May 2010

Kent State


The photograph is forever etched in the collective memory of those of us of a certain age: a young girl—Mary Ann Vecchio, a fourteen year old runaway—on bended knee, as if singing an aria in some climatic scene from an Italian opera.



But of course this is not theater. And lying dead there, is Jeffrey Miller; frozen forever in time at age twenty.


One can argue over exactly what happened that day and who specifically was at fault. Indeed forty years later, some still do. But regarding the Kent State Massacre that Monday, May 4, 1970— 12:24 PM, the Nixon appointed President’s Commission on Campus Unrest (or the Scranton Commission as it came to be called) is unequivocal:


“Even if the guardsmen faced danger, it was not a danger that called for lethal force. The 61 shots by 28 guardsmen certainly cannot be justified. Apparently, no order to fire was given, and there was inadequate fire control discipline on Blanket Hill. The Kent State tragedy must mark the last time that, as a matter of course, loaded rifles are issued to guardsmen confronting student demonstrators.”


Yet, as always, one’s political eyewear will color what one sees. The word massacre itself for example, is highly charged. According to Webster’s, it’s the act or the instance of killing a number of usually helpless or unresisting human beings under circumstances of atrocity or wanton murder. (Underlines…ours).


Is that what happened at Kent State? And besides, how big does that “number” have to be to qualify as a massacre anyway?


As a point of reference, we have the Boston Massacre; considered to be a defining patriotic moment in our defiant history. Five were killed that day, including Crispus Attucks a runaway slave turned sailor who was the first to die, and a couple of seventeen year old boys. And as described at it was…


a street fight that occurred on March 5, 1770, between a ‘patriot’ mob, throwing snowballs, stones and sticks, at a squad of British soldiers.”


Absent the snowballs, the scene sounds eerily similar to Kent State in which four were killed. Though this is not to suggest that there are no distinctions between the two events. Just that one man’s massacre is another’s self defense; one man’s patriot is another man’s agitator.


While we were not at Kent State that day, it was a cold day in Washington just five months earlier, when we, along with almost a half-million others, marched in protest against The War. So we know something about crowds and passions at such times; something about the unease one feels knowing, that an outbreak of violence might be just around the corner. All the same, we felt we had to be there.



Washington in November of ’69 was about Nam…Kent State in May of ’70 was about Cambodia. But whatever moral oppositions or political ideologies were stoking the fires back then, ultimately at the heart of it all, was a five letter word that can never be overlooked: D-R-A-F-T. As in, Uncle Sam Wants You!


In the absence of the draft these days, rhetoric regarding preemptive wars in Middle Eastern countries, tends to leave us shaking our heads. Though to be clear, we are not calling for its reinstitution. But as a product of turbulent times, we cannot help but feel, that we (as in country) never would have found ourselves in Iraq for seven years (and counting) if there was a “draft” on the backs of our necks, and going right on down to a lower extremity as in: “ it is YOUR ass on the line.”


Imagine your son or daughter (and given gender equality these days she would have to be included), being sent to Iraq as a result of the “un-luck” of the draw—a low draft lottery number? How would this have shaped the dialogue? How quick would those in Congress and the Senate have been to vote for war? How would Hillary have voted if it meant Chelsea might have to go? (For the record, on December 1, 1969 in the first draft lottery held since 1942, our number was 344. You might be curious to click here to see how you would have faired (


For us, all of this provides a more meaningful and larger context in which to put Kent State. This is one situation, in which we believe God is not in the details. Rather, she is in the bigger picture. Bigger than the iconic one of that tragic day.



Coffee Beings

Once upon a planet earth
when it was the silence that was golden—
call it Mid-Century Millennium Past—


in the sacramental rite
          of coffee
in the God-given American right
          to coffee
in the hospitality of dropping by
          for coffee
                    with a box of canolis so finely attuned
to that percolation in syncopation…


Maxwell House:
Good to the very last drop


We guzzled in privacy absent the buzz
          from the lives of strangers—
this pulsation of patter
          of business propositions
          and interviews at adjacent tables—
we want to sometimes interject:
          “Ah jeez, don’t say that!
          You just blew the job!”


then the tutors force feeding irregular verbs
to deer in the headlights—
          the tattooed teens
          so naked in their cluelessness;


          “I’m like: wow;”


the extra terrestrials phoning home
          still agog with the new age ring tones
and that orgasmic taze they get on


the background music
          a tad and half too loud
above the din of permutations
          and combinations
          of repeated concoctions
                    built on shallow syrups and false foams
by baristas in Rocket J. Squirrel voices:

“A vente non-fat half-decafe latte
with one pump of sugar free
cinnamon dulce
extra foam…”

while laptops plugged into eternity
eat up time and space

the restrooms in their political correctness—
          wide enough for elephants—
yet rarely vacant as the homeless time their dumps;


and the line like the universe
          keeps expanding
and the guests like relatives
          keep coming and staying
and the caffeine IV’s keep
          drip, drip, dripping
and the growers keep
          planting and planting
and their beans keep ripening
          on every continent
          (even Antarctica)


and the pickers pick
          till their fingers bleed
and the marketers keep spewing out
          new “product experiences”
and someone is still
          in the goddamn bathroom
and now in these—
          the years that are said to be golden
we always have to pee.


—Ron Vazzano


Text and the Single Girl

For some time, we have been fascinated with the idea as to how the new technologies impact social interaction and relationships—now and going forward. We are still waiting for a definitive book to be written on the subject, though it might be outdated at the moment of its publication, given the warp speed of technology. In fact the very notion of “publication” is being redefined as the eBook appears to be reaching its “tipping point.”


This semi-obsession of ours is at least as old as the coming of the telephone answering machine into our life, some thirty years ago. Suddenly, we no longer had to pick up a phone when it rang, fearful of missing a call of some import. No more talking to someone we didn’t want to at that particular moment. (If ever). What a concept!


So it was with particular interest that we read “How Much Is Too Much?”— a satirical piece on the angst of high-tech communications— in GENLUX which just hit the newsstands. This trendy magazine of 60,000 circ, bills itself as: “The only luxury fashion and beauty magazine created expressly for today’s affluent Southern California woman.” The article was written by Almie Rose (who just so happens to be our daughter) under the byline of her popular blog, Apocalypstick. A marriage of new and old technology, if you will.


Here for just the second time in these Muse-Letters, we include a guest piece in its entirety, as it appeared in the magazine.




I was told that it’s a good thing to want people to know you like them. Big Bird was always hugging people and had lots of celebrity friends hugging him back. Even DeNiro hugged Big Bird. On Valentine’s Day you would bring in bagfuls of paper valentines, one for everyone, and you would get one from everyone too, because that’s just how it worked. E.T. reached out and touched Eliot with his finger, and that damn kid almost fell to the ground he was so excited. So when did it become a bad thing to let people know you were interested? Or, more accurately, how often can you call and/or text someone before you look desperate and undesirable? How much is too much?


I’ve been on both the giving and the receiving end of Constant Text Syndrome (or CTS). It’s just so easy to send a quick thought out to someone else. With a flick of your finger you can ask someone, “Watcha doin?” and not have to wait on the other end of the line, trudging through a valley of awkward silence that you sometimes come across on the phone. You know those conversations. They begin with such hope and vigor, where your voice is about two octaves higher than it should be, and quickly descend into silences so bizarrely spaced that you eventually ask the other person, “Are you high?” If you’re lucky, they are. Then you can think, “Oh, this dying conversation has nothing to do with me, thank God” and ask them if they would rather talk about Fraggle Rock.


But if you send that innocent, breezy “Just wanted to see how you’re doin” (never with a G on the end, because you’re keeping it casual) text and you don’t hear back, you suddenly feel like you want to kill yourself. “They’re probably just napping” is the first reasonable explanation you come up with, but before long you find yourself rehashing everything you know about them and their lives, mentally mapping out what you think they’re doing with their day, stealing clues from previous emails and online profiles the way birds steal crumbs of food. “I know that Bo likes to jog in the morning. So he’s probably off doing that, and then later he’s probably having a lunch meeting and I know he has a show in a few days so he’s probably at band rehearsal and he’ll probably get to my text/voice mails soon as he’s done with that unless it’s a Thursday in which case he’s probably visiting his brother and they probably went to see that new John Cusack movie because he has a Say Anything poster hanging in his room so he’s probably catching the 9 o’clock show at The Grove.” Hopefully you have someone who can slap you before you get to this point.


The worst thing to do is another text. That’s the quickest way to Crazytown. It’s like buying a first-class ticket. It doesn’t make sense; this technology was created for us to get in touch with each other at a faster and easier rate, but God forbid you actually do that. Sometimes we pretend that the Internet doesn’t even work. “Maybe he just didn’t get my email,” you think, as if the Internet is an old bus that breaks down from time to time. You also do this when someone you’re trying to avoid sends a barrage of emails. “I’ll ignore this, and if they question me later I’ll tell them my Internet was down.” It’s the new socially accepted lie, like “Sorry, there was traffic.” We all buy it because the other option is that we were purposefully being ignored, and that’s unbearable.


I think if either party is saying more than the other person, it’s probably too much (or if for every text they send, you send three to five). By “saying,” I literally don’t mean “saying”; I mean that new medium of sending messages out into space through phones or computers or magic or however it works, I have no idea. To me it’s magic that anyone is ever able to function at all. We’re a complicated species.


Picture a Palindrome: #2






Seeing Red


Though the theme of the new play Red is bigger than the struggles of the abstract artist Mark Rothko (1903-1970) on whom it is based, it does focus very specifically on the passions and ideas that can go into the making of abstract art. And in so doing, perhaps provides a better appreciation of that genre and the creative process it can entail.


If you are like us, you may not always “get it,” as you stand before a canvas; paint-slopped seemingly at random. You might immediately think: “Looks like something a kindergarten kid did,” or sentiments to that effect. To which we offer a response that was recently passed on to us:

What little plot there is in Red, concerns five large murals that Rothko was commissioned to paint for the new Seagram Building in New York—circa 1958. And his painting of these murals, becomes the springboard for so many rich ideas in which this play abounds. In fact at one point, Rothko—portrayed by Alfred Molina in a dynamic Tony Award winning performance, we think— literally states: “I am here to make you think…I am not here to make pretty pictures!”


But even in the midst of much thought provoking dialogue, there is a piece of stage business, which for us was worth the price of admission alone. Most tasks on stage are “faked” and not done in real time. The audience is given the illusion, for example, that a meal has just been consumed in a dinner scene. But here in one extraordinary moment, the playwright John Logan, has Rothko collaborating with his assistant, in mixing real paint and priming a real canvas. With classical music blaring from a record player, to quote John Lahr in his review in The New Yorker

“they slather the paint over the canvas, a balletic, two-minute explosion of activity that deftly conjures what most plays about artists don’t: the exhilaration of the act.”

The moment receives audience applause in homage to two actors working without a net.


This play, having only opened last month on Broadway (at the John Golden Theater), will most likely have a long run. Though we do not know for how long Alfred Molina has been contracted. And though a solid play on its own, it is a special night of theater with Molina in the lead role.




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