Remembering

IMG_0171
My dad in Germany during the Korean War.

“I raised my hand because they asked who could type,” he said. “I could type.” If my father’s story of his service in the Korean War began with his administration skills, it always ended with the admonishment: “never volunteer for anything.” He never saw combat since he was stationed in Europe to take care of personnel files. He seemed to have a good time so it didn’t make sense that volunteerism was a bad idea. But after 9/11 he told me a different story, one that suggested a larger truth. He told me of the men in his battalion, their names long forgotten, but not their service. According to my dad, two-thirds lost their lives in Korea. The jumpers, he told me, all died. He wound up in Germany taking care of personnel paperwork only because a guy two in front of him in the line died in a jump. “The next guy went to jumper school and I wound up in Germany,” he said. “That’s how they did it. One went to Germany, one went to Korea, and one went to jumper school. I would have been in Korea otherwise. I owe my life to that guy. The guy in front of me died too. Almost all of my battalion died.” While his battalion was fighting in Korea, my father was taking care of their personnel files, including their benefits and letters home to their families when the servicemen were killed. I’m only alive due to the death of a serviceman that sent my dad to Germany instead of the front lines. He didn’t volunteer for anything; he shaped the story of his service in that way to make the story more palatable when his kids were younger. Maybe he was old enough not to care or he thought, after 9/11, I was old enough not to be shielded any longer. Or maybe he knew that his daughter with the “motormouth” would be the one to tell the story of his service and the losses his battalion suffered–a loss, I sense, he still feels today.

#RESIST

migrants-trump-italians-nonna-tamburri-620x430
Tamburri’s grandmother’s enemy alien registration card issued in 1942. She’d migrated to the United States in 1906. Image credit to Anthony J. Tamburri.

Here is a link to CUNY Calandra Institute Dean Anthony J. Tamburri’s recent article on when Italians were considered “enemy aliens” in the U.S.: “When We Were The Muslims.” We must not allow this type of discrimination, based upon prejudice and fear, to become our way of life once again.

The Electorate

694b4c9e71680e219faf89a47511347c.jpgimgres.jpg

Maggie is going to die tonight. Pregnant and rational, two qualities not usually associated with women, Maggie is the community-building leader on The Walking Dead. Negan used the phrase “right hand man” in the trailer for the upcoming premiere and she is the one who, in the words of Rick, “hammered out the deal” that helped their community survive before they met Negan and his gang, the Saviors. Maggie was emerging as a strong leader, one who could eventually replace Rick. The de facto hero Rick is an unstable, loose cannon who wreaks havoc on his community with outbursts both physical and emotional. And yet, even when it is against the rag tag community’s best interest, they continue to follow him. So, it is with Donald Trump and his supporters.

I knew “The Donald” in New York. So did my father. Trump is as emotionally erratic as Rick is and as much of a guy with a hero complex. Only Trump knows how to fix it. Only he can stop the turmoil by creating even more turmoil. Trump, like Rick, plows full steam ahead no matter what anyone tells him or how much destruction he causes.

When my dad was a young man, working as a loan officer for a local bank in Queens, Trump sent one of his college friends to the branch to take out a loan. Trump hadn’t made a name for himself yet. He had recently graduated from college and his father was still in charge and held all the purse strings. The person applying for the loan was not a U.S. citizen and had no collateral. Trump was the co-signer, another person with no real collateral. Five thousand dollars seems like nothing today, but this amount was a large sum in the mid-60s. Especially to a small bank branch in Queens that would have to pay it back if Trump’s friend defaulted on the loan. My father understood what Trump was attempting to do and denied the loan. His manager over road my father’s decision and sent the approved application to the main bank headquarters, but they bounced it back: REJECTED. The branch manager ignored their decision and the local branch became liable for the money. When my father told me the story, he said, “I told him that Donald was pulling a fast one, but he wouldn’t listen. I knew we’d never see a penny of that money again.” He was right. After nine months, not one cent had been repaid. When the branch attempted to contact Trump’s friend, Trump called the branch to curse out the bank manager and my father. According to my dad, Trump used a string of f-bombs and threatened them with having his father pull all of his money out of the bank—a number that was more than likely in the millions. My father told me this tale over a meal. That’s when I get most of my information about my parents’ young lives. Snuck in between the lasagna and fennel, before the cheesecake and oranges come out, I discover my parents actually do know the score, even when they ignore it.

The telling of this story was prompted by my own tale of Trump. I was working for a real estate attorney in Manhattan. One day, I picked up the phone, answered it professionally and politely as I always did, and I heard something I’d never heard before: “This is Donald Trump. I want to speak to your boss.” I thought it was a joke. The lawyer for whom I worked had a lot of big real estate clients, but never “The Donald.” I almost responded: “yeah, and I’m the Queen of England,” but something told me to believe the voice. I put him on hold and went down the hall where I found my boss strategizing some deal with another lawyer. I expected him to tell me to take a message. That’s what he always did. Instead, he ran down the hall—a man who only walked slowly—and picked up his phone. He had a series of five or six consultations with Trump over the course of a few weeks. The bill was small in comparison to most of his clients, less than $20K, but Donald didn’t pay it. When I asked my boss what to do, he said not to bother. “Why?” I asked. “He needs to pay his bills!” I didn’t yet know my father’s story. I was working on the assumption people paid their bills, especially people who were rich. My boss said, “he never pays his bills and you can’t ask him because then he bad mouths you. Just let it go.” When I told my father this story, he laughed and said, “he’s an ass and he never changes.” Then he told me the story about the bank loan.

Years later, after 9/11, my dad and I were walking the Atlantic City boardwalk. The Blue Angels were flying overhead and police in riot gear and armed with automatic weapons were lining the pier. In the background, Trump’s casinos were in various stages of ruin. My father railed against Trump. “He’s a greedy S.O.B. who doesn’t care about any body but himself.” My father knew about the bank loans and the bankruptcies and how Trump left Atlantic City in worse shape than he found it. He pointed out buildings that were recently vacated and shook his head. He couldn’t understand how someone like him could continue to garner support in business when it was so clear his only business plan was to declare bankruptcy when he got bored or bled the resources dry. We bonded over our disdain for a man who made money by putting others in pain. And yet…

Yes, there’s an “and yet.” A few months ago, my dad suggested he might vote for Trump. I was shocked. “How could you?” I asked. “After everything you know about him, dad. How could you? I don’t understand.” My dad shrugged his shoulders. “Maybe he’ll be able to do something,” was his only response. I haven’t had the courage to ask him more recently how he’s actually going to vote in light of Trump’s latest rants.

People like my dad, living on a pension, not quite making it, are afraid. That’s how someone like Rick gets to take charge past the time when his efficiency and effectiveness as a leader works. We’re not living in a zombie apocalypse, but the way those on The Walking Dead react to Rick or the Governor or Negan is not much different to how citizens respond to Trump. People think he has an idea, no matter how outrageous, and put their faith in the crazy idea in the hope it might work. They hope it might place them in a better position than they had before. They try to not to think about how it could ultimately destroy them. Like Rick, Trump is a guy who always gets a second and third and fourth and fifth chance. Maggie finally comes in to her power on The Walking Dead, and I’m not sure she gets to do more than feel her potential. That’s why I don’t think someone like Clinton, who has better credentials than perhaps any previous candidate in history, is still not a shoe-in to become the next U.S. president. Trump’s taking his name off of his hotels. He thinks he can hide the evidence of his misdeeds and bad business practices. But then again, he hasn’t had to hide any of his atrocious behavior during this election cycle—the badder he is, just like Rick in The Walking Dead, the more folks seem to take to him.

The Horror…

Back when Donald Trump announced he was running for president on June 16, 2015, most of my friends thought he was a joke that would last two weeks. I didn’t. I used to work for real estate attorneys in New York City back in the 1990s. I knew how much he was despised and how no one would do anything about his heinous, bullying behavior. I knew he would get the nomination. My friends wanted to shut me up every time I mentioned Trump. They’d tell me to calm down. They’d speak platitudes like: “Trust me, he’ll never last. No one will vote for him.” In the last few months, their dialogue has changed: “Well, even if he gets the nomination, he’ll never be elected in the generals.” Guess what? He could easily be elected in November.
imgres

His primary win tonight in Indiana all but seals the deal. The Republican convention will be a crowning of Trump, a man who does not actually want to be president, but will do
it anyway (and run the country like a four-year long Celebrity Apprentice series). If you think he cannot win the general election, guess again. I am horrified by this primary process in the same way I was when I watched George W. Bush take the presidency in 2000. We all know how well that turned out.

Watch some Trevor Noah on Donald Trump.  Then watch John Oliver. The presidential primaries have been great for comedians, but for the United States, not so much.

Elevated Risk

13002446_10208048388020403_3384221694321341558_o (2)A few days ago I cracked open Inventing the Public Enemy: The Gangster in American Culture: 1918-1934 by David E. Ruth. Over the title page was a small notice with a Homeland Security symbol. The notice read as follows: “As of 15 November 2007, the book you are holding has been deemed ‘Elevated Risk’ in accordance with PATRIOT-USA as per NSA and DHS regulations. By checking this book out of the library, you may be subject to the exceptional deployment of certain surveillance measures from the United States of Homeland Security.”

At first I thought it was a joke played by a bored, creative undergraduate student. Then I thought, if this is real, how come it’s the first time I’ve ever seen one of these? Then I was disconcerted. Libraries have always been my safe havens. When I arrive in a new city, the first thing I do is obtain a library card. The URI librarians and I are on a first name basis. It might have to do with the fact that when I was a child, librarians were the kindest people I knew. I was the adolescent that took out 12 to 20 books at a time–the stacks sometimes as tall as I was. I loved roaming through the card catalog and picking books out by the strange sounding titles or even stranger author names. I cracked open the spines of books and smelled the pages. The librarians always helped to reach the books placed on a too high shelf.

When I saw the Homeland Security notice, I did what I was trained to do: I went to the source. My librarians would know the answer. Tell me it was, in fact, a joke. When I asked the URI librarians about it, they said, “well, some books were deemed an elevated risk after the Patriot Act, but we never marked up our books.” One of the librarians called Brown University (where the book was from) and came back with this story:

Apparently back in 2011, Brown placed this notice in every book that had words like bomb, bombing, terror, terrorism, gang, gangster, etc. It had to do with some new amendment to the USA Patriot Act. Brown removed the notices a few years later, after the expiration of said amendment. Apparently, “they missed a few.”

After my visit to the URI library, I received an email from David E. Ruth. I wrote him because I wanted to know if he knew about the notice or if he might have some other insight. He said, it was “a product of clever anti-Patriot Act activism by someone at Brown.” So, I dug further. In June 2015, Section 215, which according to Slate magazine was “commonly nicknamed the ‘library records provision,'” expired. Before the expiration, librarians had fought this amendment through various tactics. In particular, some librarians hung up signs that stated: antipat4

Now I’m not sure what to think. If the Brown librarians were practicing civil disobedience, why didn’t they tell the URI librarians? Perhaps the Brown librarian with whom my librarian spoke did not work in the library during the years of fighting Section 215 of the Patriot Act. Or perhaps we have reached a point in time where we all know we are being monitored and accept it. Was the notice then both a warning and a protest? Either way, I know more and less about how I might be a deemed a “public enemy” for my reading and writing habits.

The Walking Dead as Pain Porn.

The season finale of The Walking Dead disappointed for many reasons, not the least of which were Rick’s, Daryl’s, and Carol’s illogical choices leading up to and including the last episode of the sixth season. Their choices unwound five seasons of character development. Carol devolved from the tough survivorship she earned over an evolving character arc to the simpering guilt-ridden coda that moved her away from the central action of the finale. Daryl lost his backwoods warrior status to emerge as an urban action figure who wouldn’t know how to track neon targets in a paintball park.

635629748612847593-WALKINGDEAD-LINCOLN-S05-EP15
Crazy-eyed bloody Rick.

And Rick. Well, Rick has become my least favorite character. I understood and pumped my fist in agreement when he ripped the jugular from the much deserving Joe in the season four finale, “A.” Outside of a few moments when he has acted like a leader, he has seemed less like someone in charge and more like a mentally unstable horror movie victim. I was hoping he would be killed in the season finale. Instead, we know he and Carl are alive. But in “The Last Day on Earth” he became more deranged than even after his wife Lori’s death in the season three episode “Killer Within.” He knelt and drooled while Negan pronounced the rules of survivorship under his realm. I kept thinking, if I were Negan, I would want this idiot alive. He’ll keep everyone in line he’s so terrified. HA HA HA. He’s their leader! Well, I got it made then.

Even Carl, Rick’s son, showed more gumption as Negan said one of them would have to be sacrificed. As we all know, no one knows who Negan and Lucille murdered. But who cares? I mean, what is there to care about? The Walking Dead is not about relationship and community; it’s become only about how much pain can be inflicted on characters and audience alike.

The Walking Dead is pain porn. It’s not the only show on television that trucks in this brand of entertainment, but it’s the one that needs it least. The group is living in the aftermath of a zombie apocalypse. There is not much you have to do to make the world seem horrific. And yet, Scott Gimple and crew continue to push the boundaries of sense in order to feed some insatiable need to watch people suffer.

Why do Daryl and Rosita need to be caught so easily? They are both trained survivalists. They would never have approached Dwight’s camp from the same angle once they found it. And how would they not have heard Dwight coming? Daryl has super sonic woodsman hearing. Besides the fact that Daryl would not have gone out on his own knowing what it would cost the group, this story arc seemed to only been written so Daryl, Rosita, Michonne, and Glen meet Negan at the same time as the crowd in the RV.

melissa-mcbride-as-carol-and-lennie-james-as-morgan
New power couple of the apocalypse: Carol and Morgan?

As I wrote about in an earlier post, Carol’s decompensation has made even less sense (and clearly my prediction was wrong about why the producers and writers had done this to her). The only plausible reason for her exit from Alexandria is so she is not with the group when Negan meets them. More than any other character, her 360 turnaround has felt like a betrayal–of character and gender development. She went from an individual who would kill anyone or anything who threatened the group, to someone who felt guilty for even thinking someone might have to be killed. Her continued mental breakdown seems designed simply to put Carol and Morgan together. Why? Why not have it happen more organically instead of making Carol have a nervous breakdown?

And Rick? How did he not figure out that the Saviors were shutting down every avenue of exit for him and the group in the RV? They were driving in CIRCLES for hours! And if not him, what about Abraham? He’s a trained Army sergeant who knows tactical maneuvers. Rick would never have fallen for this action before the Governor and none of them would have after Terminus.

It’s not just the characters that seem set up. During The Talking Dead where Jeffrey Dean Morgan made his The Walking Dead debut, he spoke of the series’ actors and how committed they are. JDM said the actors in the scene didn’t need to be there the entire time, but they stayed with him during 15-hour shoots and cold temperatures. He talked about how they knelt and responded to everything he said, no matter how many takes, no matter how many shots in which they would not appear. He said, they gave 150% and never complained. He said, they were the most dedicated actors with whom he’s worked. Reedus sat next to him, proud of their accomplishment. I was struck by other actors, like Andrew Lincoln, Norman Reedus, Steven Yuen, who speak of The Walking Dead as a family. In light of JDM’s praise, I can’t help but think that the actors sound like children in an abusive, alcoholic environment. Pain is the norm for everyone whether they are on or off camera . (There have been a few actors who have not engaged with this kind of conversation. Note Merritt Wever‘s absence from The Talking Dead after her character Dr. Denise Cloyd’s death and Melissa McBride‘s silence regarding Carol’s changed mind. Perhaps not everyone is on board with the pain porn environment, but remember, I’m just conjecturing here.)

From Glenn’s almost death in “Thank You” to Carol and Maggie’s girl fights in “The Same Boat” to Denise’s arrow to the eye in “Twice as Far,” this season has felt like one great big F-U from Scott Gimple and crew. “The Last Day on Earth” was simply the latest in abusing actors and audience alike. It’s a bit like the current presidential election season. Insufferable, solipsistic, and painful.

Bruce Springsteen Takes a Stand

Two months back, I railed against the cost of The River tour and thought Springsteen needed to rethink who his audience was and the message he was sending to them. This month, I’m here to praise Springsteen and a number of other companies and individuals who have shown North Carolina’s legislators the price that will be paid since passing HB2.

bruce-springsteen-barack-obama.jpg
Springsteen receiving congratulations from President Obama during Kennedy Center Honors

HB2, known as the Public Facilities Privacy and Security Act, ostensibly discriminates against the LGBTQ community, most especially those who are transgender. Known colloquially as “the bathroom bill,” it was approved by North Carolina’s General Assembly and signed into law by NC Governor Pat McCrory in one single day.

Springsteen and the E Street Band made the decision to pull out of their Greensboro, NC date in lieu of this new legislation. Springsteen’s most important point, I think, about HB2 is his declaration: “Some things are more important than a rock show and this fight against prejudice and bigotry — which is happening as I write — is one of them. It is the strongest means I have for raising my voice in opposition to those who continue to push us backwards instead of forwards.” He’s right. Taking a stand against prejudice and civil rights discrimination is of paramount importance. Waiting is not an option. Other states have bills lined up that will be at least as discriminatory as HB2.

Springsteen isn’t the only who has shown North Carolina and other state legislators who are putting together similar bills that this bill is nothing more than blatant discrimination. In addition to Springsteen’s cancellation, four conferences have pulled out of North Carolina as a site venue, Lionsgate has moved its Hulu series Crushed from Charlotte to British Columbia (yes, Canada), and PayPal has withdrawn its plans for creating an expansion in Charlotte.Springsteen and these companies are showing consistency in their responses to hate speech and legislation. Economics may force North Carolina to do the right thing, but that won’t change the bigoted attitudes of people like Governor McCrory. For that, we need education.

In my literature courses at University of Rhode Island, I often show Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s Tedtalk: “The Danger of the Single Story.” I teach multiethnic literature and I want students to know how the dominant lens is not the “best” or “only” interpretation of a piece of writing, film, art, music, or community. Adichie’s talk opens them to the possibility of observing their own biases and also discussing the ways in which they have been (or have seen others) marginalized. It’s a good beginning before we tackle texts like Adichie’s Americanah, Kamila Shamsie’s Burnt Shadows, or Daisy Hernandez’s A Cup of Water Under My Bed, global narratives challenging their view of the United States on macro and micro levels. I am not trying to change my students; I only want to offer them a more inclusive, expansive way of looking at and being part of community. Springsteen wasn’t trying to change anyone with his decision; he simply understands how his choice has the power to affect others to look deeper at the implications of their prejudice and ignorance.

Here is Bruce’s full statement.