Archive for February, 2013

BUDDY

Something odd is going on in San Francisco. The vast majority of upwardly mobile young parents seem to have given their sons the same name. It’s spooky.

With all the names available—from Adam, Bob and Charles to Xavier, Yoel and Zachary—almost every small boy answers to Buddy. I first thought parents were honoring old-time celebrities. There’s the drummer Buddy Rich. The guitarist/singer Buddy Guy. The rocker Buddy Holly. The comic Buddy Hackett. TV’s Buddy Ebsen (“Davy Crockett” and “The Beverly Hillbillies.”) Maybe they remember the character Buddy Sorrell (Morey Amsterdam) on the old “Dick Van Dyke Show.” Or even the former big-league shortstop and manager, Bud Harrelson.

But I fear something darker is happening. These parents want to be their children’s friends.

The problem? A toddler can’t reach maturity without adhering to nature’s demanding physical, mental and emotional schedule. (Except for the kid on the E*Trade TV commercials.) So I suspect that these young dads and moms, choosing to be as much peer as parent, are clinging to their own childhoods.

Americans love youth and disdain “old age.” In the ‘60’s, Baby Boomers’ proclaimed, “Don’t trust anyone over thirty.” Many hyped living fast and dying young (although not in Vietnam). Now, they’ve reached or are nearing eligibility for Medicare and Social Security. Yet they still think they’re relevant.

And they are! People have something to contribute at every age. Each stage of life brings new knowledge and perspective. Parenthood doesn’t disqualify someone from being in touch with all that’s right and good. And the age of grandparenthood provides additional perspective. We rightly take with a grain of salt the supposed innocence of children, the rebellious wisdom displayed by adolescents and the smug youthfulness of twenty-somethings clinging to high school or college memories. We know human nature for what it is. We know, too, that we never stop learning and growing—as long as we’re willing.

So my advice to upscale new parents is: Honor childhood, but be every bit the adult. Fulfill your role as protector, teacher and guide.

That’s not to say that parents can’t and shouldn’t have fun with their children and even rediscover the delights of their own childhood through them. But our children don’t need our friendship. They have their own friends. Teens in particular make this abundantly clear. What they need from us is role modeling along with the creation and honoring of positive family histories and relationships—a sense of emotional connection.

Given all the nicknames I had and still have for my three kids, Buddy has never been one. As for me, I’m Dad, never David. I’ve taken pride in that title and the responsibility it entails for going on thirty-seven years.

True, I won’t find the Fountain of Youth. Then again, I’m not looking. But a little bit of eternity lies within my grasp. Like my own parents, I believe that my willingness to be the adult in the room will enable me to live on in my children’s memories long after I’m gone.

Responding is simple. Click on “comments” above then go to the bottom of the article.

Read the first three chapters of David’s new novel, SAN CAFÉ at davidperlstein.com. SAN CAFÉ is available at iUniverse.com, Amazon.com and bn.com.

A POST ABOUT NOTHING

The TV classic “Seinfeld” (1990-98) supposedly was a show about nothing. But nothing could be further from the truth. Which links “Seinfeld” to Pope Benedict’s resignation and Presidents’ Day, which seem to be something but are really about nothing. And thus something.

Take your average TV show. It’s about something. Cops and criminals, threats to national security and screwball families come to mind. But most shows offer formula scripts loaded with gratuitous violence, sex and jokes on a fifth-grade-level. (My sense of humor functions at least two grades higher.) So they’re really about nothing.

“Seinfeld,” a show about nothing, definitely was about something. Jerry, George, Elaine and Kramer confronted the small realities of life. This struck a chord throughout the country because few of us experience daily shootouts and explosions or run into an unending stream of incredible sex partners. In our mundane lives, small events come up big—a kind word or a cutting one, an invitation to lunch or a freeze-out, a fresh chocolate-chip cookie or a stale one slipped into the takeout bag while we weren’t looking. These can trigger a variety of emotions, which color our sense of reality and stability.

Pope Benedict’s resignation was rather uncommon. Celestine V stepped down in 1294, Gregory XII in 1415. But it’s really about nothing, because that’s the gist of the question Benedict has raised. What do we do when we can’t—or shouldn’t—continue working? I think of Hamlet’s “To be or not to be?” Hamlet asks whether he should live, not how. Benedict—no suicide for Catholics, of course—turns that around.

Benedict, soon to be “hidden to the world” in a convent inside Vatican City, likely will read if he can. Possibly write if allowed—and his health and mental acuity permit. Doubtless he will occupy most of time doing “nothing”— occasionally chatting with friends but mostly praying and spending hours in silent contemplation. Just being.

Europeans tend to be more adept at doing “nothing” than Americans in spite of the crowds at Starbucks. We define ourselves by our work. That’s why I advise anyone contemplating retirement to retire to something rather than from something. But it’s also important to welcome time spent doing “nothing”—taking a walk, sitting in the sun, reading (which is also very much something) and learning to be with ourselves. “Nothing” gives us lots to think about.

Which brings me to Presidents’ Day. Washington and Lincoln demand study and contemplation. But Americans have turned their memories into yet another three-day weekend replete with blowout sales, closed government offices and empty classrooms. Like the ancient Romans, we demand bread and circuses. So Martin Luther King Day offers a heavy schedule for the National Basketball Association. Memorial Day and Labor Day bookend summer barbecue season anchored by July Fourth. Thanksgiving rolls into Black Friday and the Christmas retail season. With consummate ease, we turn something into nothing.

“Seinfeld,” Pope Benedict and Presidents’ Day. Three peas in a pod. Or, from another point of view, the elements required to write a post about nothing. Which adds up to, I maintain, a whole lot of something.

Responding is simple. Click on “comments” above then go to the bottom of the article.

Read the first three chapters of David’s new novel, SAN CAFÉ at davidperlstein.com. SAN CAFÉ is available at iUniverse.com, Amazon.com and bn.com.

THE BEYONCÉ FACTOR

Posted Feb 8 2013 by with 3 Comments

The superstar singer Beyoncé is popping up everywhere. She sang (okay, lip-synced) at President Obama’s inaugural. She starred in the halftime show at last Sunday’s Super Bowl. And she is mentioned and seen but not given thoughts or dialog—in Ben Fountain’s novel, Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk, a National Book Award finalist. That’s something to think about.

In an interview, Beyoncé once stated that her sexy performance character (seasoned by girlfriend-sister smiles) isn’t her. She sells an image. Like an actress who plays Lady Macbeth but who may be a tenderhearted polar opposite. Or a raunchy comedian who may be good-natured and mild-mannered offstage.

As a novelist, I get it. My characters reflect diverse aspects of human nature, not necessarily me. I’m not as greedy as Sheik Yusuf and the Ambassador in Slick! Nor as egocentric as Jesús Garcia-Vega and Adella Rozen in San Café. (Not that that’s saying all that much for me.) The Beyoncé factor—the adoption of a persona to meet specific objectives—comes into play.

Alas, Americans—as the rest of the world, because this is a human phenomenon—tend to mash up reality and fantasy. Politicians, artists, CEOs, athletes—anyone in the spotlight—profess the highest ideals then mock them by word and deed.

Mass shootings take place with horrible regularity? Let’s arm ourselves to the teeth—no weapon left behind. Abortions kill the innocent? Let’s kill people who perform them and muzzle those who counsel women to make their own decisions. Democracy’s threatened overseas? Let’s send American military forces anywhere, anytime—multiple deployments are just a fact of life—and run the table on our national budget. Congress is deadlocked? Let’s keep poor and minority Americans away from the polls. They vote for the wrong candidates.

As to Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk: The Army brings home from Iraq the survivors of a heroic squad. They engage in a two-week tour of the U.S. to be lauded and applauded. And raise support for the war. The tour concludes—and this constitutes the novel’s setting and time frame—at the Dallas Cowboys’ old Texas Stadium for a Thanksgiving Day game against the Chicago Bears.

Admiration drenches the squad like the sleet penetrating the opening in the stadium’s roof. Team officials, their guests and fans continually ask, “We’re winning, aren’t we?” But these young kids—their squad leader is twenty-two—have no strategic view. All they know is blood, death and lingering fear. They’re being sent back to Iraq.

Beyoncé’s appearance represents a cultural reference as do the Barbie Doll-style Cowboys cheerleaders—controlled sexual imagery in a repressed, evangelical milieu. Fountain peels away the Beyoncé factor from the big shots and ordinary folks surrounding his confused protagonists, unmasking the pretensions with which we seek to disguise ourselves.

Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk is serious stuff. That’s why Pleasant utilizes satire loaded with humor. And doubtless why he includes references to Beyoncé—whoever she may be.

Responding is simple. Click on “comments” above then go to the bottom of the article.

Read the first three chapters of David’s new novel, SAN CAFÉ at davidperlstein.com. SAN CAFÉ is available at iUniverse.com, Amazon.com and bn.com.

MAKEOVER 101

Republicans are upset. Speaker of the House John Boehner proclaimed that President Obama is out to destroy the GOP. But the GOP’s wounds seem self-inflicted. As Robert Bennett, chairman of the Ohio Republican Party, recently declared, “We need to understand that we can’t come off as a bunch of angry white men.” All it takes is a little makeover.

As a former advertising guy, I believe that Republicans can deliver their core messages without making Americans wonder if the party is a few pinto beans short of a full burrito. Because it’s not just what you say. It’s how you say it.

Abortion: Forget baby killers. This is an economic issue. The more children born in America, the more legal workers we’ll have to pay for entitlements.

Entitlements: American workers have a great opportunity to boost the economy rather than hobble it. All they need do is switch to privatized health care and retirement benefits. This will enable corporate CEOs and wizards of Wall Street—our job creators—to employ more nannies, cooks, chauffeurs and personal trainers, thus lowering unemployment.

Unemployment: Americans aren’t lazy. They’ve regrettably been disconnected from nature. The solution? Move people out of dangerous ghettos and barrios into the countryside for fresh air and healthful exercise picking America’s bounty of fruits and vegetables. This will force illegal aliens to flee and terminate our immigration problem.

Immigration: Folks who cross our borders without documentation are good people. Each is a potential ambassador who, upon being sent home—unless a proposed path to citizenship passes Congress—will spread the good word about American free enterprise. So much the better if they take their guns with them to display as tokens of our democracy and the rich culture it supports.

Gun control: Firearms (“guns” is a negative term) constitute more than a right. Firearms enable a citizen defense force (“militia” is a negative term) instantly ready to repel Al Qaeda or the Taliban—not to mention the Chinese and the United Nations. Let hostile forces attempt marine landings in Maine, Miami, Mobile or Malibu (San Francisco’s out—water’s way too cold). Or airborne assaults on Altoona, Atlanta, Abilene or Albuquerque. Americans will handle it. We have to. It takes minutes to scramble American fighter jets over Milwaukee and hours to move rapid-reaction ground forces to Austin. By then aggressors could be eating our double-bacon-double-cheeseburgers and chili fries for lunch.

Gay marriage: Every American is precious. But let’s not forget that the American family—Dad, Mom, Junior and Janie Sue—built this country. They also need our love and protection—which they didn’t get in Newtown, Connecticut because the local school board was too pansy-pink-liberal to put not just one but two armed cops in each school with a SWAT team on alert from dawn to dusk each school day. No, the people of Newtown cared more about visiting Planned Parenthood, maxing out their Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security benefits, collecting welfare checks and coddling illegal aliens.

Whoa! Putting a happy face on the GOP might be a struggle after all. But still, it’s possible. Like calling cyanide coated in chocolate a gourmet candy—as long as we keep the Food and Drug Administration out of Americans’ business and let the marketplace decide.

Responding is simple. Click on “comments” above then go to the bottom of the article.

Read the first three chapters of David’s new novel, SAN CAFÉ at davidperlstein.com. SAN CAFÉ is available at iUniverse.com, Amazon.com and bn.com.