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Walls and Borders, the Tribal Memory

Every time I hear about the path of the border wall, it sends a jolt of recognition through me. I grew up in Mission, Texas, right on the border with Mexico. The wall will cut through land south of my town, down by the Rio Grande. That includes a state park I have visited, the National Butterfly Center and La Lomita Chapel, the small Catholic church that actually gives Mission its name. My home town and the Rio Grande Valley are in the news every day, especially during President Trump’s visit to McAllen, the big city east of Mission. With the border wall now the point of contention in the government shutdown, the place is more notorious than ever.
The idea of moving among countries is familiar to me, as is the idea of staying in a place for generations. That all depends on what side of my family I talk about. On my father’s side, the rootlessness is very obvious. My grandfather, father and myself were all born in different countries: Ukraine for my grandfather, the United States for …
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Mary Poppins Returns in a Time of Social Convulsion

I came late to the Mary Poppins party. I must have seen the 1965 film as a kid since I recognize the songs although I don’t remember the film. In contrast, my Significant Other is a major fan and can sing all the songs. We watched the original last month in preparation for the release of Mary Poppins Returns. We saw the sequel on New Year’s Eve and I now I feel compelled to say something about it.
But what? As a musical, the sequel has some catchy songs that could become known, such as the touching "The Place Where the Lost Things Go," although not on the level of “Chim-Chim-Cheree” and “A Spoonful of Sugar” and, you know, that song with the long title. The hip-hop inflected songs with Lin-Manuel Miranda, set in a music hall, bring a dash of that Hamilton magic to the show. The dance sequences are OK, but don’t expect An American in Paris. The costumes are gorgeous with the over-the-top colors and styles now seen on The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel. Emily Blunt brings a mesmerizing …

Car Stories

[For an open-mic performance of this essay, follow this link.]

My name is Van. I’m named after a car, the 1950s British racecar called the Vanwall. As you might guess, my father was a car nut. My younger brother is Cooper, but don’t call him Mini Cooper.
You’d think I’d be a car nut myself. But apart from primal male lusting after Corvette Stingrays and the Maserattis and Ferraris we see tooling around Katonah, I’m not. In fact, I’m a very cautious, even anxious driver, the old guy who never exceeds the speed limit on the Saw Mill Parkway.
Still, I need to get around. I was very happy with a 2004 Hyundai Elantra I bought in 2005 at the Hyundai dealership in Stamford. It was a corporate car, barely used and I happily drove it for over 13 years. That is, until the steering seized up and the engine started smoking a few weeks ago. Rather than get it repaired, I decided to put the money into a down payment for a new car. 
Me, a new car! The Elantra lasted longer than cameras, cell phone…

Fathers and Sons, Doors and Prisons

John S. McCain Jr. and George Stephen Morrison lived parallel lives of military service. Both graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy—McCain in 1931, Morrison in 1941. They served in the Pacific in World War II and had careers that lasted into the Vietnam War era. McCain was Commander-in-Chief, Pacific Command (CINCPAC), commander of all U.S. forces in the Vietnam theater from 1968 to 1972.
Morrison was the commander of the Carrier Division during the 1964 Gulf of Tonkin episode. He reached the rank of Rear Admiral in 1967 and retired in 1975. While they were 10 years apart in age, the two men were both admirals from 1967 to 1972.
Besides educational and career similarities, the men both had sons who had notable careers: John S. McCain III, Navy pilot, 2008 presidential candidate and Senator, and Jim Morrison, lead singer of the Doors.
The death in August of Sen. McCain at age 81 deserved attention, as he rose to the highest levels of American politics. I wouldn't ordinarily assoc…

The Port Huron Statement, Up on the Shelf

One small pleasure in life: after I work out at the New York Sports Club in Baldwin Place, NY, I browse the book and CD section of the nearby Goodwill store. I'll scan books that catch my attention, buying some and noting others to get from the library.

Last Sunday my eye traveled to "The Port Huron Statement: The Visionary Call of the 1960s Revolution," written in 1962 by Tom Hayden (with contributors), then a 21 year-old student at the University of Michigan and a founder of the Students for a Democratic Society. This version of what's known as "PHS" dated from 2005 with a new introduction from Hayden, plus photos.



So far, nothing much to catch my attention. Then I looked at the inside cover. There, I saw that Hayden himself had signed the book—and signed it for somebody whose name I well recogized. The note said,

Katrina—who's to say—but without The Nation there might have been no Port Huron Statement. Thank you for embodying the radical reformist sp…

A Sunday Morning Post about "The Saturday Evening Post"

As is my wont in a doctor's waiting room, on Friday I passed the time by flipping through magazines; I'll look at anything. What really caught my eye was a name from the distant past: "The Saturday Evening Post." Seeing that title startled me: The Saturday Evening Post still exists?

Many baby boomers may recall the Post as one of those staples of middle-class reading material. In the Wallach household in the 1960s and 1970s, we had subscriptions to the Post, Life, Look, National Geographic (I only read it for the articles), Boys' Life and Sports Illustrated, with my mother also getting Good Housekeeping and the Ladies Home Journal. With only two TV channels then serving the Rio Grande Valley of Texas (KGBT and KRGV), magazine subscriptions gave us a window into the turbulent world.

The current incarnation of the Post appears every two months, published by a nonprofit organization that also publishes children's magazines Humpty Dumpty and Jack and Jill. Its ar…

Eric Bogosian Does Double-Duty on Billions and Succession

I've been a fan of the business-oriented series  Billions (Showtime) and Succession (HBO) since they started. Both unfold in New York amidst the lifestyles of the incomprehensibly wealthy: hedge funds for Billions, a family-run (or mis-run) media empire Waystar Royco on Succession. Their worlds float on a soulless ocean of estates, fixers, lawyers, security goons (on an as-needed basis), lissome models, deal hustlers and mostly ignored children. In these circles, far too much is never enough.

In a flight of fancy, I imagine crossovers between the series, as in those CSI programs and Marvel superhero movies. I'd like to see Billions' Bobby Axelrod join the team making a hostile takeover bid for Logan Roy's faltering media empire. His irresistible Queens ruthlessness and resources perfectly match the immovable force of ailing Logan Roy. Their corporate helicopters could sprout Hellfire missiles as they engage in aerial combat over Westport and East Hampton.

The two serie…