A moment from when I was in college: A group of teens in hoodies, torn jeans, fake leather jackets on a warm fall day sit on a sidewalk in Evanston not far from a busy shopping street near the lake.
As I approach where those kids are, an older woman coming from the opposite direction eyes those kids hard and says loud enough for me to hear, “It looks like the ‘60s, hanging out. Boy you have a lot to live up to.”
“Up to?” I say, not knowing what she meant but wondering what it was that that generation left us to grow up with Ronald Reagan, cuts to taxes, and cuts to welfare, and leaving to a sudden rise in homelessness and people on the street. I was also thinking about a research paper I had just done about the underground press of the 1960s, the flourishing of a counter-cultural literature and how the FBI infiltrated it by creating their own underground presses, and how most of the magazines died out, though a few became alternative newsweeklies. That, to me at that time, was what the ‘60s was—a flowering, a wilting, a fading away.
The woman looked at me like I was crazy, or maybe she was crazy, saying “Up to? Up to? Up to?” to me as she walked away. (The kids, by the way, just sat there and watched this all unfold—a silly sideshow to whatever it was they were up to that day.)
That moment came back to mind when I recently saw the Broadway production of the play “The Children” at the Samuel J Friedman Theatre in Manhattan. It features the same crew from the Royal Court production: directed by James Macdonald; and starring Francesca Annis, Ron Cook and Deborah Findlay. The play is written by Lucy Kirkwood.
We had a Zenith television when I was a kid. It was big, bigger than me. When we wanted to change the channel, we had to get up and turn the dial. When the plastic dial broke, or at least the part that connected it to the channel mechanism on the TV, then we superglued the broken bit of plastic back together. We used the dial until it broke, again. We superglued it again. This kept going on until the plastic dial couldn’t be repaired anymore. Then we just risked cutting our fingers against the sharp-edged plastic of the now-exposed channel changing mechanism. We pressed our fingers against it, twisted our wrists and changed the channel. There were only 13 stops on the dial, and only four stations: ABC, CBS, NBC, and PBS, so it wasn’t that big of a deal. We made do and we kept that TV long after friends started to buy Sony Trinitrons. Eventually, we got something from Panasonic.
Bob Hartley’s second novel, North and Central (Tortoise Books, 240 pages, $16), is set in a Chicago bar whose clientele consisted mostly of Zenith factory workers and who, no doubt, would mock my use of “clientele” to describe them. “Drinkers,” perhaps, is better? “Strugglers,” perhaps, too, as Zenith is on the decline due to competition from Japan—the entire neighborhood is rough shape. Another name for those workers could be “Trump voters,” which is more about when I read the book than when it was written or its setting a few decades ago in the 1970s.
I had two poems published in 2017 that are eligible for the 2018 Rhysling Awards, which are awards for speculative poetry. These awards must be nominated by a member of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Poetry Association (I’m a member, but people can’t nominated their own poems).