7 Ages of Man Revisited


Audrey Kawasaki

If you’re a devoted reader of this blog, you’re undoubtedly highly intelligent, impressively learned, and therefore familiar with Jacques’ “All the World’s a Stage” speech from As You like It:

All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players;
They have their exits and their entrances,
And one man in his time plays many parts,
His acts being seven ages. At first, the infant,
Mewling and puking in the nurse’s arms.
Then the whining schoolboy, with his satchel
And shining morning face, creeping like snail
Unwillingly to school. And then the lover,
Sighing like furnace, with a woeful ballad
Made to his mistress’ eyebrow. Then a soldier,
Full of strange oaths and bearded like the pard,
Jealous in honor, sudden and quick in quarrel,
Seeking the bubble reputation
Even in the canon’s mouth. And then the justice,
In fair round belly with good capon lined,
With eyes severe and beard of formal cut,
Full of wise saws and modern instances;
And so he plays his part. The sixth age shifts
Into the lean and slippered pantaloon
With spectacles on nose and pouch on side;
His youthful hose, well saved, a world too wide
For his shrunk shank, and his big manly voice,
Turning again toward childish treble, pipes
And whistles in his sound. Last scene of all,
That ends this strange eventful history,
Is second childishness and mere oblivion,
Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything


William Mulready: The Seven Ages of Man

Note, tweens and pre-sexual adolescents are missing from the above. We jump from “whining school boys” to lovers/soldiers, who seem much more like young adults than the high school seniors I teach who for Spirit Week come to school costumed as characters from video games (Mario/Luigi) or as insects (bubble bees/lightening bugs) or even as consumer items (e.g., Junior Mints). Surreal – a dozen highly intelligent adolescents arrayed with false mustaches and zombie make-up and insect wings seated around a Harkness table discussing how the limited omniscient point-of-view in Mansfield’s “Miss Brill” relates to the short story’s themes of alienation and illusion vs. reality.

It almost makes one wax nostalgic for the draft.

Paradoxically, as childishness stretches into the third decade in the West, girls are menstruating and boys ejaculating earlier and earlier.


Jennifer Linton Catholic Girls

Yet, even though humans are capable of sexual reproduction much earlier, the latest brain research proclaims that the human brain doesn’t reach maturity until 25 or so. In fact, the NY Times reports that:

JEFFREY JENSEN ARNETT, a psychology professor at Clark University in Worcester, Mass., is leading the movement to view the 20s as a distinct life stage, which he calls “emerging adulthood.” He says what is happening now is analogous to what happened a century ago, when social and economic changes helped create adolescence — a stage we take for granted but one that had to be recognized by psychologists, accepted by society and accommodated by institutions that served the young. Similar changes at the turn of the 21st century have laid the groundwork for another new stage, Arnett says, between the age of 18 and the late 20s. Among the cultural changes he points to that have led to “emerging adulthood” are the need for more education to survive in an information-based economy; fewer entry-level jobs even after all that schooling; young people feeling less rush to marry because of the general acceptance of premarital sex, cohabitation and birth control; and young women feeling less rush to have babies given their wide range of career options and their access to assisted reproductive technology if they delay pregnancy beyond their most fertile years.

So, if adulthood doesn’t really start in earnest until our late twenties, then over a third of our lives are spent in immaturity? Is this phenomenon also true in developing and third world countries? Is evolution retarding industrial countries’ citizens’ independence so that their brains can fully form while along the Steppes Mogul nomads skip emerging adulthood for the rigors of survival?

Over here in sitcomland and on Nickelodeon, we’re seeing children cynically wisecracking and forever flummoxing inept adults. Worse, (at least to me) advertisers manipulate the images of babies to lip synch in bored adult voices as they shill products. Certainly, true innocence seems lost ever earlier.


At any rate, what a bountiful kingdom childhood has become, a continent of enchantment stretching from Candyland and jump rope to beer pong and bungie jumping. Kids get to boss their parents around until the “youngsters” verge on thirty yet get to enjoy the financial wherewithal those pushed-around progenitors have accumulated. Pity our poor ancestors, their playtime cut short by plagues, famines, and wars.

Take, Master Will, for example, here in his 30’s whining to young Southampton that he – the Bard of Avon – is getting fairly long in the tooth:

That time of year thou mayst in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
Bare ruin’d choirs, where late the sweet birds sang.



Queer Theorem, Shambolic Health Care Zombies, and Cecil B DeMille’s Riding Crop


from Cecil B DeMille’s Male and Female, featuring Gloria Swanson

I spend much of my waking time reading. Unfortunately, during the school year, a considerable amount of that reading time is spent correcting the inexact writing of adolescents or revisiting worn out texts that I now find tedious, like To Kill a Mockingbird.  However, this spring break I managed not to bring work home with me, so for the last seven days, I’ve been binging on recreational reading.

A shallow person who prefers style to substance, I’m always on the lookout for cool turns-of-phrase or apt imagistic analogies, so rather than sharing any profound truths I ran across this week, I thought share a few stylistic winners.

Early in the week, I read an essay by Samantha Hunt called “Queer Theorem” appearing in the spring 2017 edition of Lapham’s Quarterly. In researching her novel on Nikola Tesla, Hunt discovered  that her subject was quite eccentric. For example, he housed “a large population of New York City’s pigeons in his hotel rooms” despite suffering from “a terrible germ phobia.” In addition, Tesla had fears of “pearl earrings and human hair.” These irrationalities of the scientist who “invented radio” and “our modern AC electrical system” lead Hunt to wonder about the possibility of the existence of “Queer Science.”

Here’s my favorite sentence, one that ends with a delicious inversion of clichés:[1]

Queer physics, queer healing, queer chemistry, and all of it conducted by starving scientists and mad artists.


[1] All of the italics are mine and used to highlight the phrases that send me.

Andrew Sullivan, whom I was hooked on for years, had disappeared into silence for too long but recently has resurfaced with a weekly column in New York Magazine. Here’s his description of the debut of the Republican replacement for Obamacare:

In Washington this week, as this shambolic health-care plan staggered, zombielike, into the House, there was a palpable sense that political gravity may, for the first time, be operational around Trump. If he somehow muscles this legislation through, he will be stuck with an avalanche of angry.

What a killer image. How apt.

illustration by WLM3

Staying on politics, perhaps my favorite prose stylist is James Wolcott who in his February Vanity Fair column offers a piece called Trump: The Movie, Coming Soon to a Theater Near You (if Theaters Still Exist).” Here he suggests various directors who might be able to do the subject justice. Here he is harkening back to the beginning of film:

To do Trumpzilla justice, the film should be blustery, spectacular, gold-garish, and neo-pagan, a Circus Maximus Cecil B. DeMille might have whipped up with his riding crop after a fever dream.

Wolcott’s got rhythm, music, and imagination, mixes high and low with aplomb.

Illustration by WLM3

Interestingly enough, Wolcott’s name came up rather unflatteringly in Dennis Perrin’s Mr. Mike: The Life and Work of Michael O’ Donoghue, a biography I finished Tuesday. O’Donoghue was perhaps the most influential member of the original National Lampoon and Saturday Night Live. Perrin calls Wolcott “squeamish” when he describes O’Donoghue as “a master of hip how-do-you-make-a-dead-baby float humor,” which sounds less squeamish to me than matter-of-fact.

Anyway, I thought I’d offer this O’Donoghue bit of bad taste that network censors axed from Weekend Update:

And in Detroit, a handicapped eight-year-old schoolgirl was attacked by a supposedly tame lion while television cameras rolled. The child, a deaf mute, suffered only minor scratches from the lion but, according to doctors, she did break three fingers screaming for help.”

[cue cymbal  crash]

O’Donoghue in center between Aykroyd and Belushi

My last entry comes from Haruki Murakami’s Infinite-Jest-jumbo-sized novel IQ84, which, of course, has been translated from Japanese, and I inherently distrust translations as far as style goes. Nevertheless, this description of a character’s first memory did arrest me for a moment:

The vivid ten-second scene was seared into the wall of his consciousness, his earliest memory in life. Nothing before or after it. It stood out alone, like the steeple of a town visited by a flood, thrusting up above the muddy water.

Okay, enough. The Screaming J’s are playing down at Chico Feo, and the non-literary life is calling me.


My Open Letter to Teenagers

Edward Onslow Ford
Applause 1893 (detail of plinth)

Perhaps the least valid complaint coming from you teenagers is that you’re misunderstood.

No, Emerson or Madison or Grayson, lots of us old farts understand you perfectly well, understand that you’re a jambalaya of bubbling hormones and live in a culture of increasing fragmentation.

We understand that you want to break away from the constraints of reading closed heroic couplets and solving quadratic equations. We understand that peer pressure is attempting to crush you into a little container of counter-conformity.

In fact, we understand you better than you understand yourself, because we’re aware of that unconscious fear that you’re repressing: chances are you’re not going to become a ballerina or a pro bowl quarterback; chances are you’re not going to really love your job; not to mention, your looks will fade, your body will thicken, and what faith you have been granted or have summoned will be severely tested.

In other words, ultimately, if you’re lucky, one day you’re going to fall in and out of love, fall in and out of love, perhaps replicate your DNA, and eventually grow old and die.[1]

Your mind refuses to acknowledge your mortality because we’re talking a million years in your perceived future, but the OverYou — the Empire of Your Being, that Universe where unknown to the-lowercase-you armies of white blood cells are attacking a virus and your pituitary gland is spitting out somatotrophins – that OverYou knows life’s story from the inside out, and your adolescent angst is part of the story, as was your birth, as will be the getting old and dying part.

Still, as Richard Wilbur put it in his poem “The Undead,” your pain is real.[2] Perhaps it’s too easy to forget how real. When I was a teenager, my roiling hormonal stew bubbled forth in a severe case of acne; flakes of dandruff trailed from my jive strut like flung confetti. My romantic crushes felt like an earthquake had left me pinned in wreckage.  Everything seemed a matter of life or death.

I did stupid shit — stared into mirrors, cut school, mocked decent people, spent a very un-fun night in the Summerville jail. I would have been so much better off trading in my anger for curiosity, to see everything as art: the unwinding of the formula beneath my #2 lead pencil as poetry and the strict tick-tock of iambs in closed heroic couplets as formulae.

In other words, I would have been so much better off taking a sledgehammer to the claustrophobic acrylic confines of my egocentricity.

This is my advice, teenagers, impossible as it may be. Ditch the loser “lower case you” that you mistakenly perceive as yourself – get over yourself, or better yet, beyond yourself  – and delve into study. Do your homework and while doing so, look for connections. Wonder why all the big beards in the Civil War and the shaved heads in the ‘50s. If a required novel bores you, analyze why that is – is it because Holden’s a whiner or that his slang outdated? Remember it’s the lowercase you Holden doing the talking. Ask yourself what’s going on beneath the surface.[3] At movies, be stingy with your suspension of disbelief, and if the movie succeeds in making you forget about the lowercase you, ask yourself how it managed to bewitch. Not only should you read the footnotes, you should go wander off and get lost in them. Let footnotes lead you astray, not the cool kids beloved of the herd.

Houdini yourself out of Blake’s mind-forged manacles. Find fun in the mundane. In other words, power wash the doors of perception, cleanse them of preconceptions.

If you do so, hypocrisy won’t piss you off nearly as bad, and waiting rooms will become spaces of wonder.

Waiting Room by George Tooker

By the way, you gave find more of my parenting advice: here

[1] Death is the mother of beauty; hence from her,

Alone, shall come fulfilment to our dreams

And our desires. Although she strews the leaves

Of sure obliteration on our paths,

The path sick sorrow took, the many paths

Where triumph rang its brassy phrase, or love

Whispered a little out of tenderness,

She makes the willow shiver in the sun

For maidens who were wont to sit and gaze

Upon the grass, relinquished to their feet.

She causes boys to pile new plums and pears

On disregarded plate. The maidens taste

And stray impassioned in the littering leaves.

(Wallace Stevens, excerpt from “Sunday Morning”)

[2] [. . .]Thinking

Of a thrush cold in the leaves

Who has sung his few summers truly,

Or an old scholar resting his eyes at last,

We cannot be much impressed with vampires,

Colorful though they are;

Nevertheless, their pain is real,

And requires our pity.

(Richard Wilbur, excerpt from “The Undead”)

[3] Hat tip to David Connor Jones

The First Sixty or So Days: A Speed Freaky Presidency

Too bad Donald Trump’s not bipolar — and I mean that for his own sake and for all of our sakes. No shit!

If he were bipolar, his manic jags would be offset by subterranean descents into despair that would inevitably slow him down. He’d retreat into his gold-plated cocoon and contemplate something besides the immediate, something weightier than big deals and the day-to-day. Who knows, maybe he would ponder the cycle of birth and death, the universality of suffering, or the arc of history rather than the latest Nielsen ratings of The Apprentice.

Here’s something we all can agree on, Democrats and Republicans alike, the POTUS needs to chill.

Let’s face it: the first sixty-six days of his presidency have been fraught with way too much hyperactivity, way too much drama. Not to put too fine of a point on it, so far the Trump Administration has been sort of like a quick cut episode of Sesame Street co-directed by John Walters and David Lynch.

The mere number of newsworthy incidents is overwhelming, exhausting. In early February, John Marshall put it best when he wrote about “the third week of [Trump’s] decades long presidency.”

If you think I’m exaggerating, here’s an abbreviated timeline.

20 January 2017

Looking out over the mall during the oath of office, Trump sees people as far as the eye can see. “Wow, this crowd is tremendous,” he thinks, “it’s got to be the biggest inauguration crowd in history.” After the ceremony, checking Twitter for rave revues of the ceremony, he runs across AP’s aerial photographic comparison of crowd sizes of his versus Obama’s 2008 inauguration. He claims subterfuge, the photos were doctored, etc. A tweet storm ensues.

In other news, flanked by lots of older white people, he signs a flurry of retrogressive executive orders.

He lies about the weather.

Looks as if 1017 could use a combover (image source Fortune magazine)

21 January 2017

Sean Spicer, press secretary, debuts as a spineless disseminator of demonstratively false statements, reviving the role of Baghdad Bob for a reluctant Washington press corps.

Speaking of crowds, 4, 000,000 people worldwide, including 500, 000 in DC, march in protest of the President of the United States. Bad!

Meanwhile, Trump travels to CIA headquarters and delivers a brazen political speech in front of a memorial for fallen CIA heroes, which, not surprisingly, fails to endear him to those same folks he had earlier in the campaign called Nazis.

23 January 2017

Makes delusional claim of thousands illegally voting to rob him of the popular vote victory. In a rare instance of bipartisanship, both Democratic and Republican leaders debunk the claim.

24 January 2017

Signs executive orders restarting construction of the Dakota pipeline and mandating that only domestic steel be used in its construction.

25 January 2017

Issues an executive order to begin construction of a wall on the US/ Mexican border. Doesn’t answer my tweet suggesting we create signage for the wall that states, ‘Malos hombres y hombrettes no son bienvenidos.”

27 January 2017

At the Pentagon signs the Bannon/Miller “crafted” executive order[1] suspending the Refugee Admissions Program for seven predominantly Muslim countries with whom he doesn’t do business.

29 January 2017

Authorizes the Yakla raid in Yemen that results in the deaths of Navy Seal Ryan Owens, fourteen members of Al-Qaeda, and “between 16-59 Yemeni or other nationality civilian casualties.”[2] Trump explains away the less than ideal outcome: “[The generals] came to me, they explained what they wanted to do ― the generals ― who are very respected, my generals are the most respected that we’ve had in many decades, I believe. And they lost Ryan.”[3]

30 January 2017

Fires acting Attorney General Sally Yates for not enforcing the “Muslim refugee ban.”

31 January 2017

Nominates Neal Gorsuch to replace Merrick Garland Antonin Scalia. Trump doesn’t make an ass out of himself, and his behavior is declared “Presidential” by Fake News outlet CNN.

1 February 2017

Discusses refugee policy with Australian PM Malcolm Turnbill.[4] It’s not clear who slammed the phone down on whom. At any rate, Un-Fake News site Wikipedia refers to the call as “truncated.”

2 February 2017

At the National Prayer Breakfast facetiously asks attendees to beseech the Lord to help Arnold Schwarzenegger’s sagging ratings of The Apprentice. The joke goes over like a delivery of catered ham sandwiches to a Bar Mitzvah reception.

3 February 2017

Judge James Robart of the Ninth Circuit Court blocks Trump’s “Muslim Ban” order. Trump rails against judiciary. Supreme Court nominee Gorsusch calls the outburst “troubling.”

9 February 2017

Federal appeals panel unanimously rejects Trump appeal to reinstate the travel ban from those seven predominately countries with whom he doesn’t do business. Although the ban’s hasty implementation had been predicated on national security, the Administration decides to take a couple of extra weeks to get the damned thing right.

11 February 2017

Plays golf at the Winter, Southern Every Weekend White House (aka Mar-a-Lago) with Japanese PM Shinzo Abe where they discuss (in descending order) the “future of the world, the future of the region, the future of Japan, and the future of the United States.”

During a luncheon in the public dining area of the resort, Trump learns that North Korea has test-launched a missile.

According to Fake-News source CNN:

As Mar-a-Lago’s wealthy members looked on from their tables, and with a keyboard player crooning[5] in the background, Trump and Abe’s evening meal quickly morphed into a strategy session, the decision-making on full view to fellow diners, who described it in detail to CNN.

13 February 2017

Absent-minded “Lock-Her-Up” cheerleader General Michael Flynn resigns after forgetting to mention that he did after all have contact with Russian ambassador Sergey Kislvak even though he had VP Mike Pence swear up and down to the American people that he hadn’t. Later it would also come out that the absent-minded general also forgot to mention he had registered as a foreign agent for Turkey.

15 February 2017

Reince Priebus asks FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe to put the kibosh the story that Trump associates have “been in regular communication with Russian agents.”

16 February 2017

In marathon news conference Trump brands the media as “the enemy,” disavows any contact of his people with Russian agents, and declares that the official colors of the American flag are red, white, and tangerine. Repeatedly uses the term “fake news.”[6]

18 February 2017

Holds a “campaign style” rube rally in Melbourne, Florida, to raise his testosterone levels.

28 February 2017

Buzz Feed releases British intelligence agent Christopher Steele’s dossier on Trump, which contains titillating tidbits like Trump paid a prostitute to urinate on a bed Obama and Michelle had slept in, but also claims that Trump’s associates had “regular contact with Russian agents.”

Trump gives his first state of the union address, a speech lauded as “presidential” by Washington Post Fake News critic Chris Cilllizza.

In that speech, Trump suggests that dead Navy Seal Ryan Owens is “happy” because bringing his widow out during the address got Trump the longest ovation of the evening.

1 March 2017

DOJ confirms that Attorney General Jeff Sessions twice met with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak during the campaign.

What, me worry?

2 March 2017

White House confirms that powerful don-in-law[7] Jared Kushner also met with – guess who — Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak.

4 March 2017

Unsupervised at the Every Weekend White House, Trump accuses “sick” President Obama of wiretapping his campaign.

8 March 2017

Paul Ryan, who has been dreaming off punishing poor people since drinking out of a keg at U of Miami, Ohio, begins drafting a replacement bill for Obamacare.

10 March 2017

Trump intimate Roger Stone admits he’s had contact with nefarious Russian hacker Grucifer 2.0.

13 March 2017

White House asks for delay in providing evidence for claim that Obama wiretapped Trump Tower. 

14 March 2017

Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee Rep. Deven Nunes reports no evidence of Trump Tower wiretapping.

15 March 2017

Rube rally in Nashville to raise testosterone levels.

16 March 2017

Baghdad Bob sound-alike Sean Spicer accuses the British Spy agency of colluding with Obama to spy on Trump.

British upper lips not all that stiff upon hearing the accusation. 

17 March 2017

Trump celebrates St. Paddy’s day by refusing to shake German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s hand.

18 March 2018

Golf at the Every Weekend White House.

20 March 2017

At House Intelligence Committee Hearing FBI Director Comey debunks Obama wiretap accusation; NSA Adm. Mike Rogers debunks charge that US asked British intelligence to spy on Trump. Comey spills the beans that indeed there is a criminal investigation of possible collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign to undermine the US election.

Sean Spicer says the Committee Hearing has established there has been no coordination between the Russians and the Trump campaign. Stands by wiretapping allegation.

* * *

Okay, I’m done. Just let me add that in two months time, the Trump Presidency has is already embroiled in a scandal that makes Teapot Dome look like a parking infraction.

I say, let’s get the POTUS a scrip for some downers.


[1] The shoddiness of the document brings to mind my least favorite teacher comment ever on my writing: “Obviously a rush job and not a particularly clever one at that.” George Geckle, PhD. Ouch!

[2] Wikipedia (the lazy bloggers go-to info source)

[3] Note they, not we.

[4] Not to be confused with the PG Wodehouse character of the same name.

[5] I’m dying to know what he was crooning. “Feelings?” “I Gotta Be Me?” “Horst-Wessel-Lied?”

[6] By the way, I slipped some real fake news in that paragraph. Can you find it?

[7] Not a typo

The Dying Oral Tradition (Southern Gothic Edition)



Although my brother had not been born when the incident occurred, he has heard the retelling so often that he swears he witnessed it, swears that he remembers the alligator snapping as it scuttled in the shallow water of our bathtub. I, myself, aged two or so, who shrieked there naked in that linoleum bathroom, have no recollection of the incident at all, though I, too, from multiple retellings can see the events occur, can see the climax of the tale unfold on the drive-in movie screen of my mind: a red-haired 24 year old mother and her red-haired toddler at bath time encountering a baby gator that her husband had deposited in the tub before departing to continue his bar hopping. Of course, the best retelling was a duet, Mama and Daddy counterposing their split screen roles in the Gothic comedy: Daddy and his pal Tea hitting juke joint after juke joint, taking a propitious gator-discovering ditchside piss, the capturing and bagging.  Mama out somewhere with me and then back home impatiently shelling peas on the porch in the humidity wondering where the son-of-a-bitch had run off to. Their mutual laughter in the telling and retelling of the tale suggests that they were happy it had happened.*

*Of course, in my former role as mandatory reporter of child abuse and neglect at Porter-Gaud, I’d probably have to call DSS if one of my students had shared a similar story with me, perhaps resulting in the child’s removal from the home and replacement into foster care to live with someone wholesome like Paula White.

paula white

Paula White, President Trump’s Spiritual Advisor

Unfortunately, storytelling has disappeared from Porter-Gaud, partly because teachers share no common space and partly because the pinging of emails and the flashing of voice mails demand too much of attention. I had a colleague who in years past regaled us with her forlorn trips back to her hometown Barnwell where, in the shadow of the “Atomic Bum Plant,” she’d celebrate what she called “a Tennessee Williams Christmas.”

As a storyteller, she possesses the Chaucerian talent of individualizing a type. Her mother, the dowager, reminiscent of Faulkner’s Caroline Compson in her small-town slow decay, but with her own unique identity, the drawled zinger, the hawk-eyed fault finding. Add a maiden aunt, the clutter of knick knacks, darkened rooms, the smell of cedar – and you’ve recreated a palpable world. I’ve been there, though I have never set foot in that house.

As Southerners, we’re both the descendants of Flannery O’Connor, perverse, reveling in the grotesque, living a nightmare and finding it funny.

Alas, I fear that raconteurs like my friend are a dying breed – not only that – but that the old eccentrics are dying out (or being rendered bland by homogenization). Of course, hoary headed malcontents have been bemoaning modern ways since Socrates complained that writing would ruin language, that reading would silence words, remove the oracular from the narrative, render the dactyls mute, transform the communal experience into a solitary one.

Now some fear that reading itself will disappear, replaced by easily processed images, the hungry eye not patient enough to bother with decoding, needing the quick fix of quick-cut-rat-a-tat editing.

However, I, for one, doubt that movies will ever supplant poetry and prose as the chosen vehicle for our highest narrative art, whether we’re reading those words in leather-bound books or on Kindles.

Ah, but the storyteller – where is he to go to tell his tales? In neighborhood bars with those massive screens that draw your head away like a hypnotist? On the screened porches of upscale neighborhoods? From the pulpits of Baptist churches in dying, congregation-starved towns like Branchville or Eloree?

Despite its endangerment, I suspect that the oral tradition will never really die completely out, even in suburbia, because people naturally love to hear a good, well told story. I can attest to this: PowerPoints for all their snazzy transitions and striking images are for students the bane of contemporary education. Fire one up and hear the groans.

A couple of years ago when I was teaching Tennyson’s “Marianna,” I gathered my tenth graders around our table and told them that today we were going to have story time. I told them the story of Measure for Measure, with all of its hilarious shenanigans – disguised dukes, horny puritans, self-righteous sisters, and trickster sex, and a few days later, I heard these iPhone addicted 15-year-olds ask, “When are we going to have story time again?”

So who knows?

The Herculean Task of Amassing and Cataloging Trump’s Character Flaws

Identifying and classifying the myriad character flaws of Donald J Trump would be a labor worthy of that grand old-fashioned adjective Herculean.

Where would you begin? Would you merely just start randomly listing his flaws as they came to mind?

Mendacity, impulsivity, avarice, hypersensitivity, vengefulness, tastelessness . . .

Already I’m exhausted, but if the catalogue were to reach its epic end, then you would need to classify the flaws; otherwise, the list would be merely be a reams-long enumeration of pejorative words, a document as interesting to read as a newspaper’s legal notices.

We do have, thanks to Dante Alighieri, a time-honored classification system of human frailties based on the 7 Deadly sins. Perhaps one might do less with more by adapting Dante’s system and plug selections from the Himalayan heap of Trump’s character flaws into Dante’s hierarchies rather than creating an exhaustive (and exhausting) list.

Dante’s system, of course, is not itself ideal. For example, most of us have committed multiple sins throughout our lives. Is your place in the Inferno determined by a predominance of one sin over another? Do you designate Rush Limbaugh as predominately gluttonous or avaricious?

Here, we also run across another problem pointed out by Stephen Dedalus in James Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man: sins tend to overlap and feed off each other:

From the evil seed of lust all other deadly sins had sprung forth: pride in himself and contempt of others, covetousness in using money for the purchase of unlawful pleasures, envy of those whose vices he could not reach to and calumnious murmuring against the pious, gluttonous enjoyment of food, the dull glowering anger amid which he brooded upon his longing, the swamp of spiritual and bodily sloth in which his whole being had sunk.

No, Dante won’t do.

Perhaps it would be more fruitful to contemplate how a person who brags about “grabbing pussies” (lust) and gorges on so much fast food that his ass has reached Kardashian proportions (gluttony), who is too lazy (sloth) to oversee a smooth transition into the most powerful office in the world and leaves it to Paul Ryan to come up with a health care plan rather than come up with his own, who is so greedy (avarice) that he stiffs contractors and would rather violate the emolument clause than divest from his financial empire, how a person who is constantly raging (anger) at perceived enemies, who so envies (covetousness) the crowd size of his predecessor’s Inauguration that he squanders his first week of his presidency making a fool out of himself for engaging in easily refuted lying, how a person whose overweening pride (hubris) makes Milton’s Satan and Macbeth and Lear seem like the Dalai Lama in comparison, how a person like Donald Trump could ever be elected President of the United States of America.


And so what have I left out? His tastelessness. His residency in Trump Tower out Liberaces Liberace in its rococo extravagance. Imagine spending a weekend locked in Trump’s glittering bordello (see top picture) without flinging yourself out one of its windows?

Liberace’s relatively understated master bedroom

Anyway, as the speaker in Springsteen’s “Thunder Road” puts it, “I’m no hero. That’s understood,” so I leave it to someone else to take on the task of providing us with a comprehensive list of Trump’s character flaws.


Wesley’s Inferno, Canto 4



Canto 4


Once we disembarked

and reached the summit of a barren ridge,

a vista of innumerable parked


cars lay below. We drove through clouds of midges

swarming and stinging,

the cars’ occupants, naked and wedged


so tightly they couldn’t move their arms or legs, facing

a gigantic movie screen on which dead-eyed

chancre riddled junkies were forever fucking.


“This is my home circle,” Catullus said, “where I reside

when not giving tours. These Monicas and Bills must eternally endure

the stab of insects and the touch of flesh they can’t abide.


“During my earth time, I too was sex-obsessed. Nothing could cure

my cravings for Lesbia, Nihil sit, satis.

So now with them for my sins I must endure


the punishment of these stabbing stings, this looping film.” Catullus

then emoted a theatrical B-movie sigh.

“These punishments seem ludicrous,


“way over the top for a loving God,” I cried.

He broke into a sardonic laugh.

“Haven’t you read Nietzsche? God ain’t alive!


Literalism ain’t where it’s at!

Think of this night as a soul engendered hallucination,

Not a product of a bearded God’s wrath;


Think of it as a sort of game; think Play Station.”

“But this contradicts what you said before about reprieve!”

“Think of this as a trip,” he said, “a psychedelic vacation.”


Wesley’s Inferno, Canto 3


Canto 3


Charon chided Catullus as the cab

pulled into a line labeled LUST.

Waving arms, speaking Latin, babbling,


Catullus flashed credentials. Trust me;

Charon was one ugly dude. Liberace crossed

with Elephant Man, plus a dash of Jackie Gleason,


snot running down his nose, the grossest

shit I’d ever seen. As we rolled onto the one-car ferry,

it occurred to me that here there was no rest,


no coffee breaks, no take five, no reprieves.

The river, appropriately hellish, polluted,

frothing, malodorous, reeking


of industry and death. I recruited

all my strength, closed my eyes, the screech

of machinery assaulting unabated.


I passed out, my sense driven beyond the reach

of enduring. A thunderclap awakened me

after what seemed centuries. “That’ll teach


you,” Catullus, said enigmatically,

apropos of zilch. “When’s the last time

you’ve been to a drive in?” he asked. “See,


bro you, bout to get dipped into some slime,

awful porno, meet punishment for the lustful,

who squandered earth-time


always seeking sex, overdoing it, never fulfilled.”

The ferry approached a dimly lit dock,

An oily humidity had replaced the river’s dank chill.

Free Novel Titles from Dylan’s Canon of Cool Lyrics

dylan typing

Although I had a tiny bit of success as a fiction writer in my younger days, creating short stories and novels is way too hard — too lonely, too unprofitable — so I’ve given it up.  Nevertheless, I still love coming up with titles.  In fact, in the good ol’ days, a title might come to me before the story, which was the case with “The Harlequin Globetrotters.”

Like virtually all my publications, “The Harlequin Globetrotters” is lost to posterity because the journal in which it was published is now defunct.  So I’m afraid you’re out of luck if you’re dying to read about Katrina Piedmont, a female ref who adored Globetrotter star Skylark Keats.  He had visited her younger brother when he had been dying of cancer, and when Katrina found herself reffing a Globetrotters’ game, she overcompensated for her adoration by calling questionable fouls on him. Just before the buzzer and with the Globetrotters down by two, Skylark drove to the basket, collided with Katrina, and ended up on the floor on top of her. Oblivious to the hubbub that surrounded them, they allowed their lips to touch, at first tentatively, a gentle butterfly of a kiss, and he could feel her arms encircling his back, her tongue flicking across his earlobe, darting to the tip of his ear, and so he crushed her to him and began to kiss her eagerly, his tongue exploring, then plundering the warm, wet cave of her mouth  Swept away in utter abandon, they surrendered to the tidal surge of their pent-up passion as the roar of the crowd washed over them like the sea. . . .

Perhaps a copy exists somewhere, its pages yellowed, like the author’s teeth, with age, but I rather doubt it, so like I say, you’re out of luck.

Be that as it may, I still like coming up with titles.  As a bonus, I provide possible scenarios, hoping that someone in cyber space might take the bait as I did when a fellow writer told me he had a great title – “The Insomniacs’ Ball” – but no story.[1] It took me years, but I finally came up something that ended up winning a Piccolo Spoleto fiction prize and was read by an actor in Marion Square in front of literally tens of people (well, maybe a couple of dozen).[2]

The titles that most appeal to me are ones culled from other literary sources like “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” “The Sound and the Fury,” and “Of Mice and Men.” Allusive titles like these provide the erudite reader a hint as to the major themes.  The secret is to use a catchy phrase, and who has come up with catchier phrases in the last 50 years but Bob Dylan?   So I surveyed the jukebox of my mind and came up with three Dylan phrases that would make killer titles, and here they are, fiction writers, yours for the taking.

Titles from Dylan’s Canon 

From “The Gates of Eden”

The motorcycle black Madonna

Two-wheeled gypsy queen

And her silver-studded phantom cause

The gray flannel dwarf to scream . . .

The Gray Flannel Dwarf

Genre: melodrama, 2 hankies.  This narrative revolves around a talented but diminutive fashion designer named Sebastian Gorky, a snazzy dresser who loves retro ‘50s fashion. The plot revolves around his doomed unrequited passion for a strapping transgendered seamster named Rex Renault.  Gorky is an Alexander-Pope like figure, saturnine, cynical, but beneath it all possessing a sweet if somewhat sullied soul.  Think of it as Cyrano de Bergerac meets Willow. Gorky tries to protect Renault from the predators of the fashion industry as the two jetset from New York to Paris to Milan.  The movie version is rated PG-13 for language and brief, gratuitous nudity in changing rooms.

Gray Flannel Dwarf

From  “Stuck Inside of Mobile with the Memphis Blues Again”

When Ruthie says come see her

In her honky-tonk lagoon

Where I can watch her waltz for free

‘Neath her Panamanian moon

Honkey-Tonk Lagoon

Genre: action/adventure. 4 explosions.  Townes Van Barnes is an ex-pat living on a Caribbean island, and, like Rick in Casablanca, runs a bar.  Of course, the joint is teeming with a cast of colorful characters, and Townes’s mysterious personal tragedy (involving a strapping transgendered drug runner named Jan Auster) is stoically covered up by a prodigious amount of emotional scar tissue.  Add whatever complication flips your switch: Jared Kushner’s company’s plan for developing a resort that will ruin the island’s culture, radioactive waste being dumped offshore by a nefarious multinational corporation, or a spring break culture clash featuring politically correct Middlebury students and some wild partiers from the University of Alabama.


From “Hurricane”

Now all the criminals in their coats and their ties

Are free to drink martinis and watch the sun rise

While Rubin sits like Buddha in a ten-foot cell

An innocent man in a living hell

All the Criminals in Their Coats and Their Ties

Genre: political thriller. 15 indictments.  This fast-moving far-fetched scenario traces the rise and fall of narcissistic mobster/real estate developer who as a publicity stunt runs for president on a phony populist campaign in which he promises to kick corporate America in its fat ass.  Much to everyone’s surprise – especially his own – he beats his well-intentioned but terminally unlikable opponent and goes on to do the exact opposite of what he promises.  His administration runs like a fine-tuned machine until a former lover, a strapping transgendered exotic dancer named Rick Rambler, blackmails the president by threatening to release information proving that the pre-President had paid for an abortion back in the days when the exotic dancer was a slender blonde barfly who went by the name Tiffany Texarkana.  After Rambler is found dead from blunt head trauma, a clandestine group of female British investigative reporters unravel the mystery as the agents of the president’s private security staff zero in on them.


All I ask for these potential best sellers is a brief mention in the acknowledgements.

[1] The writer was Harlan Greene, the year 1983.

[2] Actually, “The Insomniacs’ Ball” is a poem, but I retyped it without line breaks so it would qualify as “short fiction.”  You can read it here.

Tales of Bad Parenting

As my regular readers know, I possess an incredibly delicate, depression-prone sensibility. I find large “family friendly” crowds especially nerve-wracking, particularly if those families come from “all walks of life.” I can handle “non-family friendly” gatherings just fine. Heavy metal rock concerts, ecstasy-fueled raves, St. Patrick Day’s pub-crawls, and violent protests don’t bother me a whit; however, a day trip to somewhere like Six Flags hurls me headlong into Sylvia-Plath-like pits of deep despair.

We’re talking Mariana Trench, Dante’s Malebolgia, i.e., super subterranean levels of depression.

Imagine my horror, then, when one Saturday twenty years ago around noon, my 8th grade son Harrison asked if I would take him and his 6th grade brother Ned to the Coastal Carolina Fair.

“It’s the very last day,” he added.

Mental montage:


We were driving on Ashley Avenue in the small beach community where we live.[1] I looked over at my wife Judy whose expression was one that you might encounter if you had just informed someone that she was being sequestered for jury duty for a Gambino brother trial in Newark.

These words came out of my mouth: “You boys ever hear of Playboy magazine?”

They answered in the affirmative.

“Well, what if instead of taking you to the fair, I bought you a copy of Playboy magazine instead?

“You’re kidding, “ Harrison said, the glee in his voice approaching bicycle-under-the X-mas-tree levels.

“I’m absolutely serious,” I said. “By the time we return home, get ready, battle the bumper-to-bumper traffic, find a godforsaken place to park, trudge the five miles to the entrance, we’ll all be exhausted.”

“You’re sure you’re not kidding?”

“Watch me.”

What he left unsaid, but it registered loud and clear: “You’re the greatest dad in the world!”

So we pulled into Bert’s Market, and I found the magazine rack and secured the current issue of Playboy, which featured the German figure skater Katrina Witt.[2] The transaction was made, the product sheathed in a brown paper bag.

Once we returned home, the boys scampered into the room and slammed the door.

The next day, while they were out skateboarding, I slinked into the room with the intention of checking out the issue myself, but they had hidden it, as if it were contraband.

Finally, I had to ask them outright if they minded if I took a look at it. I promised to give it back.

[1] Let me hasten to add that despite the tale that is to follow, our two sons have managed to graduate from college (one has a masters in linguistics, the other makes 30K more than his old man who has 31 years of teaching the same gig). In other words, they no longer live with us.

[2] People often ask why both boys majored in German. It just occurred to me that this event might have played a role.