Friday, August 28, 2009

Moving Day

Getting ready to vacate the apartment this weekend.

I think I've got most of the important stuff boxed up ...

Monday, August 24, 2009

Sadder but wiser

Forty years ago, at the age of 19, I became sadder but wiser. My first serious romance, an astonishingly beautiful woman, revealed that she had taken up with my best friend, my roommate. It was a soul-crushing moment.

But that's not what I'm writing about today. My first love exploded in a drunken rant of recriminations and words that flew out my mouth faster than my brain could call them back and so it ended. Three people behaved very, very badly and nobody came out unstained. A story you have all heard a hundred times.

So, not wanting to encounter my best friend or my ex-girlfriend, I spent a few days on a couch at the house of some friends, then found an apartment within walking distance of campus. It was a hole, but I was feeling very low and that was what I felt I deserved. I cleaned it up as best I could, and also packed up my stuff at the apartment, working quickly to avoid running into the new young couple of our social group.

It was a very low moment in my young life.

But one Sunday morning, I was down on campus. The school year had not yet begun, but the football players were back, doing two-a-days, as were the student government members, setting up their system for the coming year. The freshmen would not arrive on campus for another week.

As I walked across campus, I saw a rather spectacularly attractive young woman, at a moment in my life when such things mattered more than normally. Not only did I see her, but she saw me and said, "Excuse me, but is there some place around here where I can get some breakfast?"

"Well, the pay caff is right down there," I began, but she interrupted me.

"Yes, I went in there, but it didn't look very good," she said. "I was wondering if there was some place nearby where I could get some eggs and pancakes."

"There's a Pancake House," I said, and began to explain how to find it, but then said, "Tell you what, I haven't had breakfast, either. You want to grab some food?"

So we went out to the parking lot, got into her VW bug and went to the Pancake House. Along the way, she explained that she was in town to visit her little sister, who was one of the student government types. And she told me who it was.

And I said oh, yes, I knew her sister. But I didn't say more because her sister was a kind of a pain in the ass type. She was wonderfully bright, a little overweight, possessed of acceptable but not extravagant good looks, and would have been a nice person to know except that she wasn't a nice person.

She was a bitch.

Her circle of friends were the Social Lionesses, but I could never figure out how she was one of them. She wasn't cute enough, she wasn't socially poised enough, she just wasn't really one of them. And yet she was. She only went out with football players or similar types, and she sneered at those who didn't fit the mold. And I could never figure out what gave her the power to sneer at much of anybody.

I wasn't a popular guy, but I wasn't a schlump either. I never dated a cheerleader seriously, but a couple of them were real friends and I went out with almost all of them on the level of "let's grab a pizza." The one I never went out with was also a Social Lioness, and would have refused to go out with me, had I asked her. Which I didn't. And I also never asked this Little Sister out for the same reason.

So anyway, this Big Sister and I went down to the Pancake House and had some pancakes and sausages and eggs, and she told me about her job as a stewardess for Eastern Airlines and how that worked. This was before stewardesses became flight attendants and protective of their dignity, but she had no problems about her dignity. She was a wonderfully smart, articulate, beautiful woman who was having the time of her life flying all around the country serving drinks and seeing the country.

Since she didn't take life seriously, she didn't seem to care if anyone else did, either.

And we ate and talked and laughed and, as we finished up and paid our tab, I suddenly realized something about this gorgeous woman: She had a car.

So I asked if she'd mind swinging by my apartment. Which was fine with her. We went to the apartment and she helped me lug a large trunk of stuff down to her car and then we hauled down some boxes and she ran me over to my new place and helped me haul it all back in there, and then it was time for her to get back to campus and meet her little sister.

We drove back to campus, found a parking space and starting walking. And as we're walking and talking and laughing and enjoying the sunshine, down the sidewalk comes Little Sister.

And my grasp of the world changed.

Because, when Little Sister saw us together, she actually, physically recoiled, and I saw in her face a look of consternation and horror. And I suddenly understood why she was such a despicable little bitch.

Here I was, a long-haired, geeky guitar-slinging hipster, walking up the quad with her older sister, a beautiful scholar who flew for Eastern Airlines and had everything a woman could possibly want in life.

I realized her big sister had almost certainly been Prom Queen, and was probably National Honor Society as well. She was the Sibling It Was Completely Impossible To Live Up To.

Now Little Sister was at a prestigious college and was a Student Leader. She was on campus early to set up programs, she was a friend of the Social Lionesses, she only went out with football players and other appropriate young men ...

... and here was her goddamn perfect, unattainable Big Sister walking up the quad of HER COLLEGE laughing and joking with a goddam longhaired guitarslinging hippie asshole.

She didn't get it.

She just didn't get it.

She had punched all the right buttons, but the bottom line was that her Unattainable Big Sister was comfortable enough that she didn't give a damn who she was seen with, who she had breakfast with, who she walked laughing up the quad with ... and that there was no way she could ever, ever compete with her Unattainable Big Sister, and that it had nothing to do with anything she could quantify.

I guess I should have laughed in her face, but I didn't.

I stopped thinking of what a bitch she was and started thinking about how much of her life she had wasted chasing something she didn't even understand.

The advantage her sister had was not looks, or brains, or even poise, but self-confidence.

Big Sister could do whatever she wanted to do, hang out with whoever she wanted to hang out with, go wherever she wanted to go, and never fret over what it said about her.

How can you compete with someone who is completely comfortable in her own skin?

"Sadder but wiser"? Oh, yes. I was sadder but wiser.

Because now I had to view this contemptible little bitch with sympathy, and compassion, and I had to understand her insecurities and her weaknesses.

Damn. Who knew that breakfast with a stewardess could turn into something so complex???

Friday, August 21, 2009

Ten (plus 30) Years After
A warm thank you for Ten Years After!

A few posts ago, I alluded to an article I had written on Woodstock 10 years after the fact, but couldn't find. Well, it just turned up and, as you will see, it wasn't just about Woodstock but about the year 1969 in general. So I should save it for December, which is when it ran in Boulder Monthly Magazine, but my suspicion is that I'd just lose it again. So here it is, with my 1979 analysis untouched and only one or two minor misprints corrected. And, as you see by the illustration, we had already begun to be snarky about the era well before the current 20-pluses came along and invented the idea.

We're all supposed to cast an eye backward at this time of year and think about the year that is just passing. Done it? Not much to get nostalgic about, was there? Now let's look at a decade-ending year that had some substance to it, 1969, that marvelous year in which the above words were spoken in a pasture outside of Bethel, New York. How much more do you remember about 1969?

1. The owner of the farm at which the Woodstock Festival took place was
a. Hugh Romney
b. George Romney
c. Max Yasgur
d. Peter Max.

2. 1969 saw the death of a charismatic Communist leader. Who was it?
a. Ernesto 'Che' Guevara
b. Leon Trotsky
c. Ho Chi Minh
d. Patrice Lumumba.

3. Norman Mailer won a Pulitzer Prize for his 1969 book, Armies of the Night. In what city is the book set?
a. Washington
b. Saigon
c. Chicago
d. Miami.

4. Abbie Hoffman did not receive a Pulitzer Prize for his 1969 literary effort, perhaps because he wrote under the pseudonym "Free." Name the book.
a. Butterflies Are Free
b. We Are Everywhere
c. Revolution for the Hell of it.
d. The Whole World is Watching.

5. The Iseley Brothers released a record in 1969 that won them a Grammy. Complete this line: "It's your thing,do what you want to do, I can't tell you ... "
a. "When to sing the blues."
b. "How to tie your shoe."
c. "Who to sock it to."
d. "What you got to do."

6. Terry Southern's immortal masterpiece, Candy, became one of 1969's silliest and dirtiest movies. Who played the gardener who ended up on the pool table?
a. Ringo Starr
b. Paul Williams
c. Buck Henry
d. Art Gardener.

7. Heavy thinkers claim that the last line in 1969's classic road movie, Easy Rider, was "We blew it." Nonsense. The final line was
a. "Give me another hit, Billy."
b. "We better go back."
c. "Goodnight, man."
d. "Welcome to nowhere, Cap."

8. In 1969, Duke Wayne beat out Joe Buck and Butch Cassidy to win an Oscar for his role in True Grit. Who won the Oscar for Best Actress in 1969?
a. Vanessa Redgrave for 'Loves of Isadora'
b. Ali McGraw for 'Goodbye Columbus'
c. Maggie Smith for 'The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie'
d. Lena Nyman for 'I Am Curious (Yellow)'.

9. Sharon Tate was murdered in 1969, together with five other persons, in the famous "Helter Skelter" murders. Which of the following names never came up in subsequent investigations?
a. Doris Day
b. The Beach Boys
c. Robert Heinlein
d. Gertrude Ederle.

10. In 1969, President Nixon ordered the implementation of Operation Intercept. What was its target?
a. Draft dodgers
b. Grass smugglers
c. Dirty record lyrics
d. The Chicago Seven.

11. Which album was not released in 1969?
a. Abbey Road
b. Nashville Skyline
c. Strange Days
d. Crosby, Stills and Nash.

12. Neil Armstrong walked on the moon in 1969; Buzz Aldrin was the second man out of the lunar module. Who was piloting the command module during that famous small step?
a. Michael Collins
b. Deke Slayton
c. Chris Craft
d. Phil Ochs.

13. Which Apollo flight was that famous touchdown part of?
a. X
b. XI
c. XII
d. XIII.

14. On February 7, 1969, a tradition fell at Miami's Hialeah Park. What was the innovation?
a. First woman jockey
b. First entry by Communist China
c. First win by an unregistered quarterhorse
d. First time for legal off-track betting in the continental United States.

15. Four new major league baseball franchises got their start in 1969. Which of the following does not belong in that group?
a. Seattle
b. Kansas City
c. Toronto
d. Montreal.

16. A famous twenty-one year old spoke in the British Parliament on April 22, 1969. Who was it?
a. Bernadette Devlin
b. Prince Charles
c. John Lennon
d. David Eisenhower.

17. In a speech on Vietnam, President Nixon called for support from the "Silent Majority." What did he ask them to do to show their support for the war?
a. Write to Ho Chi Minh
b. Honk their car horns when passing the flag
c. Turn on their porch lights at night
d. Get a haircut.

18. Spiro Agnew also made a famous speech that year, in Des Moines, attacking the press. What did he call them?
a. An elite corps of impudent snobs
b. An effete corps of impudent snobs
c. An elite corps of imprudent snobs
d. A complete source of ebullient slobs.

19. Who of the following was not a member of the Chicago Seven?
a. Abbie Hoffman
b. Rennie Davis
c. Tom Hayden
d. Bobby Seale.

20. The Christmas card of the year was a full page ad in the New York Times that stated, simply, "War Is Over, If You Want It." Who sent that holiday greeting?
a. The Chicago Seven
b. John Lennon and Yoko Ono
c. Vanessa Redgrave
d. Phillip Berrigan.

ANSWERS (no peeking)

1. c. Max Yasgur, who claimed that he didn't know how to speak to a half a dozen people, let alone a crowd like this. Hugh Romney, a.k.a. Wavy Gravy, was there with the Hog Farm. George Romney and Peter Max weren't.

2. c. Che had been dead for a couple of years, although the movie of his life that came out in 1969, with Jack Palance as Fidel Castro and Omar Sharif as Dr. Guevara, would probably have killed him if the CIA and Bolivian Army hadn't gotten to him first. It was Ho Chi Minh who died on September 3 at the age of 79.

3. a. Mailer's book on the march on the Pentagon in 1967 was a good look at what had happened for anyone who couldn't be there. For those who had been there, it was less impressive.

4. c. Another reason Hoffman didn't win a prize was that, unlike Mailer, he didn't claim to know what was going on or to speak for an entire generation.

5. c. Not to be confused with the other deep, meaningful lyric, "Sock it to me, baby, sock it to the Judge."

6. a. Ringo found love on the pool table. Swedish star Ewa Aulin also attracted the lascivious attentions of Richard Burton, Marion Brando, James Coburn, and the bulk of the male audience. At the time, the movie was deliberate bad taste and was condemned for using sex to make money, which may have given some television executives big ideas.

7. b. The redneck says it after they shoot Billy. There may be arguments that Captain America does some incoherent blubbering over Billy's body, but that hardly counts. "We blew it" may have been the last line before Columbia made Fonda and Hopper reshoot the ending, but such is the price of glory when you play with the big boys.

8. c. Ali McGraw made her screen debut to yawns and suppressed giggles in Goodbye Columbus. Vanessa Redgrave gave a sterling performance for much of The Loves of Isadora, and might have won the Oscar, but most critics agreed that she choked at the end.

9. d. Miss Ederle swam the English Channel long before 1969. Doris Day's son, Terry Melcher, was an acquaintance of Charles Manson, and had lived in the house where the murders took place. Brian Wilson of the Beach Boys was also a Manson acquaintance and had put him up for a time at his house. Robert Heinlein wrote the pretentious and naive but essentially innocuous Stranger in a Strange Land, which Manson used as a guide for setting up his "family."

10. b. Operation Intercept cut off the supply of street grass, putting the casual collegiate smuggler out of business and turning the job over to the Mafia, who were better equipped to deal with such things. It made for an upsurge in heroin, "bad" acid, cocaine, and other harder drugs, as well as swelling the coffers of organized crime.

11. c. Strange Days was an established classic by 1969. All four albums are still good listening, though not suitable for disco dancing. Pity.

12. a. Michael Collins will never forget the experience of standing on the deck of the carrier while Armstrong and Aldrin haggled over who should tip the driver.

13. b. Apollo XIII, incidentally, was the one which blew off a panel in deep space and had to return, which may interest any treskadecaphobes who didn't pass over this question automatically. It is also interesting to note that President Nixon had the landing of Apollo XI's lunar module shifted to a weekend and the first step delayed until the end of prime time. Abbie Hoffman wasn't the only person in 1969 who knew how to use the media.

14. a. Diane Crump was the first woman jockey, and she brought home her first winner in her seventh race.

15. c. Tricky question. Seattle was awarded a franchise that folded almost immediately to become the Toronto Blue Jays, but not in 1969. Kansas City had long been the site of major league baseball, but the A's moved to Oakland and the Royals were a new franchise in 1969. Montreal is the home of the Expos, a team made up of ex-Denver Bears. Denver, you may note, still does not have a franchise. (Editor's note: All true in 1979)

16. a. Bernadette Devlin made her maiden speech after being the youngest person ever elected to Parliament. She attended sessions in blue jeans, entertained Jerry Rubin and friends in the private members-and-guests cocktail lounge and ended up serving a term in prison for inciting a riot, after which she went back to Northern Ireland and gave birth to an illegitimate baby. Not your typical British MP.

17. c. A lot of pacificists ended up falling down the stairs at night. In a countermove, a Yippie leader urged motorists to drive with their headlights on at night if they supported the legalization of marijuana.

18. b. A lot of people thought "effete" had something to do with being a sissy, but it actually means unable to bear offspring, which came as a great relief to many of the free spirits to whom it was applied.

19. d. Bobby Seale was a member of the Chicago Eight, but insisted on having his own lawyer, Charles Carry. Denied this right, he proceeded to become abusive and was bound and gagged. When he continued to mumble what might have been obscenities through his gag, he was found in contempt and sentenced to four years by Judge Julius Hoffman and ordered to stand trial separately. The remaining defendants, then, became the Chicago Seven. Name them without counting on your fingers.

20. b. John and Yoko ended the year with a touch of taste. After 1969, the war was basically over and it only remained to stop the killing, which no longer had any support from the people of the United States, most of whom had given up on ever hearing the "Secret Plan" that President Nixon had promised to reveal after his inauguration in January of 1969.

HOW TO SCORE: Where were you then? Where are you now? Give yourself the score you think you deserve.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Groucho and I reminisce

On the 40th anniversary of my first glorious and tragic romance, Groucho sings of a lady who was equally memorable and, alas for me, easier to read ...

Friday, August 14, 2009

Getting Woodstock right

I promised to post something about Woodstock that was more authentic than the blah-blah-blah we've all heard for 40 years. But being in the throes of unemployment, temporary housing and suchlike, the thing I wanted to post is buried deep in boxes in storage.

But not to fear: A friend from that era, Tom Henehan, was interviewed for a story that, in my mind, got it right.

That's Tommy in the red circle, at a gathering of campus folkies a couple of years ago. I'm second from the left in the upper row. We got the guitars out and made some wonderful music. But he's the one who got Woodstock right. Click and enjoy.

(Thank god for Facebook!)

Thursday, August 13, 2009

A giggle of cartoonists

(Click on images for larger versions)
Yesterday, Dartmouth College gathered, in Jules Feiffer's terminology, not a "gaggle" but a "giggle" of cartoonists for a presentation on political cartooning. Feiffer has been an artist-in-residence at the college this summer; sitting on yesterday's panel above were, from left, Jeff Danziger, Feiffer, Edward Koren and Edward Sorel, with moderator Richard Stamelman.

I didn't count heads, but the mid-sized auditorium was filled and people were standing in the back. Most of those uncounted heads were covered with white hair, which may have been because the college is out of session but I suspect was in large part because of the heavy New Yorker and Village Voice influence on the panel.

A 90-minute presentation with that much talent present was necessarily pretty packed, but they had a good format: Each cartoonist had 10 minutes for a slideshow plus commentary, and then they just took questions and talked.

Danziger led off, and had several observations both about cartooning specifically and as a trade. For instance, for this chilling cartoon showing the murders of a human rights worker and a journalist in Russia, he noted that, with no witnesses, he had the freedom to imagine and portray the scene in a manner that made his statement. "Nobody knows what happened, so you, as a cartoonist, can make it up as you please."
But he also groused, albeit in a humorous way, about the problems of getting creative images past culturally illiterate editors. "The issue with using 'The Road Less Traveled' is that you have a problem with the number of editors who haven't read any poetry."

Age came up more than once in the discussion, as you will see, but Danziger got a large laugh when he pointed out the limitations of creating cartoons that have meaning for 29-year-old editors. I guess that, in the Q&A, I should have asked him about the related issue of reaching 29-year-old readers, but the over-50 audience broke up when he showed this Eliot Spitzer cartoon, and a second time when he confessed that he had to explain to an editor in Boston that an "Escort" was a type of automobile. (And, let us note, a type of automobile that was produced by Ford until six years ago. Not exactly a Hupmobile.)

Speaking of getting laughs, I was surprised at how many outright laughs Edward Koren's cartoons got. I don't think of New Yorker cartoons as provoking laughter so much as thoughtful amusement, but he had the audience broken up with a good two-thirds of his panels, with the other third getting the knowing chuckles I would have expected overall.

Koren himself was very warm, with a twinkle in his eye but a barb on his tongue. This came up in a cartoon I didn't find on-line, though it is here in his Cartoonbank listings. It is set in a kitchen, in which an older couple say to a middle-aged fellow, "Your mother and I think it's time you got a place of your own. We'd like a little time alone before we die."

It also came up in the Q&A, when someone asked what particular element they all shared, to which he quickly answered, "A hatred for humanity."

That shared trait came up again after the panel, when I was talking to Danziger about editors who think editorial cartoons should be "funny." He spoke of a prominent cartoonist (unnamed, since he didn't know I was blogging this) who has a very sunny disposition, and he told of confronting him: "Isn't there anybody you hate?", answering himself back in a John-Denver voice, "Nope! I like everybody!" and then dismissing the fellow and his admittedly humorous work with a snort.

The entire panel also expressed jealousy of Danziger for having been named by Bernard Goldberg as one of the "100 People Who Are Screwing Up America," and Feiffer added, "Paul Conrad at the LA Times made Nixon's enemies list. We had been friends up to that time." Feiffer also observed that he had really gone after LBJ during the war, and there was a period "when I had just pounded him and pounded him. One of my cartoons about him was particularly vicious, and then I got a call from the Johnson Library asking if they could have the original. Boy, they really know how to get to you!"

Later, the humor disappeared briefly as Edward Sorel cited one of Feiffer's Vietnam era cartoons as a favorite. It wasn't available at the time -- Feiffer did describe it in detail -- but I found it and that's it above. (Note, incidentally, the artistic motif of stripes, which Feiffer cited in his description.)

Feiffer, as you might expect from a fellow who is also a playwright, was the most like a stand-up comic, in terms of cracking actual jokes rather than wry observations. Unfortunately, he explained, he was so busy with his teaching duties that he forgot that the panel was supposed to be on political cartoons and simply brought a selection of his work.

For my part, I'm not sure where the dividing line between politics and social observation is drawn; many of Feiffer's works seem perfectly editorial, if not specifically "political." Feiffer was George Carlin long before George Carlin was George Carlin.

Sorel, meanwhile, presented in large part as the accomplished ink-and-watercolors artist he is, though he does not shy away from political commentary. But he cited this illustration of an imagined meeting between Edgar Degas and Mary Cassatt as his favorite work of all times. "I will never do a drawing that good again," he said soberly.

For most of his 10 minutes, though, he showed his Time and New Yorker covers, in which his talents as a caricaturist as well as a commentator were on display. Later, in the Q&A, he decried the lack of artistic development he sees in younger cartoonists. He suggested that penicillin was likely to blame: "Nowadays, penicillin can cure pneumonia in a few days. When I got pneumonia, I was sick for a year, and by the end of that year, I was an artist!"

The panel as a whole, however, was gentler on the topic, citing the artistry on display in graphic novels as a high point in current cartooning, and mentioning with approval the nearby Center for Cartoon Studies. ("It's far more impressive than any other cartooning school I've ever visited," Koren deadpanned.)

And Sorel himself softened a bit on the topic of the future of cartooning. "It's a mistake to ask four elderly gentlemen what new thing is coming along," he said. "How the hell would we know? There will be other things that come along and nobody will know what they are until after we're dead."

He gave the example of theater, which "died" years ago, and then along came Beckett and other playwrights to re-invent the form. Cartoonists yet unseen "will re-invent cartooning in their own way and will be able to find ways to make it pay."

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Among the anniversaries

I hadn't intended to post anything about Woodstock because (A) I didn't go and (B) it quickly grew into something it wasn't. But my friend Mike Powers (musician, magician and mathematician) sent this link and I believe this NYTimes photographer is someone who did go and who isn't misrepresenting what he saw there, which makes his ruminations valuable.

I'll have something else about the era shortly. Meanwhile, in his e-mail, Mike used the subject line "A 3 minute trip down memory lane" and I think that's a pretty good summary. It's worth the click.