Thursday, May 16, 2019

Gimicky back stories, a mean military school, the secret of Donald Trump’s character, and the stripper who blew a bugle

The Crank’s brother attended  the same military school as Donald Trump. 
When my brother tried to quit, the school made him an 11-years-old corporal, in an
attempt to change his mind and keep collecting his tuition money. They failed.
But first things first. Back in 1960, as a young reporter for a New York tabloid, I was sent off to interview Faith Dane, the stripper who created her own featured role in a hit Broadway show. 

Seems some producers were casting for strippers for a new Broadway production called Gypsy. (Yes, that Gypsy.) Dane showed up at an audition and took her clothes off while blowing a bugle. The show’s producers and director cracked up and created a whole show number around her act. It included a specially-written song, "You gotta have a gimmick, if you want to get ahead."

Metternick, von Clausewitz
and the stripping bugler’s father 

It also turned out when I interviewed her that Dane’s father was the strict little martinet who taught my European history class at Erasmus Hall High School in Brooklyn. I remember to this day sitting in terror in his classroom while he barked eminently barkable names like Metternich and Von Clausewitz. I took to wondering if somehow his rigid humorlessness produced the rebellious spirit that led to his daughter becoming a bugling stripper. Accordingly, I wrote a ruminative feature story about it. 

To say that my city editor wasn’t interested is a gargantuan understatement. The story ended up, quite literally, on a brass spike on his desk, a mere six seconds after he began reading it.

If you’ve got five and a half minutes to spare, I commend the following video from the film version of Gypsy for your delectation. But then, pick up the story after the show.

The New Yorker magazine online recently published  an article on presidential candidates, each putting out some kind of back story in the effort to become a frontrunner. Essentially, in Presidential politics, as in stripping, you gotta have a gimmick. Here’s just a sample of the kind of self-revelatory gimmickry you have to tell on yourself to be a front-running Democratic candidate for President these days:

Back stories for 
future presidents
…When Julián Castro was in seventh grade, in San Antonio, he poured Elmer’s glue into a school aquarium to see what would happen to the fish, and his mother—a Chicano activist who once ran for city council—set him straight about the consequences of cruelty. Cory Booker’s parents fought against housing discrimination, braving the bared teeth of a real-estate agent’s Doberman pinscher, and when they moved with Cory and his little brother into an all-white neighborhood in New Jersey his father said that the Bookers were “four raisins in a tub of sweet vanilla ice cream.” Kids in Scranton, Pennsylvania, mocked Joe Biden because of his stutter; so did his seventh-grade teacher. “Mr. Bu-bu-bu-bu-Biden,” the nun taunted…
All this led me to wonder about Donald Trump’s back story. No, I’m not talking about The Art of Hiring a Ghost Writer. I mean the real Donald Trump.
As a boy, Trump attended New York Military Academy, same as my brother. At the time, that institution served primarily as three things:  1) a dumping ground for orphans who had both trust funds and distant uncles who didn’t care to see them much. 2) The sons and nephews of Latin American dictators and junta members who were training to go back home and continue the ancient and time-honored practice of making enemies disappear, sometimes from airplanes flying over the ocean And 3) as a reform school for rich American juvenile delinquents, so that they wouldn't have to end up in real reform schools. 
School for scandalous bullies
By chance, the Crank’s younger brother, who was none of those things, attended that same military academy for two years as a ten- and eleven-year-old, after our father played what might be described as an elaborate and expensive sadistic joke. (It’s a long story.)
Within days, the Crank’s little brother was calling home in tears. He was subject to daily bullying delivered by adolescent Torquemadas with higher rank. It was Lord of the Flies with adult encouragement. For example?
So-called “Upperclassmen,” themselves no older than fifteen or sixteen ,would walk past the refectory table where my little brother sat at rigid attention eating breakfast each morning, grab the pancake off his plate, and stuff it into his glass of milk. (“Hurry up and eat your breakfast,” they’d tell him.) They would force him to scrub latrines with his tooth brush. He was ten years old at the time and there was no appeal. 
There's nothing like beating up 
scared little kids
How The Donald must have thrived in this savage environment! Imagine being able to brutally push little kids around. And imagine being a terrified little kid, too afraid to speak a word of complaint.
Is it any wonder that these days Trump puts little kids in cages? Or gets upset when somebody in Congress calls him out, even though Trump ranks higher? 
When my little brother finally persuaded my father to let him come home and go back to public school, New York Military Academy balked. He was worth six more years of tuition to them. In attempt to change my brother’s and our parents’ minds, they promoted my brother to Corporal and gave him a great big certificate.
Today it hangs over his toilet, where it has been displayed with thinly-disguised contempt for military school culture for more than a half century.
And we have a bullying juvenile delinquent in the White House.

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