Monday, May 20, 2019

Arthur Miller, hot dogs and Times Square.

My wife of 35 years does her best on the weekends to remove me from my near-hermetic tendencies and she tries myriad tactics to get me out of the house. To be clear, I have no problem getting up at 6:30, piling into my still-spry 1966 Simca 1500 powered by a three-liter BMW straight-six engine, but when darkness descends upon the city, the comfort of my quiet three-bedroom in Manhattan’s quietest neighborhood is hard for me to leave.

Can you blame me really? My week is filled with so many hours, so many demands, so many people pulling on my limbs for moments of my time and my particular and peculiar felicity, that it’s all I can do, when the weekend comes to tear myself from an ancient book, like “Don Quixote,” or “L’Morte d’ Arthur” or a more-recent history that attempts to explain the concussive and destructive world that's currently (and always) spinning off its axis.

These books, and the time to read them, are my escape from the all-too-present present. They are help me traipse away from a world, in Wordsworth’s words, “that is too much with us.”

But on Saturday night, my ever-loving twisted the bulk of my right ear and dragged me out of the apartment to see Annette Benning in Arthur Miller’s “All My Sons.”

I have always loved Arthur Miller. Ever since as a 14- or 15-year-old I read “Death of a Salesman,” and saw in the lead character, Willy Loman, traces of my father, I’ve always loved his work. Any person who can write, as Miller did in “Salesman,” “You can’t eat the orange and throw away the peel. A man is not a piece of fruit” is ok with me. Miller has figured out the universe, and for half-a-century I have loved his work. Attention to his work must be paid.

But still, leaving the friendly confines of my apartment for the mayhem, noise, filth and Elmos of Times Square, let’s just say I wasn’t quite as tractable as my wife wished I were.

We made it finally down to the American Airlines Theatre. You know, if you read this blog, how I feel about ostensibly public institutions named after corporate sponsors. Not only, from a marketing point of view do I believe such corporate narcissism to be a colossal waste of money, I actually wind-up despising the sponsoring brand more than I even had before.

Benning played across from the wonderful, Pulitzer-prize winning Tracy Letts. And while the show wasn’t exactly a laff-riot, it was well-acted, wonderfully-written and not nearly as dated as I feared. I guess clothing styles go out of business, but a moral system like Miller’s endures.

The play, however gloomy, was not what depressed me, however. What gets me every time I’m forced to walk through it is the Mall-ing of Times Square. The half-dressed tourists who walk about half-a-mile-an-hour, stop indiscriminately wherever they please, are unable to look up from their phones, except to say, “There’s a McDonalds,” or stop in one of the 97,000 Starbucks in the small radius around the Great White Way.

I’m never far, to be honest, from being a full-blown misanthrope, and walking through Times Square accelerates my descent into meanness like nothing else. In fact, every time my wife forces a Broadway show on me, I tell her “this is the last time I’m ever coming to Times Square.”

What really gets me is the bland-over-commercialization of the area. There's not a store that isn't part of a national chain, and the Disneyfication, the Mall-ing, the mogul-ling of New York is all-but complete. We have met the enemy and they are in real estate.

I remembered as I walked through the human cacophony an obituary from slightly over two decades ago of a man called Fred Hakim. Hakim ran a hot dog stand, the Grand Luncheonette, in pre-Disney Times Square. He ran it for something like 50 years. I found a short documentary on the last days of Hakim's seven-stool lunch counter. In that four-minute film, Hakim hopes he'll be allowed back to the crossroads of the world.


Like Arthur Miller might have written, 70 years ago, or 70 seconds, "Fuck the little guy. He just gets in the way of money."

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