Saturday, October 25, 2014

Saturday fun activity: Where IS this?

      Today is John Berryman's 100th birthday, which has nothing to do with where this lovely painting of a bee pollinating flowers might be located.  But I thought it worth mentioning, particularly since most readers won't be familiar with John Berryman (don't feel bad; until recently I kept confusing him with John Ashbery, another American poet, because both have the first name "John" and "berry" or "-bery" in their last names. Harold Bloom I'm not).
      Today's birthday is especially noteworthy, since the centennial of another great poet, Dylan Thomas, is this Monday (John Ashbery was born in July, so we can leave him out of this, or try to). I'll be writing about his legacy in Chicago then. 
     A coincidence, to have such major poets born a day apart: I can't think of another instance like it, unless it's Abraham Lincoln and Charles Darwin being born on the same day, but neither were very good poets.
John Berryman
     Of the two poets born between Oct. 25 and Oct. 27, 1914, Berryman is the less familiar. Born in McAlester, Oklahoma, he, like Thomas, lived a tortured life, pouring his struggles out into blunt, beautiful writing. Berryman was less oblique, more humorous than Thomas. You can read a thoughtful appreciation of Berryman on the excellent Poetry Foundation blog by clicking here.
     Both came to early ends: Thomas drinking himself to death at age 39, downing his famous 18 whiskies at the White Horse Tavern in New York, Berryman a suicide at 57, jumping to his death in Minneapolis, from the Washington Avenue Bridge over the Mississippi. Sad to think that men so capable of carefully crafting deathless words could be so careless in preserving their own lives, but that is the familiar pattern, established in part by these two (John Ashbery is, miribile dictu, still alive, at 87, and a reminder that as bad as it is for the person involved and everyone they know, early death can be a savvy career move).
     I only became familiar with Berryman working on my new book—my co-author Sara Bader and I quote from his novel Recovery and his exquisite "Eleven Addresses to the Lord," which begin: 

Master of beauty, craftsman of the snowflake,
inimitable contriver,
endower of Earth so gorgeous & different from the boring Moon,
thank you for such as it is my gift.
     "Boring moon"—that's such a great phrase, and where you see Berryman's whimsy peeking through. You can hear the first address read by Mark Jarman by clicking here.  Though my favorite lines from the lengthy work—a prayer really, though if more prayers were like this then more people would pray—are these:

         Fearful I peer upon the mountain path

         where once Your shadow passed. Limner of the clouds
         up their phantastic guesses. I am afraid,
         I never until now confessed.

         I fell back in love with you, Father, for two reasons:
        You were good to me, & a delicious author.

         I think it's the simple selfish honesty of the first words of that last line and the plain truth of the concluding phrase. Though if you know what "up their phantstic guesses" means, please tell me, as I have no idea.
        I'm tempted to make answering that question the contest, but it would be hard to pick a winner, which would be unfortunate, as today's  activity has a special prize for the person who solves it. 
     Every goddam day welcomes two sponsors in  November. Our old friend, Eli's Cheesecake will be back, to enliven November and December with their holiday advertisements, as they did last year. And Bridgeport Coffee, which will have an ad go up in the middle of November. They've showered me with bags of their locally-roasted beans. I've tried "Mayors Blend," which is not as strong as I expected, aptly enough given the name, but makes for very drinkable, flavorful brew. 
     The first person to guess where this gorgeous bee is painted wins a 12 ounce bag of whole bean Mayors Blend (the lack of a possessive gave me pause, but to be charitable to an advertiser—a long journalistic tradition; God, I hope this doesn't wind up on Romenesko—can be explained, sort of, by the fact that, as the bag notes, Chicago's Bridgeport neighborhood  was "home to 5 of Chicago's 45 mayors." A plurality of mayors, so it can be "Mayors Blend" the way Nov. 11 is "Veterans Day" (yet in May comes "Mother's Day," despite the multitude of mothers. An idiosyncratic language, this).
      And though the coffee bag is a little vague whether the it is the coffee the Bridgeport mayors, or both, that are "smooth and loved by everyone," that could be the subject of reasonable debate, which is always enhanced by good coffee.  Anyway, best of luck, and please post your guesses below. Twitter and Facebook guesses don't count. 


Friday, October 24, 2014

Divvy diary: You'd break a lot too if Chicago sat on you

Frank Jackson works repairs a Divvy bike at their service center Thursday.

     There are two basic kind of columns: riff columns and research columns. Riff columns are when you grab something off the news and play with it. Those are usually done the quickest, the easiest, and end up being the most talked about and popular.
      And then there are columns that involve going somewhere and talking to people, like today's on the repair center for the Divvy ride share program. Those are harder, more satisfying, and tend to sink like a stone. Yet I prefer them, and try to do as many as I can think of. This one began a week or so back, when a reader emailed me a photograph of a Divvy bike at the bottom of a lagoon. "I bet," I thought, "those bikes get abused in all sorts of elaborate ways." (I also went rowing at the Lincoln Park Boat Club Sunday because of that same email; I truly do try to get out of the office).
      Normally I'd research a column like this on a Monday or Wednesday, when I didn't have a column the next day, to give myself a chance to visit, take notes, process and consider them, do additional research and such. This I turned around in a couple hours Thursday afternoon, so doesn't quite have the snap I would have liked. The Divvy folk, while nice people, were slow to start sharing stories of the bikes being abused—I think they were reluctant to give anybody ideas. For example, that stripped bike body mounted on the wall, pictured below. It obviously was a trophy of some sort, and I had to ask three different people before I got a bit of the story behind it.  Time was not the friend of this column. I turned this in at 5 p.m. feeling like it should have been more, but this would have to do.

    OK, I confess. I did consider taking a taxi to the Divvy repair center. It’s way the heck over at Hubbard and Hoyne, and the forecast mentioned rain.
     But the sun was shining when I left the office Thursday morning, so I rolled a Divvy out of the Mart station, but not before counting 11 of the 23 bikes there — 47 percent — had cracked seats, from inch-long slashes to saddles cut up and coming apart.

     It’s the plastic, in the 120-degree Chicago temperature swings — from 105 above to 15 below — that take a toll on Divvys, as do graffiti artists, malicious persons, potholes, and regular wear and tear of having Chicago’s collective hot dog-larded backside repeatedly plopped down upon the bikes, riding them in all kinds of weather with all levels of care and skill, averaging 2,000 miles per bicycle.
I Divvyed to Damen and Grand and left the bike at the dock (of 10 bikes, five with cracked seats, for an even 50 percent).
     Divvy’s service center has no sign—if you don’t know it’s here, you don’t belong. I was met by Eric Erkel, station manager, and Elliot Greenberger, whom regular readers may remember as the patient Divvy spokesman. He said that during the summer, about 350 of Divvy’s 3,000 light blue DaVinci Bixi bikes were out for repair at any given time. Before us, hundreds of bikes waited for service — the wait can take two months — or were fixed and ready to go out.
The most common problems are with tires. “Lot of normal wear and tear,” Erkel said. “Flats. Bent wheels that stem from riders not paying attention or potholes"...

     To continue reading, click here.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Vote for ... oh, whomever you please

     This would have been posted here Wednesday, the same day it appeared in the newspaper, but it got bumped by yesterday's Junior-goes-to-college follow-up.   
     Scores of readers were relieved that the paper hadn't really swooned into the arms of Republican gubernatorial wannabe Bruce Rauner.  So I thought it should be shared with you in the blogosphere, and if you already read it in the paper Wednesday, there's the above link as a substitute, and if you read them both, well, I think that's about enough for now.
     We were all having a good laugh Wednesday, and then Sun-Times Springfield bureau chief Dave McKinney's resignation burst midday and made the subject a lot more somber.  If you haven't heard of the story—it's everywhere—Dave said Rauner was exerting undue pressure on his bosses, so he quit. 
     The news was nauseating when it first hit, but now it's settled down a bit. I don't know all the intricacies of what occurred, just what I've gleaned from the buzz going around. So my take is both half-informed and skewed from someone who has worked at the Sun-Times for 27 years and did not quit on the countless occasions when I ran into aspects of the business that made me wince. A previous owner, David Radler used to push for all sorts of squishy stories to benefit his pal, Rod Blagojevich; the trick was to accept the assignment, and then quietly bury it into a Dumpster and forget about it, so ethics weren't compromised. It worked; Radler's long gone and Rod's long gone—both men wound up in prison—but I'm still here. To me, the still-being-at-the-paper part is important. Rauner getting Dave fired and Dave quitting are functionally the same thing—he's gone either way—and while  I admire Dave as much as anybody, I can't fight the creeping feeling he played into the hands of the Evil We All Oppose.  
      A few things to keep in mind: A) the newspaper that many are castigating for supposedly caving to Rauner is the same newspaper that just last week was happily publishing McKinney's sharp pieces shredding Rauner; B) the endorsement of Rauner, though regrettable, is a different beast entirely than the supposed pressure he put on reporters. Every owner in the history of newspapering ballyhoos candidates he likes, a little or a lot, though no one is arguing that this was smoothly done; C) Rauner's accusations that McKinney's wife, a Democratic operative, was somehow driving the stories, while ridiculous—a story either is solid or it's not; it hardly matters who suggested it, not that I have any reason to doubt Dave's version of events—had a veneer of seriousness that  justified investigation, and being nudged off your beat for a week is not, in itself, a big deal. I was suspended for a week last year for what struck me as a truly tenuous reason. But I didn't tell anybody and few noticed (sigh) making it a whole lot easier to come back and start doing my job again, which is the route I wish Dave had chosen to take since while it is courageous to make a stand for journalistic integrity, you can only self-immolate once, there's a dramatic flash and then ashes but what have you accomplished? The bottom line is, D) I sincerely believe that had McKinney managed to just step around this mess and gone back to doing his job, an important life skill in journalism, instead of  pouring gasoline over himself, and the paper, and striking a match, the whole thing would be over by now and he'd be back to kicking Rauner's ass, which is what this is supposedly all about; E) I wish this were "The Front Page" era so everybody involved could just go out and get drunk together, shake their heads at their collective stupidity, and go back to work the next day. But F) it's not. The only upside I see in the real world is that G) Bruce Rauner revealed himself even more starkly as the ruthless, vindictive creature that he most certainly is, eager to try to squelch a story by leaning hard on the little folk reporting it. I can't imagine anybody wanting that as governor. So maybe it'll do some ultimate good, though the sting will linger on this one, and now we have to find somebody who thinks it's a good career move to spend time in Springfield.

      A number of readers apparently feel I run the newspaper, or at least am an important and valued member of the top editorial team, plugged into all decisions as they are being made, sitting in the Inner Sanctum, wherever that may be, peering out beneath hooded robes, pressing our fingertips together to make cathedrals, exchanging opinions in hushed tones.
      “Brother Neil, perhaps you will share your thoughts on the viability of a six-county circulator monorail scheduled to be built in the year 2031 ...?”
Let me disabuse you of that notion.
     Rather, I’m the same union wage slave I’ve always been, who became aware of the paper’s endorsing Bruce Rauner for governor on Sunday morning, flipping through the paper.
     “Shucks,” I said, or a word to that effect.
     Now a paper’s recommendation can be very helpful, and I’m sincerely glad that the Sun-Times has returned to the endorsement biz. There are a lot of races to keep track of, and the harried voter can’t be expected to know which is the most worthy would-be comptroller and which judges are capable.
     When it comes to a high office such as governor, however, I assume most readers don’t need a newspaper to tell them what their guts tell them. I assume you either are already a supporter — and I’ll try to be impartial here — of good old Gov. Pat Quinn, the homespun Democrat whom everybody knows and loves, working like a plough horse trying to correct the problems left behind by the jail-bound Rod Blagojevich, and, before him, the jail-bound George Ryan.
     Or you back Bruce Rauner, the Republican multimillionaire who popped steaming from the C. Montgomery Burns mold, bursting onto the scene like a party guest flinging his cape at a cringing footman, demanding the governorship be given him right now, as his birthright, a kind of droit de seigneur.

     To continue reading, click here. 

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Adelor is dead and I don't feel so hot myself

      I was talking about columns that I haven't written yesterday when I slid into "The Death of Klinghofffer" ditch and couldn't get out, exploring the controversy of the John Adams opera at such length there wasn't room for anything else.
     But the column or, rather, non-column I had in mind was the one about my older son going off to college. Nearly 20 years of writing about him in the newspaper, and he just vanishes, in a puff, exit stage left, to California. Nobody has said, "Where's the obligatory ave atque vale?"

    I wondered about that myself, though I had a pat answer.
    I've seen a million of those, and liked the idea of being the one columnist who didn't see his kid off poignantly for college, with tears and insight. I know people whose kids are never going to college, and performing the death scene from Tristan over mine traveling a three-hour plane trip away seemed unseemly. 
    Count your blessings, give thanks, don't complain. Not everything belongs in the newspaper.
    Besides, the goodbye fell flat, and reflected poorly on me, and I was loath to tell it. Rather than fly to Los Angeles to say goodbye to him properly, like a smart man would have done, I had the dumb idea of letting my wife take him, my big idea being that I would then follow, the reinforcements, a month later, when perhaps he was homesick, perhaps when a visit from the old da would be even more valuable.
     So I said goodbye at O'Hare, or tried to. He sort of pulled back from my hug, as if my clothes were dirty. But that's how teenage boys are, or mine anyway. I drove off, swallowing hard but that's all. Then a bright smile—well, check that off, one boy raised, dust the hands and then off to No. 2, kneeling on deck, twisting his hands around a bat handle.
     I only regretted my decision to stay home after my wife relayed back all the pomp and circumstance of the big Pomona welcome -- a parade, in essence, parties and ceremonies. Missed them all, irretrievable. Who knew? When I went off to school, ulp, 35 years ago, the frats had a bunch of beer blasts and your parents weren't invited. Meanwhile, rather than any mano-a-mano bonding time, son No. 2 met my suggestion we go out to dinner with "How about you bring in carry out home? I'm sort of busy." 
     A month later, when it came time for me to buy my plane ticket to LA, my older son said, "What are we going to do all that time?" and I quickly established that I would be intruding upon his firmly established freshman routine. Which is good, I told myself. Some kids dive into college with a splash of problems. My kid, when I asked, "Do you need anything?" replied, "Send my viola tuner."
      To be honest, I didn't think about him too much. He was where he needed to be, having a great time. The sphere were in their proper places in the heavens. A central planet of my life for the previous 18 years was suddenly a lot farther away, that's all. It's as if the moon were reduced to the size of a pinprick.
      Cut to last Sunday. A pleasant morning rowing on the Lincoln Park Lagoon -- a column to come on that, no reader requests necessary. I finished about lunchtime, and thought I'd stroll in the Lincoln Park Zoo. Hadn't been in years. We used to live nearby, and we'd always bring the boys there in their big double stroller. "The bus," I called it. They loved the zoo. What child doesn't? They had elephants back then and everything.
     Gaze at the tiger. A couple lions, lolling, up close and personal. The Helen Brach Primate House ("Who DID kill old Helen?") But it wasn't the same, alone—what is? Soon I was heading back to the car. 
     But I paused in front of something new. A bronze statue of Adelor, the much-beloved lion that we used to visit. You'd be in another part of the zoo, and hear the low resonating rumble of Adelor's roar. A true king, he was. The boys loved him. Now in bronze, which is a poor substitute for lion. Kids were running around, climbing the statue, shrieking in delight.
     A woman was with them, and caught my eye.
     "Four more hours of this," she said, wearily.
     "Mine are off in college," I replied, twisting the truth for the sake of brevity .No. 2 doesn't leave until next August, but close enough.
      "So..." the woman said, catching my drift, "enjoy them while you can?" 
      "Exactly," I said, walking to the car, starting it up, pulling back carefully, then driving south toward the exit gate. 
    Only then it hit me, after a two month delay, like the thunder that follows loping along after lightning. The old lion was dead, and all those days of strolling the boys around the zoo, gone, the years of squiring them here and there, gone, the fun and the laughter, all gone, irretrievably gone. Gone gone gone, reduced to a thumbnail of grey goo in the corner of my brain and, maybe, theirs, as they hurtle into their new lives, not a glance over their shoulders, while I am left an old man haunting the margins of life, trading quips with beleaguered mothers, smiling at other people's children.
     And here we'll draw the veil. It hit me hard for a few seconds—delayed reaction, I suppose—and then I shook it off, composed myself and drove home for lunch. 

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Why I'm not writing about "The Death of Klinghoffer"

Glass flower, Harvard Museum of Natural History

     Mostly readers limit themselves to commenting on something I wrote or, frequently, on something they imagine I wrote.
     Though occasionally readers will notice something I haven't written and call for it. 
     The Metropolitan Opera opened its production of  the John Adams opera "The Death of Klinghoffer" Monday night, drawing several hundred protesters because of its depiction of the Palestinian terrorists who hijacked the Achille Lauro cruise ship in 1985 and caused the death in the title. They are portrayed as people with a grievance.
    "My father's house was razed in 1948..." goes one line in a haunting chorus. 
     You're Jewish, the readers—and more than one have mentioned this—insinuate, why aren't you addressing this? It's your table, clean it up. And by their tone, I get the sense they think they've have me boxed into a corner, either being forced by faith to support something dubious, like the shouting down of an opera, or go against my fellow Jews and be some kind of turncoat. A quandary! 
     When of course it's nothing of the sort. Knee jerk support of whatever folly your kinfolk happen to endorse is perhaps the second greatest cause of suffering in the world, after disease. I had no trouble mocking the Spertus Museum for staging, then abruptly yanking, a show that illustrated the plight of Palestinians, I doubt I'd have trouble pointing out that those trying to stifle an opera are also wrong.
     How do I know that? Particularly not having seen the opera in question? Easy. Because they're always wrong. I can't think of work of creativity ever created since the dawn of time that should be suppressed, including The Essential Hitler: Speeches and Commentary, an 850-page collection that I not only have on my shelf, but I bought, just in case it comes in handy. "No woman was ever ruined by a book," future New York mayor Jimmy Walker said in 1923, words that hold true for either sex and any act of creativity from doodles to encyclopedias. The harm is always notional, imagined, self-assigned.
     That said, I'm tempted to respond to those readers demanding I jump into this pond: "Screw yourself. I'm not a short-order cook." No requests, thank you. Rowdy readers shouting out "Free Bird!" will be politely ignored.
     But what the heck. I have to write something. Why am I reluctant to write about this?
     First, it's unimportant, a tiff, a spat over an opera being performed in New York that most readers have never heard of and don't care to hear and wouldn't attend were it free to go. The Met made the right decision and is still putting it on, except for one slip, its decision not to broadcast it on pay-per-view, under pressure from the Anti-Defamation League, roundly denounced as the cowardice it is. No need for me to chime in.
     Second, writing about "Klinghoffer" would obligate me to actually listen to the opera. Not doing so is lame. With that in mind, I grumbling trotted off to the Northbrook Public Library Monday night to retrieve their boxed set, anticipating the three hours of atonal moaning that is John Adams music. The computer says it hasn't been checked out—of course, who in their right mind would?—but it wasn't on the shelf either. Perhaps some avenger trying to reduce the net total sum of anti-Semitism in the world pinched it. Whatever the reason, I haven't the stomach or the time to buy it, since I already own John Adams "Nixon in China," and, owning it, that means my older son is free to subject me to it, repeatedly, during long car rides.  Some people consider "Nixon in China" brilliant. I am not one of those people. It drones.
      Third, there's nothing to say. It's obvious. All who believe that works of art should reflect their politics are invariably wrong. I don't care if it's D.W. Griffith's "Birth of a Nation" or Leni Riefenstahl's "Triumph of the Will," the notion that artworks, even vile, propaganda artworks, should be banned is cowardly and mistaken. The harm is imaginary. I've talked to enough bigots in my life to know they ain't taking their cues from opera. We believe in free speech because it works; the truth will out.
    So what if Adams and librettist Alice Goodman (both Jewish, at least at one point) give the terrorist personalities? So what that they air a rationale before they kill an old man on a wheelchair on the Achille Lauro? That's what happens in life. Right or wrong, they spout justifications. And that's what happens in the art that reflects life.  Iago explains himself, and the audience gets to not like him on his own terms. Satan is also a pretty attractive guy in "Faust"—if the King of Darkness gets to be portrayed in a good light, why not the PLO? 
     What are the protestors upset about? That the justifications for terrorism are given? Or that a growing part of the world—wrongly, in my view—seems to accept those justifications? Shouting them down isn't going to help.
     So yeah, the Jews look bad, not that I believe in collective guilt: if some idiots want to picket and protest and fire off huffy letters, well, it doesn't reflect poorly on me. We're not fungible. I didn't kill Christ either. So yes, cack-handed of organized Judaism, such as it is. The model for doing this right is the Mormon Church. The subject of the sharpest, most obscene put-down ever to cross the footlights, "The Book of Mormon," the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints had the savvy to not only fail to oppose it, but to run ads in the Playbill saying, "You've seen the play; now read the book." Clever.
    A shame professional Judaism couldn't be as sharp, but that's how it's been for us lately.  An unwillingness to view Palestinians as human beings is part of what's stoking the PR nightmare that Israel is going through in the first place. Though really, world opinion has never been Judaism's friend, so maybe Israel's right to ignore it. Me, I'd say solve the damn problem and go on to whatever problem's next. But they're a democracy, remember, like us, and can be just as paralyzed and in thrall to their Right Wing as we are. How can anybody marvel that Israel neglects this thing when American manages the same? We don't need to look to the Middle East to find injustice; it isn't as if America doesn't have 12 million people living here in rightless limbo, decade in, decade out. That's probably why Israel is such a favorite whipping boy among the young; sure beats fretting over your own nation's woes, which is too bad, because a few big campus rallies on immigrations might actually help.
     Just to show how maddening, what a seductive time sink this topic is, the above was meant to be a brief introduction to what I actually wanted to write about: my older boy going off to college, another topic that I haven't written about and nobody asked about, and I thought the Klinghoffer trope would make for an opening paragraph or two.  But it is one of those slopes you once you start sliding down you sort of just keep going.  I blathered on so long that it's time to ring down the curtain. It would be strange to stick college boy here. So we'll get to that actual thing I wanted to write about tomorrow. Or at least try to. One gets distracted by nonsense.

Monday, October 20, 2014

If I point out the big-breasted bimbos in your game, will you threaten to kill me?

Melted crayon,  Durham, North Carolina.

     We can assume that the men threatening to rape and murder Anita Sarkeesian were not doing so because they wanted to disseminate her observations about sexism in the video gaming world to as wide an audience as possible.
     But that is what is happening.
     Like many, I had never heard of her until she showed up on the front page of The New York Times last Wednesday, after she canceled a speech at Utah State University, not just because of threats of a mass shooting but because Utah concealed carry law forbids audiences from being screened (if you thought, “Why, that’s insane,” then there’s two of us).
     The Canadian-born Sarkeesian has a blog, “Feminist Frequency,” offering dissections of the pervasive misogyny of video games.
     When I was a lad and played video games, they were primitive arcade consoles that for 25 cents allowed you to blast asteroids or repel relentlessly advancing alien invaders.
     The past few decades, however, as gaming developed into a $70 billion industry (larger than the world movie industry and all U.S. pro sports combined), the typical adventure involves a well-armed hero wandering a complex fantasy landscape, one that, as Sarkeesian repeatedly points out, is inevitably chocked with scantily clad women.....

To continue reading, click here

Photo atop blog, Virginia Beach, VA shop. 

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Don't leave home without them

The New Yorker's Patricia Marx, and alpaca, at the drugstore.
     I subscribe to just three magazines: Consumer Reports, The Economist, and The New Yorker. 

     Consumer Reports, not as a practical tool—it isn't as if I need them to help me choose a blender—as for the magazine's skeptical tone. So much in the media is blathering, mendacious corporate hype, it's refreshing to see scientific sorts asking: is this any good? Does it work? Should you buy it? I enjoy reading the smartly-written publication, but I also want to give Consumer's Union the money, to support what they do.
   Reading The Economist is, as I've said before, like having an extra brain. Not only do they bring news of corners of the world that we'd never seem to hear from, hear cries that otherwise would be smothered by our big comfy American blanket, but the magazine applies a keen outsider's eye to this country as well. Even their coverage of Chicago is fresh and interesting. 
    And The New Yorker. Nothing needs be said. Either you get it or you don't. I've subscribed to the magazine for 30 years, and my father has subscribed to for 60 (and my son Ross, insisted on getting both it and The Economist at college. That's my boy!)
     Last week's issue, dated Oct. 20, sat on my nightstand for a few days—I've finally got around to reading Keith Richards' Life and find it hard to put down (like Consumer Reports, it's a question of tone. It isn't what Richards reveals so much as how he reveals it, his voice. I find him as interesting writing about the Boy Scouts as he is writing about the Rolling Stones, maybe moreso). But I cracked  The New Yorker Saturday morning, and was rewarded with Patricia Marx's delightfully-conceived and bravely-executed takedown of emotional assistance animals. 
     Basically, the American with Disabilities act allows for service animals—seeing eye dogs, monkeys that can do tasks for paralyzed people, that kind of thing. And glomming onto this are self-indulgent pet owners who want to bring their animals places, and pretend they have emotional issues, and get ersatz credentials and animal vests from for-profit groups. Thousands and thousands of people do this, and people let them, because we're trained to defer to anybody claiming any kind of disability whatsoever, however marginal or illegitimate it might be.  
     Marx skewers this woeful situation by getting a variety of rebarbative animals certified then traipsing around Manhattan with them: a 30-inch long snake, a four and a half foot tall Alpaca, a turkey. She flies with a 26-pound pig, Daphne, to Boston, and takes her to tea at the Four Seasons. 
     The responses of the flustered clerks, maitre d's and flight attendants are priceless. The story is like Borat, the intersection of generally-polite, generally-accommodating America  with Dadaesque insanity. One clerk at Chanel flees the snake but another suggests what snakeskin handbag would best match it, and for only $9,000. 
     While I have never spotlighted someone else's story on my blog before, I'm spotlighting this one, because it does so many neat things, stomping on a social wrong most people would be too timid to tread gingery upon (I thought of Patricia Marx as more of a member of the supporting cast at the New Yorker, the woman who did those delightfully droll shopping report. Obviously I underestimated her; this article, in my mind, boosts her to star status).
     Given the way victimhood and disability have seized the whip hand in American culture, I sincerely think Marx's piece represents an important shift in tone: the cresting of a wave, the reassertion of a modicum of balance and common sense, where your needs to bring a service hippo into the china shop are now balanced by the needs of the people in the shop not to share it with your pacaderm. 
     I'm sure she is hearing howls from those who have had their asses kissed for so long they consider it a birthright, people who feel they are adults in every sense but the chance that their actions might bear scrutiny.  So I felt, besides the inherent good of sharing her story, I would add my applause, for what it's worth. It took courage, as good things often do.
     Don't take my word. Read her story, "Pets Allowed," by clicking here. It helps if you share someone to share it with. I must have read a quarter of the piece out loud to my wife, laughing hard, tears in my eyes. Bravo.