Saturday, November 29, 2008

The Cock's Comb

Sometime in September, I took the plunge and shaved my head, the better to conceal my balding pate. But I noticed that, though the back of the head is bald (more or less), the forelock is still growing, so I cultivated that and it turned into a sort of oddball Mohawk. The “faux-hawk” is currently fashionable among the young, so when the weather got colder, I let the sides grow back but did not chop the “hawk” down. This gave me a frankly eccentric look for the sort of places I frequent, opera houses and such. No one has actually spoken of their shock, but I feel I am an oddity, a Picasso in the Rembrandt gallery.

This look has produced the most astonishing reaction, though, in gay bars, where suddenly I am something to look at, flirt with, proposition. It’s rather a pity that this has happened just as my fires are failing – I often feel I’m leading them on, flirting because I’m lonely and want a conversation (which is the fact of the matter, when I go to bars), and have no intention of responding to their evident point of interest. (Although there have been exceptions to that rule.)

The question is: what is turning them on? I don’t think the look has made me handsomer (it wouldn’t appeal to me, for example). Perhaps the hairlessness draws attention to my thick muscular neck, another red herring: the once-hunky rest of me is no longer so muscular, and I work out seldom. Or is it that my eccentricity implies sexual wildness (as my wearing full leathers used to, back when I could fit into my leathers) that, in fact, is also misleading? Or does it imply “don’t-give-a-fuck,” which again is not true, but might arouse the latent sexual outlaw every gay man is expected to nurture in his bosom? (Maybe every man.) Or is the coxcomb effect somehow a trigger to lustful reflex, much as (for gay men) a well-proportioned, bulging, neatly outlined basket certainly is?

It’s maybe a pity that I’ve discovered this phenomenon at so advanced an age. When I was young and constantly horny, I had enough hair to cover my skull, and that stolid look is what I went for, complete with “clone” mustache.

I’m afraid to remove my goatee because I fear I have more chins beneath it than I had growing in. No: I'll be honest. It's a handsome goatee. I keep it because I like it, as well as because others seem to.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

The hot spot on the melting pot expands

In today's NYTimes, there's an article on Europeans making themselves at home in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. This underscores my belief that while home prices may plunge everywhere else on earth, they will remain stable in New York because everyone on earth with a little cash wants at least a pied-a-terre in the Apple. But the article tells other tales as well, the tale of the expansion of (shall we say) the griddle under the perennial fondue pot of New York. (Also: the kind of cheese that gets melted in it: the couple at the article's heart are named Patel, him English, her Swedish - unmentioned, the fact that "Patel" is an Indian name, that his family can't have been in Blighty all that long, that perhaps they came there not from India but from East Africa ... Obama says we're all mutts; I prefer to say "mongrels.")

Another change in traditional New York is, however, demonstrated by this article:

I once unwarily boasted of New York as the mingler of nations; a guy at the next table in the (Polish) restaurant (himself of Italian deriv.) laughed in my face. "I live in Jackson Heights," he said. "There are 18 nationalities on my block. And none of them mingle. They won't even speak to each other. Different grocery stores, different restaurants, different social groups at the park." "But what happens to their children? They go to public schools together, right?" said I. "Oh, they grow up and mingle - after they move to Manhattan," he admitted.

A few years ago, it was fashionable to say the Great American Melting Pot did not actually melt, that immigrants remained in their separate enclaves. That's true - for a while. In my family (who arrived in the decades before 1900 from Russia and Austria-Hungary), everyone married, and before World War II, everyone married only other Jews, and Ashkenazic Jews at that. (Scandal in my grandmother's family when their Hungarian daughters married Russian Jewish men - but they all did anyway.) In the generation after World War II, the first marriages to gentiles, gradually reaching and passing fifty percent of the mizpochah. Not until the seventies and eighties were marriages interracial as well. (One marriage to an ethnic Chinese in the 1950s.) Now we're getting into interesting religions and far corners of the earth, never mind same-sex unions and unusual adoptions. And of course we live everywhere. But we're still Ashkenazim. I think.

Used to was, the New York melting pot was Manhattan, and only lower Manhattan at that (and only parts of lower Manhattan – my neighborhood, South Village-SoHo, used to be pure Italian). Everyone grew up in an ethnic enclave of one sort or another, then moved and married and joined the middle class, and sent kids to mixed schools, and - then the pot melted, Irish married German Catholics, their kids married Italians or (horror on both sides) Jews, their kids married WASPs or (horror on all sides) blacks or Puerto Ricans, their kids married Chinese or Koreans.

But now the region where the melting goes on is much much larger, and the enclaves are diluting and gentrifying and vanishing: no unmelted Jews on the Lower East Side or Italians around here or Irish in Hell’s Kitchen or Inwood (it’s all Dominicans now in Inwood) or even blacks in Harlem (gosh!); all those neighborhoods have melted and interconnected (and interfucked, a word of my own coining). And now (we learn from this and many articles) Williamsburg has ceased to be a Polish slum and is a major meltdown. (Nearby Greenpoint is still Polish, with Chinese fringes.) And Crown Heights is still Hasidic, but how much longer? (Another generation, I’d say.) And Astoria is still Greek, and Jackson Heights is Afghan-Greek-Indian-Turkish-Croatian-Pakistani-Bengali-Chinese-Hispanic, and FOR THE MOMENT 18 nationalities share a block without ever mingling or even speaking to each other - but their children will go to CUNY and melt and move to Manhattan.

So it melts, but not at once, but in New York (and other ancient towns) the hot surface expands, the fire burns, the cauldron bubbles.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

A magic word to cheer you up: "McCain!"

A (white) friend in Chicago, who was raised in Alabama, says Election Night was one of the greatest of her life, and she was ecstatic to be in Grant Park for the victory speech. I am fascinated (as always, every election) by the nitty-gritty breakdown of who voted for whom. And why. (In Manhattan, it was half a million votes for Obama to fifty thousand for McCain. Who let those people in?)

Race turned out not to be a major issue (except to black voters, bless 'em, and some Republican whites) - largely due to the intelligence with which Obama tamped down the issue. This is also a major difference between him and such candidates as Jesse Jackson. Jackson was the blacks' candidate; Obama always headed the coalition of the young, the intelligent, the ever-so-slightly left of center. (He's a very moderate liberal and I do not expect - alas - terribly liberal policies from his government.)

There were inroads into the ancient bastion of the white racist South. My southern friends have always said to me: "You think it's exotic - we came up here to New York to escape, and we know it's all true." But they grew up there, and more like them who do not leave. And many other friends of mine have moved there, following jobs or something. The place has been changing. When I've been there, the few times I have, it has been a pleasure to see that integration of commerce greases all wheels - whites and blacks mingle easily and politely, whatever may get said at home. People's minds do change, however slowly. If you know people, went to school with them, work with them, fought with them (I mean served in the military), your horror of the unknown must fade. Virginia, North Carolina, Florida went for a black man. The vote was close in other states. It was predictable, but one is amazed and delighted to see it. The South had to change; it had to forget its past to enjoy the delights of the present and future. A lesson the Republicans have so far refused to learn: the young want to live, and their social programs are the liberal ones. Your policies might appeal to older, more close-minded voters, but their children will look askance. They watch too much TV (even bad TV) not to be influenced by its casual freedom from old boundaries.

It would have been a bad year for Republicans in any case, yes, but they have tied themselves repeatedly to moribund, fading, hateful issues: they were anti-Civil Rights (and blacks have not forgotten that - nor have racist whites), they are anti-women's rights, they are anti-gay rights, they are anti-immigrants. They have set themselves in opposition to teaching science in science classrooms. These casual choices for unworthy reasons (I can't believe most Republicans really believe in creationism) have produced an image, a "branding," that they are the backward, hateful party. Word was bound to get around. It hasn't helped that their president was also the master of failed diplomacy, failed war, ruined New Orleans, and ruined economy. They can and do blame Democrats for their every idiotic mistake, but what positive accomplishments has their 12 years' control of Congress and 8 of the presidency brought us? We're a whole lot closer to fascism, but that's not a platform easy to run on. (Whether the Democrats will undo the fascist tilt of the last seven years of "Homeland Security" government remains to be seen.)

In 1964, when I were but a kid, my father solemnly said, "I think the Republican Party may be dead," after LBJ's victory. He used the voice one might have for a worthy if incompetent tennis partner. I said, "Don't be ridiculous; they'll bounce back," and thanks to LBJ's misbegotten Vietnam policy they sure did. In 1974, the day after Nixon quit, I said, "Well, I've seen the last of the worst president I'll ever have to live with," and that was the dumbest thing (politically) that I've ever said. I expect to be disappointed by many things Obama does, as I was with Carter and Clinton, but there is a matter of degree - I won't be shuddering with disgust and horror every time I glance at the headlines, as under Bush. (Or so I hope.)

For the next few weeks - maybe months - I will remember the nervousness of the last two. I will have a magic word whenever I am in the dumps: "McCain!" It automatically brings a smile to my lips and relief to my heart.

We all know NOW that McCain didn't have a chance; for the last couple of months I have been on tenterhooks (left over from a pre-Industrial Revolution loom) that he did. Obama's victory is that of a young, brainy guy who is unafraid of the new things in the world; McCain's defeat is the defeat of the people who feared the new world, who resented it, who wanted it beaten down, with weapons if necessary. Obama will embrace the world, which is eager to return the hug.

I would like to believe the Bush years were an aberration - but I don't. This counterrevolution has been building for some time, since the social revolutions of my youth certainly. Can any government bridge that gap? The Right isn't even interested in any such thing. Can the Left do it? Is there a Left in U.S. politics?