Editor’s letter

Friday, September 08, 2017

Hi, friends:

I normally try to keep this space light and upbeat (it is Friday, after all), but man, what a week it has been. On the heels of Hurricane Harvey, there’s Irma, heading toward my hometown of Miami, where my parents are getting ready — the shutters are up, and now they’re just monitoring the moving cone of the storm. In 1992, we lost our house to Hurricane Andrew (we were inside when it hit and tore off part of the roof).

I’ll never forget that pervasive smell of mildew (from ceiling to carpet) or the taste of cold chicken soup (the only viable option in our pantry) or the sight of so many felled trees and power lines — and cars crumpled like tin cans. Without running water, neighborhood children took turns in the same dirty bath. Soon, the National Guard was called in to help those in neighborhoods more vulnerable than ours. My parents eventually rebuilt our house, relegating pictures of the destruction into a photo album on a shelf. But now, 25 years doesn’t seem like so long ago. I hope that Irma weakens or changes course, or both.

Like many of you, I’ve also been distressed by the cancellation of DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals), offering protection from deportation to qualified, undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as children. The timing of the announcement felt especially cruel with many of those same “Dreamers” impacted by the decision heading back to school with so much uncertainty about what lies ahead for them.

Our columnist Ilan Stavans touches on “the inhumane repeal of DACA” in his current piece (see page 22), “The Second American Civil War: A Reckoning,” in which he imagines a battle having been waged in a nearby town where he has seen a Confederate flag flying. “I’m an optimist by nature,” he says. “I’m also practical in the way I see the world. I fear that the animosity between people these days is reaching a dangerous point that might be affecting the fabric of what makes America a unique, exemplary nation.”

If past wrongs can’t be righted, exactly, we still can see history with new eyes. That’s what the new opera “The Scarlet Professor” allows its audience to do, in a sense. The opera is based in part on author Barry Werth’s 2001 book of the same name, about the 1960 arrest of a Smith College English professor, Newton Arvin, who, along with two colleagues and some other local men, was essentially punished for looking at gay porn. Steve read Werth’s book before talking to the team behind the production. As Werth noted in their interview, “Arvin had the phrase ‘the useable past,’ this idea of taking American history and seeing how we could re-envision it in light of what’s happened since. Now we have the opportunity to do that here.’ ” Make sure to check out the sidebar on the symposium happening next Saturday, September 16, at Smith College. Steve’s story starts on page 12.

If this issue has any unifying theme, I guess you could say it’s nonconformism. We asked Raven Used Books to give us their “5 Rock Picks.” At the top of the pile is Kim Gordon’s “Girl in a Band.” You can find their other recommendations on page 6. By the way, I’m talking to the legendary (and local!) Black Francis of The Pixies tomorrow; look for that interview in this Thursday’s Gazette Arts section.

Finally, for this week’s “People Watching” feature, we spotlighted a guy who definitely marches to the beat of his own drummer: Stan Pollack, aka Stan-the-Fixit-Man. Read about the oddest “home repair” he ever had to make on page 5.

I hope you have fun plans for the weekend. I’ll meet you here next week.

Brooke Hauser