On the Edge of Silence

January 9, 2022

“There is but one truly serious philosophical problem and that is suicide. Judging whether life is or is not worth living amounts to answering the fundamental question of philosophy. All the rest — whether or not the world has three dimensions, whether the mind has nine or twelve categories — comes afterwards. These are games; one must first answer.”    

Albert Camus 

It was just around three o’clock on an overcast afternoon and I was taking my Sunday constitutional.  I had just crossed Houston Street when I heard the sirens coming from all directions.  A moment later at 1st Ave and 2nd   St   when the cop cars sped past me going the wrong way in a one-way street, I knew that whatever was happening was very serious, indeed.    I walked in the direction they drove to see the flashing lights of cop cars join the flashing lights of cop cars that had already arrived.  

 There too was as an engine of the FDNY.  The street was blocked.   The vehicles were now cramped together on the corner of A and 2nd St and they had all silenced their sirens.  In fact, despite the fact that a crowd of perhaps 30 people had gathered there, drawn by the flashing lights or curiosity or morbidity or whatever, the entire block, citizen and civil servant, seemed to be enveloped in a very un-New York City silence.  

All eyes were frozen on a young man standing on his fire escape five flights above the sidewalk.  

He was pale and wearing shorts and a tee shirt, on the tall side, perhaps 35 years old.  What became immediately and chillingly clear was that standing in front of all of us was a fellow soul who, for whatever reasons had been driven to the place where life itself had become unbearable – “not worth living,“ in the words of Camus — and a permanent solution to that intolerable   state seemed to be just a little movement away.   One move and then for the young man, a very different kind of silence.  

The window to the right of the man was open and one could hear, just barely, muffled voices emanating out of it.  Perhaps even a conversation was taking place but, despite the silence, it was impossible to make out a single word.  From time to time the man moved a step or so in either direction or stood tall or reached out to the grab the fire escape. Most of the time he was absolutely motionless.   Meanwhile the murmuring from the window continued as did the silence in the street below.

At one point the window below the murmuring suddenly opened and a cop filled the square.    For a moment he stuck out his head and studied the man on the platform above him, the man whose life it was his job to save.  Then, just as suddenly he retreated back into the darkness.  

Somewhere close to where I stood, just barely audible I became aware of a woman I could not see reciting the Hail Mary in Spanish.  She would finish it and then begin again, adding to the bizarre sense that something almost sacramental was taking place.      

A young African American who wandered into the scene asked me, almost in a whisper, “What’s going on?  Was the man threatening to jump? “

“Yes, “ I answered, adding for whatever reason, “ It’s a hard world. “ 

“Yes, “ she replied. “ It really is. “  

Then we watched in silence.  

Once or twice I exchanged glances with the man to my right but said nothing.  

The murmuring continued and the man seemed to respond. Slowly, very, very slowly and in fits and starts, he  crawled head first into his window.   I had no idea how much time passed.  Time seems bendy in such moments.  How long was I there?  Five minutes ?. Eight minutes at most ?  And yet somehow it seemed much, much longer.   

All I know was that, at last, he vanished into his window.  He was safe.  And, in some sense that I did not consider until later, so were we.  We, those who for whatever reason had gathered beneath him, were not to be witnesses to a primal struggle that ended in horror, not to witness a violent rejection of the sacrality of life, not to be told in the most graphic possible language that ‘Life was not worth living.”  

I turned to leave.   The young woman I spoke to touched my arm and looked into my face.   

“Be safe, “ she said.  Be safe.”      “You too, “ I said..    “Be safe.”  

The  man to my right also met my eyes.  He said nothing.  He was not, I understood,  the talking type.  He nodded his head and patted me on the back in  some sign of some kind of solidarity   and walked east into the  remains of his day.    

 And with these little gestures from two strangers I almost certainly will never see again, I was moved.  I was moved because we strangers had shared something;  something that could have gone terribly  wrong and yet, for reasons we will never know, any more than we will know the reasons that drove the man to the edge,   did not  and would not .

We shared a moment of curiosity or concern or empathy, or fear, or understanding or even recognition or some combination of all of these —  but it was something shared; something deeply human and   even primal was felt and shared by the three of us and I suspect, on one level or other, every other person there.   

As I walked on and reflected it occurred to me that we had inadvertently shared in something sacred: the sparing of a human life,  asking  Camus’s ultimate philosophical question and answering  “yes.” 

In a in a city ravaged by covid and savage inequality,  in a country where trust and empathy are considered by many to be the characteristics of suckers and losers, in  a world committing global suicide in plain sight and in slow motion, I’ll take it.   

With gratitude, I’ll take it.   

Good Riddance to the Sickness that Is Trump

January 20, 2021


Just about anyone who has lived a while on this earth  can remember a time in their life when reality seemed so overwhelming and  out of control, when events seemed to be  spinning at such a speed and attacking from so many angles  that it was all you could do to hold on to your sanity by filtering lots of it out or just not letting some of it in. 

At such times  things are pushed away to be dealt with at a later date when it is possible to take it in.  Then, after a while, you look back and wonder:  were things really that crazy ? Did that really happen?  How did I survive ? 

One such moment came to me today when, contemplating the end of Trump, I  suddenly remembered the infamous April 23, 2020 press “bleach” briefing — and also what came after it. To recap: After hearing of a study that found that disinfectants and bleach can kill Covid  when it lingered on certain kinds of surfaces, President Trump used his Trump brain to publicly  ponder the possibility of injecting  bleach and disinfectant into the human body to address Covid 19.  

What the President of the United States said was this: “And then I see the disinfectant, where it knocks it out in one minute. And is there a way we can do something like that, by injection inside or almost a cleaning, because you see it gets in the lungs and it does a tremendous number on the lungs, so it’d be interesting to check that, so that you’re going to have to use medical doctors with, but it sounds interesting to me. “

Like much  of America, I watched helplessly as Trump once again spoke with both enormous confidence and astonishing ignorance about a subject of which he knew absolutely nothing.     By this point in his presidency, Trump episodes of talking out of his ass were legion: he had pontificated imbecilicly about Frederick Douglass, Andrew Jackson, Abraham Lincoln, the Civil War, you name it.

But the bleach injection idiocy,  partly due to Sarah Cooper’s hilarious spoofs on the moment,partly due to increasing disgust at Trump’s frivolousness in the wake of a deadly pandemic and partly due to the fact that this time he was talking about something that could potentially kill someone   proved a much bigger and more embarrassing story than did Trump’s earlier idiocies. 

Trump understood this and, as is his want, he fought back with his usual weapons: lies and repetition and more lies and repetition. The talk about injecting the bleach, Trump insisted straight-faced  the next day, was sarcasm. He was asking reporters a question sarcastically, he said, “just to see their reaction.”  That the incident  was caught on video made no difference to Trump, who later repeated the line about sarcasm in one of his debates with Joe Biden.  

Like the rest of an increasingly exhausted and demoralized America, I didn’t give either statement another thought. 

Until today, that is.   Until today when I considered the fact that in the past four years  it had become perfectly normal that the President of the United States could do things like  

a) muse publicly about injecting disinfectant into the human body to cure a deadly virus ravishing the nation he was obstensibly governing 

b) lie about the musing and claim he was being sarcastic 

c) find sarcasm (even a lie about sarcasm) an appropriate mode of communication while addressing the nation about the deadly virus ravishing the nation.  

I had not really thought about all that – not the full and abject horror and danger such a reality  merits — until today when I began to realize what a ceaseless psychic assault the Trump presidency has been.   And I suppose I could begin to fully realize this  only because it finally ends tomorrow.  

You know you are living in an age of absolute spiritual and civic degeneracy when incidents that are absolutely crazy and  deeply repulsive  are barely noticed and scarcely remembered a few months  or even days later.  And for the past four years such things have happened on a daily basis.  

Such a world is exceedingly if insidiously perilous.

I have no illusions about Joe Biden and the Democratic Party.  I know who he is and what they are.  That said, I know that from tomorrow at noon  things will be better, if only because we will not have a sociopath in the White House nor a man who believes that every situation and relationship at every moment should be viewed as a transaction.   Because of those facts alone, four years from now, on the day before the next inauguration, I do not expect to be asking myself in horror: were things really that crazy ?  Did that really happen ?  How did we survive ?  

An Open Letter to Trump’s Betrayed “Patriots” 

January 11, 2021

This is an open letter to any and all of the “Patriots” who attended President Trump’s “Save America March” on Jan 6., especially those who smashed down doors and windows and rampaged through the Capitol believing you could overturn the results of the election and hand Trump the presidency. It is even more so addressed to the (as yet) relatively few whose involvement in the frenzied attack has seen them lose their jobs, be arrested for federal crimes or remain on the run from the FBI.   

My questions are simple and are asked in complete sincerity.  How does it feel to be completely and utterly betrayed by the object of your affection and devotion?  How does it feel to have sacrificed your livelihood and freedom for a person who could not possibly care less about you and who turned on you with no more thought than to swatting a fly?  

I ask specifically about the turn of events that took place between January 6 and January 7, 2021.   To wit: Encouraged by President Trump and others, you journeyed to D.C. from all over the country and on Wednesday morning gathered with thousands of other like minded souls  at the Ellipse.  There you heard a series of speakers repeat to you an enormous older lie within a preposterous newer lie:  the election was stolen but Vice President Mike Pence had the power to overturn the results and restore Trump’s rightful  second term if only he mustered the courage to do so.   It was your job to encourage Pence  to do so.   Alternately, if Pence proved a coward…   

Speaker after speaker put forth one variation after another of this demonstrable nonsense until at last the Great Leader ( who is somehow also the Great Victim) President Trump himself arrived and spoke for two hours, bellowing on about the same.   At one point he said,  “I know that everyone here will soon be marching over to the Capitol building to peacefully and patriotically make your voices heard, ” a sentence and sentiment that was made absurd by the belligerent and crazed  words that followed, including, of course, a  multitude  of lies a sample of which follows:    

“When you catch somebody in a fraud, you are allowed to go by very different rules. So I hope Mike has the courage to do what he has to do, and I hope he doesn’t listen to the RINOs and the stupid people that he’s listening to.”

“I hope Mike is going to do the right thing. I hope so. I hope so, because if Mike Pence does the right thing, we win the election. … 

“We’re going to walk down to the Capitol, and we’re going to cheer on our brave senators and congressmen and women, and we’re probably not going to be cheering so much for some of them, because you’ll never take back our country with weakness. You have to show strength, and you have to be strong.”

We will never give up. We will never concede. It doesn’t happen. You don’t concede when there’s theft involved. Our country has had enough. We will not take it anymore, and that is what this is all about. And to use a favorite term that all of you people really came up with, we will stop the steal. …

“You will have an illegitimate president. That is what you will have, and we can’t let that happen. These are the facts that you won’t hear from the fake news media. It’s all part of the suppression effort. They don’t want to talk about it. They don’t want to talk about it. …

“We fight like hell, and if you don’t fight like hell, you’re not going to have a country anymore.”  

 “Now it is up to Congress to confront this egregious assault on our democracy. And after this, we’re going to walk down, and I’ll be there with you.…”

“And I’ll be there with you.”  

Of course, Trump had no intention of joining his rabble army on their March on the Capitol  and immediately slipped into his armored limousine to watch the fun and games on TV from the safety of the White House. 

 For me, out of all of the lies Trump told you that day, that one is the worst as he pretended to solidarity and to place  himself at the same risk he was demanding from you.    

At any rate,  within an hour many of you were smashing your way into the preposterously ill guarded Capitol Building,  soon to be roaming the halls, some of you taking selfies like drunk teenage tourists, or wrecking offices or defecating in the hallways, while others engaged in far more sinister endeavors including searching for Mike Pence in order to hang him.    Meanwhile, the man you did all this for watched you on TV, lamenting to his aides about how “low class” you looked while doing absolutely nothing to stop or even address your rampage for over two hours, as images of the chaos shocked and horrified the entire world.  

As you rioted , certification of the Electoral College was on hold – a fact that I am certain brought joy and hope to the heart of your leader – because the legislative body of the United States had been driven from our Capitol.  

Finally, only after President-Elect Joe Biden appeared on national television and demanded President Trump order you out of the building did the President release a video that must rank as one of the most insane statements ever made by an American President.  Largely ignoring the absolute chaos in the Capitol, even in the midst of a world-shaking event, Trump’s statement is made up exclusively of lies about the election, or commiserations of your “hurt” and “’pain” coupled with entreaties to “go home in peace” as you continue to rampage with absolute impunity.  As if talking to children the President of the United States adds that he “loves you” and informs you that you are “very special.”   

Twenty four  hours later Trump speaks to you again and — poof! — there is no talk of  “very different rules”,  “of courage”, “ of showing strength,” and “having to be strong”, “of taking back our country,” of “never  giving up or conceding”; of “stopping the steal,” “of not taking it anymore”, of “fighting like hell or not having a country anymore” , of “your pain” and “hurt “of being “special”  or of his “love.”   

In the place of love and your special place in American history, instead, your leader says this: “Like all Americans, I am outraged by the violence, lawlessness and mayhem.  America is and must always be a nation of law and order. The demonstrators who infiltrated the Capitol have defiled the seat of American democracy. To those who engaged in the acts of violence and destruction, you do not represent our country. And to those who broke the law, you will pay.”

Overnight, without warning,  the same man who urged you to travel to Washington to save democracy was now unambiguously declaring to all the world that you have defiled democracy, that you do not represent this country and that you, not he, will pay for the terrifying, criminal spectacle he orchestrated  for his sole benefit.  

This from the man who the day before proclaimed “I’ll be with you.”  

Hearing these words last  Thursday,   even after four years of listening to this person, I will confess to being stunned by the absolute contempt showered upon you by one to whom you, in turn,  had showered with loyalty. Stunned, that is,     by the enormity of his betrayal.  

In my experience, few if any wounds are as profound, as confusing and as crushing as that of betrayal. Thankfully, I have not known betrayal often, but so painful are its memories, I hope to God to never know it again.  

I wonder if you know it now, now that you have been identified and fired from your job, or fearful of being identified  and fired from your job; or thinking over last week’s adventure from a jail cell; or awaiting a knock on the your door. I wonder  if you recognize it for what it is ?  If you realize that you are hardly even a human being to this man ?  That you are no more than a thing to be used and discarded as you have been so used and discarded? 

I understand the futility of these questions I ask yet I am compelled to ask them.  I also understand that within the agonizing realization of betrayal is the emancipating possibility of clarity.

Like it or not, you are my fellow countryman and I am yours.   I need to understand you as much as humanly possible.     More importantly, you need to understand you. We need to understand each other.    If we cannot,  we are bound, in time, to rip each other’s throat’s out.  

My First and Last Visit to Hudson Yards

April 7, 2019

Figuring I did not need to invite any more darkness and vulgarity into my head than that provided on a daily basis from Trump’s White House, and after reading horrific account after horrific account following its opening, I had avoided an actual visit to the thing called Hudson Yards, which cost a zillion dollars to make even as it received lots of those zillions in massive tax breaks.

Today, fortified perhaps by the lovely weather, my curiosity got the best of me, and so I set out on my trusty Trek to take it in and see for myself what all the hoopla was all about.
After all, I reckoned, how often does a city like New York suddenly sprout nothing short of a “new neighborhood “ out of a bunch of old railroad tracks?

From a distance, approaching from the south, there is a moment or two when the Hudson Yards is reminiscent of a scene in The Wizard of Oz when Dorothy and Toto and company glimpse the Emerald City looming far past the poppy fields. Indeed, in the High Line, the Hudson Yards even has its own version of the Yellow Brick Road, where I saw thousands of pilgrims and leads straight into the place.

I arrived and looked around and looked around some more and still have no idea what all the hoopla is about. There are a number of exceedingly tall, exceedingly scary looking buildings where people are meant to live or work in or do something in and which made me feel paramecium -like when I looked up at them.

There was a very high-end shopping mall catering to people with way too much money.

There were insane and deeply cynical signs all over the place exhorting people to “Climb to new heights” and “Work where it matters” and “Discover your new home, “ as if Hudson Yards were engaged in a public self help project or, ya know, affordable to anyone.

My favorite sign read, “Welcome to your new neighborhood,” as if this terrifying collection of towers could ever properly be referred to as a neighborhood.

There was something called The Shed, which is meant to be an art space and where videos blare at you concerning the wonders of The Shed. From a distance, I thought that part of The Shed was covered by an enormous plastic sheet, but no. The thing that looks like an enormous plastic sheet is part of The Shed. Permanently.

Finally, in what seems to be the center of the “Yards” stood the thing called The Vessel, where people were invited to climb up many flights of stairs and take “selfies,” peering out over the high-end mall or The Shed or, for the more adventurous, in the direction of the Westside Highway.

The Vessel

And I’m here to tell ya, many, many people did.

I tried to find beauty and found none. I then settled for finding something remotely interesting and found none of that either. Nothing. Nada. Zilch. What I found is a place reeking of a certain moneyed banality. And all I knew was I couldn’t wait to get the hell out of there. The idea that any sane, more or less educated human being would want to hang out in Hudson Yards, never mind live there, is inconceivable to me. But then again, the fact that millions of Americans believe that Donald Trump was chosen by God to be president is inconceivable to me.

And here we are.

I am happy to be away from the thing called Hudson Yards and I cannot imagine ever returning there. Why would I? As Gertrude Stein said of Oakland, “There is no there there.”
What is there is an absolute contempt for all that is human, scaled, and empathetic that no amount of public relations can disguise.
Hudson Yards may well be the most cynical development in the history of New York City. It is certainly the most cynical location I have ever visited.

Give me my apartment with a bathtub in the kitchen, which, though cramped, feels like a home. Give me my neighborhood, which, even when it drives me mad, is, in actual fact, a neighborhood.

Addendum: Apparently massive tax breaks were not enough for the makers of New York’s newest “neighborhood:” they had to rob from funding meant for the most struggling communities. https://www.citylab.com/equity/2019/04/hudson-yards-financing-eb5-investor-visa-program-immigration/586897/

Election 2018: Revealing the Soul of a Nation

November 5, 2018

I cannot remember how many times I’ve heard politicians and talking heads crowing hysterically of how the election we were facing at the moment was the most important of our lifetime, destined, one way or the other, to move the nation in a radical new direction. No doubt, in the past 40 years or so, certain elections have resulted in profound redirections of America – both Reagan and Clinton moved their respective parties to the right in ways that seemed unimaginable before they pulled it off — if largely in terms of economic policy, even if economic policies were always fig-leafed with moral platitudes.
Tomorrow is different.
So different that such past proclamations in my lifetime pale in comparison.

And the difference is moral and spiritual.

Tomorrow ’s election differs solely because at the center of everything stands the figure of Donald Trump and all he embodies and radiates.
As far as I can see, Donald Trump is far and away the vilest, most ignorant and most despicable person to have ever ascended to the presidency. (Both Andrew Johnson and Andrew Jackson were, in some respects, similar in kind but not in degree, whereas a figure like Nixon looks positively enlightened in comparison to Trump. ) Trump has proven again and again and again and again that he is a man without knowledge, without discipline, without compassion, without respect, without class, without humility, without a shred of honesty, and without an iota of empathy. In short, he is a man without virtues of any kind, possessing only an animal like cunning for locating and exploiting the weaknesses of others. All great con artists possess the same trait. On a personal level, this makes Trump, minus a miracle, a man who is beyond redemption.

And yet, somehow this very man unquestionably moves the hearts and commands the loyalty of millions of Americans who find humor in his cruelty, wisdom in his vulgarity, solace and hope in his ever-expanding mendacity. In two years in office, he has succeeded in completely debasing almost everything he comes into contact with, beginning with the English language, following with political discourse and ending with the office of the Presidency itself. Just two days ago he declared that American soldiers should fire bullets at (phantom) civilians should they throw rocks at them. So thoroughly has Trump debased the political discourse that this statement, one of hundreds of outrageous statements Trump has issued from the White House, came and went with barely a notice.

Above all, Trump has debased his supporters even as they believe he has uplifted them. Not, of course, the corporate titans who profit so enormously from his reckless tax cuts and suicidal deregulation. These overlords understand that the essence of Trump is, was and ever shall be a vulgar con artist playing the rubes for all they’re worth, but they are happy to go along with him for the enormous benefits he brings them. No, I am speaking of the hundreds of thousands who wait all night for his endless rallies, cheering madly as he demonizes helpless asylum seekers, laughing when he mocks traumatized victims of sexual assault, raging when he leads them on chants against the media or to build a wall or to lock someone up without trial or conviction. In these crowds we see the result of Trump’s one undeniable talent: his ability to cunningly locate and brilliantly animate the basest impulses in the human species: racism, greed, violence, xenophobia, cruelty, and above all fear of the other. But this Pied Piper of baseness does not merely animate these impulses. He somehow deludes his followers into believing these primal, savage impulses are valorous, even heroic, and of course, patriotic.
It is a remarkable and horrific talent, amplified into absolute nightmare by the office of the presidency, allowed to proceed unbounded by an invertebrate Congress in thrall to Trump.

It is also one that is dragging the country into an intellectual and spiritual cesspool that cannot be calculated and does not appear to have a bottom. The horrific spectacle of bullet ridden worshipers gunned down in the midst of their service in their Pittsburgh sanctuary by a fellow American who saw them as Other, motivated by his belief they were guilty of aiding desperately poor asylum seekers, is the defining, if unspeakable, image of this moment. And it did not proceed out of thin air — even as it is becoming the very air we breathe.

I have no illusions concerning the Democratic Party. The Democrats have proven themselves hapless, cowardly, and, in terms of corporate obeisance and war mongering, absolutely corrupt. Their abandonment of working-class America opened the gates for the seductive fantasies of Trump to millions who have lived in near despair for decades ( and, will continue to live there when they realize how profoundly their messiah despises them.) Furthermore, one would have to be a fool to think that the Democrats offer any real solutions to the horrific problems of deindustrialization, automation, worker rights, cruel, impossible rents and the ever more obscene disparity between wealth and poverty. With few exceptions, they have learned nothing from Trump’s ascension.

But for all of that, they do not think it is funny to laugh at people in pain. They are not white Supremacists. They do not think it fine to throw people off their health insurance. They do not think poor people should starve to death in the streets. They do not think that Donald Trump is President because God put him there. In short, while they are inept, they are not insane, nor anywhere near as morally and spiritual corrupting as is Trump. Moreover, they are the only force that can rein this person and his people in and halt the ever descending debasement of every aspect of American life. They are for buying time and working for real change.
Tomorrow I will vote for them.

America is sick. Very sick. Trump and his followers are not the cause but symptoms of this sickness. But together they are making America sicker by the day. What tomorrow’s election will reveal is the depth of that sickness in the soul of the nation and if America, like Trump, is beyond redemption.