Thursday, March 29, 2012

"Each of us will help the other live, and somewhere, each of us must help the other die" Adrienne Rich

Adrienne Rich was one of those special people who knew a lot about love, and she enriched the world by sharing her deft perceptions channeled into exquisite poetry. She knew the female experience in all its potential: young wife, mother of 3, then awaking in midlife to her erotic desire for women.

I discovered Rich in college, amid the operatic intensity of life that is the coed's lot. I formed a bond with her collection The Dream of a Common Language that has never been duplicated. I'm not alone in that connection. Here's Cheryl Strayed from her memoir Wild (via John Williams in NYT):

“I’d read ‘The Dream of a Common Language’ so often that I’d practically memorized it. In the previous few years, certain lines had become like incantations to me, words I’d chanted to myself through my sorrow and confusion. That book was a consolation, an old friend, and when I held it in my hands on my first night on the trail, I didn’t regret carrying it one iota — even though carrying it meant that I could no more than hunch beneath its weight.”

Here's one of my favorites, but so much of her work is brilliant, haunting, comforting, provocative, helpful.

No one's fated or doomed to love anyone.
The accidents happen, we're not heroines,
they happen in our lives like car crashes,
books that change us, neighborhoods
we move into and come to love.
Tristan und Isolde is scarcely the story,
women at least should know the difference
between love and death. No prison cup,
no penance. Merely a notion that the tape - recorder
should have caught some ghost of us: that tape - recorder
not merely played but should have listened to us,
and could instruct those after us:
this we were, this is how we tried to love,
and these are the forces we had ranged within us
within us and against us, against us and within us

Love Poems, Dream of a Common Language
Adrienne Rich

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Madness Contained Until Tomorrow(land)

Some thoughts from back when we last left Don, a year and a half ago. And the Mad Men tag will take you to posts from various specific episodes over the last four years. It helps to be reminded why people are making the season 5 premiere an event. More about that later.

Another season, another reason, of Mad Men whoopee is over.

It began with a reporter asking “who is Don Draper?” and ended with this answer: A father of three who fell in love with a French-speaking, child-loving 25-year old Maria Von Trapp of a brunette, while he seemed to have saved his business by a stunt ad in the NY Times about Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce not taking tobacco advertising.

I’m glad to see Don find focus. He hit rock bottom this season, with the vomit on his shirt. Then he began the journaling and swimming, and the man regained some of his beauty and charisma. He’s much more interesting as a man interested in his life than a drunk trying to throw it all away.

Betty continued to be a damaged, cruel, lost woman; Joan chose to be a mother rather than not; Peggy is horrified that her work still is undervalued; and Sally is the best actress on television.

We’ve come a long way from seasons 1 and 2, when Weiner’s love of style trumped his ability to tell a story. Now the storytelling is compelling, and we may all be with these characters for the long run, into the seventies and beyond.

Other moments:
•The real Don Draper’s engagement ring coming to our Don Draper

•So many pop culture references: The Sound of Music; Hogan’s Heroes; Beverly Hillbillies (swimming pools, movie stars), Abe Beame!

•Poor Faye. She starts the episode with Don, but It’s not to be.

•Don roping Peggy into his happy news. Megan reminds him of Peggy! Megan admires her the way he does. What's that about.

•Bobby’s desire to ride a jet in Tomorrowland, and Don’s wistful look at the window at the end. Is he feeling The Graduate (the blank stares at the back of the bus), or truly Sonny & Cher (and then look what actually happened to them)

Not a cliff hanger, but a nice plateau for the characters to rest on until next season.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

“Lamh Dearg Eirinn”: On Every Street Corner in the Great City of New York!

Somewhere in the late 1970s there was a commercial on Channel 11, WPIX, with Penn & Teller. They were running around New York looking for some way to announce a new identity for WPIX, but nothing was big enough. Then they come up from a subway somewhat uptown from the still-new World Trade Center. And that was it! The enormous twin towers were an enormous 11. Mission accomplished.

I had a similar "aha" moment yesterday when I was thinking about what could I write about for St. Patrick's Day.

I was walking from the subway to my office on 52 Street, still feeling jazzed by 30 Rock's St. Patrick's Day episode, with all its loony specific details, and the use of the parade (which was a real inside baseball stroke, because not only has WNBC been televising it for many years, but this year the Grand Marshal is none other than Francis X. Comerford, the Chief Revenue Officer and President of Commercial Operations for the NBC Owned Television Stations).

As I was walking I was thinking . . . thinking . . . what can I talk about, what's big enough to talk about this year, when I looked up to cross the street and . . .

THERE IT WAS, the Bloody Red Hand of O'Neill. On every street corner.*

How had I never realized this before?

I hail from clan O'Neill, and our crest---the elements of which predate formal heraldry--- has a bloody hand that became the symbol of Ulster because my ancestors where kings of ancient Ireland. No hype. No kidding.

There are many stories about why the crest has the hand. The one my dad told me was: One of our ancestors had a kingdom and two sons. He took them out in a boat, and said whichever one touched the land first he would make the next king. The two brothers started swimming, and the one son realized he was losing, so he took his knife, cut off his had and threw it so he would "touch" the land first. As a kid that was deliciously creepy. We had the crest on a wall along the stairs to the living room, and I stared at that fish for years.

We Have a Very Storied Heritage

Here are bits and pieces from name and crest sites:

The name is the same in Irish as it is in English and for 1,000 years O'Neill has been one of the most prestigious of Irish families. Niall means ‘champion’ and was first used by Domhall, grandson of Nial Glun Dubh (black knee), King of Ireland, killed in 890 by the Norsemen. The O'Neills go further back, claiming descent from the legendary Niall of the Nine Hostages. They were very strong in Ulster and to curb their power Queen Elizabeth had their Tullahogue inauguration stone broken up.

The O'Neills were so powerful that they were targeted by the English for extermination with special zeal in the sixteenth century. Despite the best efforts of the crown under their agent Essex, the O'Neills continued to thrive in Ulster right up until the 'Flight of the Earls' in 1607 (more about that later).

The Long Memory of History

In the states, the name O'Neill used to be known for the playwright Eugene and the politician Tip. Both are fading from collective memory.

But I got a whole new perspective on the clan when I traveled around Ireland in college with a fellow American, Carol Delahunty. She wanted to visit her county, Kilkenny. So we made our way there, via Dublin, then Galway, Clare, Dingle, Limerick, Cork, Waterford. All along the way, when I said my name, people would say, "Oh, the fighting O'Neills" or "Ah, the kings of Ireland." Which surprised me. No one said anything about Delahunty.

Then we got to Kilkenny Castle, the seat of her family name, and ticket taker is reading a book, a biography on Owen Roe O'Neill!!

I had to ask him, why do people feel the need to exclaim when I say my name?

He said that it's because the Irish feel very close to their history, and the O'Neills were great fighters against the English and are cherished for it to this day.

And that history? Hugh O'Neill, 2nd Earl of Tyrone, was known as The Great O'Neill and recognized as the King of Ireland as late as 1598 - 1600, gaining power and renown through the Nine Years War, hammering against the English.

But here's the rub. The English rallied at the Battle of Kinsale, the Catholic Spanish, who had come to help, surrendered, and the English took the city. O'Neill went back to Ulster, and then left for Spain to try to raise a new army and re-conqueror, along with O'Donnell and ninety of their followers. This exile became known as "The Flight of the Earls" in 1607.

Because O'Neill and the others fled, no one left was strong enough to fight the English, and the Plantation of Ulster began, which was the root of all evil on that green isle. Direct cause and effect. O'Neill and O'Donnell left, King James 1 confiscated their lands, their entire realms, and gave them to Protestants from England and Scotland. That's how the mess all started.

Now, you might think that history and the Irish would hold O'Neill responsible for that terrible fate of their country. But they don't. Exactly the opposite: they embrace O'Neill as the greatest of the fighters who stood firm against the English, well, until he fled. (As we've said repeatedly, the Irish are a unique breed.)

And today, this ancient symbol of the fighting kings of Ireland is on every street corner in the 5 boroughs of the great city of New York.

That's big enough to call out on Saint Patrick's Day and say: Erin Go Bragh!


*(This one has the extra benefit of the pun on the street sign. Who W. C. Handys is and why we care is for another day.)

Sunday, March 11, 2012

#SaveSueSimmons: A Real New York Story

Lloyd Boston, the style guy on the Today Show, summed up the Sue Simmons "how can she be fired?" phenomenon for a generation:

I am in shock! Besides TVPIX, THIS woman practically raised me from the tube every day after school.

The seventies and early eighties were simpler times. There were no personal computers, so unless you went to the mall for a video arcade, there was no way to waste endless hours virtually. There were of course after school sports, and clubs, and the time honored just hanging out with your friends. But a generation of New York kids came home to a handful of things that unite us still: The 4:30 Movie on ABC; cartoons or syndicated shows (like F-Troop !) on WPIX; and NBC's Live at 5, when in began in 1980, with Sue Simmons,

Everyone is covering this big local story: Village Voice, HuffPo, The Root, Baltimore Sun, NYTimes, from many angles, including the question of why does the 68 year old Chuck Scarborough get to stay but the 68 year old Simmons is let go.

But my favorite article is in The Gothamist because of this user comment:

The late television critic Marvin Kitman always used to note how she only had a high school diploma. He also said she had a benefactor there who watched out for her all those years. Maybe that guy is gone now.

Marvin Kitman. The television critic for Newsday for 35 years beginning in 1969. I have not thought about him for decades, but he was the first "columnist" I read as a teen. He was funny, in an over-the-top blustery kind of way. And one thing that he was known for was his impassioned dislike of Sue Simmons.

I couldn't find any of these Newsday articles on line, but he was relentless, FOR YEARS, with entire snide columns devoted to how inept she was, how she stumbled constantly over any word over two syllables, how she came across as empty-headed, barely able to comprehend what she was misreading.

Now for the Twists

Marvin Kitman isn't dead. I guess TV critics should have their own Dead or Alive site. He left Newsday in 2005, and wrote a book about Bill O'Reilly in 2007.

But what's more amazing than not being dead is that he came to Sue Simmons's defense in 2008 when she had her mouth malfunction in a live promo, when she thought her mic was off and the wrong footage was running under her lines.

I didn't see it at time. I too thought Kitman had died a while ago.

But I found this piece Kitman wrote for HuffPo in 2008 when I was searching about last week's events:

"Only two weeks ago, Sue Simmons, the veteran WNBC/4 anchor, uttered an F -word that was heard around the world. And today her penalty has shocked the world of TV journalism even more.

Instead of being fired, suspended, hung by the thumbs, forced to wash her mouth out with a sponsor's soap on air, whatever punishment fits the crime, the management of the flagship station of the NBC network gave its sinner a big fat promotion. She is being moved from the Siberia of local news -- the five o'clock news show -- to co-anchor of the 6 PM broadcast with Chuck Scarborough, the Cadillac of Big Apple newscasts.

Holy s---, advocates of morality in broadcasting might argue. What the f--- is going on here?

The New York Post, in effect, alleged she was under the influence while reading the TelePrompTer ("SILLY SUE A SALTY SWILLER").

An equally incensed Daily News wondered if she shouldn't be suspended or fired for her use of the F-word, even began a poll to settle the issue.

I thought it was terrible the way the press was going after the Grande Dame of local news.

Secondly, Sue has a history of her mouth being an unlicensed weapon.

As a veteran watcher of Sue Simmons -actually I have a doctorate in Sue Simmons studies earned as the media critic at Newsday for 35 years -- I was once compiling a doctoral thesis on "The Wit and Wisdom of Sue Simmons."

I gradually realized that Sue's problem was not that English was a second language. She never did her homework. She was reading the stuff for the first time. "If she had to read it twice," a source explained, "she would lose her spontaneity."

Despite wiseass critics like me making fun of her, Sue has survived in a business where we will never forget what's-his- or her- name. What is the secret of her success?

First, she has improved with age. By that I mean, she has reduced her TPT Average to .987. Her percentage of reading errors is better than the fielding average of some Mets and Yankees infielders.

While she still has difficulty remembering names - who can forget the time she called Yankee manager Billy Martin Billie Holiday? -- and she still gets names twisted (Don't ask her to say "Meredith Baxter Birney" fast), Sue has retained a zany, unpredictable quality. It was hysterical the night (Jan.13, 2007) she tumbled off the anchor chair, feigning dozing in response to a Brian Williams scintillating commentary.

We in New York love Sue because she's a smart, sarcastic, sassy, funny chick, compared to the usual vapid, vain but gorgeous newsperson. She is the successful single older aunt who wisecracks her way through Thanksgiving and Passover dinners that everybody wishes they had. If she didn't exist, we would need to invent her.

So leave my Sue Simmons alone."

Seriously, has hell frozen over? From a home-town perspective this is a major reversal.

I'm not a follower of local news, per se. Simmon and Scarborough seem like the Abbott & Costello of NBC, in a good way. They should leave stay or leave the stage together.

The now request tumblr campaign to Save Sue.

And Marvin, please, no more reversals. We all need to count on some things remaining the same.

(Sue's groundhog picture/young picture from The Gothamist.)