Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Heading Up River with Joseph Conrad

Before becoming the target of lies, smears and general hate in the campaign for Mayor, I would say the worst thing about living in Cooperstown was the lack of reading time. Don't get me wrong - I do not miss the commute back and forth from Lincolnshire to Chicago for a fun-filled day of options trading. But having at least one hour per day to read, Monday through Friday on the train to the Loop, was a treat. I could could knock off a normal-sized tome, say 250-300 pages, in 7-10 days. I covered a lot of literary ground over 20 years.

Now it takes forever to get through the average book. I just finished Joseph Conrad's Lord Jim after 4 months. It's only 300 pages! I did read The Bronx is Burning, which I didn't like, during the same period, but that was the upstairs book, number two on my priority list.

Have you ever read Conrad? Jim was my third. Like many, I was introduced to Conrad via Apocalypse Now, based on Heart of Darkness. I've read Heart twice and like it, though it is slow and creepy. There's an aura to Conrad's prose. If you've seen the movie, and can remember the foggy scenes as the crew makes their way to Kurtz, that feeling of haunting claustrophobia, of something disturbing lurking just out of view, that's how Conrad makes you feel. The book has one of my favorite descriptions, of "the harlequin dressed in motley." That character is, in Coppola's movie, Dennis Hopper. I can never think of one without the other.
The Secret Agent is the most enjoyable read of the trio. Taut, oozing suspense, with a depth of character that puts it apart from the average anarchist drama. It's a story that Hitchcock would find appealing, and did. Sabotage, filmed in 1936, is one of Hitch's early best, the bomb in the film can sequence enough to still drive an audience up the wall with anxiety. The Secret Agent will blow you apart. It's that explosive.

So, back to Lord Jim. It took a long while to get into, even though it has one of my favorite devices, the unreliable narrator. Zeno's Conscience, by Svevo, and Ford's The Good Soldier rank high on my list of novels told by lead characters not quite grounded in reality. Jim is a difficult guy to get close to as a reader, and I couldn't understand Marlow's affection and attraction. Not my problem, I'm just the reader.

I pressed forward, ever so slowly, and last week decided I had to get this done. Once I hit the 100-page-left-to-go mark, it's full speed ahead. At this point, Jim has regained a stature of pride and dignity he professed to have had all along, though there was nothing on the page to back that up. Interesting enough, but with the end in sight, I was chomping at the bit to wrap it up.

Then, with one page to go, Conrad punches you in stomach with a sudden and emotional wallop that leaves you staggering. Then it ends. Boom, just like that. A steep cliff of a denouement, I must say. I had to read that last page or two over and over to make sure, and each time I was blown away. The description of Jim's last scene is so visual, I can see now why Conrad, though a very intellectual writer, lends himself to film so well.

As to Jim's story of redemption, I know of few of those types, some even named Jim, who might benefit from reading Conrad. There's still hope for you!

Monday, March 22, 2010

Putting the "Late" in Legislate

I admit, I kept an eye on the TV all day yesterday, and stayed up all night to watch the Health Reform voting. You'd think after losing my own election almost a week ago and being hit with a slew of vile lies that I would remove myself from any and all politics, but no.

As I listened to the arguments, pro and con, I thought back almost seven years ago. We were planning on moving to Cooperstown, and I wasn't sure how I would proceed in trading. My first order of business was to find health insurance. Since I was leaving Equitec, I had to find private insurance for the five of us. One call, the first, scared the shit out of me.

I was informed, right off the bat, that N. was uninsurable. Why? Autism. I couldn't believe it and protested.

"He doesn't cost any more than a regular kid. He has a couple of prescriptions, that's it," I argued, trying to keep a lid on my fear and anger.

"It's a pre-existing condition. No one will insure him."

Being autistic would preclude him from having coverage for a broken leg? For pneumonia? For cancer? It didn't make sense.

Everything worked out, as the CFO of Equitec offered me a trading account within one of the limited partnerships and, as long as I paid my way, access to the same health coverage I'd been under for the past three years. What a relief! Thanks Fred.

Now I get to pay $21,000 each year for health insurance. N. is fine. He ended up qualifying for Medicaid due to his autism, which takes a huge load off our mind going forward. He'll be 20 in August.

That experience was on my mind as I listened to the endless stream of House bills: HR 3590, HR 4872, HR Haldeman, HR Pufnstuf. Is health care a "right" or a "privilege?" Maybe it's neither. Maybe it's just something that as moral people we should all be concerned about. I'm no Christian, but I believe "do unto others" is the way to live. Shouldn't we care about the lives and health of all people? If we should, then a course must be set to meet that concern.

That's where the Republicans lost it last night. Minority Leader John Boehner screamed "Hell no you can't!" Speaker Nancy Pelosi spoke, not on the arcane parliamentary process, but on the coverage of 32 million people, on the elimination of pre-exisitng conditions, the end of rescissions. Think about that last one. No longer can insurance companies kick you off your policy when you become too sick for their balance sheets.

Do I believe that the CBO score is unimpeachably correct on the future deficit reduction powers of health reform? I don't know. Do I share the GOP's belief that this bill will lead the nation to further expansion of health care provided by the government? Absolutely. These type of programs only expand, they never lessen.

And why is that bad? Forget the "we'll become European" claptrap. What is so terrible about making sure Americans are given adequate medical coverage. Again, I won't speak as a knowledgeable Christian, because I can't, but isn't it true that we are supposed to look after those less fortunate? Isn't that the tenet of most religions, of most civilized societies?

Friday, March 19, 2010

Rectangular Solace

My love for cards has never been limited to baseball and sports. My earliest memory involves Beatles cards, when I was, what two years old. I find that hard to believe, but it's true. Unless they were still available in packs for a couple of years after 1964. I don't know.

I bought cards, or had them bought for me would be more accurate, and they were always tossed out with my permission. It wasn't until early 1972 when I began buying older baseball cards after noticing dealer ads at the back of The Sporting News. I figured, if I was buying old cards there wasn't a lot of sense in throwing out the new ones.

In the 1970's I attended the two card shows each year in Manhattan. The dealers were into the hobby for its own sake. As a teen, it was heady scene to be surrounded by vintage memorabilia and actually purchase some. I'd save my birthday money and Hanukkah money and hit those shows with $100. I got every Koufax card, a smattering of Mays and Mantle (neither my big favorites), and some great sets - the 1959 Fleer Ted Williams, the 1969-70 Topps Basketball Rulers, and so on.

During college I put my yearly collecting on hold, a bit ashamed of the hobby, but, once I graduated I caught up on the sets I'd missed form 1981-84. And I started to go back to shows. I had a huge amount of 1967 Topps cards and vowed to finish the set. I'll never forget going with K. to a show and completing the task, save one card.

"I can't believe they didn't have that Red Sox team card," I said to K.

"No, he said he had it in another box." I hadn't heard that, she had. So we went back and got it. Save by K.

There's a lot of card related tales that mean much to me and very little to you. Sometimes my interest in the hobby wanes, sometimes it roars back. After losing the Mayoral election, I find myself passionately thumbing through the 2009 Standard Catalog of Baseball Cards, acquiring courtesy of T.W. who found cheap copies near his Clinton home.

I've been scanning Ebay for cards, a Roger Staubach autograph here, some 2000-01 short print Heritage Basketball there. It's nice to turn to an old friend, my oldest really, for a little mindless cardboard joy.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

A Few Week's Worth of Stuff

When we last met, I had just gotten back from a two day break from campaigning.

Here's some scattered happenings since then.

1) Campaigning has filled most of my days and been great. I completed knocking on every door in the Village on Thursday. It's not that small a place when you hit every person. And when you make a point of trying to talk with people, as opposed to only jamming flyers in their doors, it takes a while. Though not everyone was home when I popped in, I spoke to hundreds of people, many who I never see in my daily travels. Very enjoyable, very informative.

I also appeared on local access TV for a 1/2 hour interview and participated in Candidates Night at the County Courthouse. Those were fun as well, especially the latter as residents get a chance to ask questions that are on their mind. The feedback from that night has been incredible.

2) The usual 2-3 movie per week schedule is still intact. I saw The Invention of Lying, a mostly unfunny Ricky Gervais film. It may be the first Gervais project that didn't crack me up. It is pretty subversive, though, on its out and out shot at religion.

There are a few Robert Altman films I haven't seen. Sad to say Thieves Like Us with Kieth Carradine and Shelly Duvall, was one. Finally caught up with it and, like all Altman flicks, it's a treat. Quirky, muted story that packs an emotional wallop and leaves you with the feeling that you've watched real people. It's easy to forget how great Duvall is now that she's out of the spotlight, but, man, she delivers.

What is that quality, exactly, that makes a horrible movie so enjoyable? I watched Dolemite last week in my ongoing effort to cover "blaxploitation" films. Such bad acting, such terrible editing, a boom mike that makes appearances throughout. But when the actors take a peek at the camera as they leave the room, it's a hoot. 1970's film nudity is, as I've mentioned before, unnerving. Since the actors are not creations of a plastic surgeon, but real people without clothes on, it feels like a real invasion of their privacy to be peeking in. Dolemite has the most troubling nudity since Schindler's List, but Spielberg wasn't trying to be sexy. Dolemite is and it is the worst assortment of naked flesh I've ever seen!

The best movie I've seen lately is Moon, directed by Duncan Jones, formerly known as Zowie Bowie. He was, and still is, David's son. I can't really get into it without revealing too many plot points, but let me say it is a worthy addition to brainy sci-fi classics like 2001 and Blade Runner. It's that good and will stick with you for days.

3) Writing has taken the back burner, especially Katz Komments. I have finished a book proposal that an agent was interested in, which is, as I think about it, a huge deal. We'll see how that plays out. I did knock out a couple of Maybe Baby stories, and the new issue of ragazine has two pieces of mine. ( I'm also writing a bit for Seamheads, a solid baseball site. An article appears here:

Slowly, time permitting, I've also been working on a sample chapter for a proposed book on N., our autistic son, now a college boy. That's the primary focus now that some time has opened up.

4) I finally bought some albums I've always wanted, some old Eminem, Wu-Tang. Fun stuff. Of actual new releases, I love the new Soft Pack CD and appreciate Paul Lukas' leading me to the band last year when they were still called The Muslims. The new Vampire Weekend is pretty good, except the song "White Sky" is an absolute musical rip-off of Paul Simon's "Crazy Love." Ringo's new disc is typical of recent Ringo, but more enjoyable than the last few. You get what you expect from Mr. Starkey, which if your sensible, is a bar set fairly low. Yet, I persevere, not quite the Beatle completest, but a fair approximation.

So that gets us up to today. Hopefully, there won't be as big a delay until next post, but I know you'll all understand.

March 16 - Election Day in Cooperstown!