Silence is Golden

The year was 1921--almost 1922 when I finally got to see “The KiD.” Charlie Chaplin’s newest movie that all the newspapers, Yiddish and English, were so excited about.  It was over an hour long, and it wasn’t so easy, believe me, saving the money--27 cents it cost, plus carfare. And getting a few hours free on a Saturday afternoon? Also not so easy.  Among very observant Jews, you couldn’t even go to a movie on a Saturday afternoon. On Shabbos? Shame on you!

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Alice Rosenthal
Friday Night

What do they know about  hunger?   The schmaltz, like pools of satin on the golden soup, essence of this fat land—this abundance—my daughter-in law pushes away with her spoon, or scoops it up and drops it without thought from her spoon onto the saucer.  She’s minding her waistline.  So, what is a corset for?  A corset minds a waistline. A woman eats.  

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Recent SCOTUS anti-union action

The recent decision in US Supreme Court Janus v. AFSCME will not only greatly weaken and depopulate all public sector unions, including teachers’ unions, but will have the counter-intuitive effect of increasing strikes because of less effective collective bargaining power. To put it bluntly, the Supreme Court decision is union busting pure and simple; it is an attempt to starve unions of fees for services. As a retired SF City College instructor, I can thank AFT2121, our public sector local, for my generous health and dental benefits, and for my retirement benefits, that allow me to sit at my desk and write. If you work in the private sector and enjoy good benefits, please don’t take them for granted. Often businesses matched union benefits to discourage union organizing. And, of course, public sector is a dirty word for Trump. So if he’s for this decision, we must fight it.

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Alice Rosenthal
STREET SONG (For my long-gone aunt)

Poor Rosie, bedbug crazy,
Kinky black hair slipping pins,
Pulpy body girdled, bra’d, and tight-print dressed,
Legs slender and fragile, feet stuffed into narrow spiked heels,
Steps out into the sunshine to do battle with unseen enemies.
But they are there.  Oh, yes!  She knows they are there.

Poor Rosie, fruitcake crazy,
Stops halfway down the block to check her face.
Bird-like fluttering hands dig in her handbag for a mirror.
Eyes scan her image, bruised lids, heavy, dark, vaselined,
Mouth a gash of bright greasy red.  Lipstick smeared.
But not from kisses.  Never kisses.

Here comes Rosie,  the neighborhood crazy.
Raucous kids shooting marbles in the street
Quiet now, wipe snotty noses with the backs of their hands
Furtive glances as she passes by.
Something wrong here, something rotten.
Much too close to home.

There goes Rosie, White Queen crazy,
Cracked aging lady in a melodrama
Ready for her close-up now.
Blowsy Blanche Dubois minus the bourbon and charm.
Whiff of fetid decay under the sweet toilet water.
Something dying?  Not Rosie!

Poor thing, Rosie, ten-ways crazy,
Unmothered, unfathered, unchilded, de-husbanded
Little fledgling dropped too soon from the nest.
Unheeded unneeded,

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Alice Rosenthal
Gentlemen and Scholars

[Unpublished story narrated by my grandmother circa 1939]

Not so long ago, I was reading Gone With the Wind, like everyone else in the neighborhood.  This is a book that makes quite a to-do about who is a gentleman or lady and who isn’t.  Of course, a Jew or a Negro could never be a gentleman in the South, but just who was a gentleman didn’t make any sense to me either. Miss Melanie Hamilton fears that Mr. Thackeray is not the gentleman Mr. Dickens is. Yet both these highly respected English writers showed my husband what good English and good English manners were.  (Their books were in a set of Harvard Classics that he bought from a pushcart when we lived on the Lower East Side, and believe me, he learned a lot from them).  And how come Gerald O’Hara who was born poor and had very little education and was “rough of tongue” is a gentleman and Mr. Thackery in not?  It’s all a question of blood, somehow.  I asked my son about this.   

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Alice Rosenthal
Rough Beast


On the balcony of Looking Glass House the three of them are posed:  the Jabberwock, the trophy, and the child with the opaque eyes.  Who can capture the essence of this grotesque tableau frozen high above the carnival crowd?  Not the ring master.  Better the poet and the storyteller.  Behind the barricade the restless crowd is motley, but made eerily uniform by the dark glasses covering all eyes.   Are they there to praise the sun and the moon during this Great American Eclipse or to worship this unholy trinity?            

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Alice Rosenthal

I AM STANDING ON RISING GROUND overlooking a large expanse of green that blankets this corner of the northwest Bronx. I’ve come back to revisit this distinct patch of time and place from almost a lifetime away and a distance of 3,000 miles. I’ve come to honor it — and to grieve for it — as an American and a Jew. Something I couldn’t have dreamt of doing in those years I lived in it.

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Alice Rosenthal