Citysketch: A saxophone in the park

I bought a sketchbook on my way to work yesterday and needed to break it in with a quick sketch. At lunch I went to Central Park and came across this man playing saxophone. It finally feels like winter has retreated and left behind hopes for better days ahead. The melody is All The Way, written by Jimmy Van Heusen and made famous by Frank Sinatra’s 1957 recording.

Fun fact: In 1953, Sinatra slit his wrist in a suicide attempt, distraught over his divorce from Ava Gardner, and it was Van Heusen who rushed him to the hospital.

The lyrics to All The Way were written by Sammy Cahn:

When somebody loves you
It’s no good unless he loves you all the way
Happy to be near you
When you need someone to cheer you all the way
Taller than the tallest tree is
That’s how it’s got to feel
Deeper than the deep blue see is
That’s how deep it goes, if it’s real
When somebody needs you
It’s no good unless he needs you all the way
Through the good or lean years
And for all the in-between years come what may
Who knows where the road will lead us?
Only a fool would say
But if you’ll let me love you
It’s for sure I’m gonna love you all the way

I fell in love with you again

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Through the sunlight on another woman’s hair, I fell in love with you again. I heard a soft sound like a flute – sharp breath passing over a tiny hole – and remembered the feeling of holding you in my arms when we were both young, that feeling of holding on to everything I would ever need.

In the swaying of another woman’s wrist, I fell in love with you again. So slight. So light. It swung so freely, as if a stiff breeze could start it flapping uncontrollably, but I understood, in some strange way, the hidden strength inside the long slender fingers trailing beneath it.

Words, to a writer
Colors, to a painter
Melody, to a musician
All are mirrors of a lover’s smile
Echoes of the sounds you made when I was still in you

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White Supremacist Bullshit

Enough with this white supremacist bullshit. White people are not supreme. I know: I’m one and I’m not supreme at all.

It’s long past time we recognize and acknowledge – especially white people in this country – that white supremacy is a greater threat to civilization than Islamic fundamentalism. Both are dangerous for the same reason: they are about to become extinct. And that is a very good thing – even for those whose deepest beliefs will be exposed as delusion.

Just as every person of color has known discrimination and every woman has known sexual harassment, every man has felt the toxic side of masculinity and every white person has felt infected with the disease of white supremacy.

When the next age comes and our ancestors laugh at us the way we laugh at Neanderthals, white men will benefit along with everyone else from a world free of war, poverty, and human injustice. And that makes the fear of those clinging to their privilege so much more pathetic.

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Uncle Kurt

Of all the people in the world who I don’t know personally, there is no person who has had a more profound and long-lasting impact on me than the author Kurt Vonnegut, Jr. His novel Slaughterhouse Five is one of the first novels I read and whenever I am asked to name my favorite book it is the first one that comes to mind. I found it, or it found me, at the time in my life when I was changing from a dependent boy to an independent man. I was becoming many things – atheist, pacifist, vegetarian, musician, writer, lover, pothead, drunk, and left-winger – that I still am today, more or less.

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The latest addition to the Vonnegut library, and one them I am up to my eyeballs in, is called Letters. It is a fascinating glimpse into a life deeply marked by tragedy and humor. His mother committed suicide while he was home on leave before being shipped off to fight in the second world war, where he would become a POW. The thoughts he shares about these incidents with those closest to him, as well as reflections on his marriage, fatherhood, divorce, depression, infidelity, professional accomplishments, and the deaths of those he loves, including himself, make for reading as satisfying as his novels.

My understanding is that I am so odd emotionally and socially that I had better live alone for the rest of my days. During my last years with Jan, there was a formless anger in me which I could deal with only in solitude. Jane did not like it. There is no reason why she should. Nobody likes it. What is it? Well – if I had to guess, I would say that it was caused by a combination of bad chemicals in my bloodstream and the fact that my mother committed suicide. I have finally dealt with that suicide, by the way, in the book I just finished. My mother appears briefly at the end, but keeps her distance – because she is embarrassed by the suicide. And so she should be.

The great appeal of Vonnegut’s writing goes beyond his direct style that reads like a letter from an intimate friend. The simplicity of his humanist message, like Christ’s, makes the truth impossible to deny: do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Christ’s came with the promise of heaven; Kurt’s did not.

I am a humanist, which means, in part, that I have tried to behave decently without any expectation of reward or punishment after I’m dead.

Kurt Vonnegut, like me, was a white man. People who aren’t white, and a lot of us who are, want to hear new stories from other perspectives. Fair enough. We have hogged the cultural conversation for centuries. But the greatest artists in any field illuminate eternal truths that transcend gender, nationality, “race”/culture, sexuality, income level, and age. Finding and sharing those universal truths is the artist’s only job.

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One of those truths is the great equalizer, Death. Kurt died in 2007, and left this thought behind for the end of his days:

If I should ever die, God forbid, let this be my epitaph: ‘The only proof he needed for the existence of God was music.

If, instead of carving messages in stone at the end of our lives, we were given little gold plaques at the beginning, with a message for the lives ahead of us, this one from Uncle Kurt might be a good place to start:

Hello babies. Welcome to Earth. It’s hot in the summer and cold in the winter. It’s round and wet and crowded. At the outside, babies, you’ve got about a hundred years here. There’s only one rule that I know of, babies – ‘God damn it, you’ve got to be kind.’