Louis Proyect: The Unrepentant Marxist

August 17, 2014

Jack and the Timestalk

Filed under: humor,Jeffrey Marlin,literature — louisproyect @ 6:34 pm

Jack and the Timestalk

(This is the second in a series of guest posts from Jeffrey Marlin whose e-books, including this one are available from Amazon.com. )

This challenging version of Jack and the Beanstalk takes a critical look at finance capitalism, imperial politics, state religion, sadism as statecraft, the nature of time, and related lesser themes. Like all timeless stories, it has its beginnings in common human flaws. Chapter One plunges us directly into the vortex when Jack’s desperately poor, deeply traumatized household finds itself laid lower still by another disabling shock.

Jack found Mother digging Father’s grave.

She worked at the end of a vegetable garden that yielded no better than ragweed and clover. Her skeletal frame was as spare as the spade that was blunted by use and of meager assistance. The strings of her hair fluttered stiff in the atmosphere, every one stubborn and strange to its sisters.

“I saw Father die,” Jack informed her politely.

She turned at the sound but displayed no excitement. Her small emerald eyes were decidedly dry as her love for her husband, once slight, had expired. What troubled her now was the difficult duty that loomed on the edge of a ruined horizon.

She wiped at her brow with a sleeve gone to tatters.

“Child, have you witnessed him brained by Matilda?”

“I slept in rickety lap of the hayloft, distaining my chores at the side of the highway.”

He should have been roaming the much traveled thoroughfares searching for soot-covered fragments of anthracite fallen like pebbles from coal-traders’ wagons. He knew he’d no business refreshing himself in the cool of the tumbledown barn in the morning.

“And then?” she persisted, a note of severity clearly intended but widely eluding her.

“Pa wandered in with his milk pail a’ clanging. He settled his stool by the unwilling animal. Touching his hand to her ulcerate udder incited a sudden, unfeigned indignation. She groaned her annoyance and eyed him maliciously. Father assaulted the desiccate organ. The twitch of a tendon and swishing of tail posted eloquent notice to ‘Tilda’s intention. He tilted his brow in the lethal direction. Her hoof found a wing and his braincase exploded, unleashing the sound of the late summer thunder. And rather than linger to rescue survivors, I fled in the sweat of my fear and my triumph.”

“I casted all blame on the cow,” mused his mother. “But she was his instrument, utterly innocent.”

Jack was relieved by so mild a reply, for while hiding all day in a ditch in a cornfield he’d feared an inquisitive light in her eye and a volley of questions requiring answers: Did you not warn the old man of his peril? Or stop for an instant to mend up the fracture?Or cry for a parent to join you in mourning?

He’d also considered the life soon to follow. The issue outstanding was whether his mother would man the tradition her husband invented, the sting of the wand in reply to transgressions defined to encompass the measliest error.

The day of her watching from doorways was over.

She must do the wickedest business herself or submit to the rule of maternal emotions – foregoing the branch and accepting the worst of Jack’s endlessly impish, nay roguish, behavior.

The boy had no means of predicting her thinking. So, watching her wrestling spadesful of garden, he tested her gumption and probed her position by pressing the following order of inquiry: “May we not slaughter Matilda for eating?”

“She carries no fat or respectable sinew.”

“What of the marrow alive in her femurs with plenty of oil for the frying of supper? Boil up her hide for a snack in the winter – when edible weeds become scarcer and tougher!”

Mother sighed deeply and Jack knew the reason. They needed the pennies Matilda might bring them. Father stole bravely but had not the gift for it; often was caught and then savagely punished, accounting for tendencies vented on family.

Absent the fruits of his nominal larcenies, what would they live on and how to procure it?

Better to barter what piffle they could for an ill-tempered creature a decade past milking. (Though hitched to a plow she might grudgingly pull it.) The beast wasn’t even a little beloved – except by the master whose skull she’d dismantled. He’d he kept her around as a breathing reminder of better days gone and a hopeful tomorrow.

Jack let the subject of butchery fizzle.

Mother ground acorns and served them with sparrow.

Then, before sleeping, she tested her conscience confronting her stark, unavoidable choices. Not overly backboned she’d come to admire her husband’s commitment to corporal discipline. Nevertheless she collapsed into weeping as Jack cried to Heaven protesting his whippings.

Now she was caught by the fork of dilemma. Surrender her duty or pick up the willow? She stiffened her spine in the midst of her sorrow.

She vowed that tomorrow would pay for today and let Jack once abandon the courteous pathway and vex her again with impertinent questions, she’d stand to her task with a gritty persistence, as Father would do, although anguish engorge her.

A shiver of unexpressed anger tormented her; forced her to think how the man had abandoned her. Longed she to rise from the grave of her bed and make straight for that bovadine venue of slaughter.

She yearned to bestraddle the stool of Matilda expanding her nostrils to smell her own dying. She’d rise from this prison of bone and resentment and bend an ephemeral head looking downward to glimpse all her misery cracked like an eggshell.

Then search out her husband now blistered in Hell and in penitent dread of her vengeful arrival.

But here was the turbulent boy to look after; a millstone to drag through her burdensome labors. So flowed the gist of abrasive reflections which bled into dreams as her husband pursued her with fiery torch never giving her respite before she awoke to the pain of the morning.

She gathered up weeds from the cornfields adjacent.

These had been theirs until stolen at auction – required by law for repayment of losses. She mashed the leaves thoroughly, seasoned them sparingly, summoned her son from his desolate bed to imbibe her instructions along with his breakfast:

“All hope for tomorrow resides in your person.

“Now lead old Matilda to sale at the market.

“Insist on the price nor surrender a penny as long as the bubbling sulfur keeps rising. Relent as it slowly subsides to the West and its sinister shadow grows longer and darker.

“Accept what you must should she garner no offers as farmers pass by and no bidders step forward and all appear lost and the moon mock our losses come end of the reddening day.”

“Mother, I beg thee let’s slaughter the monster, a mooing accomplice to murderous suicide, presently toasting her skull and her femurs and rendering each for the sumptuous marrow.”

“Wherefore the coal or the requisite firewood? How shall we gather up fuel for the roasting?”

“Give me the morning to steal what I’m able.

“Otherwise break up the barn and we’ll burn it.

“Relinquish my father’s delusional thinking that we will be farmers and prosper tomorrow. No longer a jade to his merciless ways and his many abusive, disquieting habits, abandon the ghost of that shit-bestained man and his vilely degenerate use of the willow.”

Try as she might she could hardly deny that he’d tested her well past the point of postponement. Hand over heart, with a groan in her throat, she directed the impudent boy to bend over.

 

August 7, 2014

The Three Wicked Pigs

Filed under: humor,Jeffrey Marlin,literature — louisproyect @ 3:23 pm

Jeffrey Marlin, a friend for the past 53 years, has produced a number of fiction titles now available as Amazon e-books. I’ve mentioned them here in the past. By way of introduction I should add that Jeffrey has the added distinction of weaning me off Goldwater conservatism in 1961 when I was a callow 16-year-old freshman at Bard College and moving toward the Camus-style existential liberalism that was prevalent on the campus. You might say that if not for his intervention, I never would have become a Marxist later on. In effect, my liberalism became a gateway to Marxism, just as marijuana leads to heroin. So that’s that.

Starting today, Jeffrey will serve as a guest blogger, offering extended excerpts from these books once a week over the next few months. He’ll start with his Tales of the Great Moral Symmetry series, verse novels that take popular fables in very unexpected directions. The new feature kicks off with Chapter One of THE THREE WICKED PIGS, wherein the widely despised villain of this venerated piece is revealed to have problems of his own.

The Three Wicked Pigs

The Wolf walked alone, for no clan could abide him.

His four-footed kind looked askance at his habits. They loathed his perversely irregular posture, refusal to share, and insistence on clothing. They winced at his claims of superior breeding, his hissing contempt for the rest of his species.

What stood him apart from the run of his breed was a tragically fractured historical narrative; earliest circumstance stained and bespattered by grief unconducive to healthy development. Family slain by the highest-born ogres who hunted for pelts of the lupine persuasion, The Wolf was made captive by Royal marauders who flaunted the skins of his kin on their shoulders.

Confused by the likeness of mother and father, mistook his abductors for substitute parents and gave them his love in exchange for acceptance.

He sat at their fire imbibing their thinking; comported himself as a source of amusement, a mascot imbued by a knack for hilarity.

Mimicked their method of two-legged walking and put on their raggedy, cast-away garments. He grappled their language and preoccupation with spirits of darkness that seek to control us. He joined in discussions of civilized living – to which they aspired, but lacked the essentials. He pondered the number of forks on the table, the delicate question of beating inferiors. What were the ways of the uppermost nations?

How ought the ogres devise emulation?

He came to delight in their wide speculations on races of mortals in faraway places. He ventured his thinking per mythical beings.

A pet of the court of the King of the Ogres, his head in their laps ever eager for stroking, he loved to roll over and beg for a scratching. And romp at their sides when the ogres went hunting. And so he was loved by the young and the aged with whom he comingled as daily companion.

Conformed to a diet of meat from the table he grew to the size of a lupine colossus. And this saved his life when his luck ran against him. A famine descended in wake of the locusts which plague every seventh and twelfth generation. The Ogerine Kingdom grew grievously famished as crops turned to dust and the herbivores vanished.

The King of the Ogres suggested the populace gulp their emotions and sauté their parakeets; ordered his subjects make fritters of monkeys and published an edict per ferrets and puppies. The Wolf, for the heft of his flesh and his femurs, stood first among those to be sent to the cleaver.

The King spoke his heart to that innocent creature: “The Wolf, we are grieved that the reign of starvation requires your imminent decapitation, reluctant de-pelting, and deft preparation. But this is the dictate of civilization. Famine enjoins us to slaughter familiars; in order of march go the pets before children. So it must be among better-bred nations, to which we aspire as best we are able.

“And now that we’ve nourished you up to a giant, the harvest is come and we ask your compliance that we may distribute your tissues among us. Your tonnage of protein and rivers of marrow will keep us alive for a better tomorrow. We wish that the ending were very much different, but bid you submit to this difficult finish aware that our love is in no sense diminished.”

The Wolf could not hide his intense disappointment. “But am I not one of the family party? Erect as an ogre and clad in your garments? Have we not spoken at length by the fire? Compacted our minds in dissecting the universe? Am I no more than a gibbering primate? A cat on a leash? An uncircumcised parrot? What of the lives I have saved on the hunt and the hundreds of times you have tickled my tummy?”

The creature’s complaint bore the truth of an arrow. It lodged in the bosom of each within hearing. The eyes of the wives and the children grew teary. Blessing the beast who was soon to be dinner, the King of the ogres, though hollowed by hunger, yet showed his respect by delaying the process to offer this tenderly felt explanation:

“’Tis true, you’ve lived gently amidst and among us whilst sharing our thoughts and the wealth of our table. How often we’ve lauded your bipedal posture and habit of sporting our gloves and our stockings. Nor any deny that you’ve mastered our speech more completely than many a natural ogre.”

Touched to the bone by so humid a tribute, The Wolf cried aloud in his honest confusion: “Then how am I fit for inglorious stewing?”

“For lack of a soul which partakes of the vices and widely notorious virtues of ogres observed in the high-born, especially Royals, less evident surely in petty nobility, dormant recessive in ogerine peasants and largely extinct in our soldiers and simpletons. Here I am speaking of lust, sloth, and vanity, bubbling avarice, blubberous gluttony, pride and corruption, abiding brutality.

“Much as you’ve dabbled in low metaphysics and cheered our debauches with bloodthirsty giggles, and woven our spells in the voice of the cello (a gift of our Maker’s unstinted benevolence) yet notwithstanding the ogerine soul is the ogre’s alone and foreclosed to the Wolven. For this is the line we have drawn by tradition; on one side our own, on the other perdition. And so, with regret, other options prohibitive, gamely relinquish your hopes and ambitions.”

Far worse than the fact of his death in the offing, The Wolf was undone by his dread of rejection – the product, we’ve seen, of a much-perturbed infancy. Thus he was gripped by primordial terror. It darkened his blood and obstructed his vision, unhinging his mind and his prim inhibitions. It severed his heretofore supine affections releasing the instincts imbedded by nature.

Instead of assuming the prayerful position inviting the axe and its lethal sequellum, he leapt at the throat of the King of the Ogres dividing the heart from the shoulder and belly, nor pausing to rest but devoured the servants, the wives standing by and a dozen of children. Refreshed and renewed by the influx of protein, yet stung to the core of his put-upon psyche, The Wolf made his way through the phalanx of officers charging en masse to the scene of the slaughter.

Attracted too late by the angst of the babies they covered their eyes in their grief as they passed him. And so he departed the tumbledown castle of misaligned boulders and happenstance brickwork (the off-putting look which the ogres preferred for their humblest hovels and highest-born dwellings.)

Pursued by his fears of a warm retribution he traveled by night and by evening and morning. Nor stopped all that month for so long as an hour as time may be judged in the depths of a forest. For hot on his heels came conflicted emotions more aimed at his heart than the arrows of ogres. He carried a rage burning angry as fire, as heavy as stone and unyielding as iron. Imprisoned by anguish engulfing his psyche, he found no relief in the pleasure of killing. It lasted an instant before it was spoiled by the onset of sorrow and gush of self-pity.

He found in his travels no home with his kindred, whose views he disparaged as crude and simplistic. He stole from the clotheslines whatever might fit him and sought in the sinews of cattle and rabbits and gophers and mole-rats comprising his diet, the taste of the souls of his late beloved ogres.

But never again did he savor the Heaven that dwelt in the delicate flesh of the Royals.

He sniffed as he covered inordinate distances, always alert for the warm reminiscence of jealousy, vanity, avarice, gluttony, pride, and the hint of abiding brutality. Such was the life of the fugitive hunter whose hunger was more for redemption than sustenance. Thusly he wandered the islands and continents searching in vain for an end to his suffering.

Living his life through consumption of others, The Wolf was consumed by a cratering lovelessness.

Go to Jeffrey’s author page at Amazon.com to order this and other titles.

January 15, 2014

Scenes from my childhood

Filed under: humor — louisproyect @ 1:37 pm

January 13, 2014

“Girls” promo

Filed under: humor,television — louisproyect @ 7:19 pm

December 26, 2013

The Cutting Edge

Filed under: Academia,humor — louisproyect @ 1:59 pm

The Cutting Edge is a satirical novel written by George Snedeker who uses the pen name of David Lansky. He can be reached by email at george.snedeker@verizon.net Here is some information about his novel:

 ‘The Cutting Edge’ is a depiction of the situation of public higher education in the early 21st Century United States

 The College where Sociology Professor Fred Snyder taught until his untimely death at the hands of an emotionally disturbed student is called Old Windsor and is located on Long Island. Snyder taught sociology for over 20 years, and he was loved by students who had the opportunity to study with him. There is even a memorial scholarship in his name for students who have shown a commitment to the cause of social justice.

“The Cutting Edge” a satirical novel in two parts written by author David Lansky presents a clear-sighted critique of the current state of academia. The first manuscript in the novel is set in a SUNY campus, diary entries that may or may not have been written by a student named Jenny Delight and   a second manuscript that presents the memoir of the childhood of Fred Snyder whose tragic death made national news headlines. No one is quite sure who Jenny is. It is an obvious pseudonym since no student by this name has ever attended Old Windsor. Jenny’s diary entries are hilarious, laced with social and personal insight as she tries to understand the world around her, often using categories she is learning, sometimes the most abstract categories available, and she infuses them with vivid meaning.

The second section of the novel, Bill of Sale, is the posthumously-discovered manuscript of Sociology Professor Fred Snyder. It is a harrowing account of very vulnerable people who are critical of their society. It is a section revealing, with extraordinary power, the ruthlessness of contemporary capitalism and its relentless destructive force.

A satirical novel that presents a depiction of life in the United States with a good dose of humor, it depicts the situation of public higher education in the early 21st Century United States. “The Cutting Edge” displays powerful imagination, rollicking humor, profound insight and deep political commitment that readers will surely appreciate.

For more information on this book, interested parties may log on to www.Xlibris.com.

 

The Cutting Edge  by David Lansky

Publication Date: November 25, 2013

Trade Paperback; $19.99; 200 pages; 978-1-4931-2127-4

e-book; $3.99; 978-1-4931-2128-1

To request a complimentary paperback review copy, contact the publisher at (888) 795-4274 x. 7879.  To purchase copies of the book for resale, please fax Xlibris at (812) 355-4079 or call (888) 795-4274 x. 7879.

 

For more information, contact Xlibris at (888) 795-4274 or on the web at http://www.Xlibris.com.

 

The Cutting Edge can also be purchased at Amazon and most other online book stores.

 

 

PREFACE

By Jenny Delight

  What follows here are a series of essays I wrote while attending the SUNY/College at Old Windsor from 2006-10. They are an attempt to report on some of the most important events that took place at Old Windsor while I was a student there. I also discuss some of the major issues that came before the Student Life Committee while I served on it as a student representative. I try to shed some light on my own development as a student and responsible member of society.

I tell my story along with the stories of several of my closest friends with the humor they merit. I’ve incorporated some of my friends and professors into the story of college life. There are also several members of my extended family who find their way into this story. I’ve changed people’s names to avoid lawsuits and to protect the innocent. Some of the details in my story have also been altered so people won’t be pissed off at me should this book fall into their hands. I’ve undertaken this task of reporting with both a sense of humor and the kind of seriousness it deserves. I’m not a professional writer, but I think the quality of my writing improved while I was a student at Old Windsor, largely due to the help of my professors and the tutors at the Writing Center.

I’ve also attempted to report on some of the members of the Old Windsor administration as they influenced the lives of us students, especially in the judicial hearings that students are subject to when they get into trouble for violating any of the rules and regulations of the college. I hope I’ve not been unfair to anyone in these pages.

 

 

December 21, 2013

Duck Dynasty is a fake

Filed under: capitalist pig,homophobia,humor,racism — louisproyect @ 1:07 pm

December 1, 2013

The Hunger Games abridged script

Filed under: Film,humor — louisproyect @ 12:04 am

The Hunger Games

By Rod on Apr 12th, 2012

Kevin Smith's "Daughter of Green Arrow" comic book series alienated many fans.

Kevin Smith’s “Daughter of Green Arrow” comic book series alienated many fans.

This script was featured on Cracked.com, so you can also read it there.

THE HUNGER GAMES

The Abridged Script

FADE IN:

EXT. DISTRICT 12

JENNIFER LAWRENCE and LIAM HEMSWORTH walk to the town square sullenly.

LIAM HEMSWORTH

God, I hate having to come to The Reaping every year. It’s like, Hillary Swank as a scientist, really?

JENNIFER LAWRENCE

No no, you’re thinking of the 2007 plague movie. This is just when a male and female child are selected at random to fight the children of 11 other districts to the death, so nowhere near as bad as that.

LIAM HEMSWORTH

(exaggerated eye-roll)

Pfffffffffft, that’s such a ripoff of Battle Royale! That’s a ridiculously famous and popular Japanese film, you may not have heard of it. Doesn’t it show how totally hip and smart I am to cleverly observe how similar this movie is to that one?

JENNIFER LAWRENCE

Actually, since you could have realized that 4 years ago when the book came out, the only thing you’ve shown is that you don’t read books.

ELIZABETH BANKS, caked in HEATH LEDGER’S TEST MAKEUP, walks out onto a stage.

ELIZABETH BANKS

Oooooo, I will now select this year’s female tribute without even the slightest hint of awareness that this is actually a process people don’t like!

ELIZABETH selects JENNIFER’S SISTER, WILLOW SHIELDS.

WILLOW SHIELDS

I can’t open my eyes with terror any wider, won’t somebody do something?!

JENNIFER LAWRENCE

Stop, I volunteer! I am not the greatest girl in the world, no, I am just a tribuuuuute!

ELIZABETH BANKS

Great! And for the male tribute…

(draws a name)

Some blond beta kid nobody cares about.

JOSH HUTCHERSON

Awwww man, this is the worst birthday ever!

WILLOW and LIAM say goodbye to JENNIFER.

WILLOW SHIELDS

Sis, I want you to have the Mockingjay pin I wear, it’ll bring you good luck.

JENNIFER LAWRENCE

This would be the same lucky pin you were wearing when you were selected against thousand-to-one odds to be sent to your death, right? Thanks.

WILLOW SHIELDS

I guess I’ll see you when the movie’s over, since at no point will anyone make any attempt to make it seem like you’re not going to obviously win the games.

They HUG, it’s LIKE TOTALLY EMOTIONAL.

LIAM HEMSWORTH

Good luck, Jennifer. Whatever you do, don’t overemphasize the book’s Twilight-esque love triangle just because our target demographic eats that shit up like rocky road ice cream after a breakup. Remember, I’ll be here, smoldering at the TV for you.

JENNIFER LAWRENCE

Thanks Liam, tell Captain America and Iron Man I said hello.

LIAM HEMSWORTH

Oh, you bitch.

INT. PANEM

JENNIFER and JOSH are taken to the CAPITAL CITY OF PANEM where they train with WOODY HARRELSON, previous winner of THE MOST HUNGRIEST GAME.

WOODY HARRELSON

Hi tributes, ask me anything. I will get to as many of your questions as I can, so start asking now!

JOSH HUTCHERSON

I’m a baker by trade, should I go for it if one of the weapons on the battlefield is a comically oversized dough roller?

WOODY HARRELSON

You know, I really don’t think about those things, once the opportunity passes, I really let go of it.

JENNIFER LAWRENCE

In the book you’re an alcoholic largely due to the emotional burden that comes with training children that go on to be slaughtered, but just now you seemed to grab every drink you could because it’s a cheap characterization, is that accurate?

WOODY HARRELSON

I did it for energy. And i have to say, it works.

Suddenly, LENNY KRAVITZ approaches.

LENNY KRAVITZ

Hey guys, I really hate having my picture taken without sunglasses on, so let’s make this fast. We have to introduce all 24 tributes to the audience, so I’m going to make you stand out with this costume, which looks like it’s on fire.

JENNIFER LAWRENCE

That’s it? This costume got two full, tedious chapters in the book! And yet, dumbass fangirls are still going to complain the book is better, aren’t they, Woody?

WOODY HARRELSON

I don’t want to answer questions about that. Lets focus on the film people.

JENNIFER shoots an APPLE which causes the movie to admit up-front that she’s going to win so everyone can RELAX.

JENNIFER sits down for an interview with STANLEY TUCCI.

STANLEY TUCCI

Hi Jennifer, try your best not to be distracted by my ridiculous costume. So, first question: the premise of “The Hunger Games” is that food is scarce and people compete in this competition to win food for their families, right?

JENNIFER LAWRENCE

That’s correct, Stanley.

STANLEY TUCCI

So you’re supposedly… you know, starving to death, right?

JENNIFER LAWRENCE

Yep. What are you asking, exactly?

STANLEY TUCCI

Well, you look… I mean, what I’m asking is, why are you… er, of all the young actresses up for the part… uh, how do I ask this without sounding like a superficial male pig…

JENNIFER LAWRENCE

You’re wondering why they didn’t cast an Olsen twin?

STANLEY TUCCI

Yes, exactly! Thank you!

JENNIFER LAWRENCE

Superficial male pig.

JENNIFER is ushered off the stage to make way for JOSH HUTCHERSON.

STANLEY TUCCI

So, Josh, what do you suppose your chances are, considering that it looks like your head has been stuck in a small box since puberty.

JOSH HUTCHERSON

Well, before I left, my mother told me she’s pretty sure Jennifer’s going to win. Then my sister called me a pussy and my dad said not to be sad because I was supposed to be an abortion anyway. I can lift a bag of flour though, so pretty okay I guess.

STANLEY TUCCI

I see. And do you have a girlfriend back home, which is a question I didn’t ask anyone else and have no reason to ask you?

JOSH HUTCHERSON

Well there’s this girl I stare at all the time like that vampire guy from that popular franchise, but SHE CAME HERE WITH ME, WHAAAAAAT!

STANLEY TUCCI

Wow, ladies and gentlemen, what a twist! Our female protagonist is certainly facing a difficult moral quandary, trying to remain a sympathetic character while murdering innocent children including a boy with a crush on her in order to ensure her own survival! What do you think of that, distractingly weird-looking co-host Toby Jones?

TOBY JONES

Well Stanley, I think it would be a crushing disappointment if this complex, interesting ethical dilemma were gutlessly resolved by having Jennifer pretty much avoiding killing anyone due to increasingly preposterous contrivances including sudden, nonsensical rule changes outside of her influence!

LENNY KRAVITZ

OH MY GOD I AM SO FUCKING BORED WHEN ARE THE KIDS GOING TO KILL EACH OTHER?!

ALL 24 OR 25 TRIBUTES are sent to fight to the death in THE DINING MAN.

READ FULL SCRIPT

November 21, 2013

Bashar Al-Assad Introduces Syrian Bike-Sharing Program

Filed under: humor,Syria — louisproyect @ 11:32 pm
News in BriefSyriaWorldpoliticiansNews ISSUE 49•31 • Jul 31, 2013

DAMASCUS—Saying that the initiative will reduce vehicle traffic, improve local air quality, and foster a strong sense of community, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad announced Tuesday that city transportation authorities across the nation will soon launch SyriaCycles, a new bike-sharing program allowing urban residents to access bicycles for short-term trips without worrying about storage or maintenance. “Transportation is a key factor in the quality of life for any urbanite, and SyriaCycles ensures that city-dwellers all over the country can travel conveniently and efficiently; it’s fast, easy, and fun,” Assad said of the new transportation system, explaining that commuters can pay daily or yearly subscription fees to access a fleet of one-size-fits-all bicycles stationed at hundreds of rental hubs across numerous Syrian cities. “All you have to do is look for the row of orange-and-gray bicycles, unlock your ride with your unique CitiKey, and you’re on your way! And of course, in the interest of safety, we would like to remind all SyriaCycles members to always wear their bike helmets.” Assad added that he hopes 2013 in Syria will be remembered as the Year of the Bicycle.

July 31, 2013

When Comedy Went to School

Filed under: Catskills,comedy,Film,humor,Jewish question — louisproyect @ 4:15 pm

Although I am sure that just about everybody will be as enchanted by “When Comedy went to School”—a documentary on stand-up comedians of the Borscht Belt that opens today at the IFC in NY—as me, I have a particular connection to the film as someone who lived in the midst of the resort area in its heyday. The film will give you much more of an insight into this yeasty slice of Jewish life than any fictional film like “Dirty Dancing” can.

A WSJ interview with Robert Klein (it is behind a paywall but can be read through Google News on a search for the article’s title “Borscht Belt, Behind the Scenes”), the film’s narrator and veteran stand-up comic who launched his career in the Catskills, mentions him working at the Alamac Hotel as a lifeguard. My mother was very close to the family who owned the hotel in my hometown and connected me to Kenny Gottlieb, a busboy who worked there. Kenny, who was an opera-loving Amherst student, turned me on to Weiser’s bookstore in N.Y. that was owned by his uncle Sam. Weiser’s was devoted to occult religions and as such was a shrine for Beat poets who went there to gather material on Plotinus, Gnosticism, St. John of the Cross et al. It was after my own visits to Weiser’s in my teens that I decided to become a religion major at Bard College as a latecomer to the beat generation. (Through Google’s long tentacles, I learned that Kenny died in 2009 after flying his Cessna into a hillside in Napa, California.)

Despite the Borscht Belt’s rural location, the “townies” were always absorbing New York’s cultural influences from the young men and women who worked in the hotels. It was at the New Roxy, my friend Eli’s hotel where Rodney Dangerfield used to perform as Jack Roy, where I made contact with Don the lifeguard. I have vivid memories of chatting with Don, who looked like James Dean and screwed half the women who stayed there over the summer, about what he was reading at the time. He turned me on to Genet. I was also turned on to Panamanian Red that I bought from Freddy the waiter. It cost $15 an ounce back in 1961 and one shared joint could put four people on their ass.

Screen shot 2013-07-31 at 12.05.58 PM

You get a flavor of the affinity between the comedians who worked there and the burgeoning bohemian scene from Sandy Hackett, who reminisces about his dad Buddy in the film. It turns out that Buddy and Lenny Bruce, who both got started performing in the Catskills, were roommates in New York. If you knew anything about their respective public personae, it is a little bit like hearing that Charlie Parker and James Brown were roommates. The two comedians lived in a cheap studio apartment in the Village, where they covered the floor with sand in which they planted a beach umbrella. Women were invited up to smoke a joint and enjoy a faux day at the ocean.

For me one of the great pleasures of the film was watching the 87-year-old Jerry Lewis and the 91-year-old Sid Caesar holding forth on their early days in the Catskills in the 30s and 40s. By 1958, the two were king of the motion picture and television respectively. If you went to a premiere of a Martin and Lewis comedy, you’d expect to stand on a line to buy tickets that went around the block. Around the same time Sid Caesar’s “Show of Shows” had a bigger audience share on NBC than Seinfeld. For my money, Caesar’s show was ten times hipper than Seinfeld’s (Seinfeld’s career was also launched in the Catskill’s but at a time when it was on the decline.) It was on the “Show of Shows” where I saw him leading the cast in a parody of what was obviously a Kurosawa movie long before I knew that Kurosawa existed.

Screen shot 2013-07-31 at 11.45.12 AM

At this point, it is worth including the panels above are from my abortive memoir done with Harvey Pekar even though his widow has warned me that I do not have her permission to do so. The shrill and vindictive woman obviously understands nothing about “fair use” laws.

Mel Brooks was among the writers for “The Show of Shows”. Some years later Woody Allen wrote for Sid Caesar TV specials. Both men got started in the Catskills. In a Wikipedia article on Borscht Belt humor, Brooks is included as an example of puns, one of the four dominant characteristics:

  • Bad luck: “When I was a kid, I was breast-fed by my father.” (Dangerfield)
  • Puns: “Sire, the peasants are revolting!” “You said it. They stink on ice.” (Harvey Korman as Count de Money (Monet) and Mel Brooks as King Louis XVI, in History of the World Part I)
  • Physical complaints and ailments (often relating to bowels and cramping): “My doctor said I was in terrible shape. I told him, ‘I want a second opinion.’ He said, ‘All right, you’re ugly too!'” “I told my doctor, ‘This morning when I got up and saw myself in the mirror, I looked awful! What’s wrong with me?’ He replied, ‘I don’t know, but your eyesight is perfect!'” (Dangerfield)
  • Aggravating relatives and nagging wives: “My wife and I were happy for twenty years. Then we met.” (Dangerfield). “Take my wife—please!” (Henny Youngman); “My wife drowned in the pool because she was wearing so much jewelry.” (Rickles); “My wife ain’t too bright. One day our car got stolen. I said to her, ‘Did you get a look at the guy?’ She said, ‘No, but I got the license number.'” (Dangerfield) “This morning the doorbell rang. I said ‘Who is it?’ He said ‘It’s the Boston strangler.’ I said ‘It’s for you dear!'” (Youngman)

I don’t care much for the sexist junk about wives but all the rest of it rings a bell and was certainly an influence on my own sense of humor. The Wikipedia summary, however, does not mention what for me is the crowing element of Borscht Belt humor: self-deprecation. Although he was only part of the Catskills in the eleventh hour, Woody Allen was a master of self-deprecation. A typical Allen joke from this period: “I was thrown out of college for cheating on the metaphysics exam; I looked into the soul of the boy sitting next to me.”

Some say that brevity is the soul of wit. For me it is self-deprecation. While I am the target of deprecators near and far, I always beat them to the punch. In order to make my posts on the most abstruse topics palatable to the average radical, I try to thrown in a few jokes like the chopped meat surrounding a pill given to a pet dog.

When I was in the early stages of writing the text for the memoir I did with Pekar, I told him that it would be filled with jokes. I said that it would be in the spirit of the stand-up comedians I used to hear when I was a teen in the Catskills. Too bad it will never see the light of day except for these “fair use” samples. That’s her loss financially and mine creatively. But most of all, it is a loss to her late husband’s legacy that matters less to her than her petty feud with me.

January 29, 2013

Charlie Kimber responds to critics

Filed under: humor — louisproyect @ 8:28 pm

Next Page »

The Rubric Theme. Blog at WordPress.com.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 1,966 other followers