Category Archives: Books

“Tweets from Hell”: Suzanne Lummis as CASSANDRA REDUX

12/31/19: the final day of a decade that proved to be a major disappointment. Having failed during his first two years in office to provide, immediately, jobs for those who became unemployed in the Great Recession, Barack Obama presided over the resurgence of the banking industry, which now has a free hand to devastate the world’s ecosystems under the loutish guidance of a man not fit for any public office, let alone being Commander-in-Chief.

The national election is scheduled for November 3, 2020. Upcoming in the new decade is the tenth anniversary of the day I nearly died: Wednesday, November 3, 2010, Linda drove me to the ER of the local hospital. Ever since July, I had been feeling the classic pains of a serious heart conditions. Tests were doled out by the insurance company at a parsimonious rate: it took a month just to have the first of three tests, and then another month to have the other two. No doubt they had their fingers crossed that I would simply die, and spare them the expense of treating them. At the ER I insisted that the diagnosis of the week before that there was nothing amiss with my heart was wrong. I had been told that it was a stomach problem. One final test was done, and it revealed that one of my arteries was 90 percent blocked. A stent was inserted, and I lived. I can empathize with Bernie Sanders, although I am afraid that his proposed medical plan would only create a health care system in which it would have been more likely that I would have died.

As conservative as Sanders is (and see my blog posts from four years ago to review the ways in which he dodges any confrontation with the central issue of the proliferation of weapons based on fission, not to mention systematic surveillance), I most certainly would vote for him, and would vote for Senator Warren with the same enthusiasm. Neither can win. It will be just like 1972’s debacle, with another electoral landslide for D.T. “The Republic” for which the flag stands will have its fatal heart attack ten years to the day I nearly died.

In playing the role of Cassandra, at Beyond Baroque on January 3, 2020, Suzanne Lummis will be reading “TWEETS FROM HELL” at 8 p.m. Lummis won a COLA grant from the City of Los Angeles that enabled her to devote time to this project, but I have enormous doubts that she would win a NEA grant based on what she will read. That extreme unlikelihood is exactly why I plan to be in attendance to applaud her latest work.

A Holiday Poem by Ian Krieger

December 26, 2019

Next year will mark the thirty-fifth anniversary of POETRY LOVES POETRY, an anthology of poets based in Los Angeles. Probably close to half of its contributors are either dead or live elsewhere, but it remains one of the two anthologies to appear that year that still conveys the excitement of its assembling. One of PLP’s contributors, who now lives in Florida, was Ian Krieger, and he enclosed the following poem with a holiday card that he sent me about two weeks ago. In the course of the final week of classes, I managed to get a card off to him in return, and asked for his permission to reprint his poem in my blog. Permission arrived, appropriately, on Christmas Day.

*. *. *

Journeying
(Christmas 2019)

The dawn wind carols; though music is not light.
Sunrise separates longing from its aubade,
While sentiment shivers, notches goosebumps under an absent eternity.
The pallid clouds quicken, clatter above strands of introverted trees.
Winter’s nostalgia occludes, veils what fall’s earthiness grips,
How the astral eyes of Magi canopy the manger with stars.
Destination, not destiny, strips elicits elation, catalyzes mystification.
Past to now, nostalgic prior to where; there was never a god to know
Or show how passion deified prior to love’s ever chilling syncopation.
Sensual promptings heighten playtime’s pantomime, a tangible ascent,
A solstice in a box, wrapping and excelsior in lieu of up as fire.
Despite what neurotransmitters proclaim as goodbying from on high.
The Hosannas of well fed, clever, or home-baked, humble as hay, soar,
As to define this brazenly cold night as the fete of playmates lost of late.
Though their music goes on forever-give or take.

— Ian Krieger

The Poets Gather for LOST AND LOCAL

December 22, 2019

A thirty-hour stretch of rain in Long Beach will commence in about two hours, but my grades for the semester got turned in earlier today, and the leftover kale salad from last night’s dinner with Laurel Ann Bogen in Brentwood proved to be the perfect complement for the rest of our dinner. Did you say, “dinner in Brentwood, Bill?” Well, that is more than a little bit out of my usual price range for eating out, but a single $15 raffle ticket I purchased at the Beyond Baroque awards gala several weeks ago proved to be just the ticket: I won a $100 gift card at a restaurant called Bottlefish, on San Vicente Blvd. Linda and I decided to treat Laurel Ann to a holiday dinner out, and the food was absolutely superb. If anyone wants to splurge for a special occasion, I would urge you to consider this restaurant. We ate early, so the restaurant was still at a slow enough pace that we had a chance to talk with the chef, who is from Israel. Apparently, this is the start of a chain of restaurants with a low-key approach to top-notch dining.

The best news of the evening was that Laurel’s cat, Chumley, is on the rebound. Someone mentioned to her that very old cats, especially as arthritis makes it difficult to bend their joints, lose weight not because of a decrease in appetite, but because it is simply too painful to bend down to the bowl and eat. “Put your cat’s bowl on a little stand. That way the way is almost eating at mouth-level.” Laurel tried it, and Chumley has put on two pounds in a couple of weeks, and is a much happier cat. Age 23 and still going strong with Laurel’s love!

Beyond Baroque’s 51st year concluded with a celebration of the publication of Carol Ellis’s LOST AND LOCAL in the Pacific Poetry Series. Before Carol read from her book, poets, editors, and impresarios gather for a group photograph.

IMG_0158

(copyright, Linda Fry, 2019)

(Left to right, front row: Richard Modiano; Carol Ellis; Suzanne Lummis; (Second row) Bill Mohr; Gloria Vando; top row: Quentin Ring; Liz Camfiord).

Merry Christmas, Mr. President

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Merry Christmas, Mr. President.

You are hereby impeached.

The voters in the 2018 election know it is a bit early to put this present under the White House Christmas tree, but we have a lot to get done before we celebrate the holidays with our families, so we’re giving you this today, a week before Christmas, and hope that you don’t feel slighted by its early presentation.

I know it must seem like Santa Claus is punishing you, but you need to think of it as something you’re very familiar with: filing for bankruptcy protection. Like Chapter 13, this will give you a chance to reorganize things and get reestablished with your creditors in the Electoral College.

Above all, chill.

You need to read my blog entry on November 8, 2019: “The Trump Chess Game: Impeachment as a Speed Bump.” Honestly, Donald, I am very disappointed that you have not sent me a personal note thanking me for my counsel.

Why waste your time writing Nancy Pelosi when you could be sending me a six-page letter, annotating your gratitude?

OK, OK. I get it. Party affiliation makes me your sworn enemy, from your point of view, and it would never do to be seen appreciating any advice given by someone who hopes to vote for either Bernie Sanders or Elizabeth Warren in the 2020 general election.

Not that either has a chance to win. Really, Donald. Get a hold of yourself. Remember 1972? I was so young, naive, and foolish. I totally succumbed to the fantasy that the population of the United States would say, “End this war now!” and vote for George McGovern. Instead, 49 out of 50 states voted for Richard Nixon.

It won’t be any different in 2020.

The same deplorables — yes, deplorables — who voted for Nixon in 1972 are ready to vote for you, again. And don’t forget that those voters in 1972 had children — and yes, there are even grandchildren of those voters who will be eligible to vote for the first time in 2020.

Truly, I know that being impeached must make you wince. It turns out that there are term limits for being an obnoxious human being who holds a major public office. One term, in this case.

But let your indignation show some class: “Honi soit qui mal y pense.”

As a little note on this holiday present, the loose translation should read: “Enjoy it while you can.”

Paul Vangelisti’s Tribute to Holly Prado (December 7, 2019)

Wednesday, December 10th, 2019

Paul Vangelisti attended two memorials this past weekend. On Saturday, December 7th, a tribute and memorial for the artist and teacher Don Suggs was held on the campus of UCLA. Having collaborated with Suggs and Martha Ronk on several books, as well as co-editing various magazine projects with him, Paul first spoke at his gathering, attended by well over 400 people; he then drove to Beyond Baroque, where he guided the memorial for Holly Prado back to the early 1970s.

*. *. *. *. *

HOLLY’S MEMORIAL

I’m not very fond of memorials but Holly’s passing not only left me desolate, it was an indelible loss. If I can put it somewhat coldly, above all else Holly’s career was, no, is a touchstone for what it means to be an artist in Los Angeles, not the kindest and most welcoming place for anything outside of Hollywood’s Dream Factory. A place where, in Gore Vidal’s words, we “do well what should not be done at all.” And stepping even further back from this moment, I can’t help but consider today’s date, December 7. Pearl Harbor Day. That day in 1941 when the country changed, the West Coast came into prominence as the new focus of the American century and the American empire. The day my father, who’d just enlisted months before, was stationed near San Francisco, where he would, in a few years, meet my mother who’d immigrated there from Italy not long before.
Maybe memory, however byzantine and merciful, might be useful. I first met Holly in 1971 at the workshop Alvaro Cardona-Hine taught out of his house in North Hollywood. Alvaro had taken over from Gene Frumkin some years earlier, when Frumkin moved to New Mexico. Frumkin originally was part of a group, going back to fifties, that met at Tom McGrath’s place in Frogtown. Present at Alvaro’s that night were Barbara Hughes, Ameen Alwan, Rosella Pace, Sid Gershgoren and, of course, Holly, probably the youngest of the poets there. I was visiting to solicit work for a forthcoming Los Angeles anthology that Charles Bukowski, Neeli Cherkovski and I were editing,
One Saturday afternoon, we three met at Bukowski’s apartment to start puttting the anthology together. Bukowski had collected work by poets he knew and I did the same. We exchanged piles of manuscripts and sat in Bukowski’s small living room drinking beer and reading. It soon became obvious from the sighs and groans coming from Hank that he wasn’t at all pleased. Nor was I entirely happy with what I was reading, much too narrative and prosaic for my taste. Neeli fidgeted and I pretended to read carefully (both of us then in our mid-twenties), waiting for Bukowski to take the lead. When he finished, Bukowski stood up and took a few steps to the kitchen table where his typewriter sat, and dumped the entire bundle of poems into the wastebasket under the table. I took the bundle he had given me and did likewise. Bukowski then announced that we had made real progress and ought to get down to some serious drinking. Almost two hours and a couple of six-packs later, Bukowski went to the wastebasket and pulled out the manuscripts, and we began one by one discussing the poets and their poems.
Published by our respective presses, Laugh Literary and Man the Humping Guns and the Red Hill Press, the Anthology of L.A. Poets came out in 1972, the first book of its kind on the scene. Bukowski had brought the following to the venture: Gerda Penfold, Charles Stetler, Linda King, Gerald Locklin, Steve Richmond, Ron Koertge, John Thomas and himself and Neeli. I advocated William Pillin, Jack Hirschman, Robert Peters, Tony Russo, Stuart Perkoff, myself and three of the poets from Alvaro’s workshop, Ameen Alwan, Rosella Pace and Holly. The page right after Bukowski’s group of poems and just before Bob Peters’s – I can’t for the life of me recall how we decided on the order – ran two poems of Holly’s. First, “the garden”:

rilke has said that
each man will take with him
from the earth
one word that he loves most

I have been thinking all evening
just in case
and can’t go beyond
lizard

And then came this piece, “the forest covered with the moon,” still one of my favorite poems of Holly’s:

rocks at the edge of the fire
warm enough for my feet
you choose the right piece of wood
every time

the trout from the hidden stream
had a stripe of gold on his belly
we loved him
ate him without feeling sorry

it will rain all night
but we don’t know that yet.

— Paul Vangelisti

Carol Ellis reads from LOST AND LOCAL at Beyond Baroque

Beyond Baroque was founded by George Drury Smith a half-century ago as a publishing project. When the initial issue of its magazine faltered, the building that housed the printing equipment also became a refuge for a poetry workshop and other improvised cultural events. The magazine regrouped, and eventually achieved a substantial circulation in a newsprint version. In the mid-1970s, stand-alone collections of poetry were published by poets such as Maxine Chernoff and K. Curtis Lyle, as well as Eloise Klein Healy, who would go on to become L.A.’s first poet laureate. In the century’s final decade, under Fred Dewey’s direction, a series of books appeared by poets such as Eve Wood. Earlier this decade, Los Angeles poet Henry Morro inaugurated a new series of Beyond Baroque books, directed by a collective committee, under the imprint of the Pacific Poetry Series.

The most recent selection is Carol Ellis’s LOST AND LOCAL, which will be officially published with a debut reading on Saturday, December 14th at Beyond Baroque, at 8 p.m. Ellis received a Ph.D. in English from the University of Iowa with a dissertation on James Wright. She subsequently taught at several colleges in California, and now lives in Portland, Oregon. Her writing has appeared in ZYZZYVA, Comstock Review, The Cincinnati Review, Saranac Review, and Cider Press Review; her chapbooks are HELLO (Two Plum Press, 2018), and I Want a Job (Finishing Line Press, 2014). I wrote a review of the latter title, which appeared in

Suzanne Lummis, one of the major editorial advocates of Southern California and West Coast poetry as well as a nationally recognized poet, just sent me the book’s back cover material, which I reprint with her permission.

CAROL ELLIS — LOST AND LOCAL

“Leaving the theater I stand outside in a dark of black lipstick the world wears when everyone leaves.”

Language like this–savory, sensuous, and ripe with the unexpected–is among Carol Ellis’ strengths, along with an intelligence that converts the ordinary into the wild and strange. They pour from her, these poems, not in the form of stories, narrative, but in a profusion of responses to the world, the seen, the experienced and the imagined.

“Thunder. The dogs bark. The gods are angry say those who believe in gods. The gods are always angry or out in the back alley by the dumpster smoking cigarettes.”

Reader, think of Carol Ellis’ poems this way: it’s like stepping into the realm of dreams, but dreams wittier and more sumptuous than those that favor most of us each night.

*. *. *. *. * *

Carol Ellis’ Lost and Local possesses a lyrical acuity that is absolving and redemptive. She sees experience as a channel to catharsis. In poem after poem there’s a memorable humanity, a capacious, intelligent concentration immersed in the essential qualities of daily living. How rare it is to read a poet so exceedingly self-aware. These poems record those moments when we catch a glimpse of a world from which all the usual epithets have been stripped away. – David Biespiel

“Glowing with fervent sagacity, Carol Ellis’s LOST AND LOCAL reclaims the buoyant continuity of daily life as one of the prime affirmations enshrined in poignant poetic endeavors. The graceful rhythms of her prose poems, in particular, quietly extract a knowledge of the local’s meridians as all that seeks solace in our memories and encounters. LOST AND LOCAL is the rare book in which the cartography of the poems will inspire readers to find enough seclusion to read out loud to themselves, for what better way is there to absorb the amplitude of Ellis’s recitation — as intimate as it is shy, and eager to impart its watchwords.” — Bill Mohr

FROM MY BLOG, OVER THREE YEARS AGO:

Thursday, September 15, 2016: I WANT A JOB – Carol Ellis (Finishing Line Press, 2014)

“Post-Flaneur Poet”: “I Want a Job” by Carol Ellis

Back when I was just getting this blog underway, in the late spring of 2013, I wrote a brief comment on Oriana Ivy’s prize-winning chapbook, April Snow (Thursday, June 20). Finishing Line Press did a very handsome job on the printing of Ms. Ivy’s collection, and I have over a half-dozen other chapbooks from the same press with production values at least within the same range as April Snow. One has to wonder what happened to their sense of pride in the dismal job done on Carol Ellis’s very fine collection, I WANT A JOB. The printing looks no better than photocopying done on a machine that is running low on toner, and the small type only increases the text’s smudgy quality. Ellis deserved a far more substantial effort put into the publication of her writing.

Ellis, who now lives in Portland, Oregon, was born in Detroit and educated at the University of Iowa. After getting a Ph.D., with a dissertation on James Wright, she has (in her own words) “been around the academic block.” In punching the adjunct second-hand clock, with all of its constrictions on one’s own time to write, she somehow has enabled her imagination to sustain itself; the variety of tones in the poems and prose poems in her first book suggests that this collection barely serves as a representative presentation of that self-determination.

Chapbooks tend to be fallible collections; they all too often present a false sense of familiarity with the featured poet. In Ellis’s collection, one has a sense of three or four poems missing between each individual selection. I have never read a full-length manuscript by Ellis, so I confess that this is sheer guesswork, but rarely have encountered a first chapbook of poems that hinted at a substantial reservoir of other work awaiting revelation. As for the form of that undisclosed work, it is an equal guess as to how much of it might be prose poetry. Of the 25 poems in I WANT A JOB, 15 are prose poems, but Ellis is at ease in both arrangements, so the 60-40 proportion remains at the level of conjectural contingency. One could argue that the collection opens and closes with a prose poem; that simply reflects mathematical odds.

The poems in the second half of I WANT A JOB are especially noteworthy, and one in particular glows like a lyric translated from some obscure language into yet another language, before finding its unexpectedly perfected by this manumission from a long meditation. “First It Was Hot and Then It Was Dark” is not at all a typical poem, and part of its aura of tender supplication derives from the candid depiction of existential solitude in many of the accompanying poems. “Hot/Dark,” however, can more than stand on its own merits; it shimmers with tones of both restraint and an overflowing suffusion of the completely incomplete.

All this time trying hard to be alive,
the earth famously gone. Nothing to think
because one was thinking.
First it was hot and then it was dark.
She took off her sweater, turned on a light,
thought past the point of thinking.
Was there ever such a world repeated,
the entire place entirely too interesting
and entirely too forgotten?

This is one of those occasions in reading a collection of poems where one can do little else but put the book down, walk away, and challenge oneself to answer that question. A good place to begin would be to work on translating it into another language, for surely such a distillation of human consciousness can only be fully apprehended if reflected in the mirror of another concise diction and syntax.

Most likely, in fact, readers will find themselves putting this book aside after reading two or three pieces and giving themselves a chance to absorb sudden little bursts of sideways illumination. Ellis’s poetry is different enough from the fashion show of American poetry that it will take several readings to begin absorbing its whispered defiance of a lifetime of erasure. Ellis quotes James Tate’s poem, “Consumed”: “you are the stranger who gets stranger by the hour” in a poem entitled “Leaving Portland.” Ellis savors this transmogrification as a chance to help the reader apprehend the undercurrents of daily life, of how the visits to a plant nursery (“Getting Around Women”) or library (“The Book of Dad”) or bookstore (“Divinia Comedia”) or farmer’s market (“Repetition”) contain the rebuke of forestalled epiphanies. Her strategy is not that of a flaneur, however, for she is only too aware of how others thoughtlessly diminish one’s efforts to nourish the compassion of simple dignity (“Whore, Driving”).

In not flinching when confronted with this depleting pattern, this poet exhibits more courage than she will ever be given credit for. She’s not the only one, of course, of whom this can be said, but she is one of the few poets who understands the full measure of the imbalance.
“my future appears in leaves – the goodbye that does not think – the end of thinking – so I try to think more now – in the short space remaining – in the space allowed – but rather think about the sun and how right now it has the frightening power of a god – never underestimate a god – pray for mercy – gather nerve as one gathers flowers – the chuckling frogs – tucked into steep sides and the hard ache of a tall bird coming to find them.”
(”Frog Chuckle”)

“1:22 a.m.” — by Harry E. Northup

1:22 A.M.

I heard her breathe
I watched her breathe
She breathed Allen Ginsberg’s “Sunflower Sutra”
She breathed Wallace Stevens Collected Poems
She breathed top deck Dodgers Stadium behind home plate
She breathed recipe for yeast
She breathed farm wives baking loaves of bread
She breathed writing in her journal
She breathed Echo Park hills
I heard her breathe prose poems
I heard her breathe asymetrical rhythms
I saw her breathe her last breath
I hear it now

6 14 19
Harry E. Northup

Harry E. Northup, poet, actor, and co-founder of Cahuenga Press, gave me permission yesterday to print his poem, “1:22 a.m.,” which he read at the start of Beyond Baroque’s tribute to his late beloved spouse, the poet and teacher, and co-founder of Cahuenga Press, Holly Prado Northup.

(Monday, December 9, 2019)

Beyond Baroque’s Tribute to Holly Prado

Friday, December 6, 2019

TOMORROW’S GATHERING IN HONOR OF HOLLY PRADO
Saturday, December 7, 2019
2-6 p.m.

With Harry E. Northup, Phoebe MacAdams, James Cushing, Cecilia Woloch,
Paul Vangelisti, Lynne Littman’s film (1974), interview by
Channel 22 at MPTF, Sandra Cohen, Barbara Crane, Aram Saroyan, Laurel Ann Bogen,
Susan Hayden, Michael C. Ford, Judy Oberlander, Mark Rhodes, Fernando Castro,
Steve Goldman, Pamela Shanel, Marie Pal, Kathleen Bevacqua, Richard Heller,
Olivia Sanchez-Brown, Bill Mohr, Sidney Higgins, & others.

Beyond Baroque
681 Venice Blvd.
Venice, CA 90291
(310) 822-3006

For Brian Dunlap’s fine post on Holly Prado, go to:

Passing Of A Los Ángeles Poet Holly Prado

The above link reprints a review by Sanora Bartels on Prado’s book, oh Salt/oh Desiring Hand, which remains one of my favorite volumes of her poetry.

Here is a brief excerpt from my commentary on Holly Prado back in mid-June:

In one of her poems, Holly invoked the presence of poets both living and dead as our most cherished companions in the imaginative journey. “Why go on without such a family?” The first time I read that line, I was immediately struck with the full force of its pertinent acuity. Holly was one of the Great Aunts in the family of poetry, nourishing so many of us with her poems, her prose, and her wise teaching. Our family of poets, especially in Southern California, has suffered an enormous loss.

In the past half-century, she was one of the most anthologized poets in Southern California, appearing in well over a dozen volumes such as Suzanne Lummis’s GRAND PASSION and WIDE AWAKE, as well as being one of the ten poets featured in my first anthology, The Streets Inside (1978), in addition appearing in my subsequent effort, POETRY LOVES POETRY (1985).

Alex Umlas’s Review of “The Dead Kid Poems”

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

All too infrequently is a book reviewed with a sensitivity that not only extracts its virtues with aplomb, but enables casual readers to appreciate why a particular collection of poems deserves their immediate perusal, and lingering absorption. Alexis Rhone Fancher’s THE DEAD KID POEMS recently received such a review from Alex Umlas, and both the review and the book reviewed deserve your scrutiny. As the title suggests, the book is about an offspring’s death, though the son in this case reached young adulthood before succumbing to cancer. Taking advantage of the lax diction of American conversation, Fancher’s titular quartet of syllables haunts the familiar, colloquial question (“Do you have any kids?”) that seems to anticipate only one conversational outcome:

— Yes or No. —

“Answer the question,” one can almost hear an attorney demand in a courtroom: “– Yes or No –”

“But…”

“No, buts. Answer the question: yes or no.”

In recounting how Fancher emboldens her potential answers, Umlas’s review astutely examines the manifold complexities of grief and memory. It is rare for a review to soothe and console one almost as much as the book under consideration, but the compassion exerted by Umlas will surprise you with its tender intelligence. Indeed, if Fancher’s book binds our own wounds, too, it is because the qualities noted in Umlas’s review deserve every bit of her praise.

There are, of course, a considerable number of extraordinary poems infused with the incorrigible sorrow of dead children. Ben Jonson and Michael S. Harper have short ones that sear one’s empathy with instantaneous scar tissue. David Ray’s volume of poems, SAM’S BOOK (1987), remains one of outstanding collections to take on the theme of parental mourning; and Robert Peters’s SONGS FOR A SON is perhaps even more poignant. Fancher’s book joins a very distinguished body of work addressing the plaintive intercessions of our mortality.

LINK:

The Dead Kid Poems/Review

http://www.kysoflash.com/Books.aspx#DeadKid

Trickle Up Wealth / Poisoning My Health

November 30, 2019

“Urgent Recall” of My Medicine (Re: Potential Carcinogenic Levels)

My pharmacy recently mailed me a letter with the words “URGENT RECALL ENCLOSED” in red, bold italic letters stamped on the envelope.

“Urgent”???

How could it be “urgent” when the letter was dated November 14, 2019, but the postmark on the envelope (.41 cents postage) was November 20, 2019?!

It turned out to be nothing really important. Just a notice that the medicine I have taken twice a day for a half-dozen years to forestall diseases associated with grastroesophagel reflux has had “potential N-Nitrosodimethylanime (NDMA) amounts above levels established by the FDA.” “Affected product started shipping August 2018.” And what is the potential effect of this substance, you might ask. Hmmm, just a “probable human carcinogen.” The letter said that I should stop using the “product” that had been supplied to me and go to my pharmacy for replacement of the unused pills. When I did, I noticed that the replacement pills were a different hue of red.

All this might seem like a minor aggravation in which my only irritation should be the time spent going to the pharmacy and waiting for my pills to be replaced, knowing that it is very unlikely that this would have an effect on my health.

And yet…

And yet the fact remains that about three months ago I began to feel a pain in my throat, intermittent but intense enough to wince at its nagging reiterations. The pain began to move down my throat along my windpipe. I made an appointment to see my primary care physician on Sept. 24th, and he made a formal referral to a specialist, who was too busy to see me until Thursday, October 17th. The ENT avatar said that nothing was wrong and that I shouldn’t worry, but made a follow-up appointment for me on November 21st, at which time he again reassured me that nothing was wrong. I mentioned to him that the pain had been sufficiently intense on Saturday, November 9th, at 4:30 p.m. that I noted it on my kitchen calendar. He felt my throat. “You don’t smoke or drink, do you?” “No.” “Go home. I see people like you all the time. Don’t worry about it.”

Saturday’s mail (11/23), featuring the pharmacy letter, was not opened until the next day, when we got home from a pair of parties for Linda’s family. Perhaps the ENT doctor is correct, and there is nothing to worry about. And yet no one can say that I got this letter and then began conjuring symptoms out of an overreaction.

Those who support the supposedly liberal wing (Sanders and Warren) of the Democratic Party would probably use this instance of alleged sloppy work by Big Pharma as a case in point to urge me to be more enthusiastic about “Medicare for All.” I wish I could say that my confidence in the safety of the medicine I take would be higher if Hillary Clinton has been elected president and the Senate and the House were controlled by her party, but I see no justification for that confidence. I wish I could say that my concerns about the future medicines I will have to take would be alleviated if Sanders or Warren were elected with Democratic majorities to support them.

If I lack confidence that politicians can judiciously control these matters, it’s primarily because only corporations determine the psychological infrastructure of trust. Remember the Russian proverb that President Reagan grew fond of: Doveryai, no proveryai. Trust but verify. For me, it’s more like “Verify the Distrust.” And that’s not hard to do at all. How forthcoming was the letter about how high the levels of NDMA were in the medicine I was taking? Stonewall meets Firewall. The one thing that bothers me the most about this incident is the failure of the parties responsible to state the actual facts of the case. Why did it take so long to make this determination? Was this discovery a result of an annual test? How comprehensive are the tests performed, and how frequently? Above all, what were the scientifically determined figures of excess NDMA in my medicine? It’s the withholding of this information that leads me to conclude: Mistrust verified.

I am certain there are at least a dozen million stories similar to the above that my fellow citizens could tell. Though only a small cluster would be as old as I am, a significant number probably share my vantage point:

Still rentin’, still workin’ —
Still chewin’, still burpin’ —

Trickle up wealth
Poisoning my health