Author Archives: unavitavagabonda
Insidiously, but constantly, promulgated the notion that the only true “red-blooded American males” were heterosexual, masculine, and capitalist. Funded the work of Masters and Johnson. Thought that women could liberate sex but that only men could liberate women. Supported gay rights long before others did. Worked to banish shame about sex. Published interviews with Muhammad Ali, Sammy Davis, Jr., and Martin Luther King, and assigned Alex Haley to interview Malcolm X for the magazine in 1963. Was once reportedly told by Gloria Steinem that “A woman reading Playboy feels a little like a Jew reading a Nazi manual.” Turned women into decorative objects and furniture. Published a magazine that contained some of the best journalism of the 20th century. Wrongfully equated sexual liberation and sexual objectification. Pushed an early version of prosperity theology in which God was bourgeois consumption, and sex with hot, big-breasted women was salvation. Bravely challenged corrupt American puritanical notions of morality. Reinforced and popularized standards of physical beauty that were and remain demonstrably harmful to women. Made substantial donations to the Guttmacher Institute, NARAL, and Planned Parenthood, and supported the Women’s Business Development Center and Women Make Movies. Popularized a philosophy in which women’s sexuality was an ideal defined by men. Contributed $25,000 to the reward that helped break the case of the murders of Chaney, Goodman, and Schwerner in Mississippi in 1964. Sold straight men a fantasy of never having to grow up. Supported the Rainbow PUSH Coalition in its earliest days. Demonstrated Foucault’s dictum that a liberatory, even “transgressive” attitude toward sexuality could serve perfectly well as an oppressive deployment of power. Provided initial funding for the then-newly invented rape kit in the late 1970s. Affirmed a straight, male, middle-class fantasy of urbane consumption in which sex was recreation and women were the toys. Brought black artists like Ella Fitzgerald and Nat King Cole to headline his TV shows as early as 1959. Made millions by paying women to take their clothes off. A visionary and pioneer. A misogynist and pimp.
Insomniac City: New York, Oliver, and Me is a slight book, and its breeziness and lack of depth will either strike a reader as charming and flâneur-like or will be irritating in the extreme.
What is called a memoir is actually little more than a commonplace book, including extracts of diaries, snippets of conversation, and notes taken with studied casualness and later transcribed into the text. The low point of this approach comes when Hayes describes replacing Sacks’ typewriter ribbon. Testing the new ribbon, the latter strikes random keys and types nonsense phrases, all of which Hayes dutifully reproduces in a two-page spread. It’s hard to avoid the sense that one is watching a doting mother hang her two-year-old’s incomprehensible fingerpainting in an expensive frame over the family mantle.
Throughout Insomniac City, in fact, Oliver Sacks is constantly performing Oliver Sacks for the delectation of his amanuensis Hayes; and Hayes never stops elbowing the reader to say, “Isn’t Oliver wonderful? Doesn’t he have a brilliant mind?” Anecdotes about “the great man” abound, but they remain sterile.
On his own, Hayes eccentrically tools around New York having “experiences,” offering $20 bills to homeless people and chatting with strangers, the quintessential ecotourist in other people’s existences.
The glimpses that Hayes offers into his and Sacks’ intimate relationship are tantalizing but vague, with a kind of maidenly lack of specificity that is out-of-place in a book whose entire purpose for existing is the relationship between the two men. Hayes is, after all, the reason that Sacks ended a period of celibacy that spanned more than 30 years, about which the public is evidently going to learn nothing more in this lifetime. Sacks doesn’t say much about it in his autobiography, published shortly before his death, and Hayes follows suit.
There would have been no need for pornographic detail, surely, but a bit more candor about the late-in-life relationship of two men, one of whom was nearly 40 years older than the other, would have been both useful and appropriate.
Instead, Insomniac City feels oddly and, one suspects, deliberately de-gayed to serve the needs of its high-end mainstream publisher and of its hip and urbane “New Yorker” public who are surrounded by gay people but really don’t want to talk about them all that much.
Hayes is too in love with his own beautiful little phrases to focus on substance, and, apart from noting that the prose is ornate, a reader might be forgiven for wondering why so much air has been pumped into the spaces between the words.
In the end, Insomniac City feels very much like “Oliver Sacks: The Souvenir Program,” pretty, superficial, and forgettable.
- Al Jolson Commemorative Blackface Competition
- Book signing by Rachel Dolezal
- A demonstration of African-American cooking by Paula Deen
- Showing of Driving Miss Daisy in the White House screening room (invitation only)
- Black English, A Precious Legacy: Justin Bieber recounts the exciting story behind his invention of the word “crunk.”
- A panel discussion of “Post-Racial America” featuring Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, HUD Secretary Ben Carson, and former US Representative Allen West
- TED Talk on African American heroes: That guy who invented peanut butter
- A Festival of African-American Musical Contributions: Alternating Program. Wednesday & Friday evenings – A Vanilla Ice Retrospective. Thursday and Saturday evenings – The Queen of Soul (Celine Dion sings Aretha’s greatest hits)
- Touch My Hair! Teams of traveling stylists will set up booths along the Mall to provide makeovers and tips: dreads, weaves, braids, twists, cornrows and more for white people hair!
- Celebrating Black Literary Representation: Guest lecture by Lionel Shriver
- Special Kennedy Center performance by the cast of Hidden Fences
Tomorrow, the epic journey—from nearly the most southeasterly point in the contiguous forty-eight to nearly the most northwesterly—comes to an end. I arrive in Seattle on the shortest day of the year, which means the days will only get longer going forward. And that’s some kind of, like, good omen, right? Besides, I know that whole thing about the sun going down at 4:19pm is just a norwester’s insider joke. Because that can’t really happen, right? Ha, ha. Good one, Seattellians.
Anyway, other than showing you this cool picture of Mt. Shasta all covered with snow …
… I thought this would be a good occasion to lay some of my Wisdom of the Road and Long-Distance Travel Axioms on you.
- At the very first gas station you see after you leave the one where you filled up your tank, the gas will be cheaper.
- If you can choose a smoking or non smoking room in a motel and you can choose what size bed you get, why can’t you choose whether or not to have a full length mirror? There’s a reason I don’t have those in my house.
- No complimentary breakfast in any motel has never received a compliment and the name is, in fact, the earliest known example of post-truth in American culture.
- In the south, the number of liquor stores is directly proportional to the number of Baptist churches.
- I understand that Texas would like to be known as the “Lone Star State,” but the only nickname that truly makes sense is the “Road Kill State.” That there are any deer left in its entire 268,581 square miles is no thanks to the people who drive the state’s highways. Let’s not even talk about the armadillo.
- There comes a time in every road trip when there is only one thing that will make you feel better, and that thing is Doritos.
- I’ve already discussed the problem of Keeping Track Of Where Things Are. What I’ve realized is that this task requires a second passenger whose job is to do nothing else. If your car is like my car, however, there is no room for this person, so you will have to strap him or her to the roof.
- The best slogan I came across anywhere on the road was in Louisiana, where it was painted on the sloping metal roof of a barn: “Root hog or die.” It reminds me of one of the first folk sayings I ever learned in Italian: “Campa cavallo che l’erba cresce.” It’s still one of my favorites, and it doesn’t have a direct translation. Well, I mean, the concept is easy enough to describe: A starving horse cannot eat until the grass grows out again, but the wait is long, the outcome is uncertain, and there’s a good chance he won’t last long enough to see it happen; in the meantime, if he’s smart, the horse had better figure out some other way to survive. It’s not precisely parallel, but “Root, hog, or die!” strikes me as close in spirit.
- I know they are hard-working men and women with a job that takes a heavy toll on their bodies and their families. I know they are the salt of the earth. I know we depend upon their labor for the products we consume, for our food, and for who knows what else….But I’m still going to say it: big-rig truckers are lousy fucking drivers. They monopolize the road, they always drive too close to the center line, they are terrifying on curves (which they always take super-wide, as if they were completely alone) and, most irritatingly, they love to play a game with other truckers in which they pass one another in s-u-p-e-r-s-l-o-w-m-o-t-i-o-n, flooring their semis to reach the lightning speed of 57 because they can’t stand another minute of being behind that slowpoke trucker who is only going 55. Meanwhile, those of us who would really like to be going the legal speed limit of 70 have formed a convoy twenty-seven cars deep while we wait for you dicks to pull back into the right lane. I’ll say to you what Obama said to Putin: Cut it out.