Culture

American comedy, American tragedy, & c.

Kaitlin Olson in The Mick and the show’s poster (inset)
A poster, the “bubble,” Lord Snowdon, Key West, Mozart, and more

Around New York, I’ve been passing posters that advertise a new TV show: The Mick. The poster — the one I keep seeing, around town — shows a young woman in short-shorts and a tank top. She is sprawled on a railing with a drink in her hand and a smart-ass look on her face. Three kids are about her, looking at her.

The tagline reads, “Aunt Mickey. Inappropriate and in charge.”

Bear with me, and see if you see what I mean. Even if you don’t agree with me, see if this makes any sense.

I used to love shows like that. They were naughty and fun. Kind of thrilling. Because they contrasted with the norm. Or “played off the norm,” you could say.

I like such shows a lot less now — because Aunt Mickey is everywhere. “Inappropriate and in charge” is practically the motto of the country. Ozzie and Harriet don’t live here anymore.

See what I mean? Even if I’m hopelessly fuddy-duddy, or flat-out wrong, do you see what I mean?

‐Buzzwords have their day, and so do buzz-phrases. How about buzz-concepts? Everyone and his brother is saying, “You live in a bubble.” That’s the constant accusation. You live in a bubble. Your accusers, of course, live in the great, broad world. Their vision bounds over oceans and continents. They bestride the world, virtually all-knowing.

This is such an obnoxious conceit. Obviously, few can take in the whole wide world. Few people have a ken that circles the globe. In my acquaintance, David Pryce-Jones comes pretty close! He knows a great many places, a great many strata, a great many types. He is steeped in history. He has vast experience and a great imagination — a novelist’s imagination, in fact.

But most people, of course, know just a slice of the world. Your slice may be the 16th arrondissement of Paris. It may be French Lick. Regardless, it is your slice. And we should all be somewhat humble about what we know and don’t know.

People in Peoria accuse people in Manhattan of having no idea about life in Peoria. (I’m talking about Manhattan the borough of New York City — not Manhattan, Kansas.) Okay. But do people in Peoria know about life in Manhattan? There are many lives — many types — in Manhattan. Same in Peoria.

We are individuals, after all, though human life includes patterns.

At any rate, I hope this fad of “You live in a bubble” ends as quickly as it came. Personally, I was sick of it months ago.

‐Over the holidays, I met a couple, introduced to me by a philanthropist — a friend of mine. The couple are in their thirties or forties, I suppose. They are philanthropists themselves. Loaded, I’m sure.

My friend told me that the couple had started something like 20 charter schools. And I said to them something like this:

“That’s really wonderful. The thing about charter schools and school choice and all that: It requires caring about other people’s children. And I find that this is relatively rare: caring about other people’s children.”

I asked them, “Do you have kids?” They do. School-age. I said, “I’m sure they go to Groton or someplace like that.” They said that, indeed, their kids go to the best schools around — the very top.

“See?” I continued. “You sure as hell ain’t doing all this for your own kids. You are doing it for others’. And I really admire that.”

Which I do.

‐The above, of course, relates to Betsy DeVos, President Trump’s nominee for secretary of education. She is a rich woman — a very rich woman — who has dedicated much of her life to improving education for other people’s children. Which, of course, improves our society as a whole.

I admire it, and her, tremendously.

‐Let’s talk about journalists for a minute — conservative journalists. Some of these are anti-Trump or Trump-skeptical. And they will get through the next four years, or eight years, as follows:

They will write about silly or excessive criticism of Trump from the left. “See what Salon said? See what Slate said? See what was on MSNBC? Absurd!” And it will be. And the conservative journalists will skirt the main issue: Trump, and Trumpism, and what it all means.

Mark my word. It is a survival strategy. It will keep them on the happy side of the Right. You will see it all around. In fact, you can already.

‐They will also talk a lot about Obama (“Barry”). And Hillary. Obama, Hillary. Barry, Hillary. Bahillary. Anything to avoid the Main and Current Issue.

(You’ll see me doing some of this too, no doubt. Slap me, please.) (Gently.)

‐I was reading an obit of Lord Snowdon, the photographer who was married to Princess Margaret. I was struck by a statement he once made about his craft, or art:

“If I had a style, I’d consider that one of my failings. The person you’re photographing is the important person. The photographer should be a chameleon.”

That made my heart sing. And it made me think of something. May I quote to you a passage from the introduction of my new collection, Digging In?

Occasionally, people say to me, “I like your writing style.” (They also say they dislike it.) I object to this, believe it or not. I deny that I have a style. I think a writer applies a style — or a sensibility, or an approach — to the subject at hand. Also, the venue may make a difference. (The magazine, newspaper, or website.) There can be no single style. A reporting piece will take one style, a concert review another style, a personal essay another style, and so on.

Consider the musician. The pianist, in particular. When he plays a Clementi sonata, that calls for one style, and when he plays a Scriabin, another.

So, I will explain this to people, and they’ll smile at me, indulgently — as though thinking, Jay is deluding himself. He has a style. I will let readers — other readers — judge for themselves. If you think that I have a style, across the board, please don’t tell me.

‐Recently, I was on a long walk, on the fringes of Gaffney, S.C. There was a sign plunked in an open field. “Future Home of Mikes Creek Missionary Baptist Church,” it said. And then underneath: “Your Tithing Dollar at Work.”

I loved that.

‐Farther south — a lot farther south — is Key West, Fla. The southernmost point of the United States. There, the taxis are pink. So is the high school.

Looks almost normal (there).

‐Truman had his White House in Key West — his winter White House. “The Little White House,” they call it. You know? Didn’t look so little to me …

‐A thousand times, I’ve said, “Cuba is 90 miles away. It is 90 miles from our shores.” The truth is, it’s 90 miles from a particular point in Key West. I found it interesting to stand at that point — after all my years of saying “90 miles away.”

‐Establishments are named “Southernmost Deli,” “Southernmost Cleaners,” and so on. But my favorite name in Key West — my favorite name of a business? “Bad Boy Burrito.”

I’ll have to go back and have one of those bad boys …

‐Saw a bum (still Key West) holding a sign that said, “Momma tried.”

‐A little language? A golfer taught me an expression: “minning out.” “He minned out.” It’s the opposite of “He maxed out.” Maxing out, minning out.

When you min out, you get the minimum out of your round. You stripe it down the middle, hit it to 20 feet or so, and two-putt — all day long. You min out.

Neat, huh? (But try not to min out.)

‐A little more language? In New York, two pretty young blond women encounter each other on the street. One is on the phone, and gets quickly off. She says to the other young woman, “Dude, hey, how are you?”

I thought that was interesting. I know a woman who took great offense when I called her “dude” once.

Anyway, language can be a minefield, and a garden of delight.

‐End on a little music? Okay. I was talking to a young friend of mine — a music student. He’s about 18, and an adventurous type. Composes and so on. “I don’t like Mozart,” he said. “What?!!” I exclaimed. He said, “You can’t do anything to him. He’s too perfect. Everything is just the way it should be. You can’t add to him. You can’t subtract from him. You can’t mess around with him. He’s perfect. Complete. Frustrates me.”

I loved that. See you!

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