Followup on the Park Hotel

There were three or four other permanent renters — all seniors — who were able to swing a little more independence than the Old Folks’ Home. They all seemed so alone and low on resources, though. One particular fellow, who spent much of his daytime sitting in the comfy chair in the lobby and said little, had a name that remains one of my all-time faves:

Nobel Summers.

“On Thermonuclear War” — Ageless Insanity

Sad to say, it’s still essential to get to know Herman Kahn. His masterpiece, On Thermonuclear War, is the most meticulously deranged book I know of.The horror just builds and builds. Of course we could get through an all-out nuclear war. My favorite suggestion is to feed the most radiation-contaminated food to the oldest people in the fallout shelter, since they’re gonna die soonest, anyway. Whether any sane person would want to live on in such a world is a question never asked. The utterly wacko tone hanging over it is, “well, you could get up in the morning and still salute the Stars and Stripes and that would make it all worth it.”

I despise fat-shaming, but I will say in this case, Kahn being gruesomely overweight added to the effect of his madness.

The Current Dope on Snopes

One of my earliest favorite things on the interweb. I realized you could take a prime public temperature by seeing what rumors were taking hold currently. I noticed Barbara Mikkelson’s entries disappeared quite a while back and I wondered what the hell had happened. Too bad she’s out of the picture — enjoyed her wry humor touches quite a bit.

Boston Common Beauty

On our way to see the Daniel Chester French exhibit (hugely recommended, as is the restored fountain sculpture at the corner of the Public Garden), we walked through Boston Common and it was as busy as I’ve ever see it. Trio dressed up expertly as the Cat in the Hat and Thing One and Thing Two (constant photos and squealing, happy kids). A couple in full Kabuki costume acting a scene that was being filmed. A jaunty one-man band. A wedding party that radiated optimism. Willows daubed with precise streaks of yellow, shedding leaves like a soft rain.  A four-piece folk band. At least three groups that had pitched tents and carried sleeping bags.

Plus hundreds of hammy, overfed squirrels that had the routine down: sit up, twitch tail, look like you expect to get a peanut — charge over if you see some fellow tree-rat already doing the routine and try to muscle in. The Boston Common Squirrels must run a Mafia-type operation that chases off any outsider that tries to horn in on the free food.

Last sunny afternoon in the 50s for a long time. All ages. All possible family configurations. I heard Spanish, Russian, French, Japanese. For a lengthy stroll, Boston felt like a model of diversity and civilization

Yet Another Another Sure Sign of Age

I never considered “change” to be my friend, exactly, but I was unafraid of it. Back when, I was more in touch with how change is followed by more change and I was ready for that. Maybe because I’m aware that my ability to move through cycles of change is getting closer to its limit, I’m notably more upset by changes to anything I like. The only business-zone transformation that pissed me off was the ruination of Harvard Square, described perfectly in this 15-year-old article. The Harvard Coop housed the first record store where I could buy any title I heard about and every punk-single import imaginable. The “Pro” was as much a school for teaching young gulpers how to appreciate wine as it was a liquor store. (One of the last employees happened to be able to turn out excellent “Simpsons” cartoons– my favorite came near the end, when he presented Mr. Burns tapping his fingers together and saying: “They’re going to close the ‘Pro’? Release the hounds!”)

Harvard Square was worth getting upset about — it was the downfall of a unique, sophisticated playground. But today I found out a simple retail outlet had changed hands this summer and a wave of sadness hit me. This really is fear of change itself. And I cannot avoid dwelling on the fact that good things do go away, period — who could possibly imagine in the ’70s that you couldn’t buy an authentic bagel in Boston, Cambridge or Brookline? But hey, I can fight back. For years, one of the outrages was that there was no good place to hear music in Harvard Square (which had been the site of the first House of Blues fer Sachmo’s sake). But the Sinclair recently gave the Square an ideal ultra-modern venue. Let more good times return.

Terry Gross, Honored

My dear friend and favorite boss imaginable is indeed an extraordinary person.

ADVISORY: President Obama to Award 2015 National Medal of Arts and National Humanities Medal


WASHINGTON, DC – On Thursday morning, September 22, 2016, President Obama will award the 2015 National Medal of Arts and the National Humanities Medal to distinguished recipients in the East Room. The First Lady will also attend.


The National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities were established by Congress in 1965 as independent agencies of the federal government. To date, the NEA has awarded more than $5 billion to support artistic excellence, creativity, and innovation for the benefit of individuals and communities. Through partnerships with state arts agencies, local leaders, other federal agencies, and the philanthropic sector, the NEA supports arts learning, affirms and celebrates America’s rich and diverse cultural heritage, and extends its work to promote equal access to the arts in every community across America. The National Endowment for the Humanities brings the best in humanities research, public programs, education, and preservation projects to the American people. To date, NEH has awarded $5 billion in grants to build the nation’s cultural capital – at museums, libraries, colleges and universities, archives, and historical societies—and to advance our understanding and appreciation of history, literature, philosophy, and language. Both Endowments are celebrating their 50th anniversaries this year.



At next week’s event, the President will deliver remarks and present the awards to the following individuals and organizations:


2015 National Medal of Arts

·         Mel Brooks, Actor, Comedian, & Writer (New York, NY)

·         Sandra Cisneros, Author (San Antonio, TX)

·         Eugene O’Neill Theater Center (Waterford, CT)

·         Morgan Freeman, Actor (Charleston, MS)

·         Philip Glass, Composer (New York, NY)

·         Berry Gordy, Record Producer & Songwriter (Los Angeles, CA)

·         Santiago Jiménez, Jr., Musician (San Antonio, TX)

·         Moises Kaufman, Director & Playwright (New York, NY)

·         Ralph Lemon, Dancer, Choreographer, Writer, & Visual Artist (Brooklyn, NY)

·         Audra McDonald, Actress & Singer (Croton-on-Hudson/New York, NY)

·         Luis Valdez, Playwright, Actor, Writer, & Director (San Juan Bautista, CA)

·         Jack Whitten, Painter (New York, NY)

2015 National Humanities Medal

·         Rudolfo Anaya, Author (Albuquerque, NM)

·         José Andrés, Chef & Entrepreneur (Bethesda, MD)

·         Ron Chernow, Author (Brooklyn, NY)

·         Louise Glück, Poet (Cambridge, MA)

·         Terry Gross, Radio Host & Producer (Philadelphia, PA)

·         Wynton Marsalis, Composer & Musician (New York, NY)

·         James McBride, Author (Lambertville, NJ)

·         Louis Menand, Author (Cambridge, MA)

·         Elaine Pagels, Historian & Author (Princeton, NJ)

·         Prison University Project, Higher Education Program (San Quentin, CA)

·         Abraham Verghese, Physician, Professor, & Author (Menlo Park, CA)

·         Isabel Wilkerson, Journalist & Author (Atlanta, GA)

Below are the 2015 National Medal of Arts Citations, which will be read at the ceremony:

Mel Brooks for a lifetime of making the world laugh. As a writer, director, actor, and musician, he pioneered the art of musical comedy, and his hilarious, thought-provoking work on film and in theater have earned him the rare distinction of winning Oscar, Emmy, Tony, and Grammy awards. 

Sandra Cisneros for enriching the American narrative. Through her novels, short stories, and poetry, she explores issues of race, class, and gender through the lives of ordinary people straddling multiple cultures. As an educator, she has deepened our understanding of American identity.

Eugene O’Neill Theater Center for its unwavering support of American theater. For over 50 years, the Eugene O’Neill Theater Center has nurtured award-winning playwrights, directors, and actors, enriched the craft of stage production, and delighted audiences with exceptional programs.

Morgan Freeman for his outstanding work as an actor, director, and narrator. His iconic stage and screen performances have brought to life characters from the whole spectrum of the human experience, moving audiences around the world, and influencing countless young artists. 

Philip Glass for his groundbreaking contributions to music and composition. One of the most prolific, inventive, and influential artists of our time, he has expanded musical possibility with his operas, symphonies, film scores, and wide-ranging collaborations. 

Berry Gordy for helping to create a trailblazing new sound in American music. As a record producer and songwriter, he helped build Motown, launching the music careers of countless legendary artists. His unique sound helped shape our Nation’s story.

Santiago Jiménez, Jr. for expanding the horizon of American music. He has helped spread traditional conjunto music, blending the sounds and cultures of south Texas and Mexico. His lively melodies performed on the two-button accordion have captivated audiences around the world.

Moises Kaufman for his powerful contributions to American theater. His work sensitively probes questions of culture and sexuality. His award-winning Tectonic Theater Project continues to move audiences with its bold portrayals of contemporary social issues.

Ralph Lemon for his contribution to dance and the visual arts. As a self-proclaimed conceptualist, he uses dance as a source of physical communication, and his complex works withstand examination from all angles, revealing intimate truths about human nature and offering broader insights into the American experience.

Audra McDonald for lighting up Broadway as one of its brightest stars. An unforgettable performer, she has won six Tony awards. In musicals, concerts, operas, and the recording studio, her rich, soulful voice continues to take her audiences to new heights. 

Luis Valdez for bringing Chicano culture to American drama. As a playwright, actor, writer, and director, he illuminates the human spirit in the face of social injustice through award-winning stage, film, and television productions. 

Jack Whitten for remaking the American canvas. As an abstract artist, he uses “casting,” acrylic paints, and compounds to create new surfaces and textures, challenging our perceptions of shape and color. His powerful works of art put the American story in a new light.


Below are the 2015 National Humanities Medal Citations, which will be read at the ceremony:

Rudolfo Anaya for his pioneering stories of the American southwest. His works of fiction and poetry celebrate the Chicano experience and reveal universal truths about the human condition—and as an educator, he has spread a love of literature to new generations.

José Andrés for cultivating our palettes and shaping our culture. He has introduced new and vibrant ingredients to our Nation, whether through his innovative techniques in the kitchen, his work on clean cooking technology and access to education, or the inspiration he provides to new Americans.

Ron Chernow for bringing our Nation’s story to life. Through his examination of America’s successful giants and titans, he also invites his readers to discover their failures and foibles, uncovering enduring lessons that inform our modern era.

Louise Glück for giving lyrical expression to our inner conflicts. Her use of verse connects us to the myths of the ancients, the magic of the natural world, and the essence of who we are.

Terry Gross for her artful probing of the human experience. Her patient, persistent questioning in thousands of interviews over four decades has pushed public figures to reveal personal motivations behind extraordinary lives—revealing simple truths that affirm our common humanity.

Wynton Marsalis for celebrating the traditions of jazz music from New Orleans to Lincoln Center and beyond. As a virtuoso trumpet player, composer, and educator, he has brought jazz to a wider audience and inspired music lovers to embrace America’s quintessential sound.

James McBride for humanizing the complexities of discussing race in America. Through writings about his own uniquely American story, and his works of fiction informed by our shared history, his moving stories of love display the character of the American family.

Louis Menand for prose and essays that invite us to think in new ways about the forces shaping our society. His influential works of intellectual and cultural history probe the power of ideas from one era to the next as they ripple across politics and culture.

Elaine Pagels for her exploration of faith and its traditions. Through her study of ancient manuscripts and other scholarly work, she has generated new interest and dialogue about our contemporary search for knowledge and meaning. 

Prison University Project for transforming the lives of currently incarcerated people through higher education. Its programs offer opportunity and inspiration to their students, providing an example for others to emulate.

Abraham Verghese for reminding us that the patient is the center of the medical enterprise. His range of proficiency embodies the diversity of the humanities; from his efforts to emphasize empathy in medicine, to his imaginative renderings of the human drama.

Isabel Wilkerson for championing the stories of an unsung history. Her masterful combination of intimate human narratives with broader societal trends allows us to measure the epic migration of a people by its vast impact on our Nation and on each individual life.