A Much Needed Distraction…

The Chair is taking a seat this week. Rest assured he’s doing well, and the only thing he is sick of is cable news and news in general (though he still has love for Rachel, because, well, duh). Like many Chairs around the country, he is writing and reading and discovering every limitation of distance learning (including his hatred for the term “distance learning”).

But he couldn’t go a week without sharing some pop culture bit that will lift your spirits and distract you from… well.. everything.

Without further adieu — the thing we all needed and didn’t know we needed it: a tour of Patti Lupone’s basement.

You’re welcome.

SCRATCH! THAT! ITCH!

It’s amazing how much I want to touch my face.  Like, all the time and everywhere.

Most especially, I want to rub my eyes.  But REALLY rub them good and hard so they will never itch again.

Though while we’re on the subject, I really, REALLY want to spend a good hour scratching my nose.  I don’t have a particular spot because the tingling shifts all the time. First it’s on the outside, then on the inside and then on the top and the bottom of every side.

Cue Macaulay Culkin scream

Which is to say nothing of my mouth and my ears.  If I weren’t eating everything in sight (Note: Not that there’s very much) or spending so many hours listening for updates and warnings on cable news, they’d bother me even more.  That said, when those orifii (Note: Alternate plural for orifices) are not engaged it’s pure hell to resist the urge to, well, manhandle them in some every way.

In the age of COVID-19 self-quarantine/social distancing/pandemic land we’re not supposed to do a lot.  But touching your face is among those at the top of the list of the WORST things to do.

It’s easy to understand why.  The virus’ entry point is through any open membrane into your body exposed in everyday life.  If you don’t live in a nudist colony, your face is Iwo Jima.

Or, if you don’t like war metaphors, you can think of it as a potentially fatal petri dish.

This is how I used to think about my acne-ridden face all through adolescence so for me that’s not a far reach.  It’s more like a golden oldie.

Unless, of course, there is another way to think about this.

When I stop to ponder what I’ve just written only one word comes to my mind – insanity.  It’s that kind of neuroticism I spent most of my adult life trying to undo through every means possible.

Totally normal now

In particular, many years and tens of thousands of dollars of therapy come to mind. Let’s not even get into all the bad relationship choices, inappropriate acting out by any means necessary or the sheer abject solitary terror and loneliness.

So I’ll be damned if I’m going to let Covi drag me back now.  Nor do I want you going down your own personal rabbit hole, however more creative yours might be. (Note: though I doubt it).

Take those personal victories where you can get them

The crazy part of this face stuff is not the admonition to keep our hands and everything else away from that particular part of our person.  Instead, it’s the absolutism with which we tell it to ourselves and shout it out to the world.

It’s true, you don’t want to be in an office, a public space or anywhere else and put your fingers where they shouldn’t be (Note:  Good advice, even without a plague).

But if you’re at home alone and you’ve just washed your hands for 20 seconds with soap and warm water, well —

HAVE AT IT!!!

Me, right now

Truly.  If you’re healthy nothing will happen to you.  How could it?  You’ve just disinfected (aka killed the virus) the means by which your death sentence will mutate.

Yes, I’ve exaggerated for dramatic effect.  COVID-19 is not a death sentence for most.  But for many, it’s not fun.  And for many more other than yourself, it could be if you pass it on.

But you want to be mindful.  And you want to be rational or you will kill the very reason you want to stay alive to begin with.

And when in doubt, I just remember Jon Hamm is OK

TODAY.

Fine, today’s not so great, even if you do like your house.  Nevertheless it’s all we’ve got for now.  In actuality, it’s all we’ve ever had.  It’s just, well, it didn’t always seem that way, did it?

I don’t know about you but I don’t want to f-ck up today for myself more than outside circumstances already have.

This occurred to me this morning after I came back from a lovely morning walk with my dog, Rosie, took off her collar and leash, gave her a treat, took off my jacket and put it in the laundry room, scrubbed my hands thoroughly and then nearly slapped myself silly for having the urge to….itch the outside of my nostril with my bare finger.

Do I want to die, I thought for a split second.

RESISTANCE IS FUTILE!

And then I sneezed, confirming pretty soon I would die.  In fact, it was imminent.  Never mind that it’s the height of allergy season and I haven’t had my bi-weekly allergy shot in weeks.   And that Rosie had decided this a.m. to sniff every tree, shrub, flower (Note: But no people, NEVER people) in sight.

Then suddenly I stopped.  Maybe it was all that therapy or perhaps it was Rosie’s look at the crazy person in her kitchen.

But something in that moment made me ponder my runaway train thought processes, wash my hands one more time for good measure (Note: You never can be too careful), and then SCRATCH AWAY.

NEED MORE HANDS!

EVERYWHERE.

And I do mean everywhere.

(Note: Use your imagination).

What have I done?

In closing, all I’m saying is this:

You don’t have to scratch every itch you have but there is no point to any of this if you simply exist in a scratch free prison of your own making.

DO NOT take this as in invitation to party in the South Beach of your choice with your favorite teen or twentysomething.

But DO find a way to party on your own….with clean hands.

Bee Gees – “Stayin Alive”

The Chair’s Guide to Quarantine

 

My husband was at the market today and unwittingly made a woman smile.

She was unsuccessfully trying to juggle SIX DOUBLE ROLLS OF PAPER TOWELS in her hands as she hurried towards the checker and, seeing the futility of her efforts, met his eyes, nodded and laughed.

Perhaps your story involves insane amounts of hand sanitizer, tissues, toilet paper, or aspirin – either falling out of people’s arms (or your own) or not on the shelves at all.

Funny because it’s true (and there’s nothing wrong with that)

But THIS is a typical part of the day in the life of America today.

The calm before the storm, the panic before it could inevitably get really bad.

In order to stop myself from indulging in such behavior, I automatically think about what my mother used to say when Too Sensitive Me was getting overly upset by something going on in my world.

Just keep it up and I’ll really give you something to cry about!

Or, if my Mom’s brand of tough love isn’t working for you (Note: It certainly doesn’t for me), how about this admonition from the immortal Cher:

Perfection

Screenwriter John Patrick Shanley wrote those words for her to deliver in the classic 1987 film Moonstruck but they are no less timely 30 years plus later.

Still, this does not mean they are not overly HARSH.

If we want to weather the storm (or tornado or typhoon) of COVID-19 we need to practice….     um…..       Social    ……………………………………………     distancing.

What this means is not getting too close to others, keeping our hands clean, resisting the urge to touch our faces or mouths and, most importantly, and when possible –

STAYING HOME

Just remember to wash those sheets!

Yes, this is an economic hardship, especially for those who will no longer get paid for their jobs or others who are either unable to work virtually or have children now home from school.

Still, it’s just been announced every worker affected by self-quarantine (nee staying home) is at least eligible for unemployment.

Not to mention, remember all that guilt you might have felt for not spending enough time with your kids?  Well…..

If all else fails, empty boxes will do

Okay, who am I kidding?  I don’t have kids and am fortunate enough to be able to do my job from my bed, I mean, um, home… office.

Nevertheless, as one out of the many fortunate millions who managed to live through the raging AIDS epidemic of the eighties (and beyond ) who is still around to tell the tale, I do know something about viral panic.

There was a time not so many decades ago that I remember washing and disinfecting my hands so religiously and profusely that I actually scrubbed the surface layer of skin off the top of one of my palms.

Not feeling nostalgic for this

It was then, and only then, I began to understand the futility of hysteria and the hilarity of my own neurosis.   No matter how appropriate I believed I was being that is how much my reactions weren’t helping.  Certainly, they weren’t making me any cleaner.

So until they get more information and come up with a reliable, available test/treatment/cure for this virus en masse, here are some handy survival tips:

1- TAKE POSITIVE ACTIONS OF YOUR CHOICE – Demonstrate on the streets (alone, or with a few folks 6ft apart please), commiserate with friends and loved ones (more on this below), rant at the TV and politicians (Note: Well, THE politician, wink wink) , research and come up with position papers that will solve the entire thing but Do NOT FEEL GUILTY about NOT doing EVERY ONE OF THESE THINGS EACH DAY.

I support Netflix, I do not support pizza in bed (I mean, there is a line)

Seriously, no one is Mother Theresa, not even Mother Theresa.  She might have done great unselfish things but even she is a construct, a gold standard of perfectionism and self-sacrifice that is non-human and can’t possibly provide you a true unvarnished 100% human X-ray of a real woman.  Or man.

Therefore, do what you can but don’t beat yourself up for not doing enough.  You’re not letting yourself off the hook for anything, you’re simply being yourself.  And you get to wake up and try again the next day, and the next, and the day after that.   Because you’re one of the lucky.

2- COMFORT FOOD TV – This does not mean binge watching The Wire or finding a streaming service offering all 14 episodes of Fassbinder’s Berlin Alexanderplatz.

Instead it means marathons of The Simpsons, The Bachelor (or Bachelorette), Law and Order SVU/CSI/NCIS/Blue Bloods or WWE (Note: That’s Worldwide Wrestling for my fellow gays).

Gotta love that Olivia Benson brand of encouragement #benson2020

A few days ago someone told me that a really smart person they knew had taken to watching countless back-to-back Big Bang Theory episodes they’d already seen.

But I have that beat.  This weekend I tuned in Logo and in one sitting tore through twelve straight episodes of The Nanny, a show I seldom if ever saw in first run.

THOSE. OUTFITS.

 

Maybe it was Fran Drescher’s voice, or the fact that Renee Taylor, the comic actress who played her mother, reminded me of my mother, or just maybe it’s the fact that, like me, the title character is from Flushing, Queens AND Jewish and likes to wear loud clothes and is a scheming nag when she doesn’t get her way.  But after all those decades, in this particular time of this decade, boy is she hilarious.

3- START A SILLY CREATIVE PROJECT DOOMED TO FAILURE –Maybe it’s the book, screenplay, poem , song or short story you always wanted to write.

Perhaps it’s rearranging the furniture in your living room.

Or even hanging the framed picture that’s been sitting in your closet for a year because you are sure you’ll f-k up your wall if you try to do it yourself.

When I was in my twenties I thought it was a great idea to use high gloss black paint on every wall in my bathroom and to this day I treasure the reaction of my landlady when she saw it.

The point is, why NOT?  God knows you have the time and it will give you something to talk about instead of the virus.

4- “PHONE” A FRIEND – This might sound silly or obvious but there is a lot to unpack here.   Living in a world where EVERYONE is being told to stay inside as much as possible means that for one of the first times in your life you are truly NOT alone.  So use it as an excuse to reach out to…..ANYONE because, well, you actually have a reason.

it’s time to Facetime!

This means someone from your past, present or perhaps…future?  You don’t need to pretend anymore.  We’re all a bit crazed.  Some aberrant behavior is to be expected.   So take advantage of the fact that there’s a wider berth of crazy for all of us.

The office acquaintance, the best friend who is no longer best, the former or future lover of your dreams.  Even the individual you at one point wanted to tell off but now actually miss.  Does it REALLY matter???

And know that in 2020 coronavirus parlance, “phone” clearly means, Skype, text, gchat, zoom or any virtual reality of your choice.

5- BE.  OF. SERVICE. –  Nothing takes you out of your own insanity or isolation more than helping someone else with his or her own stuff.  This means ANYONE and ANYWHERE.  Oh, and there is little noble about this.  Most likely whomever you are helping has it FAR WORSE than you do and you will get to feel mighty good about YOUR life afterwards.

This + thinking about Tom Hanks (and Rita!)

This is how many of us got through the eighties.

And how many of us will get through today.

Justin Hurwitz – “Quarantine” (from First Man)

Hysteria

OMG, THE CORONA VIRUS!

OMG, THERE ISN’T GONNA BE TOILET PAPER!

OMG, DO YOU KNOW THAT AMAZON IS OUT OF PURELL?

OMG, JOE BIDEN IS SENILE!  AND WE’RE GONNA LOSE!

OMG, BERNIE SANDERS IS A LUNATIC!  HOW CAN WE WIN? 

OMG, TRUMP IS SENILE AND A LUNATIC!  SOMEBODY STOP HIM BEFORE HE WINS!!

…And how was your week?

AGHHHHH

It’s reassuring that in stressful times like these citizens across the country are overrunning Costco to buy toilet paper, hand sanitizer and water and not rioting in the streets.  Or is it?

Well, at least no one seems transfixed anymore that the stock market fell over 12% overall in the last month and economists say we’re headed towards a worldwide recession.

No, what’s foremost in people’s minds are dirty butts, starvation while quarantined, and the inevitability of death by a thousand handshakes.

These days we’re all Trudeau #notthankyouplease

Though fun fact:

Do you know what the consumer research company Nielsen lists as the single item with the biggest increase in food and beverage sales for the week ending Feb. 29th?

gotta be booze?

It’s……..

OAT MILK!!!!!!

Oh for the love of…

Yes, seriously.  Sales were up 322%  (Note:  Yes, 3 HUNDRED 22) in a one-week period and 348% in the last month.  Its closest competitor is powdered milk products at 84% and dried beans at 39.6%

Water, in case you were wondering, was waaaay back, pulling up the rear at 11.8%.

What this tells me is that we’ve all gone nuts, especially since several weeks ago I actually tried oat milk for the first time in coffee and literally had to spit the entire mouthful out in the sink.

I’ll stick to my regular latte please

For the non-dairy variety I much prefer soy, thank you very much.   Despite the fact that four months ago someone warned me that if men consume too much soy they will inevitably grow breasts.

This is the least of my problems at the moment and at my age.

I don’t do well with hysteria and have spent a lifetime of therapy fighting against it.  And yet these days it’s all around us.  People are either panicked about not having a 401K or panicked about losing 20-30% of their 401Ks in the last month.

Debbie Downer’s return to SNL this week says it all

It’s true.  I’ve heard people talking about either or both

  1. on line at a Starbucks
  2. at the car wash on a cell phone and
  3. while walking in a mall parking lot

If only I’d known at the time that two of the only stocks to go shooting straight up in that time period was Target and Walmart.

I could’ve saved them and myself a lot of needless aggravation.

And beat the crowds at Target since I wouldn’t give one penny to the ultra right wing, homophobic Trump supporting Walton family that owns Walmart.

Except, wait a minute……

I’m wrong.

It seems that in the 2016 election 60% of the members of the family foundation gave to Democratic causes with many of the younger members actually supporting…. …Hillary Clinton?

WHAT

This seems to get more to the root of the answer of what will kill us.

I’m as guilty as the next person in perpetuating a certain kind of hysteria that will finally get us all in the end   And that would be the knee jerk distrust of the next guy or gal who disagrees with us, offends us or just plain disgusts us.

I don’t know about you but I can’t tolerate one more ……… that ……………….s or ………….s for …………………… or for a…………… No one gets a free pass anymore from me and EVERYONE has to pay the piper.

This kind of thinking will destroy us.

Certainly, I loathe people who disagree with me on big things (Note: Or anything!)  as much as you do but, well, where is it leaving me, or us, in the long run?

Be that as it may…

Let’s take the election.  If you’re a Dem and you really want Trump out of the White House don’t assume your fellow Dem who doesn’t support your candidate is misguided, stupid or too liberal or conservative to know any better.

I mean, you can think it but certainly don’t post it or say it out loud.  It won’t win you any friends and it certainly won’t influence any people.

In fact, it will have the exact OPPOSITE result that you are looking for.

Though it does seem like it’s time to admit, I’m really OVER AMY. #sorrynotsorry

It will only cause your perceived “enemy” to dig in further and foster needless hysteria.  And it will cost you a lot more than an empty-handed toilet paper run at Costco.  It will cost you… well, let’s not even think about that, shall we?

But if you’re a Dem speaking to a roomful of Trump supporters…..you can tell them to take their ____________ hats and ________________ it where the….

Well, I’m working on that.  Though not at Walmart.  Never at Walmart.

At least, yet.

Def Leppard – “Hysteria”

Debating the Hunt

I want what I want when I want it and HOW I want it.

Well, sorry.  That’s not how it happens.

This weekend I binged the first three episodes of the wildly imaginative and riveting new Amazon series, Hunters.  In it, Al Pacino plays a wealthy NYC Holocaust survivor who leads a secret ragtag band of avengers out to exterminate a small organized army of Nazis and pro Hitler youth bent on creating a Fourth Reich.

Think X-Men meets Inglorious Bastards told through the eyes of a Gen X’er in the late 1970s.

Sounds good to me!

Mixing fact and fiction, as dramatists are wont to do, Hunters is a crazy ride through a cross-section of imagined superhero type adventures (Note: Sans supernatural powers) and serious, sometimes gruesome reinventions of Holocaust atrocities.  The latter are quite difficult to look at and yet impossible to look away from.

As a somewhat diminutive Jewish boy from NYC who also felt powerless in my younger days, especially when it came to Nazis and bullies, I found myself LOVING every moment of Hunters, especially for the dramatic and sweet comic revenge the series offered.

Still, this hasn’t stopped its inevitable condemnation from a large and loud group of detractors.

Twitter 2020

Those include any number of Jewish groups who’ve chastised the series and its creators for inventing Nazi cruelties in a reimagined Grand Guignol type setting.  The same type of setting many of them also applauded in the above-mentioned, and Oscar-winning, Tarantino film.

Other virulent critics and social media observers were a lot more Guignol in their characterization, dismissing the entire affair as Jewsploitation.

One organization, dedicated to preserving the site of the Auschwitz camps as a memorial and preemptive warning for future generations, even called it dangerous foolishness.

It is on Amazon Prime, not PBS. #getagrip #wait #amibeingtooharsh?

Never mind the series’ 31-year old creator and show runner, David Weil, is the grandson of a Holocaust survivor and used his grandmother’s stories as a jumping off point for many of the ideas in the program.

Now taste is taste and certainly no one is obligated to love, like or even tolerate something if it is not to their sensibilities.

On the same token, one can safely assume that none of us, critics or boosters alike, are fans of the Holocaust or disagree that the return to power of Nazis and a new Fourth Reich would be a heinous, dangerous thing.

I think we’re all on the same page here

In other words, we are all in 100% in agreement on the overriding need of getting the word out on that specific dramatic message.  It’s simply the means by which we get there that we disagree on.

Another way to put it is that when it comes to the most important stuff, we are all on the SAME team, if not page.

You might see where I’m going here.  But in case you don’t, here goes:

I believe the United States is right now on the verge of our own modern day Holocaust: of democracy, our core values, our safety and our liberties.

I believe the determining factor on which way it goes will be whether we reelect Donald J. Trump to the presidency later this year.

I believe the overwhelming majority of Democrats, and more Republicans than many of us imagine, agree on this. Certainly the majority of registered voters in the country agree.  As they did in the last election.

Get your surfboard #bluewave2020

Yet here’s what I’ve witnessed among my own intimate group of fellow friends, associates and Americans, many of them Democrats, in the last few weeks:

– The condemnation of comedian John Mulaney by numerous like-minded Dems for daring to say he’d like to play Pete Buttigieg if they ever made a film about the candidate’s life. (Note: FYI, Mulaney has not even endorsed Buttigieg).

– A massive social media backlash against show biz icon Bette Midler for tweeting that Mike Bloomberg is our best choice to dethrone Trump. (Note: Several fans screamed that they’re done with her forever even though Midler has been a vociferous and almost daily anti-Trump voice on Twitter for over a year).

Do NOT come for our Bette!

– Very personal rantings from a bunch of close male friends against Elizabeth Warren because she dared to confront Mike Bloomberg very directly about his past treatment of women during the last two presidential debates and, as the logic goes, ruined his chance of election.

– The vow to SIT OUT the election entirely and NOT VOTE from a powerful small group of wealthy Dem donors I know if Bernie Sanders winds up being our party nominee.

– The vow to NEVER VOTE for any moderate Democratic nominee – especially Joe Biden, Pete Buttigieg and, yeah, Bloomberg – from any number of younger Dems that I know.

You’ll only get real talk from the Chair

– The thorough CONFUSION of many of the people closest to me on which Democratic candidate to vote for in the primary due to the fear that if the if they choose the person they TRULY SUPPORT they are wasting their vote because that person CAN’T WIN or WONT BE THE NOMINEE and they will thus unwittingly help nominate another candidate they loathe, dislike or generally would be quite reluctant to vote for.

Talk about SELF-SEWING American discord according to Russia’s plan.

Not to be scolding, but, well, now is the time for us all to grow the f-ck up.

What this means is: vote for whomever you REALLY want in the primary.  ANYONE.  And then unite behind the major party candidate your party nominates in order to rid our country of the Nazi in OUR House.

Yeah I said it

This might seem like hyperbole but in my mind it’s not.

This might seem like a difficult choice to make but if you don’t overcomplicate it, it isn’t.

See, on the big issues of Reichs and Nazi-like behavior, the objectives that unite as are pretty simple and a lot stronger than any which divide us.

Or should be.

Blondie – “One Way or Another” (Live)

Fight Club

I stepped into a hornet’s nest of passion this weekend after re-posting a news article focused on a statement made by MSNBC commentator Joy Reid.

In it, she took Bernie Sanders to task for saying the Republican establishment will not stop him from getting the Democratic nomination for president, nor will the Democratic establishment. 

The tweet that started it all…

By equating the powerbrokers of both parties, Reid claimed Sanders was essentially staging a hostile takeover of the Democratic Party rather than bringing people of that party, and others, together to defeat Donald Trump.

She framed it all by pointing out that in making the above proclamation Sanders, a registered INDEPENDENT and technically NOT a Democrat, had boldly and unapologetically kicked 65 million Hillary Clinton voters, the majority of who WERE registered Democrats, to the curb.

And that he needed those voters to win.

I was in such agreement with those thoughts and so annoyed by Sanders’ cavalier messianic attitude, I instantly put it on Facebook with a single accompanying phrase: THIS.

Very quickly, and perhaps predictably given how many young people and former students are my Facebook friends, here’s what the reaction looked like:

My facebook feed for the last 24 hours

Now I had planned this week to write about how actress-writer Amanda Peet had literally stolen my identity with the title of her just announced Netflix TV series THE CHAIR, starring the sublime Sandra Oh as the head of a college English department.

I mean, all I could think of was:

HOW DARE SHE??????

But when you weigh my outrage against, well, my outrage, it’s clearly the subject of Bernie that wins — at least for right now.

More importantly, I’m thrilled that it did.

Me and conflict

That repost prompted close to 100 back and forth passionate, angry, frustrated funny and heartfelt comments on politics, social issues and the state of our mutual lives.

I don’t know that it singlehandedly changed anyone’s mind, for the moment, but I am positive it allowed many of us to better understand the place from which each of us were coming from and why we felt the way that we did.

I’m also inclined to think that the next time this subject comes up we might all be that much more informed about how people really feel on the issues and allow us to engage that much more effectively.

Me, achieving world peace

It might even enable us to resolve a few things and modify our approach, or opinions.

This is how change happens and this is how you open hearts and minds.  Not by rolling over but by engaging, arguing, listening and then engaging again.  And again.  And then some more.

A big part of my job as a college professor is to provoke, navigate and guide.   There is nothing wrong with criticism if it’s followed by discussion.  It’s essential in the classroom and in life if we’re to ever move forward anymore.

TAKE NOTE SANDRA! (nice chair though)

But too often these days we just can’t seem to do it well or avoid it all together.

Talking out loud about a controversial issue, statement or opinion devolves into I hate this, or him or herOr rage about the blah, blah, blah of the blah, blah, bah.  Even the mere sound or sight of the blah, blah, blah, in print, or worse, in person, is sickening.

This enables the I won’t comment at all for fear of being attacked or the strategy to seethe quietly (or not so quietly) and then strike in such a way that I can’t be harmed  and/or you won’t know who it is.

Or the alternate strategy of I will do nothing and just go on with my life, which isn’t horrible enough to move me away from my everyday routine in order to engage with this issue, or you.

If only

This doesn’t work for any of us on either side in the long run.

My college community is at the moment in the midst of discussions about race and racism as we become a more diverse and inclusive campus.

It is healthy to address those issues and more as long as it’s not done in an absolutist manner from either side.

This is difficult to achieve, as many in the fight will attest to, but clearly is possible.  We stumble, we upset each other but we persevere and eventually come to an understanding of each other’s points of view and then figure out how to best soldier on with the best outcomes for as many of us as possible.

And if that doesn’t work, we can all agree that Jon Hamm’s still got it

It’s easy to see colleges, or social media platforms or real live engagement as a petri dish of microaggressions, oversensitivities, insensitivities, hostilities or simply biased and/or callous disregard, and worse. 

But that’s not the way I look at it.

We MUST get in the ring and spar, perhaps even fight, in order to get anywhere, especially these days.  We are required to LISTEN and then try to understand, regardless of whether we do a 180 and change our points of view.

To turn away and NOT do it, to hide from all this conflict, is a sure fire strategy for our mass mutual demise.

Christina Aguilera – “Fighter”

Time Traveling with TCM

As the 2020 presidential election looms like a giant sword swinging over our collective heads, it’s difficult to know what to do.

Turn off and there’s the guilt, or eventual guilt, over whistling past the graveyard of American democracy.

Turn on and there’s the endless anger and non-stop memes (or worse) that pits US against THEM and saps whatever energy is left for I.

I’m with you Steph

What that leaves each of us with right now is individual choice, a sure sign that American democracy is not dead…yet.

That was reassuring for half the weekend because I, for one, scheduled a relaxing few days at home lying around, reading and catching up on the 75% of programming saved on the DVR that needs to be erased…at some point.

But then I turned on Turner Classic Movies

That seemed like a good idea because this month TCM is featuring 31 Days of Oscar.  What this means is that until March 2 every film scheduled on the network is a nominee or winner of Hollywood’s top prize.

Also featured: Ben Mankiewicz and his lush, thick hair #notjealous #veryjealous

For those of us worn out from the politics of it all popping up on the news, in social media and as a part of even the most generalized pop culture memes everywhere, that provides a virtual luxury vacation of escape.

You can ostensibly tune in at any time and be pretty sure you’ll have an all expenses paid trip of at least two hours into an alternate story reality much more preferable and a lot less toxic than the one we all currently reside in.

Ok Rhett… let’s say sometimes  just AS toxic

And I’m not just writing this because my dear friend, Pola Changnon, a fellow movie lover, was recently and very deservedly named general manager of the whole damned network several weeks ago.

Though partly I am.

Damn right!

At our celebratory dinner I couldn’t help but gush a little to her at how, in these trying times, it was such a relief to tune in TCM and, suddenly, get lured into a non-2020 narrative where there is no Twitter and usually not much in the way of anything Orange employed onscreen.

Even though any number of the films on TCM might be available to rent and/or purchase, somehow, when you think of doing that, you instantly say to yourself, I don’t have time to watch this!

But when they suddenly appear on Channel 256 (in LA of course) on your TV or screen of choice and you get hooked, hey, no one can blame you!

Margo’s got the right idea

To do so would be like getting down on someone for eating a slice of that already half eaten chocolate cake left out on the counter or helping yourself to a single drink at an open bar at anyone’s yearly holiday party and being met with a nasty stare by the “Church Lady.”

You’re entitled.  We’re all entitled.

But here’s the thing about escape.  Wherever you are, there you are.

At least that’s how it felt to me watching the classic, Oscar nominated movie, The Third Man on TCM this past Saturday afternoon.

* not directed by Welles

Foolishly thinking a 1949 film noir with Joseph Cotten and Orson Welles that I somehow had managed not to have ever seen all the way through could free me from the T***P era what I discovered was… um… NOanything but.

Based on a Graham Greene novella The Third Man is brilliantly photographed and edited, has a great twist and turn story, terrific acting and innovative directing, AND an unforgettable score.

It is also a perfect evocation of the moral dilemma we all face in the, okay let’s say it now, Trump Era.

AH!! DON’T SAY IT!!

Rather than transport us away into post World War II Vienna (Note: Though it literally does) it more effectively brings us right back to the question of 21st century individual choice.

That is to say, how to confront moral decay and, yeah, pure evil when we see it.

– The Third Man doesn’t have children in cages as a result of the whims of a powerful man but instead shows us kids locked in a hospital, dying of (Note: Okay, no spoilers here) because of the actions of a brilliantly clever (Note: Evil?) genius with no moral compass.

– The Third Man isn’t about an election and the loss of the rule of law but instead is about one writer/investigator challenged to make a defining moral choice in a sea of contradictory and sometimes but not ultimately confusing facts.

Figuring out the light from dark (bonus cool lighting)

 – The Third Man doesn’t have raging arguments between longtime neighbors and family members about right vs. wrong but it does ask us to consider whether our most loyal bestie from childhood can be good and evil at the same time and calmly consider how every one of OUR actions – past, present and future — has and will affect not just ourselves but the rest of the world as we know it.

Not bad for a half century plus old black and white feature where everyone but the American writer played by Joseph Cotten speaks with an accent, the Twitter-sphere didn’t exist and no mention at all is made of democracy, elections or the rise of the socialist left and/or the dictatorial repressive right.

But it does have Ferris Wheels!

A great classic movie is a little like a vintage piece of clothing you hold on to over the years.   As norms change you know that in a pinch it will perfectly fit some occasion, event of even era you are suddenly faced with.

It’s comforting, it’s clarifying but at the same time it also makes you think, sometimes of all sorts of things you might want to forget.

Or should remember.

That’s saying a lot for the days we’ve been living through and have yet to go through.

Anton Karas – Theme from The Third Man