June 2014


"That Woman."



As in: “I did not have sex with that woman." Monica Lewinsky is back.


But before we dismiss her once again on the grounds of presumed “bimbo-ness,” or worse, “15 minutes-of-fame” expiration, and therefore profound irrelevance, she has some interesting things to say. And she says them very well in a finely written and thoughtful essay in the current issue of Vanity Fair.


A first impulse in various quarters upon hearing of her return, was to question her motives and timing. Lynn Cheney (wife of Dick), while on Fox News promoting her new book, went so far as to suggest that Lewinsky has been paid off by the Clintons to address this old scandal now, rather than have it brought up later during the 2016 campaign. And beyond that, the sarcasm on some fronts in the rhetorical question will this woman ever go away! is almost audible.


If one reads the piece, “Shame and Survival,” some answers to those questions will come from Monica Lewinsky herself. They will come from an intelligent 40 year old woman, who earned a Masters Degree in social psychology from the London School of Economics in 2006. No, she is not the “narcissistic loony tune” as Hillary Clinton once described her. No, she is not a stalker. No, she is not a slut.


And beyond having some specifics of that scandal addressed, the reader will get something much more compelling. In fact, Vanity Fair promotes the piece on its cover— above handsome Jon Hamm’s head—in gold and black font as: MONICA LEWINSKY on the CULTURE of HUMILIATION. Who better to have something to say on that subject than someone who was once a poster child for it? She says, and who can really dispute it...

“We have created, to borrow a term from historian Nicolaus Mills, a ‘culture of humiliation’ that not only encourages and revels in Schadenfreude but also rewards those who humiliate others, from the ranks of the paparazzi to the gossip bloggers, the late night comedians, and the Web ‘entrepreneurs’ who profit from clandestine videos.”

David Letterman, in a surprising moment of candor, while discussing with Barbara Walters recently an interview she had done with Lewinsky in 1999, owned up to his own cheap shots back in the day:

“I started to feel bad, because myself and other people with shows like this made relentless jokes about the poor woman, and she was a kid. She was 21, 22 or something,”

“I feel bad about my role in helping push the humiliation to the point of suffocation,”

Monica Lewinsky matters. And not really for any impact she could have on the 2016 presidential election, even though Rand Paul has already opened that door in saying about Bill Clinton: “we shouldn’t want to associate with people who would take advantage of a young girl in his office.” The assumption being, that as Hillary does a lot of associating with Bill, she is somehow complicit in the crime? Thus tainted? Yet, the conventional wisdom (at least at the moment) is that it would be a misstep for the Republicans to try to use Lewinsky to their advantage.


No, Monica Lewinsky matters for the reasons that Letterman now regrets. She matters, because the pop culture so matters in defining how we perceive that which is going on around us. It has long been maintained for example, that John Stewart, Stephen Colbert and Saturday Night Live are primary sources of news for younger generations. For many, the news starts with a joke.


So will she ever go away? Maybe not.


In fact, Barbara Walters in that Letterman interview seemed cryptic in alluding to how at one time Lewinsky was being considered for some sort of TV position, but didn’t want it. And with her now attempting to clear the air, and perhaps becoming less toxic to some potential high profile media outlets, Lewinsky might reconsider if another offer (s) was forthcoming. We could be seeing her around on a regular basis. Especially given her now publicly professed goal: “…to get involved in behalf of victims of online humiliation and harassment and to start speaking on this topic in public forums.”


Stay tuned. Or not.








The Third Avenue El


Rail by rail
and girder by

arthritic girder
they tore it down.

Rivets as big as fists


the Great Monkey Wrench
of Progress.


And we had gathered
in the streets


the heart released
from tyranny


of darkness.
And sang “Noel.”


And looked up laughing
faces to the sun


seeing it as though
for the first time.


What bit of it
there was before


had labored much
through latticed layouts


of tracks and ties
light then strobed


by rushing trains
on cabs and cars


on cobble stones.
How that chimera


had shimmied
and quaked


above our heads—
the stickball days


of sawed-off brooms
the ersatz bat;


the strike zone chalked
upon the wall—


spilling sparks
and belching thunder


as if to proclaim
the Ironclad Nation.


Riders aloft in
the belly of the beast


would turn their gaze
through desperate windows


that gulped for air
in airless Augusts


to see men billowed
in boxer shorts


women wilting
in satin slips


mulling lives
in Hopper paintings.


It was commerce and art
for the price


of one Liberty dime.
Yet allegiance now


with the god of the sun
the chance to become


born again and

                                                — Ron Vazzano

                                                                                     Third Avenue El, Reginald Marsh 1931







In the Beauty of the Horse



Horses have had a high profile of late. No pun intended.

What with their powerful athleticism on display in the running of the first two races of the Triple Crown last month, or at the other end of the spectrum, their unassuming grit as laborers— in the continuing controversy of carriage rides through Central Park—one is reminded of their transcendent beauty.

We tend to not give them much thought, for that is the nature of the beast. The beast being us.


Unnatural Selection

As if the very existence of the horse itself
     in all its majesty
     and fortuitous utility

whose foal can stand in the hour of its birth
     then gallop in clover
     by sunrise tomorrow—


as if that were not enough
     we put wings on one
     and a horn on the forehead of another

in need of our own creation.

                                        —Ron Vazzano

         (AUGUST, 2012 Muse-letter)


When California Chrome won the first two legs of the Triple Crown (with the Belmont coming up on June 7th), I was reminded of just how flat out stunning, a horse in full gallop can be.


Going beyond sport, a horse race is a piece of performance art—packed with a colorful edgy drama— that is unrivaled in any other form of spectator entertainment I can think of. Even better than a round of Bocce on First Avenue in the East Village.

                 Photograph by Jabin Botsford for The New York Times: Kentucky Derby 2014 won by California Chrome


While California Chrome was the favorite in its races, it sparked remembrance of a long shot Derby winner I had picked at an OTB parlor in ’71, not long after off-track betting became legal in New York. His name was Canonero II; a horse imported from Venezuela. Some racing pundits have said it was arguably the most astonishing upset in the Derby’s history.


True or not, when one has made even a small wager on a big race, a stretch run in which one’s horse is making a move, can illicit an involuntary reaction of intensity unlike that of any other spectator event. And that day when “my” horse won, I took some ownership of his performance, as I had done due diligence in handicapping the race. Aren’t we brilliant; we the masters of the universe. If but for a couple of minutes. (Chinatowner in the 4th; MAY, 2014 Muse-letter).

So just how much bidding should a horse do in our behalf? Which is just a short ride around the block, and on to the controversy surrounding the horse and carriage rides in Central Park.


New York’s mayor, Bill de Blasio, vowed that one of his first acts in office would be to abolish horse and carriage rides. Many agreed, feeling that these horses are ill treated in being forced to work in bad weather, noise, pollution and allegedly shoddy living conditions back in their stalls.


Not so, said action-adventure actor Liam Neeson, who has put a rugged face on those in opposition. And according to the polls, they now represent a resounding majority of two-thirds of New Yorkers who want the horses to stay. (They shoe horses, don’t they?).


It’s not as if there are no laws concerning the well being of these horses.


104° in Central Park

There will be no horse and carriage today.
There are laws on the books about just how much
even a beast of burden can bear. Besides
all the lovers have gone out of town.

The horses meanwhile get a respite from the heat
and a respite from rides through romantic notions.
For want of such notions kingdoms have been lost.
Today in this way

the horses are kings and we are the horses.
Blinders about our eyes as we trudge on
in a deep sweat searching,
for where else to go until this subsides.

                                        Ron Vazzano
       (AUGUST, 2011 Muse-letter)

Animal Rights is invariably a hairy issue. For all the praise I have just heaped upon the spectacle of a horse race, jockeys do take to the whip to shift their steed into another gear. Something of course, not even a horse and carriage driver plodding along at a few miles an hour ever does. And yet we know that race horses are given the finest care and attention, reflecting the investment owners have made in their well being, and hope of financial reward.


While there would seem to be no simple agreement as to exactly what the relationship between humankind and the horse ought to be in a modern age—certainly Paul Revere needed one— it would seem that a Central Park solution should start at least with limiting the riding season. Say, to something along the lines of eight months a year, in a reconsideration of the guidelines regarding temperature extremes. Currently, carriage horses are prohibited from working when the temperature is 18 degrees or below, or when above 90 degrees. (There is no consideration for the humidity index or wind chill factor).


As it is now, the horses do get five weeks off a year. (How many do you get?). But it is painful to see them standing out there interminably on winter nights (albeit in a blanket) awaiting a trickle of people who might think it cool to take a ride in frigid weather. Further, rides should be restricted to the park and not the streets. And it would seem that space can be provided inside the broad expanse of Central Park for horses to await their riders. And finally of course, all of this sits on some documentation that the horses are not being overtaxed in the weight they pull, nor in their living conditions in the stalls.


Though not having gone horseback riding in about twenty years, the very sight of a horse can make my day; at times, seemingly almost transformative. But is that the reason for their existence? To make us happy?


Maybe I ought to read Monty Roberts’ book, The Man Who Listens to Horses, published in 1996 and on the Times Bestsellers list for 58 weeks. In effect, hearing it right from the horse’s mouth.








Quote of the Month



“…I also realize that spirituality and making art are
not such different practices. Both call upon the
animating force of the unseen.”


Stacy D’Erasmo
                  author of The Art of Intimacy



















9/11 Memorial Museum Opens



“If the 9/11 museum due to open next year, turns out to be anything like that of the Memorial Museum in Oklahoma City, we are in for a rather chilling experience.” (9/11 and Oklahoma City, OCTOBER, 2011 Muse-letter).


Opened to the public on the 21st of last month, long after the originally scheduled date of the 11th anniversary of 9/11 in 2012, it was worth the wait. Yes, it is chilling. But beyond that, the thoroughness of this museum… its detailed history, not only of that day but noteworthy and connected events prior to it… the aftermath of it… the homage not only to the dead but to those who survived and thrived in their finest hour… the very layout and design of the place itself…will make it a must-see point of destination. Though for some, understandably, memorial museums reminding one of senseless death and destruction will not be found on their itineraries.


I began my visit there the following gray day, with a stop off at the memorial North Tower reflecting pool, in a computer-aided search for the names of two nephews of a childhood classmate. They had worked at Cantor Fitzgerald in that tower. And if the concept of six degrees of separation holds, and as 9/11 claimed 3,000 lives, we all “know” someone who died that day. Above the cascading waterfalls, “Reflecting Absence,” their names are forever cut in bronze.


Entering the museum, one begins an immediate and long descent leaving daylight behind, as it is set seemingly in the bowels of the earth— befitting the hell that was Ground Zero? And while you have been made aware of one particular recent controversy—there have been many since the very idea of this place was conceived—regarding the relocation of the remains of unidentified victims from the medical examiner’s office to this site, one never feels that one is trampling on the dead. A plaque will later tell you, “they are reposed behind this wall.”


There is a comfort in the space. It is so cavernous, creating in the process, an almost cathedral atmosphere among the ruins. Though one critic from something called artnet news would vehemently disagree with my take, calling it “catastrophically subterranean, unrelentingly gray and brutally secular.”


What was surprisingly captivating in terms of “décor,” for want of a better word, was that a lot of the twisted metal, chunks of concrete, burned out vehicles and transfigured everyday artifacts, would seem as if abstract sculptures if they were sitting in some Chelsea gallery. We would wonder what the artist was trying to get at, when at one point we’d happen upon a perfect ribbon fold, neatly made from a multi-ton column of steel.


As we tend to turn to poetry in times of an inexplicable turn of events, you might expect to see a quote somewhere. And there it is, centrally placed upon a wall, taken from Virgil’s “The Aeneid” and positioned within a commissioned artwork entitled Trying To Remember the Color of the Sky on That September Morning. Though even the quote, like much else about this museum, had been criticized. On an op-ed page of The New York Times, someone deplored it as being taken out of its proper context. Your interpretation will vary. Just as everyone’s remembrance, associations or awareness with 9/11 will.



         Photos and montage by Ron Vazzano©


Ultimately, this is not a one-size-fits-all place. It is a memorial museum, with “memorial” being the operative word. It is not the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The families of victims will view it in a far different light than will I, or Basim from Beirut or Biff from Butte. But the feeling one walks away with, is that we are at one with each other at such times. Tragedy is a uniting force; the height of irony reinforced far below the street.








19th Annual Lower East Side Festival of the Arts: Theater, Music, Dance, Film, Poetry, Puppetry, Youth Program, Visual Arts, featuring performances by F. Murray Abraham and Tammy Grimes.






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