January 2006



600 ° Of Separation?

In reading Bob Dylan’s fabulous Chronicles Volume One— right there on page 22— we were stopped cold.

Dylan, in writing of his time in The Village in the early 60’s, mentions in passing that:

…I was over at the Mills Tavern on Bleecker Street where the basket-house singers would bunch up, chitchat and make the scene.”

Frankly, that’s not how we remembered Mills Tavern (now long-since refurbished and renamed, The Village Lantern).

In a poem, written some years ago we described it (albeit not directly by name), as:

A place where men sipped ale
      while death came looking.

And what exactly makes us such experts on this shanty of an establishment? It was there that my father tended bar!

Ergo, (not to mention “Eureka!”)… My father must have served Bob Dylan!

Now, lest you think we’re name dropping or stretching to make a rather obscure connection to the great Bob Dylan— Dylan himself, is guilty of doing likewise. Just three pages later he writes:

“On the same block was the ‘Bull’s Head’, a cellar tavern where John Wilkes Booth, the American Brutus, used to drink.”

So now, by say about 1200°, are we not connected to John Wilkes Booth? And just one more degree beyond that, to President Lincoln?

There seems to be an inherent need as human beings to make such connections. Or maybe it’s just us and Bob Dylan?

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The Plot Against America: A Novel

For those unfamiliar with this latest Phillip Roth book and its premise:

“In 1940 Charles A. Lindberg…is elected President. Shortly thereafter, he negotiates a cordial ‘understanding’ with Adolph Hitler, while the new government embarks on a program of folksy anti-Semitism.”

And while this is a work of fiction, “Yes Virginia, ‘Lucky Lindy’ was an anti-Semite.”

Seriously folks, it is rather astonishing to hear of the friendly association he had with Hitler, and to read some of the speeches this American hero gave in the late 30’s.

Again, as has always been noted, a book—even a bestseller—tends to fly under the radar in today’s culture.

If this were a movie, it would be positively explosive. We’re talking, Bill O’Reilly type talk-show explosive! Double exclamation point explosive!! The stuff that people would be talking about the next morning at the water cooler. (If we didn’t of course, all now carry our own bottled water wherever we go, lest we dehydrate and expire on the spot).

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Only In LA: A Celebrity Sighting

Mort Sahl and Robert Blake sitting outside of our local Starbuck’s, sipping their coffee, on many a lazy LA afternoon.

And while we have had occasion to speak with Mr. Sahl about one thing or another (our kids go to the same school), we keep our distance when Mr. Blake is near. There are no guidelines for such potentially awkward social encounters. This is all beyond Emily Post. What do we say?

“Sorry Mr. Blake, to hear about the wife. And of course, your being found liable for her death. And the $30 million in damages you are being forced to pay. Can we buy you a latte?”

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Mort Sahl & Dick Gregory

When not sipping coffee with Robert Blake, Mort Sahl is still active on the stage. And although somewhat blunted by his 78 years, he still has an edge that can be described as “cutting”… in a butter knife sort of way.

We caught him December 9th at McCabe’s in Santa Monica, as we did two years ago at this venue. And he was in fine form.

But the real treat on this night— remarkably on the same bill— was Dick Gregory: “60's comedian, vegetarian, Civil Rights activist, a drum major for equal rights and nutritional consultant.”

Every word he utters is charged by the electricity of transformation: his own… and that of the life and times of the 60’s.

We thanked him afterwards for a good show and for fighting the good fights. He seemed appreciative of our small, but sincere gesture.

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When In Baltimore…

…have the crab cakes at Rusty Scupper right on the pier. Preferably, at a table overlooking the water.

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The Fourth of July at Yankee Stadium

We have been attending ballgames at Yankee Stadium for well over 50 years.

In fact, one cousin swears we were there for Mickey Mantle’s first game as a Yankee in 1951. Frankly we do not recall that day (we were six), and must take her word for it.

Anyway, in all these years, we have never even come close to getting a ball hit into the stands at The Stadium. Not during the game…not during batting practice… not in our dreams.

Fast forward to this past July 4th, when on impulse, we took our son to a game.

Given that the park was more or less sold out that day, we were relegated to the nose-bleed seats. The type of seats my father tended to buy, when he wasn’t tending bar and serving drinks to Bob Dylan.

And here we were during batting practice, in the third deck, at a hypotenuse distance from Home Plate, that seemed almost beyond the power of mortal men. (Hey, we’re poets, what can we say? Alright, it was pretty far away).

Suddenly…here it was. The BALL.

Off the bat. Of a guy named Jay Gibbons. Soaring. Climbing. Heading our way.

We put up our hands… and… caught it… on… the fly. The father, a hero, to the son. Alleluia! Alleluia! Al-le-e-e-l-u-u-i-i-a!

It seemed all at once, so miraculous, and yet, so equally simple and commonplace. We wondered why, what had now seemed so inevitable, had taken so long to occur. As if going to church for fifty years, one had finally caught on to the idea of God.

We suppose that there is a poem in there somewhere, that cries out for the writing. But like the catch itself, it might have to wait. Perhaps for the day when The Son—in lieu of The Father— might sit down to write it on his own.

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Pope Cycles

This was a year when the papacy got much attention in the public domain, what with the passing of one Pope and the election of another. (The changing of “the God”…so to speak?)

Being the list makers that we are, we took pen to paper and realized that, we are now “Six Popes old!”. That is pretty old given their tendency toward tenure.

PIUS XII (1939-1958)
JOHN XXIII (1958-1962)
PAUL VI (1962-1978)
JOHN PAUL I (1978-1978—one month actually!)
JOHN PAUL II (1978-2005)

No point to the Pope list really. It’s just that, like some great celestial event, they don’t happen too often. So they seem to bear witness.

And regardless of one’s religious persuasions, there is something so deliciously Old World about the papacy that is almost irresistible. How it inches along throughout the ages weighted down by all those vestments, ritual, theology and gold. One gets a sense of a Medieval painting coming to life, whenever a Pope pops into view.

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Turning “60”

This past August at Sardi’s — that iconic restaurant in the Broadway District —our spouse had gathered nearly everyone we had ever known. They then retreated to a room upstairs, and as we turned the corner, they shouted “Surprise!” on cue. Any hope of sneaking into our “60’s” was instantly shattered.

All this for an undeserving curmudgeon, who tends to share Woody Allen’s sentiments on growing older. To quote Woody in this past December’s issue of Vanity Fair:

“All that crap they tell you about— you know, dangling your grandchildren on your knee, and getting joy, and having a kind of wisdom in your golden years— it’s all tripe. I’ve gained no wisdom, no insight, no mellowing…”

And yet that night in a room amidst such warmth…we positively melted.

Having once lived through “the 60’s”, we were back in “the 60’s.”, in a manner of speaking. A thought to sustain us.

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Eugene McCarthy Dies at 89

The Times in its obituary, offered this descriptive among others:

“…the singular candidate of the Viet Nam War protest, serving up politics and poetry, theology and baseball in a blend that entranced the ‘Clean for Gene’ legions who flocked to his insurgent’s call.”

Sounds exactly like our kind of guy. In fact he was our kind of guy.

We remember—vividly— the impact of his punch, when in March of ’68, we sat before the TV set in shock, as Lyndon Johnson concluded a speech by announcing that he would not run for a second term.

Arguably, McCarthy was responsible for the only “TKO” in the history of American Presidential Politics.

We look forward to reading a book of his poems (Eugene McCarthy: Selected Poems; pub. 1997) to see if he was a better poet than a politician. As a politician, he had one very serious fault:. he was honest. As a poet, honesty is an indispensable trait.

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"Please don’t get up. I’m only passing through."

Eugene McCarthy…Rosa Parks…Arthur Miller…August Wilson…Pope John Paul II… Johnnie Carson… Terri Schiavo… Richard Pryor… Peter Jennings… Bobby Short… Saul Bellow… Simon Wiesenthal …Sam Loeb…

…Sam Loeb?

A friend of our son’s who died of cancer at age 17.

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The Viet Nam War Memorial

We might be the only ones you will ever hear, not singing the praises of the Viet Nam War Memorial in Washington. We were there this past June to bear witness to this and various paeans to American history.

While most people are moved by the etching of over fifty-eight thousand names in black marble — some at only ankle level — of those who died in that war (to what purpose we wondered even more…with the perspective of 30 years behind us) — we had a far different take.

To us, this “Black Wall”, embedded in the side of a slope, suggested a sense of Loss, Disgrace and Shame. Sorry.

Of all the memorials in Washington, this is the only one done up in black and essentially lacking dimension. It is in effect, a plaque; an honorable mention; a consolation prize. As opposed to say, the three-tiered trophy that usually goes to a winner.

The contrast, for example, to the World War II Memorial could not be greater. That one shouts in its design and architecture: “This was a Just War”…”an Heroic War”… “America’s Finest Hour”...”Victory”!

We know. We know. “Different time…different war”.

The very point.

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Thought of the Month Club

A rolling stone gathers no remorse.

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The Last List: The Books We Read in ‘05

For better or worse, a list of the books we read in the past year is provided below (pretty much in chronological order).

The main “musing” regarding this list, can be best summed up in the title of one of the books therein: So Many Books; So Little Time.

While this is not to be seen as a ringing endorsement for every book on this list, it does suggest that each of these was deemed worthy of our precious time, for one reason or another.

Little Friend – Donna Tartt (Novel)
My Life as a Fake – Peter Carey (Novel)
The DaVinci Code – Dan Brown (Novel)
Premeditation – Albert Da Silva (Novel)
Tenor of Love – Mary Di Michele (Novel)
Apprentice to the Flower Poet Z – Debra Weinstein (Novel)
The Art of Reading Poetry – Harold Bloom (Essays)
So Many Books; So Little Time – Sarah Nelson (Essays)
1929: A Novel of The Jazz Age – Frederick Turner (Novel)
Grand Fortune – Dan Okrent (Non Fiction)
Passover Plot – Hugh Schonfield (Thesis) (Note: A re-read)
Herzog – Saul Bellow (Novel)
Millard Fillmore Mon Armor – John Blumenthal (Novel)
Word of Mouth – edited Catherine Bowman (Poetry Anthology)
The Confessions of St Augustine – St. Augustine (Memoir) (Note: A re-read)
Swann’s Way – Marcel Proust (Novel)
Chronicles: Volume One – Bob Dylan (Memoir)
Miles Gone By – William F. Buckley Jr. (Memoir)
The Plot Against America: A Novel – Phillip Roth (Novel)
Atonement – Ian McEwan (Novel)
The Trouble With Poetry and Other Poems – Billy Collins (Poetry)
The Question of God: C.S. Lewis and Sigmund Freud – Dr. Armond Nichols (Essays)
Joe Jones – Anne Lamott (Novel)
Christopher Columbus – Ernle Bradford (Biography)
Villages – John Updike (Novel)
Jack’s Life – Douglas Gresham (Biography of C.S. Lewis)
Inner Circle – T.C. Boyle (Novel)
The Adventures of Augie March – Saul Bellow (Novel)
The Spooky Art – Norman Mailer (Essays)
Plan B: Further Thoughts On Faith – Anne Lamott (Memoirs)
The Mystery of the Shroud of Turin – John C. Iannone (Thesis)
Traveling Mercies – Anne Lamott (Memoirs)
Runaway – Alice Munro (Short Stories)
Capote – Gerald Clarke (Biography)

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