Thursday, September 30, 2010

Lower West Side Story

It began on a Tuesday in September, as the warmth of an autumn sun, rising in an azure sky, tempered the chill of the crisp morning air. It was just before 9:00 am when the daily routines of the lower west side New Yorker were disrupted by the over head roar of an unusually low flying commercial airliner. Looking towards the cloudless sky, pedestrians paused to shade their eyes from the sun's rays, and followed the projectile path of the plane as it crashed into the north tower of the World Trade Center. Any speculation of the incident being an accident was proven incorrect when a second airliner hit the south tower fifteen minutes later.

America was under attack by a squadron of al-Qaeda suicide terrorists who had hijacked the 2 commercial airliners. Less than an hour from the moments of impact, both buildings collapsed, killing all those on board the planes, many of those who were called to aid, and those unable to escape the containment within the buildings by the functions of their morning rituals.

The day would be forever immortalized as 9/11 and the grounds left in the carnage sacredly decreed. In the final tally, 90 countries lost citizens of varying cultures, ethnicity, religion and sex. Over 9 years have elapsed since the morning of that human tragedy, and many are still haunted by the memories of the day, with untold experiences that are still sounding in the consciousness of their daily lives.

It woulds seem impossible to imagine what it would be like speaking by phone to a loved one trapped inside the burning building, while watching at home on television, and witnessing the smoke billowing from the top floors of the towers like that from a factory smokestack. It would seem impossible to imagine the sensation, as the phone connection suddenly goes dead, and the television image shows the buildings toppling to the ground in a cloud of murky dust that scatters across lower Manhattan.

The anniversaries of 9/11 serve a silent unity with those personally affected; a unity we as on lookers will never understand. We can only acknowledge these tragedies as those shared by wives and husbands, parents and children, men and woman, blacks and whites, Christians and Jews, Hindus and Muslims. Like the populist of the lower west side, the victims of 9/11 were multinational, of different backgrounds and ideals, both secular and monastic. It would be disingenuous for America to show respect only for the suffering individuals who wear the same cloth as is weaved in our own robes.

Many have disgraced the sanctity of 9/11 by showcasing the event for political agendas; none as dispassionately as Carl Paladino. In his hopes to inspire voters, he declared by emphatic statement that a mosque or Islamic center should not be allowed to be located near where- "the dust that carried human remains was located around ground zero."

His statement suggests that the building to be renovated for the project, which lies 2 blocks from the site where the nearly 3000 innocent perished- 70 of which were followers of the Islamic faith- should not be allowed to progress. It's hard to believe that a man wanting to govern the people of New York- whose heritage is as mixed in cultures as that of the lower west side- would disapprove of a center to be constructed for the benefit of his contingency.

As stated in an earlier post, America should be seen like that of the one portrayed in the vision of former President Ronald Reagan. Like the lower west side of Manhattan, America should be seen as- "a shining city on a hill...teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace."

We as a society of sensible people understand the 19 al-Qaeda terrorists were responsible for the events of 9/11. Their actions were supported by the Taliban, and not by all religions of Islam observing Sunnah. The terrorist's agenda does not represent an accepted jihadi against Christian values by all sects of the Muslim faith. To accept this thinking would be like accepting the belief that the Klu Klux Klan represent all Christian's acceptance of white supremacy and their adversity towards all other ethnicity. It would be like saying West Side Story symbolized the Jets representation of all white Anglo Saxons ideals, and the Sharks represented the values of all Latino immigrants.

Candidates like Carl Paladino should not be elected to serve a people wanting to live in harmony and peace. His claim to take over the Islamic center by eminent domain- if elected Governor of New York- is not well thought out, but neither is most of the rhetoric provided by the many members of the mid term Tea Party candidates. There is no Bernstein orchestral arrangement, or Sondheim lyric that could enhance the message of these mid term candidates, because their words often resonate without substance: there is simply nothing to enhance.

We as a people need to stop the hate rhetoric; stop the avocation against progressive thoughts and ideals; stop the stagnation by formulating new achievements in the enhancement of our citizens minds, spirits, and lives. We must- as a society-
inspire to make America the Republic a utopia radiating with enlightenment and promise. A new social order will emerge from the ashes of 9/11, and an existence will prevail on the lower west side of New York: "teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace."

Tonight; tonight.
The world was full of light.
With suns and moons all over the place.
Tonight; tonight.
The world was wild and bright-
Going mad, shooting sparks into space.
Today, the world was just an address,
A place for me to live in,
No better than alright.
But, here you are, and what was just a world is a star.

Stephen Sondheim

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Seas the Day!

The Congo Square Players were still playing sold out performances every Friday and Saturday during the first week of February. The inn was still opened on the off nights of Wednesday and Thursday, as Timmy played host behind the bar to the locals. One of the Wednesday evening regulars was a customs inspector from the New York docks. His shared accounts of his existence reminded Timmy of his former life in Liverpool, and the affinity of their experiences created a kinship. The custom inspector's name was Herman Melville.

Herman led an interesting life. He was a cabin boy on a whaling vessel and served in the U.S. Navy. He was a bookkeeper in a general store in Honolulu, Hawaii, and lived among cannibals in the Marquesas Islands. He wrote of his experiences, among the cannibals, in two novels entitled Typee and a sequel Omoo. Both books were well received and Herman was convinced he was to prosper as a literary personality. However, future projects did not gain the same recognition among the critics and Herman never achieved constructive fame as a writer.

He shared the same enthusiasm many held for the attributions of artists like Sarah Taggart Benson, and he admired her for achieving a popular following during her lifetime. Herman felt fame had alluded him, and that his talents were somehow misconstrued by the public. He accepted their ignorance as a function of the irrationalities of the cosmos.

Anxious to meet with Sarah, but fully aware of her delicate condition, Herman instead asked Timmy if he could one day meet with Justin. One late afternoon, while Sarah was resting peacefully, Justin went downstairs to the tavern to meet Herman Melville. No one besides Timmy was present, and the three sat at the bar immersed in stimulating conversation

In an earlier post- Resurrection from the Mind-Forged Manacles- we learned that Transcendentalism believed spiritual intuition transcended empirical data. An extension of enlightenment was developing during this movement, which acknowledged the intuitive link of the common sense with the common man. It was from the extension of this tenet that one of America's greatest novels was created. Inspired by the idea that fiction would describe history more effectively than written essay, and encouraged by Nathanial Hawthorne to explore the metaphysics of life in the character's of the story, Herman Melville wrote the novel: Moby Dick; or, The Whale.

He constructed a narrative of both empirical data and spiritual intuition, and although the novel was not successfully accepted during his lifetime, it stands as one of the most popular epic masterpieces ever written. The acceptance of the novel was much like that of its author. Both were considered peculiar and nonconforming, and were scrupulously avoided for qualities many others believed to be indicative of genius.

Melville is seen as a regular at the basement tavern of Benson's House, a place called The Benson Inn. He becomes an accepted member of The Urban Romantic Movement: a group of young artist rebelling against the conformity of Victorian nomenclature. Their gathering becomes the nucleus of pop culture, and the musical performances on the platform stage of the tavern are the origins of the music that became Rock 'n' Roll.

Although both the movement and the tavern are fictitious, I attempted to portray a setting where free thinking was allowed and true genius evolved. It was the symposium of the democratic voice, an existence where progressive ideas became reality. Melville contributed to these undefined expressions, unlimited by labels and unrestricted by genres. Like Edison's inventions, the concepts deviated from cookie- cutting structures, and was allowed to flourish as contributions to the enlightenment of the people.

In literature, the use of tactical sensationalism is often seen as the accepted way of luring the reader onto the pages of a book. The process can be seen as giving the development of a quality storyline a secondary consideration. In music, the staging affects are often regarded as the stimulant for attracting an audience. The attention to this detail can be seen as proposing the allure of a well written song insignificant.

However, the Herman Melville's of the world often don't subscribe to such disciplines, and are sometimes rejected or misunderstood. Their importance in enlightening society and correcting the trend towards the Dumifying of America should be recognized, and their works be given proprietary consideration.

I deliberately placed Herman Melville's character in the paradox of being a member of the movement that emerged from the accepted works of a young female artist in the 1870's. Sarah Benson was talented- as was Melville- and she also inherited a public appeal that defied social protocol. Yet, she become famous, while Melville lived a life nearing indigence. Was his fate- as Melville suggested- a function of the irrationalities of the cosmos?

Before another YA movie is sought about a young girl's struggle to be accepted as a serious lobbyist on K Street, or a Sci- Fi thriller is read about a super sleuth investigating a murder in a dystopian set village, read the 567 pages of Moby Dick. The heritage of pop culture began with the contributions of pioneers like Herman Melville. Although his success was posthumous, his legacy is infinite.

One of my favorite chapters is: Chapter lxxiv - THE SPERM WHALE'S HEAD - CONTRASTED VIEW.

"Now, from this peculiar sideway position of the whale's eyes, it is plain that he can never see an object which is exactly ahead, no more than he can one exactly astern. in a word, the position of the whale's eyes corresponds to that of a man's ears; and you may fancy, for yourself, how it would fare with you, did you sideways survey objects through your ears."

Herman Melville

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Christine in Wonderland

Chapter VIII
A Mad Tea Party
Adaptions from Lewis Carroll

There was a large party table set in front of the Capital, and the March Army and the Gingrinch who stole America were having tea on it: an Alaskan Barracuda was sitting between them, reading notes scribbled on the palm of her hand. "Very uncomfortable for the Barracuda, thought Christine, only, as it sleeps in rational thought, I suppose it doesn't mind.

"Take some money," the March Army said in an encouraging tone.

Christine looked all around the party table, but there was nothing on it but tea."I don't see any money, she remarked"

"There isn't any," said the March Army.

"Then it wasn't very civil of you to offer it," said Christine angrily.

"It wasn't very civil of you to sit down at our party table without being invited, said the March Army.

"I didn't know it was your party,' said Christine; `it's laid for a great many more than three.'

"You should learn not to make personal remarks to provocative questions," the Barracuda said raising her eyes from her palm studies; "the liberal media is very rude."

The Gingrinch opened his eyes very wide on hearing this; but all he said was, "Why is a liberal like a writing-desk?"

"Come, we shall have some fun now!' thought Christine. "I'm glad they've begun asking riddles.--I believe I can guess that," she added aloud.

"Do you mean that you think you can find out the answer to it?" said the March Army.

"Exactly so," said Christine.

"Then you should say what you mean," the March Army went on.

"I do," Christine hastily replied; "at least--at least I mean what I say--that's the same thing, you know."

"Not the same thing a bit!" said the Gingrinch. "You might just as well say that,'The people vote for whom they want' is the same thing as 'The people want for whom they vote.'

"You might just as well say," added the March Army, "that 'Conservatives want what they get' is the same thing as 'Conservatives get what they want!'

`You might just as well say," added the Barracuda, who seemed to be talking in her sleep, "that ' Congress controls the money' is the same thing as ' money controls Congress!'

"It is the same thing with you," said the Gingrinch, and here the conversation dropped, and the party sat silent for a minute, while Christine thought over all she could remember about liberals and writing-desks, which wasn't much.

Christine felt dreadfully puzzled. The Tea Party's remarks seemed to have no sort of meaning in it, and yet it was certainly English. "I don't quite understand you," she said, as politely as she could.

"Have you guessed the riddle yet?" the Gingrinch said, turning to Christine again.

"No, I give it up," Christine replied: "What's the answer?"

"I haven't the slightest idea," said the Gingrinch.

"Nor I," said the March Army.

Christine sighed wearily. "I think you might do something better with the time," she said, "than waste it in asking riddles that have no answers."

"If you knew Time as well as I do," said the Gingrinch, "you wouldn't talk about wasting it. It's him."

"I don't know what you mean," said Christine.

"Of course you don't!" the Gingrinch said, tossing his head contemptuously. "I dare say you never even spoke to Time!"

"Perhaps not," Christine cautiously replied: "but I know time is on my side until the November elections."

"Ah! that accounts for it," said the Gingrinch. "He won't stand beside you. Now, if you only kept on good terms with him, he'd do almost anything you liked with the clock. For instance, suppose it were seven o'clock on the morning of the elections, just time for you to vote for yourself only: you'd only have to whisper a hint to Time, and round goes the clock in a twinkling! Nine o'clock, voting booths closed!"

"That would be grand, certainly,' said Christine thoughtfully. "Is that how you manage?"

The Gingrinch shook his head mournfully. `Not I!' he replied. `We quarrelled near the end of the last administration--just before he went mad, you know--' (pointing with his tea spoon at the March Army,) `--it was at the final dinner given by the First Lady from Midland, and I had to sing

'Twinkle, twinkle, Lone Star State!
WE win when we deregulate!'

"You know the song, perhaps?"

"I've heard something like it," said Christine.

"It goes on, you know," the Gingrinch continued, `in this way:--

'Up above the United States,
Cries from Tea Party delegates.
Twinkle, twinkle--'

Here the Barracuda shook itself, and began singing in its sleep `Twinkle, twinkle, twinkle, twinkle--' and went on so long that they had to pinch it to make it stop.

"Well, I'd hardly finished the first verse,' said the Gingrinch, `when the First Lady jumped up and bawled out, "He's murdering the party! Tax his estate!"

"How dreadfully savage!" exclaimed Christine.

"And ever since that," the Gingrinch went on in a mournful tone, "he won't do a thing I ask! It's always December 16,1773, now."

A bright idea came into Christine's head. "Is that the reason so many tea-things are put out here?" she asked.

"Yes, that's it," said the Gingrinch with a sigh.

"Suppose we change the subject,' the March Army interrupted, yawning. "I'm getting tired of this. I vote the young lady tells us a story."

"I'm afraid I don't know one," said Christine, rather alarmed at the proposal.

"Then the Barracuda shall!" they both cried. "Wake up, Barracuda!" and they pinched it on both sides at once.

The Barracuda slowly opened her eyes. "I wasn't asleep," she said in a hoarse, feeble voice: "I heard every word you fellows were saying."

"Tell us a story!" said the March Army.

"Yes, please do!" pleaded Christine.

"And be quick about it," added the Gingrinch, "or you'll be asleep again before it's done."

"Once upon a time there was a little sister," the Barracuda began in a great hurry; "and she lived on campaign contributions--"

"She couldn't have done that, you know," Christine gently remarked; "it would defy social norms."

"So she was,' said the Barracuda; very defiant."

Christine tried to fancy to herself what such an extraordinary way of living would be like, but it puzzled her too much, so she went on: "But why did she live on campaign contributions?"

"Take some more tea," the March Army said to Christine, very earnestly.

"I've had nothing yet,' Christine replied in an offended tone, "so I can't take more."

"You mean you can't take less," said the Gingrinch: "it's very easy to take more than nothing."

"Nobody asked your opinion," said Christine.

"Who's making personal remarks now?" the Gingrinch asked triumphantly.

Christine did not quite know what to say to this: so she helped herself to some tea, and then turned to the Barracuda, and repeated her question. "Why did the little sister live on campaign contributions?"

The Barracuda again took a minute or two to think about it, and then said, "To prove that earnings should not be taxed.'

"That's ridiculous!" Christine was beginning very angrily, but the Gingrinch and the March Army went `Sh! sh!' and the Barracuda sulkily remarked, "If you can't be civil, you'd better finish the story for yourself."

"No, please go on!" Christine said very humbly.

The Barracuda consented to go on. "And so the little sister-- she was learning to speak in public, you know--"

"What did she say to the public?" said Christine, quite forgetting her promise.

"Taxes are wrong," said the Barracuda, without considering at all this time.

Christine did not wish to offend the Barracuda again, so she began very cautiously: "But I don't understand."

"The little sister was a Kenya channeler." The Gingrinch interjected.

"That holds no water!" Christine suggested.

"The English channel holds water." said the March Army.

This answer so confused poor Christine, that she let the Barracuda go on for some time without interrupting it.

"The little sister was learning to speck in public," the Barracuda went on, yawning and rubbing its eyes, for it was getting very sleepy; "and she spoke of taxes on all manner of things--everything that begins with an M--"

"Why with an M?" said Christine.

"Why not?" said the March Army.

Christine was silent.

The Barracuda had closed its eyes by this time, and was going off into a doze; but, on being pinched by the Gingrinch, it woke up again with a little shriek, and went on: "--that begins with an M, such as money, and mansions, and mistresses, and muchness-- did you ever speak publicly against taxes on muchness?"

"Really, now you ask me,' said Christine, very much confused, `I don't think--"

"Then you shouldn't talk," said the Gingrinch.

This piece of rudeness was more than Christine could bear: she got up in great disgust, and walked off; the Barracuda fell asleep instantly, and neither of the others took the least notice of her going, though she looked back once or twice, half hoping that they would call after her: the last time she saw them, they were trying to put the Barracuda into the teapot.

"At any rate I'll never go there again!" said Christine as she picked her way through the wood. "It's the stupidest tea-party I ever was at in all my life!"

Next week I'll return my focus on the characters from Benson's House, with a look at one of the first nonfictional characters introduced in the story; a writer influenced by his life at sea.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Rage against the Empire

William Safire would have certainly criticized my use of the verb dumifying- when addressing the current national culture epidemic as the Dumifying of America. It is certainly a bastardization of the English language. Sorry Ms. Dowd- no intentions to offend, but I don't care. Hey,that's what I do. I'm a self proclaimed scholar of pop culture, entitled to take liberties in shaping the psyche of America with semantic liberty. Isn't that what the America Dream is currently all about? Aren't we told by Tony Robbins that one should not allow intimidation to our importance in life? I possess the ideal expressions of everyman. My adamant pronounced self interests are the defining tenets of the people, and, therefore, all contradictions to my values must be condemned as irrelevant and mocked or, more importantly, eliminated from society.

Bravo Tony Robbins; NLP has awakened the giant within. I am king ding-a-ling; hear me roar!I'm a WASP male, therefore, all other cultures, ethnicity, religions, and sexes must be inferior. I must not cater to learning from opposing values or attributions, for that would compromise my own. I must stay ignorant in order to preserve my superiority. I must not shake hands with the little green man from Mars, for they have come to earth to rape my children and begin a cross breeding that will topple my Tony Robbins endorsed superiority. I hate your Martian ambitions to degrade me and take over my universe.

I'm not suggesting Robbins intentionally set out to advocate this distorted logic. I'm implying regions of America have accepted his celebrity to pattern a distorted logic of their own self avocation. The 41st President didn't help matters much with his "either your wit' us, or ag'in' us" rhetoric. The Dumifying of America has taken hold of the wheel of the machine, as it speeds through the labyrinth of America, with enlightenment and logic, panicking, in the back seat of the vehicle.

I was educated in an elementary school environment, patterned after the Summerhill Academy, where I was taught to break free from coercion. I was encouraged to live life independent of the aspirations of others, including my parents, and was encouraged to challenge authority and test the accountability of absolute truths. It is the road that leads to enlightenment, but along the byways stand critics determined to direct the flow of traffic, who define all pursuits alien to their own as rebellious acts of defiance.

Although my parents were devoted Episcopalians, I'm relieved they weren't rigid disciplinarians of the Bible in the strictest sense. For the principals taught in my school would have violated the commandments of the Lord: Deuteronomy 22; verse 18-21, and I would have assuredly been stoned by the elders of my father's city. I'm also relieved the students of the Dumifying of America have not condemned the Bible for its abomination of their own chosen lifestyles: Leviticus 20; verse 27- don't shave your head; Leviticus 20; verse 28- no tattoo's; Deuteronomy 14; verse 8- no pig roasts; Exodus 2o; verse 10- no football on Sunday. There's lots of violence, avarice, corruption and other misconducts proclaimed in the Old Testament, but I wouldn't want the masterpiece seen thrown into the fire.

It would not be the Christian thing to do.

It is 9-11; nines years from that horrid morning when America's routine was disrupted by senseless acts of violence. It was an attack on our soil; a rage against the empire, but not against the republic. There is a distinction.

Factions in third world countries react violently to America the Empire's global expansion, fearing American dominance will destroy their way of life, while many citizen of those same countries long to gain access to the freedoms of America the Republic. They seek the place former President Reagan described as "the shining city on a hill, built on rocks stronger than oceans, wind-swept, God-blessed, and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace. A city with free ports that hum with commerce and creativity, and if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here."

I believe book burnings have ways of closing those doors.

Those opposing a mosque being built blocks from the site of the 9-11 destruction are wrong. Go home. Build a cathedral across the street from the building; temples next store. Turn the entire Battery Park area into a religious exchange where ideals of enlightenment can be tested and challenged, where new theologies can be spawned and new understandings of God's relationship with man can be mastered. You cannot alter defiance with animosity; passion begets compromise. You cannot champion bigotry with rage; only love can conquer hate. Let us not forget those lost souls of varying cultures, ethnicity, religions, and sexes that were lost on this day nine years ago. Let us remember them, this day, in the spirit of peace!

"No one is wise enough or good enough to mould the character of any child. What is wrong with our sick, neurotic world is that we have been moulded, and an adult generation that has seen two great wars and seems about to launch a third should not be trusted to mould the character of a rat"
A.S. Neill