Ilonka the Raconteur

This is a photograph of my maternal grandmother, Helen, when she was a sixteen year old girl named Helen Stefurak in the year 1938. Grandma Helen just celebrated a birthday a few days ago on October 17th—she’s ninety-six years old now and still sharp and full of memories.

I called my grandmother today to chat, as we do from time to time, and had to disconnect after a few minutes because she was cleaning her hearing aids and our conversation was cycling between frustrating and surreal. But she said she would call me back shortly after she put in the hearing aids and she did and we spoke for almost an hour.

We talked about her youth in Bridgeport, Connecticut and she told me a familiar tale about the time she was an accounting clerk at the Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation in Stratford, Connecticut. Helen started working at the factory when she was twenty in 1942 and was employed until the end of 1944, during the time when Sikorsky was in constant production manufacturing helicopters for the war effort.

Helen and her co-worker, Olive Robillard, would have to work half days every Saturday and occasionally after they got off work the boss himself, Igor Sikorsky, would give the girls a lift in his Cadillac and drop them off at the corner of Broad and John Streets in downtown Bridgeport, right in front of D.M. Read—New England’s largest department store known for its classy, upscale merchandise.

Cmdr. Frank Erickson hoists Igor Sikorsky during the development of the hoist capable helicopter in the early 1940s in Bridgeport, Connecticut.

The girls sat in the back seat of the car while Sikorsky drove, usually accompanied by another man from his company in the front passenger seat. Grandma Helen says the men were always perfect gentlemen during the brief eight-mile drive and there wasn’t much conversation beyond a bit of small talk about the weather.

After they arrived at D.M. Read, the men would go into the department store to shop and my grandmother would walk the last two miles to her house at 288 Bostwick Avenue.

D.M. Read in Bridgeport, Connecticut.

2.

My grandmother spoke to me about community in the neighborhood where she lived, an area settled predominately by Hungarian immigrants and others from neighboring European countries such as Czechoslovakia and Yugoslavia, which were once part of the former Austro-Hungarian Empire.

Helen says that it was a wonderful time for her, even though it was a terrible time for many others in Europe suffering under tyranny and fascism.

The Stefuraks weren’t wealthy but they weren’t poor, either, and Helen’s parents earned enough money so there was always coal for the stove, food in the pantry, ice for the ice box, and no one missed a meal. Peddlers rode up and down the streets of the neighborhood in horse-drawn carts selling vegetables door-to-door and Tuesday was Bank Day at the cinema and my grandmother could watch a double feature for a dime.

Helen loved going to the pictures and never missed a movie when it came out.

Poli‘s Majestic Theater in Bridgeport was built in the Beaux Arts style—with vaulted ceilings, gilded hand-carved moldings, seating for over 3,600 and a giant Hall theater organopened in 1922 as a vaudeville house and Mae West played there in 1927.

I never met my great-grandparents John Paul and Ethel Stefurak. John Paul died sixteen years before I was born and Ethel tried to hold off Death long enough to see her first born great-grandson but died three days after my birthday.

My maternal great-grandmother, Ethel Stefurak.

John Stefurak was a mechanic and he specialized in repairing cars in the early days of the automobile. Some years later my great-grandfather would get a license to be an electrician and supplement his income repairing radios. When the era of silent films gave way to talkies my great-grandfather was the go-to guy to install the new film projectors in the Bridgeport movie houses.

John Paul & Ethel Stefurak in the car my great-grandfather built in the 1920’s.

John’s father, Paul Josef Stefurak, didn’t live to see the wonders of the 20th century. He was a blacksmith who specialized in making metal horseshoes and fabricating some of the parts for carriages during the horse and buggy era.

He was also a farrier—a specialist in equine hoof care—highly skilled in the art of the trimming and balancing of horse hooves and fitting their hooves with horseshoes.

A Country Blacksmith (1859-61) engraved by C.W. Sharpe.

3.

And now, a brief digression to explain the title of this bit of biography: Ilonka the Raconteur.

The raconteur part is easy enough to decipher; my grandmother is a great narrator of her life and I’ve grown up hearing her anecdotes. However, the name Ilonka needs some explaining.

Ilonka is the name my great-grandmother Ethel called my grandmother when she was a child. The name is a Hungarian diminutive of Helen, the English form of the Greek ‘Ελενη (Helene) which comes from ‘ελενη (helene) which means torch.

I like to think that Ethel as a young woman in the 1920s was a bit of a flapper and an avid reader of classical pulp novelists like Dashiell Hammett, Raymond Chandler, Aristophanes, Cicero, Homer, and Virgil—and she came up with the name Helen for her daughter in 1922 while reading Book II of The Aeneid.

A quartet of stylish flappers in the early 1920s.

In the Greek myth of Helen of Troy, the 1920s flapper version of the tale, Helen was a gal from Sparta with a legion of suitors. The daughter of Zeus and Leda, she was a legendary looker and all the Spartan cats thought she was the bee’s knees.

But, it was King Menelaus, the High Pillow of Sparta, that would claim Helen as his wife. Well, that didn’t sit well with Paris, a big timer Prince of Troy who zeroed in on Helen’s puss with his peepers and became so smitten with the kitten he thought he’d dust out and make a clean sneak and a mad dash home with the dame.

So, when Menelaus discovered that his frau had lammed off with Paris he called upon all the other suitors to fulfill their oath to defend the chosen husband against whoever should quarrel with him, and thus began the Trojan War.

An image from a 1927 silent flick called The Private Life of Helen of Troy, a film based on a 1925 novel by John Erskine and directed by Alexander Korda that featured María Corda as Helen and Ricardo Cortez as Paris.

#

The above snippet of memoir is just the first three parts (3×336 words) of a work in progress. To be continued…

A brief genealogical report on Harvey Weinstein & Louis CK…

While doing some research today on historical personages with 16th & 17th Century theatrical connections I discovered depictions of two men I believe are direct ancestors of Harvey Weinstein, producer of the 1998 film Shakespeare in Love (and a sexual predator arrested on May 25th, 2018 and charged with rape, criminal sex act, sex abuse, and sexual misconduct for incidents involving two separate women and subsequently arrested by the NYPD) and Louis CK—a notorious stand-up comedian with a compulsive habit of masturbating in front of female stand-up comics without their consent.

I realize that it may seem improbable and merely an outrageous exercise in fanciful speculation but please hear me out.

In this first image of an old rogue—whom I believe to be the ancestor of Harvey Weinstein—we can imagine him also as perhaps a patron of plays and interludes and Court masques, and he is a man of obvious privilege, reaching into his fat purse while leaning into a lady with lecherous intent and making unwelcome advances while groping her cheek with his beard. She is leaning away from him and turning her head with an outstretched arm and it seems the lady doth protest very much, methinks.

In this second image we witness a lusty knave masturbating before two lasses, whom I believe to be none other than Jane the Foole and Lucretia the Tumbler when they were just getting their start in comedy—and Lucretia, even with her breasts exposed, is clearly having none of it.

Jane the Foole (1543-1558) is believed to have been the first lady fool in England and would become a court jester for two wives of King Henry VIII (Catherine Parr and Anne Boleyn) and for King Henry’s eldest daughter, Mary. Lucretia the Tumbler was a lady fool and a trained acrobat.

And now I’m imagining Lucretia’s affair with a Jewish merchant from Venice and the daughter they would have that would pass her moxie down to her most recent descendant, Sarah Silverman…

Casting off deliberate disguises and disturbing the universe with T.S. Eliot

I enter the Literary Salon and shake the debris of popular kitsch off my overcoat, turning a deaf ear away from the hue and cry of current American politics as I begin hanging on the Gallery wall paintings of half deserted streets shrouded in yellow fog, bowls of uneaten peaches, sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown, and scenes from the cactus land.

Seated in the guest chair is my friend, Thomas Stearns Eliot, one of The Grand Masters of Poetry—born on this day a hundred and thirty years ago in St. Louis, Missouri, on 26 September 1888. Thomas (known to the world as T.S.) is in the Salon to regale us with two glorious heirs of his invention.

Now, every published poet has a first born child of the muse that is presented to the world but not every fruit of the brow is heralded as the second coming.

T. S. Eliot, back at Harvard after a year spent studying philosophy at the Sorbonne in Paris, was a month shy of his twenty-third birthday when he finished composing The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock in August of 1911.

A few years later, as Eliot was just beginning his life-long expatriate act in England, the poem came to the attention of Ezra Pound — who was acting as foreign editor of Harriet Monroe’s Poetry: A Magazine of Verse — and Pound urged Monroe to publish it—gushing that young Eliot “has actually trained himself and modernized himself on his own.”

The year 1915 was filled with the sensational and it began with a story of a hospital cook named Typhoid Mary in New York City. The Great War in Europe was spreading rapidly like a cancer from the center and fears of death and disease were a constant preoccupation. News that more than 29,000 people had perished by a massive earthquake in Avezzano, Italy married the unnatural with natural disaster.

One form of defiance was embodied by a straitjacketed Harry Houdini, spurning the advances of his would-be lover, Death—and The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock was published in the June 1915 issue of Harriet Monroe’s magazine

For those with a finely tuned poetic ear in that second decade of the 20th century it was a revelation.

The Love-Song of J. Alfred Prufrock (1915)

Some of us living in the century after Prufrock was written may find it amusing that a comparison of the evening sky to a patient etherised upon a table was considered shocking and offensive at the time. To me the poem has a timeless feel that people of any age can understand—a stream of conscious lament of a man characteristic of the Modernists of the time that seems just as relevant now as it did in the last century.

Ten years later, Eliot would give us another masterpiece of poetry.

The Hollow Men by sive.

Stay as long as you wish in the Salon (after the cups, the marmalade, and the tea), away from the kitsch and oblivious to the hue and cry…and go deeper into these two songs of humanity.

In this last of meeting places we can cast off deliberate disguises, disturb the universe, and talk of Michelangelo.

***

A different version of this piece first appeared in the online magazine Rebelle Society on 7 October 2012

Trumpocalypse Now

Genre: Reality TV.

Premieres: January 20th, 2017 on ATN (American Television Network).

Premise: An arrogant and narcissistic bully with thinning hair resembling a corn husk and skin the color of orange marmalade capitalizes on his wealth and privilege to buy the American election and becomes President of the United States.

Review: Donald Trump is the epitome of an ugly American—the sort of brash and aggressive vulgarian that leers at the ladies and laughs at his own sexist jokes. A vain, wealthy, privileged, and self-serving man, this Great White Dope of American nationalism seems to be willfully ignorant about the most basic issues a presidential candidate needs to know in order to meaningfully engage in politics. As such, he’s an easy target for too-clever liberals and he’s relentlessly mocked by television talk show hosts like Colbert, Noah, Maher, and Oliver.

And yet, the mockery is appropriate because Trump embodies Martin Luther King’s warning that “nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.” He’s a clear and present danger to the world because of his delusion that he possesses the knowledge and intelligence to lead his country.

Meanwhile, we’ve gleefully anointed our new King of Crass, smearing him with a myriad of derogatory names and crowning this Crotch-Fondling Adolf Twitler as the very model of a modern Groepenführer in livid colors of orange supremacy, highlighting his propensity for playing the part of a petty peacock proudly proclaiming his pussy grabbing prowess.

But some of us are complicit in the making and packaging of this low-brow tragicomic political figure of banality and terror—from the media that redundantly remixes and regurgitates the fetid exhalations that issue from his mouth to every person that shares those pieces (disguised as resistance) via the social media landscape. And, if the media is Dr. Frankenstein in this horror show then we are Frankenstein’s hunchbacked servant, co-creating a monsterous slab of rancid meatloaf masquerading as man of the people.

Welcome to the Trumpocalypse.

***

Cover image used with the permission of the artist, Peter Crompton.

Trumpocalypse Now was originally published in 336 Journal on 20 January 2017 and this version was revised and reposted on 3 May 2018.

***

Would you like to read more 336-word scenes from the Trumpocalypse?

Of course you don’t but it’s like a freak show and you can’t look away.

But, if you do, 336 Journal recommends reading Trump’s comments at the United Nations and reading what our Martian neighbors think of his planned mission to Mars.

Pondering the privilege of eating other sentient beings…

This morning while I was out and about I smelled the aroma of bacon in the air and my first thought after the immediate Pavlovian salivation response was to wonder if somewhere nearby a vegan was fuming because of the aroma.

So, I wrote my observation and posted it to Facebook and waited for the responses—hoping my intention wouldn’t be misconstrued or that I wouldn’t offend any of my vegan and vegetarian friends. I truly was wondering if merely the odor of bacon in the air would trigger a negative response from people that choose to not eat meat for ethical reasons.

Fortunately, I have friends that are capable and willing to give me thoughtful and eloquent responses.

One friend, Laurel, said, “We don’t fume because bacon is eaten—we fume because animal agriculture is taking us all down. We don’t realize that we have fucked ourselves out of the privilege of eating other sentient beings. With that said, some fume. Some just have a moment of reflection and a reminder of what we give up in the name of saving a shred of anything beautiful here.”

That’s a powerful and passionate response that I respect. I’ve attempted to go full vegetarian—I’m at around 75% now—but there are still things I crave so I backslide: Eggs, half and half for my coffee, real butter, sushi, and bacon are my holdouts.

Another friend, Adrienne, tells me she would have similar holdouts if it were not for the cardiac benefits. “Nothing like a massive heart attack in someone you love to put things in perspective. I’m vegan. I love the smell of bacon. Don’t love killing and eating sensitive intelligent beings. Don’t love what animal fats do to human arteries. But yeah, it smells smoky and wonderful.”

My intention of writing this essay is to address the public narrative that vegans are extremists that don’t understand their carnivorous fellow humans and demonstrate that the vegan experience is more complex and their feelings are more nuanced.

2.

Jeanie’s biological dad was a butcher by trade and she was raised with the belief that she hadn’t eaten a meal if meat wasn’t a part of it. Jeanie, and her husband Joel, currently reside in a small Midwestern town with limited dining options—but something happened a few years ago that prompted her to consider a plant-based lifestyle.

In August 2015, Jeanie’s father-in-law had a stroke.

“Joel’s dad was a fantastic guy, a larger than life personality, and loved by all. We watched him die and it tore me up. Plus, I work for a dialysis company and see really sick people every day.”

Watching Joel’s father die “really made me think about myself and my own health.” Jeanie felt like she owed her family more. “The thought of my kids watching me like that got me. If a stroke or cancer can be prevented I needed to do whatever I could to be healthy.”

So, she made the decision to be healthier, lose weight, and exercise more. Looking into healthy recipes, Jeanie learned about meatless Mondays, which led to the discovery of Forks over Knives—a 2011 documentary film that advocates a low-fat, whole-food, plant-based diet as a way to avoid or reverse several chronic diseases.

“The transition was easy for me,” Jeanie says. “I was repulsed by the thought of an animal dying for me. I don’t believe there’s a humane way to kill an animal—they feel pain and they feel fear.”

Jeanie has been vegan for nearly two years now and chose the lifestyle because of the environmental impact, health benefits, and because she cannot abide cruelty of any kind.

When the subject of the aroma of roasting flesh in the air comes up she says, “I hate to admit this, but yes, the smell of meat bothers me; frankly it smells like shit, literally it smells like feces to me. If you’re a non-smoker and the smell of smoke bothers you, it’s similar.”

3.

“I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice Chianti.” ~Dr. Hannibal Lecter, The Silence of the Lambs

Even if you haven’t seen the movie, you’ll probably recognize that quote as a line spoken by Anthony Hopkins portraying a serial killer with highbrow cannibalistic proclivities. Lecter is described as “a monster” and a “pure psychopath” who prepares gourmet meals from the flesh of his victims, so his inclusion in this essay may seem bizarre.

However, it isn’t strange at all when you read what my friend, Sean—a “hardcore” vegan—thinks about people that eat meat. Sean said he appreciated my reaching out to him but he just didn’t have the energy to speak deeply about how he feels on the subject of eating animals with people that say they like animals “but continue to perpetuate their murder for zero reason other than their personal pleasure.”

Sean has discussed the ethical reasons to not eat animals with his carnivorous friends so often he’s given up trying to convince them that they’re basically accomplices to murder when they eat animals slaughtered for food.

He admits that it’s painful for him, because there are many people he likes, and when he starts talking about it with them “it widens the gap I have between my meat eating friends to the point where it makes me question how I could continue those very friendships.”

Sean has made a conscious decision to be part of society and live among meat eaters when doing so breaks his heart every day.

If it seems extreme that Sean contemplates ending his friendships with people, based on what some consider a dietary habit, you have to realize that in Sean’s estimation meat eaters are “on the same ethical playing field as Jeffrey Dahmer.”

And he’s not the only person I’ve spoken to that feels this way.

Imagine looking at the majority of the human population and seeing a cannibalistic mob of Jeffrey Dahmer’s and Chianti swilling Hannibal Lecter’s leering back at you.

***

To be continued…

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The Rupert Pupkin Quartet Rides Again

I’m remembering a time at Lenny’s Nosh Bar when Madjym hosted a Sunday night jazz show with his band, The Rupert Pupkin Quartet (Minus One, Plus Some). The name of the band was a mischievous homage to Robert DeNiro’s character in Martin Scorsese’s film The King of Comedy.

And fortunately, my memory is assisted by Erich Boekelheide’s recording of the scene with a video camera—making it possible for me to accurately write about the people there and break it down as a back-up of my time traveler’s recollection.

Watching this video brings it all back.

There’s Louie Ledbetter on stand-up bass, Eric Moore on harmonica, and Brooks Brown on saxophone—guys I’ve known since high school. Madjym Wyant, of course, is the emcee and lead singer, as usual. Man, that cat could scat like a pro.

The last three guys in the group are Jerry Glisan on guitar, Glen Bonney on trombone, and Dennis Caffey on drums. I don’t remember Jerry and Glen very well but I remember chats with Dennis. His sister, Charlotte, was the guitarist in The Go-Gos and We Got The Beat and Can’t Stop The World were in the jukebox.

I get a tribal kinship rush whenever the lens of the camera sweeps across the room and I see all these people from my youth—some of whom I still see occasionally, others I’ve not seen for decades, and some I will never see again because they are gone forever.

Oh, what a joy it is to see Jamie Hosler again, rocking that massive Afro he once had. Jean Costello, looking pensive as usual in a close up. Paul Golden laughing. Scott Taylor and Sulwyn Sparks hunched over in a booth. Lawrence Cain. Joe Brooks. Hershel Bloom.

And seeing myself briefly—as a broadly smiling blur clapping after Hershel’s performance of his spoken word song, Loose Change—damn…just like it was yesterday.

And, Lenny Nathan himself—looking a bit spaced out as he checks out the crowd…

***

Postscript:

This is a 336 word one-page piece and will connect to a series of pieces about Lenny’s Nosh Bar—some of which I’ve already written and others I’m still tinkering with. I may expand on this one, but probably not. It seems complete to me, especially after watching the video. ~RLR

Annual New Year Report: Read This Before You Download yOS 2.018

According to consensus reality, yOS 2.017—the current year running in the chronometer of your biological operating system—will be updated to yOS 2.018 at precisely midnight this Sunday, installed at 12:01 a.m. on Monday, and promises to replace the old year with a new year.

However, previous yearly updates have proven the premise that promises can be broken—so be prepared for possible glitches, crashes, energy drains, overheating, application instability, and problems connecting.

Users should also be aware that downloading and installing yOS 2.018 may not result in a better or more efficient operating system, especially for those that have experienced major technical difficulties with yOS 2.017.

In fact, it’s possible the yOS 2.018 update will be incompatible with the chronological operating systems of many people, such as those that frequently tell others to live in the present moment. These people may be resistant to the new update as they are running presentism software and function in a world wherein neither the future nor the past exist.

Likewise, persons running eternalism software, which allows them to experience time simultaneously and operate in a reality wherein all points in time are equally real, will likely have issues with the update.

These potential issues have prompted some people to suggest that, if time is a construct humans invented to prevent everything from happening all at once, the words Happy New Year should come with a trigger warning—like the words: Merry Christmas and Make America Great Again.

Those critics claim that calling out Happy New Year to someone is a vocal form of chrono-harassment and adds insult to injury to all self-proclaimed slaves of time that have been subjected to cultural conditioning to perceive time in a linear fashion.

In conclusion…

This update is not a restart, a reset, or a reboot.

The “new” year will not contain any anthropomorphic features—despite reports of a decrepit man passing a figurative torch to a cherubic baby.

May you experience the continuance of a year.

The Laddie Doth Protest Too Much: A 1583 Rant on the Depravity of Playgoers

Do they not

maintain bawdry,

insinuate foolery,

and renew the remembrance

of heathen idolatry?

Do they not

induce whoredom and uncleanness?

Nay, are they not rather

plain devourers

of maidenly virginity and chastity?

For proof

whereof

but mark

the flocking and running to Theaters and Curtains,

daily and hourly,

night and day,

time and tide,

to see plays and interludes

where such wanton gestures,

such bawdy speeches,

laughing,

fleering,

kissing

bussing,

clipping

culling,

winking,

and glancing of wanton eyes,

is wonderful to behold.

Then these goodly pageants being ended,

every mate sorts to his mate,

brings another homeward of their way very friendly,

and in their secret conclaves

(covertly)

they play the sodomites,

or worse.

And these be the fruits of plays and interludes.

And whereas,

you say,

there are good examples to be learnt in them:

Truly, so there are;

if you will learn falsehood and cozenage,

to deceive; to play the hypocrite,

to cog, to lie and falsify;

if you will learn to jest, laugh and fleer,

to grin, to nod and mow;

if you will learn to play the Vice,

to swear, tear and blaspheme both heaven and earth;

if you will learn to become a bawd, unclean,

and to devirginate maids, to deflower honest wives;

if you will learn to murder, flay, kill, pick, steal, rob and rove;

if you will learn to rebel against princes,

to commit treasons,

to consume treasures,

to practice idleness,

to sing and talk of bawdy love and venery;

if you will learn to deride, scoff, mock and flout,

to flatter and smooth;

if you will learn to play the whoremaster,

the glutton, drunkard, or incestuous person;

if you will learn to become proud, haughty and arrogant;

if you will learn to condemn God and all His laws,

to care neither for Heaven nor Hell,

and to commit all kinds of sin and mischief,

you need go to no other school,

for all these good examples may you see painted before your eyes in interludes and plays.

~ Philip Stubbes, The Anatomie of Abuses (1583).

Paris through the Window in Three Variations…

A Drabble is a vignette of precisely 100 words in length and the term—described as a word game for 2 to 4 players wherein the first player to write a novel is the winner—was coined in Monty Python’s Big Red Book, first published in 1971.

Since this word game in print isn’t practical to play in the real world within a short period of time, it was determined that a Drabble would have to be a very short novel indeed, in order to play the game in real time. And, it was furthermore agreed that a hundred words would suffice; and that the first rule of writing a Drabble is adhering to the precise word-count of a hundred.

Hyphenated-words-are-argued-about—but not by me, so have at it—with fifteen additional words permitted for a title.

Now, in my daily practice of writing a single page of concise compositions of polished prose using exactly 336 words, I’m accustomed to working within a structure of limitation when I write an essay or a piece of fiction or satire.

However, my practice also includes building on a 336-word piece by writing additional pages, if necessary. Some of my pieces are complete as one-off single-page pieces, but some are not. And all of my pieces can be expanded if I wish—with the highest page limit set at six pages.

Writing a Drabble is a particular kind of challenge for me because it forces me to be even more concise and specific with my writing and requires a very precise collaboration with my internal editor.

The most satisfiying writing exercise I play with is crafting a Drabble inspired by a work of art.

And my favorite is the following piece of short fiction I wrote, inspired by Marc Chagall’s 1913 painting, Paris par la fenêtre, and published here in three variations revised three times over six years.

I’m offering these variations as examples of different ways to tell the same story with slightly and vastly different outcomes and moods.

1.

Paris Through The Window (2012)

by Richard La Rosa

The room is littered with hundreds of paintings yet one instantly catches my eye—Chagall’s, Paris Through The Window.

My brother knew it was my favorite (as I had given it to him fifty years ago). Yes, it’s the original, created with an extraordinary oil paint made by a Russian gypsy in 1909. The one in the Guggenheim is a fake.

Placing my hands on the painting, I concentrate as only my brother the art forger and I, the art thief, know how.

The room dissolves as I step into the Paris of 1913—and the past becomes my present.

2.

Paris Through The Window (2015)

by Richard La Rosa

The flat is cluttered with a hundred paintings, but one against the wall catches my attention: Marc Chagall’s, Paris Through The Window.

It’s the original, created with an extraordinary oil paint made in 1909 by a Russian gypsy. The painting in the Guggenheim is a fake—expertly copied by my brother, using the paints that our great-grandfather made a century ago.

Placing my hands on the painting, I concentrate as only my brother the art forger and I, the art thief, know how.

The room dissolves and I step into the Paris of 1913 just before the world ends.

3.

Paris Through The Window (2017)

by Richard La Rosa

I stride over to a painting by Marc Chagall hanging over a bricked-up window inside a Paris flat that is filled with a hundred masterpieces acquired over a hundred years.

A copy of the divine work of Cubism—created with oil paints made in 1909 by an artist whose genetic imprint is stamped in my own art-thief eyes—was made by my deceased art-forger brother and switched, like all the others, for the original.

Closing my eyes, I reach out to the painting, and I’m a hundred years in the past where my brother takes my hand.

***

Author’s Note:

This piece is precisely 672 words in length (2×336) and I expect I will likely expand it with an additional 336 words (probably on the subject of Chagall’s painting and some of the themes that inspired it—as well as the connection those themes have to my story). ~R.L.R.

On the hypocrisy of corporal punishment for children…

Imagine you’re at your job and your boss confronts you and demands to know why you didn’t get your work done on time. You begin explaining your reasons but your words are cut short—the boss yells at you, berating you for making the same old excuses. You try to continue speaking when suddenly your boss slaps you across the face and says, “Don’t talk back to me!”

Or imagine you’re that boss or manager or supervisor and your employee screws up on the job—or simply refuses to acquiesce to your demands. Do you believe, since they’re under your management, that you have the right to demand that they drop their pants and bend over your lap so you can spank their bare ass with your hand or with a belt?

What if that scenario was an acceptable dynamic in the relationship between employer and employee and that your boss or manager or supervisor was permitted to beat you as a form of discipline if you did some something they thought was bad or wrong?

Now, let’s switch out the word “boss” for “parent” and the word “employee” for “child” and imagine the same scenario.

Welcome to the double standard of corporal punishment for children—brought to you by a tone deaf society that has socially conditioned you to accept it’s justifiable to beat a child if they do something you don’t like.

Well, I call bullshit on the concept of acceptable violence against children under any circumstances. To hit a child, while harboring a belief that hitting others is wrong, is some kind of twisted hypocrisy. It’s one of the most baffling mixed messages we receive when we are children; the assertion that hitting people is wrong.

And the assertion that “you shouldn’t hit others” typically comes with extenuating circumstances like “it’s sometimes necessary to hit a person in self-defense” and “sometimes it’s okay to hit someone if you’re protecting someone else.”

This nefarious double standard creates cognitive dissonance in a developing brain.

~ Part 2 ~

When I was fifteen years old I made a vow to myself that I would never use corporal punishment or the threat of physical violence as a form of discipline or corrective behavioral therapy with my own child. This was a non-negotiable promise to my future daughter to ensure that she would never have cause to fear me or to feel humiliated or defenseless in my presence. It was a vow guaranteed to secure our bond of love and trust.

As I grew older I would periodically bring up the subject of corporal punishment in conversations with people and I was continually appalled by the casual acceptance of spanking as a legitimate method of disciplining children. And when I protested the practice as being psychologically harmful to children my opinion was dismissed.

The claim that mild punishment (slaps or smacks) have no detrimental effect is still widespread because we received this message very early from our parents who had taken it over from their parents. This conviction helped the child to minimize his suffering and to endure it. Unfortunately, the main damage it causes is precisely our numbness as well as the lack of sensitivity for our children’s pain. The result of the broad dissemination of this damage is that each successive generation is subjected to the tragic effects of seemingly harmless “correction”. Many parents still think: What didn’t hurt me can’t hurt my child. They don’t realize that their conclusion is wrong because they never challenged their assumption.

That’s Alice Miller, calling bullshit on the assertion that hitting children doesn’t have a lasting effect on their psyche, in an excerpt from Every Smack is a Humiliation – A Manifesto.

And here’s Paulo Sergio Pinheiro of The United Nations Sub-Commission on the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights in Geneva, proposing the revolutionary idea that children should never receive less protection than adults and that we must put an end to adult justification of violence against children, whether accepted as ‘tradition’ or disguised as ‘discipline.’

~ Part 3 ~

Accepted as tradition…

Okay, now we come to the part of my essay where I really start calling bullshit in earnest and I’m going to list some of the pervasive justifications I’ve heard supporting violence against children.

Tradition seems to be the default justification for hitting kids. It’s the reason the majority of people I’ve spoken with hit a wall in conversations about corporal punishment. And, while it’s true that tradition is a major roadblock to get past, it’s only one barrier that prevents me from breaking on through to the other side when trying to promote the revolutionary concept that hitting a child as a punitive measure is a really bad disciplinary strategy and just bad human behavior.

But most people are going to defend their convictions to the death and the people I’ve observed with the most certitude are the older generations that think tradition is as necessary as breathing.

It’s like this…

“Back in my day we didn’t coddle children the way some of you youngsters do with your time-outs and your calm reasoning. Corporal punishment has been an acceptable practice for thousands of years in civilized society—people didn’t have a problem with spanking in olden times.”

Well, I’m sorry-not-sorry to break it to you, old timer, but you’re dead wrong. It’s actually not difficult at all to find someone from “back in the day” that has a problem with spanking.

Like this fellow that says,“Children ought to be led to honorable practices by means of encouragement and reasoning, and most certainly not by blows and ill treatment.”

That would be Plutarch, a Greek biographer and essayist, calling bullshit on punitive violence against children almost two thousand years ago.

And, to illustrate the illustrious nature of Plutarch as a personage of respect with regard to his opinions, I will add that Plutarch was also the fellow that wrote many stories that would be mined by William Shakespeare for the plots to a dozen or more of his plays.

~ Part 4 ~

Speaking of Shakespeare…

There was school teacher in England by the name of Roger Ascham who wrote a book called The Scholemaster which was published in 1570 when William was a boy of six. And while it’s true that it was a common practice to beat a child as a form of disciplinary punishment at school in England in the 16th century, not all teachers did it—and especially not one of England’s most famous teachers of the day.

So, if people still believe that children were better off when teachers were stern disciplinarians and lament that teachers in most schools are no longer permitted to mete out physical punishment they are believing a fiction and lamenting the demise of a barbaric practice.

I’m old enough to have been at school when corporal punishment was still permitted in some areas of my country in the early seventies and, though it wasn’t practiced at my elementary school in Berkeley, California, it was used aggressively at a school I went to in central Florida. Those were the worst teachers.

The best teachers—those that teach from a place of love and empathy for their students—already know the following:

“Chide not the pupil hastily, for that will both dull his wit and discourage his diligence, but admonish him gently, which shall make him both willing to amend and glad to go forward in love and hope of learning. Let the master say, ‘Here ye do well.’ For, I assure you, there is no such whetstone to sharpen a good wit and encourage a love of learning as his praise.”

And that’s Roger Ascham, who was also tutor to Queen Elizabeth when she was a girl, promoting a gentle and encouraging approach to educating children and calling bullshit on being a dick to kids in school.

Furthermore, in saying, “In mine opinion, love is fitter than fear, gentleness better than beating, to bring up a child rightly in learning,” he’s also calling bullshit on using punitive violence against children.

~ Part 5 ~

And then there is the religious justification regarding violence against children…

This justification is perhaps the trickiest one to unravel because it is tightly bound by fervent belief and faith and unquestioning obedience to the ultimate authority figure: Almighty God.

God told me to hit my children.”

But, really…did He?

“He that spareth his rod hateth his son: but he that loveth him chasteneth him betimes.” (Proverbs 13:24)

Spare the rod and spoil the child is that old biblical chestnut that proposes it’s better to beat a child than not beat a child and that version comes from the King James Bible published in 1611.

Most religions are steeped in judgment and extremely high expectations and children raised in religious families are hardwired to resonate with a structure that has a clearly defined family hierarchy with adults as the authority figures at the top and children at the bottom; expected to be subservient to the wishes and whims and expectations of their parents.

No child can meet those expectations. Ever.

So when those wishes become demands that cannot be met and punitive measures are measured out in blows…

Bottom line here:

Adults are larger and much more powerful than children. Therefore, hitting children is a flagrant abuse of power that can cause physical and emotional damage that may last a lifetime.

Here’s this from Ashley Montagu, a 20th century humanist and anthropologist that popularized the study of race and gender:

“Any form of corporal punishment or ‘spanking’ is a violent attack upon another human being’s integrity.”

Montagu believed the effect of that attack:

Remains with the victim forever and becomes an unforgiving part of his or her personality—a massive frustration resulting in a hostility which will seek expression in later life in violent acts towards others.

The sooner we understand that love and gentleness are the only kinds of called-for behavior towards children, the better. The child, especially, learns to become the kind of human being that he or she has experienced.”

***

Postscript: This essay is divided into five parts with each part containing 336 words. I intend on writing a sixth part, eventually, when I’m ready to come back to the piece with something new. ~RLR

Image Credit: Child Abuse by Mauro Fermariello

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