Archive for the ‘AMERICAN LIFE’ Category

OVERHAUL THE FLAG

After 243 years of American independence, I’ve discovered that it’s time to do away with deceptive symbols representing our nation’s history. The starting point? Overhaul the flag. I have that on good authority.

Ten days ago, Nike withdraw a special July 4th shoe featuring the 13-star Betsy Ross flag after Colin Kaepernick, former 49ers quarterback and current Nike marketing/cultural advisor, called the company out. It seems that white power groups have adopted the Betsy Ross flag, the stars representing the 13 original colonies, all of which permitted slavery.

That got me thinking. Giving up a classic symbol of our struggle for independence represents a small sacrifice to stand against racism (and hopefully, anti-Semitism). Still, I’m puzzled.

Who owns a symbol—or a word? Whites used the N-word do denigrate blacks. Blacks threw it back in their faces—or ears—by appropriating it. “We’ll take the sting out of it by using it ourselves.” The LGBTQ community transformed “queer” from a word expressing deviation and sin into a state of less usual but normal sexual preference. Can’t non-racist Americans take back the Betsy Ross flag?

Some people think not. And I’d hate for anyone to think me insensitive. So I propose we give our flag a makeover.

For starters, we’ll dump those 13 red and white stripes. Like the 13 stars on the Betsy Ross flag, they symbolize the original colonies, which celebrated freedom in 1776 while tolerating—and promoting—slavery. I suggest five stripes. The number’s basic, like the fingers on a hand. But we’ll replace the red—this nation has shed much blood—with green, representing our commitment to the earth. The white stripes? (If you have to ask, no need to finish reading this.) Let’s do purple for purple mountains majesty.

Now the stars. We have 50, one for each current state. But many once were slave states and others also legalized slavery. Those stars are out. Still, racism—and this isn’t just an issue for African Americans—has been endemic in all states. So let’s just display a single star.

But it can’t be five-pointed. That’s what the old stars looked like. Six points? The far right will bellow that it looks like the Star of David symbolizing hated Jews while the far left will associate six points with the flag of hated Israel. (Funny that it works for many police and sheriff’s departments). So, we’ll do a starburst. Gold? Nope. Promotes capitalism. It’ll appear in black, brown, yellow and red representing people of color. Add white? Get real.

Last, the field. Presently, it’s blue. But thinking about America’s near-quarter-millennium of existence makes any virtuous person blue. We’ll go gray. Depressing? Maybe. But gray expresses how so many Americans feel about the U.S.A.—except when our women’s soccer team wins the World Cup.

Let justice reign! Our new flag will boast five stripes—green and purple—plus a gray field with a single starburst representing the ethnicity of what soon will represent half of America’s population.

Then let’s blow up everything else associated with the nation’s history—the Statue of Liberty has to go—and obliterate every shred of its past, because micro-aggressions have no place in our present.

As to the future, damned if I know whether it’ll last another 25 years let alone 250.

Big Truth: New and Collected Stories,  is available at Amazon and bn.com in paper or e-book. Or, ask your favorite bookstore to order a copy. And, please leave a review on either or both sites.

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15 MINUTES OF FAME

In 1968, the artist Andy Warhol wrote, “In the future, everyone will be world famous for fifteen minutes.” Until last Sunday, I found myself fourteen minutes short. So I added a few seconds to my meager sum.

I held a launch party for Big Truth: New and Collected Stories. My guests gathered at Lokma Turkish restaurant in my neighborhood. They found parking! I enjoyed treating them to Turkish appetizers, selling some books and, most of all, reading two very short stories and the beginning of a third. Hear for yourself on YouTube.

Yes, I’d love to top Warhol’s 15 minutes. My book Solo Success: 100 Tips for Becoming a $100,00-a-Year Freelancer sold about 3,300 copies, and I was interviewed for radio and print. I relished the whole process, but as I stood in the national spotlight, it barely flickered.

In truth—a big truth—life owes us nothing. Most of us live in anonymity, although I’m delighted to say that I’ve had a very nice life. So when you have the chance to celebrate something special—something that means a lot to you—you jump on it.

I’ve never been taken with recurring calendar dates. They strike me as artificial. In this regard, I confess to not caring about my approaching birthday. It’s for family and friends to say, “Glad you were born.” The accomplishment belongs to my parents, Morris and Blanche. Another big truth: My mother did the heavy lifting. It’s doing something yourself that calls for a little back patting, even if you risk dislocating your shoulder.

I admit to being picky about celebrations. High school graduation? No biggie. A diploma was an expectation and never in doubt. College? The same, although I confess that my four years as an undergraduate were the worst in my life. The fault was not the school’s—Alfred University in western New York is wonderful—but my own. I had no idea why I was so often miserable and detached. Only later did I understand that I was a fairly extreme—if functional—introvert. It took decades for me to come to grips with, although not perfect, myself. I get by reasonably well now, but I avoid situations I know I’ll find uncomfortable.

Then there was graduation from the Army’s Infantry Officer Candidate School at Fort Benning, Georgia in 1967. OCS was a challenge and thus something to celebrate. Getting my M.A. from St. Mary’s University in San Antonio? I worked for an ad agency days and went to school on the G.I. Bill nights—three courses per semester for two years. No free time. But Carolyn encouraged me. That was worth a little applause.

But I’ll always revel in bringing out a new book. Readers often have no idea about how much effort and psychic pain is involved along with the joy of creating a story. If I flog my books—and ask people to read them—you know why.

Now, I’ll back away from another date with celebrity until my newest novel, almost completed, comes out. I hope it will bring my minutes of fame—among family and friends at least—up to two or even three. I also hope you’ll celebrate yourachievements and the few minutes of fame they’ve earned you.

Big Truth: New and Collected Stories,is available at Amazon and bn.com in paper or e-book. Or, ask your favorite bookstore to order a copy.

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DEATH OF THE DINER

My father Morris would have been 116 today. He’s been gone 36 years. I miss him every day. Now, I’m coping with the loss of something near and dear to both of us. New York’s diners are disappearing.

The New York Times reported (May 24) on “New York’s Vanishing Diners.” Since 2014, fifteen diners have been sold, those who owned their buildings profiting from developers’ visions for their land. Many more lost their leases. This included the Shalimar (I’m near tears as I write) on 63rd Drive in Rego Park (Queens), which closed late last fall. My parents enjoyed several thousand meals and evening desserts there, and my mother Blanche alone many, many more until she died in 1999.

The loss followed the June 2018 closing of Ben’s Best delicatessen on Queens Boulevard, possibly Queens’ last kosher deli. Carolyn and I visited there a year earlier. I used to bring Ben’s knishes home from my solo visits to my mother. We had a family-related connection.

The Shalimar opened in 1974, the year Carolyn and I moved from San Antonio to San Francisco. We and the kids ate there on our visits. After my mother died, we still strolled the old neighborhood (I had to stop just now; I cried), always with brunch/lunch at the Shalimar. Of late, the place was going downhill, but we went for the vibes. The Shalimar often served as a meeting spot for family and friends.

This hurts even more, because I love diners for breakfast, brunch, lunch, dinner, a late-night snack. They’re are for big fressers(eaters). The Shalimar’s menu was vast, the portions huge. The entry showcased Danishes on steroids. As someone who eats kosher-style, I struggle in most restaurants obsessed with drenching every dish in butter, cheese, bacon and/or ham. I thrilled to the Shalimar’s variety of choices.

Being in Rego Park, the Shalimar served lots of Jewish dishes although, like most diners, it was owned by Greeks. In its heyday, you started off with a basket of challah plus pickles and green tomatoes. For brunch, I ordered eggs, onions and lox. A bagel, of course. My mother and I often went for dinner, as well. I had Romanian steak.

Foodies may turn up their noses, but here’s another thing I love about diners—casual democracy. Diners are affordable and without pretense. Everyone’s welcome. You can come in jeans or shorts, sit in a booth—I love booths—and relax. Okay, there’s better food out there, but I’ve never enjoyed any meal more than one I’ve had at a diner.

You can still find “diner-like” places. My favorite is San Francisco’s Town’s End on the Embarcadero, open for breakfast and lunch. The food is far better than the Shalimar’s, and I love going there, but where’s all the neon and chrome? The juke boxes? The waitresses (Denise looked after my mother for years—I’m tearing up again) who ask you about your family and tell you about theirs?

I’ll be 75 in a month. My time is limited. I accept loss. In Manhattan, we’ll stop by the Brooklyn Diner on West 57th. If it remains. Of course, Carolyn and I will go back to Rego Park, but it won’t be the same.

The price for living is mortality. Memories, at least, defy time.

My new book, Big Truth: New and Collected Stories, is available at Amazon and bn.com in paper or e-book. Or, ask your favorite bookstore to order a copy.

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415 MEETS 225

Carolyn, our kids and I spent last weekend in Baton Rouge. Our oldest son, Seth, received his M.S. in Digital Media Art & Engineering from Louisiana State University. A conversation with Seth got me thinking about America’s political divide.

I’ve enjoyed many visits to Louisiana—New Orleans when Yosi lived and performed there (Aaron danced there) and Baton Rouge. Of course, Baton Rouge, area code 225, is quite different from San Francisco, area code 415. 

Baton Rouge gets swampy hot. San Francisco stays foggy cool. Our Mediterranean climate delivers only 23 inches of rain a year. Baton Rouge, drenched by Gulf of Mexico storms, piles up 63 inches. Storms rerouted our Baton Rouge-bound flights to New Orleans.

There are people differences. Folks in Baton Rouge are publicly friendlier. I experienced this southern trait when I lived in not-southern Texas. I offer two reasons: Baton Rouge’s laid-back, small-town/suburban lifestyle contrasts with San Francisco’s urban hustle and bustle (which still falls far short of New York’s). Also, politeness is critical to a society where, historically, small affronts often garnered violent reactions based on a culture valuing honor and taking umbrage at insult. Oh yes, food and music preferences also vary a bit.

State histories certainly diverge. Louisiana was a slave state, part of the Confederacy. Californian, a free state, remained in the Union. Louisiana maintained Jim Crow segregation until federal legislation brought changes. California hid—though not always—much of its racism. And yes, racism remains in both states.

Politically, Louisiana is far more conservative. Donald Trump won 58 percent of Louisiana’s 2016 presidential vote. Hillary Clinton won California with almost 62 percent. For many San Franciscans, a wall exists between the City by the Bay and the Louisiana capital on the banks of Ol’ Man River. I imagine many people in Baton Rouge see the same wall—but from the other side.

Still, I’ve met lots of nice people in Baton Rouge. Some might be more distant in less-public situations but hardly all. The warmth—I’m not talking weather—is human. Last Saturday morning, almost a thousand families gathered for the Engineering College’s graduation at the Pete Maravich Assembly Center (named for the LSU basketball great). They came together as we did when Aaron received his B.A. from St. Mary’s College in Moraga across San Francisco Bay. Carolyn and the mom next to her discussed “Game of Thrones.”

Proud and excited, we cheered our graduates—and everyone else’s. These LSU grads represented a diverse student body coming from across the nation and 35 countries. Heavily white to be sure, they were also substantially African American, Latino, Asian and, particularly in petroleum engineering, Middle Eastern.

The tag to my commencement address: Cultural and political differences do exist in America. They always have. But we must never blind ourselves to our similarities. The bonds we share as Americans—as people—may be frayed, but they’re still valid and important. I suspect that among many people across regions, they’re still strong. 

What to do? We can yield to the pessimists—posing as realists—on both the right and left, and build ever-higher walls. Self-righteousness can separate our 415s from our 225s. But we’ll have to shoulder the blame when those walls topple and bury the American Dream to which we only paid lip service.

You’re invited to my party launching Big Truth: New and Collected Stories—Sunday, June 9, 3:30–5 pm at Lokma Turkish restaurant, 1801 Clement Street at 19th Avenue, San Francisco. Yes, you can buy a copy, which I’ll autograph. RSVP with number in party: dhperl@yahoo.com.

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POWAY AND MINDSET

Disturbing acts of violence have occurred in the United States over the past several years. Some may not have been preventable. Others might not have happened had the nation a different mindset.

Two weeks ago, I wrote about the far-right Anne Coulter’s 2007 remark that Jews were imperfect and should be Christians. I commented that Christians had the right to their beliefs about who gets into heaven—but none to condemn Jews, Muslims and others to hell. This guideline—a delicate balance to be sure—establishes a mindset that people don’t seek to impose their views on others no matter how seriously those views are held.

Many Americans cross that line. Sadly—dangerously—this has become more permissible since Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and victory. To the chagrin of many conservatives who supported him despite his repulsive comments, those comments haven’t ceased.

A week ago, Trump defended his 2017 remarks about “fine people” on both sides of the Unite the Right white-power, anti-Semitic demonstrations in Charlottesville, Virginia. “I was talking about people who went because they felt very strongly about the monument to Robert E. Lee, a great general.” 

Trump can’t understand—or refuses to acknowledge—that Confederate statues and symbols representing “the Southern way of life” aren’t about mint juleps and men removing their hats before ladies—or generalship. The Confederacy rebelled to maintain an economy dependent on slavery. Following the demise of Reconstruction, those symbols stood for denying African-Americans their civil rights.

Last weekend, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders stated that Trump had condemned all forms of racism and anti-Semitism, and would use his bully pulpit (a term coined by Theodore Roosevelt) to continue doing so. But Trump uses his “pulpit” only to bully. His campaign made dog whistlinga well-known term for sending subtle signals that racism is okay. Other signals were overt, denigrating Muslims, Mexicans and people from “shithole” countries.

The Supreme Court soon will render a decision on whether LGBTQ people can be discriminated against. Many conservatives cite the book of Leviticus forbidding men to have sex with men (it says nothing about women having sex together), and men not wearing women’s clothes and vice-versa. I revere the Torah. But I reject those verses in our 21st-century world. I have a trans son and a gay son in addition to a straight son. They’re all wonderful. It’s just plain wrong to deny two of my kids equal rights. Witness the Trump administration denying trans men and women the opportunity to serve in our military. Yet unlike Trump, many have.

A week ago, a Christian anti-Semite used a military-style weapon to kill one and injure three Passover worshippers at Chabad of Poway, northeast of San Diego. This, six months after eleven Jews were murdered at Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue. Recently, a young white man burned down three black churches in Louisiana. Note: Last Saturday, white nationalists—First Amendment supporters, I’m sure—disturbed a talk at a Washington, D.C. book store.   

Terrible events aren’t foreordained. The White House, however, encourages hateful individuals and groups by continuing to dog-whistle racist and anti-Muslim sentiments for political purposes. Mindset matters. It’s time Trump stretched his mind to understand the license he gives to haters and be held accountable if he doesn’t.

The post will take off next weekend and return on May 17.

You’re invited to my party launching Big Truth: New and Collected Stories—Sunday, June 9, 3:30–5 pm at Lokma Turkish restaurant, 1801 Clement Street at 19th Avenue, San Francisco. Yes, you can buy a copy, which I’ll autograph. RSVP with number in party: dhperl@yahoo.com.

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PASSOVER AND PARADOX

Tonight, Jews observe the first night of Passover. Sunday, Christians celebrate Western Easter. Christians will declare, “He is risen.” For a week, Jews will forego eating anything risen—bread, bagels, cake. Calls will go out to unify Jews and Christians by following the commandment in Leviticus to love thy neighbor. There’s a paradox here. 

Linked as two of the three Abrahamic faiths, Christianity and Judaism hold different theologies. Christians hail Jesus as the Messiah—the anointed one—who rose from the dead after being crucified by the Romans (or, as some Christians have it, the Jews). To Jews, Jesus was a fellow Jew, perhaps in the mold of the prophets. Christianity views Jesus as humanity’s savior from original sin. Judaism believes sin not to be inherent—humans possess good and evil inclinations, and must make choices. 

There’s nothing wrong with having different beliefs. History hasn’t always agreed. I write in God’s Others: Non-Israelites’ Encounters With God in the Hebrew Bible, that Christianity saw itself as the universalistic religion of a particularistic God. Universalistic: the only true religion. Souls could be saved only by accepting Jesus. Particularistic: God will damn nonbelievers to hellfire. Not all Christians still believe this. Many do. 

Judaism is the particularistic religion of a universalistic God. Particularistic: Only must follow the Torah’s commandments. Universalistic: God created us all. Monotheists who follow a few basic universal moral principles will share the World to Come—whatever it is—equally with Jews. 

Condemning Jews as Christ-killers, the early Christian West decided to let Jews live to endure exile and whatever punishments Christendom chose to inflict. The infamous blood libel arose: Jews mix Christian children’s blood into their Passover matzahs. This despite the Torah’s strict prohibition against consuming blood. What resulted? Read James Carroll’s frightening Constantine’s Sword.

Has America outgrown historic Christian animus towards Jews? Many millions of Americans embrace Jews as fellow citizens. But we’re hardly there. Witness, among others, Charlottesville and Pittsburgh. Anti-Semitism rears its head in such statements as those by the arch-conservative Ann Coulter. In 2007, she told Jewish talk show host Donny Deutsch, “We just want Jews to be perfected.” Deutsch asked if all Americans should be Christian. Coulter answered, “Yes.” 

Paradoxes also abound within Judaism. In the Diaspora, we conclude our Seder (home dinner service) with “Next Year in Jerusalem.” On May 9th, Israel celebrates its 71st anniversary, but as many Jews live outside Israel as in. “Next Year in Jerusalem” may now represent a yearning not to return to the land—beyond visits—but to Judaism and its values. For decades, North American synagogue involvement has declined among non-Orthodox Jews. 

Paradoxes abound within Israel. From bondage in Egypt through the monarchies of Saul, David and Solomon, Israel consisted of 12 confederated then united tribes. Modern Israel is home to at least as many political parties, and the Jewish world to many more religious and cultural streams and sub-streams. In effect, we’re still wandering in a wilderness, this one consisting of questions: How do we gain peace and security? Achieve unity while respecting diversity? Survive a seductive secular culture?

From my perspective, paradoxes cast a shadow of uneasiness over Passover and Easter. Yet what better time to recommit to respecting the integrity of every human being.

To all observing Passover, Chag Sameach (Happy Holiday). To all celebrating Easter, may you find renewed joy and love. To everyone: Peace be upon you.

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UNTRUTHS VS. LIES

Social scientist Arthur Brooks, president of the American Enterprise Institute, recently appeared on NPR’s “Morning Edition” to present strategies for speaking to people with different opinions. What he didn’t say also offers much to think about.

Promoting his new book, Love Your Enemies: How Decent People Can Save America from the Culture of Contempt, Brooks advised, “When you’re talking to somebody else, you’re not positioned to say that that person is a pathological liar. What you know, or what you believe, is that person is saying something untrue—and that’s what you should take on.”

In forsaking personal attacks, Brooks cited NYU’s Jonathan Haidt on two values that might draw us closer together: compassion and fairness.“We don’t define those things in the same way,” Brooks warned, “but we care about those things.” Brooks also acknowledged that conservatives and liberals have different moral foundations. His endgame regarding discussing—and arguing: Listen to the other person then let compassion and fairness perhaps lead to common ground.

It’s important to listen to those with whom we disagree and acknowledge what they’re saying. Of course, listening doesn’t mean agreeing. But it can reduce some of the pent-up rage in the other person, who may see you as foolish, unpatriotic, maybe evil. Letting someone else get their words out—even vitriolic words—can be like releasing air from a balloon inflated to the point of bursting. Also, the active listener becomes better informed about the opposing position. You can’t advance your own position without a clear sense of what another believes and on what values they draw their position.

So you listen. You acknowledge. But still, things often get sticky. What happens when the other guy distorts or ignores provable facts, or proposes non-facts? Can you use the “L” word? 

Granted, your opponent may simply be misinformed and utter an untruth. That’s easy enough to do. How many times has any of us mentioned a movie with an actor who never appeared in it or a sports statistic we didn’t get right? Some people—some—will acknowledge an untruth when it’s pointed out. Facts often can easily be arrived at. A smart phone makes a great starting point.

But your opponent—or someone she supports—may, yes, lie. The difference? An untruth represents a lack of knowledge through error or ignorance. No harm may be intended. A lie involves deliberation, falsifying fact and truth, usually to seek some advantage. 

Liars, knowing they haven’t an objective leg to stand on, often fall back on a murky right to their own alternate reality. The crowd at your inauguration was the largest ever or the Mueller Report completely exonerated you as long as you believe it. Fact loses any relationship to demonstrable reality. George Orwell presented an authoritarian government’s concept of fact and truth in his classic novel 1984: Black is white and white is black.

Re Brooks, can you really love your enemies when they scorn reality and objective truth? Of course, using enemy to describe those with whom we disagree creates a toxic political climate preventing reasonable solutions. At the same time, enemy may be an apt term for those who deny facts. We can love them only if we’re hellbent on committing physical or national suicide.

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LARRY

I lost my friend Larry Raphael last Sunday. I’m writing about Larry because he deserves it—and I need to.

Larry became Congregation Sherith Israel’s senior rabbi in July 2003 after three decades at Hebrew Union College in New York. It was his first pulpit. He was ready. A dedicated and accomplished teacher, Larry immediately led Torah Study Saturday mornings before services. Several friends and I were regulars. We loved it. A bond formed. After a while, Larry asked me to lead the group when he had to be away. I was honored.

Larry taught evening courses about various subjects. The classes were great, including those on one of his passions, Jewish mystery and detective stories. He’d edited two volumes. Larry never displayed an ego and encouraged everyone’s opinions. 

Occasionally, Larry joined some of us for dinner before class or for lunch after teaching Talmud downtown—another great success. Discussions covered many topics, including baseball—another passion (he also loved photography). The two of us started going to lunch and did so monthly after he retired in 2016. Occasionally, we’d go to a Giants game. When he left his seat, I filled in his scorecard. 

Larry was a private person and I’m an introvert, but we shared stories—he loved stories—about our families, congregations he served part-time in retirement, my writing. He related travels in Europe, Israel and Guatemala, as well as living in Brooklyn—we had a mutual friend there—and growing up in Los Angeles. I detailed growing up in Queens, army service, Texas, travels in Europe and Asia, and caught him up on Carolyn and our kids.

Larry wrote a column for the Sherith Israel newsletter, which I co-edited. When he was busy, including fundraising for our successful $16 million seismic retrofit, I’d suggest ideas and write first drafts. “I couldn’t have written it better myself,” he’d say. “But you did,” I’d answer. “I’m only channeling you since you taught this idea and we talked about it.” Larry’s trust meant so much to me.

At my request, Larry wrote a blurb for the cover of my 2009 book, God’s Others: Non-Israelites’ Encounters With God in the Hebrew Bible. I’m not a rabbi or academic, but Larry read some of the manuscript and responded, “Great. What would you like me to say?” 

Let me get one thing straight. Although soft-spoken, Larry was nobody’s fool. He could get angry with those who acted badly. But he was incredibly welcoming to everyone who came to Sherith Israel and people he met elsewhere. He also was a wizard at remembering names. (I’m terrible at it.) He could have created a memory act for Las Vegas. 

Larry spent most of the last three-plus months in the hospital and rehab facilities, so we chatted periodically on the phone. He gave me some details on his illness, but I emphasized my calls as “Hi, we’re all thinking of you” moments. We hoped to have one last get-together. It didn’t work out. 

I don’t regret not having a final in-person goodbye. The end of a life doesn’t define a person or a friendship. What counts is all that takes place in the years before. Larry inspired so many students—rabbinical and lay—congregants, more than 50 converts, and me. His memory is a blessing. 

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CRAFT

Last Monday, Carolyn was in Hollywood shooting a scene for a TV show running on CBS. I can’t reveal which until before it airs, but I can say that her comments got me thinking about the little things—the mastery of craft—required of us all.

This was not Carolyn’s first rodeo. She’s appeared on “Chuck” (ABC), “Grey’s Anatomy” (ABC), “Chance” opposite Hugh Laurie (Hulu) and other shows and films. Doing so, Carolyn’s learned a lot about the special skills the camera demands.

For example, actors must hit their marks—taped spots on the floor putting them in proper position relative to other actors, the camera and lights. There’s also eyeline. When a scene is shot from multiple angles, actors must look at the same person or object in the same way for the sake of continuity. 

Carolyn’s also aware of a tip I read from the great actor Michael Caine. In a two-shot (two actors on camera), look at your opposite’s eye nearest the camera to keep your face from being hidden while not distorting the shot.

One more tip—and a key one: Be polite. Carolyn’s worked with accomplished actors who, along with the rest of the cast and crew, have been unfailingly gracious. TV/film production is arduous. The set is no place for egos to run amok.

What does this teach us? Without devotion to craft—the small stuff too easily ignored—there is no art. An actor brings to life—fleshes out—a character other artists—writers—create. The art involves going deep inside and finding the soul of that character. But it’s also critical to hit your mark, maintain your eyeline and work seamlessly with others to make art—and commerce—happen.

I’ve seen sad results when people enamored with their “art,” whatever it may be, fail to master their craft. During my long career as a freelance copywriter, my “art” (though it wasn’t art but rather a business communication skill set) was concepting and writing print, radio and TV commercials along with other media. My craft involved such mundane attributes as listening to my clients, respecting their authority if we disagreed and assuring that copy was concise, well written and, yes, correctly spelled. 

Because I ran my own business, my craft also included sending invoices in a timely matter, following up to be sure I received payments on time, setting aside funds for taxes and maintaining client relationships. To accomplish the latter, I promoted a simple selling point not so easily achieved by many: On target, on time, on budget.

I’m often amazed that many artists—or those who wish to be—want to live the artist’s life— whatever that is—but not practice the artist’s craft and the discipline it involves. As for me, I’m currently half-way through draft 3 of my new novel, editing and polishing every day, having received valuable feedback on draft 2b from nine readers. In a few weeks, my writing coach/editor Tom Parker will read and comment on it so I can produce a final draft 4.

If more people paid attention to the small things—not only in art but in life, every facet of which requires a mastery of craft—we might spend less time sweating so much of the big stuff.

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LAURA AND DUKE—A HATE STORY

America generally accepted racism in 1871, even though the Civil War had ended six years earlier. A century later, bigotry stood officially condemned. Yet prejudice had its champions. Today, those champions have champions. 

On Laura Ingraham’s February 20 Fox News show, author/journalist Raymond Arroyo rebutted the furor resulting from the resurfacing of a 1971 Playboy interview with John Wayne. The Hollywood legend friends called Duke told Playboy, “I believe in white supremacy until the blacks are educated to a point of responsibility.” 

Arroyo claimed that Wayne shouldn’t be judged by today’s standards. Ingraham agreed and likened protestors to the Taliban and ISIS, who “don’t want any vestige of what was.” 

So, what “was” in 1971? Congress had passed the Civil Rights Act seven years earlier. Although millions of whites fought desegregation and equal rights, America officially took a new stance towards racial equality. It was inevitable. In 1954, the Supreme Court ruled against the concept of separate but equal schools. In 1948, President Harry Truman desegregated the armed forces. Before and after that decision, thousands of black Americans died for our country. Theircountry. 

Educated and responsible citizens? In the ’60s, I viewed my fraternity brothers Paul and Bob, my officer candidate school buddies Kent and Cliff, and L.M., starting center on the Fort Sam Houston post basketball team I coached for two seasons, as more than well-educated to the point of responsibility. Exemplary African Americans? No. Exemplary men.

Duke Wayne’s comments become more reprehensible because he stood as a symbol of American manhood. The symbol was false. His real name? Marion Morrison—although that’s not an issue. Until about the time of Wayne’s comments, Hollywood required actors to adopt short, Anglo-Saxon sounding screen names. These often mollified moviegoers uncomfortable with seeing “foreigners” on the silver screen. (Blacks played maids and train porters, Asians maids and gardeners.) Tinseltown disguised Jewish stars like Paul Muni (Frederich Weisenfruend), Kirk Douglas (Issur Danielovitch), Lauren Bacall (Betty Perske) and Judy Holliday (Judith Tuvim).

Wayne’s heroism? Celluloid myth. He played courageous cowboys and World War Two servicemenas an actor. During the war, the military rejected him because of his age and status as a father. To Wayne’s credit, that dissatisfied him. He made USO tours and visited wounded veterans in hospitals—worthy endeavors but hardly on a par with those who endured combat.

In the post-war years Wayne, a conservative, vociferously supported the red-hunting House Un-American Activities Committee. HUAC blacklisted many Hollywood actors, writers, directors and others for liberal and/or communist sympathies during the Depression years. It destroyed careers, damaged lives. 

Laura Ingraham’s giving a pass to John Wayne’s racist views helps maintain an environment of hatred that over the past three years has crawled out from the shadows. Recently, an Alabama newspaper editor called on the Ku Kux Klan “to night ride again.” And federal agents in Maryland arrested a white-supremacist Coast Guard officer with a large arsenal of weapons. They accused him of plotting to kill Democratic members of Congress, television journalists and others. 

Should today’s racists be exonerated because their views reflect those of a supposedly cherished—and deeply flawed—past? Should their views be accepted because they match those espoused by a current self-proclaimed hero who also never served in the military? The Laura-Duke hate story deserves no love.

For a detailed look at Washington’s Hollywood purges, read Victor Navasky’s 1980 National Book Award winner, Naming Names.

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