Underground Hemingway

AN ADVENTURE IN NORTHERN MICHIGAN’S HEMINGWAY COUNTRY

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(A moose at the Mitchell Street Pub in Petoskey.)

WHILE we were on our honeymoon two weeks ago, one of our more fascinating experiences was an underground tour conducted by a young woman who may or may not exist in reality. (A ghost?)

We were at the City Tavern Grill in the quaint town of Petoskey, both of us sitting at the bar, in a saloon which young Hem himself used to frequent. I was at the exact spot– second from the end– which Hemingway was said to like.

We must’ve seemed easy marks. Out of nowhere, a woman approached us and asked if we’d like a tour of the saloon, including its underground tunnels.

“Sure,” we said.

The woman was dressed like someone from another time period– the 1920’s, perhaps– with a feather in her hair and wearing a delicate retro black dress. In build she was tiny, as if from that bygone era when people were smaller than today. Her waist could not have been more than 20 inches around– Scarlett O’Hara territory.

Beyond this, she spoke in a dramatic manner, as if on a Victorian stage. She batted her eyelashes like a silent movie actress. When she walked, she shimmied like a flapper from the pages of a Scott Fitzgerald story.

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The woman knew, somehow, by looking at us that we were Ernest Hemingway fans. She told us how often Hemingway frequented this spot– named The Annex in his time. The bar and its furnishings were the same. She showed us signed bills from Hemingway for food and drinks. The last one was from 1947.

This narrative was related in a secretive manner, as if she’d personally known the man.

Her name, she said, was Mary Ellen. She reminded us that in the time Ernest Hemingway first came here, Prohibition was in force. At any sign of police, observed through a peephole, booze and customers moved swiftly downstairs, to the basement.

Mary Ellen asked us cryptically if we’d like to visit the basement.

Without waiting for a response she turned and made her way down rickety stairs to the basement. We followed.

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The basement was gray and dimly lit. Bannisters, walls, shelves of liquor bottles– everything– was covered in dust. Layers of dust, in some cases. We looked at each other with our eyes, asking ourselves, “Can we trust this woman?”

In the way she spoke and was dressed, she could have indeed stepped through a time warp. Or, could she be instead an escapee from– ?

We didn’t continue that thought because we didn’t want to continue it. Instead we stumbled along after Mary Ellen, through lengthy depths.

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Mary Ellen showed us a number of blocked or partly-blocked tunnels, used both to smuggle bootleg liquor into the saloon, or out of it. One of the tunnels led to the nearby Perry Hotel, where we happened to be staying for the week.

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The smuggled booze came from the Al Capone gang. From his base in Chicago, Capone controlled all liquor going into resort towns which spread north along the Lake Michigan shoreline, including this one.

The lights began flickering.

“The lights are going out!” Mary Ellen said dramatically.

Her eyes seemed truly afraid. Perhaps the time allotted for the private tour was over, or someone above needed her. Or perhaps she was about to turn into a pumpkin, or vanish, or appear her real age, or something. We were, after all, only days from Halloween.

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We made it back up shaky wood stairs to the main floor, breathing, despite ourselves, a sigh of relief.

The tour was one of many highlights we encountered in the quaint town of Petoskey.

-K. and K.

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Alan Swyer at New Pop Lit!

AlanSwyer

Ace storyteller Alan Swyer is back with another entertaining tale– this one titled “The Sage.”

It’s about a filmmaker who’s hired to make a documentary film about a meditation guru, who’s a bit of a control freak, and has a high opinion of himself, and. . . . Complications ensue.

EXCLUSIVELY at New Pop Lit.

WHO’S NEXT at New York Review of Books?

IN HINDSIGHT–

A man at a writing desk, by Rembrandt

In hindsight, the appointment of Ian Buruma as Editor of the New York Review of Books was a disaster. Buruma was daring enough to court controversy, but not strong enough to fight for the integrity and independence of his publication.

Ian Buruma (2015)

(Ian Buruma.)

A fighter would’ve done a better job of explaining why he ran the Jian Ghomeshi essay. Why recovery and redemption are important. Why editorial autonomy is necessary– especially in a climate of rush-to-judgement lynch mobs and unthinking hysteria.

A fighter would’ve gone to advertisers– one by one if need be– to make his case. Instead, Ian Buruma became one more casualty of today’s Literary McCarthyism.

WHAT KIND OF EDITOR?

What kind of editor is needed as Ian Buruma’s replacement?

Someone who could replicate the daring intellectual excitement represented by the New York Review of Books when it arrived on the media scene in February, 1963.

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NEEDED: A large personality.

A contentious, voluble writer akin to Norman Mailer. A person willing to be aggressive in taking on and dispersing any unthinking mob– willing to use the momentum of intellect and power of voice to restore sanity to today’s literary world.

mailer at mic

WHO?

WHO WILL New York Review of Books choose instead?

One of two safe alternatives.

1.) Almost certainly, a woman. Knee-jerk reaction to appease the angry mob. In this time of MeToo mania, it would be too risky for their risk-averse publishers to choose otherwise. Have to remember those advertisers!

(The result: A completely neutered intellectual journal.)

2.)  IF they were to choose a male editor, it would be someone properly screened and defanged, without a shred of volatility. Fully establishment and left-leaning, on the order of smiling Keith Gessen. Ready to appease everybody. Affable, innocuous, and bland.

gessen smiling

Someone who’s had a relationship with New York Review of Books. Whose own publication, n+1 magazine was in many ways made by them.

Or someone of that kind.

(Painting: “Scholar at His Desk” by Rembrandt.)
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-Karl Wenclas, New Pop Lit NEWS

Khabib, MeToo and Misbehaving Men

ARE WESTERN MEN TOO DOMESTICATED?

AP photoJohn Locher(AP photo/ John Locher.)

While the MeToo movement has accomplished many good things, exposing an array of real sexual predators, it has also occasionally strayed over the lines, in this commentator’s estimation. Lost in the effort to properly domesticate Western men is context. Context! Meaning, the relationships between men and women worldwide.

Case in point is Saturday night’s UFC mixed martial arts fight between Conor McGregor and Russian Muslim Khabib Nurmagomedov, which Khabib won fairly easily.

Conor McGregor had been the Gold Standard for macho male misbehavior. Saturday night he was out-macho’d and out misbehaved. First Khabib defeated McGregor in the Octagon, then climbed out of the cage they’d fought inside and began beating on McGregor’s trainers. A domesticated male? Not hardly.

khabib with wife(Khabib with wife.)

Khabib Nurmagomedov comes from an ultra-macho culture, and an extremely populous (1.5 billion-and-growing) male-dominated religion in which women are manifestly subservient.

While Western Man is becoming feminized.

bora(Bora Zivkovic with friends.)

Think I’m joking? Poster Boy for Male Misbehavior on the literary scene might be Monica Byrne Target #1, 125-pound Bora Zivkovic, aka “The Hugger.” His modus operandi wasn’t jumping out of ring cages and punching out people, but being in effect “one of the gals.” Harmless– one would think.

Ah, but then those dastardly male hormones kicked in. Out with Mischievous Monica for a drink, married Zivkovic confided– as any “gal” might do– in Monica about his unsatisfactory sex life. That was enough. Outrage! Zivkovic career destroyed. The poor soul still doesn’t know what hit him. As befuddled as Conor McGregor after last night’s fight. As if Bora himself had been in the ring with dangerous Khabib.

What happened to Bora Zivkovic? Check out this article by Amy Alkon from 2015 and read the gory details.

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(NOTE: Monica Byrne’s next hapless target was discredited for giving Monica an actual hug, at the end of a night of drinking.)

Monica+at+15(Monica Byrne at 15.)

Never mind that Monica Byrne lifts weights, beats men at arm wrestling, and might give Khabib Nurmagomedov a tougher battle in the MMA cage than did Conor McGregor.

arm wrestling2(Monica arm-wrestling.)

WHAT’S THE SOLUTION?

The solution isn’t to turn Western men into walking wimps afraid to raise their voices or offer a difference of opinion to women. (Both instances used as evidence of abuse in the Junot Diaz case.)

NEITHER is it to pretend men and women are physically and temperamentally the same. (Volatile Celt Monica Byrne notwithstanding.) On the whole, by nature women are less aggressive, and more easily triggered– as events have shown– than males of the species. A distinction which can’t be wished away, no matter how many Gender-and-Feminism 201 courses are taken stating otherwise.

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NOR is the solution to divide men and women forever into opposing camps of incels versus radical feminists, each side alienated and angry, warring with the other everywhere but in the MMA ring.
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elcid2(Charlton Heston as “El Cid.”)

The solution? Perhaps the solution has been with us all along, in the chivalric ideal of knights powerful and pure of heart. Mighty in battle but behaving with deference and gentleness toward the esteemed ladies who give their quests purpose.

Such ideal is considered woefully obsolete in this unhappy period of Harvey Weinstein pigs and purge-hungry Poetry Cops. In this timid time of self-censorship and safe zones. Of sexless Mao-jacket sameness in all things.

Could the chivalric ideal of gentlemen and ladies return?

Should it return?

You tell me.
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-Karl Wenclas for New Pop Lit NEWS

Media Insanity Report

KEEPING UP ON MAINSTREAM MEDIA ANTICS

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-A NEW FEATURE-

WE JUST learned today that the term “lady” is now considered unacceptable by the Orwellian arbiters of thought and language. I’ve seen the notorious wannabe-totalitarians known as the Poetry Cops complain about the term. Now, from someone a bit higher up on the media power ladder– Ginia Bellafante of “paper of record” The New York Times.

QUESTIONS arise.

-Is the term “gentleman” also considered offensive? (Does this explain Brett Kavanaugh‘s alleged behavior in the past?)

-Does the prospective outlawing of these terms explain a lot of behavior from a great many people in recent years?

And finally–

-WHO is going to tell Lady Mary?

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THE spectacular success of Downton Abbey (movie version being filmed as I type this) might be because a large part of the populace is tired of people looking like slobs. They’d like a return to those old-fashioned concepts of grace, beauty, class, and style.

Even (gasp!) a return to ladies, and gentlemen.
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-Karl Wenclas, New Pop Lit NEWS

Fiction Illuminating Life

TWO classic American stories are wry commentaries on non-fictional news events.
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“The Girl on the Plane” by Mary Gaitskill, written in 1993, concerns a man on a plane flight who gets into a conversation with a younger woman sitting next to him. This takes the man back to events in his youth. I don’t want to give away the plot, but IF you’re at all interested in the allegations about Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, especially those coming from Julie Swetnick, I suggest you read the story. As the man on the flight says, “It’s complicated.” OR– things are never as simplistic as camps on both sides of the aisle pretend to make them.

READ IT– Not least because it’s well constructed and packs an emotional punch. One of the better– and more relevant– American short stories ever written.
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“Come Out the Wilderness” by James Baldwin, written in 1965, illuminates an event much talked-about of late: the similar Senate hearings which took place when current Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas was nominated. In the Baldwin story, a young black secretary has lunch with a black executive from the same company. He drops the company facade for a moment to speak in an earthier tone. It’s a reflection of sorts on the more awkward conversations Clarence Thomas sought to have with Anita Hill, which were taken in a less kindly light than does the secretary in Baldwin’s story.

James Baldwin wrote several dynamite short stories which rank with any writer’s. This is one of them.

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-K.W. 

Our “Best of the Net” 2018 Nominations

Here are our Best of the Net nominations for 2018.

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They encompass work published online between July 1, 2017 and June 30, 2018.

(Best of the Net 2017 is here. The Sundress Publications website is here.)
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AS ALWAYS we had more good work than we were able to nominate. For fiction, we nominated two of our longer stories– both require some investment in reading. Both stories required an ample investment in imagination and work in writing. Both stories are excellent in very different ways. They exhibit the range available within a “Pop Lit” designation.

WE hope you read or re-read all of the nominated works.

We thank these writers and all the writers who’ve generously allowed us to publish their work.

Fiction:

“Churchgoing in New England” by Richard Greenhorn,
published 9/28/17.
“The Rottweiler” by Alex Bernstein,
published 1/12/18.

Non-Fiction:

“Hemingway” by Samuel Stevens,
published 7/28/17
“Cry Wolfe” by Robin Wyatt Dunn,
published 11/16/17.

Poetry:

“Black Water” by Robert Beveridge,
published 10/16/17.
“Processed World” by Rus Khomutoff,
published 02/02/18.
“Starbucks Bars to Be Sung I” by Timmy Chong,
published 4/12/18.
“Jonesing” by Timmy Chong,
published 4/12/18.
“Tourist Trap” by Holly Day,
published 4/18/18.
“Losing Another One” by James Croal Jackson,
published 5/7/18.
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Media Morality Play

MORE THOUGHTS ON JIAN GHOMESHI AND IAN BURUMA

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LOOK into media controversies like the one involving Junot Diaz– or last week’s scandal featuring Jian Ghomeshi and Ian Buruma– and you begin to see patterns. You notice the theater smoke and stage scenery, and realize what you’re watching is a form of elaborately produced play. Cast ready; scripts on hand; producer or director lurking somewhere backstage pulling the strings.

The truth? The core truth of these matters is buried beneath layers of hysteria and noise.

As in many theatrical plays, today’s media productions involve stock characters.

A.)  Villain.

B.)  Innocent victim(s).

C.)  Hapless buffoon.

Who plays the hero?

In media morality plays, the hero is ourselves. We the Audience, observing the venality of others while congratulating ourselves for our sense of pristine justice, our virtue.

Justice is the key component of the plot. By the end of the play the villain is walked off stage in handcuffs, reputation shredded, name blackened, career over.

As We the Audience applaud.

OSCAR WILDE

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ONE of the more famous early show trials involved Irish poet and playwright Oscar Wilde. In 1895 Wilde, a homosexual, was put on trial for Gross Indecency. The case provoked a storm of press publicity– public outrage over private behavior.

I’ll discuss the Oscar Wilde trials and their parallels to the Jian Ghomeshi matter in a separate post.

ERROL FLYNN

ANOTHER early example of the personal scandal style of media show was the 1943 Errol Flynn rape trial. The famed Hollywood actor and well-known sexual wolf was charged with statutory rape for having relations with two under-aged women. One of them, 17 year-old Peggy Satterlee, worked as a nightclub dancer. For the trial, the producers of the morality play dressed up Miss Satterlee to look as young and as innocent as possible.

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The staging didn’t quite come off. Flynn, a man of good looks and outstanding charisma, was miscast in the role of Bad Guy– a part usually played in his movies by Basil Rathbone.

VILLAINS

robin-hood(Rathbone and Flynn.)

TO PROPERLY stage a media morality play, you must discover the proper villain.

Since we’re fallen creatures, there’s no shortage of corruption and evil to be found. Venality and worse are everywhere. In all of us. When we assure ourselves of our own virtuousness we’re lying. The Villain stands not in contrast to our actual selves, but to the image we hold of ourselves.

RICHARD NIXON

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From the beginning of his political career, Richard Nixon seemed cast for a villainous part. Scheming, dark-browed and jowly, oozing the air of dishonesty. A Richard III essence.

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(Laurence Olivier as Richard III.)

Nixon was eventually brought low by Woodward and Bernstein, with much drama and mysteriously-scripted characters like Deep Throat.

A DIRECTOR?

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Jesse Brown, director of the Jian Ghomeshi drama, is hyper-ambitious. His career, beginning with a series of media hoaxes, has been marked by absence of restraint. Combine this with self-righteousness and you create a dynamic force.

In this period of MeToo, potential and actual villains are everywhere, and it’s easy to become self-righteous.

IF Jesse Brown had been searching for a possible villain, CBC co-worker and rising media star Jian Ghomeshi, in looks and lifestyle, well fit the part.

Ghomeshi

Jian Ghomeshi had a taste for rough sex, and frequented bondage clubs. Not a nice guy. Ghomeshi also turned out to be notably inept, unwittingly himself providing the evidence which allowed Brown’s budding expose to find print.

CLUES as to how Jian Ghomeshi was taken down are provided by a nerdy-but-earnest filmmaker named Diana Davison. Here’s one of the videos she made about Jesse Brown and holes in the plot.

Yes, victims and witnesses were enlisted– one of them, Kathryn Borel, a good friend of Jesse Brown’s. The accusers rehearsed their lines– too well, it turned out. When matters went to trial in 2016, the testimonies of three of the witnesses fell apart. (Here‘s a different look at the trial from an unlikely source.)

Jian Ghomeshi was acquitted on the charges. Another charge, the one involving Kathryn Borel, was dropped. Ghomeshi made a token apology. Jesse Brown celebrated this as victory.

Despite the missteps, it was. Jian Ghomeshi’s reputation was in permanent tatters, and more importantly, Jesse Brown’s reputation was greatly enhanced.

WHO WOULD’VE GUESSED that two years later a bigger target would be brought down by the same production– Ian Buruma, Editor at New York Review of Books.

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Villainous? Not really. But Buruma did fit the role of bumbling supporting character. Ian Buruma and his publication still carried the mores and mindset of a long-past genteel literary scene. Slow and refined. Patriarchal. Believing in old-fashioned liberal values of alternate viewpoints. Completely unprepared for a fast-moving new world of podcasts and twitter attacks. Of morality play productions with ongoing flurries of outrage and outrageousness, melodrama and dramatics.
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MORE Can’t-Miss stuff to come. Stay tuned!

-Karl Wenclas, New Pop Lit NEWS

 

Cultural Revolutions

WHAT REALLY HAPPENED TO IAN BURUMA?

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What happened to Ian Buruma is that he was perceived by younger members of the literary herd to be out-of-step and slow, and so he had to go.

Step back, gain perspective, and you’ll see what’s happening is that English-speaking culture is in the midst of an ongoing cultural revolution, which is really a hundred mini-revolutions occurring simultaneously. Miscreants shamed, editors toppled, with accompanying cheers from twitter mobs and in halls of the academy.

What’s happening is as old as humanity. An energetic young generation wishing to displace those in their way, grabbing any excuse necessary.

Yes, the old system, populated by decaying icons like Ian Buruma, is corrupt, clueless, patriarchal, fossilized. Some of its members are toxic– but not as toxic as what’s coming.

It’s akin to what happened with the Bolshevik Revolution. The very flawed Czar and his aristocracy were removed. Those who took their place– Lenin, Stalin, and the like– pursued the cause of social justice but were in fact another level of corruption and ruthlessness from what they replaced. As history demonstrated.

In today’s cultural scene, the ambitious newcomers seeking to topple the gatekeepers are another level of volatility and drive from the likes of Buruma, David Remnick at The New Yorker, or The Boston Review‘s Joshua Cohen. Cohen, Remnick, and Buruma perceive themselves as leftist, maybe even as Sixties-style radicals, but they aren’t really. They’ve been playing. They’ve held to long-time liberal principles of open debate, free speech, the pursuit of objectivity. Now they’re seeing with the arrival of the Jesse Browns and Monica Byrnes onto the cultural scene genuine revolutionaries whose only principle is the pursuit of power and self, letting nothing stand in their way.

Don’t kid yourself. Instinctively, the Joshua Cohens, David Remnicks, and Ian Burumas are the actual targets of those who want to clean house of toxic debris. Not consciously, but instinctively– and the Jesse Browns, Monica Byrnes, and Zinzi Clemmons of the social justice mob run chiefly on instinct. Their ideology is simply the available weapon– the justification– allowing them to achieve their actual ends. Their unconscious needs.

Targets such as Jian Ghomeshi and Junot Diaz are collateral damage. Objectives to take out on the road toward the big guys.

What of that Old Guard? Remnick, Buruma, Cohen, and others yet to be discredited?

They’re akin to Stepan Trofimovitch Verhovensky in Fyodor Dostoevsky’s masterpiece novel The Possessed, (aka Demons or Devils). Feckless liberals seeing the world around them change, in unpredictable and dangerous ways.

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COMING: Part II of these speculations.
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-Karl Wenclas, New Pop Lit NEWS