Archive for the 'Neither Fish Nor Fowl' Category

Glimpses of Cincinnati

October 11, 2015

I love wandering around cities I’ve never been to before, seeing what can I see, trying to get some sense of the place, of it’s history, of it’s beauty, of it’s struggles, past and present. A few days ago, I was one of a group who flew to Cincinnati to get a first hand look at the extraordinary Oyler Community Learning Center, in the hope of replicating something of the same in our schools in New York. Like all business trips, the excursion was a whiz bang affair: arriving Wednesday evening, meeting for a long dinner with our hosts, leaving our hotel at 8:30 Thursday morning for an almost crazily crammed day, flying back to New York that evening.
The schedule left precious little wriggle room to see much of anything at all but I was determined. After dinner, as my friends M. and A. searched for a place to sample the famous Cincinnati chili, I set out to see the Ohio River, and to explore as much of down town as time allowed and as remains in an increasingly corporatized America. As it happened I walked in exactly the opposite direction of the river , but my ignorance proved fortuitous as I wandered straight into a main thoroughfare where I saw the beautiful and historic Plum Street Synagogue of Rabbi Isaac Wise, once the center of American Jewry. Near there, on a very pleasant concourse named Garfield Place, I was met by the outstretched stone arms of Ohio born President James Garfield, he who was considered brilliant but who was fated to become the second of our four assassinated presidents, just four months after taking office. Beneath Garfield’s image were perhaps twenty of the homeless men I saw and was approached by, every one of them exceedingly civil. Indeed, during the entire length of that avenue and almost the entire length of my lengthy stroll, the homeless were the only people to be seen.

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A few blocks down the same street stood an image of yet another child of Ohio and barely remembered president, William Henry Harrison, astride a stone horse. One of the wonderful things about travel is that it can make the abstract concrete. Until I saw their statues, I had no idea what part of the country these two presidents, obscure though they may be, were from.
When at length I finally figured out the way to the river, I came across the site of the Burnet House, once a prominent hotel. On a plaque marking the site of the hotel, I came across a revealing reminder of the inner journey taken by the greatest American president, facing the greatest of American sins, which led to the most horrific of American wars. The plaque read, in part, as follows:
When it opened May 30, 1850, the 340-room hotel located on this site
was considered one of the finest hotels in the world. Abraham Lincoln
stayed here on September 17-18, 1859, while campaigning for the Ohio
Republican Party. Lincoln also stayed at this hotel on February 12, 1861,
during his inaugural journey to Washington, D.C. to be sworn in as
the 16th president. His speech from the hotel balcony expressed his
desire to abide by the Constitution on the issue of slavery.

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It was the last line that, even as I was aware of Lincoln’s initial position on slavery, sent a chill down my spine. It was nonetheless still jarring to read it, as it served as a reminder of both the gross contradictions in the original constitution as well as the spiritual degeneracy and slaughter that, in 1861, directly resulted from those contradictions. It was a reminder too of the political starting point of the inner journey of our most complex and transformative president, of whom Frederick Douglass wrote:
“Viewed from the genuine abolition ground, Mr. Lincoln seemed tardy, cold, dull, and indifferent; but measuring him by the sentiment of his country, a sentiment he was bound as a statesman to consult, he was swift, zealous, radical, and determined… taking him for all in all, measuring the tremendous magnitude of the work before him, considering the necessary means to ends, and surveying the end from the beginning, infinite wisdom has seldom sent any man into the world better fitted for his mission than Abraham Lincoln.”

From the site of the Burnet House I could at last see the Ohio River and as I came closer I encountered a sight that surprised as much as it delighted me: the John A. Roebling Suspension Bridge.

To my mind there is no more iconic symbol of New York City and no more majestic a structure in the city than the Brooklyn Bridge. It was therefore startling to come across a bridge in Cincinnati that, for all the world, appeared to be the Brooklyn Bridge’s smaller if older brother. And no wonder. John A. Roebling created them both, the John A. Roebling Suspension Bridge in 1866 and the Brooklyn Bridge in 1883.

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I sat beneath Roebling’s Cincinnati creation for a while, taking it in as riverboats sailed by. I knew that on the other side of that river lay Kentucky was once a slave state while Ohio was a free state. And I knew that for “travelers” on the Underground Railroad the earth on which I sat held a meaning that was beyond my powers of empathy to truly appreciate. I knew that for them the water that flowed before me might as well have been the River Jordan, and the grass on which I sat might as well have been the Promised Land. I tried my best to take that in as well.

I awoke early the following morning and lit out again to look at the river and the bridge at dawn and both were just as beautiful as they were at night. I would have loved to stroll over that bridge and look down on that water that carried so much of American history but alas, alas, it was time to go. Still, I felt grateful for those little glimpses of the vast canvas that is America.

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Notes On NYC Labor Day Parade and the Horror of Trump Tower

September 14, 2015

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So New York City’s Labor Day Parade was held on Saturday and, as a dutiful union man, I made my way up to 45th St in the morning and met up with the UFT contingent massed together awaiting our turn to march among the thousands of ironworkers, plumbers, postal workers, carpenters, laborers, nurses, and all the rest of the noble souls who collectively form the central nervous system of the city and keep the city running. The turnout among teachers was disappointing but I was grateful, as ever, to meet up with my friend and union brother, the prize winning blogger nyceducator and his delightful protégé. Together we managed to squeeze out some laughs and skillfully avoid the oily hands of various politicians – most notably the cadaverous looking Sen. Chuck Schumer, his arms seeming to multiply like the Hindu goddess Durga, desperately seeking something to shake — and walk the 5th Ave route from start to finish on 64th St.

At parade’s end we parted, the nyceducator and protégé heading east to lunch, and
I back tracking south along 5th Ave passing the parade that went on and on and on. Somewhere around 62nd St I came to a realization that New Yorkers dread: my bladder was sending me the unmistakable message that I needed a bath room, a need ridiculously difficult to fulfill anywhere in NYC, that much the more in that neighborhood of Tiffany’s and the Plaza Hotel.

I understood I had no choice but to soldier down 19 or so blocks to a branch of the New York Public Library and so, with ever increasing urgency, did I begin.

Lo and behold, not far into my increasingly miserable journey I looked right to find none other than the garish Trump Tower, with the words “open to the public” above the glass doors calling me to follow like the star of Bethlehem.
Besides, I reasoned, what better person to leave such a gift with after a Labor Day Parade than Donald Trump, no longer merely an obnoxious media whore billionaire but, crazily, the leading candidate for the Republican nomination for the presidency of the United States! So, for the first time in my life, albeit with an extremely limited mission in mind, I entered a building owned by Donald Trump; which is to say I entered into a physical space mirroring the horrifying sensibility of Donald Trump.

Before I go any further let me say that, like any more or less sensate New Yorker, even before his insane entry into presidential politics and elevation into the same, I have been forced into an awareness of the vulgar and supreme narcissist who is Donald Trump. Moreover, cycling to work from the Lower East Side to Harlem, as I do, I am reminded of his existence via his brutal phallic buildings just about any route I take. There’s a Trump monstrosity on 1st Ave near the United Nations. Another when you leave the bike path at Central Park and 59th St.. There are still others along the Hudson Bikeway on the Westside. I was also unwittingly aware, seemingly through a process akin to osmosis, of Trump’s idiot TV show, his get rich seminars, his wives and other aspects of his garish life.

That said, even with all I knew of this man, nothing prepared me for what I was to find inside Trump Tower. Being inside Trump Tower feels like being in the center of a diseased psyche. It feels like mental illness made normative. It feels like narcissism so unbounded it has a palpable presence. Inside, the image and name of Trump is as omnipresent as was that of Kim ll-sung’s in North Korea. Indeed, even in a nation as frighteningly and increasingly narcissistic as America — the land that created and perpetuates “the selfie, ” — Trump brings a horrifying new dimension to the unseen and deadly affliction.
In the ancient Greek myth, Narcissus, unable to pull away from his own reflection, or so internally fractured he could not believe he even existed without constant affirmation, drowns in a pond. The myth is instructive should one be open to instruction. Like the junkie needs junk, the narcissist must see his or her reflection everywhere they look; must hear the echo of their own voice every time someone else speaks; writhes in agony at the reality that others exist and others matter; that they are not the sun and moon and stars. It was narcissism that compelled a Michael Bloomberg to do his best to remake Manhattan Island in his gilded image of the same. It is narcissism that compels a Bill Gates to try to insidiously reduce education, and indeed all life, to a mirror image of a computer operating system. It is narcissism that compels a Donald Trump to perceive the presidency of the United States as an entry-level job and one that he, Trump is capable and worthy of.
Trump’s conceit is merely pathetic. What is deeply disturbing is that many, many Americans seem to agree with him. And that too is a form of narcissism.

Enter Trump Tower and you can feel the illness in the air. Visit one of the two Trump Stores inside. There the only “books” for sale are books “written” by Donald Trump. ( “Think Like A Champion”, Think Big and Kick Ass” , “Time To Get Tough” and more. ) There the only shirts for sale are “designed “ by Donald Trump. There one may purchase a Donald Trump tie, a Donald Trump teddy bear, a Donald Trump baseball hat, or a bar of chocolate in the form of a bar of gold labeled “Trump.”

books

If you are hungry you can find nourishment at the Trump Café while a drink can be procured at the Trump Bar. Or you can bring the kids for a cone at Trump’s Ice Cream.
If you desire the effluvium of Donald Trump — and what “winner” wouldn’t? — you may purchase one of the two Donald Trump perfumes, “Success” or “Empire.”

All of this might be darkly funny if Trump were merely continuing his pathetic pre-political lust for perpetual attention. But he is not. Americans have allowed Trump to emerge, somehow, as a legitimate political figure, indeed the front runner of his party as they prepare for another debate this Wednesday. Many, many Americans appear to love and admire this man.
And that is the place where the disturbing reality of Donald Trump merges with and reveals the disturbing reality of all too much of America.

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Addendum: And here is a bit of that reality. http://cnn.it/1KpyGPj

Thoughts Occasioned By Father’s Day and Fatherhood

June 21, 2015

All yesterday and this morning, like fathers throughout this troubled land, I have been the recipient of messages wishing me a Happy Father’s Day. For these I am grateful, even as I know the genesis of the celebration to be a money making scheme to sell cards, sentiments, nostalgia and the like. So be it. In time, it has generated a pleasant tradition.

My own father, John Joseph Walsh, a good and decent if sometimes difficult man, died when I was 16 but not before he passed on, largely through example to his eleven children, the necessity of having integrity, compassion, gratitude, courage and a sense of fair play. My father, a good Irishman, was a drinker, a devout Catholic and a union man, identities that for all I knew were as inseparable as the Holy Trinity. When I reflect now on how he fed, clothed, and housed us all, even in an America not yet set to ruin by the cruel, fantasy- based politics of Ronald Reagan and his successors, I am nothing short of astounded. Through the decades since his death, it is to his memory and to those principles that I have found myself instinctively turning for spiritual sustenance in times of darkness in a world that sometimes seems to grow madder and crueler by the hour.

And for this I am eternally grateful.

  John Joseph Walsh


John Joseph Walsh

Grateful, too, I am for the gift of fatherhood, easily the most terrifying, challenging, spiritually enriching and sublime gift I have ever received or ever could receive. I recall the words my brother Eddie said to me when I called him from the hospital to inform of the birth of my daughter, who was to be his godchild. “ Now everything will be different for you,” he said. “ Your life will be changed utterly.”

Ten years have since passed and truer words have seldom been spoken, but of the nature of the change and the difference many more can be added, not least among them “beautiful.”

Not long after my daughter’s December entry into this world I chanced upon an encounter that in some ways sums up for me both the perpetual challenge and perpetual gift of fatherhood.

I was walking on Houston St. with my baby girl snuggled in a papoose on my chest. (A scenario, mind you, I could not imagine my father partaking in in a million years.) There was snow on the ground and we were both bundled up against the cold. From a distance of perhaps 40 yards I noticed a man, more or less my age, with a baby bundled up on his chest walking in my direction, a mirror reflection of myself. When we met we both stopped and looked at each other in silence. I asked him, “What do you think?” I did not need to ask him what about. He thought for a moment and, pointing to his child, he said, “He has shocked me out of my narcissism.” We both laughed, shook hands and walked on. I never saw him again.

“Shocked me out of my narcissism.” The words rang like a bell in both my heart and my head and ring they do still, by and by in the ten years since that chilly morning of very new fatherhood. I have thought about them and tried to keep that dread deadly affliction, from which so many other afflictions seed, at bay, failing all too often, but trying, trying nonetheless. Trying to be aware. And that awareness too is one of the great gifts and great challenges of fatherhood. And I hope and strive to pass on to my child the good things my father passed on to me.

Mighty Moon Over Manhattan

July 21, 2013

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The Women of the First Street Community Garden

June 29, 2013
Sojourner Truth

Sojourner Truth

This morning while strolling I came across the First Street Community Garden. Other than myself and the ghosts of the great women on its walls, the garden was completely empty. It was very peaceful there and I stayed a while looking at things and trying to see them. And then I took these pictures.

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>Harriet Tubman Harriet Tubman

Emma Goldman Emma Goldman

Susan B. Anthony

Susan B. Anthony

Jane Jacobs and Grace Paley

Jane Jacobs and Grace Paley

Dorothy Day "All of our problems stem     from our acceptance of this filthy rotten system."  our

Dorothy Day
“All of our problems stem from our acceptance of this filthy rotten system.”

Eleanor Roosevelt

Eleanor Roosevelt