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Worse and Worse, Better and Better (with Homage to Sebastian Stoskopff)

Public trouble and chaos, private peace and progress. The macro-world is mad, but my micro-world is more than OK.

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We didn’t move from New York to California until 1989, so for a long time, Donald Trump was for me just a local New York character, one of the many unsavory, amusing scoundrels/big-mouths/hucksters/connivers/rascals/swindlers/rogues who fill the history of “the City.”

Boss Tweed … George Steinbrenner … Gentleman Jimmy Walker … Roy Cohn … P.T. Barnum … Jay Gould … Ed Koch … Robert Moses … Jed Harris … Rudolph Guiliani … Bob Guccione … David Merrick … Al Goldstein … Walter Winchell … The list of larger-than-life, unsavory New Yorkers is practically endless.

In fact, I believe that one of the original “attractions” of Trump was that he is a New York loudmouth, willing to say anything: a comic figure, a tummler* spritzing jokes, nasty asides and “truths,” with no filter and no rules. Isn’t that what he played on “The Apprentice?” Who else could ridicule John McCain’s POW history and get away with it? Who else could call The White House “a dump” and not be routed out of office with pitchforks and torches?”

Trump was SPY magazine’s “short-fingered vulgarian” and a target of derision almost from the moment he surfaced. As Liz Smith, one of New York’s venerable gossip columnists who’s observed Trump for decades, said of him, “He was a horse’s ass. Still is.” Remember, Trump got 18% of the vote in New York City; this is from the people who know him best. He is so reviled in his hometown that they have to take his name off of buildings.

And now he’s the POTUS. It’s still hard to believe; a bad dream from which we cannot wake. I still think that he won’t finish his term. Impeachment and/or resignation is inevitable. He’s barely half-a-year into his term, and there is so much to come out. Arguably Trump’s firing of James Comey over “the Russia thing” is reason enough to remove him from office – prima face obstruction of justice -- but I’m sure many other offenses will come to the surface now that Robert Mueller has two grand juries impaneled. So much lying, so many evasions from so many people, for so many months – Flynn, Sessions, Manafort, Kushner, Trump Jr., and the master liar Trump himself – are the smoke that shows how much fire there is.

What will happen if – or is it when – Trump gets rid of Mueller? I’m old enough to remember the Saturday Night Massacre when Nixon arranged the firing of Watergate investigator Archibald Cox. The TG and I didn’t have a lot of money in 1973. I remember that we were repainting our bedroom that weekend, but we sent a telegram of protest – probably to Nixon. I don’t recall what it said, but I do remember that it cost more than $6 to send it. Who remembers “telegrams?

(Of course, the man Nixon got to fire Cox after both Attorney General Elliot Richardson and Deputy Attorney General William Rusckelshaus refused to do it was the notorious Robert Bork. I had some slight phone contact with Bork when I was an editorial assistant to the economics editor at a book publisher where he had a book contract. He was polite, but kind of a dick. He never delivered the manuscript.)

When the facts about Trump & Co.’s collusion with the Russians come out – which will happen – what will rank-and-file Republicans do? What will the Freedom Caucus and other self-described patriots do? It will be … interesting.

The work of the free press – specifically The New York Times and The Washington Post – is going to be essential as we move forward into history. Just like during Watergate.

Meanwhile … Congressman Brad Sherman’s Trump Impeachment resolution – H. Res. 438 – stands.


It is important to keep protesting, resisting, and laughing at Trump. Remember, as Mark Twain said, “Against the assault of laughter, nothing can stand.”



As the foundations of the Republic are shaking, I’m having a fine old time. Is that wrong?

I delivered the manuscript of WHEN I GOT OUT to my publisher and got back some great notes from him. So I have a few more months of work to do, but his ideas were very good, and they will make the book better. (I also got some great notes from a good friend of mine, a gifted writer/editor/reader.) I am consumed with making it better. That’s the mandate of my job.

But while I was waiting for his notes, I found myself with some extra time one morning and went with the TG to the Norton Simon Museum in nearby Pasadena. The Norton Simon is one of the best small museums in the US. (The other good candidates are the Frick Collection in New York, the Isabella Stewart Gardner in Boston, and the Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia.) I go to the Norton Simon with some regularity. According to Google Maps, it is 11 minutes from my house, so we take visitors from out of town there all the time. But sometimes I go with the TG, and sometimes I go by myself.

And virtually every time, I find a new artist – at least new to me – who thrills me. This time, it was SEBASTIAN STOSKOPFF. This Alsatian painter (born in 1597, died in 1657) was one of the great masters of still life painting. He painted in the style of the Dutch and Flemish schools – “orderly disorder” – to depict worldly objects and, at the same time, comment upon man and his foibles. Stoskopff’s specialty was the painting of extremely thin stemware, often in a solitary basket. Broken glass symbolized the transient nature of life. Ain’t it the truth, Sebastian?

I spent a good long time examing Stoskopff’s STILL LIFE WITH EMPTY GLASSES from very close range. It is a tour de force of the painter’s ability to recreate the textures and look of reality. The gold-rimmed silver cups, the transparent glasses, the wicker baskets, the copper and the brass are all rendered with perfect clarity, precision, and, yes, love. This painting is so good, it almost jumps off the wall.

There are a few mentions of Stoskopff in my art history sources, but he‘s not even mentioned in Gardner’s ART THROUGH THE AGES, an often-used standard art history. (Calder’s Father borrowed my Jansen and Gombrich, or I’d check them.) Stoskopff produced a catalog of 70 works, although some of these are doubtful attributions. There is no separate monograph on Stroskopff in English, or I’d buy it in a flash.

Every time I discover a “new” genius, I am filled with hope and inspiration. Stoskopff’s expertise is stunning and undeniable. Who cares if nobody’s ever heard of him? The work is what matters. Maybe I can put words and sentences together, the way that he applies paint to the canvas – with “clarity, precision, and, yes, love.” I can certainly try.

As I mentioned above, I have changes to make on WHEN I GOT OUT. Not super-major changes, but any change in a novel is significant. Change one piece, and you can alter the tapestry in a hundred ways. And the whole piece has to be re-woven, so it’s seamless. At least, that’s what you aim for.

Meanwhile, I’m inspired. As Noel Coward said, “Work is more fun than fun.”

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Stoskopff’s Wikipedia entry

Stoskopff’s entry in Art Cyclopedia

59 Stoskopff Paintings in The Athenaeum

A nice Stoskopff entry from Art Courier

Stoskopff’s BASKET WITH GLASSES, PIE, AND A LETTER with a Mozart String Quartet


*In THE JOYS OF YIDDISH, Leo Rosten’s first definition of ‘tummler’ is: “One who creates a lot of noise (tummel) but accomplishes little.”


Dunkirk, Etc.

The TG and I saw "DUNKIRK" over the weekend. She liked it a lot more than I did. I thought it was just OK: under-dramatized and de-personalized. Part of the problem was that Christopher Nolan wrote his own screenplay, which was insubstantial and unreal. I guess he felt that his pictures could carry the drama, but I felt very little connection with any of the characters, even though they were in universal, life-threatening situations. Only the great Mark Rylance generated any feeling in me. I especially disliked Hans Zimmer's music. Ian McEwan's treatment of the Dunkirk evacuation in his masterpiece ATONEMENT makes this movie look like a video game.

Of course, I'm in the minority on this one. The Rotten Tomatoes are 92% Fresh. But I saw what I saw.

Still, it was nice to go to the movies. We reserved good seats on Fandango. I love big leather loungers that recline. We could have even had a meal and some booze. I settled for popcorn.

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Like everyone, I'm whipsawed between the good and the bad these days. What's going on in Washington is more than embarrassing, it's dangerous. But my personal life couldn't be better.

Here are some good and bad D's:


Donald Trump Jr. can't keep his story straight. Lies and evasions pour out of the White House like syrup. It will take time for the whole story to emerge, but the Trump campaign's collusion with the Russians will eventually take this president down. But it will be a long and ugly fight.

One of my favorite quotes in all this blizzard of information came from a friend of Trump's. He said that Donald Trump "would lie about what day of the week it is, just for practice." And that from was a friend.

Can you imagine the furor if any of Hillary's people met with the Russians?? Fox News and the right-wing hate-noise machine would have already built the gallows and be screaming "TREASON!!" It's still all hard to believe, and it's happening right in front of our eyes.



I finally delivered the manuscript of my new novel WHEN I GOT OUT to my publisher, The Story Plant.

I've never worked so hard on anything in my life. I worked hard on WHAT IT WAS LIKE, but I think I worked even harder on this one. People liked my first book, so the stakes and the bar are even higher on this one. And because it's the end of the story of the kid in WHAT IT WAS LIKE, it gives me a chance to "finish" the first book while making something special -- an individual's epic -- with my "bi-ology."

But this new novel stands alone. It's a sequel in the sense that the story is extended, but you don't have to have read the first book in order to enjoy the second. In fact, I can see where reading the second book first might be better. I'm just happy how it's all turning out. I'll have this one big book: WHAT IT WAS LIKE/WHEN I GOT OUT ... and I'll have had my say.

In these last few weeks, I felt like both the race horse and the jockey, whipping myself toward the "finish" line. Of course, there is no "finished" when it comes to a novel, especially a long, involved novel like WHEN I GOT OUT. I could potchke with it forever. (Is potchke an acceptable literary term?)

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