of Hate” Report, Etc.
This past October, I did
a piece on honoring questionable heroes with statues or monuments.
It was within a larger essay on the Columbus legacy (Columbus:
The Parade/The Voyage/The Statues OCTOBER,
2017 MUSE-LETTER), as he has become the poster
boy in these parts for the issue of “statue-worthiness?”
for want of a better term. Much as Robert E. Lee had been
down South. Albeit for different reasons.
This all seemed to be a big deal at the time. A whole four
months ago. So big, that Mayor Bill de Blasio, set up a Mayoral
Advisory Commission on City Art, Monument and Markers
(heretofore… “Macocamam”), to make
recommendations as to what to do about what he calls, without
flinching, “symbols of hate.” And while this concerned
NYC specifically, such projects could be coming to a theater
Yet given the speed of the news cycle, and the “s-hole”
(or house?) issues and controversies that have since emerged,
as noted by “anchor” Michael Che on a recent SNL
Weekend Update, “It’s just not what we
care about this week.”
On the assumption that this is something that we might “re-care”
about next week, here were the range of choices given to Macocamam
as to what to do about four specific statue/monuments (and
in effect, one that doesn’t even exist as yet):
1. Let the monument stand as is.
2. Re-contextualize it through added signage or programming.
3. Move it to another public site such as a museum.
4. Change or expand its meaning by adding new art.
5. Removing it from view (though destroying it is not an
That there were only four potential culprits designated for
such scrutiny, in a city that has well over 300 sculptures
and innumerable plaques on its streets and in parks, is surprising.
If I may throw my “hate” into the ring, what about
Philip Henry Sheridan?
Union General in the Civil War whose statue was erected in
1936, he stands right across the way from the now infinitely
more famous Stonewall Inn. This despite a black mark on his
resume. To quote from a Chicago Tribune piece last September:
“Applying the doctrine of ‘hard war’ to
subdue the ‘hostiles,’ under his leadership, he
sanctioned harsh treatment of Native American women and children,
destroyed their villages and food stores, and encouraged the
wanton slaughter of the buffalo on which tribes relied as
part of a plan to ‘make them poor by the destruction
of their stock.’” And that was just on Monday.
As far as I can tell, Sheridan has gone under the radar.
But given the statue’s location, wouldn’t it would
be an ironic twist of sorts, if gay Native Americans in particular,
would begin clamoring for its removal?
within my Statues of Limitations? segment, I jokingly
suggested that perhaps that Alice in Wonderland statue in
Central Park ought to be reconsidered, as she looked stoned
sitting atop that mushroom. What kind of image is that for
kids? But perhaps timelier now—vis-à-vis the
Woody Allen accusation recently revisited —I can’t
help but note that the story of Alice is written by Charles
Dodson (aka Lewis Carroll). You know, the guy who took nude
or semi-nude photos of 30 pubescent girls? (Smithsonian.com
2010). And, “It's clear, that Dodgson had a submerged
erotic fascination with the nubile female form,” noted
The Guardian in 2001. You think so?
Ought we stop reading that story to our kids? And wasn’t
Walt Disney an “enabler” with his animated version?
Down with the statue! Again, tongue is planted firmly in cheek.
But it raises questions as to how far can we can wind up going
with all of this. Perhaps down a rabbit hole?
But on to Macocamam’s recommendations coming
after “months of closed door meetings, public hearings
and an online survey that drew some 3,000 responses.”
And being a baseball fan and lover of box scores and scorecard
formats, not to mention grid-like summations, I offer…
Some would say, this was a “s-hole/house” project.
Leave it alone. You can’t change history. Which is true.
You can’t change the history as it was taught in grade
school. Which was by rote, entailing memorization of a series
of “who,” “what,” “when,”
By all means, there are no alternative facts. But
there are alternative interpretations. As Churchill once famously
said, “History is written by the victors.”
And, “your unlawful destructive protest, is my Boston
Tea Party,” others might have said un-famously.
History constantly gets rewritten. We just can’t predict
in what way. This point was made from a new and interesting
perspective by Chuck Klosterman, in his excellent book, Thinking
About the Present As If It Were the Past...But What If We’re
Wrong? Especially given a current environment where “there
is no centralized information, so every idea has the same
potential for distribution and acceptance.”
I personally don’t believe that something carved in
stone, or made of stone, or cast in bronze, gives it license
to stay in place in perpetuity. Over time, we learn about
things we never knew before. Klosterman gives an entertaining
example in his book, of how until Newton came along, man (and
woman) was wrong about its understanding of gravity for roughly
twenty centuries! If “we” could be wrong about
gravity—and yes, we’re presumed to be much smarter
now than those living in 1687 (though in 2018, some still
don’t believe in scientific evidence)—it would
seem that perceptions about who was a good guy or not, could
be reconsidered. I mean, on the flip side, even Tonya Harding
is making a comeback.
It will be interesting to see, when Macocamam’s
recommendations are enacted (assuming they are), what the
public reaction will be. Not to mention, the presidential
tweets. That is, if we get our attention back to a matter
that seemed so pressing only yesterday.
Quote of the Month
Behold, the Pencil
“Nobody asked me but… nobody
uses a pencil anymore.”
I made this rather benign statement last year, as one of
twenty-nine other such one-liner ruminations on marginal matters,
in homage to sportswriter/columnist Jimmy Cannon (With
Apologies to Jimmy Cannon Once Again, JUNE,
2017 MUSE-LETTER). He had originated the Nobody asked
me but-concept decades ago, to fill space on a slow news
It seems true. About the pencil. Though I guess I could have
equivocated by excepting those used for artistic purposes.
And further, excepting users who are of pre-teen age.
Do you use a pencil? Given all the technological options
we have for conveying information, opinions, idle thoughts?
Given all the time spent hunched over keyboards? Given inexpensive
gel pens at our disposal, that simulate ink from real fountain
pens (another anachronism), when we choose to go that way?
Though nix I say on ballpoint pens, which strike me as being
the black sheep in the writing-tool family. The parochial
Catholic grade school I attended, actually forbade their usage.
Not the result from any papal encyclical as far as I can
tell, it was a dictum enforced by the nuns. They despised
ballpoints (especially Paper Mate), with much the
same maniacal intensity that Joan Crawford brought to wire
coat hangers. Ah, but the pencil. Who didn’t adore the
pencil, on which were weaned when putting our ABC’s
to paper. Though in my childhood, pencils also came with restrictions.
It was decreed that only a #2 pencil was acceptable.
I guess a #1 made too light a mark on the page, suggesting
uncertainty. Or excessive shyness. Conversely, a #3 was too
soft in the lead and tended to smear. And “cleanliness
is next to godliness,” no? And maybe in its use, one
was being just a bit too bold? Lacking humility? I never dared
asked the dear Sisters of St. John the Baptist for any explanation
concerning pencils (nor dare I say, The Holy Trinity).
But getting back to more secular ground, did any experience
at an early age (aside from masturbation maybe), beat using
a hand-held sharpener on a “Ticonderoga” pencil,
and watching the clean-as-a-hound’s-tooth point resulting,
as curlicues of wood shavings spiraled away? For me, it was
the introduction to a tool that I could take safely in hand.
My handy-man capability has never gone much beyond.
I’ve assumed that the pencil is going the way of cave
carvings. What company could still thrive today in the common
pencil making business? So, when I picked up a recent New
York Times Magazine and came across, “FINE
LINES Inside one of America’s last pencil
factories,” it stopped me in mid-peruse.
That referenced factory is The General Pencil Company that
has stayed rooted in New Jersey since 1899. Contrast that
with other pencil makers, we are told, who have chased higher
profit margins overseas. I can hear it now: “We are
going to bring the pencil back from China to America,
where it belongs, I can tell you.” After all, write
This “Fine Lines” collaboration between a writer
and a photographer who has visited General Pencil several
times over the past few years to document every phase of the
manufacturing process, dramatically states and illustrates,
that “Such radical simplicity is surprisingly complicated
to produce.” Which strikes me as metaphorical and applicable
to many of life experiences, if you think about it.
How many of us have ever wondered how a pencil is made? Yes,
there are more grandiose constructs to contemplate. How the
universe was made, comes readily to mind. Yet, this piece
served as a reminder that there can be satisfaction in pausing
to consider those little things born of human ingenuity. The
pencil, whose history in the form of a stylus goes back to
ancient Roman times, would seem to fit within that category.
Its production, as we know it today, is conveyed in the main,
through a series of bold photographs of fine art quality
in this article. An industrial process, is transformed into
a riveting artistic expression in and of itself.
You want color? That blue pencil for editing, starts out
as spaghetti. That red one, which you never wanted to see
appear on a returned test paper, stands at attention awaiting
its next maneuver.
And speaking of colors, we learn that most pencils receive
four coats of paint! As if anything less would be noticed
by a pencil pusher. As if, say only one or two coats, would
undermine truth, justice and the American way.
And in case this comes up at some point…
…that little metal band that keeps the eraser in place
atop the pencil, is called a ferrule. How many ferrules
can you fit on the head of a pen? Nun.
As the pencil goes out of the factory and into the world,
what transpires might best be summed up in paragraph embedded
within the relatively scant text, that accompanied the above
photographs. Rearranged to create what is referred to as a
cento or “found poem,” I have entitled it …
In an era of
the humble pencil feels
it does exactly
what it does,
when it does it,
right in front of you.
They are pure analog,
They help to
rescue us from oblivion.
Think of how many of our finest motions
how many eye
blinks and toe twitches
and secret glances
vanish into nothing. And yet
when you hold
your quietest little hand-dances
are mapped exactly,
from the loops
to the final dot
at the very end of the sentence.
Inspired by it all I guess, I bought a box of #2 Ticonderoga
Gig: "The Visit"
I have been asked to participate in a staged
reading by the theatre company at the historical Fifth Avenue
Presbyterian Church, which has been in existence since 1808.
Which predates by 70 years, St. Patrick’s Cathedral
down the block.
My previous work with them has included key roles in “The
Diary of Anne Frank,” “My Name is Asher Lev”
and this past fall, “I Remember Mama.”
This time, within the Lenten season, there will be a special
one-day reading of a play entitled “The Visit.”
Written in 1947 by Ladislas Fodor, a Hungarian novelist/playwright/screen
writer, it’s a contemporary courtroom drama built around
the Passion. A gardener is put on trial after Jesus’s
body disappears from the tomb. An intriguing premise regardless
of one’s religious persuasion or lack thereof.
As always, with these staged reading events, there is no
Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church
7 West 55th Street
February 25, 2018
A Winter’s Tale
I’ll meet you any time you want
In our Italian restaurant
are okay with me these days
Where were you when I was sitting back there,
alabaster beauty with your spilling hair
in as if from Central Casting?
To stoke an imagined pursuit still in play?
You should have seen me in my day.
pause in the Chianti and the tasting.
It takes passion and the equipment to make a move;
two-thousand snow plows in the groove
the bomb cyclone on this night arriving.
No tail between legs nor lamentation,
just snow adrift in poetic intimation;
memories still surviving.
White man speak in forked metaphors;
do rain dance in snow; keep dry indoors.
A lone ranger
would get that, and giddy up.
Who was that masked man anyway?
With a gun that shot caps, enjoined in the fray
lose or draw come fill the cup?
Sip and sup and contemplate
the game of tag we play with fate;
they all sleep tonight?
Summers turn into blinding snow,
forks in the roads; which way to go?
really coming down; no end in sight.
Dali and Disney
In considering a name for an Italian restaurant,
which is the setting in the poem that preceded, and which
at its core is a reflection about fate in the matters of seeking
love, I wondered what was the Italian translation
for “fate”? Turns out there are four: sorte, fato,
fatalià and destino. But as a name for an Italian restaurant,
Destino’s seemed most plausible (“I’ll
meet you at eight at Destino’s”).
Curiosity then led me to check if a restaurant by that name
actually exists. Especially, here in New York. Turns out one
did. Once partially owned by Justin Timberlake, and just two
blocks from where I now live, it closed in 2013. And three
years ago, one of the owners finally “sued the insurance
company over multiple floods of human waste” on the
premises, as one newspaper reported. An upscale restaurant
near the U.N. and frequented by celebrities? Human waste!?
Talk about a cruel fate. Yuck.
By now I’m far afield (one is never “close afield”),
from where I’m going which is not where I started out.
Which is to a place more sublime, to say the least.
“Destino,” also has the same meaning in Spanish.
And a famed Spaniard, Salvador Domingo Felipe Jacinto Dalí
y Domènech, better known as Salvador Dali, engaged
in a collaboration with Walt Disney in 1945, on a short-animated
film entitled Destino. I did not know this. Two of
the more unlikely geniuses of artistic expression than you
could ever imagine pairing up: surrealist and creator of pop
But as fate, or “Destino,” would have it, the
project never saw the light of day. The Walt Disney Studio
was actually undergoing financial woes at the time, and had
to shelve it. But a mere 54 years later in 1999, while working
on Fantasia 2000, nephew Roy E. Disney found and
resurrected it. Released in 2003, it was nominated for an
Academy Award for Best Animated Short Film. It lost to something
called Harvie Krumpet (which is a rather fascinating
film in its own right).
Destino tells the tragic story of Chronos, the personification
of time, falling in love with a mortal woman. To a wonderful
musical score, by a Mexican composer of renown at the time,
they float across the surrealist landscapes of Dali’s
paintings in expressing that love.
Dali described it as “A magical display of the problem
of life in the labyrinth of time.” Disney was far less
existential calling it, “A simple story about a young
girl in search of true love.”
course, you might expect Dali’s vision to be wrapped
around something like “a labyrinth of time,” given
his most famous painting The Persistence of Memory.
(On permanent display at MoMA).
Beyond his paintings, he was equally if not better known
by the masses, for his unusual grandiose behavior and attention-grabbing
antics. If he were alive today, he’d be hosting
Saturday Night Live for sure. So, you could see that as a free
spirit, why he’d be open to, and even desirous of, working
with Walt. But why Walt, with him?
As straight-laced as Disney and as his all-family animated
films might appear (though lots of signs of racial and gender
insensitivity lie within), his oeuvre extends miles and miles
beyond Mickey, or Mortimer as he was first named. As one critic
put it, “There’s an entire underworld of dark,
He goes on…
“…some of his earlier works yields undeniable
nightmare fuel… Dumbo (1941) has that visually
trippy “Pink Elephants on Parade” bit…
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (1937) features
a scene where Snow White races through a forest, narrowly
dodging the snapping jaws of anthropomorphized log crocodiles.
And then… there’s the wordlessly terrifying
In Fantasia, in particular, he really stepped out
of his comfort zone what with his wordless array of anthropomorphized
figures, all accompanied by classical music. Which was conducted
by the legendary Leopold Stokowski. Perhaps this served as
a precursor to Destino, and that a venture with Dali
should not be so surprising after all.
A viewing of it, taking six minutes of time— not in
a labyrinth— is well spent.