Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Cataracts

Tonight I went to see an eye doctor I haven’t seen in 12 years. He doesn’t take my pathetic overpriced insurance, but I remembered he was a thorough and reasonable professional and it turns out his fee for a consult is exactly the same as my overpriced insurance co-pay. Never in my 25-year health-insurance past have I spent more quality time in a doctor’s office. He prescribed 1 (that’s right) contact lens, so I don’t waste money on the other which I don’t need… and told me not to bother changing my eyeglasses because my eyes are in flux and I’d be throwing money away. Then he told me he’d mail a paper bill--- he doesn’t take plastic. I thought I was in a time-warp.

The bad news, on the other hand, is that I’m developing a cataract. Apparently I have what amounts to a yellow filter over my eyes, which affects my perception of color. Not only am I becoming the oldest rock musician in New York City, but all those years of spots and blue lights have taken a toll. When he used the word, I thought about Niagara Falls— that kind of cataract. The only meaning when I was young and invincible. Before spellcheck. I thought of the cataract-tears that fell this morning for Ted Kennedy, the ones I cried for the lost and missing children in my life, the tragic suicides of all the pained artistic souls I worshipped over the years. They couldn’t take the harsh light, couldn’t afford the prescription shades. Blink, Lou Reed.

I wonder if Ted Kennedy with all his health issues had cataracts because it seemed that he saw things with a bit too much clarity over the years. It bothers me, in some way, that his presidential timing was never quite right, and I wonder why the Powers-That-Be decided it was prudent to let the right Democrat in this time round. I watched archival footage of Ted giving that speech, way back in the Carter era, acknowledging that the average American family would have been bankrupted in a few months if faced with the Kennedy family medical bills. I watched him pledging to uphold the Democratic platform which guaranteed every American decent health care. Because when it comes down to it, what good are Constitutional rights if you’re too ill to exercise them?

That speech was filmed in an era when words were spoken live—- then televised. Not twittered, emailed, texted. Grammar mattered. Rhetoric, delivery. He suffered plenty of press and political crucifixions—- maybe more than his brothers, because he lived so much longer— and perhaps wore his tragic flaws more honestly.

Not that I have abandoned Obama. But I cannot fathom his doing business with the Bernankes and Geithners and Goldman crooks any more than I could stomach a presidential golf game with Ahmadinejad. No spellcheck there.

What annoys me tonight… people on TV who say ‘this is a whole nother level’… who are maybe the same people who say ‘how good of a pitch was that?’ What’s with the ‘of’? The careless misspellings posted in bold typeface on our Breaking-News TV caption-headlines. For a brief minute, Senator Kennedy was daed. Walter Cronkite would not have made such a typo.

But back to the Democratic ‘platform’ promise from 30 years ago. What has happened to blur the vision of Americans? Among other things, what happened was Reagan et. al. Then Bush et. al. The fact that the Dow moved up some 10,000 points and clouded our judgment. The fact that biotech and health insurance stocks were putting such enormous profits in the pockets of the Loudmouths that healthcare and every thing else for the increasing rich was affordable and deductible and the poor…well, let them eat cake anyway because their teeth will fall out before they reach Medicare eligibility.

Ted might have had a brain tumor, but he had a memory, also. His parting policy statement was a reminder about universal health care. Will this shine through his death? Or will the message be lost in the media?

Do you think he was too ill to know that Annie Liebovitz who photographed his family is now bankrupt? That her catalogue, like that of the living Michael Jackson, is in jeopardy and Goldman Sachs is now offering to bail her out of her uncompromising financial obligation? They will buy this ‘toxic’ loan like an anteater lickety splits his pray. And they will turn this around, make a huge profit, humiliate her. The whole situation sucks, but did she not see that the words ‘Art’ and ‘Capital’ do not belong together except in a world where ‘US Treasury’ and ‘Goldman Sachs’ cannot go for more than a page of text without being linked?

Cataracts. Annie wears designer glasses. I’ll bet her doctors will exchange a photo or even a Polaroid for a life-saving surgery. But don’t give in, Annie. They have your negatives but they don’t have you. I always thought you were a sell-out and I actually had your huge old coffee-table book on a pile of library-donations. I just might keep it now. In a few months I might only see in black and white anyway. My insurance won’t pay for the surgery, and no vision correction will let us see, when we pull the voting booth lever, which candidate is running on the G-S ticket.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

America Has Talent?

Tonight I was walking across East 60th street, weaving my way through the usual evening crowd of well-dressed young teens and tourists flocking every available stoop and railing, waiting impatiently for their chance to sample the Serendipity version of dessert heaven. There is a party atmosphere— it is summer holiday; the night air is clear and breezy-- many hold balloons and brightly colored bags of sweets from Dylan’s.

On the south side of 60th Street it is trash pickup night; debris and unwanted furnishings from summer renovations and tenant changes line the curb in irregular clumps like a tiny shantytown. A pair of homeless men have parked their carts and assess the merchandise; tonight the sidewalk displays an especially rich inventory. One of them is seated on a small sofa and trying on pair after pair of athletic footwear someone has discarded. He walks, tests the fit. Sits down again, and suddenly one of the shoes is hurling and spiraling through the air, down 60th street, clear across to the East side of Second Avenue where cars are entering the 59th Street bridge. Wow, I think. What an arm. What an NFL quarterback super-bowl-worthy pass. Incredible. The power, the perfect arc, the speed. The talent.

Okay, you do the math, follow the dots back to his past, his ‘hood. The wealth of athletic talent in the average underprivileged New York City neighborhood. The courts of Coney Island…the Rucker tournament players who make many college basketball stars look like amateurs, but who end up on unemployment lines, using anything to dull the ache of unfulfilled promise.

Then there’s the music. Some of these people hum with more grit and soul than the average MTV star or American Idol winner. How about that girl on ‘Prep’ who has her own $6 million apartment on Park Ave. and a vocal coach who is paid by the hour more than a weekly minimum wage salary so this brat can imitate other pop stars and appear to have talent? Okay, we the disgruntled and educated tell ourselves… it’s all marketing anyway. The toxic world of New York which used to nurture ideas and individuality. We have the cult of competitive narcissism and celebrity… like one enormous cultural hot-dog eating contest… while the rest of the world is starving and suffering.

Of course, there is no scarcity of talent. They are everywhere.. the invisible readers of obscure books, the writers of unpublished decent poetry, the sketchers on the subway who occasionally visit free Chelsea galleries and go home and tear their hair out. I even concede there is much talent among the hugely successful. I am an admirer of the acting ability of Meryl Streep. The popularity of her current box-office feat baffles me. I grew up watching Julia Child on channel 13 when I was home with measles or chicken pox in those innocent pre-innoculation days and was too sick to change channels. Even then I thought she was in drag. The person. She was weird and awkward and discombobulated and not quite credible, to me. She didn’t make me want to cook the way Graham Kerr did. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. Comics used to imitate her. And there are plenty of taped shows available. We didn’t need the movie. I don’t get it. Now I do. She was kind of the first 'indie' chef. Is the film some reminder that celebrity chefs, who now have $2000 haircuts and celebrity spouses, used to be unattractive? We have several versions of Top Chef, we have 24-hour food channels. Chefs are the new rockstars. Nora Ephron has plenty of money. She could feed everyone in the Congo with a year’s worth of Sleepless in Seattle and Harry and Sally reruns. She has celebrity friends. Can’t she come up with something new?

Okay. I didn’t see it. I don’t want to see Meryl Streep like a human muppet doing an expensive imitation. Julia Child was already a kind of dysfunctional muppet. She might be a symbol that America had some talent among the understyled and unfashionable. She was smart and was a real person… she wasn’t auditioned and created by media spinners and picked for photogenic charisma. She was the essence of what used to be channel 13… the Mr. Wizard of cookery.

These days on PBS we get some babe begging for money while Wayne Dyer and other useless cultish quacks prattle and prance across the screen giving us advice about how to cure ADHD and sexless marriages. These people are stupid, narcissistic and misleading. They are also very rich. They are marketing experts. Is PBS that desperate? Do the Ziffs and the Bronfmans blindly give money? Don’t they have a programming opinion? Bring back the Mostly Mozart, Upstairs-Downstairs, the real Julia Child cooking… Marie Antoinette… Mary Queen of Scots… okay. The POVs, the films… even an occasional Charlie Rose… most of it is okay… but these telethons? Please. And leave out the Hollywood versions… actors playing Jackie Kennedy and Andy Warhol and Julia Child who are well-documented on film. What are they trying to do to the small piece of reality we all carry with us? We are confused enough. Somewhere America Has Talent but it is not on TV. Maybe on youtube but the cult of narcissism and compulsive media documenting has made the ‘needle in a haystack’ metaphor a gross understatement. Ditto the plea ‘someone take out the trash’.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Pearls Before Swine

I have the Swine flu. I like saying that. It’s not Pig or Boar or Porcine but Swine. Sounds biblical, judgmental. Trust me, it is hellish. Tylenol keeps the fever down to a manageable 101 degrees but I am too congested to sleep and the cough is excruciating. My doctor advised me to be admitted to the hospital, but fear of uncovered charges exceeds fear of death. Then again, there is a folding table on my corner with signs and leaflets warning DEATH TO OBAMA(‘s healthplan). And NOBAMA. As a victim of healthcare, I no longer know what to think. I fail to see the evils of the Canadian system. And I grew up believing that Tampax should be government-supplied. Plenty of free condoms in the schools. I support that. In fact I support anything free.

Debt used to be free. The right to owe money. Borrowing....loans, yes, there is an agreed-upon price, but the condition of debt used to be free. Anyone could get there. Now it can cost you your home. Why? Because a huge percentage of our fictitious GNP was predicated on marketing this debt. Enormous profits were reaped marketing this. And someone had to take the rap...why not punish the poor schmucks? What more brilliant, more Satanic scheme could there be? Like selling ‘death’ to Americans. Has anyone read the most recent Saramago novel? Where immortality actually threatens a country and black-market industries arise to smuggle living people across a border so they can die? Maybe Bernie Madoff is reading this in his jailcell. Certainly he will have access to a kindle and other luxuries. I’ll bet the room is larger than many New York City apartments.

Private equity companies are preparing to reap huge profits on the toxic loans they are buying up like penny candy. They will market debt. Why not have a daily average, a figure… like pork futures, metals--- debt. The new commodity. Of course poor schmucks like me are putting their 4-figure life-savings accounts into fractional-percentage point safety accounts. We must sit on the sidelines watching the high-rollers play. We get to serve the Red Bull for coin tips. Or not.

Poor law-abiding citizens still fear debt. Neither a borrower nor a lender be. I am a giver. But I am also stupid. My neighbor caused the downfall of a great Wall Street institution. He committed heinous financial crimes. Employees lost their lifetime pensions. But he and his family still smell like roses, even if it is artificial rose stench. Their windows are clean and sparkling and their housekeepers are better groomed than I will ever be. They are spending weeks on the French Riviera. Their cavernous apartment with no books is vacant. My windows are filthy. My non-airconditioned shelves and piles of books are dull and over-handled. I have seen the Hudson and East Rivers several times in passing this summer, and my house doesn’t sparkle. Cleanliness has become an urban economic marker. Rich people have enormous, dust-free, freshly-painted spaces, and poor people have musty and dusty things everywhere-- things they might need, clothes they might wear. We are afraid to discard that which may be unaffordable in the future, or that which may have marketable value on ebay. Oh poor schmucks, throw out your trash. Or take it to a thrift store. Odds are nothing you own is going to be worthy of airtime on Antique Roadshow. And it may be harboring Swine flu germs.

Maybe it was that penny I picked up in the street. Or the cherry the fruit vendor offered me to taste. Or the $1 pretzel on 8th Avenue. The girl who swiped her runny nose before clamping the takeout lid on my morning coffee. My rich neighbor sees me coming from the library. ‘Aren’t you afraid of germs?’ she asks me, totally deadpan. I am afraid of fear, I tell her. What I don’t say is I am afraid of hospital bills and uncovered blood tests. I am afraid of my own health insurance company’s unchecked right to raise rates so the CEO's kids can have their king-sized bathrooms custom-sterilized daily by women in crisply laundered uniforms. So they don't contract Swine flu. I am beginning to fear my own anger because my skin feels hot enough to crackle.

When I was a sophomore in college, my adorable boyfriend gave me a baby pig for Valentine’s Day. It was cute and smart and pinkish. And then it began to grow. To eat, and snort and cavort around with enough force to destroy furniture. So we drove it up to Vermont where it ballooned into a 900-pound fatty and ended up in installments in the oven of this hippy farmer family who could no longer afford the slops. Roasts and bacon and tripe kept them warm through the winter. They never got Swine flu.

I am more inclined to believe this influenza comes from the real Swine… the Wall Street pigs and the biotech companies who are going to rake a huge profit from the vaccine. Ditto Roche, who makes Tamiflu, though I recall reading in the New York Times back in January that Tamiflu is completely ineffective against this particular strain of influenza. In Canada, this is common knowledge. It seems to me they were still handing out Tamiflu to those Queens high school students like candy all through the spring. Or am I hallucinating? Does anyone recall that Rumsfeld was a huge shareholder and profited enormously from the Avian flu scare just a few short years ago?

I’ll probably live. Although had I gone to the hospital, who knows? As they say, if it’s not another thing, it’s one. Oink.