It’s why the pundits criticize the President, how something small turns into something huge and gets stuck so no one can extract it. “Pundit” comes from the Sanskrit meaning wise man, though today they’re mostly professional chatterers who line up on the talk shows like the hot cars along 42nd Street this autumn night, hoods open, LED lights flashing so passersby can have a look at the spotless engine, sit behind the wheel, then stick a dollar into the Please Donate bucket. I saw both a pimp and a cop throw in a buck at the same time. It was like that scene from The Wire where the drug dealer and his girl meet the detective who’s been dogging him and his girl leaving a movie they all enjoyed in the dark. At first, they’re so surprised, I almost expected them to introduce their dates and go out for cheesecake and coffee, a temporary truce like the one you always hear about during World War 1 when the British and German soldiers stop shooting at each other one Christmas, and instead climb out of their foxholes and walk across the blood-stained no-man’s land to shake hands and share a bottle. In The Wire the dealer goes back to dealing and the detective goes back to trying to nail him, but you can tell his heart’s not in it, because for one unexpected minute they’re just guys who know each other from work. The pundits say the President’s heart’s not in it which is why he hesitates or says something like Don’t do stupid stuff, which is actually good advice, because most of us could write books about the stupid stuff we’ve done. But we don’t start out that way, do we? Look at that corpulent man walking ahead of me on 46th Street past the Scientology Center whose loud outdoor speaker tells us, though not directly, how dumb we are if we don’t come in right now, sign ourselves over and wire up to their spiritual technology. Something happened or didn’t happen to this man and gradually he evolved into a walking boxcar. Do you remember Walter Hudson, the fourth heaviest man in medical history who became a story when he got stuck in his bedroom doorway on his way to the bathroom? Firemen had to cut him out. Although Dick Gregory helped him lose six hundred pounds, he couldn’t save him. Desire, eventually, is what kills us. When Hitler was a boy, do you think he wanted Poland bad enough to start a war? But after he took it, of course, and this was his mistake, he wanted more.
Some prophets say the world is gonna end tomorrow But others say we've got a week or two ~Maya Angelou
Just because some bobblehead dumped Skeeter Davis causing her to sing, “It’s the end of the world” doesn’t mean it is the end of the world. Herman and the Hermits sang the same tune three years after that, and look, five decades later the world is still wobbling along. It was the Cold War when the communists were cocking their missiles at us and Skeeter Davis was crossing over from country music to pop, pissing off her hillbilly fans, just like Taylor Swift is crossing over from country music to pop, pissing off her hillbilly fans who, despite being pissed off, still bought a million albums in one week. When Buddy Rich was rolled into the ER for the last time a nurse asked what he was allergic to. “Country music,” he croaked. Between Skeeter and Herman, Bob Dylan crossed over when he plugged in at Newport, pissing off his folky fans who crossed over to become the high rollers he plays to in Atlantic City.
Taylor Swift was born without a belly button in 1989, the year the Soviet Empire began to break itself into a half-dozen civil wars. The year East Berliners crossed over to stare at the other side of the Wall where Rilke spray painted, “Change Your Life.” The year a man stopped to smell the tires burning in Tiananmen Square and somehow blocked an exaltation of tanks. The year the Exxon Valdez declared a fatwā on Salman Rushdie who spilled more ink running aground than anyone could soak up. The year the Fine Young Cannibals drove me crazy. I like saying the words, Skeeter, Dylan, fatwā, bobblehead, cocking. It pisses me off that even though the Soviet Union cashed out and was born again as a capitalist playground, people say there’s a Commie in the White House, practicing sharia, spreading Ebola and being black. But you, Taylor Swift, are young, beautiful, intelligent and alive. Sing your heart out, Sweetie. Do whatever you need to do to survive.
-- Peter E. Murphy’s recent essays and poems appear or are forthcoming in Diode, Hawaii Pacific Review, The Lindenwood Review, Mead, The New Welsh Reader, Passager, Rattle, Rhino, Sleet Magazine and Tiferet. He is the founder of Murphy Writing of Stockton University which sponsors the annual Winter Poetry & Prose Getaway and other programs for poets, writers and teachers in the U.S. and abroad. www.stockton.edu/murphywriting