Many a day: Random memories of a brother

dannyscan

[Pinning this one for a while. My brother would have turned 65 yesterday, Jan. 11.]

“As long as you live under this roof you WILL go to Mass every Sunday.” That was the deal. All of us kids complied, reluctantly. The Sunday before Danny died, the weather was fine, so he and I walked the eight blocks to church together. Like we belonged together, like we were brothers. I like to tell myself there was some sort of reconciliation under way.

Daniel Joseph, eldest child of Jerry and Vergie, was born 60 years ago this month. On a sunny summer day 22 years later, his life ended in a accident at his roofing job.

In remembering him, my perspective is specifically that of a younger brother. Parents in the 60s tended to let their boys straighten out disputes among themselves. At least ours did. For me, this meant constant abuse at Danny’s hands. He was shorter, but much stronger, and had a sadistic streak. He loved the “99” — his extended middle knuckle pounding on my breastbone for, yes, 99 reps. The hard punch to the bicep was another favored part of his repertoire, as was the one where he pinned my arms with his knees, and let spit dangle close to my face, and sometimes, accidentally or otherwise, letting it drip onto my nose or into my eye.

Twenty-some years after Danny’s passing, Heather and I named our first son Daniel, and it’s some sort of Gabriel Garcia Marquez trans-generational thing to watch how Daniel the Younger torments his little brother with the ardor of his namesake. The two Dans even look alike, though there’s no blood relation.

My parents adopted Danny in 1956 and my older sister Cheryl in 1958. Not long after Cheryl came home, my mother became pregnant–with me–and then my younger sister Caroline came two years later. Judging from baby books and photo albums, my parents doted on Danny, and I imagine their marriage was even quite happy when he was the only child. But by the time I came on the scene all I remember is constant fighting–between my parents, and between Danny and dad. From the age of 13 or so, Danny managed to avoid most of our family outings, even vacations.

***

Wrestling was a big deal with kids in Minnesota when we were growing up. We would adopt the personalities of our favorites. Most kids chose the Crusher or Vern Gagne, a few opted for Mad Dog Vachon. Being skinny and weak, I saw myself in Edouard Carpentier, the Flying Frenchman (who was Canadian, of Polish descent, actually). Carpentier wore bell bottoms, no shirt, no shoes. Googling turned up no photographic evidence of him in this getup, but that’s how I remember him. Carpentier specialized in drop kicks and flying head scissors, and I did my best to mimic his acrobatics when up against Danny. Sometimes I would get lucky and hurt him with an elaborate, high-risk aerial maneuver, but he always recovered and hurt me more.

***

Danny had a minibike, then a car and a motorcycle, and could fix them on his own. Not one for books, he worked as soon and as often as he could. He had money to spend, and girlfriends (I had neither). When I was 15 or 16, I remember riding down to Lake Calhoun on my ten-speed and catching glimpses of him speeding past or parked in his avocado ’69 Malibu, with what seemed like a different blond head every time in the passenger seat.

famYardBikes

That time when he lowered his voice and asked me what girls I liked at school? I knew better than to answer. I held out. But he was relentless. Finally, a little smile forming on my mouth, I whispered the name of my secret crush. He roared. The very next day I saw the object of my desire flirting pretty brazenly–with him.

***

One Sunday in ’68 or ’69, when I was at a Boulevard Theater kids’ matinee, my father took Danny and Danny’s friend Greg ice-fishing. It was March, and the ice was getting thin in places. Dad, walking where an ice house had been taken down, fell through. In his heavy wool coat, he went down like a stone, but somehow surfaced through the same hole. (Indelible image: Dad liked to remember that he never lost his grip on the cigar he had clamped between his teeth.) Danny and Greg pulled him out. As a display of gratitude, dad gave both of the boys a transistor radio from Walgreen’s, along with an unusually (for him) emotional note thanking them for saving his life.

Danny loved westerns, which I tried to watch, but always found boring. He fancied himself part Native American, and once when he shot a blackbird with his pellet gun, made a mess of hacking the red wing off, as some sort of Sioux talisman of his imagining. He was a great fisherman and was always bringing home turtles from the Lagoon off West Lake Street. He was also adept at climbing over the spiked iron fence surrounding Lakewood Cemetery, which he treated as his own personal squirrel and chipmunk trapping ground. And that’s where he is now, of course, buried next to my mother’s grave (and a stone’s throw from Hubert Humphrey’s), almost up against that iron fence on Dupont, across the street from his (and my) old paper route.

***

We went as a family one evening to a Twins game at the old Met Stadium in Bloomington. Killebew, Oliva, Zoilo, Boswell, Kaat. What a team they had! And yet,I don’t remember the game as much as I do the chain link outfield fence, which seemed cheap and disappointing, and that there were hundreds of bats flying around beneath the bleacher seats.

“It took many a day to build this place,” Danny said to me somberly. I have never forgotten him saying this, and would often borrow the “many a day” for something equally inappropriate.

***

I was not tough, to say the least, and kids would pick fights with me because it was easy. I was tall and skinny and often covered up and whimpered that I didn’t want to fight, which only made others more eager to call me out.

There was one time in seventh grade when I fought back. A tussle on the stairs coming out of gym, and I must have accidentally bumped into the quarterback of our miserable football team. Another diminutive bully, and another Timmy as it happens. He ordered me to meet him after school on the playground. I surprised him by showing up.

I had been reading the Robert Lipsyte young adult novel, The Contender, about Alfred, a dropout black kid from Harlem who stumbles into boxing and finds he is good at it. His manager Mr. Donatelli’s mantra, “Stick and run,” suddenly came to me I circled the other Timmy. I jabbed and jabbed, retreated, jabbed some more, and he, being much shorter, could never get inside. The fight seemed to go on for a very long time. A big crowd had gathered, and finally the priest came puffing along to break it up.

The fact that I’d bloodied and bruised the other Timmy didn’t stop him from saying he was going to kick my ass the next day. I didn’t challenge that, but the next day came and went. Back home I proudly showed Danny the dried blood on the knuckles of my chopper mitts. He seemed to have known about the fight before I told him anything. All he said was, “You fought with your mittens on?!”

***

He was not great at school, and when I looked over some of his homework from the courses he took at Normandale Community College, I got the sense that he might have had an undiagnosed learning disability. He took law enforcement classes, and wanted to get a job with a police force, but the economy was bad and he never got his foot in the door. He often mocked me for my higher education aspirations. “You’re book smart, but not street smart” was something he said frequently. But the year before he died, at the age of 21, he was accepted into the College of St. Thomas in St. Paul. “I’m gonna do it like you. I’m not gonna work, gonna  take out loans, join a frat.”

I was kind of flattered to see him come around, but it had little to do with me, and more with his seeing no future working the kinds of jobs he worked. He was a week away from proper college life when he slid off that roof.

I don’t know how he would have done, whether he would have fit in. Would he have been able to do the work, would he have stuck it out and graduated, or gotten frustrated and quit? What would have become of him in those forty years since he fell? Would he have a wife? a family? Would he have lost his hair? It’s just impossible to imagine any future for him in my rational brain.

My irrational brain fills in the gaps. Frequently, in dreams, I have conversations with him. “Man, it’s weird that you were gone so long. What are you going to do now?” He’s usually his 1979 age, but sometimes, as in a Buñuel dream sequence, has evidence of the grave about his body–dirt, pallid skin. Death is acknowledged in our chats, but it’s something that we have put past us.

Waking up, mind clearing, realizing it was all a dream–that’s about as empty as I ever feel.

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Last picture of Dan, with his friend Gerard, in front of the ancestral abode.

A moment to wallow in the glorious sounds of Dion DiMucci

Just in the past couple days I have stumbled on Dion’s “Born to Be With You,” the album he recorded in 1974 with production duties and boozy erratic behavior supplied by none other than Phil Spector.

Columbia execs at the time were horrified by the darkly introspective treatments, but Phil refused their pleas to revamp the material. So the massive and expensive 40-musician project was shelved, and didn’t appear until a UK-only release the following year.

As per allmusic:

“Dion, too, was unhappy — ‘I don’t think we ever really finished that,’ he complained in 2003. It shocked him mightily, then, to discover that names as far apart as Andrew Loog Oldham, Bobby Gillespie, Jason Pierce, and Pete Townshend have pronounced Born to Be With You one of the finest albums ever made. And they were correct.”

Have to wonder about the studio atmosphere, with Phil being Phil and Dion clinging to his then newly declared sobriety. Dion’s been clean for more than half a century, and Phil will die in jail, so I guess there’s your answer, in part at least.

Anyway, this is one of many absolutely glorious tracks.

PS This strikes me as a missed opportunity for Scorsese. The songs on this album would have been perfect for either Goodfellas or Casino soundtracks. Not that they were wanting in any way, just that Dion would have made them better, and would have been a nice tribute to Marty’s fellow Italian-American auteur genius. Just a thought.

Populism is good, actually

There’s a movement afoot, an etymological land-grab, that involves centrists shouting at every opportunity: “eh, Sanders and Corbyn, Trump and Bolsano, they’re the same. Populists. The only people you can trust are … centrists.” It’s not a NEW movement, God knows, but the distortions that Trump has brought to the national discourse have led centrists to sense that they can seize this opportunity to lock out any significant deviation from full spectrum dominance. The weirdness of Facebook and Twitter’s intervention in the Hunter Biden laptop kerfuffle show just how emboldened they’ve become to block conservative AND progressive voices from access to what have become de facto All the New That’s Fit platforms.

This Guardian dispatch, for example, celebrates Jacinda Arden’s victory in New Zealand over the weekend, and manages to drag the words populist and populism through the mud with no little gusto. The author associates these words exclusively with the Right-Wing Murdochian populism, which doesn’t really involve actual populism and instead stands for the diametrical opposite of the powerful populist movement America has experienced on and off for more than a century. Monied interests, then as now, saw fit to trash the Good Kind of populism with every dirty trick in the book, including, I guess, by describing it it in this dishonest way.

Google Thomas Frank, for God’s sake, or watch/listen to Frank’s fascinating and entertaining guest appearance on Matt Taibbi and Katie Halper’s insanely great Useful Idiots podcast.

I know. This is a two-hour episode. But the time will absolutely fly by.

Want the tldr; ? Well, actually: we should never forget that Populism Is Good. Centrism, the game of footsie played by two (and only two) corrupt nihilistic parties, is what has given us our world. Precarity, disease, scarcity, the threat of nuclear Armageddon always present, and now on the brink of complete ecological collapse.

No, we can’t have populism. Anything but that.

I got so fussed over the besmirching of the fine word “populist” that I started googling around about Thomas Frank, our age’s foremost defender of the term, and found that he has written just a spectacular essay for Le Monde Diplomatique. I’m guessing he tried placing it in outlets more easily accessed by American readers, but the op-ed pages of major media platforms were stuffed to the gills with all the Fear pieces Frank describes here so well. And so funnily. Read this.

Friday miscellany: a good thread and The Absence of God

This song doesn’t have anything to do with the above, except maybe the title?

It’s a peculiar joy of our era, when you are randomly reunited with a band you once listened to obsessively, but then got out of the habit. Such was the case with Rilo Kiley and this amazing tune, which showed up on my Daily Mix #4 on Spotify last week, I love the guitar arpeggios (if I have the word right) that call to mind Ventura Highway, and Jenny Lewis is such a great emotional singer. And this song titled The Absence of God (!), blows me away.

We could be daytime drunks if we wanted
we’d never get anything done that way baby…

That’s some catch….

I’m 2/3 the way through the six-part Hulu adaptation of Catch-22. There are good things and bad things about it. The crews have incredibly stressful and dangerous missions, but they also have some absolutely incredibly photogenic R&R opportunities. Sometimes I think I’m watching a Calvin Klein underwear ad….

Major thing that bothers me is that, yeah, let’s be sympathetic to these young american men who are in an awful position, but they are in the business of dropping bombs and I wonder if the series is ever going to have them face to face with the destruction they’re causing.

(I’m happy to go back on this if the final two episodes take things in this direction. Honestly can’t remember from the book, which I read in grade school)…

I always keep in mind that the historian Howard Zinn, a bombardier in the Euro theater at the tail end of WWII (his unit dropped napalm on a French seaside resort, pour rire, in April 45), exposed a lot of the lies we as Americans tell ourselves and the world….

“I suggest that the history of bombing—and no one has bombed more than this nation—is a history of endless atrocities, all calmly explained by deceptive and deadly language like ‘accident’, ‘military target’, and ‘collateral damage’.”

Whenever we think of horrible violence within our borders and say, “that’s so unamerican,”–I’d say the problem is that it’s all too American.

no lying in that beef… no insincerity in those potatoes… no deceit in the cauliflower

The Heartbreak Kid is another film I re-watched for the first time since I saw it in 1973! Jeannie Berlin is director Elaine May’s daughter, which I didn’t know, and didn’t seem to be a fact used to promote the film. Cruel mama had scads of humiliation in store for her girl. All that egg salad and sun cream!

Of course May was part of a comedy team with Mike Nichols thru the early 60s, and there are big similarities between this and The Graduate, which Nichols directed. Charles Grodin was offered the part of Ben before Dustin Hoffman took it on.

Not surprisingly there are some really hilarious scenes, and a bunch where the camera keeps rolling through the most cringe-worthy situations.

When I saw it, in ’73 at age 14, I only (sort of) knew the world of the Corcorans (as seen through the curtains). I might have caddied for the Eddie Albert character at the Minikahda Club, who likely would have been a jerk who gave me a “needs training” for not keeping up. Fitzgerald’s “Winter Dreams”, a soft-focus story of a caddie dreaming of an unattainable girl, loomed large in my consciousness back then, and it lurks in the background in this film.

As a simple midwestern lad, raised Catholic, I really knew nothing about the New York milieu from which Grodin and Berlin’s characters sprang. Novel by Bruce Jay Friedman, script by Neil Simon. Gold standard! I could have/should have written a paper on this for Art Geffen’s great Jewish-American fiction grad seminar at the U of M.( I did Portnoy’s Complaint, so not far off….. That genius paper burned in the fire, alas).

Richard Brody in a 2016 retrospective review praises May’s portrayal of “the implausibly boundless sense of wonder, possibility, and entitlement of a time when even a self-proclaimed schmuck like Len, endowed with little but the gift of gab, attempted daring feats of self-liberation.” I would add that, from the ever-more precarious perspective of 2020, it’s striking to me that Lenny’s character is a two-bit salesman who can somehow afford a convertible sports car.

Final overly literal comment: Lenny parks his rental car right next to Northrup Auditorium to stalk Kelly. The closest parking spot is half a mile away!

You Love to See It. Ro Says “Hell, No!”

Good to see some pushback from Ro Khanna on the DNC Platform, which tosses in a few potentially decent scraps of proposals, but which also goes backwards on lowering the Medicare eligibility age, and–egregiously, and of course–fails to endores Medicare for All, in spite of overwhelming support for MFA among Dems and ALL voters, which you would think would be an important consideration. But you’d be thinking wrong.

Continuing its grotesque retreat from supporting any proposals of value to, oh say 80 percent of Americans, the slogan of the party this time around, in a climate of precarity and suffering that would have been shocking to even contemplate six months ago, is

  • Get In Line
  • Shut Up and Vote for Us
  • You’ll Get Nothing and Like It
  • Trump is a big baby yellow Cheeto!

That high-handed contempt for the voices of all but the donors and lobbyists and apparatchniks running (ruining) the party, worked so well for the Clinton campaign that the Dems are going with it again.

All but a couple of the Dem presidential candidates supported Medicare for All going into the primary. Hell, the Vice Presidential nominee co-sponsored Bernie Sanders’ MFA bill in the Senate!

A different time, a different (moral) universe, apparently

Doesn’t take a tinfoil hat to conclude that the main purpose of that grotesque, farcical spectacle was to quash support for MFA–which is supported by nearly 90 percent of Democrats!

Ro Khanna’s statement of why he will not support the DNC Platform is worth reading:.”

Yet history teaches us that the Democratic Party has sometimes faced an issue so great that it alone should be the yardstick for measuring the wisdom of voting for or against the platform. This is one of those times.

In 1948, there was going to be a split in the Democratic Party regardless of the national convention’s vote on civil rights. Those who stood up and demanded a plank for civil rights in the platform fundamentally changed our party’s direction.

Likewise, in 1968, I also believe that I would have stood up and not supported a platform that failed to clearly call for ending the U.S. warfare in Vietnam.

In my view, 2020 presents us with another such issue. 

I believe that moving away from a profit-based healthcare system is the moral issue of our time. And in the final analysis, because of that belief, I could not vote for a platform that lacks a clear statement supporting Medicare for All.

I have heard the arguments made as to why I, or any other delegate, should just get in line and vote for the platform. Two of those arguments resonated, and I would like to address them.

“With Trump in the White House,” some might say, “we need 100 percent unity, and anything that would chip away at unity is dangerous to undertake—including a no vote on the platform.”

No doubt, the specter of four more years of Donald Trump is a compelling argument for unity—but the thing is, I see a vote of conscience against the platform as an ultimate show of unity. A party that cannot embrace honest debate and differences of opinion would be too rigid to learn or to grow wiser.

Some may ask: “Why does the left have such a hard time understanding that you don’t get 100 percent of what you want, that the truly great gains are made incrementally?”

To this I say, nobody understands the realities of incrementalism better than progressives. Harry Truman ran and won on universal healthcare in 1948, and it was part of Democratic Party platforms until 1980. Thirty-six years later, the 2016 platform merely called for lowering the eligibility age for Medicare to 55. The 2020 platform proposes raising the goal to 60. That is not incrementalism; that is moving backwards.

This tweet sums it all up rather nicely.

Related: Déjà vu all over again, from four years ago

Tony Bennett–cool guy pacifist singer–turns 94 today

Tony Bennett

Happy 94th birthday to Tony Bennett!

Here’s a great performance of a Duke Ellington song you may not know… from Tony’s “Bennett Sings Ellington: Hot & Cool,” which has occupied a nearly permanent slot on my car cd player since I bought it for a dollar!

Not everyone knows that Tony fought in WW2 and has been a pacifist ever since, which to me is a rare and brave (and correct) position for a member of the so-called Greatest Generation…

“The first time I saw a dead German, that’s when I became a pacifist….

“Anybody who thinks that war is romantic obviously hasn’t gone through one…. Actually the war comedies like M*A*S*H and Catch-22 are probably a more accurate depiction of war than the ‘guts and glory’ films, because they show how pathetic the whole enterprise is…Every war is insane, no matter where it is or what it’s about. Fighting is the lowest form of human behavior…No human being should have to go to war, especially an eighteen-year-old boy.”

Opening Night

My wife’s family runs a summer theater and last night was the much-delayed opening night (usually they open early June), but it was raining and they couldn’t move the show inside as they usually do because of … well, you know. They have been in business for 70 years, and I have been coming to shows since 1990, and can’t remember them ever cancelling.

So we served dinner to about 15 people, and sent everyone else home. I am–and I guess will be–the bartender for these two weeks or so. Last night I served four freebies and no paid drinks.

That’s me in the picture. “Welcome back to the Overlook Hotel, Mr Torrance!”

Then we had the opening night party, much more sparsely attended than usual. Still it was nice sitting there in the dark, drinking and chatting at a socially appropriate distance, almost like olden days.

One of the young actresses did a playlist that impressed this greybeard: Paint it black and Young folks by Peter Bjorn and John!

Mitt Rommey: Still a Monster. Deficit Fret: Still Nothing But an Austerity Con

A peculiar and enraging thing I see on my Twitter and, especially, FB timelines: this attempt to sanitize and, gosh, even beatify asshole Republicans just because they say Trump Bad.

Mitt Romney remains an absolute monster. Pay attention people.

Deficit screamers are about one thing: austerity. They think ordinary Americans have it too good, and all the wealth of the country should only belong to the already wealthy. This scare tactic has ALMOST worked in the past. OBAMA (yes! him!) wanted to reach a “Grand Bargain” with the GOP to cut entitlements. Bill Clinton too! Thank God for Monica Lewinsky!

Joe Biden! Don’t get me started.

People are waking up to the austerity con, as evidenced by the popularity of Stephanie Kelton, Pavlina Tcherneva, and Nathan Tankus, whose work is praised by smart writers for Bloomberg and Barron’s and the stodgy-ass NY Times (see yesterday’s Manjoo column). The old evil jerks in both parties really have one last chance, and at the moment they are being led by the Democrats’ favorite Republican. They think they can pass awful legislation like this under cover of relief. Read the ugly details in today’s Unsanitized, from the always excellent David Dayen.

Remember, the deficit hysterics–and that is most everyone of a certain age and rank in Washington DC, including (and especially) leaders of the Democratic party–look at this animated gif and think the flattening middle still has too big a share of the nation’s wealth!

I would like to see an updated version of this tbh….

The Power of the Purse belongs to all

For years now, I have been a zealous shouter about the MMT insights Stephanie Kelton describes with such clarity, wit, and authority. Just about through my first pass through her amazing book, The Deficit Myth, and will no doubt be sharing more thoughts in coming days.

This is imo the most important book to be published in recent years. Its insights have been called Copernican (by Kelton herself–and she’s right).

This passage right here is about as important a paragraph as any of us are likely to come across. Read, re-read, mull it over. Tell your friends. Order Kelton’s book.

It’s OUR FUCKING MONEY.

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