Friday, August 16, 2013

THE PLACE I LIVE, THE BOOKS I READ

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by Burt Prelutsky

My neighborhood in the San Fernando Valley is diverse. In fact, it’s more diverse than the typical college campus and light years more diverse than the typical college faculty. On my single block, we have blacks, whites and Latinos. The age range runs from about 13 to mid-80s. Across the street is an orthodox Jewish family; next door are Armenian Christians from Constantinople. Next door to them, the house is for sale because the elderly Hawaiian couple died in recent years. We also have a married couple in their 30s, a retired Marine and his wife, a middle-aged son living with his mother who suffers from Alzheimer’s, a multi-generational family of Hispanics and a woman who shares her home with four cats who have somehow survived sharing space with two pit bulls. For the most part, my neighbors, both the Democrats and the Republicans, are apolitical.

We all get along pretty well. So I know it is possible even in 2013. But not too long ago, I had an unnerving experience. I was in the checkout line at the local supermarket. Just ahead of me were a black mother and her four or five year old son. Generally in those circumstances, I smile and wave my fingers at the kid. They nearly always smile and wave back. Occasionally, a child will look to mom for guidance: Am I one of those creepy old guys they’ve been warned about? Sometimes, if they’re standing and not riding shotgun in the shopping cart, they’ll hide behind mom’s skirt and peek out at me. This time, though, the black child glowered at me. He gave me the look Sonny Liston used to give his ring opponents.

It’s possible I am making too much of it, but when scores of white and Latino kids have always reacted exactly as I’ve reported and suddenly a black child reacts in a profoundly different way, I have to suspect something is amiss. And what that something is, I believe, is that black children are being raised with an overly developed sense of anger towards white people. Call it what you will, but I call it child abuse.

And is it just my imagination or do most of the bad guys in the news lately all look like a call went out to Central Casting to send over the creepiest-looking actors they had available? I mean, people who look like Julian Assange, Bradley Manning, Edward Snowden, Anthony Weiner and Bob Filner, don’t grow on trees, although one might easily assume they live in them. The only thing missing has been an albino with a German accent.

Am I the only person who thinks Maddy, the Puerto Rican mother of eight who was one of the six jurors in the George Zimmerman trial, who went on TV to announce that Zimmerman got away with murder, should have been tossed in the slammer for contempt of court and then sued for slander by Zimmerman?

Although I oppose the insanity plea being allowed in criminal cases, I can see how it might be useful when it comes to seating jurors.

What can you say about New York City, where even after the recent non-stop sextings of Anthony Weiner’s wiener, 16% of voters still plan to vote for him? I suppose it helps clear up the mystery surrounding Nanny Bloomberg’s getting to serve three terms, the last in clear violation of the city’s constitution.

In related news, a law has been proposed in New York that would allow cops to describe the clothes that suspects wore during the commission of a crime, but would open the door to a lawsuit if they mentioned the gender, age, race or possible physical affliction – such as a limp -- of the perp.

During the 2012 election campaign, Obama kept bragging that he’d bet on Detroit. We can all agree that was one really dumb bet. But it’s not the worst bet that was wagered last year. I refer to the $10 I lost on Romney.

I just finished reading “Roger Ailes: Off Camera.” The main thing I came away with is that it cost Rupert Murdoch $100 million to set up Fox News. What mystifies me is why none of the conservative billionaires has spent a like-amount to kick off a competing network. I know if it meant that I wouldn’t have to waste all that time with Bob Beckel, Alan Colmes, Leslie Marshall, Marc Lamont Hill, Geraldo Rivera and Juan Williams, I’d make the switch in a nano-second.

I realize that Fox has marketed itself as fair and balanced, but even if you live in such civilized outposts as Texas, Oklahoma, Georgia, Utah and Wyoming, you don’t need to tune in Fox to hear left-wing airheads. Every time you pick up a newspaper or turn on one of the major networks, you can’t help hearing from Obama, Holder, Schumer, Durbin, Waxman or Rangel.

So, my suggestion to wealthy right-wingers such as Sheldon Adelson and the Koch brothers is to pool your lunch money and kick off a conservative network. Even if it’s not quite as successful as Fox, it will be ten times as successful as MSNBC and CNN put together, and it might even allow me to spew my patented brand of nonsense.

Mentioning the Ailes biography reminds me that people are often surprised to learn that I read far more novels than non-fiction. There are a few reasons for my preference. As a rule, novelists are better writers because writing is their true calling, whereas research is the long suit for historians and biographers.

Another reason I prefer novels is that I have no need to separate fact from lies or presumptions by first determining the writer’s personal bias. With fiction, because the characters are all born out of literary invention, the author is free to share all of his creation’s thoughts and motives. As a reader, I find that far more compelling than having some historical figure wind up on a page only after being strained through a writer’s prejudices.

I fully understand that this is merely my opinion. But keep in mind that over the past 65 years, I have read a lot of both kinds of books, whereas I know people who casually dismiss novels, but haven’t read any since their English teacher, Miss Grimshaw, made them read “A Tale of Two Cities” in the 12th grade.

Finally, I wish conservatives, both those in and out of political office, would man-up and stop worrying about whether the NY Times labels honest statements regarding illegal aliens, same-sex marriages, ObamaCare or race relations, narrow-minded, homophobic or racist. Instead of curling up in a spineless ball, we should keep in mind what we knew by heart when we were kids: that sticks and stones may break our bones, but names don’t even leave a bruise.

It’s not the first time I’ve noticed that more truth is to be found on a typical school playground than in the halls of Congress. Or, for that matter, in the pages of the NY Times.

©2013 Burt Prelutsky. Comments? BurtPrelutsky@aol.com.

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