"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Sunday, August 30, 2020

‘There Are All Kinds Of Love In The World, But Never The Same Love Twice’

Robert Haskins had been inordinately, passionately, hopelessly in love with Lavinia James.  He dreamed of her, tasted her, smelled her, was reminded of her by flowers, songs, perfume.  He was helpless, an actor in a bad romantic comedy, as obsessive about her as Humbert Humbert was about Lolita.  He smelled her clothes when she was out of the room, he combed his hair with her brush, he climbed into her empty bed, he wrote love letters and sent her flowers.

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Lavinia was his first love, so he can be excused for his excesses, for all men know that first love can never be matched.  Fitzgerald wrote that ‘There are all kinds of love in the world, but never the same love twice’ but also understood the consequential nature of first love.  Robert would always try either to find another Lavinia or, as a justification for having lost her, look for her polar opposite.  Nothing in between would ever do.

Because they were so young when they met and ‘fell in love’ – the term seems so antiquated now in an age of sexual equality, liberty, and practicality – he missed important cues.  Lavinia was beautiful, talented, smart, and sensual; but Robert missed her sexual irritability, her unconscious notions of indiscriminate love, and her will and determination.  To him she was the girl of his dreams, the satisfaction of every romantic sentiment he felt for his Chanel, Dior, Ava Gardner mother and her elegant, sophisticated, bejeweled, perfumed , and gorgeous friends;  a fairy tale loveliness, innocence, and grace – a Disney Princess, a Rapunzel, a maiden to a knight in shining armor – but to herself she was a restless, sexually ambitious, hungry, and dissatisfied woman.,

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Their marriage lasted hardly two years.  Once married, removed from the tutelage of her parents and college administrators, close to the big city and far from her Midwestern home, she was finally her own woman.  She realized soon enough that marriage with Robert would not be enough, and after a number of affairs and incidental romances, the marriage ended. Robert, hurt but more than anything befuddled – never saw this eventuality coming.  No one had ever prepared him for it.  His romantic vision, and simple uncomplicated idea of romance had blinkered him. 

Both Lavinia and Robert remarried – he unsurprisingly to a woman of no surprises, and she surprisingly to a man of social position and wealth.  Both marriages were perhaps derived from their first; he wishing to forget Lavinia’s brazen sexuality and she making amends for it; but In both cases they both did conventionally well – successful children, homes in the suburbs, and professional success.  

Of course neither of them could possibly reform and hew to the conservative garden path they had both chosen.  Not long after their second marriages, they both reverted to form.  Lavinia once again took up with artists from SOHO, Seventh Avenue fashionistas, and the second generation of Andy Warhol’s genderless factory.  She restarted her old life with no guilt, recriminations, or second thoughts.

Robert’s trajectory was more troubled.  Whatever Lavinia’s quirks, sexual twists, and independence may have been, he had loved her without question.  The romantic fantasy that he had created was as real to him as any sensible, practical relationship.  Losing her was a terrible loss, for not only had he lost his first, unequivocal love; and not only had he lost a passionately romantic love; but he was now slave to her memory.  No woman could possibly satisfy him except one of her beauty, charm, and indescribable sexuality.

His affairs were necessary triage – not Usha, not Greta, not Emriye, not Cleopatra – as passionate and attached lovers as they were, they were not Lavinia.  Each of these women were very much like Lavinia in looks, allure, and temperament but they all somehow missed the mark.  Robert had been far more damaged by his first love than he realized.  He would not only never have a love like Lavinia, he would never ever have Lavinia again.

He fooled himself with Greta, a Danish architect with Lavinia’s sexual irrepressibility; but Greta made no commitments or nor had any allegiances, nothing more than passing, easily accommodated affairs that lacked Lavinia’s propriety.  For all her sexual adventurousness, Lavinia was – or could be – grounded with feeling.  Indira– Kashmiri Brahman nobility, from a princely family, and very welcoming to this American kaffir – had been tempting.  The Arabian Nights was offered, Shakespeare’s sybaritic East - a lively harem of sexual amanuensis sanctioned by the Prince himself – but he demurred.  Indira was too regal, too immured in tradition, patently passionate but within too many bounds.  They both were desperate romantics but East and West in this instance could never meet.

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Like many men who have lost loves foolishly, Robert, after many years, tried to find the real Lavinia.  She was at Sloane Kettering, the housekeeper said, and that he might like to visit her sooner rather than later.  She said that she still loved him – and, romantically and melodramatically, said she always would.  He was as confessional, but more serious.  His first love, his final love, and his search for lost love was there in his last kiss to her cold, thin lips.  In retrospect he was ashamed of his treacly, Hollywood-trained response.  The worst of daytime television could never have been so melodramatic; and yet there he was, the male lead in a very bad soap opera, kissing his beloved for one last time on cold, deathly lips.

It was only after her death that the niggling suspicion of bad decisions began to take hold.  Why did he not try harder to keep Lavinia in the first place, compromised, or even embraced the underground Factory, Seventh Avenue, SOHO life she had chosen? It was not so much that he berated himself for sexual ignorance, but for lack of courage.  He had retreated to a safe harbor, sails furled, dinner set, cocktails served and sunset over the port bow.  He had been a sexual coward.

He tried to cover up this craven sexual timorousness through a series of inconsequential affairs.  The women who had come and gone from his bed in Khartoum and Port Stanley had meant nothing.  They were dalliances, one-off gratifications of sexual ego, temporary amnesia.  Age curtailed his search for Lavinia.  Sexual pull-by dates come sooner than expected.  God’s ultimate irony is that he created virile, sexually potent and ambitious men, but after giving them a few decades of vigorous performance and delight, consigned them to many more of constant, persistent, unsatisfied desire.

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Robert in encroaching old age thought of Lavinia constantly, and badgered and berated himself for having ever given her up.  No woman had ever enticed or satisfied him like her.  No woman, however strong her love or dependence; no matter how sexually satisfied or emotionally comforted she might have been by him, could ever match Lavinia.  Here he was, having thumped along for decades since her death, bedding this one or that one, patient and responsible to his wife as a matter of course and routine; still longing for Lavinia.

Fitzgerald was absolutely right – there is no replicating or reproducing love – but Robert Haskins had no idea whatsoever what Fitzgerald was referring to in The Rich Boy. He had no idea that one love could be one’s only love. 

Try as he might to cast his present life into dramatic proportion – a loving wife, loving children, a successful career, publications, some renown, and many friendships – it always came out stick figures at best and some awful Anselm Kiefer landscape at worst.  How could he die with such a horrible mistake on his mind?  How could he have been so weak to have given it all up?

Such is love, Fitzgerald implied in his elegant, subtle prose.  Gatsby lived with the loss of his first, only, real love – Daisy – for years, and tried desperately to regain it.  He, like Robert Haskins, saw only his beloved’s grace, beauty, charm, and allure; but missed her venality and emotional callousness.  Even if Robert had understood the impossibility of a second chance, he would have tried.

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The worst death is a death with regret; and sadly it is a common fate.  As much as Robert tried to dismiss Lavinia from his mind near his approaching end, he could not; and his last thoughts were of her.

Friday, August 28, 2020

The Trumpster Wins Again–A Campaign Extravaganza On The White House Lawn

No matter how much Hatch Act howling; no matter how much caterwauling at the glitz, glamour, flags, and fireworks of Trump’s acceptance speech; no matter how many enthusiastic, delighted, passionate Trump supporters in the crowd, progressives are licking their wounds and wondering what hit them.

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‘A criminal act’ they shout, another expression of the innate, systemic evil of the man, blatantly using the hallowed ground of the White House for political purposes.  ‘How could he?….Has he no shame?’

Of course not, and not only does Donald Trump  have no shame, but his actions as always not only play to his crowd, but are in the face of his livid, spluttering haters.  Whatever legal defense Nancy Pelosi and her Congressional shills may mount, Trump has: a) prepared a sturdy defense.  This is where I live, he says from the podium or the Rose Garden, or from the balconies of the White House; and b) go ahead and sue me.  In either case the point has been made.  Trump is the candidate of patriotism, American values, and a bulwark against socialism.  What the Left has never understood, despite the pervasive, universal, environment and culture of media, image, meme, and logo, is that how you appear is far more important than what you say or even what you do.  Round One is decisively in Trump’s corner because he has both strengthened already solid credentials with his base, but has stymied his liberal contenders, cast them in a dour, miserable, accusative, anti-American light.

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A liberal colleague reflecting on the RNC’s success, said, ‘OK, but what are his programs?’, referring to the the breadbox of the stale, inedible, moldy programs of Democrats and progressives – programs, policies, and initiatives which have failed for decades, which have cost the taxpayers billions, and have currency only because of their idealistic appeal.  

The colleague had missed the point.  Conservatives have no ‘programs’ to improve race relations, no government largesse and entitlement giveaways because government, as Ronald Reagan presciently stated, is not the solution but the problem.  Conservatives understand that if there is any systemic problem in America it is the universal dysfunction of black inner city communities.  And systemic problems can only be addressed by disaggregating and focusing on the variables that influence them.  In this case, family disorder, civil disrespect, a culture of street creds and ‘cultural identity, an environment of easy money and entitlement, and a reluctance to accept personal and community.

There are no conservative white papers, policy formulations, or list of ‘investments’.  The time for government intervention is over.  Sixty years of liberal interventionism have made little difference in the life and culture of black inner city communities.  In Washington DC residents have watched all social indicators decline – education levels, graduation rates, crime, single parent families, drug use, violent assault have not improved, but worsened.  Few in the liberal Eastern Establishment, however, have been willing to recognize these dismal results. 

 Nothing from the outside, no exogenous influences, can possibly make a difference.  It is time for dysfunctional black communities to man up, accept, embrace, and adhere to majority norms of respect, temperance, civility, opportunity and order.  No, this is not, ‘Negro, be patient’.  It is a cry for individual responsibility, rectitude, and moral discipline which has been the hallmark of America since its inception.

Trump was very clear in his acceptance speech.  The cancel culture is wrong, degrading, and un-Constitutional.  There can be no abridgment of civil rights on campus, no kangaroo courts, no assumption of guilt on the basis of accusation.  Individuals and enterprises have religious rights which cannot be erased by popular appeal.  The rights of the unborn are sacrosanct.  America first in all matters of trade and international relationships.  No illegal immigration, low taxes, fewer government regulations on business.

The rest is fol-de-rol.  He is and always will be the consummate carny barker, vaudevillian, Las Vegas headliner, Hollywood star.  He is what most Americans would like to be – a billionaire, trophy wife, yachts, homes in Gstaad, the Caribbean, and Monte Carlo, and a life which has been downright enviable.  So what if he has taken some liberties as President.  What do you expect from a man of the mean streets, entrepreneur, real estate mogul in the world’s toughest market, television producer and financier?

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Donald Trump has finally liberated the American public from liberal sanctimony, coastal elitism, and received wisdom.  His populism has been revolutionary.  Not only has he recognized and supported‘the people’, he has given them visibility and respect.  A respect that the rural poor of the bayous, the prairie, Appalachia, and the desert West have never really known.  It is not so much that he has acknowledged this important but forgotten piece of the electorate, he has championed their ideals, their romance, and their ambitions.

  He, unlike his progressive opponents, has said that these honest, trailer park, bass fishing, hunting, evangelical, Christ-loving, family-loving, beer-drinking crowd are Americans, first and foremost, no faux identity needed, no patronization, no pat on the back.

The Democrats wonder what hit them, when with only a cursory look at Joe Biden, a timorous candidate hiding behind his mask, socially distanced, and speaking to empty halls, being advised to avoid debates, to speak as little as possible, to smile, and to hope, shows how outmatched they are.

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The radical liberal claque behind the Biden candidacy assume – as Hillary Clinton did four years ago – that no one can possibly take Donald Trump seriously.  A buffoon who belongs in a side show, certainly not in the White House; but the sound and light show at the White House last night gives lie to that assumption.  Donald Trump is here to stay.

Now the show goes on the road.  The over-the-top, mask-less, cheering, flag-waving crowds of the Middle West who laugh at the sanctimony of the New York liberal Left, who dismiss their platform of identity, gender-twisting, color-first, government authoritarian interventionism as folly at best and faded, bottom-drawer, discredited, moldy ideas at worst, will always drown out poor Joe Biden and his tacked-on Uncle Joe sweetness and deer-in-the-headlights cluelessness.  So far, no contest; and as much as the progressive Left my be convinced that they cannot lose, even that beaten, sore, and still smarting loser Hillary Clinton advises Joe, “If you lose, don’t concede”.  Of course he can lose, and lose badly enough so that recounts are not even in the cards.

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The contrast between the RNC and DNC conventions could not have been more stark and telling – one, a dismal, bargain-basement, timorous, plea to right the historical wrongs of a failed and immoral country; and the other a hymn to American greatness,

Of course there is hyperbole on both sides, but if Trump profits from the bump of the convention and rides his ready-made Hollywood television image for what it’s worth, the election is a done deal

Thursday, August 27, 2020

Where There’s A Will, There’s A Relative–The Endless, Inevitable Family Massacres After One Is Dead And Gone

The Packers were the most loving, tightly-knit, congenial, and happy family that anyone in Ballard Heights had every known.  Bill and Mary were loved, respected, and admired by their three children  for their achievements (Mary was a novelist and Harold a doctor), their kindness, and their unequivocal support.  There was nothing their parents could do wrong, and the children were devoted to Mom and Pop well into their late middle age.

Most of their friends and neighbors who were grappling with insolent adolescents, testy wives, and errant husbands took great hope from the Packer family.,  Not all families had to be like their own – coming apart at the seams, loose-hinged, and wobbling on unsteady, cracked foundations – and if the Packers could not only stay together but do so in a Fifties marvelously romantic way, then perhaps marriage and family was not the ill-chosen, often penitential institution it seemed to be.

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Life went on this way for a number of years.  The Packer daughters grew up and started their own families but always maintained close contact with their parents.  Lucy, the youngest sibling called Pop every day to check in on him, on his heart troubles, on his beloved petunias, and on the weather.  She was dutiful and loving, caring and generous with her time.  The other children were no less concerned and solicitous and the eldest, Robbie, who lived close by saw her parents every weekend, took them out to dinner, cooked for them, and sat on the verandah and talked about old times and life in general.

When Mom died, the children were all distraught.  Losing a parent was one thing, but to lose a mother as so devoted and close to them was another.  They grieved openly for months and seemed inconsolable.  Thanks to cousins, their local priest, and their many friends and colleagues, they managed their pain and slowly emerged from it.  They realized that now their duty was to Pop and to make his life as happy and as carefree as possible.  The children, eager and able to help, drew up a shared visitation plan.  Pop would never be alone and hopefully would live for many more productive happy years.

There were some frictions in the execution of the plan as might be expected – minor irritations about pulling one’s weight, absences, and even a lackadaisical almost indifferent attitude on the part of the middle daughter, Elsie.  Nothing that couldn’t be handled, of course, given the bond that existed among the siblings and the love they had for Pop, but disconcerting.  They had never disagreed on anything, were all in complete consonance and harmony, so even the slightest aberration from this pattern was worrisome.

Their worries were well-founded but not uncommon.  Each of the children by now had their own families, lives, and preoccupations; and as much as they loved and respected Pop, it was inevitable that their responsibility to him might fall behind that to their own families  Again, not surprisingly, the husbands of the three Packer girls were not always in complete agreement with the arrangement negotiated by them.  Why they should have to trek all that way to see Pop every single weekend was beyond them; and why didn’t he hire an accountant to handle his finances; and why on earth should they have to cater meals for him?

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Slowly but surely the fissures within each of the children’s families became great fractures between them; and before long the children were barely talking to each other.  The seeds of mistrust and doubt had been sown, and on the fertile ground of jealousy, suspicion, and doubt, it was no wonder they didn’t come to blows.

When Pop died, the entire structure of the Packer family came apart.  The legal battles were long, incessant, and vindictive.  It wasn’t so much the money itself – all the children had done well on their own – it was the principle of the thing.  Pop’s will was not the equally-divided, fair, equitable distribution of resources the children had thought.  It was surprisingly inconsistent and arbitrary.  Large sums were given to charities no one had know the old man had ever supported.  The youngest child received far more than the other two because when the will was drawn up she was at loose ends, in a bad relationship, floundering, and helpless.  The fact that she had rebounded and recovered her balance and was at least able to take care of herself made no difference.  Pop had shown favorites, and now that he was dead and gone the other siblings had no way to plead or argue with him.

Added to the unequal disposition of the will was the middle daughter’s insistence that she had invested far more in the parents than her sisters, and was angered that Pop had, in surprisingly glowing terms for a legal document, cited her sister as the most able and independent of the children and therefore more deserving of his largesse.  So Betty Packer was caught between a ne’er-do-well sister on one side and on the other one who could do no wrong. 

The old man thought he was doing the right thing.  He loved his daughters equally but God had made them differently and so should they be treated.  There was no favoritism or discrimination in God’s world nor his.  Life was an unequal proposition but when this deterministic belief showed up in black and white in an incontrovertible will, it was despicable.  The spite, vengefulness, and eventual hatred among the three sisters was corrosive and destructive; but as everyone knows, family feuds are the most bitter and hateful of any. Worse was the fact that not only did the will seem biased and unfair, but the fact that because Pop had spent thousands on the wayward sister during her foundering days – a house, health care, car and insurance, private schools for the children – there was considerably less in his estate than there should have been; and while he appreciated all the extra attention and care given to her by his eldest daughter – itself worth thousands – and while he realized the opportunity cost of such care and the significant loss of the professional revenues associated with it, he did not change his will.

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The Packers were not alone in their enmity.  Literature is full of stories of  wills, murder, and family destruction.  Hellman’s Little Foxes is but one, perhaps the best remembered because of the raw, jealously hateful nature of the family fight over money. 

Some of the best plays of the American theatre are about such torn, angry, and selfish families.  O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey Into Night, Moon for the Misbegotten, and Mourning Becomes Electra are all about disorder, misplaced emotions, and unfair advantage. Lillian Hellman’s Little Foxes is the closest dramatic portrayal of the Hobarts.  Edward Albee who hated marriage but knew that it was the crucible of maturity, offered faint hope of family redemption in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf and none in The American Dream. Arthur Miller’s The Price, All My Sons, and Death of a Salesman were no different in their pessimistic view of families and moral principles.


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Even the most carefully-drawn wills are contested; family harmony and trust is irremediably lost as soon as the first page of the document is opened and read.  Suspicions and jealousies hidden for decades surface in a flash, wicked looks pass between siblings, hostility shown to the lawyer, and an explosive, violent anger shown to the dead parent.

Families by their very nature are jealous, suspicious, vengeful places.  Human nature is such that the exclusive, insistent demands of children and the competition between them is universal.  As much as parents try to be fair and equitable, the children never see it that way; and such doubts are never fully relieved.  Parents don’t get alone and neither do their children.  Try as they all might, the smallest family fissures are emotional chasms.

Edward Albee was very right when he said that without families we would never grow up.  The battlefields of childhood and adolescence prepare us for the real world.  He was very wrong when he suggested that maturity would result.  Fractured families produce fractured children whose memories are long, deep, and ineradicable. 

One can only hope that after one’s death there will be no feeding frenzy – no lions, jackals, and vultures ripping away at the departed; and yet one has to suppose that it will happen; but as we face eternity, it shouldn’t matter all that much.