Ran into Phil "Two Boots" Hartman in his Mets cap & jacket this morning. "Ya going to the game?" I asked.
He gave me a reproachful look. "Of course. When do I not? It's my Rosh Hashana." Read More
I thought I should expand outside my block, so I went to the NY Times to see what's going on in the world. I was hoping for a Chris Christie update but the first article I landed at was about reverse mortgages, which are designed to keep people 62 and older in their homes by borrowing money against the value of their homes that they don't need to pay back until they move out or die.
I am pretty sure my 90-year-old mother has a RM but I'm in that huge cohort of people whose parents keep them in the dark about their finances and plans. Which is my mother's right, absolutely, as long as I'm not left holding the bag, by which I mean doing the legal, financial, & cleaning tasks she should have done.
Not much is more entertaining & enlightening than hanging out with a 12-year-old who's full of questions & opinions. We walked around the West Village, compared Minnesota (where he lives) to New York City, ate bad pizza on 7th Avenue & a very good brownie from Amy's on Bleecker Street, & did a little karate. I love that kid!
A pleasure to start my day somewhere other than the 3 blocks between house & office. My sister & her 12-year-old are in town, she for work, he on spring break to go to an architecture camp. They are staying nearby & we walked to LaGuardia & 3rd to where the American Institute of Architects has a gallery and work rooms, & where Henry is going to learn architecture-by-computer (I can't do better than that).
We went by the Chaim Gross Foundation, also on LaGuardia Place, & I remembered waiting for an elevator somewhere in Soho a few years ago & falling into conversation with this wonderful kooky woman who turned out to be his daughter & Red Grooms' ex-wife, Mimi Gross, & have been intending for ages to go see his art there.
Last night two guys at the next table at Mogador were speaking a Germanic-Scandinavian language that we correctly guessed was Danish, even though I've never heard Danish spoken (as far as I know); the AIA has an exhibit of Danish green building techniques & my sister speculated that the two guys were here for that; she might be right as the opening was just a couple of days ago.
I walked back to the East Village along 4th St & remembered my very first stop in New York, Café Dante, & my first apartment, on Thompson St (for 6 weeks). You never think anything is for the last time. I didn't ever think: this is the last time I'll ever hitchhike or see this friend, & after a while, you read those affectionate letters & can't recall who that person is. Maybe I'll go west again.
My friend Avery recommended Terry Pratchett’s Dodger, a recent novel that has the Artful Dodger from Oliver Twist as the main character (Oliver doesn’t appear). It was a fun, quick read that sent me back to Dickens; I doubt that I’d read O.T. since I was an adolescent.
Pratchett's characters are able to rise out of their dismal circumstances through the force of their intelligence or personality. Dodger—a much more likeable character than in O.T.—holds his own with Disraeli, London police chief Robert Peel, and even Queen Victoria.
While many common-born people are heroic in his novels, Dickens often relies on miracles and coincidences, and people are good if their birth is good. Is it plausible that Oliver’s family background can keep him genteel throughout a really awful upbringing of criminal neglect, despite the fact that his mother died giving birth to him? Maybe: My cat Buster was a rescued feral cat who has the sweetest temperament of any cat I’ve ever known. Is that a fair comparison? Aren’t cats way more nature than nurture?
Dickens is much more relentlessly dark—his criminals have few or no redeeming qualities—but also more hopeful, with wider swings of ups and downs. As Avery noted, “Many of his characters can be a little all or nothing. When they are good they are very very good, when they are bad they are horrid.” Pratchett fits in with contemporary mores in that we have less taste or tolerance for neglected children and hard-ass adults. Could the people who run workhouse and orphanage be portrayed as quite so naïve these days? Could kids now really have no social services to speak of and be allowed to run quite as wild as Fagin’s gang did?
Dodger never makes you horrified at him being an orphaned thief, and Solomon Cohen (i.e., Fagin) is benign, intelligent and justified. Dickens (a character in Dodger, a sharp-eyed and ubiquitous journalist) never lets up on making you well aware that he disapproves of the mores that reward and fatten a beadle for starving the children in his care. One sees oneself in Dickens’ characters in a way that Pratchett leaves you outside of. I feel guilty for letting Oliver starve, that is, but feel mostly like an observer of Pratchett’s people—a delighted observer for sure, but not implicated. They know how to help themselves, so they don’t need me to intervene. Dodger isn’t piteous or needy or helpless, the way Oliver is. He’s not a victim, Avery points out, even though society is trying to victimize him.
Every year in Sioux Falls, my best friend, Debbie, & I would have a competition: Who could spot the first robin of spring? It was always her (& her idea). I hardly ever see robins in New York City but here one was, down by Bowling Green, Sunday, March 9.
I can recognize pigeons, robins, flamingoes & many other urban boids.