Friday, August 28, 2015

THEN THERE'S THIS

Two evenings ago some friends of my youngest were skateboarding from uptown to downtown in Manhattan. All minors under eighteen, one was a short female from near where we live in Jersey who I've known since she was a kid, another a boy from the Bronx I've known for several years, and the third another boy, this one also fro Jersey but Bayonne, closer to New York than us.

As they skated near Columbus Circle the girl heard a policeman tell her to get off her board, she says she said something back like "We're just skating downtown" and the cop rushed her. Not much more than five feet tall, if that, she panicked when she saw this big cop running at her so she backed off to try and get away from him. He tackled her and as he squeezed her neck and roughed her up the boy from the Bronx came up and said "Why are you doin' that, she didn't do anything" and suddenly there were three more cops throwing him against the concrete and cuffing both of them.

I know this girl very well. The biggest show of any kind of negative behavior I've ever seen from her in all the years she's been hanging around my apartment or I've taken her and my son and their friends to skateparks in New York and New Jersey (and even Pennsylvania) is moodiness. She has never displayed toward me, nor toward anyone, adult or kid, any misbehavior.

But the cops took these two kids (not noticing the third one, who grabbed the girl's backpack which held her prize possession, the camera she has been using to film her friends skateboarding in the process of making a documentary about it) to jail, confiscating their cell phones and skateboards. They took mug shots of them and finger printed them and booked them not for skateboarding in an area where I guess there are signs saying it's not allowed, but for "resisting arrest."

She told me they allowed her one call but like most of us who use smart phones she doesn't have people's numbers memorized except for my son's who she's known since they were children. So she called him, but he didn't pick up and that was the only call they would allow. They threw her in a cell and kept her there overnight with a puking heroin addict going cold turkey and other young females who had stolen loose cigarettes or make up.

Youg females still considered "children" by law, locked up for petty crimes and kept in dirty jail cells while their parents worried something worse had happened when they didn't come home. The next day they were assigned public defenders and arraigned in court. I asked her if the lawyer had tried to get the charges dismissed by pointing out they were just skateboarding on streets and sidewalks where at any moment a white hipster is also skating on his or her way somewhere in the city. She said the lawyer didn't say anything to her or the judge.

She ended up having to pay a fine she has two months to cover and let go, but they refused to return her phone or skateboard saying she had to show i.d. to get them back and since her i.d. was with the third kid who was back in New Jersey and several towns away from ours she had to leave without any way to call anyone, even to let her father know where she was. Luckily she had enough cash to catch a train back to Jersey.

Did I mention these are all kids who are sometimes called "brown" or "black"...? Not that this behavior from the police is limited to non-"white" people, I've had friends who are white adults of some prominence who have argued with cops about parking tickets and such and ended up cuffed and in a jail cell. The difference is they called someone who got them out immediately and they weren't charged with "resisting arrest" but if they were would have had it dismissed by any lawyer of any competence.

Most of us realize there's a terrible disparity between how different classes and different skin shades are treated by the authorities in our society, troubles that have always been with us but were on the mend half a century ago until Reagan and the rightwing Republicans who came after him found more and more ways to reward the rich and powerful and punish the rest of us. These kids were victims of that mentality. Make Manhattan more accommodating to the rich and powerful and keep the rest of us in line by any means necessary.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

LATE NIGHT NOT-SO-MINI NON-RANT

So I was at Whole Foods today, doing my usual every-few-days shopping and I made sure to pick the last check out line closest to the door where no one was waiting and I could feel unrushed as I like to bag my own groceries in my own bags I bring from home. (Yeah I know, I'm a liberal cliche, including driving a Prius, though a beat up one so old it's almost one of the first.)

The lady checking the food I placed on the conveyor was doing it so rapidly I couldn't keep up so that everything was basically waiting to be bagged by the time I put the last item on the conveyor belt or whatever we call that moving surface in check out lines.

When I finally got the bags to stand up straight so I could start packing them there was no one behind me. Usually if there are people in line behind me I make a joke about being an old man or having had a brain operation or whatever to let them know I often share whatever impatience they might be feeling toward me taking a little extra time when I encounter folks in front of me in check out lines taking what I consider too long to bag their groceries and pay and get out of the way.

But as I was busy packing the bags I didn't realize there were people behind me waiting until I turned around to slide my credit card through whatever we call the thing you slide your credit car through to pay. Directly behind me was a young redheaded woman we usually call "white" and behind her a couple of tall teenage boys and a man I assumed was their father who was at least several decades younger than me and had at least fifty pounds on me or more and a few inches. All of these males what we usually call "black."

The man instantly started loudly berating me for not having paid before I packed my groceries like there was some law or rule or standard stating the order in which we are supposed to do whatever we have to do in a check out line. I noticed he only had a few items in his hand so I pointed out that there were other lines open and a whole section devoted to express lanes for people with less than ten items. But that only seemed to make him angrier.

A young "black" male manager I recognized thought quickly and opened the register next to the line I was in and motioned for the man to go there to have his items rung up and bagged. The man moved over there as I finished paying and started to leave but he couldn't stop berating me so I said something about how I hoped when he became an old man he was treated with more patience, but he jut kept ranting at me.

I could see in his face that it was obviously much more than me and the few extra seconds I added to his wait in line that was angering him. But I was too busy feeling disappointed that no one came to my defense including the several workers in that area, and the cashier. All of them were what we usually call "black" and all were looking away from the man and me as though nothing was happening.

As I pushed my cart toward the exit I grabbed my two full bags and left the cart, thinking I could drop them fast if I had to and not be stuck behind a cart if the guy came after me in the parking lot. I calmed myself down and slowed myself down deciding that whatever would be would be and there was no need for me to turn back to see if he was coming after me or to speed my pace to my car. In fact I walked more slowly than I normally would to make it clear to whoever might be behind me that I wasn't rushing or running away from the scene but was leisurely strolling toward my vehicle.

After I put my grocery bags into my car I finally turned around and saw the man walking parallel to the lane I was in and not looking my way at all. I got in my car and went home feeling pretty unruffled thankfully.

But when I got home and saw the news about the TV news anchor and her cameraman being shot and killed by an enraged ex-coworker who had a grievance against them and the station they worked at in Virginia because he had been fired and believed it was racially motivated, him being what we usually call "black" and them being what we usually call "white" (both of which terms are preposterous if they're meant to describe skin color as very few people's skin is either "white" or "black") I wondered if I had been a seventy-three-year-old black woman, or black man, or even white woman, if the angry man would have been as angry or have voiced it as ragefully as he did.

I know the killer in Virginia had obvious mental problems, and the man in Whole Foods was probably having a bad day brought on by stuff I had nothing to do with, but I also suspect this old "white" man represented something to the man in Whole Foods that I might have also represented had I been around that killer in Virginia. It isn't the first incident provoked by my being an old white man, the first one happened at a poetry panel in L.A. on which I was the only older (in my 50s at the time) "white" man and found myself being attacked as a representative of everything I fought against for most of my life just because I was being judged by the color of my skin, my age and my gender not my actions or my history.

I've spent a good deal of my adult life fighting against racism and sexism and homophobia, but I don't wear that on my skin (except in a tattoo that is so symbolically subtle at this stage of history that no one would get it anyway), so there's no way for others to know. I know that doesn't exempt me from continuing to work to change the racist legacy inherent in our history and current systemic and individual discrimination against those usually referred to as "black" (as well as "brown" and what used to be called "yellow" and "red"), but it does give me insight into what motivates some of the racial animosity Trump is playing so well to in his "white" supporters (including white supremacist organizations that have endorsed him).

In a way I'm glad that at the moment the two leading contenders for president from the right and from the left are Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders—two "old white men"—so that that generalization can be seen for what it is, mostly useless (and of course I know Bernie is Jewish and so by some of the strange racial categorization that goes on in our society that makes him not exactly an old "white" man but still...)...

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

BLAINE LOURD'S BORN ON THE BAYOU

Full disclosure, Blaine is a long time L.A. friend, but even if he wasn't I'd recommend BORN ON THE BAYOU as a well written memoir with a lot of wisdom and insight as Lourd explores the relationship between a Southern Louisiana boy and his father as the boy grows up to become a man.

What I like most about it are the details, the naming of brands and objects and rituals in a culture Blaine and his family and friends call "coonass." Blaine and his father hunt and fish and drink and even step over some lines, including the border with Mexico, things I never did with my father and no one else I know did with theirs, and yet the resonance of longing and sadness and emulation and disappointment that are the threads running through this book ring true and even familiar.

I love to hear and read almost anyone's story, if they are honest and get specific about what makes everyone's stories unique. BORN ON THE BAYOU does all that and more.

Monday, August 24, 2015

MARLON'S BEST (ANOTHER LIST)

Seeing that documentary about Brando the other day made me wish I could have been a consultant on it. My own take on him is that he revolutionized movie acting with a trilogy of flicks that changed what it meant to be "real" in a film forever:

THE WILD ONES
A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE
ON THE WATERFRONT

Then the Hollywood machine, the bosses, the money men, the scared slaves to the system decided that since Brando was being called the greatest actor ever and had become the most inspiring and original movie actor ever they should dredge up the oldest most tired movie star leading man roles and force Brando to fit his unique take on contemporary characters—an outlaw biker, a New Orleans WWII vet working man, an ex-boxer mob enforcer—into the roles of Napolean, Mark Antony, and an upper-class British officer from the a famous mutiny over a century before...

His attempts were noble efforts but misplaced, and by the end of the 1960s he was thought of as a has been, a once was, a shoulda been...and then they made him take a screen test to play a 20th century character, a Mafia don decades older than Brando was at the time and he shoved some cotton or Kleenex into his mouth to make himself jowly and created a way of speaking that a man who'd been punched in the throat might sound like and began another trilogy that proved he was the greatest screen actor once again:

THE GODFATHER
LAST TANGO IN PARIS
BURN!

The latter was Brando's favorite and is definitely one of mine, another historical role but this time to serve a higher purpose in what to my mind is the best fictional take on colonialism in any movie ever...if you want to know why the great actors of Brando's lifetime from James Dean to Al Pacino considered Brando the best ever, watch those six movies...

(For four more movies—where Brando proves his skill—to round out the list to ten I'd add:

THE MEN
VIVA ZAPATA!
MISSOURI BREAKS
THE FORMULA)

Saturday, August 22, 2015

LISTEN TO ME MARLON

LISTEN TO ME MARLON is another documentary based (mostly) on historic footage and audio tape, a la the recent masterpiece on Amy Winehouse, AMY. There are a few moments in MARLON depicting Brando's boyhood where there seems to be recreated scenes, but otherwise the film relies on historic news and movie footage to supplement audio recordings Brando made later in life either looking back on his career or his boyhood, or talking to himself (thus the "Listen to me Marlon"—i.e. his addressing himself) in what he seems to have labeled "SELF HYPNOSIS" tapes.

The discovery that Brando had taped himself (along with having a hologram made of his head speaking, including reciting lines from Shakespeare plays) is what generated this film. Brando intentionally recorded himself correcting the record of his life from his perspective and it is as revelatory as everything else this iconic figure did in his life.

If you were influenced by Brando's movie roles when they first appeared, as I was, or saw them later and felt their impact, or are one of the many actors or viewers who consider him to be the greatest movie actor of his time, or any time, you'll dig this film. But even if you don't agree with those who see Brando as a towering historic cultural figure, this movie might still be for you, because it tells a unique though classic tragic tale of personal triumph and personal failure. Brando's story could almost be another Greek myth about hubris and its tragic results.

I would have made a few other selections in the movie scenes that director Stevan Riley chose to illustrate various points in Brando's life and career, and his impact on movie acting, and would have loved to have seen and heard more from his family and intimate friends, in fact I wish I could have heard more of the tapes and could easily have sat through two films culled from his archives. But for most viewers I'm sure this film will satisfy any curiosity they might have about the man who changed the art of film acting as well as impacted the culture of the 1950s and '60s and beyond.  

Thursday, August 20, 2015

ONCE UPON A SUMMERTIME

The little guy is me, to my left my sister Irene and to my right my late sister Joan, behind us is Robert (note the probably woolen bathing suit) the youngest of my three older living brothers at the time (the other two would have been off in the military for WWII), all gone now including him, in Belmar NJ c. 1945