Saturday, July 28, 2012

Agism Agonies

When is old? American society can't  decide.  Nor can it decide on the value of age and worthiness of revealing the number. We stumble by with a cliche that says You are only as old as you look/act/think? Hah! Tell that to the TSA (the latest acronym to bedevil us all). Signs at security airport lines for the past few months state that a person need not remove his/her shoes if she/he was born before 1937. The Magic Number Declaring One No Longer A Security Risks. But what is the reasoning here? A person is too old at 75 to bend over and untie shoes? A person is unlikely to be a terrorist by actuarial charts? Who makes up such charts anyway? (The very young - 12 and under (some of whom I could see quite able to hide a bomb or participate in nefarious deeds of all kinds) - are also excused, I was told by the agent whom I asked. She seemed unable to explain such matters. "Courtesy?" Oh, well. So try makeup if you labor to avoid the cumbersome task: only one agent wanted to know my real age when I sashayed through but he didn't ask to see proof.
Meanwhile, at the famous Chautauqua, NY, institution - a summer camp of sorts  for the mentally fit of all ages - rules that a senior "90 and older " can visit for free. ("BUt must obtain a complimentary pass.") Likewise, children 12 and under.  Are the 90-plus folks considered too hard of hearing to make sense of the lectures?
Courtesy makes strange bedfellows.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

City Rhythms

The temperature was more like 100 degrees plus when the tall imposing woman customer in my local FedEx asked to speak to the manager. There was no refusing such an innocent request on the part of Jennifer, the clerk who had been helping her. An equally determined looking manager - short, medium build, male - came out of the back office and asked, in turn, 'how can I help you?'' It was more a dare than a request. "I just want to compliment the woman who was helping me," came the reply. "I wanted to make that clear to management."
The smiles began. "Well we can help you make it all the way to headquarters," said the manager, upping the ante. So he passes on a phone number to call so that 'team member' Jennifer would be properly cited wherever such matters matter. Indeed, a call to the 800 number brought forth eventually a live body in public relations who was stumbling over the request. "We don't get many of these," said PR lady, name unknown. She scurried around to take down the info, offering - per bureaucratic custom - a "case number". Make note: 0718736603. Maybe first and last time for '

City summers produce some curious behaviors. In Franklin Park near Macpherson Metro, hippie renegades sat beside the burbling fountain, backs to the meagre spouts where pigeons flocked to keep cool. Their long-haired dog lay sprawled beside them, properly harnessed, with a tiny leashed cat clinging to its back.  A cool scene. Really.

Metro had its own cast of characters on show. Besides  talented Doo Wap performers, travelers made their own appearances known. A black woman dressed in white - hat, trousers and top - hailed me as I descended, in a friendly gesture meant to acknowledge my own all-white garb of the day. As though we two were among the smart folk like MiniCooper owners giving a mutual wave on the roadway. But we were nothing up against the woman guiding her wheelchair among rushing Metro hordes who had on stylish clothes and perfect makeup and one matching artificial leg complete with shoe hanging off the back.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Washington DC Artists on Show

Contradiction is the artist's fate. To persist in the face of indifference, to paint because - well, you feel you have no choice. And do this in DC, a power town "where artists are the ugly stepchildren," as painter Michael Clark aka Clark V. Fox calls it - at the same time he calls DC "way underrated" in terms of the art produced here. "This art has soul, and only DC could produce people like this."
 Does he mean that artists in the nation's capital are beyond being corrupted? No, he says at the July 7th reception for "The Constant Artist" exhibit at AU's Katzen Arts Center, just one of the city's many mainly-free stimulating venues to tease the eye and mind. He thinks the inspiration of these places helps keep the senses alive, the artist in touch with his/ her soul.
So goes wishful thinking in the summer of 2012. although the exhibit itself defies any such pessimism. The fulcrum for the exhibit is photographer Paul Feinberg and portraits he has done through the years of nine of the city's leading artists, then and now, accompanied by some of their representative work. The walls are alive with stories, mainly of good times past when Feinberg, a "double dipper" of sorts like many in DC who lead dual lives (he trained was an engineer and worked at NASA), made sure to tape interviews with his subjects "as a way of knowing them, the better to photograph them."

A central figure for him in the '70s and '80s - "the scene then had a generosity of spirits, real camaraderie" -  was the late artist Manon Cleary, a legendary hostess who introduced him to the demi-monde of that era, a more dynamic time than now. "Buyers aren't out there as much now but artists still paint, and I was interested in why they continued, why they were so intent in the pursuit of beauty and creativity." Cleary, he says, "enhanced whatever she saw; she saw beauty in whatever she saw. She had so much to say and never minced words. She was very generous but tough if you crossed her."

Fred Folsom agrees that the rich trove of museums here make the difference, even if few  of them ever bother to celebrate the talent underfoot. "I always assumed the National Gallery of Art was there for me alone," he tells the audience wistfully. Folsom's seldom displayed giant  1987 triptytch "Last Call (at the Shepherd Park Go-Go Club) is just one of the special pieces on view through August 12. It's a living portrait in motion of good times and bad, a real place "pitch black when I went in and sat down, the music so loud that nobody could hear anyone else and had nothing to do with anyone else. I've got a lot of old friends here; I have stories about everybody." Soul brothers and sisters, many of them, a remembrance of things past still current.