trump supporters who deny this are just living in fantasy land. Yes, he says what he thinks and is refreshingly unscripted. I won’t argue with you there. Yes, he is tough and fearless and no-nonsense. He even has a  few good ideas (along with a whole host of very bad ones). But as one commentator put it, you don’t let the drunk guy drive the bus, no matter how popular he is with the crowd. You have to take a serious look at the whole package, not just focus on the parts of it you really like. It’s like deciding to stay with an abusive lover. He may hit you and treat you badly, but he’s a good provider and besides, you probably deserved it (and I have to admit, sometimes I think a large portion of the electorate does deserve Donald Trump since many are as ignorant and juvenile as he is).

I understand that people are fed up and want change. That’s great, and I don’t fault them for that. I want that, too. But change is not always good, and the kind of change we’d get with Trump as our leader is very likely not the kind many are craving. He would behave no differently as president than he has for the past year, flitting from one shocking behavior to another. If there’s one thing we can count on, he is consistent in his outrageousness and offensiveness. Is this the kind of behavior we want in a president – someone who acts out of impulse, who can’t control his mouth or his temper, who, basically wouldn’t even pass a job interview at the local WalMart? If he can’t control himself in an interview or a debate, how is he going to deal effectively with Congress or other world leaders? His supporters seem to think he can just bulldoze his way through with his bluster and bravado. He may get away with this in his private company where he is king, but we are not choosing a king. Political leadership in a democracy requires thoughtfulness and compromise. It requires an adult who has learned to control their baser instincts and impulses.

What scares me almost as much as Donald Trump is his sizable base of rabid supporters. Trump has steadily stirred up hatred, prejudice, violence and blind devotion in his followers, which is what makes him so dangerous. This is how dictators behave. Whether he wins the presidency or not, he has already done great damage by dividing the country rather than trying to unite it. If he loses, he will stir up more dissent with his claims of conspiracy and a rigged election. If he wins, we will have four potentially frightening years of the torch-and-pitchfork crowd pitting neighbor against neighbor, with Donald fanning the flames and stoking the ratings.

Hillary is far from perfect, and has many questionable things in her background. Whether this is a factor of her truly being dishonest or of her being a target under a microscope for decades I can’t say with any certainty. Surely some of the alleged scandals have been exaggerated by her enemies, but there are no doubt elements of truth in many of them. I don’t think she’s a girl scout by any means. She has made mistakes and admitted to some, which Donald cannot seem to do. Her more high-profile scandals have been investigated thoroughly by sometimes bloodthirsty opponents (the same ones who impeached her husband), with no proof of nefarious intent. Is she dishonest? Probably at times, to save face, like most every politician. She has faults to be sure, but in the big picture who has the maturity, the poise, the clear grasp of the issues, and the patience to lead this country?  No one who is being honest with themselves can answer that question with “Trump.”