Arthur Penn: Memories remain fond

Murray Chartock, the world’s cutest dog, looked up at me the other day with his pink tongue hanging out. Thanks to the Literacy Project of South Berkshire, Murray can read, write and speak as well as most of us. In fact, he often advises me on what to write in these columns.

“Pops,” said the beautiful little dog, “why do you look so sad?”

“Well, Murray, our friend Arthur Penn has passed away. You know, Murray, I meet a lot of people. Some of them are angry, some are mean, some have some good and some bad in them but this man, Arthur Penn, was really something special.

What a gem of a human being. You really had to love him. A couple of years ago I interviewed him and WAMC has two hours of tapes. He tells all about his childhood, his time in the army; how scared he was during the Battle of the Bulge and some very funny stories.

He tells about the making of “Alice’s Restaurant,” “Bonnie and Clyde” and his extensive years coming up in television. When the world loses a man like Arthur Penn, it really is a lot poorer. So, that’s why I’m sad, Murray.”

“Thanks for telling me,” said the little pup. “Now I’m sad too.”

“You know Murray, I don’t think Arthur would have wanted either of us to feel this way. Maybe what we all ought to do is celebrate him.”

“OK, Pops, let’s remember him the way he’d want us to.”

“Pops,” he then said, “I read a story the other day. It was about a town that wants to ban pit bulls and dobermans from its streets. That really seems discriminatory to me. Don’t we Americans stand for something better than that? My cousin, River, who owns Jonas Chartock, is really a good dog. She wouldn’t hurt a fly. What if this town banned River from visiting just because of her breed? What would we do?”

“Well, Murray,” we’d do what all American should do when they are displeased with their government. We’d march on Town Hall. We’d gather all the dog owners together. We’d make signs. We’d chant slogans.” We won’t allow it any more than we would surrender to the xenophobia that is taking over the country, especially towards Muslims.”

“You’re terrific, Pops,” he responded. “Now let me ask you about Mayor James Ruberto’s plan to clean up the blighted areas of Pittsfield. Could this be dangerous? What if our house was considered to be blighted?”

“Don’t worry, Murray,” I said petting his little head. “Jimmy Ruberto knows what he is doing. Blighted houses with overgrown lawns and rodents inside and out are like a cancer. It starts with one and then it grows into whole neighborhoods. No one wants to live nearby. Drug dealers and vagrants start to camp out. Ruberto is exactly right. People invest more money in their houses than in anything else. Pittsfield, as well as every other town, needs to protect those investments. The things that people are most concerned about in Pittsfield are jobs and crime.”

“Well, Pops,” said little Murray, “I read a headline in the Eagle the other day that said a woman was executed; another was sentenced to eight years. Don’t you think that we should treat women better than that?”

“You know, Murray, women are almost always given lighter sentences than men. In fact, in a country where we still execute a lot of people, it is very rare that we execute a woman, even when she has done something really heinous, like murder two people. But we do have lots of discrimination in sentencing. For example, studies have shown again and again that the color of one’s skin is a pretty good predictor of what will happen during sentencing or even plea bargaining.”

I told Murray, “You know, kid, if you weren’t a dog you could go and spend a day sitting in one of our courts. You would be surprised by what goes on. Take a careful listen to the way the judge addresses the defendant. Does the fact that a mother or father is in the court with the accused make difference? Do the clothes they are wearing seem to make a difference? Is there a difference in the sentence based on the color of the victim’s skin? The defendant’s?”

“It all gets very complicated, Murray. Society has certainly not been good to people of color. We have segregated them and discriminated against them and underemployed them and then when the inevitable crime occurs, we have put them in great numbers in jail or prison.”

“I love you, Pops,” said the little dog.

Originally published in the Berkshire Eagle, 10/2/10

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