MUSINGS ON THE PAST YEAR
In reading Bob Dylan’s fabulous Chronicles
Volume One— right there on page 22—
we were stopped cold.
Dylan, in writing of his time in The
Village in the early 60’s, mentions in passing
“…I was over at the Mills
Tavern on Bleecker Street where the basket-house
singers would bunch up, chitchat and make the scene.”
Frankly, that’s not how we remembered
Mills Tavern (now long-since refurbished and renamed,
The Village Lantern).
In a poem, written some years ago we described
it (albeit not directly by name), as:
A place where men sipped ale
while death came looking.
And what exactly makes us such experts on this shanty of an
establishment? It was there that my father tended bar!
Ergo, (not to mention “Eureka!”)…
My father must have served Bob Dylan!
Now, lest you think we’re name dropping
or stretching to make a rather obscure connection to the great
Bob Dylan— Dylan himself, is guilty of doing likewise.
Just three pages later he writes:
“On the same block was the
‘Bull’s Head’, a cellar tavern where
John Wilkes Booth, the American Brutus,
used to drink.”
So now, by say about 1200°, are we not
connected to John Wilkes Booth? And just one more degree beyond
that, to President Lincoln?
There seems to be an inherent need as human
beings to make such connections. Or maybe it’s just
us and Bob Dylan?
The Plot Against
America: A Novel
For those unfamiliar with this latest Phillip
Roth book and its premise:
“In 1940 Charles A. Lindberg…is
elected President. Shortly thereafter, he negotiates a
cordial ‘understanding’ with Adolph Hitler,
while the new government embarks on a program of folksy
And while this is a work of fiction, “Yes
Virginia, ‘Lucky Lindy’ was an anti-Semite.”
Seriously folks, it is rather astonishing
to hear of the friendly association he had with Hitler, and
to read some of the speeches this American hero gave in the
Again, as has always been noted, a book—even
a bestseller—tends to fly under the radar in today’s
If this were a movie, it would be positively
explosive. We’re talking, Bill O’Reilly type talk-show
explosive! Double exclamation point explosive!! The stuff
that people would be talking about the next morning at the
water cooler. (If we didn’t of course, all now carry
our own bottled water wherever we go, lest we dehydrate and
expire on the spot).
Only In LA: A Celebrity
Mort Sahl and Robert Blake
sitting outside of our local Starbuck’s, sipping their
coffee, on many a lazy LA afternoon.
And while we have had occasion to speak with
Mr. Sahl about one thing or another (our kids go to the same
school), we keep our distance when Mr. Blake is near. There
are no guidelines for such potentially awkward social encounters.
This is all beyond Emily Post. What do we say?
“Sorry Mr. Blake, to hear about
the wife. And of course, your being found liable for her death.
And the $30 million in damages you are being forced to pay.
Can we buy you a latte?”
Mort Sahl & Dick
When not sipping coffee with Robert Blake, Mort Sahl is still
active on the stage. And although somewhat blunted by his
78 years, he still has an edge that can be described as “cutting”…
in a butter knife sort of way.
We caught him December 9th at McCabe’s
in Santa Monica, as we did two years ago at this
venue. And he was in fine form.
But the real treat on this night— remarkably
on the same bill— was Dick Gregory:
“60's comedian, vegetarian, Civil Rights activist,
a drum major for equal rights and nutritional consultant.”
Every word he utters is charged by the electricity
of transformation: his own… and that of the
life and times of the 60’s.
We thanked him afterwards for a good show
and for fighting the good fights. He seemed appreciative of
our small, but sincere gesture.
When In Baltimore…
…have the crab cakes at Rusty Scupper
right on the pier. Preferably, at a table overlooking the
The Fourth of July
at Yankee Stadium
We have been attending ballgames at Yankee Stadium for well
over 50 years.
In fact, one cousin swears we were there
for Mickey Mantle’s first game as a Yankee in 1951.
Frankly we do not recall that day (we were six), and must
take her word for it.
Anyway, in all these years, we have never
even come close to getting a ball hit into the stands at The
Stadium. Not during the game…not during batting practice…
not in our dreams.
Fast forward to this past July 4th, when
on impulse, we took our son to a game.
Given that the park was more or less sold
out that day, we were relegated to the nose-bleed seats. The
type of seats my father tended to buy, when he wasn’t
tending bar and serving drinks to Bob Dylan.
And here we were during batting practice,
in the third deck, at a hypotenuse distance from Home Plate,
that seemed almost beyond the power of mortal men. (Hey, we’re
poets, what can we say? Alright, it was pretty far away).
Suddenly…here it was. The BALL.
Off the bat. Of a guy named Jay Gibbons.
Soaring. Climbing. Heading our way.
We put up our hands… and… caught
it… on… the fly. The father, a hero, to the
son. Alleluia! Alleluia! Al-le-e-e-l-u-u-i-i-a!
It seemed all at once, so miraculous, and
yet, so equally simple and commonplace. We wondered why, what
had now seemed so inevitable, had taken so long to occur.
As if going to church for fifty years, one had finally caught
on to the idea of God.
We suppose that there is a poem in there
somewhere, that cries out for the writing. But like the catch
itself, it might have to wait. Perhaps for the day when The
Son—in lieu of The Father— might sit down to write
it on his own.
This was a year when the papacy got much attention in the
public domain, what with the passing of one Pope and the election
of another. (The changing of “the God”…so
Being the list makers that we are, we took
pen to paper and realized that, we are now “Six Popes
old!”. That is pretty old given their tendency toward
PIUS XII (1939-1958)
JOHN XXIII (1958-1962)
PAUL VI (1962-1978)
JOHN PAUL I (1978-1978—one month actually!)
JOHN PAUL II (1978-2005)
BENEDICT XVI (2005- )
No point to the Pope list really. It’s
just that, like some great celestial event, they don’t
happen too often. So they seem to bear witness.
And regardless of one’s religious persuasions, there
is something so deliciously Old World about the papacy that
is almost irresistible. How it inches along throughout the
ages weighted down by all those vestments, ritual, theology
and gold. One gets a sense of a Medieval painting coming to
life, whenever a Pope pops into view.
This past August at Sardi’s
— that iconic restaurant in the Broadway District —our
spouse had gathered nearly everyone we had ever known. They
then retreated to a room upstairs, and as we turned the corner,
they shouted “Surprise!” on cue. Any hope of sneaking
into our “60’s” was instantly shattered.
All this for an undeserving curmudgeon, who
tends to share Woody Allen’s
sentiments on growing older. To quote Woody in this past December’s
issue of Vanity Fair:
“All that crap they tell you
about— you know, dangling your grandchildren on
your knee, and getting joy, and having a kind of wisdom
in your golden years— it’s all tripe. I’ve
gained no wisdom, no insight, no mellowing…”
And yet that night in a room amidst such
warmth…we positively melted.
Having once lived through “the 60’s”,
we were back in “the 60’s.”, in a manner
of speaking. A thought to sustain us.
Eugene McCarthy Dies
The Times in its obituary, offered this descriptive
“…the singular candidate
of the Viet Nam War protest, serving up politics and poetry,
theology and baseball in a blend that entranced the ‘Clean
for Gene’ legions who flocked to his insurgent’s
Sounds exactly like our kind of guy. In fact
he was our kind of guy.
We remember—vividly— the impact
of his punch, when in March of ’68, we sat before the
TV set in shock, as Lyndon Johnson concluded a speech by announcing
that he would not run for a second term.
Arguably, McCarthy was responsible for the
only “TKO” in the history of American Presidential
We look forward to reading a book of his
poems (Eugene McCarthy: Selected Poems;
pub. 1997) to see if he was a better poet than a politician.
As a politician, he had one very serious fault:. he was honest.
As a poet, honesty is an indispensable trait.
get up. I’m only passing through."
Eugene McCarthy…Rosa Parks…Arthur Miller…August
Wilson…Pope John Paul II… Johnnie Carson…
Terri Schiavo… Richard Pryor… Peter Jennings…
Bobby Short… Saul Bellow… Simon Wiesenthal …Sam
A friend of our son’s who died of cancer
at age 17.
The Viet Nam War Memorial
We might be the only ones you will ever hear, not
singing the praises of the Viet Nam
War Memorial in Washington. We were
there this past June to bear witness to this and various paeans
to American history.
While most people are moved by the etching
of over fifty-eight thousand names in black marble —
some at only ankle level — of those who died in that
war (to what purpose we wondered even more…with the
perspective of 30 years behind us) — we had a far different
To us, this “Black Wall”, embedded
in the side of a slope, suggested a sense of Loss, Disgrace
and Shame. Sorry.
Of all the memorials in Washington, this
is the only one done up in black and essentially lacking dimension.
It is in effect, a plaque; an honorable mention; a consolation
prize. As opposed to say, the three-tiered trophy that usually
goes to a winner.
The contrast, for example, to the World
War II Memorial could not be greater. That one
shouts in its design and architecture: “This was a Just
War”…”an Heroic War”… “America’s
We know. We know. “Different time…different
The very point.
Thought of the Month
A rolling stone gathers no remorse.
The Last List: The
Books We Read in ‘05
For better or worse, a list of the books we read in the past
year is provided below (pretty much in chronological order).
The main “musing” regarding this
list, can be best summed up in the title of one of the books
therein: So Many Books; So Little Time.
While this is not to be seen as a ringing
endorsement for every book on this list, it does suggest that
each of these was deemed worthy of our precious time, for
one reason or another.
Little Friend – Donna Tartt
My Life as a Fake – Peter
The DaVinci Code – Dan Brown
Premeditation – Albert Da
Tenor of Love – Mary Di Michele
Apprentice to the Flower Poet Z
– Debra Weinstein (Novel)
The Art of Reading Poetry –
Harold Bloom (Essays)
So Many Books; So Little Time –
Sarah Nelson (Essays)
1929: A Novel of The Jazz Age –
Frederick Turner (Novel)
Grand Fortune – Dan Okrent
Passover Plot – Hugh Schonfield
(Thesis) (Note: A re-read)
Herzog – Saul Bellow (Novel)
Millard Fillmore Mon Armor –
John Blumenthal (Novel)
Word of Mouth – edited Catherine
Bowman (Poetry Anthology)
The Confessions of St Augustine
– St. Augustine (Memoir) (Note: A re-read)
Swann’s Way – Marcel
Chronicles: Volume One – Bob
Miles Gone By – William F.
Buckley Jr. (Memoir)
The Plot Against America: A Novel
– Phillip Roth (Novel)
Atonement – Ian McEwan (Novel)
The Trouble With Poetry and Other Poems
– Billy Collins (Poetry)
The Question of God: C.S. Lewis and Sigmund Freud
– Dr. Armond Nichols (Essays)
Joe Jones – Anne Lamott (Novel)
Christopher Columbus – Ernle
Villages – John Updike (Novel)
Jack’s Life – Douglas
Gresham (Biography of C.S. Lewis)
Inner Circle – T.C. Boyle
The Adventures of Augie March –
Saul Bellow (Novel)
The Spooky Art – Norman Mailer
Plan B: Further Thoughts On Faith
– Anne Lamott (Memoirs)
The Mystery of the Shroud of Turin
– John C. Iannone (Thesis)
Traveling Mercies – Anne Lamott
Runaway – Alice Munro (Short
Capote – Gerald Clarke (Biography)