Sunday, October 26, 2008


In 1924 Lenin died, the 8-hour work week came to Belgium and André Breton wrote the Surrealist Manifesto.

Arguably, these are not related events. Although the very existence of surrealism makes connections possible that are not.

My father was born in 1924; his birthday was 2 days ago. Marlon Brando was born in 1924. He died 4 years ago. And Robert Mugabe, tyrant of Zimbabwe, was born in 1924. (I know this because this week’s New Yorker has excellent articles about both Mugabe and Brando, illustrated. No article about my father.) In the accompanying photograph, Brando is young and sultry and handsome; Mugabe’s photograph was taken this year, and he looks remarkably good for his age, so much so that I have to suspect something Dorian Grayish is going on. Somewhere in the $10 million Harare mansion, there is a closet filled with skulls, old machine guns, and a life size portrait of a hunched over Mugabe, with dried blood under his fingernails, wrinkles so deep that whole families of nits can live inside them, and a flock of crow’s feet. Or else plastic surgery. We must always consider plastic surgery.

Chances are good my father doesn’t know who Marlon Brando was; that was nothing to do with memory loss and everything to do with a lifetime of single minded focus on the vicissitudes of the textile industry, and – oh yes - indifference to popular culture. My father may actually know the name of Robert Mugabe because he reads the Times religiously and watches the Lehrer Report religiously, but the country he knows is Rhodesia. Zimbabwe has disappeared into the maw of occluded vessels, along with Myanmar, Mumbai and the end of Pan American.

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