Thursday, August 16, 2007

O Florida, venereal soil.*

Every time I think my former home state has done its utmost in the way of legal lunacy, something happens to confound me further. The latest Flori-DUH award must go to Broward County Sheriff Ken Jenne and, in particular, State's Attorney Mike Satz, who should have had better sense, for mounting a successful prosecution and trial of one Terry Lee Alexander, age 20. Young Mr. Alexander's offense was that, being jailed on a ten year robbery sentence, he had, in the confines but not privacy of his cell, what in my high school lingo was called a hot date with Sally Five-slide. As Fred Grimm observed in his July 26 Miami Herald article:
At the time of the offense, Alexander was punished with 30 days without TV, music, exercise time and other jail house perks. But obviously self-abuse demands a criminal charge and a full-blown jury trial, and two prosecutors, and a court-appointed taxpayer-paid defense lawyer and six jurors (and an alternate), and a judge, and a court reporter, and a couple bailiffs, and a pretrial deposition, and a daylong trial.
The upshot of all this was a guilty verdict and sixty extra days tacked onto Alexander's ten years. Perhaps an aggravating circumstance was that Alexander was observed in the act of, as we said in my college dorm, making the beast with one back**, by a female jailer. Nevertheless, the jailer, Coryus Veal, was on notice of the prospect of such an observation. According to Grimm, she testified: "They had warned me about what goes on in there." Indeed, as Grimm commented:
In the course of the one-day trial, prosecutor Cynthia Lauriston and Veal managed to describe Alexander's offense in startling detail, eight times, once with Lauriston approximating the action with arm motions. It was hard to imagine the original act had a much more lascivious effect than the lurid stuff those poor women had to utter, over and over, in Courtroom 417 Wednesday.
It may be that resort to a "law and economics" approach would have been helpful here. A simple cost/benefit analysis would likely lead to the conclusion that allowing, or at least tolerating, prisoners' resort to a time-honored method of relieving certain tensions would have benefits, in the form of a more docile inmate population, that outweigh the cost of occasional discomfort to jailers. Update: Nick asks, quite reasonably, just what was the crime of which Mr. Alexander was convicted? According to Grimm's article,
[t]echnically, Alexander faced charges of indecent exposure, with lots of lewd, lascivious, wicked, deviant, etc. tacked on. He also faced the prosecution's tortured contention that his jail cell qualified as a "public place."
This article by Debra Cassens Weiss in the ABA Journal gives additional interesting details. Veal testified that she observed Alexander doing the deed "from a master control room." Evidently, technology has enabled penology to realize Jeremy Bentham's vision of a panopticon with efficacy undreamed of in Bentham's time.*** 

Weiss's article also notes that, in attempting to convince the jury that her client's action was harmless, Alexander's attorney, Kathleen McHugh, asked Ms. Veal if other prisoners were thereby inspired to, as it were, take matters into their own hands. "Did you call in a SWAT team?", McHugh asked. Ms. Veal answered, "I wish I had." Another ABA Journal piece, by Martha Neil, reports that during voir dire Ms. McHugh asked prospective jurors about their own history with respect to recourse to self-help. According to Ms. Neil, all nine men and eight out of ten women asked the question gave an affirmative reply. 

*With apologies to Wallace Stevens

**Cf. Othello, Act I, Scene I; also see here

***Of course, Bentham's consequentialism would argue for a hands-off policy concerning Mr. Alexander's hands-on practice, just as would a University of Chicago style law and economics analysis, which has consequentialist underpinnings.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Phil Rizzuto, 1917-2007

Anyone who has read my blog for a while knows that I loathe, hate and despise the New York Yankees. However, this doesn't necessarily translate to the individual level. Today I saw someone wearing an old Yanks jersey with the name O'Neill on the back, and thought, "What excellent taste." I'd feel the same about someone wearing one that said "Williams." DiMaggio, Gehrig, Ruth: all names I revere. Even Maris and Mantle.

One who fit in that category was Phil "Scooter" Rizzuto, who died today at the age of 89. A Brooklyn native, he tried out for the Dodgers, and never forgave Leo Durocher for saying the unforgivable: "You might as well go shine shoes." The Yanks, to their credit, saw a diamond in the rough and signed him. He was with them from 1941 to 1956, and contributed to seven world championships. He's probably best remembered, however, as a game announcer for the Yanks, a role he filled until 1996. It was this guise that enabled his brief foray into rock 'n' roll.

To finish this off, I'm going to abase myself by giving you a link to a rabidly pro-Yankee blog.

Update: Joe Martini shares a Scooter memory here.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

The tragedy of Fred Exley.

I'm writing this in Massena, which Exley, in Pages From a Cold Island (the subject of my earlier post), called "a far northern and perhaps fantasy village in St. Lawrence County." Being here, I can testify to its being "far northern," at least with respect to New York State, and to its presence within St. Lawrence County. But I can also affirm that it's a very real place with real problems: GM is closing its powertrain plant here, which will mean the loss of many jobs; local folks are hoping that a proposed NASCAR track will boost the economy.

Reaction to my first Exley post was mixed. My wife said, "It was too long, and it turned into a rant at the end." I protested that it wasn't any longer than book reviews in The New Republic; she said, "They're too long, too." Other responses, in the comments below the post and in OTBKB, were more positive. Thus encouraged, and with some inspiration from Keifus, I've decided to write more.

My earlier piece quoted Walter Kirn's observation that, in Exley's view, "[i]n America...a person is either a suffering poet or a cheerful drone." Keifus had this to say in his comment:
It's tempting to separate the world into suffering poets and cheerful drones, isn't it? People glorify the geniuses that drown their muses in booze and sex, as if the ones who force themselves to just suck it up [don't] share a similar burden. (And maybe they do.) People identify suffering with [genius], and imagine (no doubt wrongly) that the suffering implies bigger capabilities...
[K: I've taken the liberty of inserting "don't" in your second sentence and substituting "genius" for the second "suffering" in your last sentence, as that's what I think you intended. Please correct me if I'm wrong.] In Pages, Exley at one point confesses a desire to be a "cheerful drone" of a sort. This came during his description of his interview with Gloria Steinem. After meeting her at the airport, Exley stumbled trying to retreive her luggage from a conveyor belt, then apologized for his awkwardness, saying, "It's just--you know, you know--that I'm so intimidated, you know, being with you and all."
Then if possible I became even more nauseating. I smiled with a weakness verging on illness, batted my big baby brown eyes at her, and gave her a helplessly feeble shrug by way of eliciting her utmost in pity. Gloria looked down at me and with deadly serious and sympathetic earnestness said, "Don't be." And, oh Lord, I score that as the moment I fell head over heels in love with Ms. Gloria Steinem!
As the interview progressed, though, Exley found it hard to break through Steinem's reserve. Trying to get an emotional response, he began asking her about men with whom she had been said to be romantically involved. In each case, she responded that the man in question was a "friend." Finally, Exley asked about Thomas Guinzberg, a publisher whom Exley admired and thought well suited to Steinem. She said she had been with him shortly after the assassination of John F. Kennedy, and thought "he took [it] too cavalierly." To underscore her assessment, she said, "Tom Guinzberg should have been a sports reporter for the Daily News."

On hearing this, Exley realized that his love for Steinem was doomed:
Ye fucking gads, dear reader, where could Gloria and I go from there? One must understand that the dream of my life--the dream of my fucking life!--was to be a sports reporter for the Daily News! I'd have a lovely and loving wife named Corrine; three sons named Mike, Toby and Scott; two boxers, Killer and Duchess, with bulging muscles under their fawn coats, and black ferocious masks, and like all boxers they'd be big whining slobbering babies who couldn't even sleep when they were denied access to the boys' beds. I'd have a split-level home somewhere on the north shore of the island, say, at Northport; and just at the moment I was up to here with Corrine, the boys, Killer and Duchess, my boss at the sports desk would telephone me and cry, "Hey, Ex, don't forget you got to fly out to the coast and cover the Mets' five-game stand with the Dodgers." And off I'd wing, to stand in the press box, a paper cup of Coors beer in my hand, the klieg lights dissolving the faces of the crowd into one another, cheering like mad for Seaver and the guys; after which, much renewed, I'd fly back to the loving Corrine, Mike, Toby and Scott, Killer and Duchess.
How to square this with what Exley said to his students at the Iowa Writers' Workshop, in which he held up as an exemplar Edmund Wilson alone in his stone house, the embodiment of the discipline and unflagging effort needed to become the kind of writer whose work mattered? I think we can conclude that Exley, like, I suspect, many of us, was torn between conflicting desires: one for greatness, entailing a life of risk, sacrifice and hard work; and one for safety, comfort and small but rewarding pleasures. The tragedy of Exley's short life was that he was unable to muster the discipline to attain the former, at least not on a consistent basis, but perhaps because of a belief that it was inimical to a dream of greatness that he couldn't foresake (being subject to the erroneous belief discussed by Keifus), was also unwilling to exercise the lesser amount of self-control needed to achieve the latter.

Frayfriend JMB says:
I couldn't help but think that [Exley would] be disappointed in Singer Island as it is now--towering Condos and sprawling townhouse communities as far as the eye can see, one public beach, one fishing access park and one County park.
Actually, Exley saw this coming. Near the end of Pages, he tells of a final visit to Singer:
Never do I look inland. In the short time I've been gone two high-rise condominiums have gone or are going up. Looking inland at them reminds me of the doctor's words to the effect that money will not be stayed and that my days on this cold island are numbered. And as I walk I find myself thinking anxiously of the future, of other havens.
But JMB adds:
Then, this past weekend, I sat in with a blues band for a bassist I know who was going to be out of town. It was in a Club of 'questionable merit', connected to a motel that advertised "Hourly, Daily, Weekly Rates" in an area of Singer Island I hadn't seen before.

While sitting on the corner of the stage during a break (while the 'Lingerie Show' was happening and deals of some sort or another were going on outside the front door and the Riviera Beach Police made their 30 minute rounds) I thought that THIS was the closest I would come to what Exley experienced in his time here.
So, perhaps the struggle that goes on in our physical and social environment, one that reflects the inner struggle of Exley and others like him, the struggle between Apollo and Hermes, continues, with neither side, praise be, in sight of victory.