The Adult Has Left the Room
As the old metaphor would have it, there is
often someone described as, “the adult, or the only
adult, in the room.”
In the face of infantile behavior by those
who have aspired to lead us, or events going haywire, or some
existential absurdity threatening to send things careening
into surreal territory, there no longer seems to be an adult
in the room. Someone in control. Someone, or even something,
that could restore a sense of order and rationality to the
proceedings. And a sense of chaos abounds. And the blame game
accelerates— full speed ahead.
At such times as these, those first couple
of lines from Kipling’s If, come to mind:
If you can keep your head when
all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
I could argue that Obama, like him or not,
has kept his head about him. But for one thing, he is literally
about to leave the room. For another, there’d been vehement
disagreement on how well he has spent his time while in the
room. Especially from those inflamed by the birther issue
which has now been twisted in an attempt to douse it out,
as though it never happened. Or blame it on Hillary. Shades
of 1984. The book. Not the year.
Which is why I stay away from social media
and sound bite tweets, and associate with those of intelligence
and introspection, by way of this blog I call a Muse-Letter.
Though readers they may not always agree with my take on what
I see about me, reasoned adult discourse has always been welcomed.
And has often followed. Thank you.
I remember the first time I directly experienced
the ugliness of “social” media, via a “chat
room” in 1995, when I applauded George H.W. Bush for
his resignation from the National Rifle Association for their
incendiary remarks labeling government agents “jack-booted
thugs” who robbed citizens of their constitutional rights.
H.W. was a highly respected ex-president,
and the rhetoric he was hearing from the NRA, was to him,
over the line. And in a simple statement that seemed innocuous
enough, I agreed. The vitriolic responses I got for applauding
the ex-President for taking that stand, was shocking. I was
taken aback. And it made me recall the refrain from Bob Dylan’s
Ballad of a Thin Man, that goes… “But
something is happening here/But you don’t know what
it is/ Do you, Mister Jones?” I sure didn’t. But
do now. It was what you might call, the New Polarization of
America. As opposed to the old polarization we had not seen
since the days of the Viet Nam War. We now had a license to
be as obnoxious and bombastic as we wanted to be, newly and
anonymously expressed, through a distant keyboard.
My emphasis over the years has tended to be
on cultural observations with a monthly nod or two to poetry,
rather than on politics. Though political commentary these
last couple of years, especially given this festering polarization
and bizarre events about us, has almost been impossible to
avoid. Somehow the whimsy of reflecting on the adult coloring
book craze (FEBRUARY,
2016 MUSE-LETTER Thinking Inside the Box; Coloring
Inside the Lines) or the fun in Parsing “Yogi-isms"
2015 MUSE-LETTER), are the sorts of things perhaps
best put on hold for the moment. At least until this election
is over. And I’ll spare the reader any detail of the
joy I experienced in spending my 71st birthday six weeks ago,
in a return to Disneyland—“The Happiest (and most
crowded) Place on Earth.” (The Indiana Jones and
Space Mountain rides however, still rock!).
As the election nears, Donnie Deutsch, a former
ad man of renown in LA and now a cable personality who also
has been doing political commentary, had a good line recently
on the distinction between these two flawed presidential candidates:
“Between untruthful and unstable, I’ll take untruthful.
If you can bear to hear the
truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
I guess we’re entrapped in having to
make a Hobson’s choice here. Yes I know, there’s
someone named Gary Johnson out there, who already has three
major gaffs under his belt exposing his fundamental ignorance
on what is going on in the world. A tad too many tokes over
I had just finished a piece that I was to
include in this Muse-Letter entitled “Age,
Aging and the Presidency.” Then Hillary went reeling
from pneumonia or dehydration or a combo of both (I know the
feeling…though not that of being under the scrutiny
of conspiracy theorists as to the real cause of my lightheadedness),
which rendered moot, some of the points in particular I was
trying to make on aging and its impact on the presidency.
For sure, it’s a job that can turn even a young man
So I canned it. I should have known better,
what with today’s news cycle changing every twelve minutes,
to try to come to any sort of conclusions before the month
had run out, given the Alice in Wonderland nature not only
of this campaign, but of the world at large. And sure enough,
following the first debate, there was still another swing
shift in the polls.
This all came soon after the bombings, which
seemed to quickly fade into the woodwork. This time in New
Jersey and in the Chelsea area of Manhattan. The latter hit
extremely close to home, it being just a mile and a half from
my apartment. It’s a place I pass by about twice a month
at all times throughout the day, what with “my”
subway stop on the F train being right there on that corner
of 23rd St. and 6th Avenue.
Then the news got even more personal, when
in an email one morning, I learned of the sudden death of
a childhood friend living in Turkey. An apparent heart attack—
his life had taken a bad turn on many fronts of which I was
unaware. This would now mark the third friend, the third contemporary,
who had passed away within the last five months.
We had last communicated a couple of months
ago during the thwarted coup in Turkey where he had lived
for a couple of decades at least. He assured me that he was
fine and had no thoughts of ever returning to the states.
He viewed the U.S., if not as equally chaotic, it hardly stirred
in him, the sort of emotions that God Bless America
elicits when sung in the seventh inning of every one of the
Yankees’ 81 home games. This ritual in honor of the
military, invariably transports me from a mode of escape and
entertainment into the stark reminder that we are now, and
forever, at war. So in a sense, I get where my friend in Turkey
might be coming from. May he rest in peace.
Amidst such an array of bad stuff going down,
there is the sense for me, and it seems like for many others,
that the adult has left the room. Though hope springs eternal
as I enter the counter-season of (cliché alert)…
the autumn of my years; that an adult will once again return
to what now can only be described as (metaphor alert)…
a romper room.
Returning the Thirty Pieces of Silver
Recently I had the pleasure
of being introduced to a painting that I had not been familiar
with, which was on display at the Morgan Library on Madison
Avenue here in midtown Manhattan. Entitled Judas Returning
the Thirty Pieces of Silver, it was completed by Rembrandt
when he was just 23 years old and has long been considered
his first masterpiece.
Further notes taken from Morgan’s website
on this masterpiece:
“The painting demonstrates many
of the characteristics that would come to define Rembrandt’s
style: dramatic lighting, a rhythmic harmony of composition,
and his exceptional ability to convey the emotional drama
of a scene. Long held in a British private collection,
the painting will be shown in the United States for the
first time at the Morgan.”
The inspiration for the work comes from the
biblical narrative in Mathew 27 3:5, wherein Judas, full of
remorse for his betrayal of Jesus for thirty pieces of silver,
returns that money to the chief priests and elders. And then
goes off to hang himself.
It inspired a brief poem, a variation on this
theme, which I jotted down while on the premises.
Fifteen Pieces of Silver
You were sorry. But not that sorry.
And kept half for yourself
before you disappeared.
They never found a body.
Just a tree with a noose.
You were sorry. But not that sorry.
What the hell. What’s the use.
A Return to The Diary
of Anne Frank
It’s not often you get
to reprise a rewarding and emotional life experience with
a span of 43 years in between.
In January of 1973, I was fortunate to be
cast in a production The Diary of Anne Frank by “The
Heights Players,” in Brooklyn Heights, where I was living
at the time. Still going strong, they bill themselves as “Brooklyn’s
oldest self-sustaining community theatre, celebrating its
Following a year of acting classes, it was
the first time I had ever appeared on stage. At the time,
there were visions of transitioning into a career as a professional
actor, dancing in my head.
Was I any good? In my head, I was excellent!
An incredible performance! In the local paper that reviewed
the show, which I still have, I provide… “fine
acting as Mr. Van Daan, (Mr. Frank’s) sniveling counterpart.”
Cool. I remember as a method actor, really
working hard on that sniveling. And thankfully, it being back
in the days of low tech, no video exists on YouTube
or elsewhere to shatter any illusions regarding just how convincing
or not that sniveling really was. All that remains, in addition
to that yellowing review, is the program and the poster, also
still in my possession, which was rather starkly designed
lest anyone miss the point that this play was serious business.
And now I have been asked by a theater group
based in the Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church, to participate
in a dramatic reading of this timeless play at the end of
this month. And I will get to return to the part of Mr. Van
Daan—43 years later.
If I was too young for the role then, I’m
too old for the role now. Though as a reading, age specificity
gives way to vocal characterization and interpretation. The
young woman who will be reading the part of Anne Frank is
not fifteen years old either. But it will be costumed, and
the actors will not simply be standing at a podium reading
I have caught past full scale productions
by this group, comprised mostly by actors with professional
experience, and expect that this project will exhibit every
bit of the quality I’ve witnessed there before.
this play? At this time? It is being done in conjunction with
a synagogue that is presenting dramatizations that capture
historical moments within the Jewish experience. And when
that is the objective, you’d expect The Diary of
Anne Frank, a classic in that vein, to be included.
Born in 1929, it is easily conceivable that
at age 87, Anne Frank would still be alive. (My mother just
passed away at age 96). Instead, as the most well-known victim
of the holocaust, she died at 16 in the Bergen-Belsen concentration
camp in Germany in 1945.
I am honored to be part of this project.
Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church
7 West 55th Street
October 28, 2016 Friday at 7pm
October 30, 2016 Sunday at 2pm
Entrance is free of charge
of the Month
“I intend to live forever, or die trying.”