Monday, March 2, 2015

Rearrange the World

“We can change the world
Rearrange the world
It’s dying
To get better.”
“Chicago,” Graham Nash

On Saturday morning, WXRT focused on 1971, the year of “Maggie May” (Rod Stewart), “Brown Sugar” (Rolling Stones), “Proud Mary,” (Ike and Tine Turner), and “Riders of the Storm” (Doors).  There was also a feature on Boss Richard Daley, re-elected in a landslide despite his atrocious actions and statements during the 1968 race riots and Democratic convention.  He famously said, “The policeman isn’t there to create disorder, the policeman is there to preserve disorder.”  In fact, WXRT played “Chicago” by Graham Nash, which admittedly sounds rather sappy, albeit well-meaning, 44 years later compared to the Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young classic, “(Four Dead in) Ohio.”  The first line, “So your brother’s bound and gagged and they’ve chained him to a chair,” refers to the 1969 Chicago 8 “Conspiracy” trial where Black Panther Bobby Sealer was shackled for demanding his own attorney, Charles Garry, to defend him.  I followed the trial with intense interest, sympathetic to the defendants who had protested against the Vietnam War.

James bowled a 440 series and later Dave’s family came over for Chinese food and gaming.  Sunday I watched the Bulls lose to the Clippers despite 29 points from Serbian rookie Niko Mirotic.  He reminded me of my favorite former Bull, Toni Kukich, from the town of Split that I visited while participating in a conference on Pluralism in Dubrovnik, then part of communist Yugoslavia.  Now Europeans in the NBA are commonplace, but 20 years ago it was unusual.

Anne Tyler’s twentieth novel, “A Spool of Blue Thread,” deals with family commitment and contains a description of Halloween decorations reminiscent of John Updike at his best.  Tyler wrote:

“Years ago, when the children were small, Abby had started a tradition of hanging a row of ghosts down the length of the front porch every October.  There were six of them.  Their heads were made of white rubber balls tied up in gauzy white cheesecloth, which trailed nearly to the floor and wafted in the slightest breeze.  The whole front of the house took on a misty, floating look.  On Halloween the trick-or-treaters would have to make their way through diaphanous veils, the older ones laughing but the younger ones on the edge of panic, particularly if the night was windy and the cheesecloth was lifting and writhing and wrapping itself around them.”

After Abby died, hubby Red decided to move out of the family house, but the grandkids wanted the ghosts up one more time.  Tyler wrote:

“So the ghosts were brought forth one final time from their paper-towel carton in the attic, and Stem climbed up on a ladder to hang them from the row of brass hooks screwed into the porch ceiling.  Up close, the ghosts looked bedraggled.  They were due for one of their periodic costume renewals, but nobody had the time for that with everything else that was going on.”

Ray Smock passed on a quote from Philip Wylie’s “Generation of Vipers” (1942) about the selfishness and arrogance of members of Congress, which ended: “The appalling stupidity of these men, highlighted by the ferocious peril of these hours, is the exact measure of the stupidity of the people in our states, cities, towns, and villages.  When we condemn them, which we rightly do with nearly every dispatch concerning their multifarious and nonsensical agenda, we condemn ourselves.”  I responded: “All I remember about ‘Generation of Vipers’ is Wylie's pejorative description of Momism and how much that term rankled my mother.  Between the blatant gerrymandering and the absurdity of populous states like California and New York having the same Senate representation as Alaska and Montana, no wonder Republican assholes control Congress despite a majority of voters having favored Democratic candidates.”
 Downtown Philadelphia by Leelee Devenney

Dog-sitting for a cousin in downtown Philadelphia, Leelee Minehart Devenney spotted a sign at the site of the 1856 Republican National Convention that nominated John Fremont to run against my “Uncle Jimmy,” James Buchanan.  I noted: “Three summers when in college, thinking I wanted to be a lawyer, I was a law firm ‘mail room boy’ and roamed downtown Philly delivering letters and documents.  Pepper, Hamilton and Scheetz (known as pepper, ham and cheese) was right across from the Union League, a midget amidst giant skyscrapers.  Ten years ago I went looking for 3 Penn Center Plaza, where my father worked for Penn Salt Company, and had a devil of a time finding it.”

Here are the lead quotes for three Valparaiso University Welcome Project site oral histories about transgenders.  For “Why Do You Look Like Such a Little Boy”: “They’ll say, ‘Well, it’s fine, I just don’t want to hear about it.”  For Valpo Needs To Try Harder”: “Not all trans people want a surgery; they just want to be seen as the gender they’re presenting as.”  For “Going By My Initials”: “A lot of people don’t know what that (transgender) is here.”

Prior to speaking about “Peyton Place” (1956) by Grace Metalious, I told Nicole Anslover’s class that, contrary to stereotypes about the 1950s being an Age of Innocence before the dawn of the Sexual Revolution, there was much public fascination with sex.  Evidence of this includes the media frenzy over Christine Jorgensen’s sex change, the successful launching of Playboy, and the fascination over sex researcher Alfred Kinsey.  “Peyton Place,” originally rejected by more than a dozen publishing houses until a woman CEO realized its worth, sold 32 million copies and remained on the New York Times best-seller list for more than a year.  It spawned a sequel, two movies, and a nighttime soap opera starring Ryan O’Neil and Mia Farrow.  The phrase “Peyton Place” entered the lexicon, as in, “This town is a regular Peyton Place.”  Nicole compared the popularity of “Peyton Place” to “Fifty Shades of Grey,” and I speculated that it appealed primarily to teens and middle-age women who love romance novels that push the boundaries.  A rebel, Metalious eschewed make-up and fancied flannel shirts, at least until becoming rich and famous.  Sadly the notoriety led to alcoholism, and she died at age 39 of cirrhosis of the liver. 

I passed around my Fifties Shavings, “Rah Rahs and Rebel Rousers,” which contains this excerpt from “Peyton Place”:

Her fingertips traced a pattern down the side of his face, and with her mouth almost against his she whispered, “I didn’t know it could be like this.”
She could not lie still under his hands.
“Anything,” she said.  “Anything.  Anything.”
“I love this fire in you.  I love I when you have to move.”
“Don’t stop.”
“Here?  And here?  And here?
“Yes.  Oh, yes.  Yes.”

Discussing Betty Friedan’s “The Feminine Mystique,” Nicole noted that “the Mother of Modern Feminism” took flak for dwelling on white, college-educated housewives and disparaging those homemakers who found fulfillment in being stay-at-home mothers (a phrase Jeopardy still uses to describe contestants).  After discussing the scandalous over-prescribing of tranquilizers to depressed housewives suffering from, in Friedan’s words, “the problem that has no name,” Nicole played “Mother’s Little Helper” (1966) by the Rolling Stones, whose chorus goes:

“Doctor please, some more of these
Outside the door, she took four more
What a drag it is getting old.”

With the BP strike in its third week, the assassination of Vladimir Putin’s critic Boris Nemtsov sparking mass protests, and Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu interfering with American foreign policy by addressing Congress on bonehead John Boehner’s invitation, the media was obsessed by efforts to catch two fleeing llamas and whether a dress looked to be white and gold or blue and black.

Whenever I see a bookcase in a photo, I try to read the titles and fantasize that one of mine is among them.  Voila!  Brenda Love’s shot of her and Sam’s cat above their bookcase reveals my pink Steel Shavings (volume 42) lying on its side.

In the category “Literary Characters” Jeopardy had a question about Kurt Vonnegut, asking who wrote about Kilgore Trout and Eliot Rosewater.  “Final Jeopardy” was also right up my alley, asking who started a book with these lines: “We were somewhere around Barstow on the edge of the desert when the drugs took hold.”  All three contestants recognized it was Dr. Hunter S. Thompson from “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.”

At the library I picked up CDs by Death Cab for Cutie (“Codes and Keys”) and Elton John (Greatest Hits).  Elton’s showmanship during the 1970s harked back to Liberace and inspired Boy George, George Michael, and virtually all contemporary artists who do stadium tours.  Like tennis star Billie Jean King, he bravely admitted to being gay and even wrote “Philadelphia Freedom” for Billie Jean’s pro tennis team.  Someone who caught his Las Vegas act complained it was too expensive, too brief, and too glitzy.  WTF?  I’d pay any price to catch Elton live, even if just for 90 minutes, and expect nothing less than glitzy.

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