La Misérable

Amid the recent fanfare Howard Schultz’s adroit publicists have stirred up around Starbucks’ new “We Pay for College” policy, many former critics of the mega-corporation are now waxing downright sycophantic.  Their mission statement – “To inspire and nurture the human spirit – one person, one cup, one neighborhood at a time” – has become a sign of genuine hope for a downtrodden nation.  Youngsters can hope for a better future by signing on with Starbucks, a life without debt, a life where a college education is as simply acquired as working a few hours each week for the Starbuck benefactors then going home and logging on to Arizona State University’s online classroom.  Raise a cup of Joe to the All Powerful Schultz.

But make no mistake, if you work for Starbucks, and if you don’t want to be ruined in the workplace, you must tread carefully.  And if your manager doesn’t like you, even if your manager is incompetent and vindictive, you may be screwed even if you are careful.  But one thing is clear: there are no mistakes that might not be punishable by banishment from Starbucks, and the Corporation is at liberty to deny you so much as a second chance.

Erin took a job with the Astor Street Starbucks in 1997, when she was still a student at NYU.  For four years, she worked for the Corporation, enjoying the work which allowed her to balance her efforts to attend auditions, to study her craft, and to feel useful in the workplace.  She was a cheerleader for Starbucks, and her managers universally loved her.

As she moved about, Erin applied for and easily achieved transfers to other locations.  She worked for a long time in the original Times Square store, which did not have bathrooms or seating but did have long lines and a high level of stress.  Sam excelled as a barista there, and when she moved back to her family home upstate, the company gladly offered her a transfer to her hometown Starbucks.

Still attending auditions in The City, still attending classes at Second City and the like, Erin applied for a shift supervisor position, and the promotion was automatically granted.  For over a year, she worked in that capacity, and she attracted a following of local regulars, who set their Starbucks visits by when she was on duty.  She, her co-workers, her fellow shift supervisors, and her manager got along famously, and they all agreed that they had the best Starbucks team in the country.  Andrew, the Store Manager, averred that they had, to his estimation, the best working team of any kind anywhere.

But Andrew completed his MBA and left Starbucks to take an administrative position in another company.  The regional office rushed into hiring JoEllen, who had recently joined Starbucks from a national clothing chain, and she was vocal from the start about how much she disliked the coffee business.  Her dissatisfaction with her new responsibilities were evident to everyone, but she made Erin her special project.

For reasons Erin was not clear about, JoEllen went out of her way to schedule Erin at exactly the times she requested that she not be put on.  Erin loved to open, but she requested that two days a week, the mornings after her late night classes in New York, she be allowed to work later or to be off.  JoEllen persisted in putting Erin on, and Erin went to work without complaint.  But because Erin was  very critical of everything Erin did, Erin was constantly terrified that she would make a mistake.  Self-fulfilling prophesy.

One morning, after returning from New York in the wee hours, Erin failed to hear her alarm.  When she awoke and realized she was late, she rushed to the store and opened ten minutes late.  She was terrified of JoEllen’s rebuke, as the manager had been increasingly hostile and demeaning in recent days.  She jumped the clock, changed the time, and she signed in on time.

JoEllen did discover the cover-up – a customer had complained that the store had never opened late, and she could not understand why it did so on this one day – and she summarily fired Erin.  “You might have well as dipped your hand into the till and stolen money from the company,” she told Erin.

Erin acknowledged her error.  She tearfully apologized, begged forgiveness, even got down on her knees in wailing supplication.  “I was only trying to stay out of trouble,” she said later.  “I never intended to steal from Starbucks.”  But JoEllen was obdurate.  The firing stood.  She had stolen the equivalent of $.06 from the corporation.

Contrite and miserable for her theft, Erin appealed to her regional manager.  The regional manager apologized to Erin, acknowledged the fact that Erin had had a perfect record for the five years she had worked for Starbucks, congratulated her on her accomplishments as a barista and a shift supervisor, but she told Erin that she was powerless to do anything to reverse the firing.  “The company has a strict policy that Managers have control of their stores, and to that end, the company will uphold any managerial decision, especially a firing for cause.  This is considered a theft.”

Five years of Erin’s work history became unusable.  No one wants to hire a Starbucks reject, but no one will hire a woman with experience-empty years on her resume.    Erin could not find a job.  So she appealed to Corporate Headquarters.

By this time, JoEllen had been fired.  In fact, she was fired just weeks after Erin was leg go.  JoEllen was actually skimming her store’s intake.  So, when Erin turned to the people at Corporate, she included that morsel of information in her letter.

Again, she received a glowing thank you for your service, but you are screwed.  After all, you did steal from Starbucks. We cannot take you back.

The world has not spun evenly for Erin since that day.  She cannot find a job, and she faces enormous, endlessly increasing student debt.  She had to drop out of school entirely because she could no longer afford to be there, and not having the degree has hurt her as well.

“I was stupid,” she says now.  “I never denied that.  But I didn’t do anything malicious, and even an ex-convict can get a job with Starbucks when h/she gets out.  I feel like a Jeanne Valjean! Shouldn’t there be some kind of statue of limitations on how long I have to suffer for this?”

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Bob Ziering: Portrait of the Artist as an Old(er) Man (republished by permission of Catch & Release, The Columbia Journal Online)

Bob P'town “There aren’t a lot of restaurants like this one left in town,” Bob Ziering says, leaning over his lunch.   A glint appears in his eye as he quips in a spot-on Eastern European/Yiddish accent, “So, you think maybe we gonna eat?”  Of course I laugh.  This is how Bobby dispels his basic disdain for talking about himself, and I have asked him some very personal questions about his life and his art.  Whenever he wants to deflect his reluctance to talk, he slips into one of a hundred accents. He has chosen to meet in the Piccolo Café, an intimate little Italian restaurant on the upper west side, where Bobby has lived since the early ‘60’s.  Like Bobby, who was born in 1932, the Piccolo, established in Italy in 1938, has at once an old school charm and a hip vivacity. Piccolo might look like a little, old café, but there’s a robust energy here, and it’s a good foil for Bobby, who looks like he might be getting on in years until he starts to talk – or sing or paint – and you realize he’s younger than any of the hip upper west siders who frequent the Piccolo. I met Bob not long after he moved to this community.  He was, in those days, as he remains today in a more mature way, remarkably handsome, extraordinarily entertaining, unerringly funny. My Uncle Fred, a loud, opinionated Genovese, introduced us at one of the weekly open houses he and my aunt hosted, where copious amounts of delectable food preceded equal servings of delicious music played live or selected from his extensive record collection.  Fred had met Bob through a gay friend, and he loved to point out to us that while he was definitely not attracted to men, if he were, Bobby would be the only man he could ever love. Even then, I understood why. According to Uncle Fred, Bobby sang like Caruso or Bjørling, painted like Rembrandt or Caravaggio and did imitations like Rich Little.  Well, in those days they were imitations like Rich Little; today he does imitations more like a geriatric Jimmy Fallon. In any case, Uncle Fred knew whereof he spoke. “He’s a true Renaissance Man,” Fred would declare in a rasping voice that no one could mimic as well as Bob Ziering.  “A monster talent.” “I’m 80 years old,” Bobby says now.  “I’ve had a great career as an illustrator, I’ve traveled and sung in some wonderful operas.  But no one knows who I really am.  I am working to re-invent myself, and I want to be noticed. I’m still working, still creating, and you’re never too old be discovered.  I just want to be seen!” In truth, Bob has been noticed.  Is still being noticed.  He had a long and storied career as an illustrator, his works featured in advertisements, on book jackets, on posters at the Metropolitan Opera, in The New York Times, all over the place.  And all the while he was working – freelancing –he took time to represent other artists, to study music and voice and sing in the (now defunct) Amato Opera Company, among others. Along the way, he found time to establish himself as a collector: Bob Ziering owns an impressive array of African tribal art, Enrico Caruso memorabilia, classical opera recordings.  Just as impressive is that as busy as Bobby has been, he has never been too busy for friendship, and he has managed to create lifelong friendships that attest to the depth of the man’s humanness.  Ziering is a man who simply commands attention and is anything but obscure. It is true that he has not been very masterful at self-promotion.   “I want to be reborn, “ he says with a laugh; “but I am easily distracted by my many fascinating projects.” The Kiss This is a man who, above all else, communes with the world through his work, and his work is his first love.  He has, in recent years, produced a major body of work, and the subjects are as diverse as the wonders that stimulate Ziering’s imagination. Nowadays, Bob’s work is colorful, expansive; it succeeds the elegantly drawn illustrations that provided Bob with a comfortable income for many years.  At their best,  the illustrations are tributes to Ziering’s profound observations, his remarkable insights, his ability to capture the essence of an idea or a character in the simple but dynamic assembly of lines drawn with pen and ink, and they are reminders of his salient influencers, the likes of Rembrandt van Rijn, Francis Bacon, J.M.W.Turner.  Ziering’s illustrations caught figures in motion and projected whole stories in single images.  http://www.illustrationsource.com/stock/artist/bob-ziering// Bed But the newer work, the work of the past twenty years since he left illustrating, comprise the body of achievement Bob is proudest of.   In the new art, he is able to explore his emotions – universal human emotions – by telling visual tales, which he finds in his fellow humans, in animals, in burned piers and discarded chairs alike. “This woik you should see, dahling,” he whispers slyly, channeling his inner yenta.  “The woik everyone should see.” Silverback Ziering is a serious artist, interested in very serious subjects.  In the 1990’s, during a time of great personal loss, Bob was drawn to the plight of the Mountain Gorilla.  He became obsessed with the idea that mankind would soon render these magnificent beasts extinct. My Future Is In Your Hands In an interview with Nicholas Polities, of Print Magazine, Ziering explained, “The deep feeling of hurt I experienced seemed to fire my passion for expressing loss in terms of the species. . . . Without losing focus on the plight of the gorillas, I was also using it as a metaphor for universal themes of loss, cruelty, inhumanity, and death.”  He spent fifteen years researching, examining, compiling samples from gorilla life, from the foods they ingested and the environments they inhabited to the layering of their skin and the color of their eyes.  He worked to depict them as the complex organisms they are, to dispel the stereotype of the angry, beastly gorilla loner and to show what gentle, social animals they really are.  But he did not flinch from also honestly illustrating moments of aggression and retaliation. Reaching The series is a remarkable body of work and had exhibitions at the Marywood University Art Gallery in Scranton, PA, at the Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago, and at the Central Park Zoo in New York City.  As the Marywood catalog described, the “skillfully rendered images of the majestic and imperiled Mountain Gorilla underscore their endangerment. . . . The artwork is descriptive, suggestive and bold. . .showing subjects that have a poignant familiarity.” So Close The waiter in the Piccolo brings us our soy caffe ‘l ‘attes, and Bob cannot resist the urge to slip back into his accented alter ego.  “You gonna write about my sexy stuff?”  I laugh.  Discussion of some of his newer work still make him the slightest bit uncomfortable. As a child of the pre-boomer generation, Bob Ziering has came late to an acceptance of himself as a sexual being, and he had to learn to accept himself as a gay man, a journey he has given beautifully textured life in his artistically erotic chalk drawings of people on the verge of lovemaking, figures in intimate repose, etc., which have been frequently exhibited by the Leslie Lohman Gallery; three pages Ziering’s work are permanently on display on their website (http://www.leslielohman.org/).   The work is deeply affecting, but it never verges on pornography.   Rather, in the tradition of the great masters, Bob conveys a life seething with sensual stimulation that insinuates sexuality and tantalizes without exploitive titillation. Bob draws his face into a kind of exaggerated squint.  “You look too serious.  Vot’s so serious? “  I tell him that I am just concentrating on hearing the details, understanding how he himself perceives his work, and I am probably responding to the expression on his own face.  “Ya,” he quips now in a mock Dutch accent.  “The face tells all.” It was Rembrandt’s face that inspired another recent series.  Fascinated by the variety of countenances, the unabashed aging in Rembrandt’s self-portraits, Ziering created a series called Rembrandt’s Face, his own interpretations of the artist’s interpretations of self.  It’s a startlingly revealing series, one that illuminates both Bob and his subject in surprising ways.  When I spoke earlier to Miki Marcu, an old friend of Ziering’s, about his work, and she chose the Rembrandt series as one she especially adored. “He decided on REMBRANDT?” She exclaimed.  “What a jump.  What a facility he has as an artist.” Rembrandt Not content to express himself through the animate realm, Bob has looked to what other artists would call still life for two other major series: The Burnt Pier, which studies the thrumming vitality of an abandoned pier on the Hudson near Bob’s UWS home, and the Blue Chair, in which a discarded wicker-back chair veritably dances, reverberating with color and motion. Burning Pier Bob lapses into seriousness when he talks about the medium in which he works.  “I think the biggest thing I have done as an artist since I left the illustration racket is that I am working in color.  I deliberately sought to transition into color, but I wasn’t comfortable working with a paintbrush.   Then Alan gave me a set of pastels one year, and I have found that they have freed all my spirits, which gave me the momentum I needed to really immerse myself into the life of my art. “ Pink Mist Alan is Alan Lawson, a fellow artist, who has been with Ziering in a steadfast, ever-evolving friendship for thirty-three years.  “Early on, he showed me a copy of Vermeer’s Lady with the Red Hat he had done in pastels, and it was one of the most beautiful things I had ever seen . . . .  He had done it when he was still a kid of maybe 17 . . . . He had not touched pastels since then.  I thought to myself that this was the medium that could bridge his transition from being a draw-er to becoming a painter.  So for Christmas one year I gave him a box of pastels, and what he can do with those pastels is just beyond description.  He finds layers of color, dynamism of scenes that I’ve rarely seen done in any medium.” Sitting in the restaurant, Bob sighs.  “I expected to do so much with that work.” “You’re still working,” I protest. “But nothing has changed.  The gorilla  — along with so many animals! — grows closer to extinction every day, and . . . .” His voice trails off, and he sighs,  “There is so much more to do.  I may do things a little more slowly than I used to, but I can still do so much!” Bob at Twighlight Everyone who knows Bob says it is, above all, passion that defines the man, and it is passion that drives the artist, keeps him young. Lawson, a painter and scenic charge for both film and theater, came to NY to attend school in 1979 and took a job at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where he met Ziering in 1981.  He says that it’s always been hard to keep up with the older man.  “When I met him, I was just in my second year at Pratt, and here he was this seasoned native New Yorker, so knowledgeable, so passionate.  He was passionate about everything.   Talk to him about his tribal art collection, his record collection, his own work, and so many things . . . things that I had never heard of.   He introduced me to so much. . . . .And I have to say, his passion today is the same as it was thirty-three years ago.   His passions run very deep, they’re very strong, and he has an amazing vitality.  Boundless.” Ziering credits his happy Brooklyn childhood for his zest for life. Lapsing into Yiddish tones again, he tells me he was an aesthetically astute child, who loved the Friday night family food extravaganzas at his father’s parents’ home, in the company of all his exuberantly musical and artistic relatives, the first generation born in New York City, USA.   He had a great voice, and he loved to sing, but even then he knew he would be a visual artist.  “My mother told me she believed I was already drawing in the womb, that she felt movement that was more akin to the scratching of a pen than the kicking most babies inflict on their mothers.”    She felt compelled from the very start to introduce him to the cornucopia of visual art available to anyone growing up in Brooklyn, and he cherished the time he spent with her visiting museums and galleries, his favorite destinations. “You’d think I’d wanna go to Ebbets Field or play stick ball,” Ziering laughs. “I was a lousy baseball player . . . but wonderful gallery goer, at a very early age!”  His parents and his friends alike admired his talent, and he was fueled by their respect.  Yet his love for the work was always his strongest motivating force.  “I couldn’t wait,” he says; “to get to my studio in the finished basement, back to my drawing and painting.” “I enjoyed being with the other kids, but I loved being with adults, and I loved to show off.  The other kids didn’t seem to mind.  They knew I would play for a finite amount of time, and then I would retreat to my work.” Joyce Hellman, a classmate of Bob’s in the High School of Music and Art, Class of 1950, remembers Bob as a warm, loving, gifted but extraordinarily disciplined teenager.  “I was  music major, so we didn’t become close, “ she says, “Till years and years after graduation, after our 35th reunion, but everyone knew who Bob was.  We knew he could sing – oh, how he could sing – and we knew he could dance, but we also knew he loved to work.  Couldn’t seem to get enough of it.” Lawson concurs.  “Bob’s one true love is his art.  He has the good fortune of having his studio right next to his bedroom, so he can get up in the morning and be right at the heart of where he needs to be to do his work.   But you know, that takes a lot of discipline.  I’ve had it both ways, had a studio in my home and a studio away, and each presents a different scenario.  I mean, to get up every day and to face first thing what you did the day before can be challenging.  You’re with it 24/7.   Then too, it can be too easy.  Sometimes people need the effort of getting to somewhere to make them work.  That’s not Bob.  He’s an incredibly disciplined person.“ I ask Bob if he thinks he has this drive, the kind that sets the artist apart from the dabbler.   “Yes,” he asserts.   “First thing, every day, I go for a little walk, get my coffee and a croissant, and then, after I go to the JCC to swim or lift weights, I return and work till the light dims in my studio.  Then it’s music and friends and books and all the wonderful things there are to experience.  But first there’s the art. ” Face Me Miki Marcu, who met him when she was the director of the Merton D. Simpson Gallery of African Art in Chelsea, where Bob was a client, says that it’s exactly his relationship to his work what makes Bob Ziering different even from the other artists she has known.  “He’s a funny man. . . a very loving friend, has seen me through some truly tough times,  and he loves all kinds of music and art.  But I always know that he is committed entirely to his art.” “Working every day is how Bob stays balanced on the beam,” says Lawson.  “Life can be a narrow path, and you can find yourself losing your footing.  Having that discipline, that drive to stand in front of that board is what keeps him balanced.. . . . “  Lawson tells me that Bob’s favorite work shirt is one he bought at the Dia  Art Foundation, in Beacon, NY, designed by Louise Bourgeois (1911-2010), a sculptor whose work Bob greatly admires.  The t-shirt proclaims, “Art is a guarantee of sanity.”  “I think he wears that,” Lawson goes on, “because  it speaks so profoundly to the truth of his own life.” In A Child's Garden And Sky Bob’s studio was probably the master bedroom of his spacious, rent-controlled apartment, and he is an eager host who never tires of showing off his works in progress that hang on his work board or his past oeuvres, stashed neatly in his art drawers.   On shelves, in albums and books, he keeps more of his work, carefully cataloged, meticulously arranged so he can easily find anything he wants to share.  The newest series is startling.  Youthful exuberance, naiveté, shyness captured in portraits of several models, most notably  “K” the personal trainer at his gym, a kind of surrogate for the young man Ziering was himself at 23. (K) 1 The series is called Aloneness, and through the work, Bob explores the dimensions of being alone.  “Understand, I am not talking about loneliness.” Bob says as he shows me a particularly engaging picture – the young man, alone, covering his face with his hands, posing but not comfortable posing, knowing he is semi-nude and being watched.    “It’s very different.  Sometimes it’s thrust upon us, but more often we choose it.”  This is his most personal series to date. (K) 2 By his own accounting, Bob’s best companion is his art, but he says he craves human relationships.  So his relationship to aloneness is dynamic, morphing as he discovers new dimensions in himself and in his environment.  He spends most of his time away from human contact, rubbing chalk on a paper hung on his board, drawing a story he is compelled to tell.  He works from photographs he takes of his subjects and his models, and he breathes his own life into them, interpreting their skin, their expressions, their breath.   “Listen,” says Lawson, “Bob and I have been together for a very long time, and we have been through every kind of relationship experience two people can have.  I know him well, and I wouldn’t say he’s exactly a loner.  He can have periods of isolation, but I can’t say I have ever known him to be lonely, and he seeks others out.  He lives alone, is self-sufficient . . . It’s very true that he stands alone in his studio when he is working, but his dialogue with his subjects is so strong that one can imagine him having a conversation  with the image, whether it’s of beautiful bodies in bed or a gorilla or a chair or an aging Rembrandt or even a burnt pier being washed over by the incessant sea.  And that’s what makes the work so resonant.  You feel the dialogue between the artist and the subject.” Bob at Twilight II In Ziering’s life, Lawson reminds me, he has had three very deep, very long-term relationships.  His communion with Alan, which began and remained for many years a romantic partnership, has transcended the many ways both their lives have changed. In the new series, relationships are at the core of the vivacity that defines them.  There is distinct dialogue in every piece Ziering creates, and it is clear and ambient.  The work is exuberant, joyful, celebrating the human just being.  The joy the artist clearly derives from the engagement points to a very important difference between aloneness and loneliness.  As Alan Lawson explains, “People who have been alone for a long time and feel lonely reach a certain level of bitterness.  That’s not Bob.  All you have to do is be with Bob, walk out the door with him, see him looking with interest at EVERYthing, and you realize he is not that kind of a person.  His receptors are always up, and he allows the world in.  With open arms.” I can see that here in Piccolo Café, where the waiters treat him like a beloved brother, and where he nestles comfortably into his familiar seat at a booth in the back of the restaurant.  “I want to be known, to be loved, but mostly I want to keep on working!” Which he will undoubtedly do for years to come, descended as he is from a long line of nonagenarians.  Like my Uncle Fred, his fans adore him, and they hope his best work is yet to be “discovered.” “He’s brilliant,” effuses Miki Marcu.  “A truly modern Renaissance man.” Burning Piervisit  www.bobziering.com

 

Vindication by the Crack-Up*

*featured here by permission of the blogsite at Columbia:a Journal of Literature and Art

Thus I take my leave of my lost city.  Seen from the ferry boat in the early morning it no longer whispers of fantastic successful and eternal youth. . . All is lost save memory.”  “F. Scott Fitzgerald, “My Lost City,” July, 1932

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F. Scott Fitzgerald characters are quirky, multilayered creatures who stumble through their stories, as Fitzgerald stumbled through his own, as though they are caught in the glare of oncoming life.  The characters’ experiences, reflections of the author’s observations and reminiscences, resound with a fury rarely captured in adaptations, and until Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby, I wasn’t sure they ever  could be.   Luhrmann succeeded, with remarkable sensitivity,  in apprehending their wide-eyed foundering, and yet after I saw the film, I found myself outcast among my friends and respected colleagues.
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Many of the people I admire most in the world hated the film; I loved it.  And I loved it for precisely the reasons that they hated it: for the garish glitz and the dizzying three-D.   Since the people I know tend to be vehement in their hatred and intolerant toward dissent – “I’ll un-friend anyone who says they like the film,” one man wrote on his Facebook wall — I kept my mouth shut.  Until now.

Now, having recently discovered and read The Crack-Up, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s own quasi-memoir (which is actually a collection of Fitzgerald’s essays edited to form a memoir by Edmund Wilson), I can speak with impunity.  I am vindicated. images-2

Baz Luhrmann represents Fitzgerald in ways that reveal an astute grasp of the demons that plagued the author, who was dead of the complications of alcoholism by age 44.  The over-sharp focus, the bilious camera moves and the lurid scenes that turned so many critics and viewers off, actually encapsulate the Gatsby I had perceived even as a young reader the first time I encountered the novel, the one I tried to convey to my students when I taught it years later. The Crack-Up validates my sense of Fitzgerald in general and of the circumstances surrounding Jay Gatsby’s existence in particular.

The Fitzgerald of the essays is deafened by the noise of his flapper-dominated dreams and nightmares. “The whole golden boom was in the air – its splendid generosities, its outrageous corruptions and the tortuous death struggle of the old America in prohibition.  All the stories that came into my head had a touch of disaster in them  . . . .  In life these things hadn’t happened yet, but I was pretty sure living wasn’t the reckless, careless business people thought – this generation just younger than me” (from“Early Success,” October 1937).  Luhrmann’s hothouse soundtrack sensibility for The Great Gatsby and its implied bling  — with Beyonce, Jay-Z and Kanye West, the xx and other shouting, whining artists standing in as Gatsby’s background singers—captures Fitzgerald’s inner dissonance, the screaming “offensive, the realization of having cracked” that surely kept him awake nights.

One very close friend of mine complained that the film was too cynical, that she remembered the novel as a depiction of the innate naïveté of America in the jazz age, of the reckless innocence that preceded the stock market collapse of 1929 (Gatsby was published in 1925).  But Gatsby was written when Fitzgerald was 33, long after he had lost his wide-eyed wonder, long after he discovered that “there was a rankling indignity, that to me had become almost an obsession, in seeing the power of the written word subordinated to another power, a more glittering, a grosser power.” (“Early Success,” 1937), and the title character retains the façade of innocence, but he is as jaded as the author himself.  Gatsby embodies Fitzgerald’s notion that “the test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function. Life was something you dominated if you were any good.” (“The Crack-Up,” 1936).

imgresLeonardo DiCaprio’s Jay Gatsby, criticized by many for being too calculating, too removed, was exactly the Gatsby I inferred from the book, an alter-ego of the novelist himself, who wrote, in the title essay, “Though the present writer was not so entangled. . . it was his nervous reflexes that were giving way – too much anger and too many tears. . . . I lived in a world of inscrutable hostiles and inalienable friends and supporters.  But now I wanted to be absolutely alone and so arranged a certain insulation . . . .”

Gatsby may hope that he can begin again, recapture the love and the “iridescence of the beginning of the world” Fitzgerald himself saw in New York in the 1920’s.  But he knows he is caught in the reality of the giddy, gilded pretenses of the upper class life he has created out of airy trifles.  He lives in Fitzgerald’s “real dark night of the soul and it is always three o’clock in the morning, day after day.  At that hour the tendency is to refuse to face things as long as possible by retiring into an infantile dream – but one is continually startled out of this by various contacts with the world.” (“Pasting it Together, 1936).

In his 1937 essay “Early Success,” Fitzgerald muses over the young man he was, who arrived in New York from the Midwest with a theatrical dream of the future in his heart and cardboard soles in his shoes, and he imagines that “. . . for an instant I had the good fortune to share his dreams.  I who had no more dreams of my own.”  He imagines himself creeping up on his younger self, visiting him at a time when “he and I were one person, when the fulfilled failure and the wistful past were mingled in a single gorgeous moment – when life was literally a dream.”  I admit to having wept when I read that, realizing that already in 1925, at the age of 29, Fitzgerald was already that lost soul; he was Jay Gatsby.

Baz Luhrmann got it.  Somehow he has become intimate with Fitzgerald’s dark victory.images

Memory in the Museum*

* re-printed by permission of the Columbia: a journal of literature and art, where it appears on the Blog Site

                                                                                 In the room the women come and go
                                                                        Talking of Michelangelo . . . .
                                                                                                      T.S. Eliot. The Lovesong of J. Alfred Prufrock

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Museum Hours
recalled an epiphany I experienced on my way to my wedding.

Sauntering from my apartment on Riverside Drive to the chapel at Columbia, seeking to memorize the details of my last moments of freedom, I made a special point of looking into the faces of the people I passed. I had only recently graduated from adolescence into my 20’s, and like most of my cohorts, I saw myself as the center of life and substance in the universe. But, of course, my being on the threshold of a seismic life change was of no consequence to anyone around me. And what surprised me when no one returned my gaze – hardly a soul so much as noted my existence – was that I was not disturbed at how non-noteworthy I was. It felt right. I suddenly saw with utter clarity that my story was just one among all the stories bustling about. Our lives mingled with one another like the aromas of automobiles, coffee, cigarettes, bacon, garbage and spring flowers wafting in the breeze; while each possessed a singular uniqueness, all blended smoothly into a single May morning landscape.

Museum Hours meanders thus, like a leisurely walk across campus or a thoughtful mosey through a gallery. It lingers, at both expected and unexpected intervals, to examine the layers of imagery, the texturing of impressions that create the large and small occurrences that memory accumulates, and it moves from moment to moment without ceremony, shifting from one to the next without releasing the one that came before. The film sees life as both revelatory and mundane in the same instant. And the conversations, colors, music, ambient sounds, sights and smells create a kind of cacophony that conspires both to obscure the individual components and to illuminate the distinct strengths each brings to the choir.1157496_Museum_Hours

The film is a pentimento similar to a masterwork by Peter Breughel the Elder. Breughel’s work is a kind of template for the film. The 16th Century Dutch master’s particular affinity for creating multiple strata of scenarios in every frame, for securing both the key to the broad spectrum of the painting and the insight on each particular picture by way of details illuminated in color and light, resonates here. Like Breughel, Jem Cohen, provides a wide view of life and then through the magic of his medium, which has the added benefit of sound and movement, he hones in on myriad points of view.

Like the central characters in Breughel’s work, the two apparent protagonists of Cohen’s film serve as foils for the many players that swirl about them in the museum, in the hospital, on the streets, in the local pub, and their stories irradiate innumerable others. Anne (Mary Margaret O’Hara) has been summoned to Vienna to attend the deathwatch of a cousin she grew up with but from whom she has long been separated. She wanders into the Historisches Kunstmuseum and meets Johann (Bobby Somer), a guard there. She asks him for directions and confides her predicament to him; he offers to be her guide and interpreter. Over the course of the movie, they forge a deep friendship, reveal details of their personal lives and provide succor and comfort for one another. For each, the other is a mirror in which a hitherto unseen self appears.

Anne is a babbler. She talks in stream of consciousness at times, the way people do who have lived alone but have much to say. Johann, by contrast, is measured in his speech, not exactly guarded but less apt to simply offer what Anne identifies as her penchant for “too much information”. He never overtly hides anything, but when he discloses, he does so quietly, matter-of-factly. Anne asks Johann if he has friends or family who, like her cousin, have been far away so that “you don’t really know where they are anymore”; he answers that actually he has no one left to keep track of. His parents, a sister, and a partner – “he’s long since been gone”– are all dead. Johann shows Anne his favorite paintings and sculpture, and she reacts. “They don’t even look nude. They look proud. Like they’re not even ashamed. . . . I had a boyfriend, and I was so guilty about sexuality. Oh! This is too much information again!” He smiles, enjoying the discourse, feeling a wholeness he’s been missing. “ I had had my share of noise . . . and now I was enjoying my quiet . . . . Then I realized how much time I had been spending at home, by myself. . . . I had forgotten how much I loved Vienna. I liked seeing the city again, showing her my city.”
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Together, Johann and Anne explore the tourists’ Vienna, but since, as Johann points out, “everything must be inexpensive,” they spend just as much time in obscure parks and in his favorite cafe, watching birds congregate on wires, townspeople relax over dinner, or old men make faces that resemble the museum’s Roman statuary. On their last day together, they walk to the hills overlooking the city in search of a congregation of starlings expected to take flight in unison, but when they arrive, they find no birds and wonder if the birds have already flown. They walk for a bit, then wait and watch while the camera rests on the sweeping view of grass. Eventually, the two stroll across the frame and disappear from sight while the camera continues to wait. The grass undulates, a cloud whispers slightly to the right, and just when you think you have see all you can possibly see, a new figure walks onto the path, and you realize that there are trees there that you hadn’t noticed before. But before you can truly examine the new dimensions, the camera releases you from that image and goes to black though you are still listening to the sound of the man’s feet crossing the grassy plain. In the darkness, you don’t remember Johann, Anne or the stranger so much as specks of color on a grayish canvas, errant birds, trees and cloudy skies.

Like Johann and Anne, we who watch the film will someday discover memories of that time in Vienna imbedded in the sediment of images and textures that have accumulated. Looking back, the gesticulation of fingers will be inextricably fused to the swaying of a roomful of dancers. The sound of a breathing machine will become indistinguishable from the noise of an early morning marketplace.
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What Anne and Johann have spent their Museum Hours discovering and what they’ve shared with us is how the senses discern what the heart will remember, and their discoveries are a joy to behold. Life, like art, never reveals itself all at once. Icarus’s fall from the sky in a painting or a young woman’s pre-nuptial walk through town are mere threads in a fabulous tapestry that can be visited and re-visited without relinquishing its fascination. There will always be more there than meets the eye.

Museum Hours Trailer

Bye Bye, Annie . . . why’d ya hafta go?

 When I was a green teacher, and my drama club was the system’s fledgling stepchild, I had the great good fortune to meet Ann DeMatteo.  In those days, her beat for the New Haven Register included the North Haven-Hamden schools, and as soon as she heard we were forming the new club, she came out to interview us and to do a story on the program.

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Ann, partying in her usual, youthful way, with newswoman Heidi Voight, Miss Connecticut 2008.

I liked her immediately.  Who wouldn’t?  She was ebullient, sharp, interested, and her enthusiasm for drama was painted across her whole being.  After that, anytime we had a show or a fundraiser or a special event of any kind, Ann was there, and she wrote about it.  Sometime during my years in North Haven, Ann had her first bout with cancer.  She didn’t skip a beat, kept on covering her beat, took on the teen beauty pageant she produced, raised funds for all kinds of causes, especially for her pageant.

Later, when I moved to East Haven, which happened to be Ann’s home town, I learned a lot more about her and why she had such an affinity for drama.  By this time she’d had plenty of private life drama, none of which she would want me playing across the proscenium of a blogsite, and she had beat the cancer.  And she made the realization of our drama program at EHHS her very own cause célèbre.

In an effort to launch a dramatic arts academy at the brand new high school in East Haven, my music director Judy Polio-Webber and I decided that it would be a good idea to open auditions for Bye Bye Birdie, our first show to the community.  I called Ann in hopes that she would spread the word.  And did she spread the word!

She wrote about the auditions, wrote about the program, interviewed the principal, wrote about him, interviewed townspeople and wrote about them and what the new drama program might mean to them.  Then she made phone calls.  In that debut production, at least half the members of our very large chorus were there because Ann had told them to come out for the show; and Ann, proud to be wearing her bobby sox, saddle shoes and a crinoline that stretched to Milwaukee, was the most salient voice among them.

When I moved to New Haven and on to filmmaking, Ann wrote about my company and our efforts to grow.  She sent around our casting notice and was responsible for the huge turnout we had for our casting sessions at Bar.  Then, she managed to come to every theater production and film screening my partner and I mounted.  I knew the curtain could raise as soon as Annie De Matteo was in the house.

Later, when I moved to NYC, we drifted out of touch somewhat, but she checked in with me periodically, and she blogged about my work; when I initiated a NYC Mob Tour, Ann wrote about the tour, and her writing intrigued Jim Shelton,  wrote a feature article for the Sunday Register.

How do you thank such a woman for that kind of lasting fidelity and willing support?  I sent her tickets to come ride the Mob Tour, but she never got in to the city to use them.  I sent her a videotape of Birdie, but I think she gave it to someone else who was in the cast.  That’s who she was.

When I saw on Facebook the other day that Annie had died, I was stunned.  I guess I saw the signs in the most recent rounds of chemo, radiation, hospitalization, convalescence, but I didn’t believe that anyone with that kind of spirit could actually leave us.  I guess it’s true that it’s better that she is out of pain and out of stress and out of the constant struggle.  But it’s worse for the planet, which is a lonelier and less mirthful place for having lost her presence.

I can only hope that her voice is the loudest in the chorus she’s joined in the great beyond, and she’s making the other angels smile.  I like to imagine she’s wearing that crinoline and the saddle shoes, and she’s got her hands all over the hunkiest Conrad Birdie ever.261733_10200293713198698_1527977597_n

Salvation and Stu Elliott

I was never one of those gifted people who are called to teaching.  In fact, teaching was one of two things my teen self had decided, absolutely, I would never do.  As the oldest of seven children, I was adamant I’d have none of my own, and as a misfit who was terrified by teens, I was intractable in my resolution to eschew any contact with them.

To be a writer was all I wanted, and when I did have children — after all, life and love do intervene —  I envisioned myself a kind of Bohemian Doris Day typing away while her brood ate the daisies, but eventually I needed a profession with a steady income that afforded me the freedom to spend the kids’ vacations with them, and so I landed in teaching.  I got certified and cut my teeth in Phoenix, but my first long-term job was in Connecticut.

By the time I was hired, I knew that I actually liked youngsters, respected their wit and wisdom, felt comfortable among them.  I realized that this might be the result of the fact that those around whom I was actually uncomfortable were my own peers, and I was aware that I would never be good at navigating the rarified world of school system politics.  But over the years, to my own surprise,  I managed to evolve into a competent teacher, a good friend to many of my students, and a strong advocate for them and for my drama program.  I did so because Stu Elliott saved me.

Stu strode into my life as a welcome surprise.  He was a Clintonesque colossus, tall, engaging, boyishly charming and cunningly smart, and he was newly appointed Principal of the school whose grounds abutted the half-acre we had just purchased after our move from the desert. I had dreamily thought — and dismissed as fantasy — that I might be hired to teach there, and to my great delight, Stu chose me to fill a vacancy in the English Department.  When he hired me,  Stu gave me two gifts: some great advice and the drama club.  The drama club came first.

“The school hasn’t had one for years, and I think you’d be good for it, ” he crooned.  Who could resist that?  I could have argued for a Literary Magazine, but I knew, as an English teacher, I would be inundated with student writing, and the Drama Club felt right.

Then, as we shook hands over my contract, Stu looked me in the eye and said, “You’re gonna break the rules.  I know that.  I’m okay with it.  But do me a favor.  Whatever you do in the classroom or in your extracurricular duties, write a rationale.  Give it to me.  If it makes sense to me, then no matter how crazy it seems to the rest of the world, I’ll cover your ass; if it doesn’t make sense to me, I’ll tell you, and you’ll rewrite your plan.”

I never had to do a re-write.  He protected me like a guardian angel, and I loved him in the same innocent, dumbly admiring way the kids did.  He dropped into classes, shook his head in amusement, left singing along with us; he counseled me often when colleagues complained that I “got away with murder.”Stu candid

Too few years later, after a long illness had kept us missing him terribly, when he had just begun to segue back to attending school daily, Stu was hit by a drunk driver during an early morning jog, and he died before the ambulance reached him.  When the shock wore off, when we had accepted his departure as best we could, I would have expected teaching to become unbearable, but he had prepared me.

Before the illness, Stu was reaching up in his career.  He wanted to be a superintendent, and a few opportunities had presented themselves.  Called in to his office one afternoon, I had to nod and agree when he made me promise that I would support and if necessary promote the ascension of our assistant principal to his position.  “She’s not like me, Carla,” Stu said.  “She will drive you crazy because she’s all about the rules.  But she’s good for the school, and so long as you remember to keep writing rationales, you’ll be okay.”

He was actually wrong.  I did campaign for the appointment of his chosen successor, but the rationales never really helped.  Our new principal hated me, told me I was evil because I introduced craziness to the kids, but it didn’t matter.  And the reason it didn’t matter was that Stu had given me the Drama Club, and she could not wrest it from me.

The kids who come out for a drama program are often the smartest, the bravest, the nerdiest kids in school.  They can also be the most beautiful, the most popular, the most conforming.  That’s what is so great about a drama program — it brings the various worlds of high school together in a realm of mutual understanding and respect.  When I recruited the high school football team to play sailors in South Pacific, the cheerleaders came too, and suddenly at the homecoming ball they were all dancing with the “geeks,” singing “There is Nothing Like a Dame,” over the Stevie Wonder single playing on the disk jockey’s turntable.

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Michael Goglia on the set of Crimes of the Heart, which he designed, 1995

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No one had ever trusted me with a screwgun before, and I felt powerful. It was heady

I learned from all my students every day, but the kinds of lessons I learned in drama club, I’d never have learned elsewhere.  When Michael P. Goglia came to me as an 8th Grader and said he would like to “help you out” by designing and building sets, I looked at his skinny little frame and thought, oh sure; but he and his father came every time the auditorium was available, and they indeed built wondrous sets out of the cheapest materials one can imagine, sets Mike had designed.  And unbelievable as it may sound, Mike ran his crew like a well-oiled rig, engaging boys and girls, who had hitherto wielded nothing heavier than a joystick, in the construction of sets, hanging of lights, striking of heavy objects.  More unexpectedly, Michael taught me how to use a Makita (electric drill), how to construct a flat so that it’s sturdy enough to withstand a production but easy enough to dissemble during strike, how to create the illusion of water where none exists, etc.  I had studied acting and had been in productions, but no one had ever trusted me with a screw gun before, and I felt powerful.  It was heady.

When we did Our Town, I fretted about the sight lines for people in the first several rows of the massive auditorium.  Michael said, “Let’s rake it.”  Sure, I thought.  We can do that.  How?  Michael taught the others, and me, and I had no idea how huge this was until later that school year when the town meeting was called to vote on whether to eliminate my nominal stipend from the budget and thereby eradicate our program.  At that meeting, Misha Magoveny, who rarely sought the limelight for anything, addressed the assembled citizenry and explained how she would never have learned what the devil she was studying trigonometry for had it not been for drama.  “See, Ms. Stockton and Mike said we were going to rake the stage, and I couldn’t imagine how you figure out how to do that, but Mike said, ‘You use sin and cosine to find the relationship of the angles, and you go from there.  You know how to do that already.’  And all of a sudden, I understood what my math class was trying to teach me.  We found the angles, and we raked the stage!”

Every day brought new challenges.  The town council rented the auditorium out from under us in the middle of tech week.  The assistant principal approved a cheerleading extravaganza on the stage the same day as a dress rehearsal.  A flood in the storeroom wiped out our expensive muslin (for set construction).  The fencing team made regionals, and half the cast and most of the crew were unavailable for opening night.  Each new stumbling block ended in our laughing at the way we had worked out solutions, creatively, collaboratively.  We all learned the true meaning of teamwork every time we congregated.

Some of our problems were more devastating.  Two of our kids lost fathers within a year of one another; we sustained the loss by suicide, by car accident and by illness of fellow students, and we were assaulted by the insurmountable reality of losing Stu.  Having one another got us through the worst of times, and having one another provided more occasion to celebrate in the best of times.
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My personal battles with my political foes were rendered worthwhile by the faith my drama kids and I had in one another.  Two of my more schadenfreude-inclined colleagues reported that I was smoking marijuana with the kids in the costume room; another reported that I was perhaps, well, you know.  Because of the kind of relationship I had with the kids, no one ever took any of that seriously, and if I had to pay penance for choosing “subversive” material like For Whom the Southern Belle Tolls or Crimes of the Heart, the fact of our alliance fueled my passion.

We traveled to conventions together, went to shows in New York, participated in competitions, created magic on the stage.  Most importantly, we all grew, expanded our horizons, learned to roll with the punches and go with the flow.  We learned to count on one another, to trust one another, to be unafraid to need one another.  We created a family that never superseded our biological families but that always strengthened our faith that family is the institution that matters.

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The cast of The Wind in the Willows, no-budget, student produced and directed children’s play.

Over time, I oversaw summer programs, several in-school programs, and one fabulous conservatory program funded by the State of Connecticut that brought professional and educational theater under the same roof, where NY actors and tech experts taught, mentored and shared the stage with the kids, and we ALL benefitted equally.

When I left teaching, I left because I could no longer fight, and I was always expected to fight.  There was never enough money for the program, so I spent — to the great detriment of my personal kids — far too many hours alongside the indefatigable drama club members, running car washes, mowing townspeople’s lawns, operating cake sales, selling goods at garage sales, etc., to raise the funds we needed to survive.   Everyone agreed that the theater program was worthwhile, but when money is tight, you eliminate fluff, and a theater program is almost always perceived as pure fluff.  I just got to a point where I was exhausted, depleted, drained of my resources.  So I left, and I have never regretted that I did.

But every once in a while, I like to remind myself how glorious it was to be part of that amazing body of youngsters who peopled my programs, how eternally grateful I am for the love and the wisdom they shared with me, how inextricably changed I remain because of the time I spent with them. They made me a better classroom teacher, one who is equally grateful for those students’ presence in my life, and together they all made me a better person.

I am a lucky, lucky woman.  And I owe it all to Stu Elliott.

Whom I continue to miss . . . every day.

Save Our Souls

My friend buried her older brother Donnie the other day.  Despite the fact that she buried her husband less than a year ago, and she’s still a young woman, my friend carried herself with stalwart grace, and only once did she lose her composure.

“He shouldn’t ‘a’ died so young.  You know?  It was his meds.  No one paid attention to his health.  They just wrote his ‘scripts and sent him on his way.  No time for assessment.  No time for monitoring.  Just move ’em in, move ’em out.  No one in the system’s interested in overseeing the whole person of a mental patient; they treat the symptoms, satisfy themselves that he won’t kill himself or anyone else, and they’re done for another six months.”

I nodded, not knowing what to say.  I’m no fan of the American health care establishment, and I had had another dose of that reality the day before.

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A friend whom I’ve known for many years invited me to lunch for the first time in a very long time, and we talked, as one does with an old friend, of many random things.  Finally, after nearly three hours of catching up, I asked about his children.  He talked about one, a college freshman, and laughed with fatherly pride at the son who complained vigorously about all the extraneous displeasures of college life — the food, the noise, the weather — but seemed happy enough with his classes.  After a few uncomfortable minutes, I gathered the courage to ask about his other child.

The answers were vague, and, having had enough experience to know the signs, I sensed that all was not well.  Then I found the wherewithall to ask pointedly how the boy was.  Really.

“He must be at least nearly out of his teens by now,” I averred.  “Last time I saw him, he was so cuddly and so. . .”

“Beautiful.  He was the most beautiful child ever,” replied my friend.  Then he was quiet again.  I waited.  Then I had to ask.

“Is he in school? Working?”

“No.  He’s home.”  A long pause, some throat clearing, fingernail cleaning.  Then,  “He is schizophrenic.  And he’s terrified to leave the house.   To tell you the truth, he’s nearly twenty, and he goes nowhere.  In fact,  I haven’t had a night out since we adopted him.  We can’t leave him alone.  He’s incapable of functioning without at least one of us there. ”

Knowing that my friend’s finances are, to say the least, strained, I nodded.  “I guess you can’t hire help.”

“Ha.  That’s a laugh.  If he were developmentally challenged and needed care for retardation, we could get state help.  But for mental illness?  Nothing.  I finally got him on Medicaid, and they’re trying to take it away because I make too much money — which means I make over $7000 a year — but he’s an adult.  No insurance I could possibly afford helps with any of it; we get some breaks on meds, but . . . ” His voice trails off.  He doesn’t really want to complain.  God forbid he seem to feel entitled.

Our conversation turns to the woeful nature of the American approach to mental health.

Insurance is expensive.  And except for the premium types of coverage, few offer assistance for mental health providers, who are also expensive.   Obsessive compulsions, ADHD, anxiety are not considered sufficient reason to warrant insurance coverage, and yet sufferers can be paralyzed by the effects.   Depression and bi-polar disorder are more readily recognized as debilitating, but in order to be helped, the patient often must first be hospitalized for treatment , then marked for life as a result of a violent act against self or others.

As expensive as they are, drugs have replaced the therapist’s couch as coping mechanisms.  It’s rare, except for those for whom money is no issue, that a psychiatrist spends hours with a patient planning behaviors and exploring strategies for self-preservation.  As it was with Donnie, the psychiatrist’s main function is to write the prescription every several months; no more than a perfunctory visit from a social worker sustains the patient between visits.  The appointments with the psychiatrists take no more than 15-20 minutes, and they are basic question/answer sessions.  “How do you feel?  Any headaches or stomach difficulties?”  No examination accompanies the writing of the prescription even if, as in the case of my friend’s brother, the patient is clearly struggling physically.

Donnie, a strapping man who leanly stood 6’2″before he began taking his meds, had grown morbidly obese.  He labored to breathe, complaining of COPD symptoms and of trouble staying awake.  When he died, he was in his early fifties, and no doctor had taken the time to seek out the causes of his discomfort.  His insurance didn’t allow for more than the annual physical, and there was no alternative to the drugs that controlled the mental disease, drugs that necessarily weakened and abused his body.

The problem is not confined to mental health.  We’ve all seen the ads on television promising that if you just choose a fancy cancer treatment center, you will be cured, that drug addiction will lift away when you fly to that special island where ultimate rehab resides, and we all hope we will be lucky enough to get a transplant in the event one of our organs shuts down.  But choice of hospitals and retreats and transplants are governed by money, which is largely controlled by the extent to which insurance covers us.  When another friend needed a second kidney transplant, his wife was a willing donor, but in order to get that kidney into his body, my friend had to prove that he had the resources to see his doctors regularly and to buy his nearly $40,000 worth of medications EVERY YEAR.

But despite the fact that the problem is universal in the realm of medical care, it’s more likely that a patient who cannot get the necessary treatment for cancer or renal failure or hepatitis, etc., will die than wind up on the street unable to care for himself, a burden to his family, a weight on society’s midsection.  In some ways Donnie was lucky.  He took his meds, was fairly lucid and found some measure of happiness before he dropped dead of a massive heart attack.  The moderately ill person who is handicapped by any one of a number of disorders that render him unable to hold down a job, stick to a path, find personal satisfaction is more likely to disintegrate slowly over time, growing more anxious and depressed and lonely by the day.  She may be homeless or displaced, and she will likely be angry and frightened every day of her life. imgres-3

With financial resources that ensure freedom of choice, anyone can find a good physician for any ill.  If at once you don’t succeed, you know you can always try again.  But for those of us with limited resources, a list of providers is offered, and if no one on that list is expert in the illness for which we need care, we are simply out of luck.  Therapists abound, but a good therapist us a precious commodity, one that is too often impossible to find.

I honestly don’t understand why the masses don’t take to the streets over health care.  Every day families — middle class families, families no one would have heretofore thought of as indigent or needy — bury loved ones, children and parents alike, who should have been cured.  Women die in childbirth in this, the richest country in the world, at an alarming rate, and homeless people wander our cities where they live in misery and threaten our safety because they are not being treated for the illnesses that have disabled them.

We tolerate our own demise.imgres-1