Sunday, April 24, 2016

227. The Looks of Desire, of Crime, of Spiritual Energy

     What’s in a look? Everything!  Here are my random thoughts on the subject.

The look of desire

Every woman and every gay guy knows this look, though straight guys are often so busy looking at women that they forget that women may be looking at them.  Once, back in my young youth years ago at Nantucket, where I arrived just before a hurricane, I was sitting at a counter in a restaurant, when the good-looking older man sitting next to me, whom I knew vaguely from a quick introduction the night before, reached over and took off my glasses.

     “Hey!” I exclaimed in mild protest, but he refused to return them, looking instead at me with the look of desire.  But his look was not burning hot; it was detached, as if filing me away for future use.  He looked in silence for a minute or two, and I returned his look without a word, not registering interest but noncommittal calm.  Finally he returned the glasses and I put them back on.  All this without a word between us.  A curious little game, new to me.

     The beginning of a torrid romance?  Not at all.  His action had surprised me, annoyed me, and flattered me; it was like a gentle rape.  But I wasn’t about to get involved, for I had been told that his usual breakfast was a string of gins, and that I wasn’t going to sign on for.  Instead, I ended up in a short-term relationship with a habitual liar whose lies reached the point where I had to break it off, and abruptly.  Maybe the gin drinker would have been a better bet.

    That look of desire had no guilt in it.  On other occasions I got look of desire that was direct, searing, and guilt-ridden, usually from a guy from the Bible Belt for whom a same-sex attraction was the ultimate in sin; sad.  And in my first year at Columbia as a grad student, I found myself on the fifteenth floor, the top, where no less than a third to a half of the residents were gay.  Pure coincidence, though we joked about it.  One of my neighbors, Walter, was friendly and full of good humor, but we all noticed that he had a look that was almost savage in its intensity, even when he wasn’t looking at his friends with desire.  Was he too from the Bible Belt?  I don’t know, but maybe so; certainly he was apt at citing the Bible, with hilarious effect.

     So much for looks of desire.  We all have a story or two to tell on the subject.

The criminal look

     My father was a corporation lawyer whose specialty was the intricacies of law regarding railroads.  But he told me once how, in law school, one of his professors insisted that there was a certain hardened look that characterized veteran criminals – a look that could not be used as evidence in court, which he thought unfortunate.  He insisted that you could recognize a criminal by this look, though the arguments against such use are obvious.

     Once I encountered this look.  It was in a Village bar on Bleecker Street long ago, a bar where gay men and women of all ages rubbed elbows with adventurous straights, a sprinkling of tourists, and real and pseudo bohemians – a racy mix much to my liking.  One evening I saw a man perhaps in his thirties who seemed to know some of the regulars, and from the talk around me I learned that he was fresh out of prison, incarcerated for what offense I do not know.  I caught his glance once or twice and yes, there was a hardened look that I had never seen before – surely the hardened look described by the law professor.  I can’t explain or analyze it; all I know is, it said to me DANGER  KEEP  AWAY.  Needless to say, I did.

The look of spiritual energy

     This look I have never experienced, but I know that it exists.  Gurus – the real ones – and healers have it, and no doubt saints and saints-to-be.  A Catholic student of mine once went to Italy to meet the Padre Pio, a Capuchin  friar whom he was certain would be posthumously canonized.  He did indeed meet him, and while he didn’t describe the man’s look, he said that, at once glance, the Padre knew that he, the student, was not in a state of grace, which he wasn’t.  Certainly the Padre had remarkably powers of insight.  And my student was right; the Padre, who died soon after this incident, was canonized in 2002.

     A friend of mine named Gary told me how he had heard the Dalai Lama speak during a visit to New York.  Asked if he could love even the Chinese Communists who had even threatened his life, the Dalai Lama replied, “It is very difficult, but … I love them.”  This reply so impressed Gary that he resolved to save up all he could so he could go to India to thank the Dalai Lama in person for this feat of love and forgiveness.  He did get there and did meet the Dalai Lama and chat with him, but that is not the point of this story.  Before going to the Dalai Lama’s residence-in-exile, he attended a large gathering to hear a famous Indian guru speak.  There were thousands there, and foreigners were seated in a special section.  When the guru arrived, he walked down an aisle right beside the section for foreigners, and for the briefest instant Gary’s eyes met his.  Instantly Gary felt spiritual energy pass from the guru’s eyes into his – a unique experience that he could attest to without being able to explain it. 

     Though I myself have never experienced it, I have no doubt that such energy exists and that it can be transmitted from one person to another.  Westerners may scoff, since this cannot be verified scientifically at present, but I suspect that someday science will catch up with the wisdom of Eastern traditions of spirituality and healing.  Whether it is in my lifetime or not, I hope that it will happen.

     So much for these three varieties of looks.  There are many more, I’m sure.  Tell me if you have experienced any; I’m eager to hear.

     Modern Art Strikes Again:  Never underestimate the ability of great art to take us to a new place, to reveal exciting fresh dimensions of human experience.  The Guggenheim Museum is installing a sculptural masterpiece by Maurizio Cattelan in a small room devoted to quiet meditation and other modes of experience: a functioning solid-gold toilet that will meet the needs of visitors while also commenting acerbly on today’s art market.  Visitors will no doubt form long lines awaiting admission – singly, I assume – to view and utilize this break-through innovation and in the process, I hope, achieve new insights into art and the human experience.  I trust that it uses a minimum of water in flushing.

No Place for Normal: New York / Stories from the Most Exciting City in the World

    The book:  My selection of posts from this blog has won first place in the Travel category of the 2015-2016 Reader Views Literary Awards, which can be accessed here.  Sheri Hoyte, in the accompanying review, calls the book "a delightful treasure chest full of short stories about New York City….  I highly recommend it to all fans of entertaining short stories and lovers of New York City.  It would also make an interesting travel guide for people who just want to learn more about the city that never sleeps."  (The full review is also included in post #223 of March 27, 2016.)  As always, the book is available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.  

     Coming soon:  Annals of the Judson City Public Library: Dark Deeds Revealed, Things the Public Never Knew.  The whole scandalous story at last exposed.  

     ©   2016   Clifford Browder

Sunday, April 17, 2016

226. Kitty Genovese Remembered

     Long ago, in a 2012 vignette about horrors that I had seen from my apartment window, I recounted briefly, as a kind of prelude, the 1964 murder in Queens of a young woman named Kitty Genovese.  Her tragic story has come again to mind, fifty-two years later, for reasons explained below.  But first, here is my account of the murder, excerpted from vignette #13 (also found on pp. 138-40 in chapter 18 of my book No Place for Normal: New York):

     Kitty Genovese was a young woman who, returning late one winter night from work, was attacked while approaching her apartment building in Kew Gardens, Queens. The assailant stabbed her twice, she screamed for help, he fled. She then managed to stagger into a back hallway of her building, where she collapsed. The attacker, eager (as he confessed later) "to kill a woman," returned, searched for her, found her in the hallway, stabbed her many more times, raped her, robbed her, and fled. Summoned by a neighbor, the police now finally arrived; she died in an ambulance en route to a hospital. Some days later, a New York Times article reported that 38 neighbors had witnessed the attack, heard her screams, done nothing. The story spread throughout the media as an example of the callousness and apathy of New Yorkers, their refusal to "get involved." The occupants of her building were so vilified that some of them moved out. The Times's account has been repeated ever since in psychology textbooks and other print media, on TV, and even in song.
     But is it true? As regards the indifferent witnesses, the answer is no; surprisingly, the Times article was based more on hearsay than fact. The police interviewed about a dozen witnesses, but not 38; where that number came from no one seems to know. It was a cold winter night; many neighbors had their windows shut, didn't hear the screams; those who did, saw the attacker leaving or a young woman, possibly drunk, staggering toward the building. No one witnessed the second attack, which occurred in a back hallway. Those who heard a disturbance dismissed it as a lovers' quarrel or drunken brawl. Some neighbors even insisted that they did indeed call the police, but with no result. And contrary to legend, no one drew a chair up to their window so as to watch in comfort the horrors being perpetrated below. Shocking as the murder was, the story about the witnesses -- still lodged today in most people's minds -- was far more myth than fact. The assailant was arrested subsequently on other charges, confessed to this and two other murders, was declared "medically insane," and is now serving an indeterminate term in prison, having been repeatedly denied parole. The Times has never issued a retraction, but many sources now challenge the accuracy of its original article. To which I'll add this personal note: out-of-towners don't always realize the daily noise level of the city and how New Yorkers have to tune it out. If I hear a shout in the street, that in itself means nothing. If I hear what seems to be a cry for help, I have to investigate, since I may have been mistaken, or it may be a bunch of kids just fooling around. On the other hand, a repeated cry for help has to be taken seriously and in my experience usually is.
     Some good did come of the Genovese tragedy. The Police Department reformed inefficiencies in its telephone reporting system; some communities organized Neighborhood Watch programs to help people in distress; and psychologists and sociologists investigated the so-called bystander effect or Genovese syndrome. To which I'll add the contents of an e-mail reply that I received when I asked several friends if the name Kitty Genovese meant anything to them. All the present or former residents of the city remembered her and the story of the neighbors' alleged indifference. And one replied: "Kitty Genovese is the reason I stopped the car at two in the morning in a bad neighborhood to help a woman who was screaming for help in the middle of the street while being wrestled to the ground by a very large and angry man. He could have been armed, but I could never have forgiven myself if I hadn't intervened. He backed off when I stopped, and I took her to the police station." For which, I think, a medal should be given….

*                   *                   *                  *                  *                 *

     Kitty Genovese’s story has come to mind again because her assailant, Winston Moseley, died in New York State’s maximum security Clinton Correctional Facility, in Dannemora, N.Y., far upstate near the Canadian border, on March 28, 2016, at the age of 81.  To my knowledge, the New York Times never formally retracted the original article on the murder, replete with errors though it was, but in its obituary of Moseley on April 5 it did so by implication, citing the article as “flawed” and “erroneous.”  In addition to acquitting the neighbors of callous indifference to the crime, it even added a telling detail that belies the earlier account: at considerable risk to herself, a seventy-year-old woman ventured out and cradled the dying victim in her arms until the police finally arrived. 

     The original story of 38 witnesses ignoring the victim’s cries for help did indeed, as the obit states, take on a life of its own, shocking the national conscience and provoking a flood of academic studies of what was termed the “Kitty Genovese syndrome.”  And Kitty Genovese, who was gay and living with a partner, has become a part of the folklore of Queens.  The current residents of Kew Gardens, the site of the attack, are well aware of the story, and the older ones who were there in 1964 still nurse a resentment at the damage done to the neighborhood’s reputation. 

     And Moseley?  Soft-spoken and intelligent, with no criminal record at the time of the assault, he hardly fit the image of a serial killer and psychopath, still less so as a married man and father of two.  But his wife’s working a night shift as a nurse left him free to prowl at night in search of victims, while his mother looked after the kids.  Captured five days later while committing a burglary, he confessed to having killed three women in all, raped eight, and committed 30 or 40 burglaries.  At his trial he pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity, but was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to death.  In 1967 the Court of Appeals sentenced him to life imprisonment on the grounds that the trial court had erred in disallowing evidence of his mental condition.  In 1968 he escaped and during a five-day escapade took five hostages and raped a woman, before being recaptured.  In 1977 he earned a degree in sociology, and in an article published by the Times expressed regret for the murder and claimed to be a changed man.  Later appeals for parole were denied, and at the time of his death he was one of the state’s longest-serving inmates.  But for me, the untold story isn’t Moseley and his motivation, but his family: how did they react, when they learned of his arrest?  An untold story that remains untold, and rightly so: their privacy should be respected.

     Note on the New York primary:  With the primary here coming up next Tuesday, April 19, three of the contenders -- Hillary, Bernie, and the Donald -- are trying to convince voters that they are true New Yorkers.  (Cruz from Texas isn't even trying, though he's actually said good things about the state recently, belying numerous other comments.)  So the Times had a true New Yorker, 27-year-old Matt Flegenheimer, a campaign reporter, to assess these claims.  Here is some of what he found.  (For the complete report, see the Times of April 16.)

     Accent:  Trump has some of it, but Bernie (no pun intended) trumps them all.  In this regard Illinois-born Hillary (my home state, as it happens) is no New Yorker, which probably helps her elsewhere.

     Residency:  Trump wins, even if he lives in the sumptuous Trump Tower on snazzy Fifth Avenue.  Bernie deserted the city for Vermont long ago, and Hillary's mansion in affluent Chappaqua in Westchester County, with its five bedrooms and formidable security, isn't exactly a modest brownstone in Brooklyn or the West Village.

     Travel:  Bernie thought the subway still uses tokens, and the Donald gads about in a private jet and limousines.  Hillary tried to ride the subway, albeit with difficulty making the Metrocard work, so she wins.

     Finally, my own guidance for voting next Tuesday and in November: I won't vote for anyone who

  • Won't release his/her tax returns.  (Obama just did.)
  • Owns more than two homes.
  • Has more than two wives.
  • Has assets stashed away abroad in some place I can't even find on a map.
  • Gets less than $200,000 for giving a talk to Goldman Sachs.
  • Eats wienies.
  • Screams.
That last one is tough.  Will I even vote?  Probably, having compared the decibels.

No Place for Normal: New York / Stories from the Most Exciting City in the World

    The book:  My selection of posts from this blog has won first place in the Travel category of the 2015-2016 Reader Views Literary Awards, which can be accessed here.  Sheri Hoyte, in the accompanying review, calls the book "a delightful treasure chest full of short stories about New York City….  I highly recommend it to all fans of entertaining short stories and lovers of New York City.  It would also make an interesting travel guide for people who just want to learn more about the city that never sleeps."  (The full review is also included in post #223 of March 27, 2016.)  As always, the book is available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.  

     Coming soon:  Something, I don't know what.  I have several ideas cooking.

     ©  2016  Clifford Browder

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

225½. Hitting Donald Trump with a Pie

     It’s the silly season, both nationally and personally.  Nationally, because of the election, and personally, because of two posts I just published on Tumblr to scant acclaim, since most Tumblr millennials (with exceptions) are too busy trekking the steppes of amorous desolation to work up a smile, much less a laugh.  But I can’t resist communicating a bit of my silliness to viewers of this blog.  Here are the posts:

         Six Suggestions for Living Dangerously

         (Recommended only to the brave of heart.)

1.    Have sex during an earthquake.

2.    Threaten to eat your landlord for breakfast.

3.    At a rally crammed with his supporters, hit Donald Trump in the face with a pie.  (Preferably meringue; it’s gooey.)

4.    Put a New Yorker under citizen’s arrest for jaywalking.

5.    Seduce someone great and powerful.

6.    Do your income tax yourself.

For these deeds, undertaken at great risk, you will be acclaimed.  (Viewers should feel free to add suggestions of their own.)

            Six Tips for Better Living

1.    Don’t strain at stool.
2.    Love your enemies (those bastards).
3.    Eat more fiber.
4.    Invest in the Next Big Thing.
5.    Brush your teeth (uppers and lowers).
6.    Above all, as our British friends would say, Keep your pecker up.

     So much for silliness.  I shall return to serious matters in the next post.

No Place for Normal: New York / Stories from the Most Exciting City in the World

    The book:  A selection of posts from this blog is available from Amazon and Barnes & Noble.  Sheri Hoyte, in a review for Readers View, called it "a delightful treasure chest full of short stories about New York City….  I highly recommend it to all fans of entertaining short stories and lovers of New York City.  It would also make an interesting travel guide for people who just want to learn more about the city that never sleeps."  (For the full review, see post #223 of March 27, 2016.)


     Coming soon:  Kitty Genovese Remembered.

     ©   2016   Clifford Browder