I’d Like to Hear Some Funky Dixieland, Pretty Mama Come and — Oh No, Ebola!

Attack of the Culture Bug

Well, that which we had most feared has finally come to pass. The global threat now posed by the marauding Ebola virus is such that it is possible today to imagine someone beginning to sing the chorus of an old Doobie Brothers song, then being quickly brought to heel by remembering we’re all dying of Ebola. We who remember the old Doobie Brothers may ruefully recall that Michael McDonald’s sudden appearance likewise had the devastating effect of an attacking microbe on that band, the bearded pathogen punching through the Doobies’ cell wall, charging into the mitochondrial matrix and ruthlessly reprogramming the group until it lost its Hell’s Angels double helix and finally collapsed under the weight of all those swirly perfumed Michael McDonald ladies who wear heels to concerts and dance with their eyes closed and their arms in the air while saying ‘woo-hooo’. We will not be spared.

Ebola. Three little words that strike cold fear into the heart. These are the scourge-times, what with easy air travel, the splashy fecal dispensaries of your average African village, and an Information Age news cycle with as greedy a maw as that cone-shaped planet-killer that so tormented William Windom. While All Hope is not lost, it is almost certainly in that closet under the stairs about whose contents we routinely say ‘it’s not lost, but we’ll never see it again’.

Ebola is on everyone’s lips these days; if not Ebola itself then a comment or opinion about Ebola. And in our haste to welcome a human-race concluding, ratings-boosting doomsday, we have already brushed past the forgotten earliest victims of Ebola – the Democratic Republic of Congo Realtors whose previously prized holdings along the river Ebola, after which the virus is named, are now not worth the spraying diarrheac output being attributed to the unfortunate river’s namesake. Best to pull up stakes and reinvest someplace untouched by the tragedy. A large purchase of land around the lushly forested Lake Penile Palsy will surely reverse the sliding fortunes of these innocent speculators whose only crime was snapping up acreage along the banks of a river whose name is now synonymous with blood gushing like hose water out every hole in the body. It’s been reported that Disney was offered the riverfront properties as a possible spot for a Sub-Saharan theme park, but passed when their hastily convened focus group turned up their noses at the proposed new slogan; “The Hemorrhage Place On Earth”.

This Ebola bug (like most annihilating microbes, a cheery bit of yarn when glimpsed with a scanning electron microscope) has drawn up some wild survival plans over the lazy eons. We could take a page from the Ebola Self-Defense book. The skin of the Ebola virus wears a glycoprotein with which it binds itself to and then pierces the hapless living cell, leaps unhindered through the ripped outer membrane, runs in like an overexcited thug and, for reasons known only to the fragrant mysteries of Intelligent Design, irreparably smashes the cellular furniture. Then, as the Keystone Antibodies perk up at these loud indications of cellular slaughter and rush in to help, the Ebola virus exits the wrecked cell and manages to push another glycoprotein out the other side, an actual decoy with which the pleased and thoroughly duped antibodies busy themselves while the real culprit slinks off in search of more cellular mayhem to wreak. No kidding. It’s amazing and grotesque and inexplicably mind-like; nature in a nutshell. Medical illustrators like the marvelous Bernie K. are at pains to explicate such minutiae as comprise the brick and mortar of our bewildering Existence, and the colorful, mechanistic renderings lay out the cogs and gears of these things in thrilling and horrifying detail, reminding us anew how wonderful and nauseatingly incomprehensible Life is in the details. Again; if this is all a machine, what is it doing? Whether this killer yarn is Intelligently Designed by an increasingly puzzling “I Promise This Is All Part Of The Perfect Plan” God, or came by it’s exactingly tailored design through the numbing mathematical exigencies of Trying This Then That Then Another Variation of This over the course of many trillions of days and nights of a very very slowly stirring biosphere, the Ebola virus looks to be, at the moment, in the ascendant. Or to address the issue in more scientific terms, our world is under attack by blank-faced nano sex robots.

Luckily this ancient and canny bug is not – repeat is NOT – conveyed by the furiously sneezing crazy guy in the back of the bus I’m riding as I type this; one of those guys whose sneezes escape him like prisoners angrily breaking out of confinement, and whose greatest threat to my well-being is the likelihood I’ll minutely wet myself every time he screams. The Scream Sneezer blasts his atomized snot-cloud into the air without preamble, and sounds like he’s being grazed with a blowtorch when he lets loose. “sghnAAAAAAGGH!! sghnAAAAAAGGH!!!!!

Yes, if you ride the city bus to work every day you feel the growing panic, even though this plague is, as they continue to say with strangely declarative authority, not an airborne pathogen. But we’ve seen this movie; a miscast Emma Thompson, playing this time a Shakespearean virologist, assures an uneasy world the situation will soon be under control, and in fact the screenwritten danger is comfortably distant. In the first reel an innocuous case of the sniffles appears across an array of urban and rural settings portrayed in typical Hollywood shorthand – brusque and unlikable grey-suited derivatives trader in NYC sneezes demurely into a Pierre Cardin kerchief, portly Heartland corn farmer in an ill-researched straw hat and overalls blows his nose on the wife’s gingham apron to her chuckling delight, Los Angeles yoga instructor in gold lame briefs and ponytail raises a ringed hand to his pierced nose and emits a ladylike nasal hiccup. Each cinema-sneeze is followed by an Industrial Light and Magic sequence of wildly painted flagellants rocketing through the room, up into nostrils made cavernous by our Need to Know, and straight down into the protean basement where sympathetically portrayed cells are swarmed and violated by anthropomorphized Ebola gangs, whip-like arms a-waving to a thumping minor-key tragedy theme composed and conducted by James Newton Howard. By reel 2 we’ve got staring, shuffling armies of tax attorneys with their arms outstretched, some of them zombies.  Yes, life may be about to imitate art, hopefully not the art of Jeff Koons or Damien Hirst, though. Life imitating that art could be worse than Ebola.

Village Lagos

Start spreadin’ the whatever, I’m leavin’ today. Flyblown village Lagos, Nigeria is the perfect Ebola vector.

But this slow-motion plague is conveyed exclusively by exposure to body fluids, we’re told by Ms. Thompson’s real-life counterparts. Though many of the deaths in Africa are happening in Lagos, a variegated, skyscrapered congestion of modern metal and glass, we’re told even heavily urbanized Africa lacks the West’s feces-disposing acumen and that the poor souls are victims of their culture’s childlike propensity to splash body fluids with inept abandon. Meaning the several thousand persons in Africa who have been infected and largely killed by the virus were more likely vomited on than sneezed around, more likely to have tripped into an open sewer or embraced the dissolving corpse of a loved one than to have been virally attacked in a more bespoke westernized fashion. There is in the comfort-bestowing comparisons of Them to Us the usual patronizing posture. Of course it’s rampant in Africa, just look at them! Oh, and someone in a hazmat suit in Texas caught Ebola by removing her gloves wrong. So there is some assurance that, barring a Mr. Creosote-like vomiting frenzy or the less than completely thoughtful removal of specially constructed anti-Ebola gloves, we’ll all be okay.

I’m not in a panic about Ebola, but I marvel at how we are already being polarized by the comfortably small-seeming outbreak. Of course the disabled do-nothings in our nation’s nerve center are taking the usual productive tack of setting absolutely everything else aside to politicize and blame, the possible pandemic brought unsurprisingly to bear on the always top-of-mind issue of getting rehired to do nothing some more.  So hopefully they can be used as guinea pigs in the search for a reproducible cure. Maybe they can do some good after all, if against their will.

Several friends have taken me mildly to task for flattering the dimwit media’s feverish 24/7 coverage with any attention at all. Yeah, I know Ebola is curable, but not often. If/when it gets to a truly crowded place like India, it doesn’t seem naive or pessimistic or fabulist to believe the sheer numbers will be uncontainable. It’s just boring old math that says so. For now the quality of mercy is being strained and there are public cries to close the borders, deny entry to the feverish, and otherwise Look Out for Number One. The headline-grabbing Ebola virus may just be the latest McNews to occupy a bored and sated West, but the dust-up usefully points out that we are not Creatures of Light or spirit beings, and that dumb replicating germs continue to occupy the head of a pin in greater numbers than angels.

I’ve Fallen to Earth and I Can’t Get Up

I've Fallen to Earth and I Can't Get Up

I turn in my seat to watch as they quietly enter the Arlington’s half-light in whispering twos, threes and fours, peering through the murk with a touching vulnerability, expressions brightening at the sight of friends, hands raised in greeting. The hushed army of once and future glam-slammers and barricade-stormers, they who would have turned the world on its head some 45 years ago, now furtively take their seats, apologizing for the inconvenience as they sidle past in their chinos and Chuck Taylors. They settle in and lean into each other, murmuring. The dusky Arlington cavern already has the hushed aspect of a church service. They’re here for Bowie, yeah. But there’s the luggage, too.

David Bowie Is. The omnipresent-tense of the film’s title suggests a quasi-religious experience, and the congregants approve. Bowie was (is) a special case; part accident, (large) part calculation, and part Divine timing, popping up like a jack-in-the-box and inserting himself and his message into that weird demilitarized zone between the 60s conflagration and the 70s blow dried confusion; between the exhausted Stones, the divorcing Beatles, the drowned Hendrix and the approaching polyester Me Generation steamroller. Just at the moment the fires were being doused and the broken masonry swept up in prep for James Taylor’s entrance (mustn’t get brick dust on those white trousers), here comes Bowie like an escapee, with One More Thing To Say. Dismantling the Establishment is for squares. Why overthrow the old order when you can find an elliptical orbit that obviates the need for any order at all?

The film itself was a strangely (not to say deceptively) promoted documentary, a tour of a celebrated Bowie exhibit at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, an exhibit so freaking anticipated by a global public still starved for Bowie that it (the exhibit, you understand) is itself touring the world like a rock star, with stops in Toronto, Sao Paulo, Berlin, Chicago, Paris and Melbourne. David Bowie, at 67 and reportedly not in great health, has attained that level of cultural hegemony that allows his shirts to tour in his stead. In the movie two talking heads walk the movie audience through the exhibit’s Twelve Stations of the Cross, as it were, the gasping experts gesturing and talking earnestly at the camera. We see Bowie’s famous costumes (notably for this writer the psychedelic skin-tight tea cozy he wore in his watershed Top of the Pops performance of Starman in ‘72), his childhood ballpoint sketches and odd doodles that seem to suggest designs for movie sets and character creations.

Like most little kids with light bulbs for heads, little Davie Jones had big weird ideas and recorded them prolifically and energetically; unlike most kids he carried them into adulthood as action items. When, at 15 years old, Davie was mightily popped in the left eye by a schoolyard chum in a brief tussle over a girl they both liked, the die was cast. The eye was saved but the pupil paralyzed, an interesting oddity for the shaggy folk-Bowie of 1966, but an absolute badge of deep-space authenticity when he later invented Ziggy and let his addled wife dye his hair a color not found in nature. Unlike say, Perry Como (another estimable chameleon whose startling collection of cardigans could make his audience dizzy with dislocation and excitement), Bowie did not inhabit or typify his time; he infused it. Emerging from a decade that sought exaltation and strangeness, this eyebrow-free wraith with the mismatched pupils and strange, melodic gift wrote his own and our tickets.

So, yeah. We of course took along our 12-year-old daughter that night, grateful for the opportunity to introduce her to a more artistically nourishing time when pop stars could legitimately be thought to have come from outer space. You’re so lucky to be seeing this tonight, Stel! (she nods once, bored already. “How long will the movie last?”). Stella, though, has yet to be seduced into the Earbud Army, and to her credit nods off every night to a long Carpenters lullabye (whether or not the reader finds that a taste assault that trumps all others) – but today’s shuffling deaf-mutes, anesthetized teen and tween droids with wires hanging out of their ears, music blaring minutely in the middle of their wallpapered crania through hours and hours made mundane by the ceaseless, seamless soundtrack. They buy gum, cross the street, scroll their i-things, text their professed love, kiss, and occasionally talk to each other with skinny little Ariana Grande and the gasping Demi Lovato et al marauding through the middle of their heads like an earwig army. And the teeny songs songs tend toward that thrill-ride motif, the honking synth loops and hammerblow bass they blast at 1000 decibels as you try not to bark up your funnel cake on the mischaracterized Alpine Toboggan at Earl Warren. Our musical heroes in the Day were larger-than life avatars who scarcely seemed containable in ordinary rooms. Bowie was like an androgynous reptile, Jim Morrison a radiant Dionysus in sterlizingly tight leather pants. Our daughter’s pop idols look like paperboys and kickball champions. Justin Bieber might be here to mow your lawn. You want to rush the stage and help them with their math homework. And they never leave the heads of our earbud imprisoned kids. In the 70s (he dared venture) my audiophile friends and I would crowd into my friend Dave’s acoustically pristine bedroom, dim the lights and listen to Genesis’ Musical Box or One for the Vine at crystal-clear high volume, or Supertramp’s Hide in Your Shell. It was a special gathering – like going to temple or church, but without funny hats or those tiddly winks they put on your tongue. I challenge you to try dialing up a Supertramp song with your twelve-year-old in the room. “Daaaduh! Can I change the song!”

But…yeah. You reach a certain age and, as if by some hideous magic, hear your jawbone broadcasting stuff your own mom and dad used to say, and it makes you blush in terror. The effort not to sound like an historically predictable parent/philistine when remarking on the kids’ music choices – it can be tough. But our folks still take the cake! They weren’t possessed of the frightened self-awareness we wear like a postmodern millstone. They didn’t care if they sounded like Parents, they reveled in that, saying the dumbest summary things without hesitation. One evening at the age of 16 or so I was listening to Elton’s anthemic “Don’t Let the Sun Go Down on Me” on the living room stereo, in the days before my very own Zenith Allegro Home HiFi entered and transformed my life and drove me into my shuttered teen bedroom for good. Just as my dad entered the living room that evening, Elton was singing “frozen here…” (on the ladder of my life) , and my dad yelled “Frozen beer! What the hell?”

“Frozen here!” I shouted.

“I heard frozen beer!!” my dad yelled back. I knew immediately this lame shouting match was not the sort of telling generational schism that would feature on a PBS documentary about the dissolution of the American family. It was the only time I can recall our having raised our voices to each other. Yow. Rock and Roll.

Back in the Arlington a theater full of grown teens breathe deep the gathering gloom, to quote an old song. All those long teenage nights behind the locked bedroom door in our parents’ houses (our parents! our parents!), feeling the centrifugal energies of a world spinning like an idiot top. Did all that really happen? Why did my denim bell bottoms have so many zippers? Why did I let my hair puff out like that? Why did I have to borrow a shirt from John Videan for my senior portrait? This Bowie evening is a rocket ride back to the whole of the teen whirlwind, where lead routinely turned to gold and the world could still surprise the shit out of us, could still drive us back to our locked grottoes to sort things out. I would stare wonderingly at my blacklight MC Escher poster, or spend hours lying in bed and listening to Sparks or Kate Bush or The Who’s Tommy with the lights out, the stereo painting almost tactile sonic pictures in the dark over the rumpled twin bed with its embarrassingly childish sheets and untested box spring, the bittersweetness of LPs stacked on a spindle.


*Jeff  writes the column State Street Scribe for the Santa Barbara Sentinel – where a  print version of this particular piece can be found this week.

SB Sentinel, Volume 3/Issue 20/October 4-18

song for us


When he boarded he saw in his familiar annoyed periphery the Beautiful Teenage Typical, already looking off with her studied thousand-yard stare, her paralytic nonchalance. ‘Yeah, I’m Beautiful. It is my misfortune and I can’t unlearn it now. I have seen it in the helpless puppy eyes of the boys since fourth grade recess, where it startled me at first.  I’ll have nothing to do with you now but a masked drinking in of your helplessly flung gamma.’ But he brought his iceberg zeal to the demonstration, as he had done for a lifetime, since Lisa devastated Tony. He took his seat and opened his book without looking up. If you are beautiful you have been furtively glanced at enough already. This will be for your own good. I can see it on your expression of studied indifference. Rewarding you with even a glimpse would be pouring gin down the neck of a furniture-smashing golem. Awkward girls and boys with dated hairbands and tucked-in shirts bought off the wrong rack, they are the prize, you are the wallpaper. Your carefully arranged, traditionally attractive sphinx-face is as thrilling as a spiral notebook. I’m still on fire, still on fire, I believe you broke me that day, and in the many days after that day. In Mrs. Petrie’s third grade lunch line at Clark Elementary in Cheyenne we waited in blanched sunlight and you told my penurious friend Tony, my quiet buddy with the always-mussed hair and worried expression, the farm kid, you said that of all the ink-clumped mimeographed recipes shared through our weekend assignment, his was the worst. ‘We tried your Breakfast Cookies and they were awful.’ Tony looked down and away, horrified. He’d worn the same checkered shirt all the previous week, the hem shiny and frayed with wear. Your macabre attack was an air horn in a stilled chapel. My scalding blood sprayed into my head and I saw stars. What did she say? Someone can say that? I looked sideways at Tony, his eyes brimming, and I crushed my beige circular milk ticket in my shaking right hand oh god! oh god I could have killed you, Lisa! I could have maimed you! In too many dreams that year I lunged at you, madly clawed your beribboned hair, your self-satisfied little face, your beautiful little ferret face with its cheekbones and haughty forehead. If you’d taken a shot at my mom’s Angel Food Cake recipe at that moment I might have torn you like a phone book. Rage at all the well-built assholes who criticize our Breakfast Cookies! ‘Well-Lisa-we-tried-your-cake-and-it-was-terrible!’ I bleated in cracking girl-voice, a Tourette’s attack that seemed to gush from someone else before I knew I was saying it, I could not believe these goings on. And you said ‘Ha ha! My recipe wasn’t for cake, liar.’

Personal Space: The Final Frontier


And one other thing; how to walk down the main street of one’s home town without blanching in horror at glimpsed scenes of seemingly ordinary people getting pedicures? Pedicures? Leave aside the timeworn First World/Third World shame reflex. “I mean, in some parts of the world people have no FOOD and here we are managing our CUTICLES and having our shins DEPILATED.” Listen, I’ll see your filthy limbless beggar in Calcutta and raise you one bored, well-off, recumbent shopping maven having her calves massaged as she flips stone-faced through the latest issue of Tipsy Showbiz Toddler. Limbless Beggar; take me away from here!

And yet…and yet. We’re fascinated by grotesquerie, aren’t we? Mesmerized by the morbid? Compelled by the creepy, hesitantly hippity-hopping in the vicinity of the hideous? I’m drawn inexorably to the pedicure mystery, like a fly is drawn to a really good-looking other fly. In awe of the toenail-centric rituals whose imaginings torment my waking hours, I’m sometimes able to work up the courage to sneak a peek through the doorway of one of these pedicure ‘establishments’ as I pass by at a nervous trot. What I have seen, people! As William Shatner demonstrated in the classic ‘Horror at 37,000 Feet’ (not to be confused with his Twilight Zone episode at a mere 20,000 feet some 10 years earlier), a spiritual abyss merely glimpsed is sometimes sufficient to paralyze the visage in a silent but otherwise powerfully over-acted scream.

What I have seen, I say! My brave investigative forays have revealed to me such scenes of spirit-breaking horror as one expects when gazing on the flaming canyons of the damned. Sound the Mission bells! Fetch the holy water and give me a quick shot! Bring me some rotary beads or whatever those things are called! I have seen row upon row of the penitent; supine, eyes closed, pants and skirts hitched up, feet trapped in whirring little machines while throngs of smallish chattering foot-folk hover busily about the lower legs, fussing and plucking and kneading, kneading KNEADING; a Personal Space Blitzkrieg that beggars the imagination YES!

Um, yes. I have intimacy issues. Yes yes yes. I would rather have a fulsome bee beard go angrily wrong than suffer a stranger placing his/her/its hands on my body for purposes of rubbing, knuckling, or doing that two-handed chopping thing I saw once on the Bob Newhart show. Begone professional comfort-wielder with your portable metal table, chipper demeanor and slightly botched dreamcatcher tattoo. Hit the road, foot-handling hellion. And you, muumuu-filling Earth Woman friend of a friend, who at the dinner party approaches in a cloud of patchouli and would massage my temples if only I would stop making like a terrified weasel with the wide eyes and pursed, scream-suppressing lips. Healer, your touch catalyzes in me the shrinkage of many parts and appendages. You want to relax me? You want to repair my troubled soul? Go over there. Way over there. Little further. Okay, that’s good. Now fold up your lil’ aluminum ping-pong table and get out.

I’ll be the first to admit it; I’m unenlightened. A Californian in name only. I’m unnerved by your Groovy Empath friend and his de rigueur 4 minute hug. Why are his eyes squeezed shut like that? And when I release, shouldn’t he? And huggers who solemnly flutter their eyelids and say “C’mere”, or “C’mere, you” while gesturing you closer with waggling, ringed fingers? Huh uh. On the other hand I’m totally cool with an orgy as long as nobody looks at me or touches me or cracks wise about my argyle tube sock. I get enough grief about the argyle from my wife, so lay off. I have rules – too many rules, some would say. “Why the sock? Always the sock!” My wife says. Oh yeah? What of it! That’s what…..of it.

The pedicure may be the nadir of legally-sanctioned, comfort-seeking personal zone annulment, but here’s a close second; those massage places that roll out the face-down padded chair and invite sidewalk passerby to press their frontsides into maroon vinyl and be molested in broad daylight while visiting Japanese and Belgian tourists stare in slack-faced wonder. You sir? The hipster masseuse pivots, points to me; my viscera twist like a wet towel. Me? Oh, please, yes! This’ll be great! Shall I just lie down and press my face into this padded vinyl hemorrhoid donut? Right here? Is this good? Can you touch enough of me? Is enough of my back available to your invasive stranger hands? Can everyone see? Gather round, good people! Gather round, I say! Don’t be shy. Take a close look! You’ll like this, because in about 90 seconds I’m going to turn completely inside out in a fit of otherworldly revulsion. Like an inkfish. Woo Hoo! Massage THAT, soul-patch guy.

We’re desperate for comfort in this town, and in our cash-soaked Western World generally. I mean, desperate! Acupuncture, Rolfing, our collective glad surrender to occasional woodland episodes of extraterrestrial anal probing – these are the signs of socio-structural stress. Santa Barbara alone sports dozens of pleasure domes and they run the gamut from Evan’s Relaxing Station to the thrillingly named Center for Lymphatic Health. Why? Where’s the stress? What was the tipping point? Was it the closure of the Stanley Kubrick Macaroon Shop and its brilliantly overlit single smocked attendant? Earthquake jitters? The fear that your neighbor may own a nicer 100-year-drought shower-bucket? Let’s relax, people. If we stop offering these flesh-and-foot-grabbers our patronage they will likely gather up their sapphire files, pumice mittens and vibrating love bullets and head on to the next little town willing to buy their outlandish snake oil. Go ahead, fools. Step right up and let them rub your shoulders, your arms! Let these charlatans rub the back of your fool necks! Sure, that’ll make you feel better. Oh a little deep tissue massage oughta feel pretty good. Oh, for goodness sake!

I must conclude with a true and horrific story of Personal Space Invasion. For a time I was writing sporadically for a magazine called Healing Retreats and Spas. Incredibly, my gig was going to day spas, receiving the treatments offered and reviewing the experience for the magazine. How I managed this I’m not sure, but it was a writing job and that was everything. That is, until the day I was sent into the Spa Whose Name Shall Not Be Spoken, in the L.A. area. When I arrived and introductions seen to, I gestured carelessly at a menu item, began with a bracing swim and segued into a hot sauna. Finally I was shown to a plain, unadorned room, where a fastidious little man in Cambodian casual bade me remove my towel and lie down. Ever the professional, I did as I was told. It was then he produced a large metal pitcher and poured hot milk slowly over my body, from toes to scalp, and proceeded to massage my quickly mummifying carapace. Any curious security camera shooting from directly above would have recorded a stock-still, mortified nude man with the pin-eyed panic-face and fluttering thorax of a hard-breathing gecko making its fight-or-flight preparations, his lithe and quick-moving tormentor scuttling around him with arthropod fussiness and working the victim/client as a crab might its recent catch.

After an eternity of whole-milk drenched mortification and the not inconsiderable kneading of the expressionless little guy in his white button-up Phnom-Pen blouse, I was released to shower, dress and interview my hosts in a stunned murmur. When I finally made my way out to the parking lot and my car I concentrated fiercely on not breaking into a run. It was then I spotted my masseuse. He was sitting at the edge of the lot in a lawn chair under a shade tree, smoking a cigarette, regarding me carefully through narrowed eyes. I’m sure I needn’t add the whole episode was incredibly relaxing.

Milk. It doesn’t always do a body good. You have been warned.

*Jeff  writes the column State Street Scribe for the Santa Barbara Sentinel – where an ineptly edited print version of this particular piece can be found this week.

SB Sentinel, Volume 3/Issue 18/Sept 6-20. Page 33


where the light is
This bus driver looks 62
and is wearing Converse high tops.
He looks out the side window
frequently, and sighs gustily
A woman across from me
is holding a box
the box holding a kitten, or cat.
The woman is wearing
the sort of elaborate hairpin
that can make one pine
for a Henry Mancini
a Ralph Waite.
Spencer’s Mountain, too
and James MacArthur
all that family
to love, to revere, actually
The boxed cat meows.
“what” the woman says
in a remonstrative tone
peering through an air hole
what’s the cat saying, I ask
and she stares at me with fading smile
as if I were a talking cat
the bus driver is wearing yellow shades
possibly a gesture
at what was? Might have been?
He calls out the stops
in a clarion announcer’s voice.
Nectarine! 7-Eleven!
and in the meantime sighs elaborately.
a sigh that says
This isn’t me
and don’t you think
for a fucking minute
it is.

Curse of Human Events (Genesis 3:7, etc)

Mean lady tricks naked man and world is tossed to the flames of perdition. Sound familiar?

Adam suddenly found himself naked in Eden and desperately managed, through the alchemy of hurried and botanically uninformed Bible illustration, to affix a leaf to his privates.

Then Adam and his recent, painfully procured wife heard the sound of the LORD God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the LORD God among the trees of the garden.  But the LORD God sought Adam in a manner that calls into question His credentials as an omni-thingy. “Where are you?”

“I heard you in the garden,” Adam answered, “and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.”

“Who told you that you were naked?” God said in another very early instance of His lofting loaded questions at us and then calling lightning and fire down on our puzzled asses. “Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?”

“I would remind the Lord that ‘from’ is a preposition and subject to the usual nattering rules. And the woman you put here with me—she’s trouble, god.”

“Capital G!”

“Right. Sorry. This otherwise very attractive lady whose creation for some reason necessitated, despite your reported omnipotence, the painful and bloody non-surgical ripping away of my rib? She gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.”

“What is this you have done?” the Lord thundered, turning to the woman.

The woman was seen to gaze indolently about the garden for several minutes. Then seeming to start at a sudden sound said, “Oh. What?” 

heavenly jeweller misplaces crimping pliers

Hungry Pigeon Eating Bread

A multi-colored pigeon
filthy and ragged
as the interior
of an old metal trash can
flutters effortlessly
about the breakwater
the milling sunlit tourists
loose a cascading shower of crumbs.
Pigeon lifts his arms
and moves away
when his cockeyed startled side-glance
sees the indistinct silhouette
of approaching danger
He has about him the look
of a living thing
teeming with disease,
a pandemic vector
to whom God has given
the gift of flight
Good idea -
these jewels of His creation
are plague magnets.
Let’s stick wings on
and see what happens
The feathers on this specimen
are sickness-stiffened.
He flies hither and to,
inhabits the vast spaces
of our blue cathedral.
When he comes to ground
he cants his face
sees something
and lashes at the sidewalk,
strikes like a maddened, staring idiot
at a black raised splotch
on the cement. He’s eating
I guess; my staring
makes him defiant.
‘I am naked, filthy.
more prey than predator,
unless my own prey be this
ancient wad of gum I am obliged
to labor over
with you big shots watching.’
After every strike he looks at me
with crazy umbrage eyes
as if to say ‘What!’ What!’ What!’
or ‘So what!’
Very defensive, this one
Spinning, toiling, glaring
the effect is
slam! ‘What!’ slam-slam! ‘What!’.
Nothin’, that’s what
you idiot bird slash miracle
of not-terribly intelligent design
stop looking at me
between mouth slams
I’m not vying for your raised spot
of blackened gunk
nor judging your frankly
embarrassing lot
in the present realm; woops.
you can fly
enjoy that with my blessing
we top the food chain
and, yes, are tied to a chair
with the surly bonds
that pilot wrote about
bound to the Earth
and in thrall to your buoyant
brushes with Heaven
God has made you
the venerable center
of our sleeping lusts,
flight the ongoing winner,
100 eons at Number One
in the Twitching Soma Hit Parade
I will, though, forgo the gift of flight
if I may also forgo the need
to nourish myself
by slamming my mouth against
filthy concrete.