Sunday, October 11, 2009

When His Holiness won the Nobel Peace Prize, there was a quantum leap. He is not seen as solely a Tibetan anymore; he belongs to the world. —Richard Gere.


As John Lennon once famously sang, “Well, well well.”

Woke up on Friday morning to the news that Barack Obama had won the Nobel Prize for Peace. I won’t lie. I was gob smacked, and not in a good way. The Mister revealed the same stunned expression when I told him the news. What in the world was going on? I reasoned this was gonna be one more thing that, if I bitched about it, which would only serve to deepen the brand on me—the malcontent—among my peers. Between long standing malcontentniks, also known as friends, there would be a flurry of e-mails in a number of languages basically all saying the same thing: “WTF?”

So, blessed or cursed with (depending on how you look at it) the concept of ‘once you know you cannot un-know’, and just a tad envious of the ‘ignorance as bliss’ crowd, The Mister and I decided to see the new film, A Serious Man. Like our emotions, the sky was undecided. Drizzle gave way to fleeting blasts of sunshine and as if afraid of its own light the sky quickly retreated into dullness again. As we could not depend on the weather to lighten our spirits we embraced the gift from the Universe at the Sunshine Cinema, which was the latest from the Coen brothers whose films are always original and even when it takes a second viewing to see the genius, never fail to be much more than the latest fad or the remake of a wan contemporary screenplay that has sat on a best seller list hidden in novel form.

An afternoon show time brings back fond memories of lonely retreats into darkened movie theaters. Escaping for a few hours the failed marriage, a confusing or unhealthy friendship, ever present money worries and those doubts running a full gamut of a young woman’s fears of her relationship with her creativity, her current lover, the rest of the world, or simply to enjoy a film on her own. Only now I have rediscovered this afternoon delight with a man who shares a current list of banes and the need for creative solitude.

Much of my older adult life it seems has been lived in a state of disbelief. I can barely understand why so much of what has gone on socially and politically has not been met with loud protest. We accept, so readily, promises that are not kept by our elected leaders, or worse, have turned up in dispiritingly low numbers to protest the promises of some who did keep their destructive promises. Disbelief crosses my expression enough now to know when to mask it as such. Disbelief has transformed into action for me on occasions when disbelief isn’t enough. If, after a requisite lecture from an animal loving rescuer of the tortured and abandoned, I make the connection to the inhumanity of the death penalty in our own country and I am met with cries of “Well, some of them just deserve to be put to death,” then I struggle with the disbelief and resolve to step up the effort to end the death penalty.

Post 9/11, my disbelief was at its zenith I think. Huddled merely a month later in the pre-dawn cold on Broadway and 96th street with literally handfuls of people who were not going to be herded into a war mentality based on supremely misguided revenge and despite the personal attacks on them would get on the bus and keep getting on the bus to Washington D.C. to do what should be part of our American DNA and that is protest a murderous injustice and a lie. Eventually more citizens would be persuaded but not until the road to protest had been cleared of minefields. Not until it was peopled more by a convivial bunch thumping tambourines and hoisting giant papier maché puppets.

Disbelief rears its startled head when intelligent people I know regard our president as nothing less than a rock star. Their eyes glaze over and it’s practically a guaranteed that they have Ambien dreams about the guy as a vegan because, you know, that’s the only gripe they have with him. Suggesting that we rename the Health Care Bill the Dazed and Confused Bill to the multitudes who depend on Prozac to get through their day simply lands flat. That our economic future was handily taken from us and given to the very financial institutions that raped us in the first place isn’t cocktail party conversation where I wouldn’t fit in anyway because I don’t own a t-shirt that spells OBAMA in glittering sequins.

Where I am maddened by Obama’s response to the Nobel, that “These challenges won't all be met during my presidency, or even my lifetime,” and call it ass-covering, others will simply dismiss me as a malcontent and say he’s being pragmatic.

It is safer conversational territory if we keep to the latest sweeping documentary from Ken Burns and don’t ever stray into disbelief over the enduring hit show in town, its ads plastered across cheery red double-decker tourist busses. I’m talking about Bodies: The Exhibtion down at the South Street Seaport, which is still pulling the punters in. Never mind where those skinned, plasticized bodies came from in China—the poor, the dissident, and the criminalized—it’s educational, innit?

Recently The Mister and I traveled out to Brooklyn to hear Tom Hayden speak at the United Methodist Church in Park Slope. The pews were packed but practically every head was some shade of gray unless there was no hair at all. The very few young people at the back of the church were introduced as Hayden’s Brooklyn relatives. I’m not saying that one of the founding members of Students For a Democratic Society way back in the early 60s, the guy who rallied campuses all over the nation to actively protest the Viet Nam war, the primary author of the Port Huron statement, described by Howard Zinn as “one of those historic documents which represents an era,” who is still ‘a leading voice for ending the war in Iraq, eradicating sweatshops, saving the environment, and reforming politics through greater citizen participation’ has lost his edge. Nope, not from the looks of pleasingly plump matrons in sensible shoes who were jostling with any excuse to wrap their dimpled arms around him. He spoke with conviction, although softened somewhat in the re-telling, of importance of grass roots organizing. The lull was only broken when he admonished the audience not to abandon our president but to demand from him the promises that he made be kept. That got a few cranky oldsters stirred up all right and shouts of “He’s abandoned us!” livened things up, but only briefly.

So what’s a girl and a boy to do? Off to the movies!

A Serious Man—a wonderfully funny and moving film by the way—fully validated a suspicion that life is shit, the bad guys have won, and good deeds will most certainly be punished. Pleas for answers fall on deaf ears. Your personal gods do not have call waiting so expect a busy signal. We are in the Age of MacAspiration now, so very 21st century. A big MacAspiration will have to satisfy hunger for real progress. Promises are all we can count on. Our energies will have to be redirected to avoid the herding instinct toward mandatory vaccinations and American President Idol. We’ll have to accept, as some commentator posted, that the Nobel Committee might just be handing Obama the equivalent of a lollipop and a pat on the head, telling him to make them proud. We might have to give up the notion that this prize means anything at all and remind ourselves that Henry Kissinger can call himself a Nobel winner and Ghandi never did. It just might be that after so many destructive years of George W. Bush we are now entering an era of good intentions. That we are in dire straits in this country—have not repealed the death penalty, which is racist and proven to be an unsuccessful deterrent to crime not to mention mistakenly putting innocent people to death; that our politicians and doctors have sold themselves to corporate America and arm twist too many of us into a pharmaceutical dependence instead of focusing on prevention and a healthy drug-free lifestyle—that will all be swept under the feel good rug of good intentions. Welcome to wishful thinking folks.

The Mister and I enjoyed a delicious meal at our fave vegetarian Indian restaurant, our appetites sharpened from an impulsive round trip ride on a Staten Island ferry after we had just seen A Serious Man. I reminded him of the boy we saw in the black t-shirt that bore the message: I CARRY THE APOCALYPSE. Our level of disbelief is spread over news items like the ones in the U.K. that say citizens will be rewarded for studying one of the ubiquitous CCTV cameras for anything suspicious and turning their neighbors in. Or that libraries will, instead of being funded by the government so they can improve service, hire workers who are visible to the populace and stock the shelves with worthy reading material, will be in partnership with the faceless monolith of Amazon. Laughing disbelief is relegated to the news of a Miss Plastic competition in Hungary. Breast implants, nose jobs and facelifts and not a fiery baton twirler or a plea for world peace in the lot. Newly asymmetrical beauties, along with their plastic surgeons, share the awards. I save the best news for last: Marge Simpson is to bear all in the November issue of Playboy!

Over little spiced dishes in my choice of tiffen wallah and a fragrant Malai Kofta for The Mister we recall the many bits in A Serious Man that made us howl with laughter. We both know there is a message somewhere in the story, but are not exactly sure what it is. Perhaps it is that Nature is the great leveler. But, none of that matters anymore. We came away smiling and thinking about the film, still thinking about it at dinner and probably will still be thinking about it for some time. The songs of Jefferson Airplane looped happily in our heads among the hauntingly beautiful Yiddish songs sung by cantors featured in the film. The Mister looked up at me, and smiled. “I think we’re quite well suited.”

When the truth is found to be lies

And all the joys within you dies

Don’t you want somebody to love

Don’t you need somebody to love

Wouldn’t you love somebody to love

You better find somebody to love.

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