Archive for category: Commentary

A quantum of Oriole

25 Jul
July 25, 2014

This essay appears in the July 21, 2014 issue of Sports Illustrated.  It appears on this site with the gracious permission of the magazine’s editors.   

To the beaten dog, every sudden movement is another impending brutality in a lifetime of such. Eventually, even the most modest and trivial move in the mutt’s direction induces a simpering cower.

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Libel per se – UPDATED TWICE

02 Jul
July 2, 2014

UPDATE:  12 p.m., July 4

I am informed that the Huff Post piece has now removed the reference to my having been fired.  Instead, apparently, my revenge was had upon editors who spiked one of my articles because my writing wasn’t “Dickensian” enough.  They never said anything of the sort to me or anyone else, and that is not actually the reason that particular article was spiked.  I carefully related the actual sequence of events to Dr. Williams in my April memo as a discussion of  that particular article and its fate features throughout her manuscript, but no matter.  With regard to the Huff Post essay at least, I am libeled no more and I thank the author for her apology at the bottom of the essay.

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It’s carnival time

04 Mar
March 4, 2014

A carnival season memory from the other night:

I am walking with my daughter, just shy of four years, from what we know as the Sugar Store toward the Krewe D’Etat parade.  She has mango sorbet on the tip of her nose as she negotiates a fat cone of the stuff.  Three blocks away, the drum tattoo of a high school band gives way to a passing float and the throw-me-something cheers of a crowd.

She squints down the block, sees the lighted float cruise through.

“We missed that one.”

“There’ll be another.  It’s a long parade.”

“Okay.”

Long pause.

“Can everything stay just like it is now?”

“What do you mean?”

She examines her sorbet cone, then looks directly at me.

“Everybody dies.  You’re going to die.  One day I’m going to die.”

My breath leaves me.  Try explaining the ultimate tragedy of life to a four year old.  Try doing it without falling back on the tropes and cliches of theology.  Try telling the truth at this moment. I don’t even know how to begin.

Instead, a calico bounds off the porch of a shotgun double.

“Oh look,” she says.  “A kitty cat.”

And she rushes toward it, laughing.

*   *   *

Happy Mardi Gras, everyone.

 

“The highway’s jammed with broken heroes…”

08 Jan
January 8, 2014

He knew.

We can say this now with certainty if we ask ourselves one basic question about human nature:  What good does it do a political operative to screw over the opposition if you can’t then tell your boss about it?  Where is the  joy for any lickspittle hack in the office hierarchy if he or she can’t pull off a dirty trick against a political adversary, then walk down the hall and tell the boss just how well you did on his behalf?  What would be the point?

I’ve actually found New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie’s bluster and anger to be endearing at times, if only for the plain-speaking insistence on results.  I don’t find anger to be a particularly negative trait when that anger is offered on behalf of others, nor do I regard argument as anything other than a worthy endeavor if the argument is actually about something.  I didn’t agree with Mr. Christie on any number of issues, but I found him credible as a public servant.  He reminded me in some respects of the late Maryland Governor and Baltimore Mayor William Donald Schaefer — Mayor Annoyed as we knew him, the angriest, melon-headedest white man in our tarnished state’s political firmament.  “Do It Now,” was Mr. Schaefer’s daily mantra, and while he could be stubborn and bullying at points — and petty and juvenile at his worst moments — he got quite a bit done during his tenure.  My city and state could have done a lot worse with more restrained and thoughtful leadership.

But even Mr. Schaefer’s petulance and childishness had its limits.  He might read a letter to the editor from a complaining citizen and call that individual in a cranky rage.  He might tell reporters off-the-record to go fuck themselves and their editors.  He might play every all-in-the-game political angle to reward friends and harm adversaries and take pride in the result.  He would not, however, snarl some Maryland traffic purposely, endangering residents of his state, to achieve the most petty kind of payback.  He wouldn’t purposely set his state’s performance back for a petty and vicious comeuppance.  Mayor Annoyed had spent too many years filling potholes to dig any of his own, for any reason.

For that kind of behavior you need someone really, really small.  For the anger and argument to become that self-absorbed and infantile, you need someone with even more selfish insecurity and fractured ego than Mr. Schaefer could offer.  You need someone who saw himself as being not only larger than the sum of his constituents, but larger than the commonweal itself.  Add in the potential for actually harming innocent people — ambulances unable to reach calls, school buses unable to transport children — and you have something that leaves the Schaefers of the political world entirely incapable.  For this kind of petty venality, you have to look to a Huey Long or a Richard Nixon, someone for whom any fealty to democratic processes and public service no longer matters when personal ambition and aggrandizement are at stake.

Think on this:  A 91-year-old woman in Fort Lee, New Jersey, unreachable by an ambulance with life-support equipment caught in a traffic jam engineered as Governor Christie’s retribution for the denial of a political endorsement, died later that day at an area hospital.  I’d like to know her name.  I’d like to see her photograph.  I’d like to hear from her family.  I’d like the governor to know her name, to see her photograph, to visit with and apologize to her family.  He owes them that much.

Because he knew.

If Mr. Christie didn’t order this mayhem himself, then he knew because the aides who achieved this carnage on his behalf were so successful in doing so that they could not have possibly held their silence.  Not over the course of four long days of maintaining the traffic snarl in Fort Lee. All of us who have worked in an office, who have experienced institutional hierarchy, who have seen the wages of unthinking loyalty to the boss — we know this much.  The same kind of people who would embark on such an action would not be able to do anything but run right down the hall to tell the governor how they had delivered pain to his political enemy.  They would then wait on their attaboy.  People of that ilk live for the attaboy.   Like cats with a fresh-caught mouse, they were bringing home a prize.  And there’s no joy for any housecat if the prize can’t be displayed to the master of the house.

I’m sorry for Mr. Christie, who seems in his better moments to be something of a leader.  But anger and argument lose all charm when they are employed for stakes so small, stupid and selfish.  He knew.  And he’s lying about it now.

The Pogues project – clarified

29 Dec
December 29, 2013

Seems I let a cat slip from the bag in the Q-and-A session after a recent gig in Australia by mentioning some work undertaken in conjunction with a possible stage musical involving the songs of The Pogues.   I was offering an answer to a question about whether I had thought about undertaking work in media other than prose or television.  What has ensued with the Irish press, and then with the likes of Rolling Stone, has been a little surprising, if not entirely premature.

To more carefully ground this in fact:

I’ve been a fan of The Pogues and their music since the late 1980s.  After we had used some of their songs in The Wire, I had a chance to meet the bandmembers through George Pelecanos, who had been invited to one of their concerts in Washington, D.C.  Shortly thereafter, during some time in London, I was approached by Phil Chevron about the possibility of writing a musical that would utilize the band’s discography.  Interested, I was then introduced to the estimable director Garry Hynes of Ireland’s Druid Theater, who had also been engaged by Mr. Chevron.

In turn, I approached Mr. Pelecanos and my wife, novelist Laura Lippman, to help create a storyline for such a musical.  George, my colleague on The Wire and Treme, is also a longstanding Pogues admirer and Laura, who has the lyrics of every Sondheim show memorized, has forgotten more about American musicals than I have so far learned.  We sat, worked the problem, ran it by both Ms. Hynes and Mr. Chevron, who offered notes, suggestion, encouragement and help overall.

Earlier this year, after a couple abortive drafts of leaden misery, I turned in a completed draft that was at least free of shame-inducing hackery.  The draft went to Ms. Hynes, with a copy to Phil Chevron, who was struggling with late-stage cancer.  I was glad to have produced something at least worthy of their consideration before Mr. Chevron passed away in October, if only because it was Phil’s love and understanding of the stage musical and his advocacy for this project that it exists.

Meetings and readings of the material are scheduled for later this spring, involving the writers, Ms. Hynes and her Druid team, and members of The Pogues.  After that, a second draft — this one involving Pelecanos and Lippman — is likely. And once Ms. Hynes and her team fully instruct and guide us, I have little doubt that third and fourth drafts will also be forthcoming.  Much more work by all is going to be required before such a project can be properly developed.

It is not a musical about The Pogues, as was reported, but a tale written to utilize their musical canon. It is not David Simon’s next project after Treme.  It is not the Druid Theater’s next project.  Casting calls remain unscheduled.  Rehearsal space has not been rented.  Tickets and playbills are not being printed anywhere for any purpose.  Shane Macgowan has not been assigned his house seats for the duration of the run.  No, a fellow in Sydney, Australia asked a question and without thinking too much, I answered him correctly without realizing that the internet’s reach includes the southern hemisphere.  Cat rebagged, I hope.  Or at the least, it’s a housecat at this point, not a stalking tiger.