Tuesday, November 3, 2015

review of The Chintz Age

the chintz age photo: Fostoria Chintz Pitcher pitcher-.jpg
I often think of short story collections as being comparable to a record album or a mixed tape, with each story being like an individual song on the album or tape.  I always wonder about the song order (or story order), I wonder if the album/tape/short story collection has a theme or a concept, I wander how autobiographical each song/story is and how much it reveals about the writer's world vision and philosophy.  I also look for certain hooks, riffs, solos (soliloquys) that either express the writer's creativity or lack thereof.  Albums are interesting because they can be viewed as a whole as well as being viewed in terms of their individual songs - this allows for various things to be going on at different levels all at once.  Thinking of a short story collection in that context means a strong opener is important.  

In Ed Hamilton's The Chintz Age "Fat Hippie Books" is that strong opener.  It introduces a number of themes and motifs that set up further exploration in the stories that follow.  The most central motif that Hamilton introduces in Fat Hippie Books is that of real estate or domicile uncertainty.  In "Fat Hippie Books" a bookstore owner is conflicted over selling out and scrapping his dreams when he comes face to face with reality when his rent is about to be jacked up to $4,000 a month.  This conflict and uncertainty that Greg has over the future home of his bookstore ignites the narrative and it represents a reoccurring theme throughout the entire collection of stories.  In the second story "The Chintz Age" Martha (a former squatter who was responsible for having another squatter booted out of a squat) is now leaving her apartment to her daughter.  In "Westside Hotel" (in which the narrator takes a room in the hotel he works at) a hotel building itself is a central character.  In "Plagiarism," a writer named Theo is getting squeezed out of his domicile and needs to convince Kim (the Sandwich Whore) to let him live with her.  "Rock of the Lower East Side" meanwhile begins with the boarding up of a building that the protagonist once lived in and then decides breaks into in order to find closure to a past relationship and come to terms with his lot in life.  "King of the Underground" is about an elderly man who breaks out of a nursing home and finds a new home in the underground dwelling amongst the mole people.  "Highline/Highlife" is the first person account of a writer's life and times in the Highline building.  And "The Retro-Seventies Manhattan Dream Apartment" revolves around the schemes of three female vultures trying to take over a Manhattan guy's apartment.

With each story involving (in some way) domicile uncertainty, Hamilton is able to explore various themes and schemes that revolve around the relationship people have with their homes - specifically people in New York who are in a set of circumstances that is unique from other American cities.  In nearly every story, Hamilton shows us how a person's relationship to their home can affect their relationship with other people and often cause battles that result in a break or a drifting apart of two people who were once very close.  In some cases the change in these relationships cause Hamilton's character's to completely rethink their entire mission in life, their entire value system.

©2015 Rockism 101. All Rights Reserved

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Was Jesus A Socialist?

bernie sanders photo: Senator Bernie Sanders Bernie.jpgI recently asked a family member (who is a card carrying Republican) what they thought about the current Democratic field of candidates for POTUS.  He told me that he hated Hillary. 
“She's a liar, she's just out for herself,” he told me.
“I can't disagree,” I replied.  “So what about Bernie Sanders?”
“He's a socialist!”
The tone in which my Republican family member said this was about the same as if he had declared: “He's a bedwetter!”
Being a socialist is apparently unthinkable.  Now granted this family member is over 60 years old and as a kid, growing up in 1950s America, it was instilled upon him that the Commies were the worst cretins possible next to Nazis and Satan worshippers.  But still, when I pressed him for clarification I was expecting something beyond him raising his hands to his side and simply repeating "a socialist!” as if it was obvious.

So I said, "What would be so terrible about having a Socialist President - you know, Jesus was a socialist."
What happened next was something reminiscent of Hollywood Western, the moment right before a bar room brawl is about to break out.  There was total silence and a look came across his face as if I had just taken a dump on his favorite Bible then wiped my ass with his favorite American Flag.  Obviously, Socialism with a capital "S" hadn't even existed during the time of Jesus.  However, from what the Bible "documents" about the life of Jesus, his acts and words were very characteristic of Socialist principles.  So this was the argument I was prepared to make to my Republican family member, but he just glared at me.  No words came from his tater trap.

Knowing that I would come up against nothing but a brick wall in asking him to explain what would be so terrible about having a Socialist President (if in fact Bernie Sanders actually is one), I decided instead to take my question to that fountain of all knowledge - the internet - and pose the question on a variety of political websites.  The first interesting reply I received was from a balding middle-aged guy with a fu man chu mustache who declared that “Socialism will make people lazy – they won't have to go out and work for what they got.”
This might be true, I conceded.  Although, there will be lazy people no matter what system our country has.  There were probably even lazy slaves on the plantations of Georgia 160 years ago.  But to play along and assume that socialism, or communism, does provide people with more opportunity to be lazy – and that in fact, people are actually lazier under those systems, the next question becomes: “Why is that a bad thing?”
My card-carrying Republican family member probably would have shit a brick from this question, but if you think about it, isn't the entire goal of capitalism to have an individual obtain so much money that he or she doesn't have to work anymore?  Or for his or her kids to never have to work?  Or to at least have as much leisure time as they want?  Which means that socialism and capitalism both have essentially the same end goal for an individual.  So if that is the case, then why not just skip the entire “working your ass off for 50 years in the rat race to climb the company ladder so you can die in a comfortable setting” and go right to the “provided with everything you need and having all the leisure time you want” part? 
To get an answer, I asked the internet another question: “How would America be any worse if it had a socialist system, where everyone had free health care, everyone had a free education, everyone had a free cell phone and internet access, everyone had three free heart-healthy meals a day, free public transportation, free water, free heat, free electricity and free housing?”
nazi germany photo:  50537869.jpgThe most common reply I got to this was, “Well, then no one would do any work and everything would fall apart – like it did with the Soviet Union.”
The second most common reply was, “Then the government would completely control everyone's lives, setting up another environment like that in Nazi Germany.”
And the third most common reply was, “And how is the government going to pay for all this free shit, Einstein???”
I didn't totally agree with either of the first two rebuttals.  Namely because the Soviet Union's demise was mainly due to corruption and oppression, which are traits of human nature no matter what system is at play.  And two, the American government would not completely control everyone's lives like in Nazi Germany. National Socialism is not the same as just plain old socialism. America has a democratic system of checks and balances that has ALWAYS prevented a centralized government from completely taking control.    

But beyond these two objections, let's consider this third rebuttal.  And to do this, it is necessary to become a bit of a time traveler.  Not that you have to be a Nostradamus per say, because it really doesn't take a soothsayer to see that in 50 to 100 years from now most shitty jobs in America will be accomplished by robots, computers, nanotechnology or corporate slaves.  So let’s say we simply time travel to the year 2112 (because I know of at least one Rush fan who is reading this) where our toilets are cleaned by micro-cleansers while hover cars drive and park themselves and houses are built by mechanized Suessian machines that run on solar energy as they spoodge out recycled plastic moldings.  And in this not-so-distant future how hard is it to imagine that “manual labor” and “detail oriented soul-sucking paper work” are relics of a by gone era (our era)?  And if you can imagine that future, then you can ask yourself: “At that point, what does the definition of 'being lazy' or 'not working' really mean?”  And then ask yourself: What would happen if this antiquated, Puritan idea of “working hard to get ahead” (that capitalistic Americans seem to cling so tightly to) simply no longer existed?  What if Gene Roddenberry was right and that humanity actually is evolving to a point where society simply moves along smoothly?  Everyone is fed, taught, provided with health care, provided with food, housing, communication and energy?  What if in 2112 every American will be living in an Utopian society where our technology provides everything we need and that every individual has obtained that ultimate Capitalistic goal of having all the time to relax they ever wanted?  What then?  What would become of the human race at that point?  What if the future as seen through the “End of Times” Book of Revelations crowd never comes?  What if those who anticipate Armageddon are simply delusional?  What if the battles of good and evil with fire and earthquakes and floods and famine never comes?  What if instead, everything is just fine, everything is easily attainable, convenient, comfortable, clean? 
homer simpson cheeto photo: Homer homer-simpson.jpg 
I know, it sounds pretty boring and certainly some people would become lazy and just sit around munching on Cheetoz and watching Maury Povich all day.  But if you have faith in the human spirit, then you know that most people want to pursue a dream, follow a passion.  It might be painting or volunteering with children or racing dogs or tending a garden or whatever.  But if you believe in humanity then you believe that a future in which individuals have the freedom to follow their hopes and dreams and passions is better than one in which they are locked into an banal life of waking up each day, going to a mundane job just to pay their bills, and existing as nothing more than a consumer. 

So if we can agree that this liberated utopia is an attainable, preferred and highly likely future, the question then becomes: How do we get there?  Is Socialism the way?  Capitalism?  Corporatism?  Communism?  Libertarianism?  A programmed mix of all of them?  Honestly I don't know, but whatever the answer is, I'm completely certain that it does not involve Hillary Clinton, Ted Cruz or Donald Trump.

©2015 Rockism 101. All Rights Reserved

Friday, April 3, 2015

Where have you gone Joe DiMaggio?

ernie banks 1968 photo: Banks, Ernie 2 BanksErnie2.jpg
1967 was dubbed the Summer of Love, but the following summer, the summer of 1968 was filled with violence, rioting and assassination. The War in Vietnam was dividing families as images of American troops committing atrocities against Asian families were broadcast nightly on the TV News. Civil rights crusaders were being beaten and killed. Robert Kennedy was assassinated moments after giving a victory speech as he won the California Democratic primary. Blood in the streets flowed in Chicago at the Democratic convention. With all of this turmoil it was easy to forget about America's past time: baseball.

But like the nation itself, major league baseball was in its own ideological crisis during the summer of 1968. Termed the “Year of the Pitcher” 1968's baseball season was delayed two days (from April 8th to April 10th) due to the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. Exactly 21 years earlier, Jackie Roosevelt Robinson had also made “black” history by becoming the first black player to play in the Major Leagues (followed by Larry Doby three months later for the Cleveland Indians). Those were different times though.  America was freshly rejuvenated from victory against Hitler in WWII and Americans were looking forward with optimism in 1947. That autumn Jackie Robinson would appear in the first ever televised World Series, as his Brooklyn Dodgers lost 4 games to 3 to Joe DiMaggio's crosstown titans, the New York Yankees. In many ways that kicked off a true golden era for baseball and for America. During the 50s and 60s, as the roads of America were becoming populated with muscle cars, the baseball stadiums of America were being populated with swaggering, slugging, stylish, speedy, athletic hitters: Willie Mays, Roger Maris, Mickey Mantle, Ernie Banks, Stan Musial, Duke Snider, Hank Aaron. But by 1968, the muscle cars were all found on the pitching mound. Major league baseball had become dominated by pitching in a way it never had before and it never has since. The “Year of the Pitcher” saw such memorable events as back to back no-hitters (by Gaylord Perry and Ray Washburn). It saw Dodger Ace Don Drysdale set a record by pitching 58 2/3 consecutive scoreless innings. It saw the Mets and Astros play a scoreless game for 24 innings! It saw the average batting average for an American League hitter at an all-time low of just .230. In fact only one American League hitter even batted over .300. Carl Yaztremski of the Red Sox hit .301 to lead the league. Meanwhile Detroit Tigers hurler Denny McLain became the last pitcher to win 30 games in a season as he went 30-6. And perhaps the greatest pitcher of the era, Bob Gibson – who had struck out 26 batters in 27 innings and pitched 3 complete game victories in the 1967 World Series – posted an unbelievable 1.12 era for the 1968 season, as he went 22-9 with 268 strikeouts and 13 shutouts. It seemed like no one in the majors could hit that year – no one except for Pete Rose that is. Rose lead the majors with 210 hits and a .335 batting average. A decade later Rose would set a NL record by having a 44 game hitting streak – second in the majors only to Joe DiMaggio's 56 game hitting streak in 1941.
pete rose 1968 photo: Rose, Pete - 2 Rose.jpg
It was obvious that major league baseball needed a change as many fans were becoming bored with sitting on their seats watching two guys play catch, with an occasional hit here and there. Pro football meanwhile was gaining popularity, with its fast action and hard-hitting play and charasmatic personalities like the fur-coat wearing QB Joe Namath, who boldly predicted and then delivered a victory in Superbowl III for his underdog New York Jets. So before the start of 1969 season the league elected a new commissioner, Bowie Kuhn – a lawyer – and they voted to lower the pitching mound from 15 inches down to 10 inches and then officially shrunk the strike zone as well. After a bump in popularity thanks in large part to the Miracle Mets of 1969, major league baseball would have one last great decade: the 1970s – a decade remembered for domes, astroturf, colorful uniforms (even short pants), wild promotions, a kissing bandit, wife swappers and all kinds of facial hair. A decade that was not tainted by steroid use or daily headlines of ball players who behaved badly (not that ball players didn't behave badly in pre-cable tv times – they did.  But that kind of stuff just wasn't part of the narrative at that time and ball players weren't as high-paid, privileged and egotistically at that time). It was the last decade before millionaire ball players. It was the last decade when baseball was still a game, instead of a business.

bob gibson photo: Gibson, Bob 3 GibsonBob3.jpg