Sunday, January 29, 2017

278. New York Skyline: Aspiration or Hubris?

         New: For my author page on Amazon (bio, photo, books), click here.

         New York is a city of doers, and one thing they do – constantly, maniacally – is build.  Our beloved New York Times had an article last December, “A Year of Skyline Spectacle and Joy,” that chronicled significant architectural restorations and creations in the city in the year 2016.  The photos accompanying it let readers promenade about the city to see these sites without stirring from their humble abode.  So let’s take a gander together.

         The Roy and Diana Vagelos Education Center is described by the Times as a “whimsical 110,000-square-foot exclamation mark” on Columbia University’s Upper Manhattan medical campus near the George Washington Bridge.  The south-facing 14-story tower “presents a cheerfully teetering stack of cantilevered terraces, indoor bleacher seats, lounges and stairs,” as seen in a large photo showing the building’s stairs and adjoining rooms blatantly exposed at night through huge glass windows.  Impressive, to put it mildly, and in the Times’s words, “playful, welcoming, warm” – which for a medical school is pretty good.  And as the sun sets, quoth the Times, “the center becomes a beacon in the neighborhood.”  I’m sure it does, but for me the marvel of that neighborhood is the George Washington Bridge, which arches over the Hudson not whimsically but with massive grace; I’ve walked it many a time, going to or from the alien terrain of New Jersey, and have felt it vibrate beneath my feet from the endless parade of traffic rushing across it. 

         Redrawing the city’s western skyline, according to the Times, is the 467-foot-high Via 57 West at 57th Street, seen in a photo as a towering triangle rising up over the Hudson and strewn with dark splotches that I assume are windows or balconies.  It looks like a child’s giant cut-out, a huge scrap of material like nothing I have ever seen, and one that seems incomplete in itself, as if waiting to be assembled with other giant cut-outs and so become something meaningful and complete.  The Times calls it a “warped, mountainous pyramid,” then corrects itself by describing it as a hyperbolic paraboloid, rectangular on the ground with a swooping roof façade.  The newspaper assures us that the stainless-steel skin shimmers with the changing light, which is some consolation, but I can’t help thinking of it less as a building that as some drug-befuddled architect’s revenge on solid geometry.  And since it features rental apartments, people live there.  Imagine living in a rectangular-based hyperbolic paraboloid with saw-toothed balconies that, angled toward the Hudson, make hundreds of facets in the stainless-steel skin.  The very thought of it gives me the shivers.  But I’ll admit that it ain’t dull, and the western skyline can probably use a bit of sparking up.

File:VIA 57 WEST New York NY 2015 06 09 02.jpg
Via 57 West, under construction in 2015.
Justin A. Wilcox

         Another new development is the Jerome L. Greene Science Center on Columbia University’s 17-acre Manhattanville campus, near the intersection of Broadway and 125th Street.  A photo shows a huge nine-story hunk of a building dazzlingly illuminated at night.  It is described as consisting of four steel-frame glass blocks surrounding a glassy core with meeting rooms, presumably for neuroscientists, since this monstrous achievement is a “nexus for neuroscience” and a “factory for ideas.”  A double-skin curtain wall, its two layers separated by “a muffling pillow of air,” is said to let light in while reducing the rumble of the elevated subway outside.  Furthermore, the science center engineers “illusions of ethereal weightlessness,” as does, in my opinion, our new president, whose sturdy presence seems to emit airy ideas.

File:Jerome L Greene Science Center, Columbia University.jpg
The Science Center by day, and still under construction.  And very close to the subway.
Columbia University / Frank Oudeman
         What fails to engineer anything, least of all ethereal weightlessness, is another 2016 architectural achievement (or nonachievement) chronicled by the Times: the Mulry Square Fan Plant in the West Village, which is where I live (in the Village, not the plant).  Though I pass near it often, I’ve managed not to notice it and so have failed to grieve at its lusterless, prosaic, and totally uninspired appearance.  In fact, I didn’t even know that there was such a thing as Mulry Square, which does indeed minimally exist, in a drab sort of way, at the intersection of Greenwich Avenue and Seventh Avenue, about a six-minute walk from my building.  The Times article calls the structure – an emergency ventilation plant that cost $180 million -- “one of the saddest excuses for architecture completed this year.”  Neighborhood groups pleaded for years with the city to build the plant with a design less hideous than a windowless concrete bunker and a few forlorn benches, yet that is apparently what they got, albeit with a fake-brick townhouse façade topped by a curtain-rod cornice.  I’ll check it out the next time I venture up Seventh Avenue, but from all accounts it makes Via 57 West look inspired, and the Vagelos Education Center look like nothing short of a miracle.

         I don’t want any of this post’s comments to suggest that I’m hostile to modern architecture, for I’m not.  Though I’ve only seen sketches of it and not the edifice itself, which will be completed in 2017, I’m in love with Jean Nouvel’s high-rise going up at 53 West 53rd Street, next to the Museum of Modern Art, with its tapering glass pinnacle vanishing into light.  And every night before going to bed, and every dark early morning when I get up, I see and celebrate One World Trade Center, or the Freedom Tower, lights ablaze at the renascent Ground Zero site, a commemorative wonder that I have christened my “Tower of Light.”  New York sometimes commits architectural monstrosities, but it also creates shimmering marvels.  It always has and it always will.

File:Freedom Tower at night.jpg
The Freedom Tower at night, seen up close.
Christian Kendzierski

         The Real Estate Board of New York (REBNY), a mighty force in the city, heartily agrees.  Its special 16-page supplement to the New York Times of January 19 opens with a full-page black-and-white photo viewing the Chrysler Building from above at night – a plunging perspective that is impressive and almost frightening.  And in another full-page spread the commercial real estate agency CBRE shows another remarkable photo of the city at night and announces, “NEW YORK.  NEW CITY.  From the World Trade Center to Hudson Yards to One Vanderbilt to Brooklyn and beyond, New York is a city transformed,” and then goes on to hail the city’s changing skyline.  

         In a Q. and A. in the same section, REBNY chairman Rob Speyer, a lifelong New York who is raising a family here, evinces optimism about the city’s economy, and hails the city as a thriving global metropolis where people from all around the world want to live, work, visit, and study.  Needless to  say, he is “extremely bullish” on the city’s real estate market, and thinks that President Trump’s stimulus proposals, if enacted, should extend and strengthen the current economic cycle.  As so often in this country, total confidence, total optimism, total certainty that all is, and will continue to be, well. 

         But will it?  So often in the past, blazing optimism has preceded a disastrous decline in the economy.  I am no visionary able to predict the future; I only know that booms are followed by busts, that what goes up must come down, and that the farther things go up, the farther they will ultimately go down.  Meanwhile the city’s destiny – at its immediate destiny – seems to be in these towering structures that reach higher and higher into the sky, an expression of the city’s and the nation’s imperative to DREAM  DARE  DO, to be exceptional, to know that, at every moment, the eyes of the world are upon us.  Aspiration or hubris?  Time will tell.  Meanwhile, in every sense, the sky’s the limit.

         A footnote to the above:  In the past two years, 31 construction workers have died while on the job in the city.  Spending in the construction industry is at a record high, but many contractors won’t pay for training programs and safety measures, including those required by law.  Because the federal enforcing agency, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, is understaffed, only a handful of construction sites are inspected.  The result: an epidemic of construction worker deaths.  For progress – if progress this is – there is always a price to pay.

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  For two new poems of mine, on ninny versus deep serene, and proverbs for the wicked, click here and scroll down to pp. 34 and 35.

For my short poem “I Crackle” and a stunning photo of me, go here

For five acceptable poems, click here and scroll down.  

To avoid five terrible poems, don't click here.  

For my poem "The Other," inspired by the Orlando massacre, click here.  

          BROWDERBOOKS:  No Place for Normal: New York / Stories from the Most Exciting City in the World, my selection of posts from this blog, has received these awards: the Tenth Annual National Indie Excellence Award for Regional Non-Fiction; first place in the Travel category of the 2015-2016 Reader Views Literary Awards; and Honorable Mention in the Culture category of the Eric Hoffer Book Awards for 2016.  For the Reader Views review by Sheri Hoyte, go here.  As always, the book is available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

No Place for Normal: New York / Stories from the Most Exciting City in the World

The Pleasuring of Men (Gival Press, 2011), my historical novel about a young male prostitute in the late 1860s in New York who falls in love with his most difficult client, is likewise available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

          Coming soon:  ???  Maybe a look at some unique and funky businesses in the West Village, Soho, and Noho.

         ©   2017   Clifford Browder

Sunday, January 22, 2017

277. Two Libraries: An Old Friend and a Mystery Building

         For two new poems of mine, on ninny versus deep serene, and proverbs for the wicked, click here and scroll down to pp. 34 and 35.

         This is a tale of two libraries, one an old friend and one a mystery building; I’ll start with the old friend.   The year 2016 has seen many architectural changes in the city of New York.  The one I can most relate to is the reopening, after two years of renovation, of the Rose Reading Room of the New York Public Library, that formidable Beaux Arts structure on Fifth Avenue at 42nd Street, guarded by two famous sculpted lions.  Behind that Beaux Arts façade and the lions, deep inside and up on the third floor, is the famous reading room where researchers pore over the items they have requested.  

         In years past I have spent hours in the Rose Reading Room perusing books, many of them fragile, fetched up from the library’s innards and delivered to me when my magic number flashed on the screen above the window where you claim the books requested, or where you find, alas, that the items you most want and need are not available.  Sometimes I claimed one thin volume, and sometimes a whole stack of books that I with effort toted back to my seat at one of the room’s long tables.  All round me were other researchers likewise immersed in their work, plus an occasional intruder from the streets who propped some book or newspaper up in front of him (always a him) and pretended to read, while dozing off from time to time, until a library guard nudged him awake and reminded him that sleeping here in the Rose Room is totally and absolutely forbidden. 

         My last project there was reading books – preferably primary sources – about the slave trade in New York, as background material for my unpublished historical novel Dark Knowledge.  So engrossed was I in my research that I failed to look around and above me to appreciate just how magnificent my surroundings were: a room the length of two city blocks, with a 52-foot-high ceiling displaying murals showing fluffy clouds in a wide-arching sky.  The building itself dates back to 1902, when the cornerstone was laid; the roof was completed in 1906, but the library didn’t open until 1911, when on the first day between 30,000 and 50,000 visitors poured in. 

         Given the building’s age, it’s not surprising that time took its toll.  One night in May 2014 an ornamental plaster rosette crashed to the floor of the reading room, causing the library to conduct a full inspection of the ceilings of both the Rose Reading Room and the adjoining catalog room where scholars submit their request and receive the magic number that will let them claim their materials in the reading room.  Restored in the 1990s, the 1911 reading-room ceiling proved to be in good condition, but the library decided to do more than recreate and replace the fallen rosette.  Installing scaffolding and lengthy platforms, it reinforced all 900 plaster elements in both rooms with steel cables, restored the catalog room’s mural, and installed LED lights in the reading room’s chandeliers.  The project cost $12 million and meant the rooms were closed for two years, to the dismay of researchers and the general public, who were serviced in other less grandiose  rooms throughout the building. 

         Today the rejuvenated rooms once again welcome researchers, who need have no fear that a falling plaster rosette will crash upon their noggin, disrupting vital research.  Besides fetching books from the stacks, the two rooms hold about 52,000 reference books, including encyclopedias and dictionaries in various languages.  For one complicated project I once consulted encyclopedias in Spanish, French, and German, as well as a Russian one in translation – a reminder of what outlandish assignments may come to a freelance editor.

         One last detail: why is it called the Rose Reading Room?  Because it is named for the four children of the Rose family that donated the money to restore the room in the 1990s. 

         And now for the mystery building.  There are in fact two mystery buildings side by side on West 13th Street that I pass frequently, but which until now I have never really looked at closely.  One, a three-story windowless slab near Greenwich Avenue, looms strangely, obviously not commercial or residential.  What, then, is it?  A Metropolitan Transportation Authority substation, one of many situated throughout the city, but this particular one hailed by that august authority, the New York Times, as an example of a civic-minded expression of architectural ambition.  Built in the early 1930s, it is described as an Art Deco gem and a neighborhood landmark, prized for its geometric decorations, embossed aluminum doors, limestone frieze, Flemish brick coursing (whatever that is), and square turrets.  Yes, close inspection even of a photo reveals all those things, if only the city’s hurrying pedestrians (myself included) would stop to take them in.

         But what is an MTA substation?  It is a facility, underground or above, that converts high voltage AC current into the DC current used by the subways of New York City.  If that doesn’t clear things up for those who never took a high-school physics course – or even for those who did – I can only add that photos of substation interiors show rows of big boxlike gray structures with gauges and dials that, minus the gauges and dials, remind me of high school lockers where students deposited their wraps, lunches, and other vital items.  There are also panels and cranes and fans and ventilation ducts, and cables and tanks and wires, the exact purpose of which escapes me.  But some substations have been landmarked, and the New York Transit Museum offers tours of substations to those who are eager to learn more about how this city works, even though the public usually exits the tours more confused than ever.  So let’s just say that substations provide the power that makes the trains run.  And if their usually unlovely exteriors are sometimes enlivened with a bit of Art Deco ornamentation, so much the better.

         But right next to the West 13th Street substation is another building,  251 West 13th Street, that is as impressive and intriguing as the substation is prosaic and plain: a three-story red-brick affair with rounded arches over tall windows that reminds me a little of the Jefferson Market Library on Sixth Avenue.  The 13th Street building was once a branch library that I visited when I lived nearby on Jane Street, but it is now in private hands, handsomely ornate, not a bit Art Deco, its recessed ground floor and basement visible from the street through iron bars, the ground floor’s big windows revealing what seems to be an office.  A notice at the entrance announces, “BE AWARE / This entrance is being videotaped,” which for me makes it only more mysterious.  Also posted there: “Suite 1  Private / Suite 2  Levinson/Fontana.”  All this made me curious about the building’s history, and sure enough, like so many old buildings in the city, it has history aplenty.

         The building at 251 West 13th Street was a branch library right from the start: the Jackson Square Library, built in 1887, as announced by wrought-iron numbers on the red-brick façade, a gift to the city’s newly created Free Circulating Library by George W. Vanderbilt who, unlike many of that moneyed clan, was a bookworm eager to make books available to the public.  But my linking it to the Jefferson Market Library was for the most part mistaken, for that library is Victorian Gothic, whereas this one resembles a Flemish guildhall, reminding me of the handsome guildhall façades lining the Grande Place in Brussels, Belgium. 

         This branch in time played a role in the history of libraries, for in 1899 its head librarian initiated an open-shelf system, giving the public free access to the books, and relieving the librarians of the wearying task of fetching the requested books from distant closed shelves, an innovation that then spread throughout the branches and persists to this day.  Yes, a few books were stolen, but librarians still preferred the open system and considered the losses negligible.  Another problem was contagious diseases, no small matter since a janitor and his son who lived in the building came down with scarlet fever in 1908, causing the library to be shut down for fumigation, the patrons having to trudge some distance to another branch.  In more recent times the library was used by writers, artists, and other professionals, among them James Baldwin, Ring Lardner, W.H. Auden, Gregory Corso, and my humble self. 

         In 1961 plans were made to save the Jefferson Market Courthouse on Sixth Avenue and convert it into a branch library serving Greenwich Village – the branch library that I often visit and get books from.  As a result of this conversion, the smaller Jackson Square Library was closed and sat empty until 1967, when the performance artist Robert Delford Brown bought it.  An  extensive restoration followed, bringing light to the dark interior and hacking away the front doors and much of the ground floor, so that the building now seems to cantilever precariously above the sidewalk.  Here Brown staged frequent happenings and installed his First National Church of the Exquisite Panic, a tongue-in-cheek enterprise with two supreme commandments: Live, and Do Not Eat Cars.  Since the state of nirvana was too difficult to achieve, Brown instructed his faithful how to reach the state of Nevada.

         But that was not the end of the building’s transformations.  In the 1980s the television writer Tom Fontana discovered the building and was struck by it, noting its distinctive appearance and deteriorated condition.  Then, in 1996, learning that it was for sale, he bought it and initiated a restoration that obliterated much of the previous renovation, installed a spacious and airy bachelor’s pad (he is divorced, lives alone) on the two upper floors, and installed his office on the main floor, and other facilities in the basement.  His residence is presumably the Suite 1 indicated at the entrance, and Levinson/Fontana in Suite 2 is the TV production company he has founded with director Barry Levinson. The second floor, once the library’s main reading room, now houses Mr. Fontana’s library, its 6,600 volumes lodged in floor-to-ceiling mahogany bookcases.  And on the roof, hidden behind the gable at the front of the building, is a sun-splashed deck complete with a suburban-size grill.  The façade was not restored, however, because of the expense involved, so the building may still seem to cantilever above the sidewalk.

         Having no television, I know little about Mr. Fontana, who is said to party a lot; one of his New Year’s Eve festivities drew 400 guests and lasted till dawn.  Though I’m not that party-prone, I still warm to him because he peppers his speech with profanities (as I, alas, sometimes do), has never owned a car, and doesn’t use a computer, preferring to write his scripts in longhand.  His eschewing the computer balances out my eschewing television.  (Veteran followers of this blog know that I love this verb, which sounds like a sneeze – a perfect note to end on.)

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          Browder poems: 
 For my short poem “I Crackle” and a stunning photo of me, go hereFor five acceptable poems, click here and scroll down.  To avoid five terrible poems, don't click here.  For my poem "The Other," inspired by the Orlando massacre, click here.  

          BROWDERBOOKS:  No Place for Normal: New York / Stories from the Most Exciting City in the World, my selection of posts from this blog, has received these awards: the Tenth Annual National Indie Excellence Award for Regional Non-Fiction; first place in the Travel category of the 2015-2016 Reader Views Literary Awards; and Honorable Mention in the Culture category of the Eric Hoffer Book Awards for 2016.  For the Reader Views review by Sheri Hoyte, go here.  As always, the book is available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

No Place for Normal: New York / Stories from the Most Exciting City in the World

The Pleasuring of Men (Gival Press, 2011), my historical novel about a young male prostitute in the late 1860s in New York who falls in love with his most difficult client, is likewise available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

         Coming soon:  The changing skyline of the city: what’s to hate and what’s to love.

         ©   2017   Clifford Browder

Sunday, January 15, 2017

276. The Heartland vs. New York

         For two new poems of mine in the Winter 2017 issue of GNU Journal, an online literary mag, go here and scroll down to pp. 34 and 35.  Then decide if your serene is ninny or deep, and see if the proverbs apply at all to you.

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        A recent New York Times article explored the meaning of “the heartland,” since it was voters in this region that gave the election to Donald Trump.  But what exactly is the heartland?  Obviously, it’s a central region  far from the coasts, but this is rather vague.  I have always taken it to mean the Midwest, where I’m from.  A recent survey said that residents of twelve states described them as being in the Midwest, which then includes everything from Ohio west to Nebraska, and from Minnesota south to Missouri.  But if you think of it as all of the nation that is far from the coasts, you would have to include everything as far west as the Rocky Mountains and as far east as the Appalachians, and states like Tennessee and Arkansas that have always been considered Southern.  Another definition sees the heartland as the nation’s breadbasket, which then includes all states with a large percentage of farmland: the states of the Great Plains -- the Dakotas, Nebraska, Kansas, and Oklahoma – plus Texas, Iowa, and parts of other states like Illinois and Missouri.  It has even been suggested that the heartland is where baseball is popular, which takes in the traditional Midwest.  Given these conflicting definitions, perhaps it is best to endorse the opinion of some historians that the heartland is above all a state of mind.

         So what is this state of mind, and how does it differ from New York?  I think at once of Midwestern values: a laid-back way of looking at things, as opposed to the fast pace and intensity of New York.  Midwesterners think of their part of the country as the norm, compared with which the rest of the country – which most definitely includes New York -- is abnormal or at least not normal.  “Come back to the real America,” a Midwestern friend once said to me, and he was only half joking; he really thought his part of the country was the authentic America, and the two coasts a kind of aberration.  This “authentic” America thinks of itself as quiet, sane, reasonable, not given to extremes.  It believes in what it thinks are traditional American values; it is patriotic, honors the flag, is usually – though not always – inclined to trust the government.  And it goes to church, meaning one of the well-established churches, Catholic or Protestant, rather than some new sect that is noisy, self-promoting, and evangelical; here too it shuns extremes.   

         All of which may be a myth, since there are Midwesterners who are not altogether sane and reasonable, who are vastly suspicious of government, and don’t go to church.  But in the 1930s and 1940s – yes, way back then -- I grew up in a traditional Midwest and can certify that it did once exist, and probably still does so, albeit in a modified form.

         The Midwest that I grew up in – Evanston, the first suburb north of Chicago -- was suburban, well educated, professional, not grievously  wounded by the Great Depression, and very WASP.  It flourished on the very fringe of  Chicago, a great, noisy, hectic metropolis that both beckoned and repelled us Evanstonians, who flocked to it for jobs and shopping and theater, while at the same time distancing ourselves from it as an utterly corrupt (and Democratic) city that reeked of vice, crime, and liquor.  As regards the last, I must explain that Evanston back then was officially bone dry, and had been ever since the founding of Northwestern University, whose 1855 charter forbade the sale of liquor within four miles of the campus – a ban that preceded the development of the town itself.  Teetotaling Evanstonians looked with horror at Howard Street, the boundary between Evanston and Chicago, where liquor stores lined the south side of the street, as if eyeing Evanston with scorn and cupidity.  Not that all Evanstonians eschewed alcohol; the strange fumes emanating from the discarded bottles of one neighboring house, detected by me on childhood expeditions up the alley behind our house, told me otherwise, but to get the stuff one had to drive south to Chicago or west to regions just beyond the ban, a forbidden zone sought out regularly by bibulous Northwestern students.

         This heartland of my childhood was WASP to the core, and Republican.  WASP, but not rabidly so.  When a new family moved onto a block, one neighbor might say to another, “They’re Catholic, you know,” to which the other might reply with a muted “Oh.”  Likewise, “They’re Jewish, you know,” or more circumspectly, “They’re of a certain religion.”  Yes, there were African Americans (a term then unknown), but one hardly knew them, for they lived in circumscribed enclaves and weren’t allowed on the public beaches, except for one beach reserved for them.  The churches were aware of these practices, disapproved, but weren’t ready to launch a campaign to rectify the situation.  All in all, the status quo reigned supreme, and as I grew up I accepted it as the norm, even though that vast metropolis south of Howard Street was a mix of ethic groups – Polish, Swedish, Italian, Irish, and what have you – unknown to Evanston.

         And this heartland was also Republican, and in this regard the Evanstonians of my acquaintance did indeed show passion.  This was the era of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the New Deal, both of them deplored by white, middle-class Evanston.  Not every aspect of the New Deal was denounced, but Evanston Republicans thought of FDR’s greatly expanded Washington bureaucracy as a maze of inefficient agencies  overstaffed with plodding bureaucrats determined to damp down American enterprise with burdensome restrictions.   As for FDR, he was a disaster for the nation, triply and quadruply so when, against all precedent, he ran for a third, and then a fourth, term.  The denigration of the president was taken to a new level by my father, a corporation attorney, who argued fervently that the Commander in Chief wasn’t quite right in the head, having been stricken with polio years before.  As proof he cited a photo of FDR at his office in the White House, his desk topped with mementos and souvenirs accumulated over the years – Tinkertoys, my father called them, insisting that no sane man, and least of all a president of the United states, would clutter up his desk with such trivia.  (My father’s office desk was piled high with papers that only he could make sense of, but these were not Tinkertoys.)

         When it came to foreign affairs, the Midwest of my childhood was decidedly – though not exclusively – isolationist.  It thought of itself as a sane, peace-loving heartland, immune to the warmongering of the east and west coasts, which it viewed as being obsessively concerned with the nefarious doings of totalitarian states in far distant places.  And the supreme isolationist was my father, who nursed vivid memories of World War I and how our allies had entered into secret agreements of which we naïve Americans had no knowledge at the time. 

         When World War II came, courtesy of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Evanston outdid no one in professions of patriotism, and immediately put a guard around our waterworks to prevent sabotage by the treacherous Japanese.  Even the rabidly isolationist Chicago Tribune, a fanatical foe of the president, proclaimed  MY  COUNTRY  RIGHT  OR  WRONG.  But my father was an isolationist to the end, denouncing government bungling (of which there was plenty) and insisting that there were secret agreements that we, the public, knew nothing about – a claim that in the end proved correct.  That we should go to war with Japan, when each was the other’s best trading partner, was insane.  “If the king of Sweden came over here and ran for president,” he announced, “I’d vote for him,” Sweden having remained neutral in both world wars.  In war-ravaged Great Britain my father would probably have been locked up for undermining wartime morale; here his extreme opinions were respected, but not shared, by our neighbors.  (An interesting question: were he alive today, would my father have voted for Trump?  It’s hard to say.  He might have admired the Donald’s contempt for the norms, his rejection of the politically correct, but he would have had trouble supporting a confessed woman-groper.)

         When, many years later, I came to live in New York, as a child of the heartland I was baffled by newspapers in languages I couldn’t read or identify.  My forays into the wilds of Chicago had only gone so far; I had never seen an Orthodox Jew before, or dined in a Chinese restaurant.  That New York differed greatly from the Midwest of my childhood was borne in upon me in a thousand ways.  New Yorkers are intense, highly motivated, cosmopolitan, opinionated yet tolerant, skeptical, diverse.  Nothing about them is muted; they sign petitions, write letters, demonstrate.  They think big, they talk loud, they do.  Are there exceptions?  Of course.  But the New Yorkers of my acquaintance are a far cry from the Midwest of my childhood, whose suburban confines stopped abruptly short of the vast, unruly, corrupt, and fascinating city of Chicago.  Yes, the “heartland” is probably above all a state of mind and therefore subjective – a state of mind far removed from such monstrous and complex conglomerations as New York.  And if many of us have forsaken the heartland for New York, we also retreat on occasion to our heartland for a bit of sanity and repose.  It’s hard to conceive of New York without the heartland, or the heartland without New York; they need each other intensely.

         A note on banks:  Followers of this blog know my love for banks, by which I mean the big international banks, the ones whose names everyone knows.  Consider then the captions of articles on page B1 of the Business Day section of the New York Times of Friday, December 23:

Money Laundering Case
Hangs Over Goldman

Deutsche Bank to Settle U.S. Inquiry
Into Mortgages for $7.2 Billion

Hedge Fund Math:
Heads or Tails, They Win

And inside, on page B2:

Justice Department Sues Barclay’s Over Mortgage-Backed Securities

How like that naughty New York Times to hit these guys when they’re down.  Give them a chance!  They may be able to explain transactions like money laundering and dealing in faulty mortgages.  After all, everyone does it – everyone in banking, that is.  So let’s not be too hasty.  Besides, the incoming administration will probably view these matters differently.  Too much regulation harms the economy and impedes prosperity, and prosperity is what we need. So Godspeed, Goldman Sachs and Deutsche Bank, and more power to you, Barclay’s!  Be patient and soon all will be well.

         Our president elect, like many a president before him, is not bothered by such trivia.  Among his new appointees to date are six (count ’em, six) graduates of Goldman Sachs: chief White House strategist, Secretary of the Treasury (how these boys like to get close to the money!), director of the National Economic Council, head of the Securities and Exchange Commission, a White House advisor, and another Sachsie likely to be named to a position that is as yet unannounced.  (For more on Goldman Sachs, see post #158, “Goldman Sachs: Vampire Squid or Martyred Innocent?” Dec. 21, 2014.)

          A note on profanity:  Apropos of post #263, "The Golden Age of Profanity," in which I confessed to indulging in an inordinate amount of indecent and inappropriate utterances, it turns out that, according to the AARP Magazine of January 2017 (p. 14), cussing has several benefits:

  • It shows a wider vocabulary, which indicates intelligence.
  • It has health benefits, helps reduce physical pain.
  • It helps us to communicate more persuasively and to forge better teams in the workplace.  (57% of workers swear on the job.)
I would add:
  • It relieves stress, helps us get through the day.
One caveat: If you swear too often (as I certainly do), the power of swearing won't be there when you need it.  So cherish those cuss words, nurture them, and save them up for that occasional necessary blast.

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          Browder poems: 
 For my short poem “I Crackle” and a stunning photo of me, go hereFor five acceptable poems, click here and scroll down.  To avoid five terrible poems, don't click here.  For my poem "The Other," inspired by the Orlando massacre, click here.   

          BROWDERBOOKS:  No Place for Normal: New York / Stories from the Most Exciting City in the World, my selection of posts from this blog, has received these awards: the Tenth Annual National Indie Excellence Award for Regional Non-Fiction; first place in the Travel category of the 2015-2016 Reader Views Literary Awards; and Honorable Mention in the Culture category of the Eric Hoffer Book Awards for 2016.  For the Reader Views review by Sheri Hoyte, go here.  As always, the book is available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

No Place for Normal: New York / Stories from the Most Exciting City in the World

The Pleasuring of Men (Gival Press, 2011), my historical novel about a young male prostitute in the late 1860s in New York who falls in love with his most difficult client, is likewise available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

         Coming soon:  Maybe something on the Rose Reading Room of the New York Public Library, where Jack Kerouac and I have spent precious hours, and after that, the changing skyline of New York. 

         ©   2017   Clifford Browder