Obscured by other events, “The Circus” recently announced it is going out of business in May.
What circus? To New Yorkers, there is only one – The Ringling Bros. and Barnum and Bailey Circus.
The Barnum referred to P.T. Barnum, the showman who once observed there is a sucker born every minute. You still hear that quote these days.
Were we suckers, taken to the circus as little kids, and then taking our own little kid, or borrowing somebody else’s kid, to pay homage to lost childhood?
The circus said it is shutting down because people stopped going when the circus had to get out of the elephant business.
I suspect it was more complicated. Little kids can find more esoteric stuff in whatever phone or computer they are packing. Movies have stuff that explodes (but no plots.) Kids can kill thousands of people with a flick of the thumb on a video game. Elephants? Echh.
And young boys don’t need to go to the circus to get a glimpse of a bare thigh or bare shoulder of an exotic-looking acrobat. It’s all out there on the web, and more.
In classic Americana lore, the circus was always there for boys who wanted to run away from home. Today, young people don’t run away to join the circus, they…(supply your own punch line.)
Still, I’m thinking something is lost. One of the first signs of spring in New York was always the photos in the papers (really, do check out these vintage photos) or TV footage of elephants striding through the Queens Midtown Tunnel, en route from their special trains – cooped out by Shea Stadium, how appropriate -- to the supersized elevators in Madison Square Garden. Better than the first robins.
I knew a young hockey writer who told his readers that the Rangers stunk even worse than the elephants in the basement. Great line. Well, except that the circus was still in Norfolk or Charlotte. Henceforth, he was known as the guy who made up elephant shit.
But what about the elephants?
Another great line. It came from the screeching voice of Ted Turner, mad genius of CNN who created the Goodwill Games, primarily between the U.S. and the soft, vulnerable Soviet Union. In 1986.
Ted went to Moscow to pitch environmental sanity. Birds were dying. Fish were dying. Then, Ted would squawk, “But what about the elephants?” (Imagine, a holy fool with a dollop of compassion and knowledge.)
Well-meaning people said the circus was cruel to elephants and the supply system endangered the great beasts. I say poachers were more of a danger. No poachers in Sarasota, their winter quarters, or the depths of the Garden. But it’s a good point.
Elephants are noble beasts. Some are deities. We have a sweet, wise Ganesh in our home. I was once in a taxi in Mumbai that lingered behind a huge elephant carrying stuff.
And on a day off during the 2010 World Cup in South Africa, four soccer writers took a day trip to the Pilanesberg preserve and our guide Witek paused at the edge of a path as a family of elephants passed, watchful eyes right, a few yards in front of us. I have loved elephants even more since then. If shutting down the circus helps that family in that preserve, then closure is a good thing.
On May 21, the circus plays its last show a few miles from my home on Long Island. I can’t imagine going. But I reserve the right to feel nostalgic for another time, when we could enjoy elephants (and bare shoulders) in the center of the big city.
(I can write this, since I carry an Irish passport, courtesy of my grandmother, along with my beloved American passport)
Stephen K. Bannon runs our country, pushing the buttons of the distracted oaf who is technically the president.
Trump shows what is under his personal rock when he refers to Jon Stewart as “Jonathan Leibowitz” (the comedian’s original name) after a TV gig.
Guess Trump forgets he was passing as Swedish as long as he could, neglecting his family origins as Drumpf.
Behind him is Bannon, pulling the strings, telling him how to keep Muslims out of the country.
I looked it up.
Bannon means “white” or “fair” – in the complexion sense, you may be sure.
As an Irish passport holder, I can say, some of Trump’s closest advisors are named Flynn and Kelly and Bannon.
It was not that long ago that “real” Americans considered people from Ireland the unwashed, the others, the threat.
The Flynns and Kellys and Bannons were not considered good enough to haul trash or dig graves for “real” Americans, who had, of course, killed and dislodged as many original Americans as they could.
There is reasonable debate about how many Irish ever encountered signs that said NINA -- No Irish Need Apply. But ongoing research proves it was there, in some windows, some newspapers, many hearts.
The Irish persevered, and a descendent of Fitzgeralds and Kennedys became president.
Now another president talks about a “ban” of Muslims, a registry of Muslims. He backtracks, but we know.
In a dangerous world, the U.S. was already vetting people from dicey parts of the world. But with his tiny attention span, the new president tries to stop legal residents of the U.S. from coming home. Doctors. Scholars. Husbands. Wives.
He is unashamed. He knows no history. Knows only fragments of things that flutter in front of his eyes. Knows only what Bannon tells him.
It’s easy to spot the sneer on Bannon’s face. We want this guy advising our shallow president?
As rain began to fall Friday in DC, we went out to lunch on Long Island -- a modest Afghan restaurant, on the theory that the place would not exactly be humming with inauguration buffs.
We had appetizers laced with yogurt and garlic, curry, rice, salad and nice crisp bread – the kind of cuisine new people bring to this country.
Across from us, three young women in head scarves were talking excitedly, giggling occasionally. They seemed much like our own grand-daughter, sitting across from us in the booth – bright, hopeful, their lives ahead of them. America.
Somebody in our family had turned down the chance to watch the Inauguration from a privileged site -- couldn’t pretend to be enthusiastic.
However, on Saturday we did have loved ones in Washington and New York, mingling with the hundreds of thousands. From afar, it looked like good fun. No fire hoses, no dogs, not yet.
The new President, who makes up everything, later said the press invented the figures for the two events. Yet I kept getting photos on my iPhone. Guess those multitudes were photo-shopped – with banners appropriate to this day.
My email included a blessing from the Rev. Dr. Susan Henry-Crowe, the General Secretary of the United Methodist Church, for the departing President and his family, and the incoming President and his family.
Her blessing included: “For the good of the earth and all of creation, which God has given us, and for the wisdom and will to conserve it, let us pray to the Lord. Lord, have mercy.”
Another email was from an old friend, Roy Lloyd, one of the thoughtful religion commentators on WINS 1010 AM in New York. Roy described the pink caps worn by many marchers, adding: “The participants demonstrated something said by Helen Keller: ‘One can never consent to creep when one feels an impulse to soar.’”
Speaking of prayers: On the same gorgeous Saturday back home, I went for a fast walk on the high-school track, listening to the Grateful Dead on my headset. As I circled the soft red track, I blurted out the punch line in “Touch of Grey.”
“We will get by” – emphasis on the “will.”
In repetition, it becomes a prayer, just like the haunting punch line in George Harrison’s “Here Comes the Sun” – “It’s all right.”
After this epic day all over the world, we can repeat this mantra in days to come:
It's all right.
We will get by.
I respect John Lewis for staying away.
I respect the people – including some close to me – who are going to Washington on Saturday to protest.
I’m hunkering. I can’t watch the transfer of responsibility, of power, from the President to a reality-show host.
For all that, the dominant feeling I expect on Friday is relief.
This essay is being written on the national holiday for Martin Luther King, who went to Memphis in 1968 to back up striking sanitation workers.
It is written in honor of John Lewis, who went to Selma in 1965 to protest American segregation, and who, thank goodness, survived the beating and is still with us, calling the new President illegitimate.
How many people have been holding our breath since the election of 2008 – hearing in our hearts the lyrics by Dion DiMucci: “Seems the good they die young.”
Instead, came a more subtle version – what Justice Clarence Thomas might call “a high-tech lynching” -- conducted by Mitch McConnell, missing only the hood over his face, and Boehner and Cantor and Ryan, who could not coexist with a black President.
They screwed up the country, leaving a Rube Goldberg health-care bill that could have been so much better, and stalling on infrastructure and education. High-tech resistance.
For eight years, President Obama has conducted business with intelligence and dignity; he will walk away observing the rituals of democracy.
The main thing is, he and Mrs. Obama will walk away. I look forward to their books; I look forward to very rare glimmers of their children, leading semi-normal lives.
The country will now have to respond to the demonstrated rapacity of the new people. This new person has nominated people who cut deals with dicey nations to make money for themselves and shareholders, who demonstrate contempt for the majority as well as for government.
The current polls suggest that many people who voted for the man are now having misgivings. Did you see Charles Blow’s list of polls showing the people’s dis-satisfaction with the transition?
That’s right, the people out there who thought this guy was a fine religious gentleman and an American patriot and a savvy executive are now having misgivings. (Mike Pence, the token of the religious right, looks stricken -- the only man on his island.)
John Lewis is staying away. As always, John Lewis is way ahead on moral stances.
What plans do you have for Friday?
A private investigator I know (perhaps connected to the MI6?) has found current Ladbrokes odds of 11-10 that the impending President will not last four years. Here’s the article:
Perhaps this is mere wishful thinking from people with a few bob to wager.
You could ask, what do the Brits know? They voted for Brexit, against their own self-interest. Still, maybe they are on to something.
Are American voters figuring out what they have done? The most recent Quinnipiac poll shows abysmal ratings for any incoming President. Here in P.T. Barnum’s America, some voters who hallucinated a fine religious gentleman or a successful businessman are having misgivings.
Here are the numbers:
I recently wrote that something would get the new guy within 18 months – his tiny attention span, blatant conflicts and legalities, or being 70 and overweight. (Have you seen the latest photos of that neck?) A sex tape would be fine, too.
Right now, a lot of people are preparing to demonstrate and lobby. At the same time, a friend in the Bay Area says she’s been crying since the election. I know somebody who has come down with a cursing affliction. Myself, I am hunkering down with a hard-covered book and classical music.
Our emotions seem as roiled in a different way as those of McConnell and Boehner and Cantor and Ryan were when an African-American was elected president. Everybody has their own private angst.
One of my favorite readers said he would cover my bet about 18 months. Put up or shut up, he said.
I don’t bet. But I do root against four years of this guy:
When Melania Trump “borrowed” chunks of Michelle Obama’s words last summer, she was found out in the flick of an iPhone.
She didn’t seem to know the difference.
Public figures are often caught using stuff from other people. Remember Joe Biden "borrowing" some material back in law school? And Tony Blair apparently re-channeling stuff from the movie “The Queen,” about him and Queen Elizabeth?
The Web makes that harder and harder.
Now it turns out that Monica Crowley, a former Murdochite on-air personality, scheduled to explain the complexities of national security for the Trumpites -- has used as many as 50 segments for a book under her name.
In this day and age, wouldn’t you think she would know caution, if not shame?
I say this, because just about everything is out there on the Web, easily checked.
Research no longer is limited to dusty books or files from the back corners of a library.
I know this, because in preparation for a talk I was thumbing through the 522 pages of “Look Homeward, Angel,” by my favorite author, Thomas Wolfe.
I wanted to refresh my impressions of a few sweet passages but after an hour of enjoyable searching, I came up empty.
Go to the laptop, dude.
---I knew there was a passage about a scholarly nun, examining a book at the bedside of a sleeping girl in a boarding school. I typed in “nun” and “book” and “sleep.” Found it. Still sweet and respectful.
---I knew Wolfe’s father liked to tell about being a 13-year-old, sassing Confederate soldiers in his village near Gettysburg. The Web reminded me that this epic section had been exorcised by Maxwell Perkins, Wolfe’s renowned editor, only to be revived decades later in an expanded version called “O, Lost.” I’ve requested it from our wonderful town library.
---I knew Wolfe often wrote about the lavish meals his father craved in his wife’s parsimonious boarding house in Asheville, N.C. – loving references to butter slathered on fat lima beans. I typed in a few words. Bingo.
One would think that somebody writing today – even a Foxite news person – would have a little fear about lifting bunches of stuff from other sources.
But anything flies these days. Just ask Kellyanne Conway, designated explainer and lookalike of the aforementioned Monica Crowley. Conway. says stuff with a straight face.
I certainly would not expect Trump to understand these subtleties.
* * *
Meantime, has anybody else noticed that Crowley and Conway appear to have been separated at birth?
And the seething Gen. Mike Flynn, who used to spew patently untrue “Flynn Facts” to subordinates, resembles the paranoid Col. Bat Guano, who shoots his way into the office in “Dr. Strangelove or: How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb” – now coming true, in a universe near you.
He’ll get bored.
I’m bored of him already – his infantile speech, his lack of curiosity, his practiced reality-show squint, imitating an adult with normal thinking patterns.
Imagine how bored he will be, after people explain stuff to him.
“Sir, this is the rule.”
“Mr. President, yes, the Senate can actually do that.”
“Yes, those lawyers do have a legal right to question you about your holdings.”
This is a guy who stood in front of adoring multitudes out there and pounded one fist into his palm and said he’d like to punch somebody right in the face.
Not that easy, in reality.
In a brilliant column, David Brooks described the man’s statements as “usually just a symbolic assault in some dominance-submission male rivalry game.”
How did he get this way?
“Now vee may perhaps to begin. Yes?” – Philip Roth, “Portnoy’s Complaint.”
I say it was some father issue.
Or something at boarding school.
This is a troubled human being. But a strange minority coalition saw the candidate in its own personal fun-house mirror and put its money and fears and superstitions and prejudices on this lumbering figure. Diamond Jim.
Most likely, soon he will say, “Who needs this?”
:Eighteen months,.I keep telling my friends
The real question is, how does it end?
It could be impeachment -- the old John McCain making one more mission for his country.
But boredom, confinement, anxiety, fear, could lead to resignation: I’m outta here.
Then there is the Big Mac Theory.
I’m not a betting man. Won’t even place a two-dollar bet in the pressbox at the Derby. Long story.
But I’m curious about the odds of him lasting in office.
Last November, I found some odds on-line from the British bookies (some people will bet on anything.)
The odds were 3-1 or 6-1 that the new guy would not last four years. Might have been wishful thinking.
However, my cursory glimpse at the current web discloses no new odds. Why is that? Better to wager on soccer – when will Chelsea lose? Important stuff like that.
I’m in denial, or withdrawal.
I can’t take cable news anymore. I put on the stereo and listen to the great Terrance McKnight on WQXR-FM.
I’m reading Dickens’ “A Child’s History of England,” refreshing my views of Richard III and Henry VIII and Oliver Cromwell. (Dickens called him “A most intolerable ruffian, a disgrace to human nature, and a blot of blood and grease upon the History of England") Fair and balanced.
You’ve heard of “Waiting for Godot?”
I’m waiting for Céspedes.
Meantime, the best people I know are talking about not taking this foolishness lying down.
My wife is reading the Times, learning stuff on the tube. Making a plan. Fight back. Right on.
I read the great piece by Jelani Cobb in the current New Yorker: “The Return of Civil Disobedience.”
I remember how good people forced Johnson to slink away from a run in 1968.
Nixon finally got found out in 1974.
I give this guy eighteen months.
Then we get a nice, normal guy like Pence.
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