The Resistance is only a hashtag

I’m walking in the Rattray Marsh near my home in suburban Toronto, as I do every day, trying not to think about the news from south of the border. All bad. All the time. All-consuming. Summer bird songs fail to pause the last song I heard in the car, still playing in my head. 

There’s something happening here.
What it is ain’t exactly clear.
There’s a man with a gun over there
Telling me I got to beware.

Buffalo Springfield. Steven Stills, Neil Young and a couple of other guys. For What It’s Worth (1966). Stills’ lyrics always give me flashbacks of antiwar protests in the streets of Washington, Chicago, New York.

There’s battle lines being drawn.
Nobody’s right if everybody’s wrong.
Young people speaking their minds.
Getting so much resistance from behind.

I follow a wide path, trees close on both sides, head on a swivel like a soldier on patrol, looking for deer and other critters that often make an appearance and add a satisfying moment to the evening.

Run into the guy l think of as the Marsh Maven. He’s a retired firefighter/paramedic who once told me he drove through the night on 9/11 to my hometown and spent weeks in the ruins at Ground Zero.

Now he takes pictures of birds, animals, sunsets. 

“Seen anything?” the Maven greets me.

“Nah,” I say, “just taking a walk – an old man alone with his thoughts.”

What a field-day for the heat.
A thousand people in the street.
Singing songs and carrying signs.
Mostly say, hooray for our side.

Heading back to the car. Thinking about the border. Not the one I have to cross to visit my country. The one with refugees crammed into cages or pens or camps or whatever the hell you want to call them.

Thinking about my fellow Americans, apparently helpless to stop the madness, and the times I’ve engaged with some of them online, where they pour out their anger, anguish, frustration. #TheResistance.

Paranoia strikes deep.
Into your life it will creep.
It starts when you’re always afraid.
You step out of line, the man come – and take you away.

* * *

Keith Olbermann, 60, is the ESPN broadcaster turned MSNBC political commentator turned … I don’t know what he’s doing now. 

But, in September 2016, two months before the presidential election, he began posting a series of videos he called The Resistance.

There would be 187 episodes of Olbermann railing against Trump. The last, on November 27, 2017, began:

“I’m confident now, even more so than I have been throughout the last year, that this nightmare presidency of Donald John Trump will end prematurely and end soon.

“And I am thus also confident that this is the correct moment to end this series of commentaries.”

* * *

Walter Shaub, 48, was appointed by President Obama in January 2013 to a five-year term as director of the Office of Government Ethics. He quit six months into the Trump administration because the racketeers and grifters who run the government consider ethics a character flaw. 

After he left office, I saw Shaub on CNN a few times. He seemed like a nice, smart man who believed politicians and government officials should do the right thing.

 More recently, when I turned to Twitter during a prolonged bout of writer’s block, I gravitated to Shaub’s thoughtful and passionate participation online.

 In June, as the news was again filled with images of desperate and maltreated refugees huddled in detention, Shaub tweeted: 

Is it time for a massive protest against these camps? If so, maybe the groups capable of organizing one need to know enough of us would show …  

YES = you would *definitely* show up 

NO = you probably wouldn’t show up

He reported more than 67,000 responses, 93 percent saying YES.

I must have missed the news of tens of thousands protesting. 

Still, Shaub and his #Resistance supporters keep bitching and moaning – sustenance for social media enthusiasts – about the absence of demonstrations.

I tried to be helpful:

 Need people who know how to organize a mass protest. Singular. Hundreds of thousands in one place with the cameras rolling.

Someone with the handle Secret Agent Number Six, with 94,200 followers, asked:

What happened to all of the hippie protesters? We need them now. If they were still around they would be all over the place protesting every day.

I replied:

Hoffman and Rubin dead. Rest of us fucking old. Need a new generation to get off its ass/screens. Had hope the Parkland kids would keep it up but …

* * *

After my walk in the marsh, I cracked open my old paperback copy of The Armies of the Night, Norman Mailer’s Pulitzer-winning account of the 1967 march on the Pentagon.

The antiwar movement was changing its tactics under the banner: From dissent to resistance. No more solemn processions for peace. Time for defiance, confrontation and combat. 

Active civil disobedience was therefore essential to give glamour and publicity to the demonstration – a page-one story for Washington must instead become a page-one story for the world. Then, the ante would be up, and the results unpredictable – the peace movement would seem far from subsiding into the tapestry.

The Armies of the Night

Joining the assault on the Pentagon were Jerry Rubin and Abbie Hoffman, the young freak-power provocateurs of the movement.

“We will fuck on the grass and beat ourselves against the doors,” Hoffman promised. “We shall raise the flag of nothingness over the Pentagon and a mighty cheer of liberation will echo through the land.”

Some 50,000 marched to the front door of the Defense Department. Nearly 700 were arrested clashing with cops and soldiers while trying to storm the building.

No flag of victory was raised above the Pentagon – though there was surely some pre-skirmish fucking in the grass – but the scene was splashed on front pages and TV screens everywhere, and the movement would be big news every time it took to the streets after that late October weekend. 

* * *

“Trump is not going to leave … The only way that we’re going to stop this is eventually we’re all going to have to put our bodies on the line.”

– Filmmaker Michael Moore, June 2018

* * *

At the time of the march on the Pentagon, I was just shy of my 21st birthday and working as a copyboy at the New York Times. I felt a kinship with the mainly young protesters, though I never participated. 

Maybe it was because I didn’t have as much at stake, having ducked the draft with a medical deferment. Or maybe because I was focused on jump-starting a career as a journalist, where I would always be an observer, on the sidelines.

By the summer of 1968, I was a reporter with a newspaper in northern CaliforniaI watched on television as the demonstrators outside the Democratic convention stole the show, with the help of rampaging Chicago cops.

A year and a half later, I was a reporter for UPI in New York when national guardsmen in Ohio opened fire on antiwar demonstrators at Kent State University, killing four, including a kid who went to my high school. 

The protests only heated up. Over the next couple of years, I covered many of the marches, usually on a Saturday on Fifth Avenue, always thousands in the streets. 

* * *

A few weeks ago there was a cry for help on Twitter from someone named Sarah in California:

Resistance Family: Is anyone else losing hope? … Concentration camps. People dying. Babies dying … 

I replied:

Maybe if people took the streets – followed the recent example of Hong Kong if not the American antiwar movement – people might get the message that there is a true national emergency. #Resistance should be action.

To which someone named Alice replied:

There are rallies and marches scheduled almost every weekend. Where the hell are all the people who keep saying we need to take to the street? There were impeachment rallies all over the country last Saturday. Did you go to one?

To which I replied:  Didn’t see this on the national news.

To which Alice replied: No, news doesn’t cover that stuff. They prefer we not know … NYC’s impeachment event was pretty big; it was livestreamed.

* * *

The day after Trump was inaugurated there was the Women’s March. It would be more than a year, after the Parkland high school shooting, that tens of thousands again converged on Washington in protest.

Since then …

A protest movement which does not grow loses power every day, since protest movements depend upon the interest they arouse in the mass media.

– The Armies of the Night

When the president announced he was going to Orlando for one of his Nuremberg-style rallies to kick off his 2020 campaign last month, I spotted a notice for an anti-Trump demonstration nearby.

Turned out the venue was gay bar a half-mile away. A small crowd gathered outside with handmade signs and a big orange balloon. 

On the TV news that night, I did not see any coverage – except for a conga-line of Nazis who call themselves Proud Boys taunting the protesters, while en route to the Trump rally.

We better stop, hey, what’s that sound?
Everybody look what’s going down.

It’s late. I’m sitting in my home office, 450 miles from Trump Tower, which did not exist when I covered my last march on Fifth Avenue.

There is no comparison between the atrocity of the Vietnam War and the atrocity of Trump’s America.  

Yet, this feels worse.

Maybe because I’m old now.

 Or maybe because nobody is fighting back.

My book, The Expat FilesMy Life in Journalism, is available from Amazon.com and Amazon Canada.

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Magic Mitch and the GOP jihadis

The Russians’ useful idiot in the White House has proved to be an equally handy tool for the party where he found a home atop its ignorant, paranoid and racist base. 

The Machiavellian forces that run the Republican Party have known from the get-go that the pussy-grabbing vulgarian has no interests beyond feeding his ego and bank account. That leaves Mitch McConnell and his Koched-up dark money benefactors free to conduct their dirty business while all eyes are constantly glued to the garrulous gangster. 

 During the 2016 campaign, candidate Trump promised evangelical Christians and their white nationalist brethren he would nominate Supreme Court justices true to their anti-abortion-and-anti-everybody-who’s-not-like-us cause. 

But, since the only judges he ever heard of were Wapner, Judy, and his sister Maryanne – who he often confuses with the dark-haired chick on Gilligan’s Island – he abdicated the chore to others. 

Enter the Federalist Society (est. 1982), the right-wing payback machine bankrolled by the Koch brothers and other billionaire influence peddlers. 

One of the founding fathers of the society is Robert Bork, the Nixon henchman who was rejected by the Senate as Reagan’s Supreme Court nominee in 1987 because of his extreme reactionary views.

“Robert Bork’s America,” Ted Kennedy told the Senate, “is a land in which women would be forced into back-alley abortions, blacks would sit at segregated lunch counters, rogue police could break down citizens’ doors in midnight raids, schoolchildren could not be taught about evolution, writers and artists could be censored at the whim of the government, and the doors of the federal courts would be shut on the fingers of millions of citizens for whom the judiciary is—and is often the only—protector of the individual rights that are the heart of our democracy.”

Striking back at the political mainstream that shunned Bork has been the society’s mission. So, when Trump outsourced his Supreme Court picks to the Federalists, they plucked two zealots in good standing – Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh – from their membership.

McConnell, the majority leader who worked his magic to make Obama’s last Supreme Court pick disappear, ensured the Senate gave his  rubber stamp of confirmation to the white-on-white Gorsuch and the red-faced rageaholic  Kavanaugh. 

With two more GOP jihadis joining Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito and the chief, John Roberts, the majority on the court is now all society members bent on the Borking of America.

This Federalist sleeper cell woke up with a vengeance a couple of weeks ago when it blessed partisan gerrymandering of voting districts, a favorite Republican tactic to screw the Democrats – and a majority of the electorate. 

The decision, attributed to Roberts, basically says that the Founding Fathers of 1776 don’t want today’s courts messing with election shenanigans.  

It’s a textbook example of society-indoctrinated judges spouting some serious bullshit. They call it originalism – pretending to read the minds of the long-dead founders to come up with whatever ruling favors the GOP. 

Mr. Jefferson, do you think it’s okay if we make it harder for black people to vote?

My slave Sally doesn’t seem to mind staying home on the plantation tending to our babies on Election Day.

Roberts, throughout his 10,353-word majority opinion, cited many founders, including Elbridge Gerry (1744-1814), whose redrawing of the electoral map to his advantage in Massachusetts gave one district the shape of a ferocious-looking salamander, named the Gerry-mander by an early-19th-century wag.

Trump, of course, wouldn’t know Elbridge Gerry from Jerry Garcia. But he’s happy to take credit for the White House selecting Supremes from the society’s list since it doesn’t cut into his golf outings, TV watching, or bathing in the adoration of the useful idiots at his pep rallies.

And, while the media focus on the big orange gasbag, McConnell continues to work his magic of misdirection – tipping the scales of justice, planting GOP jihadis to life terms throughout the federal judiciary. More than 120 so far.

Magic Mitch is counting on them to side with every law that comes out of his party’s bag of tricks, especially making it harder for blacks, Hispanics and other traditional Democratic constituents to vote. 

If Republicans have their way:

  • The 2020 census forms, whether they include a citizenship question or not, will be printed only in English and Norwegian.  
  • All states with Republican-controlled legislatures will emulate Wisconsin’s bite-me brand of gerrymandering – now sanctified by SCOTUS – where Democrats took 54 percent of the vote but won only 33 of 99 assembly seats in the last election. 
  • Every predominately white neighborhood will have a polling place on every corner and all the others will be in the tops of tall trees or the bottom of deep lakes.
  • Voter ID laws will require a driver’s license, conceal-carry permit, and a recent receipt from a Cracker Barrel restaurant.
  • Vote tallies will be certified by the RNC, the NRA, and the GRU.  

Recently, Magic Mitch, with his trademark shit-eating grin, scoffed at making Election Day a holiday to encourage turnout, calling it a Democratic “power grab.” That’s because Republican leaders and their dark money donors know that in a fair race to the ballot box they’d get their asses kicked. 

All they care about is holding onto their power and money, whatever it takes,  until they croak, their insipid offspring piss away all their plunder, or a vengeful planet renders the United States of America an uninhabitable wasteland.

My book,The Expat FilesMy Life in Journalism, is available from Amazon.com and Amazon Canada.

Quizmaster mucks up debates

Late in the first night of debates featuring the candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination, the quizmaster went to the lightning round.

“It’s a simple question,” NBC’s Chuck Todd told the seven men and three women on the stage in Miami on Wednesday. “What is our – what is the biggest threat– what is – (not so simple) who is the geopolitical threat to the United States? Just give me a one-word answer.”

The candidates were to answer in turn. After the one-word rule was ignored by the first four, the quizmaster butted in . “Try to keep it at one word – slimmer(slimmer?)  than what we’ve been going here. One or two words.”

Is  it one word or two, Chuck?

Didn’t matter. The politicians were irrepressible. 

The debate stage, with its moody blue decorations, looked like a set for a TV game show, an open audition for the long line of aspiring contestants. 

All it needed was a buzzer on each podium, like Jeopardy, so the candidate with the fastest reflexes could field the question first. 

It is a show, after all. And that’s the way it’s been presented since CBS aired the first televised U.S. presidential debate – Kennedy versus Nixon – in 1960. 

My online pal, media historian Michael Socolow,  a former assignment editor at CNN , now professor of journalism at the University of Maine, posted this timely reminder on Twitter:

When CBS’s Frank Stanton designed the modern TV political debate, he wanted the quiz show model. It’s not about actually learning information you need for governance by an informed citizenry. 

It’s about entertaining television. That’s it.”

Wednesday night was hardly entertaining. But Todd seemed to be having a good time.

“All right,” the quizmaster said after the lightning  round. “Well, thank you for that wide variety of answers – and I mean that. No, I mean that in – that’s what this debate is about. This is the best part of a debate like this.”

No, thank  you Chuck, for praising your participation, for oozing sincerity when you aren’t being an obnoxious smarty-pants.

Todd may have felt emboldened facing a stage full of courteous humans a few days after being buried under a blizzard of boorish bullshit from the beast that prowls the White House. 

Agent Orange watched the debate on Air Force One, en route to see his Russian handler at the G20 summit in Japan. He tweeted that the live event was fake news.

Todd, meanwhile, enjoyed his Wednesday lightning round so much he introduced two of them for the ten candidates debating on Thursday night.

First, he gave a long and torturous preamble to the question: What is the first issue you would address as president?

In the end, gave the candidates a “C-minus” for their succinctness. 

Sure, Chuck, the quizmaster gets to grade the former vice president of the United States, four U.S. senators, a congressman, a former governor, a rising-star mayor (and two nice people nobody ever heard of.)

The second lightning round – Double Jeopardy? – was on how the president after Trump – assuming he ever leaves and the Earth is still spinning – repairs the damage Putin’s puppet has done to Washington’s relations with traditional allies.

“Thanks for the quickness,” he complimented the response from a young fellow named Yang.

Soon after this trivial exercise, the questioner who never challenged Trump again patronized the prestigious gathering of candidates. “All right, guys (guys?), the good news is you get more time to talk but I have to sneak in one more break.”

Todd was one of five NBC inquisitors who peppered the Democrats with Republican talking points: On whether they were socialists, would take away people’s guns, all the tried-and-true GOP bullshit that is always tried and never true.

On the second night, however, the candidates managed to sporadically seize control, allowing for some real debate, highlighted by the impressive Kamala Harris kicking ass. 

She provided the most memorable moments of the four hours over two days.

Yet I was still left with the aftertaste of Todd’s obnoxiousness.

As host of Meet the Press for the past five years, he’s appeared to work really hard to tell the viewer: I’m really smart… I know stuff … I’m an insider, a player, not just some kid who walked in off the street and swiped the chair of the sainted Tim Russert… Not just the snarky guy with the Van Dyke beard and the Julius Caesar hairdo.

His debate performance reminded me of a fictional TV anchorman who wanted to be a quizmaster.

In a 1975 episode of the Mary Tyler Moore Show, Ted Baxter is about to leave WJM-Minneapolis to host a game show in New York called the 50,000 Dollar Steeplechase.

But his boss, Lou Grant, despite years of aggravation with Ted’s ignorance and incompetence, talks him into staying. 

He starts with: “Is that what you want people to say when you walk down the street, ‘There’s goes Ted Baxter – he’s a quizmaster’” – and glides into a long speech about serving the public by broadcasting the truth.

“You’re a newsman, Ted,” he keeps repeating.

Finally, Ted agrees to stay.

“I’m a newsman, aren’t I, Lou, a newsman.”

“Yes, Ted, you’re a newsman.”

“And a darn good one too.”

“I never said that.”

My book, The Expat FilesMy Life in Journalism, is available from Amazon.com and Amazon Canada.

Trump’s brain

What’s inside there, lurking beneath that mutating creature atop his head? It’s easy to believe his stupidity hints at a mostly hollow cavity. Numbskull. Blockhead. Birdbrain.  

And, his everyday incoherence suggests an inability of the cerebrum to translate thoughts into speech, or that he simply upchucks unintelligible thoughts. 

But, then again, it also intimates there is a lot of nasty shit constantly spinning inside a cerebral centrifuge. 

Based on all available information, he has had only two goals in life – gain fame through wealth and get laid. (Consent optional.) 

Let’s assume the Secret Service isn’t escorting Russian hookers to his bedroom and the pouty Slovenian across the hall isn’t putting out. 

Does he find fulfilment whacking off to Fox & Friends? Bringing his idiot supporters to climax? Screwing the rest of the country?

If only he found something sufficiently satisfying, that made him feel calm and sated, instead of always appearing agitated, frustrated, and menacing. 

It’s been reported he didn’t really want to be president. Certainly didn’t expect to win. Never even bothered to have a victory speech prepared.

But he’s slipped into the presidency like William Howard Taft slipping into his super-sized White House bathtub. 

We know he likes the attention. All eyes – and cameras – on him. The press begging for crumbs. Feeding them bullshit.  

It’s obvious he relishes the title. The trappings of office. The Marines saluting. The generals calling him sir. Being hosted by royalty. The pageantry. The perks. The plane. The power. 

Want to do your patriotic duty and work for the good old USA? Kiss my ass. I mean it – pucker up. 

Say a word against me and I’ll destroy you. In public. On Twitter and TV. 

But he’s probably not in it only for the show. He needs to make a killing.

It surely isn’t enough that the taxpayers pick up the tab for his travels, so far funnelling more than $100 million into his properties. Or that lobbyists and other bagmen have dropped a bundle at his hotel down the street from the White House.

What else is he banking on? What schemes are being hatched inside the orange orb?

He executes American foreign policy like a protection racket. Ante up and we’ll take care of you. 

But there also has to be a personal angle, a just-for-me protection racket. So, who’s greasing the Don on the side? 

Still the Russians? The Saudis? The Norwegians?

And what tangled webs are now being weaved under the golden weave?

We know he will loot his 2020 campaign fund, as he did the last one as well as his phony university and phony foundation.

But he also appears to think he owns the country, that it’s his private business. Does he have his porcine peepers on the U.S. Treasury? Does he believe it’s his personal slush fund?

Does he envision a golden parachute from Fort Knox? A departing gift of billions in gold.

Donnie was eighteen when the James Bond movie Goldfinger was released in 1964.

Picture him sitting in a dark theater in Queens. Watching the opening credits. Hearing the song:

… He’s the man, the man with the Midas touch,
A spider’s touch.
Such a cold finger
Beckons you to enter his web of sin …

Was the teenager rooting for Bond? Or for Auric Goldfinger, the porky, swaggering villain with orange hair, who cheated at golf, had a Korean caddie/hitman,  made a sweet deal with the Chinese, and had a private air force of busty babes led by Pussy Galore?

Was he fantasizing about Pussy? Or of getting away with all the gold?  

We can only guess.

And imagine his final act as president:

He orders Air Force One to fly to Kentucky. The soldiers stationed at the U.S. Bullion Depository snap to attention when their commander in chief arrives, followed by a convoy of trucks. 

Fill ‘er up, boys.

My book, The Expat FilesMy Life in Journalism, is available from Amazon.com and Amazon Canada.

Dylan, Baez and the Beats

Daughter Kate recently asked if I’d seen Scorsese’s Rolling Thunder Revue on Netflix.“It’s fabulous,” she said.

“Haven’t watched it yet,” I replied. “Of course, I saw it twice in Toronto – once from backstage.”

“Wow! That must have been amazing.”

I reminded her of the Rolling Thunder passage in my book. But would discover the movie takes some cool and strange side trips from the concert stage.

* * *

I was a foreign correspondent in Canada for United Press International when Dylan & Company rolled into Toronto at the end of 1975.

It may not have been real news, but I wanted to go and assigned myself to cover the opening night on December 1st at Maple Leaf Gardens. 

I’d come of age listening to Dylan’s songs. Protest songs. Anthems of the ’60s civil rights and antiwar movements. Of marches on Washington. 

Come senators, congressmen
Please heed the call.
Don’t stand in the doorway
Don’t block up the hall.
For he that gets hurt
Will be he who has stalled.
There’s  battle outside and it’s ragin’.
It’ll soon shake your windows and rattle your walls.
For the times they are a-changin’.

The old arena in midtown Toronto was packed and reeked of pot smoke when I took my press-pass seat near the stage. 

That year, I’ d been wearing out the grooves on Dylan’s Blood on the Tracks and Baez’s Diamonds and Rust, the title song a sweetly bitter slap at her old lover.

Well, I’ll be damned,
Here comes your ghost again.
But that’s not unusual.
It’s just that the moon is full
And you happened to call.

And here they were, just above me, Dylan in his white mask, she in hers – occasional  flashes of her wide smile and his sheepish grin – practically cheek to cheek, in harmony.

The Scorsese movie, subtitled A Bob Dylan Story, is spiced with long scenes of off-stage footage of the stars.  In one, Baez and Dylan are alone in what looks like  a basement bar in somebody’s house.

Dylan: “It really displeases me that you went off and got married.”

Baez :“You went off and got married first – (smiles) and didn’t tell me.”

Dylan:“Yeah, but, a .. a …” 

Baez:“You should have told me …”

Dylan: “But I married the woman I loved.”

Baez:“I know. That’s true, that’s true – and I married the man I thought I loved.”

Dylan: “Yeah, that’s what thought has to do with it – thought will fuck you up.”

Baez:“You’re right. I agree with that.”

Dylan:“You see it’s heart – it’s not head.”

The Sage of Hibbing.

* * *

I rose with the crowd as all the singers and musicians and hands and hangers-on – there must have been fifty of them – ended the hootenanny in the Gardens with Woody Guthrie’s This Land Is Your Land

I spotted my old friend Allen Ginsberg, dancing around with a tambourine. 

After the show, I found him backstage and renewed our acquaintance, talked about Lucien.

* * *

At UPI, I soon learned the legend of Lucien Carr: his early days in the royal family of the Beat Generation, with Burroughs, Ginsberg, Cassady and Kerouac; his fatal stabbing of a stalker that earned him two years in prison for manslaughter; how he gave Kerouac rolls of teletype paper from United Press, which Kerouac threaded into his typewriter and pounded out On the Road.

Kerouac and 19-year-old Lucien (right) at Columbia University, 1944.

Lucien was in his mid-forties when I arrived at UPI headquarters in New York in 1970.   

He was clearly The Man, sitting in the slot on the General Desk, handling all the top stories, rewriting cliché leads until they jumped off the page, plugging every hole, trimming all the fat, ensuring every sentence flowed into the next. 

Every day, and especially when big news was breaking, this skinny guy in a white shirt, sleeves rolled up to his elbows, tie at half-staff, shit-eating grin under a scraggly mustache, calmly and quickly polished the stories that appeared on the front pages of newspapers across the country.

Everyone, including the bosses, looked to Lucien as the guiding force of the operation. And, at the end of the day, he would hold court at The Edison, on Second Avenue at 41stStreet, knocking back glasses of vodka and Coke while we all sat around trying to keep up.

After, he’d grab a cab and head downtown to his loft in Soho. 

 A few times, he dragged me along. In summer, we sat on the roof, having a nightcap or six.

Just before I left for Canada in January 1973, Lucien was in a car wreck in Vermont, driving drunk, nearly killing himself and his 18-year-old girlfriend, Sheila.

I  went to see him in the hospital after visiting hours – he’d been ferried by ambulance to Manhattan – smuggling in a bottle of Dewar’s.

“Sorry,” I said, “I prefer scotch to vodka,” taking two paper cups from a brown paper bag and pouring each of us a generous shot. 

Ginsberg was in the room, standing in a corner, looking forlornly at Lucien’s battered body. 

Lucien and I talked quietly. Not long. One drink.  

He wished me luck in the Great White North. I wished him luck with his recovery and his planned marriage to Sheila. 

It was the last time I saw Lucien.

* * *

Ginsberg and I didn’t talk much after the show at the Gardens. I never knew what to say to Allen.

He was a poet, for Christ’s sake. What do you say to a poet? How about that Homer!

Ginsberg left me a backstage pass for the show the next night. I watched from the wings. 

It was the last time I saw him. 

* * *

Ginsberg was a bit player on the Rolling Thunder stage but a star in the movie. 

In one scene during a stop in the tour, he and Dylan visit Kerouac’s grave in Lowell, Massachusetts. Both read from Kerouac’s book of poetry, Mexico City Blues.

Dead and don’t know it,

Living and do.

The living have a dead idea.

A person is a living idea.

After death, a dead idea.

When rock becomes air

I will be there.

They recite the last line in unison. With a laugh.

* * *

Allen Ginsberg died in 1997 at the age of seventy.  

“Seeing Ginsberg was like seeing the Oracle of Delphi, ” Dylan, now 78, says in an interview in the movie. 

He quotes the most famous line from Ginsberg’s most famous poem, Howl:

I saw the best minds of my generation  destroyed by madness.

“Today’s poets don’t reach into the public consciousness that way,” says the Oracle of Hibbing.

No more answers blowin’ in the wind. The times they have a-changed.

CUT BACK TO 1975 

A mah-jongg tournament in a crowded hotel ballroom on the New England coast. Well-dressed old ladies with fresh hairdos rocking the Chinese tiles.

Enter Ginsberg.  

He sits on a tall stool on a makeshift stage. Reads from the penultimate stanza of his 7,600-word poem Kaddish, about the death of his mother.

… Farewell

with six dark hairs on the wen of your breast

farewell

with your old dress and a long black beard around the vagina

farewell

with your sagging belly …

The mah-jongg ladies are squirming in their chairs. A few snicker. 

Dylan comes to the rescue, at the piano, belting out a rollicking rendition of Simple Twist of Fate.

The ladies are smiling. Clapping along with the beat.

* * *

Lucien Carr died in 2005 at the age of 79. He rated obits in the New York Times, the Times of London and many other newspapers, mostly because they all could call him a “muse” to Kerouac, Ginsberg and the rest of the Beat Generation writers. 

He outlived them all.

A 2012 Columbia Magazine profile of Lucien was titled: The Last Beat

The next year, he was savaged in an awful movie called Kill Your Darlings.

Ginsberg took this photo of Lucien in New York in 1986.

* * *

Rolling Thunder succeeded in promoting  Dylan’s campaign to free Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, the ex-boxer imprisoned in New Jersey for a triple-murder. His hit song, Hurricane, was a showstopper.  

Here comes the story of the Hurricane.
The man the authorities came to blame.
For somethin’ that he never done.
Put in a prison cell, but one time he could-a been
The champion of the world.

 But it was another ten years before Carter – who appears in the movie – was freed. He moved to Toronto, where he died in 2014 at the age of 76. 

 * * *

Scorsese has been criticized for mixing documentary fact with Hollywood fiction. Didn’t bother me. 

I’m glad daughter Kate sent me tripping back to Rolling Thunder, to a young Dylan and Baez. To a young me. 

These days, in my car, I find myself cranking up A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna FallHurricaneTangled Up in Blue and, especially, Subterranean Homesick Blues.

You don’t need a weatherman

To know which way the wind blows.

My book, The Expat FilesMy Life in Journalism, is available from Amazon.com and Amazon Canada.

Writer’s block

People ask when I’m going to write another book. I tell them I’m too busy following my wife around the house turning off lights, shouting at CNN on the TV, counting the hairs on my pillow, trying to teach my dog to obey commands in Pig Latin – ean-clay up-yay our-yay own-yay it-shay – watching every episode of Cheers, alphabetizing the food in the pantry, and rereading the Mayo Clinic page on agoraphobia.

I wrote that paragraph, that lead – or lede, if you prefer – late last year. Liked it. But lost the thread.

Then, on January 3rd, I was interviewed about my book, The Expat Files, on a Los Angeles radio show called The Writer’s Block *– and caught it. 

For six months, nearly every day, I tried to work through the clog, only to face paralysis at the keyboard as ideas evaporated in mid-thought, midsentence. If I still worked on a typewriter, I’d be suffocating under a mountain of crumpled-up copy paper. 

I tried to analyze the problem. Considered:

  • I’m old and the expiration year on my writing was 2018.
  • I’d cut down on cigarettes – and I always fired up a smoke when I was stuck.
  • I hadn’t had a drink in more than 1,600 days.
  • Climate change.
  • Donald Fucking Trump

A couple of months ago, I read that it was the first anniversary of the Toronto van attack, when some kid who couldn’t get laid got his rocks off mowing down people on Yonge Street, killing ten.

All I could think of was: I can’t believe it’s only a year. Seems like more. A lot more. Gotta be at least three years. 

Then I thought: We’re living in Trump years – they’re like dog years. 

Since November 8, 2016, I’ve been Bart Simpson held after class and forced to write on the blackboard:

The douchebag haunts every waking hour. And the waking hours are getting longer.  

When I was writing journalism, I would fall asleep rewriting leads – or ledes, if you prefer – in my head.

When I was writing my memoir, or one of the unpublished or unfinished novels gathering dust in my files, I’d fall asleep thinking of where I’d take the story the next day.

Now, I’m awake until I conk out rereading old novels. (I’m currently working my way through Michael Connelly’s Harry Bosch series for the third or fourth time.)

Back in March, I tried to summon the story spirits by keeping a journal. A few entries:

  •  Tom Seaver, 74, has dementia. He was the first baseball star I recognized as being around my age.
  • Dan Jenkins, 90, has died. How old was he when he stopped writing stories and turned to Twitter?
  • William Goldman, Philip Roth, Tom Wolfe and Neil Simon all died last year.
  • Facebook is a downer. Don’t want to see pics of old friends looking unrecognizably old.
  • Why is there still a mountain of snow outside?   
  • Why do I understand Celsius temperatures better when it’s below freezing but only Fahrenheit makes sense when it’s above?
  • Fell asleep sometime after 4 a.m. Woke up and checked the clock at 5:18 … 6:23 … 7:09 … 8:46. Got up at 11:31 a.m. 

Recently, I contacted an old friend who’s not a writer by trade but has been publishing a blog. Good ideas. But the storytelling needed help. I volunteered. 

We had a long phone chat. Told him to send me the first draft of his next piece. 

Fell back into editor/teacher mode. Was merciless.

Marked it up. Filled the pages with comments such as:

  • LOST ME HERE. WHERE ARE YOU GOING WITH THIS?
  • IS THIS WHERE YOU  HIT ME OVER THE HEAD WITH A HAMMER, FORCE ME TO EAT MY VEGETABLES?
  • FOUND EVERY WORD OF ABOVE SECTION A CHORE TO READ.

I wrote all the comments and corrections in red. In CAPS.

Then, I did a rewrite. Top to bottom. 

He didn’t seem to mind. Said it helped. 

It helped me as well. 

A few days ago, I wrote a short piece in a couple of hours. Kept the flow from beginning to end.

Felt some of the old mojo. Sarcasm skills clicking.

Maybe that’s thanks to the time I’ve spent on Twitter lately. Writing stinging sentences on the daily atrocities takes some serious thought and creativity.

 Besides, where else but Twitter can I delight in David Simon – The Wire guy – calling Howard Schultz – the Starbucks guy – a fuckbonnet  and discover Russ Tamblyn is a smart and thoughtful octogenarian.

And who wouldn’t follow the leader of the Jets?

* If you want to listen to my radio interview, here’s the link

Scroll down to Show Archives for January (3rd). I come in at 11:40.

The Expat Files: My Life in Journalism is available from Amazon.com and Amazon Canada.

Thanks, Raptors fans

When the NBA Finals started, I didn’t know which team I’d be rooting for.

“I’ll find out while I’m watching the games,” I told daughter Jodie, a star basketball player in her youth. “You know I love Curry and Klay Thompson – and Steve Kerr – and have rooted for them since they got together.”

But then there was the hometown thing. “We’ll see,” I said. 

What I discovered as I watched nearly every minute of the first four games was that I wasn’t rooting for either team – just reflexively throwing a fist in the air when I saw a great play.

Then came Game 5 – and the revulsion I felt when Toronto fans cheered Kevin Durant crumpling to the court.

“That’s classless,” the Warriors’ Draymond Green said later.

 Clueless is more like it.

These are not basketball fans – a year ago, they wouldn’t have known Kawhi Leonard from Elmore Leonard. – or even sports fans. 

They’re not cheering for the players– they’re cheering for themselves.

Look at me!

I’m on the bandwagon!

 I’m a winner too.  

The Raptors, christened to capitalize on a craze – the dino-mania that accompanied the success of the movie Jurassic Park–are now a craze.

Everybody’s talking about them. Canadian media going nuts. 

It’s Game of Thrones,  a royal wedding, the latest viral cat video. 

Maybe the spectators who shelled out $120,000 for a pair of courtside seats Monday night in Toronto got what they paid for. 

Hey, there’s Drake!

And there’s the guy in the turban waving a towel under the basket!

That Golden State guy – whatshisname – is hurt! Alright! 

They wouldn’t know Bill Russell from Bertrand Russell. 

And then there are the thousands in the square outside the arena, in a place also named for the Spielberg movie.

If there were humans in the Jurassic Period, this is what they would look like. Huddled in a confined space. In the cold. Screaming like maniacs.

Hate to tell you folks, this ain’t Woodstock. You can watch the show on an indoor TV.

They wouldn’t know Wilt Chamberlain from Neville Chamberlain.

Never mind. This is a hockey country. That’s what I’ve been told for the forty-plus years I’ve lived here.

In the mid-’70s, when assigned occasionally to cover the Canadiens at the Forum or the Leafs at the Gardens, I had no reason to doubt the fans in the stands knew their sport. 

It was a different story when the crowds showed up at Exhibition Stadium and later the SkyDome after the Blue Jays arrived in Toronto. (Forty years later, the team’s TV broadcasters – Buck Martinez and Pat Tabler – are still calling games as if no one watching knows anything about  baseball.)

After I spent one season in the pressbox, in 1978, I joined a friend, Alison Gordon, for a game in her season-ticket seats at the ballpark.

She introduced me to a seatmate and said, “Ken’s dog is named Yaz.”

“What?” the woman replied.

  “Yaz – after Carl Yastrzemski,” Alison said.

“Who’s that?” 

On Monday night, sitting on my couch in the suburbs, I echoed Durant’s exclamation of “fuck!” as he limped off the court – and added a “you” for the Toronto fans who had cheered. 

They wouldn’t know Oscar Robertson from Pat Robertson;Jerry West from Adam West; Karl Malone from Bugsy Malone; Paul George from Chief Dan George; Chris Paul from Rand Paul; James Harden from John Wesley Hardin; Kyrie Irving from Washington Irving; Anthony Davis from Jefferson Davis, Blake Griffin from Merv Griffin.

I really don’t care who wins the NBA championship.

But, thanks Raptors fans, I’ll be rooting for the Warriors.

My book, The Expat Files: My Life in Journalism, is available from Amazon.com and Amazon Canada.

My dad would be 100 today

I find it weird wishing the dead a happy birthday. It’s bad enough Facebook jarringly suggests I do so more often every year.

I prefer to simply note the anniversary of a birth – in this case the 100th anniversary of the birth of my father, Hyman Becker, in Brooklyn, on June 12, 1919.

I guess his first name wasn’t that unusual in the Jewish neighborhoods of New York where he grew up. After all, Jesse Jackson would later refer to the city as “Hymie town.”

But I always felt it was a rough handle to handle – its homonym such a fabled part of female anatomy and all that – and found it cruel he was denied the option of a middle name.

As a boy and into his twenties he was known as Red. Later, he would be called Hy, though people invariably chuckled when they said, “Hi, Hy.”

He married my mother two days before D-Day – I’ll get to why he wasn’t in the army – and I came along a couple of years later, followed by my sister, Janice. 

We migrated from the Bronx to Queens to Long Island. After I left home, they moved back to Queens. 

He was a salesman and everybody I knew who met him told me he was a great guy. 

I took this photo – and the one at the top – at Half Moon Bay, California, about fifty years ago. 

Dad had flown to San Francisco from New York to help me out of a tough spot. He did that sort of thing a couple of times.

I won’t go into details. But if he was still around he’d tell you all about it. 

I’ve written a lot about my dad.

There was a long piece called Red and Me: A Baseball Memoir, tracing our separate and shared experiences in the game we loved. I gave it to him for his 64th birthday.

And he shows up a few times in my book, The Expat Files: My Life in Journalism

On neither of us serving in the U.S. military:

I had a non-essential organ removed as a child, which classified me 4-F (ineligible for service during the Vietnam War). “It’s a family tradition,” I said. “My dad had a bleeding ulcer that kept him out of World War Two.”

* * *

On my parents visiting when I lived in Vancouver in the early 1970s: 

I took them to Victoria, where they stayed at the Empress, and drove them across Vancouver Island. We stopped at a light in the pulp-and-paper-mill town of Port Alberni, the smog so thick you couldn’t see across the street, so stinky you wanted to gag.

“I know,” I said, “disgusting.”

“To the people here, it smells like money,” said my dad, a vice president of sales for Saxon Paper Company in New York, far from the mills that produced his product.  

“No,” I snapped. “To them, it should smell like cancer.”

We didn’t talk much after that. 

* * *

On a rapprochement in Montreal in the mid-’70s: 

My dad and I did not always get along. When he managed our little league baseball team, he was hardest on his son. Through my teenage years, he became more and more competitive, asserting his status as the alpha male in the house. 

My parents were very different people. My mother read books and was a devotee of the Broadway musical theater … Dad was a working stiff who liked to play softball during the summer months and poker with his cronies year-round. 

(Years) after I left home, I tried to improve our relationship. I invited him to Montreal, when I was working there, for a father and son weekend. Took him to an Expos game. Took him out to dinner at a Spanish restaurant down the street from my apartment, where I was a regular and got the VIP treatment. Took him to the press club in the Mount Royal and introduced him to my colleagues. He didn’t drink much. Jews aren’t boozers. But he seemed to accept his son as the exception.  

* * *

For most of my adult life, we lived hundreds of miles apart. We occasionally talked on the phone, and saw each other maybe once a year.

The last time dad and I spoke was during a visit with my parents at their home in Lake Worth, Florida. Linda and I and our daughters, Jodie and Lacey, stopped for a couple of days en route to our annual vacation on Sanibel Island in March 1995:

We all went to play miniature golf. Again, dad wasn’t up to it. He walked along, shaking badly (from Parkinson’s), sat on a bench while we putted.

On one hole, I backhanded a short putt and it spun out of the cup. I laughed and picked up the ball. Jodie, keeping score, asked, “How many, dad?”

“Three,” I said.

My dad, sitting nearby, barked, “He didn’t putt out. That’s cheating.”

… We left, as planned, after mini-golf, headed west, leaving behind the ugly side of the Sunshine State.

* * *

A few days later, my mother called around 5 a.m. to say dad had had a massive stroke.

Linda and I and the kids left before dawn. I retraced our route across the state. Just after the sun came up, I spotted a caracara picking at some road kill. I’d never seen one before. I’d have to make a note of it – Near Clewiston, Fla. – beside its drawing in my National Geographic field guide.    

We went straight to my parents’ house and got the story. My mother – by then, I called her Dot – and dad had been out with friends the previous evening. They’d stopped at a frozen yogurt shop. Dad bit into his cone and immediately remarked that the chill went straight to his head. An ice cream headache. 

But it wasn’t that. A few seconds later, he collapsed. An ambulance came. Took him to JFK hospital in West Palm Beach …

I took Dot back to the hospital. Dad was in the intensive care unit, hooked up to machines … basically brain dead, a ventilator keeping him breathing.

Dot and I talked to his doctors. We decided to keep dad breathing (until my sister and her family and my daughter Kate arrived).

When the family was all there, we agreed to have dad taken off the ventilator. He was moved from the ICU to a private room on the same floor. 

… (I was alone with dad) … standing next to the bed when suddenly his eyes shot open. He stopped breathing. With the index and middle fingers of my right hand, I closed his eyes, as I’d seendone in movies.  

I summoned a nurse who confirmed my pronouncement … 

Dad died on March 15, the Ides of March. The funeral would be two days later, on St. Patrick’s Day, to allow people time to arrive from out of town …

The chapel at Menorah cemetery looked like everything else in the endless suburban sprawl of South Florida – modern and soulless. The room would require no alteration to host a seminar on time-share condos after we and the casket cleared out.

There was a nice turnout, as is said, for the early afternoon service …

 Before the service began, before the casket came out, I folded a baseball into his left – pitching – hand. I considered adding a videotape I had sent him – of his Mets beating my Red Sox in the 1986 World Series – but there was no room in the box for a VCR …

I read an excerpt from Red and Me, my story of his baseball career. I got through it, overcame my dread of speaking in public. Jodie and Lacey stood with me at the podium for support. 

Having not packed for a funeral, I wore a ratty denim shirt and jeans to address the properly attired crowd …

Kate gave her best shot at a eulogy but broke down crying. I rescued her from the podium.I didn’t cry. I never cry. 

Afterwards, we moved outside where a forklift raised my dad’s casket to his vault in a wall, joining all the other Jews who retired to Florida and wound up in an enormous filing cabinet.

We all went back to what was now Dot’s house. The traditional post-funeral feast was catered by one of the Jewish delis that sprung up throughout southeastern Florida to capitalize on the great migration from the cities of the Northeast …

Driving back to Sanibel the next day, I replayed my dad’s death and funeral in my mind and tucked it away in my memory. Research … 

A few days later we drove home. 

The Expat Files is available in paperback and Kindle editions from Amazon.com and Amazon Canada.

Dead and buried at Bethpage Black

Watching the PGA championship from  the favorite golf course of my youth, I think about the dead guy I encountered in the trees on the sixth hole and the family mutt buried off the 15th fairway.

In the early 1960s, during my high school years, I lived in Plainview, Long Island, about five miles from Bethpage State Park and its five courses: Red, Blue, Green, Yellow and Black.

I started playing Bethpage as a teenager and returned often in later years during visits to New York.

I retain vivid memories of the Black, especially the opening holes, with the cavernous bunker across the fairway on No. 4.

Which brings me to the snack bar – breakfast hotdogs – off the sixth tee and the shot I hooked into the trees on a steamy Fourth of July.

Looking for my ball, I saw an old guy sitting with his back against a tree trunk. He was obviously another golfer, wearing the requisite duds and spiked shoes.  

I figured he was taking a break from the heat and fell asleep. Didn’t want to disturb him. Found my ball and played on. 

When my foursome was on the 14th hole,  we heard the ambulance sirens. After the round, in the clubhouse bar, we got the news that a golfer had been found dead on the front nine. 

Over beers, I told my golf buddies about the gent in the woods, which, in short order, brought up the old joke about the guy whose golf partner drops dead on the second hole.

“What did you do?” he’s asked.

“Oh, it was awful,” he says. “For the next 16 holes, it was hit the ball, drag Harry.”

During another round on the Black, walking off the 15th tee with my dad, I pointed toward the road on our right and asked: “Didn’t you bury Buff around here?”

When I was a kid, all the family pets – first parakeets, then the dog – were named Buff, after a beautiful collie we met during a vacation trip to New England.

I never cared much for our dog. He was spoiled and disobedient – you’d tell him to come and he’d run away.

Buff and me during a visit with my parents in Rego Park, circa 1970

I was long gone from my parents’ home – they had moved to an apartment in Queens – when Buff died, so I’ve had to rely on family lore.

The way I heard it, Dad stashed the corpse and a shovel in the trunk of his latest big-ass Buick and drove thirty miles to the familiar woods of Bethpage State Park. My mother and sister came along for the internment on a dark and stormy day in the early ’70s. 

As far as I know, nobody ever visited the gravesite – possibly because no one was sure exactly where it was. 

My book, The Expat Files: My Life in Journalism, is available from Amazon.com and Amazon Canada.

Summit talk of dick, rats and nuking California

HANOI (ENS) – Here is a transcript of Wednesday’s meeting between the Supreme Leader of North Korea (SLONK) and the President of the United States (POTUS), as recorded and released by the Russian embassy in the Vietnamese capital:

POTUS: Good to see you again, Chairman Kim. And thank you for all your letters. 

SLONK: I’ve only sent you one.

POTUS: Yes, but as I’ve told the press – such love. I’ve come to think of you as my third son.

SLONK: You already have three sons, Mr. President.

Pause. Crosstalk. Inaudible.

SLONK: How are your feet, Mr. President?

POSTUS: Excuse me?

SLONK: I was told you couldn’t go to Vietnam because of bone spurs on your feet.

POSTUS: And you came here by train because you’re afraid to fly. 

SLONK: Since we last met I read a very interesting book by one of your great American actresses – Stormy Daniels. 

POTUS: Don’t believe everything you read.

SLONK: So, the little mushroom?

POTUS: More like a Cruise missile. Ask Ivanka.

SLONK: Your daughter?

POTUS: No, my wife, Ivana.

SLONK: Melania.

POTUS: That’s what I said. 

Pause. Crosstalk. Inaudible.

SLONK: Is there something urgent on your phone, Mr. President?

POTUS: Just checking something.

SLONK: Your attorney, Mr. Michael Cohen, does not begin testifying before your Congress until later.

POTUS: I bet you know what to do with rats – you exterminate them. But in my country, your enemies get to put a rat on TV to spread lies about his president, the man who gave him a good job – and paid him a lot of money, made him rich – for many, many years. What do you do when the people around you turn against you?

SLONK: There are no such rats, as you call them, in the Democratic People’s Republic. 

POTUS: That’s because you know how to take care of them.

SLONK: And this Mr. Mueller? 

POTUS: Don’t worry about him. I got all the judges.

SLONK: Like Don Corleone.

Crosstalk. Inaudible.

SLONK: I meant no disrespect, Mr. President. I am a great fan of your American movies. I have more than 20,000 videotapes and DVDs, the largest collection in the world. Most of the old ones were inherited from my father, who was a great leader and also a great filmmaker. He made a great Godzilla movie, a metaphor for what happens when nuclear weapons are unleashed for evil purposes.

POTUS: Have you thought about the deal I proposed?

SLONK: Which deal is that, Mr. President?

POTUS: The condos – on the beach.

SLONK: I am considering it, Mr. President. Why did you pull out of the INF treaty?

POTUS: What’s that?

SLONK: The Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty that Ronald Reagan and Mikhail Gorbachev signed in 1987.

POTUS: Don’t worry about it.

SLONK: But President Putin says it could create another Cuban Missile Crisis.

POTUS: I said don’t worry about it. 

SLONK: But, at the same time your administration is asking us to denuclearize, you and Russia are starting another arms race.

POTUS: It’s good for business. If I were you, I’d buy lots of defense stocks. That’s what I’m doing.

SLONK: I can’t invest in your markets thanks to the sanctions you’ve imposed.

POTUS: Find a middleman. Maybe one of your children.

SLONK: My children are a state secret – and babies.

POTUS: Isn’t it true that you can take as much money as you want – billions of dollars a year – from your country’s treasury?

SLONK Yes, of course. Can’t you?

POTUS: Not yet. I’m working on it.

SLONK: Is there something urgent on your phone, Mr. President?

POTUS: Just checking something.

SLONK: Would you like to take a break to watch Hannity? 

Inaudible. 

POTUS: You’re a good socialist like Stalin, not like Bernie or that Puerto Rican from Queens.

SLONK: I’m not sure I follow, Mr. President, but I am true to the socialist ideals of the motherland.

POTUS: And you keep the motherland, as you call it, pure by not having people just pouring over your border, infesting your country. 

SLONK: No, we have a very secure southern border. But that doesn’t mean we don’t feel a threat that the 30,000 American troops in the south will invade our country.

POTUS: I told you I’d take care of that.

SLONK: Good. So that is settled. You will withdraw the troops.

POTUS: Can you take care of something for me?

SLONK: If I can, Mr. President.

POTUS: Can your missiles reach California?

Inaudible.

The Expat Files: My Life in Journalism is available in paperback and Kindle editions from Amazon.com and Amazon Canada.