Strange times we’re living in. They remind me of the strangest moment of my life — and I’ve seen some odd ones. The strangest of all, perhaps, happened in Muleshoe, Oklahoma.
I was moving from the West Coast to the East to study music, in 1974. Parked my VW Bug in the parking lot of a cheap motel, got a key and proceeded to the door. Lugged my instruments inside, lest someone in Muleshoe would want to steal a baritone sax, a tenor, an alto, a bass clarinet, B-flat clarinet and a flute.
One never knows, does one?
Secure in my room with my woodwind choir, my eyes turned to the statement on the door. The one in a little box behind plastics that tells you about how to use the washing machines and the Coke machines and so on.
This one said, in 1974, that niggers were not allowed to use the laundry; niggers were not allowed in town after dark, niggers were not allowed to complain to the front desk … and so on.
I stood there and read that. I felt I had fallen into a time warp.
Then this happened. This story is absolutely true.
After I read that bizarre thing on the door, I turned on the TV, and got a grainy black-and-white 1950s type quiz show called “Name Your Perversion.”
Stood there, jaw dragging on the floor.
The announcer asked a rabbi a question, and when the rabbi got it right, the announcer said: “Now, rabbi, name your perversion!”
The rabbi said he wanted to be tied to chair while prostitutes whip him with silk stockings, and his wife knelt at his feet eating pork chops.
And the announcer said: “Now, let’s give him his perversion!”
And they did.
It was the most bizarre moment of my life. And I grew up in the 1960s.
Turned out it was a scene from Woody Allen’s movie, “Everything you Always Wanted to Know About Sex, But Were Afraid to Ask.”
Still, after that became evident, it didn’t help much. Because the time warp had captured me in its not yet worldwide web.
Today I feel like I’m in that time warp again.
And not just on TV.
And not just in Muleshoe, Oklahoma.
In the whole damn country.
Our national political discourse has become based on insults — and not as a joke.
The White House, secretaries of all the Cabinet departments, and both houses of Congress today speak power to truth. Racism, sex assault, homophobia, anti-Semitism, xenophobia, religious bigotry of all kinds, foul air and water and medieval views about science are supposed to “make America great again.”
Maybe I’m elitist. Unlike the man in the White House, I not only can read, I do. Here’s something I came across yesterday: Samuel Taylor Coleridge scribbling in a notebook about what made a certain fellow great: “Shakespeare … first studied patiently, meditated deeply, understood minutely, till knowledge became habitual.” And Shakespeare, great as he was, and for all the problems he surely had, did not have to meditate upon or understand international terrorism, nuclear weapons or Russia. All he did was write plays, direct them, do a little acting …
How, then, can Congress, or the president, or his Cabinet make our country great by impatiently refusing to study at all, failing to meditate even shallowly about anything but themselves, and not understanding a damn thing?
Just thought I’d ask.
“A fool, a fool! I met a fool I’ the forest,
A motley fool; a miserable world!
As I do live by food, I met a fool …
Motley’s the only wear.”