Thursday, May 30, 2013

Happy Birthday To Me!

Today is my birthday. A new year and a new beginning.

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

On The Outside Looking In

Letters to the Editor
Time Out New York
475 10th Avenue, 12th Floor
New York, NY 10018
August 11, 2006

Dear Editor:

In her letter, Jennifer Gilchrist accuses TONY of racially stereotyping the residents of Bed-Stuy along racial lines (white wealth vs. black poverty). But Gilchrist herself is guilty of stereotyping. She writes that in "the wealthiest areas of Bed-Stuy...the vast majority of residents are middle-class and upper-middle-class African-Americans." First of all, being middle-class does not mean that one is wealthy. Secondly, she's on the outside looking in. How many of those "wealthy" African-Americans are struggling to maintain a middle-class life for themselves and their families? How many of them are living paycheck to paycheck attempting to keep up with many financial obligations (credit card debt, car payments, mortgages, school tuition, medical expenses, etc.) while at the same time trying to save enough for a comfortable retirement? As the saying goes, looks can be deceiving.

Sincerely yours,

Charles Michael Smith

This letter was not published.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

The Meaning Of Schmo

Here's an interesting word that's worth adding to your vocabulary--schmo, which means a boob or a jerk.

 "Al Capp (born Caplan), the cartoonist and originator of the Li'l Abner comic strip, created the schmoo: a lovable creature who adores being kicked and gives milk as a reward for being abused."--from The Complete Idiot's Guide to Learning Yiddish (2000).

Friday, May 24, 2013

Has Technology Improved The Quality Of Movies?

"It must not be forgotten that advances in technology do not, by definition, result in advances in artistry. The history of movies is a history of change: from silent to sound, from black and white to color, and so on. Can anyone truly argue that, overall, today's movies, at their current peak of technological sophistication, are markedly superior to the general run of films from earlier eras? The invention of the personal computer did not result in greater writers. A similar analogy, I think, holds true in the film world as well."--Peter Rainer, film critic, The Christian Science Monitor Weekly, September 17, 2012.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Looking Through A Brother's Eyes

In the Green Morning: Memories of Federico by Francisco Garcia Lorca; Translated by Christopher Maurer. (New Directions, 258 pp, paperback).

Lewis Hyde, writing in the New York Times Book Review (July 27, 1986), made the following observations in reference to In the Green Morning, Francisco Garcia Lorca's book of memoirs about his brother, the Spanish poet-playwright, Federico Garcia Lorca (1898-1936): "...every family has things no one speaks if the spirits feed on silence as well as speech." Similarly, Lorquian scholar Mario Hernandez, in his prologue to the book, hints at the cause of this "silence." He states that while writing In the Green Morning, Francisco (1902-1976) "must have" had a "difficult" time "deal[ing] with the emotional substratum of the poems and plays." Hernandez also points out that in order for Francisco "to write these 'memoirs' he had to overcome an 'inner resistance.'"

What it all boils down to is a reluctance in both cases to be straightforward about Federico's homosexuality. According to Paul Binding, in his scholarly book Lorca: The Gay Imagination (GMP Publishers), "most people of his acquaintance knew--to some extent or other--the truth about his nature." So it was virtually impossible for Francisco, who was very close to his older brother, not to be aware of Federico's sexual orientation. Knowing the truth, Francisco chose to omit that part of his brother's life, fearing it would tarnish the poet-playwright's international image.

I think it would be unfair to Francisco to judge his "inner resistance" too harshly. "To be homosexual in conservative provincial Spain," writes Paul Binding, "can have been no easy matter." So if one is looking for juicy tidbits about Federico's love life, it won't be found here.

What will be found, however, is a panoramic view of the people, places, and events that helped shape and nurture Federico as a writer and as a young man. All of this in a slim section titled "The World of Federico."

These memoirs, written between 1959 and 1965, were never finished, partly due to Francisco's poor health. They cover the period from 1898 to 1919, the year Federico left Granada to live in Paris. The ten essays that comprise the second half, and deal with Federico's plays, were written first.

Federico and Francisco became part of a literary gathering called the Back Corner, which met in a local Granada cafe. They read and discussed each other's works, as well as talked "shop" about literature in general. "The history of the Back Corner," writes Francisco, who later emigrated to the United States, following the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War, to teach Spanish literature at Columbia University, "would be the history of Granada's intellectual class at the time, for no one who was at all distinguished in art or literature failed to attend its meetings, whether as a regular member or an occasional one."

It is quite evident that Francisco benefited from attending the Back Corner meetings. His theatrical essays in the back of the book attest to his skill as a writer and a scholar. The style throughout is conversational; the tone, warm and caring. And the content is thought-provoking.

I highly recommend In the Green Morning to anyone who wants a good introduction to the life and works of Federico Garcia Lorca, albeit through the not entirely unbiased eyes of his brother Francisco.

Federico Garcia Lorca, whether adversaries of the gay community like it or not, is as much a part of gay history as he is a part of world literature.

This is an excerpt from an article that was published in the Lambda Book Report in 1986.

Note: On June 4, 2013, the New York Public Library is celebrating the life of Federico Garcia Lorca at its main branch on Fifth Avenue at 42nd Street. This event is one of several events scheduled that will complement an exhibition called "Back Tomorrow: A Poet in New York/Federico Garcia Lorca." The library's NYPL Now! brochure (May-August 2013 edition) describes the exhibition as "featur-ing] drawings, photos, and letters from the Federico Garcia Lorca Foundation in Madrid and the writings of such poets as Walt Whitman and T.S. Eliot from the Library's collections." The exhibition runs until July 20, 2013.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

The Social Justice Hall Of Fame

The 100 Greatest Americans of the 20th Century: A Social Justice Hall of Fame by Peter Dreier (Nation Books, 2012) is so engaging, it is hard to put down. (I had the book on reserve at the public library for six months before a copy became available. It was worth the wait. I will probably end up buying my own copy.) Each profile is a brief summary of the life and contributions of individuals dedicated to bringing about progressive social change. These profiles are a great introduction and stepping stone to further study of each progressive person in the book. Among the luminaries profiled are Louis Brandeis, Harvey Milk, Eleanor Roosevelt, W. E. B. DuBois, Paul Robeson, Fiorello LaGuardia, Clarence Darrow, Pete Seeger, and Bayard Rustin.

While going through some of the profiles, I found a factual error in the profile of sociologist C. Wright Mills, author of  The Power Elite. Dreier writes that "In 1952, two left-wing writers, William Gaines and Harvey Kurtzman, launched MAD, a comics magazine of political and social satire that became an instant sensation with the baby-boom generation." The baby-boom generation, which began in 1946, would have been too young to have appreciated MAD. The people more likely to have been its first readers were those born twenty years earlier.

"Each of these 100 profiles can be read separately," writes Dreier, in the introduction, "but it will be quickly apparent that every individual was part of a mosaic of movements for social justice.  ...So it should not be surprising," he continues, "that many of these 100 individuals knew each other, were members of many of the same organizations, and participated in many of the same events."

Dreier admits that "[n]o single list of 100 people can come close to capturing all the figures who deserve a place in the century's Social Justice Hall of Fame."

It will be interesting to see if Dreier puts out a book called The Social Justice Hall of Shame as a companion volume.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Honoring The Dead (2012)

Several months ago, Charlie Rose devoted an entire episode of his late-night public television show to video clips of past guests who died in 2012. The broadcast was riveting and memorable. After each clip, viewers were shown a still photo of the guest with the years of birth and date superimposed on the screen. Among the late luminaries interviewed by Rose and who were featured in the memorial telecast  were playwright/journalist Nora Ephron (b. 1941), film director Tony Scott (b. 1944), novelist Gore Vidal (b. 1925), jazz pianist Dave Brubeck (b. 1920), journalist Mike Wallace (b. 1918), scholar Jacques Barzun (b. 1907), novelist Carlos Fuentes (b. 1928), politician George McGovern (b. 1922), actor Andy Griffith (b. 1926), and art scholar/author Robert Hughes (b. 1938).

Saturday, May 11, 2013

No Police Response

Howard Safir, Commissioner
Police Department
One Police Plaza
New York, NY 10038
July 17, 1996

Dear Commissioner Safir:

On the night of July 15, I called the 28th Precinct twice--at 9:16 and approximately 15 minutes later about a young African-American man who was playing rap music (profanities included) from a makeshift cart equipped with a green and white umbrella. He was standing in front of [a building on West 113th Street], across the street from my bedroom window. I often see this person in the neighborhood selling music cassettes (obviously home recorded) and playing the music at a very high volume.

The officer who answered the phone that night told me his name was Joynes. He also told me that it was "a very busy night" and that the first available car would be sent. No car came. Although at 9:50 a police van was traveling down 7th Avenue toward Central Park at the same time that the young man was going in the opposite direction (up 7th Avenue) with the music still playing loud. No attempt was made by the officers in the van to silence him.

Mayor Giuliani is always talking about bettering the quality of life for city residents , but I see very little enforcement with regard to quality of life in Harlem. Such behavior wouldn't be tolerated on the Upper East Side, Chelsea, or other more affluent areas. Whereas in Harlem anything goes. This young man is a nuisance and should be ticketed and/or have his music-box-on-wheels confiscated because the music is way too loud. He is as much a nuisance as a panhandler or squeegee man.

If cops were put on foot patrol at night instead of rolling around in cars, it would help discourage this kind of behavior.

Sincerely yours,

Charles Michael Smith

cc: 28th Pct. Commander, Dep. Insp. Joyce Stephens

Friday, May 10, 2013

Monday, May 6, 2013

Saturday, May 4, 2013

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Become A Volunteer

"If you don't have money, invest your time and energy in volunteering at your community garden or homeless shelter. Do things that still make America great: sharing, giving, helping, volunteering."--Dimitri Kadiev," Letters" column, The Nation magazine, August 13/20, 2012.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Blacks With AIDS

Black gay men with AIDS are invisible as far as most of the black press is concerned. Fortunately, Essence magazine doesn't see it that way. In the August 1985 issue, there is a beautifully written, although disturbing, article by Marie Blackwell which details the psychological and physical deterioration of her 36-year-old brother Chet, who eventually died a little over a year after being hospitalized when it was suspected that he had the dreaded disease.

Any African-American who believes, after all this time, that AIDS is a white man's disease, should be required to read this piece, entitled "AIDS in the Family." Blackwell writes that shortly before Chet's death, his body, which had once been "tall, lean, and muscular," had gone down to 98 pounds and "contorted itself into a fetal position--he couldn't straighten his limbs. His eyes were bulging with fear, and he kept the covers over his head the entire time" she visited him in the hospital.

Blackwell confesses that she was "almost totally ignorant about the extent of AIDS contagiousness." If her family had been readers of the Native, a lot of their fear and ignorance after Chet's release from the hospital would have been dispelled. But Chet was fortunate to have a family that loved him enough to be there when he needed them, whether at home or in the hospital.

The family, admits Blackwell, "were angry at him" for being gay because his "choice" of lifestyle had such a profound "impact on all of us." But, "whatever Chet's sexual preference, he was still our big, silly, lovable brother" who, among other things, "cheered us up when we were on punishment."

Jill Nelson's sidebar, "The Facts About AIDS," excellently capsulizes statistical and medical data in nontechnical language. She makes one interesting parenthetical  comment: The discovery of AIDS in Africa "coincided with its discovery in the United States." In other words, there's some doubt in her mind about the African connection.

I wish that Native writer Craig Harris's short story, "Cut Off From Among Their People," which appears in the black gay literary magazine Blackheart 3: The Telling of Us, had been reprinted in the same issue of Essence. It would have given a gay perspective on the disease.

Harris's superb story is about Jeff, a grief-stricken black gay man who attends his lover's funeral and is given the cold shoulder by the family of the deceased. Although Jeff was faithful to his lover, "spending endless hours by his side, covering hospital bills, always keeping [the family] abreast of his condition" while the lover was hospitalized, the family disregarded these acts of love by not asking Jeff for his assistance in making funeral arrangements.

This article was originally published in the New York Native (August 11-25, 1985). It was an item in a "Media Watch" column I wrote for the paper.

Voices In The Wilderness?

Bob Law, the host of the National Black Network's "Night Talk" (heard in the New York area on WWRL-AM) announced near the end of a broadcast in mid-April that Rev. Calvin Butts, the pastor of Harlem's famous Abyssinian Baptist Church, had spoken out against the persecution of gays and lesbians. The statement was made, said Law, at a rally held at Canaan Baptist Church, also in Harlem.

Law, who was present at the meeting, told his radio audience that Butts "thought  that everybody had a right to determine their own destiny and that God be the final judge, which is consistent with his Bible that says, 'Judge not that ye not be judged.'" The talk show host,  who has a black nationalist philosophy, went on to say that Butts's position is not a popular one in the African-American community and that it "is definitely not popular in the Baptist church." (I've been told that a considerable number of gays attend Canaan.)

Knowing that "he was standing by himself," continued Law, he made the statement anyhow, because he was "follow[ing] a course of action based on what he believes is in principle correct," and that this belief had nothing "to do with how many people stand with him, how much money is in it for him, what kind of guarantees there are further down the line. That's the kind of leadership we [blacks] need and that's the kind of leadership we should support."

Before you start gloating that Butts and Law advocate homosexuality, check out Law's reply to a statement of concern expressed by a homophobic female listener, who sees homosexuality as "very bad" for the black community.

According to Law, Butts "didn't say he thought they should be encouraged or that he supported it or that he was not frowning on it. If there was going to be a discussion between him and a homosexual, he might try to convince the homosexual not to be homosexual."

How does one do that? I think we should send Bob Law a correspondence course in Homosexuality 101. I agree with much of Law's philosophy on achieving political and economic strength in the black community, but when it comes to gay and lesbian issues, he could use some consciousness-raising.

This article ws originally published in the New York Native (August 11-25, 1985). It was an item in a "Media Watch" column I wrote for the paper.