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Drama

Here is a recent podcast interview I did in anticipation of the screening of “Astronaut Goes From Migrant Fields To Outer Space” at the WILDsound TORONTO Film Festival this Saturday, May 1st.

I’m happy for the publicity, both for the film and hopefully the compassionate, coherent side of the immigration issue, given the current experiment with codified racism and a Geheime Staatspolize version of the American Dream in Arizona.

Sadly, hatred and ignorance remain omnipresent and galvanizing forces despite the sublime milestone of a black president and our unique history as a nation of immigrants.

From the Associated Press: “Key provisions of Arizona’s immigration legislation, signed into law by Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer on Friday:

Makes it a crime under state law to be in the country illegally by specifically requiring immigrants to have proof of their immigration status. Violations are a misdemeanor punishable by up to six months in jail and a fine of up to $2,500. Repeat offenses would be a felony.

Requires police officers to “make a reasonable attempt” to determine the immigration status of a person if there is a “reasonable suspicion” that he or she is an illegal immigrant. Race, color or national origin may not be the only things considered in implementation. Exceptions can be made if the attempt would hinder an investigation.

Allow lawsuits against local or state government agencies that have policies that hinder enforcement of immigration laws. Would impose daily civil fines of $1,000-$5,000. There is pending follow-up legislation to halve the minimum to $500.

Targets hiring of illegal immigrants as day laborers by prohibiting people from stopping a vehicle on a road to offer employment and by prohibiting a person from getting into a stopped vehicle on a street to be hired for work if it impedes traffic.

The law will take effect by late July or early August.”

The New Colossus

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

–Emma Lazarus, 1883 (Inscribed on a plaque inside the Statue of Liberty)

Marilyn Monroe rules the world, at least
The part visible in a photograph, standing
Above the troops she’s about to bless
With a song in her porous sequin dress, her arms
Durably outstretched. She hasn’t aged a day
In fifty years. The men too appear impossibly
Young, mooning boys clotted around a woman
Who just might show them something they’ve never seen.
Picture the millions who’ve looked at this picture
As a relic, an idol’s sacred likeness.
Now imagine the few who bring her close, make out
In the crowd, a brother, a son, that it’s he
Who quickens hearts, dampens palms, doesn’t belong
With the others, but to those hopelessly apart
From the object of their affection, though holding on
Tight with their eyes. Incongruous, he has nothing
To do with movies, just right place, right time,
Korea during the war, at the front
Of countless gawkers when the bombshell walks out.
There’s your famous father, someone’s mother jokes
And everyone smiles, knowing how hard it’s been.
He’s in his prime and at his peak before
Coming home to the farm in Glen Mills
In a bag or minus a leg or unscathed
As far as anyone can see. Go ahead, ad-lib,
It’s all fantasy, how he stepped off a plane
And got recognized instantly, besieged by people
Who made up with the intensity of their obsession
What they lacked in numbers, open mouthed,
Daring to think, it’s him, it’s really him.

                                                          —David Moolten

oedipusDoing 60, 90, 120…ignoring or liberally interpreting the yellow “RIGHT LANE ENDS, MERGE NOW” sign, the driver of a white pick up truck scattering gravel in the break down lane passed us and cut us off, the raised bumper inches from ours, the dual exhaust rumbling.  I was captaining our station wagon.  My beautiful wife sat next to me, her hand proffering reassurance to my shoulder.
     “Just ignore him,” she said, reading my mind (the lower, primitive regions of the limbic system, amygdala and hippocampus) or the adrenalin gauge (not on the dashboard) with its indicator at the redline.

Instead, I ignored her, tailgating and then swerving in front of the truck at the next available opportunity—a straightaway after a service station where the road widened from one lane to three, allowing for left and right turns into strip malls, as well as the occasional drag race.  The lackadaisical evening traffic and numerous stoplights, however, made this particular use tenuous.

Fortunately for us, the driver, after gunning past one more time, swooped off the road into a liquor store parking lot without taking further heed of my challenge.  He probably had a jiggling beer cooler on the front seat in need of replenishment, to go with a (fully legal) handgun in the glove compartment.  I escaped the confrontation with only an earful from my wife for risking my life, and hers: minor damage.

In fact, I’ve mostly gotten pretty good at defusing such situations, mostly by defusing myself in time.   But sometimes caught in the wrong mood at the right moment…I…The funny thing is, were I to come across the obnoxious operator of said truck at a revolving door or in a movie line, each one of us might well have said, “after you.”  Somehow, climbing into a car’s personal space with its anonymity and raw power deactivates the courtesy that keeps us from each other’s throats.

Manners, as a word, suggests a kind of officious veneer associated with prep or finishing schools, a gratuitous expertise in the social graces.  The well-mannered individual always uses the correct fork for his salad, and gets his thank-you cards written punctually.  But I postulate here that at least on the roads and highways of America good manners can save your life.  We’re a short tempered and irritable society (at least while motoring) and a violent one.  Perhaps there’s a connection?  According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, aggressive driving accounts for one third of “accidents” (my quotation marks) and two thirds of automobile fatalities.  That’s frightening.  On the Pennsylvania Turnpike, a thoroughfare I frequent, two women were killed a few years ago after the driver of another car, angered and retaliating over an unintentional “slight,” caused theirs to lose control and crash.  If he’d displayed just a hint of the gallantry he might have on foot, he’d be a free man today and two women would still be alive.

According to Freud, we are motivated by sex (Eros), and death (Thanatos).  I would agree with the first at least, though I think there are often less elaborate, in fact stupidly simple explanations for our behavior.  For example, much has been written about the so called Oedipal conflict, which Freud hypothesized, where a boy subconsciously wishes for his father’s death  because he harbors repressed desire for his mother.  Sex and death, death and sex.  But if we go back to Sophocles, the ancient Greek dramatist, and his Oedipus Rex, we find a much more banal kind of human foible at work.

Remember the story?  An oracle forecasts that Laius will have a son who will grow up to kill his father.  So Laius disposes of this son, Oedipus, binding his feet and leaving him on a mountain to subvert the fate decreed by the gods.  The infant Oedipus survives and years later, as a grown man, finds himself face to face with his father.  Except neither recognizes the other.  Oedipus believes his father is the shepherd who raised him as a boy.  Laius thinks his child is dead.  So they are in essence strangers when they argue at an intersection over who has the right of way.

When Oedipus kills his father it has nothing to do with the superego, or the id, stifled libido.  It’s a simple case of road rage, and fatuous as it sounds, bad manners.  Had either one of them waved the other past with genteel deference, there would have been no bloodshed, no humiliating abdication, no suicide by Jocasta, no self-mutilation by Oedipus in his shame and grief and guilt.  This variety of Oedipus complex isn’t complex at all.  Unfortunately, like fate, neither is it trivial or easily avoided.  And it takes its toll off the road as well, has done so for centuries in petty struggles over honor, pride, saving face.  The gods and the playwrights could always count on us to be impulsive, ill mannered, and self-destructive.  They still can.

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