A Proposition

Candidate Amethyst Rock Replacement

Dear beach bums—I have a proposition for you. I propose that we substitute the old Amethyst Rock down at the Doelle end of the beach, with the above bauble. You can’t really tell by the photo, but they are about the same size. Now I understand that in its current form, it would be a bit difficult to stand on, at least barefoot. Its sharp crystals would surely hurt, but hear me out. We can leave the original Amethyst Rock where it is and you, “traditionalists”, can continue to march down the beach and commune with it, as you always have. In the meantime, we’ll just set this new one up in front of the cabin. I figure that in a few years, wind, wave and water will smooth its exterior to the smoothest finish of purple beach glass that you have ever seen. And because it will be right in front of the cabin, when were all old and doddering, it will still be accessible, as they say. Are you on board with this plan? Good!

Now there is just one little teensy-weensy other thing. This Amethyst Rock is currently located in the Smithsonian’s Natural History Museum, in its Minerals and Gems gallery. Woah there, it’s not like it is in the same room as the Hope Diamond, so don’t get your panties all in a bunch. I’m sure that it’s not that well-guarded. With your help, I’m sure that we could pull this little caper off. I know what you are thinking. He goes off to DC, without any adult supervision and this is what he comes up with. While that may be true, it is not entirely my own idea. Before I went to Natural History, I was in the National Archive. Have you ever seen the movie, National Treasure?

In this movie, Nichols Cage steals the Declaration on Independence. It is all part of an elaborate scavenger hunt. He is trying to find the treasure of the Knights Templar, who the Founding Fathers hid, because they were all Free Masons. Clear? Anyway, he has to steal the Declaration on Independence, because the next set of clues are secretly written on its back. Once stolen, he then has to Q-tip lemon juice on to it to make the invisible ink reappear. I guess by now, I should have told you to suspend your disbelief at the door. Anyway, it all works out, he finds the treasure, get the girl and the document in question is not too worse for wear. Except when I viewed it today, it looked horrible. About all that you could still read is, “In CONGRESS, July 4, 1776”, “The unanimous Declaration […] States of America,” and “John Hancock”. I don’t think Nick Cage is all that responsible for this deterioration.

As I was waiting in line to get in, I got to eavesdrop on the spiel of a private tour guide that the family in line before me had hired. He was good and apparently our forefathers were not. Or at least they were none too kind to the Declaration on Independence. In 1823 President John Quincy Adams ordered 200 copies of the document to be printed. The printer used a wet-ink transfer process, where the surface of the document was moistened, and some of the original ink transferred to the surface of a copper plate, which was then etched so that copies could be run off the plate on a press. Then for 35 years the original document was displayed on a wall in the Patent Office, where it was exposed to sunlight and Washington’s horridly humid summers. If faded badly and now is unreadable, as are the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. So, it’s no wonder that Trump behaves as if there is no Constitution—Now, where was I going again?

Monticello

The Nickel Shot

Today was history day. We visited Thomas Jefferson’s mountain plantation, Monticello in Charlottesville. Pictured is the “Nickel Shot”, as seen on the back of old nickels. I did this tour fifty years ago and it seems different. After the house tour, which seemed about the same, we did the slave tour which I think is much newer. Jefferson throughout his life owned over six hundred people. He may have advocated abolition, but he was also a practicing slaveholder.

Then there was the Sally Hemings, his slave who had a number of his children. DNA testing now confirm that her offspring are part of the Jefferson family. Disclosures like these tend to cast shade on his notable achievements. We ate lunch there too.

Next stop was downtown Charlottesville. They have a pedestrian mall that we toured until thunderstorms chased us back to the car. We headed back towards the hotel and then crashed head-on into a Harry Potter festival. I felt like such a muggle there. We watched a quidditch game and almost had to use a port-a-Potter, while waiting for our table. After dinner it took us three tries to escape from the festival, because of blocked off streets, but we made it.

Angels in America, Part Deux

Angel of the Bethesda Fountain

We attended the second part of Angels in America, Perestroika. The action picks up where the first half ended. It is the 1985. Gorbachev is attempting to reform the USSR through an economic restructuring or perestroika. The aids epidemic is raging, with only one ray of hope on the horizon, a new miracle drug, AZT. While the first half of the play, basically setup the plot and introduced the characters, the focus of this second half is the death of Roy Cohn.

The play’s one historical character is vilified by all and does everything he can to justify that vilification. Using his political connections, he appeals to Nancy Reagan and acquires his own private stash of AZT, hoarding for himself enough medicine to treat eighty aids patients of this very rare and much sought after drug. It is all to no avail though, because while AZT was effective with some patients, it does not staunch the advancement of Cohn’s “liver cancer”.

Near the end, in combination with the morphine drip that he takes to ease his pain, visitations from the ghost of Ethel Rosenberg become more frequent. Cohn was the Federal prosecutor who secured the convictions of Julius and Ethel Rosenberg and insured their execution, even going so far as judge tampering. One time he asks her to sing him asleep. While reluctant, she eventually complies and sings a Jewish lullaby. Finishing, she becomes concerned that she sang him more than just to sleep, only to be startled when he gleefully gloats, “I finally made Ethel Rosenberg sing!”

During intermission, I spoke to a man whose father was investigated by Roy Cohn. After the Rosenbergs, Cohn joined Senator Joe McCarthy and his un-American activities subcommittee and became his chief deputy. McCarthy’s witch hunt, to turn a phrase, was ruthless in its search for communists, first in government, but then McCarthy turned his fire on the US Army. This led to a confrontation with Joe Walsh, an attorney hired by the Army. After McCarthy launched a particularly brutal attack on a young soldier, Walsh famously asked, “Have you no sense of decency?” The man who I spoke with, his father had been in the Army. He had been serving at Los Alamos, when called before the un-American activities committee. I asked the man what had happened to his father. “Not much, he was transferred to Fort Leonard Wood,” here in Missouri.

That confrontation with Walsh marked the end of both McCarthy and Cohn’s political careers. Cohn returned to NYC and private practice, where for thirty years he hobnobbed with the rich, while doing their dirty work too. One up and coming lad who Cohn helped out and who was later described as what Joe McCarthy and Roy Cohn’s love child would look like, was Donald Trump. It has been an interesting week, what with scandal erupting into impeachment proceedings. In conjunction with this play, I am reminded of the quote, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

The play ends in 1989. The Berlin Wall has fallen and the Soviet Union is no more. With the help of Cohn’s cache of AZT, Prior is still living with AIDS after five years. The play ends at the Bethesda fountain in Central Park, where Prior promises that the great work begun will continue.