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On Any Given Sunday…


Once again, I find my mind confused and unsettled. It’s a condition that seems to occur almost every Sunday morning. A couple of cups of strong coffee and the Sunday New York Times Book Review Section leave my head, even more than normally, disturbed and aswim with undigested ideas. 

A Daniel Gates review of Philip Roth’s latest novel, “Indignation,” tempered my instinctive lack of empathy for Roth’s obsession with sex and of late with his consciousness of his own ever more imminent demise. As a Roth contemporary I feel like saying, “for Christ’s sake, Phil, get a grip,” an entirely inappropriate response. I remember being much taken in 1959 with his early short story, “Defender Of the Faith,” and over the intervening years I’ve chided myself for not paying more attention to someone who can write that well.  After an abortive attempt at “Portnoy’s Complaint,” I began shying away from Roth. I know enough to chalk that up to my own biases and not to any lack of talent, or more likely, genius on his part. I will pick up a copy of “Indignation.” Old Phil deserves another chance. 

In the same issue of the Book Review, A. O. Scott executed a masterful essay/review of Marilynne Robinson’s new novel “Home,” a companion to her “Gilead,” a book that left its mark on me. I had gone almost immediately from Gilead to her prior “Housekeeping,” an equally haunted and haunting work. No surprise that I went on into the whole W. G.  Sebald catalog. I’ve come to realize that while I do get it, whatever the “it” is, as explained to me by the reviewers and the critics, it’s been the experience of the reading itself that has stayed with me, rather than any conscious memory of the specific content in either Robinson’s or Sebald’s works. What I recall most is the pure pleasure, actually more the sad enchantment, of being guided through elusively complex interior realities, a subjectivity bounded by and infused into the objective history of the stories’ settings. Both writers, in very different ways, seem to deliver a rewarding sense of an understanding on some inexplicable and inexpressible level. No clarifications, no sort of instructive simplifications are revealed. What emerges is akin to Barbara Tuchman’s “Distant Mirror, a heightened sense of the infinitely unknowable complexity and continuity of human existence. 

And finally in today’s edition, the engaging and always entertaining Christopher Hitchens returned gingerly to the latest Left-wing fratricides, this time in a review of Bernard-Henri Levy’s “Left In Dark Times.” Having grown up on Orwell, Koestler and Malraux and having just finished Tony Judt’s terrific essay collection, “Reappraisals,” I figure my ticket’s been punched and I can take a pass on this one. 

Time to unplug the fevered, overwrought and inadequate machinery inside my head and go out into this beautiful day and do something productive, like blowing leaves.


September 29, 2008

A correction: In regard to above posting – I just finished reading Philip Roth’s “Indignation.” It is wonderful. In terms of his ability to write, Roth is the real thing, an American Master. He’s written twenty-eight books. The acclaim, I felt suspect, is in no way unwarranted. Were I to write one such book, I would consider my creative existence vindicated. Now in good conscience, I am obligated, and looking forward, to going back and reading as much of his stuff as I can lay hands on.




Hey Kids! Hot wheels!

If you are anything like me, and can’t quite remember the last time you had your car washed, you may have found yourself stopped at a traffic light next to a vehicle not only larger than yours, but one that is sparklingly clean, shining and flashing as H. L. Mencken might have put it, “like the gates of hell itself.” 

You look at it and realize that it’s not an SUV; it’s a pickup truck. But it’s a pickup truck that looks nothing like a working truck. In truth, it looks much more like one of those Tonka toy trucks you might have bought for one of your kids years ago. And maybe like me, you begin to think, hey what’s going on here? 

Then you start noticing them everywhere – Pickup trucks, new, shiny, pimped out in lots of expensive chrome after-market goodies. Many of them sporting assertive stickers on their back-windows and bumpers; NFL and NHL teams logos, Harley-Davidson logos, almost always, high-testosterone markers. And worse, those aggressively patriotic messages, the ones that imply that if you don’t entirely share their support for whatever war is in progress you are probably some limp-wristed, commie Jane Fonda lover.

But the most common indicator of a toy truck, of a vehicle the existence of which seems to serve solely to enhance the macho, if delusional self-image of its owner, is its cleanliness. These pampered iron horses look to have never seen a hard day’s work, or for that matter any form of real work that might, heaven forbid, dirty the bed, mar the finish or even get the tires muddy. If it’s a truck, but never does the work of a truck, what then other than ego gratification could be the purpose of its existence?

I look at the guys in the cabs and I wonder; wannbe tough guys, real tough guys but insecure, or is it maybe like the Pete Townsend observation about guys preening; it’s usually for other guys, because women are rarely impressed by this kind of posturing.

Remember to keep your eyes on the road. Check it out for yourself. Count the big, high-end pickup trucks, waxed and shining, cleaner than clean. Then just imagine yourself at the wheel of one of these babies, in the command position, high above those effete guys in sedans, coupes or even SUVs. Imagine how you might be able to drop your voice a couple of octaves, how you could add a swagger to your gait when dismounting. Maybe you’d even be a bit taller. Maybe somebody might mistake you for a real cowboy.