January 20, 2021

The end.

Breathed a big sigh of relief this morning when our fearless leader stepped aboard Air Force One for the last time. Speaking only for myself, this man’s tweets for the last four years have been like having an eternal chain saw revving in the back of the house. At first you think you can tune it out, but the noise continues to rise and fall, worming its way into your cortex until you can think of nothing but how to get away from it.

It wasn’t just the unpleasant tweets, it was their malice, their relentless repetition, and the dull stupidity of their messages that bored into my skull to the point that I scanned the news every morning for a signal that it would end. Like counting the minutes until my root canal was over.

Somebody was running a chainsaw in our back yard for five hours last week while I was trying to write. Eventually I resorted to hiding in the boiler room of my home—the most oppressive, bleak and dimly-lit room—simply because it was the quietest. So many of us were already house-bound and isolated from the Covid-19 pandemic. He gave us no relief.

In his last week of disgrace, after the January 6th attack on the Capitol, it became clear that this man was more in love with being President than doing the job. He retreated to stew about his electoral defeat, shunned even by his abettors in Congress, unable to tweet, unwilling to work.

It would make a great play or opera except for the necessity that the protagonist experiences a moment of self-realization in the last act. Every fictional despot has one. Not this guy.

I predict that he will be forgotten quickly. Less so, his damage to the democracy. His coddling of white supremacists. His lies. Congress will try to pass barriers to some of the things he did, but the embers of hatred are here, and unless we’re vigilant, someone else will fan them.

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NEW PAINTINGS

I’m trying to finish a new children’s book. This one’s about rats. But more on that, later. Here are some new paintings:

Paul Beatty, brilliant author of the comic novel, “The Sellout”
A quick portrait of Alexie Navalny.
I had made several disastrous attempts at painting Benjamin Franklin; the man had an oddly-shaped face, and my experience with faces kept leading me towards making his face more like other faces I’d painted—which wasn’t particularly true to Franklin. So this one looks like a mix of Phillip Roth and Franklin, and successfully evokes neither man.
So it goes.

Thursday, November 19, 2020

Waving the flag at Grand Army Plaza, Brooklyn

Almost two weeks ago, we were walking down the street when a woman shrieked loudly from the window of a nearby brownstone in our Brooklyn neighborhood. My wife told me to check the news, convinced that something important had happened. People began applauding on the sidewalks, yelling, cheering, and passing cars began honking frantically. I checked my phone. The New York Times had announced that Biden was declared President by the Associated Press. It wasn’t just in Brooklyn. Joyful celebration had broken out in cities all over the country. Biden not only won the popular vote by 5 million, he had gathered enough electoral votes in Pennsylvania to render Trump the loser. A massive street party erupted around the arch at Brooklyn’s Grand Army Plaza. There were people cheering, dancing, musicians on drums and brass instruments, and the giddy communal joy you only see among strangers relieved of a shared burden. It felt as if a war was over.

Except that it wasn’t.

Although Biden’s win was confirmed by state ballot officials in all fifty states, our fearless leader refuses to acknowledge it. Donald Trump was brooding in the White House, refusing to concede, insisting by tweet that he won and hellbent on exerting his influence to turn reality in his favor. When he tried to claim victory at a White House press conference, the networks switched him off. His statements were incorrect, mistaken, and downright lies. He knew better and all sentient beings around him knew it, too. Well . . . perhaps that term, sentient, requires qualification. The majority of Republican lawmakers in DC didn’t acknowledge Biden’s win, and many of Trump’s supporters appear to believe that he won, too.

The effort by our liar-in-chief to make facts—especially the hard facts of a ballot count—ethereal and inconclusive has been a success at least among his ardent supporters and the enablers riding his coattails (that’s you, Mitch McConnell). Again, his toxic influence over the country for the last four years has attempted to destroy another pillar of democracy: the election.

Since that day, the newspapers and other news outlets report that President-elect Biden has been putting together his staff-members, and assembling initiatives to deal with the Coronavirus crisis, which, as of today, has killed at least a quarter of a million Americans (today it killed 1900 Americans in 24 hours). Two different vaccines have been developed, and the Biden administration wants to prepare for their distribution, but there’s an obstacle. The Trump administration will not concede that he has lost and refuses to let Biden’s team begin the transition by gaining access to vital information about Covid vaccination policies and protocols. You would think saving American lives would be important to the pro-life President, but apparently not.

What can be done when a President goes into hiding from the truth (and from his job), as this one has? Who can tell him to do his job and stop sulking? Aside from a few trips to play golf, Trump has occupied his time doing little but settling a few scores by firing people who disagreed with him. For a man who thrives on being seen in public appearances, the ‘daylight’ that the election delivered appears to be as toxic to him as it would be to a vampire. It has been suggested that he put on his “big boy pants” and concede, but what we have on our hands is a President who would rather litigate when the truth comes at him from fifty directions. So, that’s what he’s doing.

By the time these vaccines begin to reach the general public, it will likely be the spring of 2021, which means that Donald Trump’s unwillingness to deal with Covid-19 like a leader who heeds science and the advice of experienced professionals has cost every single American a year out of her or his life. A year of panic. A year of lost loved ones. A year of missed school and lost childhood and estrangement from friends, security, worry, economic crisis and cultural stagnation.

And now he refuses to leave.

Tuesday, September 1, 2020

SUBWAY2020First day back on the subway train, and oh, boy! Never saw such a clean train before, and never felt so nervous as the train car got crowded, which it did around 4:45 on a Tuesday afternoon.

This is the new subway. Everybody wearing a mask. Well . . . sort of. There was a dude at the end of the car with his nose hanging over the top of his mask. There’s always somebody like that. Usually a man. Filled with the conviction that he’s performing a public service by keeping his mouth covered while his nose can breathe free. Perhaps he’s only breathing in? Perhaps he’s mastered a technique I crafted as a kid when I had a nosebleed—to breath in through my nose and out through my mouth.

 

Thursday, August 20, 2020

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Family dinner with precautions

Greetings from Coronavirusland! We went up north, to Maine for a month and a half to see if we could work in the countryside, but it was difficult. You can’t stop thinking about a plague (even when the butterflies cluster over the echinacea). When you climb up a mountain and pass people on a narrow trail not wearing masks, you fumble and curse to yourself. After one fantastic hike, we sat by the lake to eat, and had to throw on our masks when about eight people gathered uncomfortably near us to take pictures of the view.

Some of the local East Blue Hill folk were wearing masks (indeed, some insisted upon it), but others were offended. The lady at the post office didn’t wear a mask, and kept trying to talk to me through the hole under her plexiglass screen. We ran into a few individuals who felt that they lived too far from the disease to be affected by it. They felt insulted that we sat six feet apart from them at a dinner table. “There’s nothing wrong with me; I would know.” It is very hard to absorb the notion of an asymptomatic infection. Perfectly intelligent people get flummoxed by having to put the risk of infection ahead of a personal relationship. “But we’re friends, I’m sure none of us have it,” was a common logical trap.

This week, we returned to find New York had one of the lowest infection and death rates in the country. Restaurants were open along 7th Avenue and 5th Avenue in Park Slope, putting tables in the street where the parking spaces used to be. The rule is to wear your mask until you’re served, but we saw this rule broken everywhere. Keep it on when you’re not eating or drinking. We went to a favorite restaurant in Fort Greene last night, outdoors on the street, tables six feet apart. Sunset and steak frites. Patrons brought their dogs and puppies. The wine list was limited—stock was low; it was clear the restaurant was struggling to get back on its feet. Still, my first steak in six months was pretty good.

The NY Times reports 173,095 mortalities in the United States today, mostly in the south and midwest.

All the novels I read about people living during periods of turmoil and flux, whether wars, or insurrections, have been coming back to me. I understand the tone in a way I didn’t before. Time, for example, is defined differently during a crisis. There was the ‘before’ and there’s the awful ‘now’ and the doubtful ‘next year.’ People who were fine pre-Covid are rattled and unsure, now. Businesses one considered to be stable been driven into the ground. That changeability is unnerving. The lack of ease in conversations with friends and brief chats on the street is another symptom of crisis. Even talk of next week is cautious, because another bomb may drop in the newspaper headlines. ‘Who knows what’s going to happen when winter comes,’ is a common phrase. We are warned by epidemiologists and pundits about an infection spike when we can no longer be outdoors. Students who went to college two weeks ago are being sent home. Cities that promised onsite schooling are reconsidering. Everything is up in the air.

City people have moved out to the suburbs, fed up with their four-walled lives, or fearful of increased crime. The video-economy is here, although with caveats. My son won’t be taking college classes by Zoom. It doesn’t work for him. Human contact is more than preferable, it is vital.

 

July 22, 2020

F43E327C-EDA3-4B7C-91F8-C8CB8CC3D243This entry is for a future reader, ten years from now. First, welcome! Congratulations to you, brave voyager, for surviving the Covid19 epidemic of 2020. We have already lost over a 140,000 Americans (and half a million residents of the world) to this disease. We expect to lose many more because of the inability of our leader’s administration to combat a crisis that it had been warned and prepared for by countless scientists, doctors and epidemiologists.

Even after the first 35,000 people died in New York State, many governors of other states refused to compel their residents to wear masks, which have, as of this writing, been found to be the best way to reduce the spread of the disease.

I’m sure, you, dear reader, have other things on your mind. By this time, the ocean levels have risen, and reduced a considerable portion of the Eastern United States land area. It is also likely that the electric car has become the dominant form of transportation, and solar and wind power have eclipsed the use of coal and other fossil fuels.

I congratulate you on other advances. I’m sure, as a result of the Covid19 crisis, the United States has established medical coverage for all of its residents. Cheers, also, for the success you have had closing the vast disparities between the way poor people, people of color and caucasian Americans are treated by the Justice department, Congress, and society at large. I’m very pleased to know that the employees of police departments across the nation have truly become well-trained officers of peace, who respect black and white people equally. Congratulations for the truth and reparations commission that has helped millions of people across the United States come to reclaim and accept its origin as a slave nation.

Last, I would like to whisper my gratitude to you for electing a President who cares about the betterment of her citizens rather than her next election. I have no doubt she is a figure of admirable achievement, quick to reward a good idea, eager to roust out the corrupt and disavow sycophants. It is also impressive that she was elected by a majority of the population. Her initiative to unite the world’s nations to combat climate change, and improve the lives of people in every corner of the globe will make America a nation to be admired for the first time in ten years.

As to the repeated petition for a pardon by the only President ever sent to serve jail time, I hope that your current President takes into account his administration’s mistreatment of thousands of incarcerated immigrants who were torn from their children during his short four year term and never found their parents again.

 

Sunday, May 28, 2020

Got caught in a drenching shower yesterday during a march in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. T played her drum with some stalwart Batala musicians while I marched alongside with this painting of Breonna Taylor.

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The photo was taken long after the march was over; we were about to get in the car and the painting was wet and about to collapse in my hands. My sour look is probably because of wet underwear from the thunderstorm.

The portrait didn’t quite come out the way I had intended (sometimes a picture has its own motive, much like a character in a story). In her  photos online, her face is rounder, younger, less ambivalent, and a lot of the pictures people have drawn are more joyful. I saw something else in her eyes, and it lingered in every sketch I did. Eventually, despite every effort to make her look more like her selfies, I surrendered to the face that seemed to want to be in the portrait. Weird.

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Monday, June 22, 2020

IMG_9096What a stinker of a year! 2020 has earned its place in the history books. Take your pick of a handful of crises: presidential impeachment, rising sea levels, a record five straight hottest summers in history, a worldwide pandemic that has killed 120,000 Americans in 3-1/2 months, a federal government in utter disarray, and police hammering and brutalizing citizens who chose to march against racism.

One bright note:  people are coming together to fight the rampant inequalities that exist between whites and people of color.  It is an exciting, hopeful time. There is much to be changed, and a big opportunity to make important strides before the momentum fades.

In this post I’m concerned about the efforts people are making that is regressive. Specifically, I’m afraid that if we try to correct the wrongs of the past by abolishing the evidence, we risk a kind of collective, self-serving amnesia.

loserOver recent weeks, a lot of confederate statues and monuments have been torn down. This week, statues of slave owners like Andrew Jackson and Thomas Jefferson have been taken down. I sympathize with the outrage behind this destruction, but I think it’s a mistake to tear them down. Tag them for what they are, give them context, place them in perspective, and if necessary, consign them to a special place for monuments of their kind, drape them in black with a plaque explaining why they were erected, but don’t erase them.

Erasing the past is a mistake; we need evidence of our errors, no matter how painful. How else do subsequent generations avoid our mistakes. Hiding statues of slaveowners and traitors simply hides the evidence. Any historian will tell you that it’s the privilege of victors, but not a solution to error or atrocity. Don’t get me wrong, I’d like to see a hundred statues of African Americans erected for every confederate statue in existence. Let’s put Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman on monuments that directly face Washington and Jefferson. Let them stand in opposition; the national dialogue will be richer for it.

But if you remove the evidence, some will deny that it ever existed. We keep Auschwitz, Dachau, and Anne Frank’s house on display for that reason. Andrew Jackson deserves the same moral scrutiny, with a new plaque that details his infamy.

Our children and grandchildren need to see those statues so that they don’t make those same mistakes. And I’m not just talking about the mistakes of the Confederacy; let’s include the mistakes of the victors—those who negotiated peace, but permitted the south to erect statues of its own generals and establish Jim Crow laws. It was a mistake to permit a flag that defended slavery to wave from any statehouse flagpole in the Union, let alone to be waved at NASCAR races or from the tailgates of pickup trucks. To be blunt, the Union, the supposed ‘good guys’ of the Civil War, allowed the dying embers of racism to be fanned and kindled long after the war was won. This mistake should be made as obvious as any other atrocity.

Perhaps, if the North hadn’t permitted the South to erect statues to their generals, flown the flag of their treacherous cause, written laws that subjugated and validated the mistreatment, murder, and economic manipulation of millions of African Americans all the way to the twenty-first century (over seven generations), we wouldn’t need to protest for their rights one hundred and fifty-five years after .

 

Monday, June 8, 2020

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The winds at Grand Army Plaza in Brooklyn blew wildly yesterday. It’s been two weeks since George Floyd’s killing, and the Mayor has dialed back the police presence and let the people come out. There was a feeling of hope, here, that something good could come out of this.

I am well aware that it takes more than showing up at a few demonstrations to bring sight to the blind. It takes a commitment to see my flaws, and a great deal of shame and discomfort with all the ways I make those invisible around me who deserve respect. If we as a culture succeed in bringing about change, it will be done with pain, revelation, and truths that won’t sit well. That’s the price of a revolution.

Still, I’m glad to see so many people on the streets. And signs. Children with BLM placards. Young white adults carrying signs against police brutality . . . those least likely to experience institutional (or personal) prejudice. I hope they mean it; and will do so in three months; six months, two years, and ten years down the road.

It’s human nature to hope for big changes. It’s also human nature to get distracted and complacent. If there’s anything good to be said for this pandemic, it brought the country to its knees, a good place to see who else has been in that unfortunate position for generations.

NPR reported that the Minneapolis city council proposed abolishing their local police force. This will, I’m sure, inspire the conservative pundits to call it the end of civilization. But it’s not the end at all.

Many people of color will reply that it’s the beginning.