Monday morning my television was left on, after a fantastic 5-hour World Series game… I was half listening to some evangelist rambling on about holy water and salvation which sounded absurd enough for me to take a look. Here was one of those fake ministers whom I could swear had been indicted and mortified in another decade--- back on-screen with his bad hair-weave and dye job, a surgically enhanced blonde wife reading letters and testimonies with the emotional presence of a talking doll. He was throwing away crutches, walking wheelchair patients around a huge room, choosing person after person to come to the front, cast off their pain and praise the power of the monthly sum they commit to this shyster for the promise of some God-backed pay-off. How is this legal, and how are there numbers of people-- not actors, I assume, willing to participate in this scam?
It is Halloween. The day dawned with a chill wind… children awaking with energy-- dreaming about their costumes. Classes will not be so bad; teachers will forego homework… townhouses in my neighborhood are decorated with ghoulish puppets and spiderwebs-- a haunted real-estate fantasy. Most everyone has their carved pumpkins and candles out, and piles of candy ready at the door. Then we had a mid-afternoon incident… the city takes a bullet. For the victims, who began this day innocently-- maybe even taking a personal day since we all get involved in trick-or-treating festivities, the parade-- this was a catastrophic synchronicity of geography.
I can't help wondering who these people are who execute heinous killings-- whether they are heartless ethical mutants passing as human beings, or maybe lost, confused children wearing a costume of evil someone has loaned them or given them like a kind of armor with which to manage the world. Indoctrination-- brain-washing, initiation… creates monstrous murderous machines which have only physical human resemblance. Like the tales of science fiction, they walk among us, drive cars, buy groceries… and then, the switch is thrown and their image is on all our screens and devices.
Our president, of course, as he does, used personal tragedy to promote his own bizarre agenda. The man couldn't protect us from a mosquito, let alone the threat of terrorist-driven violence; this particular murderer is not even from one of the restricted countries on the Trump list, although he would have us believe this. He has not a clue about psychology, about deep-seated resentments and human suffering, about children who grow up without proper protection, without dreams, exposed to horrific acts of war and often without any kind of stable home or haven. He is a tiny man in a larger man's costume.
On the airport bus in Sweden last month, I sat behind a calm young couple on their way to some honeymoon or vacation junket. She was wearing a powder-blue coat-- haven't seen or heard that color described since the 1960's… he in a button-down and tie. They were chattering and whispering-- like coloring-book illustrations of perfect good Swedes talking about the weather-- friends, new clothes-- innocent and so clean… the crease of his shirt, her pristine coat-- giggling and acting like grown-ups-- the epitome of normal-- the golden-rule standard. Struggling myself with a tape-reinforced old carry-on bag, worrying about getting through customs with my home-made sandwich-- flying on the cheap-cheap-- no luggage, no meal, no water… an old black-haired odd freak in my thrift-shop denim… I felt like a blot on the milk-white paper of homogenized Stockholm.
I imagined my perfect Swedes in my city taking the Circle Line tour, going to see Kinky Boots and staying at some Times Square Hotel. They'd visit Brooklyn, eat soul food at Sylvia's in Harlem, walk the High Line… and suddenly, pulling out my dog-eared James Baldwin and my notebook-- I started to pity them. They are just people-- like most of us-- with jobs and little houses and furnishings and a coffee maker and maybe a dog… wearing the costume of normalcy. All dressed up and nowhere really to go, because it occurs to me now, in this culture of Trump and Instagram and Twitter--- that we are all followers and post-its-- the subjects of our own blogs and photo-albums, but very few of us really know who we are. So busy are we looking at Facebook and dumping out on the galaxy-sized digital garbage pile, very few have taken the solitary and tough independent time to dissect and analyze ourselves old-school.
How did my generation evolve-- listening to the words of men like Martin Luther King who urged us to drive out hatred with love, to shun violence and to feel the oppression of others and stand up for their dignity when they could not? Believing his words-- that we are all one, we must not be silent, we must think and care and do right, we must protect those who cannot protect themselves. But he also encouraged us via action to become better people. This is religion for me-- love and truth and compassion… not praying for a shiny new luxury car, or executing an act of human violence in the name of some distorted version of God.
On the sidewalks at dusk, throngs of children went on with their ritual--- ghouls and monsters, super-heroes and princesses, witches and wizards… terrorism did not stop our Halloween. I wonder how many of these kids become their costume-- try on their character, melt their own little soul into the persona that is already formed and clear. Tomorrow they will just be children again, although many of their parents will continue to wear the costume of hair-weaves and plastic surgery, having learned nothing of the lessons of my generation-- of the inside shining through the outside…of beauty of heart beating out the skin-deep kind. We are judged these days by our instagram image, by our facade… the quick profile… and so many of us have lost our own judgment. Witness the president we 'chose'.
My person-of-the-night award goes to the little Mexican girl dressed as a Pilgrim; with her orange plastic pumpkin-basket, she explained to me how Thanksgiving is about celebrating the immigrants, how she is learning to read even though her parents cannot, and how she will grow up to be an important American woman. Her mother's shy ambivalent smile said it all. I wanted to hug this girl, and to cry for her future among the Trumps and Harvey Weinsteins, among the privileged UES botoxed ladies and the corrupt hierarchy of American economics. Be true to yourself, be kind to your sisters, I wanted to say, and you may still be a victim; you may be deported and disrespected and very poor. In my permanent costume of poverty and human sympathy, I went back upstairs to watch baseball.