Friday, May 29, 2020

‘I can't believe what you say, because I see what you do.’
                                                 —James Baldwin

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

FIRST BOOK SPOTTED in anyone’s hands going by my building in this virus time. Tonight, just now. 

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

Wagon Train’ was on. It seemed to be beaming in from some foreign country. I shut that off, too, and went into another room, a windowless one with a painted door--a dark cavern with a floor-to-ceiling library. I switched on the lamp. The place had an overpowering presence of literature and you couldn't help but lose your passion for dumbness.’
                   —Bob Dylan, Chronicles: Volume One 

An opening paragraph in an old Joan Didion essay I started to reread last night in bed. It’s in a collection of her essays called After Henry. The piece is called ‘Insider Baseball’ though it’s about politics:

‘It occurred to me during the summer of 1988, in California and Atlanta and New Orleans, in the course of watching first the California primary and then the Democratic and Republican national conventions, that it had not been by accident that the people with whom I had preferred to spend time in high school had, on the wholehung out in gas stations.’

Saturday, May 23, 2020

THE DAUGHTER ON THE LEFT, Gretchen, is the oldest of my three daughters. She’s with the next oldest. The youngest is in Wyoming. Gretchen will be 51 tomorrow, Sunday. She was born, when her mother and I were seniors in college, in St. Joseph’s Hospital in South Bend, Indiana. She lives here in New York. She has boy/girl twins who are 11. We were the first of our college friends to have a child. A week or so later was graduation. It was quite a time. 1969. Some of us wore armbands at graduation to protest the war. Fr. Hesburgh was the school’s president. We were very young.

Thursday, May 21, 2020

THERE WAS NO BOOKSTORE IN THE SMALL TOWN WHERE I GREW UP. There was no bookstore near the Catholic boarding school I was sent to for high school. There was no good bookstore in South Bend, Indiana where I went to college. Was there even a coffee shop there? In Cleveland where I moved in 1969 after graduation to teach grade school in the inner city as they called it then there were wonderful bookstores. I eventually owned part of a small one. When my father walked into it for the first time, he said to himself, first words out of his mouth, out loud, A person could spend his whole life here.

Tuesday, May 19, 2020

EMPTY SIDEWALK BY SIMON BARUCH MIDDLE SCHOOL down the street from me this afternoon. I miss the boys and girls faces and the boys and girls noise that was always there. Half the block is their concrete outdoor playground. Empty of kids now. Some adults my age with legs like Larry David were hitting tennis balls over two nets they’d brought. They’ve removed the hoops from the backboards so kids won’t be tempted I guess.

‘The ability to read awoke inside of me some long dormant craving to be mentally alive.’
                          Malcolm X, The Autobiography of Malcolm X

Sunday, May 17, 2020

MAY 17, 1954.

Brown v. Board of Education

With the words "separate educational facilities are inherently unequal," the U.S. Supreme Court reversed more than a half century of legalized segregation. The landmark case was Brown v. Board of Education, in 1954.

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Linda Brown Smith, Ethel Louise Belton Brown, Harry Briggs, Jr., and Spottswood Bolling, Jr. during press conference at Hotel Americana] / Sun photo by Al Ravenna. 1964. Courtesy: Library of Congress

Oliver and Linda Brown
The case was named after Oliver Brown of Topeka, Kansas, an African American man whose daughter Linda faced a long commute to school every day. Linda had been denied admission to an all-white, neighborhood school just five blocks from her home. The case became a class action suit involving five states, consolidated under Brown once they reached the Supreme Court. The two lead attorneys were Charles H. Houston and Thurgood Marshall, the architects of the NAACP's legal strategies. Marshall would later become the nation's first African American Supreme Court Justice.
The Court's Opinion
Chief Justice Earl Warren wrote the opinion read on May 17, 1954. The Court's language incorporated some of the main points argued by African Americans, that segregation "generates a feeling of inferiority as to their status in the community that may affect their hearts and minds in a way unlikely to be undone."

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People marching with signs to protest segregation in education at the college and secondary levels, 1947. Courtesy: Library of Congress

Calling Card for a New Era
African Americans took the decision as a calling card for a new era of progress and opportunity. Grass roots organizations gained momentum and membership. More blacks registered to vote. Membership in the NAACP soared, especially in northern cities, and foot soldiers for the organization gained the confidence and audacity to set up field offices in the South. Black veterans of World War II, disappointed to find Jim Crow brutally staring them in the face, were hopeful the Supreme Court decision would bring in a tide of change, if not for them, then for their children.
Segregationist Opposition
Most of the South remained vehemently opposed. In Mississippi, considered by many to be the most staunchly segregationist southern state, the response was swift and vitriolic. An editorial in the Jackson Daily News called the decision "the worst thing that has happened to the South since carpetbaggers and scalawags took charge of our civil government in reconstruction days," and said it would lead to "racial strife of the bitterest sort." The Daily News joined all major elected officials in Mississippi in a vow to fight the decision. "Even though it was delivered by a unanimous vote of the nine members of the nation's highest tribunal," the editorial read, "Mississippi cannot and will not try to abide by such a decision."
The Summer of 1955
One year after the Brown decision, in 1955, many whites in the Deep South remained determined to block its implementation. It was an election year in Mississippi, and politicians used their influence to back segregationist candidates. African Americans attempting to exercise their right to vote or register to vote were met with severe and often deadly resistance. Three African Americans, including Emmett Till, were brutally killed that summer.
When classes started in the fall of 1955, Mississippi schools remained rigidly segregated. Years later, when the state government finally conceded that it could not maintain segregated schools in violation of a Supreme Court decision, segregationist whites would choose to withdraw their children from the public school system rather than send them to school with African Americans.

Saturday, May 16, 2020

UP EARLY, LIKE 5:00. I LIKE THAT. I don’t sleep uninterrupted. Sometimes I’m up for a couple hours in the middle of the night. I read. Listen to a podcast or two on my phone which I take to bed with me for that reason. A week ago I bought melatonin. Friends have said they’ve had success with it. I used it two nights and I did sleep a bit better, but the sluggish feeling I felt the next morning from it made me put it in the back of the kitchen cupboard with stuff I should just throw out.

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

I’M MOSTLY AVOIDING NEWS compared to the obsession I‘ve had about it for the last four years. I can’t let it continue to be an obsession. It shouldn’t be entertainment. I’ll wear my mask and do things cautiously that guys our age are now doing. I see people without masks. Nice day here. I go out. My hour walk is a highlight for me. Today I went to 7 Eleven with my three lottery tickets to see if I won. One went tilt when I put it under the scanner. Huh? I kept scanning it. Tilt again. I eventually realized I was a day early. I thought it was Thursday.

Saturday, May 9, 2020

I DRANK GREEN TEA THIS MORNING. I had two cups. My grandmother who lived with us in her late years would sometimes say ‘just a cup of hot water’ when my mother would ask what she’d like after dinner. My two green teas this morning didn’t have much more kick than that. 

I want to like green tea. I want it to be what I have instead of coffee. When I’d go to Joe Jr’s diner here, that’s what they’d bring me. I always got green tea there. So too at my Sunday breakfast place Bluebell. I was a tea guy in both places. I liked the idea of tea. It seemed clean, healthy. I didn’t think of it as British or Irish. I thought of it as Asian I guess. It seemed enlightened. I tried to be all in. I even looked at Youtube videos about tea to deepen my resolve. I bought boxes of tea. 

Coffee my mother oohed and aahed about too much when she’d take her first sip at the breakfast table. I could talk to Dr. Freud about that. 

I didn’t drink coffee until after college and then I didn’t crave it or need it to start my day like some guys. I certainly never oohed. 

But with my cigarette years behind me and my drinking days behind me too, coffee has become a friendly dark echo of those days and it gives me a kick I seem to need. I have a cup right next to me now.

Friday, May 8, 2020

I GO AT LEAST ONCE A DAY to the bodega across the street. Every morning I buy an orange and a Granny Smith apple and a banana which they have in clear bags galore. I get a black coffee too, and more frequently recently, a cookie or a chocolate muffin, even a Milky Way if I can’t resist. I love the small store. The older guy in the photo is the Korean-American owner. He’s not there very often. His attractive wife often is. He’s just checking on something. Usually it’s just one young person behind the counter, from Nepal or Egypt or the Philippines. They’re here in school. When the owner couple isn’t there, they turn up the music, always rap.

If you live here, you go to such stores. Every neighborhood has them. Each neighborhood is like a small town. That’s why people like living here.

Thursday, May 7, 2020

It’s Thursday. I was up early and deleted this photo I’d posted on Facebook last night. It’s of an aggressive guy with no mask who was out collecting empty cans in big clear plastic bags. He was out on the street just around the corner almost to the CVS. We bothered each other. I didn’t like his looks and he didn’t like that I was taking his photo. He calmed down sort of when I told him I was taken with the way the cans and bags looked. Though I wasn’t really. The older Asian women with lined faces who I usually see with those big bags I’m taken with. Somehow their dented and crushed cans look to be arranged in some order in their bags which is impossible but maybe they can do the impossible. There’s some ancient aesthetic about them. They don’t look like they can speak English. I’m almost sure they can’t. You wonder if they’re crazy a little bit. Or are they just poor? They have an unusual focus.

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

It’s May now. It’s Willie Mays’ birthday. He’s 89. I remember him as a player. He was my favorite so I keep track of him. I have a Giants cap that I wear a lot. 89 shocks me even though if I did the math in my head, that's what it would be. My being a month tomorrow from turning 73 shocks me too. For a Zoom call I had with my three daughters last week, I tinkered with the lamp on my desk to try to make my face look younger when the call came.

This isolation I don’t mind. I mind it for the society but for me I’m a loner. I don’t even need a real TV. I keep talk radio on in the background and I read a lot, and look at things that interest me on the computer, mostly art and photographs and interviews with bright people on YouTube. 

What I do miss is holding the sign in front of the Dept. of Education every weekday morning. I did it for seven years. I want to be back there. I hope school opens in the fall for all the reasons it should. And for me.

Wednesday, April 29, 2020

UP RESTLESS at 4:00. It’s not the worst thing. Years ago Larry King’s radio show was on till 5:00. It was so good. There was nothing else like it then. No podcasts. Some nights if his guest was a good one you’d wish you could keep yourself awake all night. Talk radio obsessed people like me felt that way anyway.

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

EARLY TO BED. Reading Seymour Hersh’s memoir ‘Reporter’. If you like to read about investigations and governments and newspaper workings, this is one for you. I read it before. I read it last year, in coffee shops, and in local libraries, and on subway trains. Now here I am lying under a weighted blanket I got for Christmas.

Monday, April 27, 2020

READING LATE. Too late. But am wound-up from watching two episodes of the The Last Dance the ESPN Michael Jordan/Bulls documentary which is nothin’ but net.

Sunday, April 26, 2020

EARLY SUNDAY MORNING in bed. The building is totally quiet. Normally I’d hear the Times land with a slapping noise in front of my door at 6:00. Now they leave it on a long folding table in the lobby.

Friday, April 24, 2020

ANOTHER FRIDAY THAT DOESN’T FEEL LIKE IT. For 60 years I looked at the morning Friday paper to see what new movies were coming out that day. Some seemed so urgent you couldn’t wait to see them. I liked the ones in the small ads best. I didn’t get to all of them. But that Friday showcase was a big deal. Nothing Netflix does or Prime does to entice me entices me like those ads did. HBO either. There’s too much too many. I can’t tell which ones would have been in the small ads. I almost never could find one in Blockbuster either. The walls were filled with so much it was too much. After awhile all the shiny titles on the walls looked like ‘Mrs. Doubtfire’. An embarrassment of riches? You could say that.

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

I CAN HEAR PEOPLE at 7:00 every night clapping and hooting and whistling and cheering. I’m in the back of the building so I’m not a participant but I’ve been out on the sidewalk a couple times when it started and you find yourself clapping and you find your eyes watering.

        In bed reading. Again a little late.

Sunday, April 19, 2020

IN THE DAYS HERE RIGHT AFTER 9/11, many of us in the East Village went to bars every night. You could still taste the destruction in the air and you didn’t wait till after your third pint to ask for a shot, you got one as soon as you sat down. You talked to strangers, your eyes watered. You watched CNN on all the screens. Regular programming was suspended. But later in the week you heard ESPN was coming back on and you were there in the bar to see it come on and when you looked up to see what they’d started with, they were showing highlights in slow motion of Michael Jordan and maybe I Believe I Can Fly was playing in the background. What you knew the network was showing him for and what we could see clearly even through our wet eyes was that he was the best embodiment of what we alone still had.

Saturday, April 18, 2020

The only advice, indeed, that one person can give another about reading is to take no advice, to follow your own instincts, to use your own reason, to come to your own conclusions. If this is agreed between us, then I feel at liberty to put forward a few ideas and suggestions because you will not allow them to fetter that independence which is the most important quality that a reader can possess. After all, what laws can be laid down about books? The battle of Waterloo was certainly fought on a certain day; but is Hamlet a better play than Lear? Nobody can say. Each must decide that question for himself. To admit authorities, however heavily furred and gowned, into our libraries and let them tell us how to read, what to read, what value to place upon what we read, is to destroy the spirit of freedom which is the breath of those sanctuaries. Everywhere else we may be bound by laws and conventions-there we have none.’
                                                        -Virginia Woolf

Friday, April 17, 2020

AS THE WEEKS OF THIS ISOLATION UNFOLD, I’m reading more than I was when it started. Feels good. Reading will always feel like you’re doing something good. Binge-watching seems like you’re eating a whole bag of cookies. Even though people talk about their binge-watching as though they’d just hiked the Appalachian Trail.

Heading out to the bodega across the street to get a cup of coffee and some other stuff, maybe a black and white cookie. I had to check my phone when I got up to know for sure it was Friday which has always been the best day. Good luck everybody.

Thursday, April 9, 2020

We’ve been getting magazines all our lives. Comic books first probably. Then Boys’ Life and sports magazines. My sisters got ones that they liked. Teen or fashion mags which I’d take a boyish interest in when they weren't home. In school you’d get magazines. My parents almost never watched television. There were too many magazines that came in the mail almost every day to get through. It picks up your day to find a favorite one in the mail box. Start looking at a good one and it’s hard to keep looking at the TV show that’s on. The one in the photo just came now. It takes precedence. 

Wednesday, April 8, 2020

Three Lives the Greenwich Village bookstore I go to is closed but some of the staff must be in there because they emailed to say they could send you books. So last week I emailed them my request and my credit card number and the book arrived the next day. Maybe an independent bookstore near you will do that. You could always have Three Lives send you one. It’s a good transaction. 

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

Binge-watching is the thing now. A guy my age remembers when everybody was reading the same book. Now people start their day with the television going and end their day with it too. It’s the elephant in the room. It’s the real addiction. It’s not iPhones. It’s not Instagram or Facebook or Internet porn. It’s television. Count the hours. That’s a lot of sitting. In front of a very big screen. Ray Bradbury saw it coming more than 50 years ago. 

Monday, April 6, 2020

Some weeks have now passed. I’m not out with the sign. I miss everything about that. When the scare first happened and we were told not to take the subway, I considered walking to Chambers Street even though it was really too far to walk. Then it all stopped. We’re all indoors. Bookstores are closed, libraries too. I have books on shelves and on tabletops and on the floor, so I’m OK. Magazines come in the mail. I gave my mailman $20 the other day just for coming every day when not much else does. 

Monday, March 9, 2020

I DIDN’T WEAR MY BIG OVERCOAT to hold the sign this morning for the first time in months. It was a little warmer so I wore a fleece, not a Patagonia, but that kind. I’m aware of what I wear with the sign. I don’t want to look too put together or I’ll come off maybe as a politician who’ll be asking for something later. But I don’t want to look too casual about the message of the sign either. I never wear my BERNIE beanie. I never wear my black San Francisco Giants hat. I never go more than a day or two without shaving. What it says on the sign is what matters and I want to look that way.

Wednesday, February 26, 2020

Choosing a book is so gratifying, it’s worth dragging out the process, starting even before finishing the current one. As the final chapters approach, you can pile up the possibilities like a stack of travel brochures. You can lay out three books and let them linger overnight before making a final decision in the morning. You can Google the reviews; ask other people if they’ve read it, collect information. The choice may ultimately depend on the mood and the moment. ‘You have to read a book at the right time for you,’ Lessing also said, ‘and I am sure this cannot be insisted on too often, for it is the key to the enjoyment of literature.’.   
                                           ― Pamela Paul, Times book editor 

Thursday, February 13, 2020

It’s a rainy day. I’m at the local NYC branch library which is two blocks from my apartment. It’s a small library. You’re more apt to order a book from the system’s online site and pick it up here than find it on the shelf. I’m an unusual regular. Neighborhood residents in market-rate apartments don’t come in to stay; they pick up a book they ordered and leave. The people who stay are maybe homeless, maybe addicts, maybe recent immigrants, maybe people needing help with their taxes or help with some government form. Upstairs there are pre-pre-school children’s programs. Nannies with darker skin than the little kids in the strollers are lined up many mornings 10-20 deep waiting for the doors to open.

Monday, February 10, 2020

I have often reflected upon the new vistas that reading has opened to me. I knew right there in prison that reading had changed forever the course of my life. As I see it today, the ability to read awoke inside me some long dormant craving to be mentally alive.’
-Malcolm X

Sunday, February 2, 2020

‘My brother was one of the bigger influences in my life, in as much as he told me I didn't have to read the choice of books that I was recommended at school, and that I could go out to the library and go and choose my own, and sort of introduced me to authors that I wouldn't have read probably. You know, the usual things like the Jack Kerouacs, the Ginsbergs, the e.e. cummings and stuff.’
                                                         ― David Bowie

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

‘The greatest gift is the passion for reading.
It is cheap, it consoles, it distracts, it excites,
it gives you knowledge of the world and experience of a wide kind.
It is a moral illumination.’
                               ― Elizabeth Hardwick        

Thursday, January 23, 2020

‘In Tereza’s eyes, books were the emblems of a secret brotherhood. For she had but a single weapon against the world of crudity surrounding her: the novels. She had read any number of them, from Fielding to Thomas Mann. They not only offered the possibility of an imaginary escape from a life she found unsatisfying; they also had a meaning for her as physical objects: she loved to walk down the street with a book under her arm. It had the same significance for her as an elegant cane from the dandy a century ago. It differentiated her from others.’
― Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Among the many worlds which man did not receive as a gift of nature, but which he created with his own mind, the world of books is the greatest. Every child, scrawling his first letters on his slate and attempting to read for the first time, in so doing, enters an artificial and complicated world; to know the laws and rules of this world completely and to practice them perfectly, no single human life is long enough. Without words, without writing, and without books there would be no history, there could be no concept of humanity. And if anyone wants to try to enclose in a small space in a single house or single room, the history of the human spirit and to make it his own, he can only do this in the form of a collection of books.’
                                     -Herman Hesse

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

It’s not quite what it thinks of itself

How could a proudly liberal city like New York not be doing right by all its school kids? How could it allow so many of its school kids’ reading levels to year after year be so below average? And how could it allow its system to be, some say, the most segregated system in the country? And how can its neighborhood libraries have such paltry hours? Not open evenings or on Sunday. How liberal, how progressive is all that? Why haven’t the daily papers held the city’s feet to the fire about school kids? Why did the papers write a thousand articles about ‘Hamilton’ instead of doing that?

Monday, January 6, 2020

FIRST DAY BACK ON CHAMBERS STREET IN TWO WEEKS. Longest I’ve been away. I really enjoyed the holidays here and in Cleveland. But this is what I’m supposed to do. So it’s good to be back.