David Foster Wallace, Peanuts and a Prize

David Foster Wallace world copyright Giovanni Giovannetti/effigie

An idea-free young typist in Axl Rose bandana is holding our collective critical faculty at gunpoint. In a bank vault. And he’s talking a mile a minute!

Post-Literacy’s Poster Child; the Bard of Save-On; The Lilliputian Confucian. Yeah, it is unreasonably cruel to pick on a dead pharma-guy, unless until it can be shown that his critical and commercial beatification flows from that sorry and admittedly tragic aspect.

I’ll confirm the basis of your already delicious contempt by stating outright that this essay will follow Steve Martin’s dictate to ‘criticize things you don’t know about’. I’ve never deeply ‘read’ David Foster Wallace, the thrice-named statue covered in the shit of our most mindful birds. I read a bit of ‘Broom of the System’ and waded with arms and legs bound into the speed-freak printout ‘Infinite Jest’; a conundrum wrapped in a dumpling, buried in absolute flapdoodle. It was immediately clear in both cases that the guy was a blinking neon fraud.

But I’ve been stunned over the years since his terribly sad but, it must be said, stagey demise, to see his Gas Giant of a star continue to rise, his crummy ideas and jarring sentences taken out periodically and waved about like the Queen’s silverware, his published lines and phrases and dimwit neologisms taken up by our normally discerning literati and declared ‘brilliant’ and life-affirming, his boosters (seemingly everyone) falling into line and throwing even more tender kindling on the rank and uncontrolled flaming shit pyre of praise. It boggles. dfw states the sophomorically obvious in a reverently mumbled, broken Freshman English. His revelations both include and are limited to: We’re each alone and struggling not to be. This is a consumer society. We’re very busy. Buying groceries is a strange ritual. We’re isolated from each other. We’re each alone and struggling not to be; and so on.  He says Postmodern a lot and once said ‘glabrous’. His whispered epiphanies are the sort that were thoroughly worked over long before Mark Twain had a mustache, yet dfw earnestly and unknowingly disinters the obvious with great declamatory aplomb and then illuminates his own late-blooming scholarship by elaborately flogging stuff most of us stopped mulling in high school. His jaw-dropping flunkie word processing is the foul icing. Like the guy at the bus stop who stares down at his shoes while yelling at you, dfw is not a gifted eccentric but wishes he were. His enablers lavishly convinced him of his ‘unshaven avatar’ status, and then he killed himself. It’s a very very painful situation.

This is just my opinion, but I’m right. Below I’ve included several rage-fueling examples of a doomed dimwit on Nardil who could not stop typing. Let’s start with this satiny sentence that takes John Updike’s novel Toward the End of Time to task. But for the dated Axl Rose headgear and cultivated air of superior resignation, this may have been scribbled by a caffeinated 8th grader trying not-hard-enough to impress the cute new English teacher:

“It is, of the total 25 Updike books I’ve read, far and away the worst, a novel so mind-bendingly clunky and self-indulgent that it’s hard to believe the author let it be published in this kind of shape.”

Nuf sed? Good. Why would any author worth dfw’s now-celebrated regard even think of publishing a book in that kind of shape? One is right to ask. We take a well-advised step back, though, on being assured by dfw that he has read 25 Updike books. whew. Seriously? whew again. To be called clunky and self-indulgent by dfw is like being told by Hitler you have a stupid little mustache. It rises to the level of irony and then continues noisily on through the ceiling. dfw’s entire oeuvre is a pill-driven edifice of wildly clunky self-indulgence, and the sort of brand-x writing that, if English were a corpse (and thanks to culture-choking algal blooms like Wallace, soon enough will be), she would be clawing her way out of the crypt and roaming the moors with an aluminum baseball bat.

*sigh!*

And now I’ll allow this onanistic Chance the Gardener to regale us with more knee-weakening kryptonite. He really is something, you know. Ask anyone.

**

What the really great artists do is they’re entirely themselves.

Lane Dean summoned all his will and bore down and did three returns in a row, and began imagining various high places to jump off of. – The Pale King; dfw’s thankfully incomplete final slap at literature.

I’d like to be the sort of person who can enjoy things at the time, instead of having to go back in my head and enjoy them.

True heroism is minutes, hours, weeks, year upon year of the quiet, precise, judicious exercise of probity and care—with no one there to see or cheer.

The interesting thing is why we’re so desperate for this anesthetic against loneliness.

Are we not all of us fanatics? I say only what you of the U.S.A. pretend you do not know. Attachments are of great seriousness.

We’re all lonely for something we don’t know we’re lonely for. How else to explain the curious feeling that goes around feeling like missing somebody we’ve never even met?

Whatever you get paid attention for is never what you think is most important about yourself.

I do things like get in a taxi and say, “The library, and step on it.” My instincts concerning syntax and mechanics are better than your own, I can tell, with all due respect.

In dark times, the definition of good art would seem to be art that locates and applies CPR to those elements of what’s human and magical that still live and glow despite the times’ darkness.

The cruel thing with depression is that it’s such a self-centered illness – Dostoevsky shows that pretty good in his “Notes from Underground”. The depression is painful, you’re sapped/consumed by yourself; the worse the depression, the more you just think about yourself and the stranger and repellent you appear to others.

The next real literary “rebels” in this country might well emerge as some weird bunch of anti-rebels, born oglers who dare somehow to back away from ironic watching, who have the childish gall actually to endorse and instantiate single-entendre principles. Who treat of plain old untrendy human troubles and emotions in U.S. life with reverence and conviction.

Gifted salesmen explain how people are always most vulnerable, hence frightened, hence persuadable, when they are approached solo.

…a song of tough love for a generation whose eyes have moved fish-like to the side of its head, forward vision usurped by the numb need to survive the now, side-placed eyes scanning for any garde of which to be avant.

A toxic sampling. This is bold, exquisite junk, and highly praised. dfw wins this round. Somebody tell his estate. Sorry, John. This shit is killing me, too.

 

St. Johnny II

 

Fitty Sense

Tim Jeff Leslee (1980)

a few characters who have appeared, through no real choice of their own, in my novel

“Although Ebenezer stirred uneasily at these words, remembering his state of mind at Magdalene College and in his room in Pudding Lane, he nevertheless reaffirmed his belief in the value of human time, arguing from the analogy of precious stones and metals that the value of commodities increases inversely with their supply where demand is constant, and with demand where supply is constant, so that mortal time, being infinitesimal in supply and virtually infinite in demand, was therefore infinitely precious to mortal men.” (John Barth – The Sot Weed Factor – p. 568)

There went my birthday, past tense. 55! Impossible, like so much else we (I) take for granted and barely have the wherewithal to acknowledge in our (my) blurred comings and goings. And look at that grand old photo! Tim! Leslee! The Buick! ASU! Once upon a time! Me clutching a baseball glove! How can a day or a minute be ‘infinitely precious’ according to the intuitive laws of scarcity when the only mechanism we’re given to apprehend All This doesn’t mark the singular seconds with anything at all? Shouldn’t something as irretrievable as a Living Second have something like a cosmic cowbell appended to it? Oughtn’t we be allowed (or made) to know the passing of the seconds? Though each individual second be as unknowably dull as off-brand jell-o, in the aggregate they are a marauding, killing swarm. You want to talk about viral this? Viral that? Is there anything more ruinously viral than a lone second edging its way past the distracted sentry tower to join its secret idiot army? And whence dignity, he stated. This morning at work I glance down at my trousers and because I eat lunch in the haute couture manner of a doddering simp and swap my trousers infrequently, my corduroys are covered with a constellation of little white stains, as if a congested and overpraised Peter Dinklage stood before me and had a sneezing fit, or a single bold sneeze or whatever. I pour water from a plastic jug into a bunched coffee filter and thoroughly soak the stain field, the effect an oblong patch of dark wet that infers incontinence from an impressively dangling dispenser. This doesn’t fool anybody.

Juudje

my unfailing furnace, a smile like a supernova

Glad Sam

the artist as a young thang. here content

Time is like a river, but without the pastoral setting, murmur of water, leaping rainbow-tinted fish; without the birdsong or polished pebbles, without the grazing moose and striding, indistinct Sasquatch; a river without a larger osmotic body into which gravity or some other impenetrable force obliges it to empty.  If you’re not within earshot of a cheap wall clock with a cardboard face (talking about the clock’s face here) ticking away on battery power, the seconds move by unremarked.  The precious seconds. My mother is recently gone. My father is gone. I have a dreamlike memory, I always consider it my earliest, of riding a hobby horse down a steep staircase and landing like wounded laundry at the bottom, a crash attended by much abstract and imperfectly reconstructed commotion. I also recall being held by my father and throwing up demurely on the shoulder of his gray and white and red sweater. That doesn’t seem terribly long ago, and now this? Am I the same person? The Same Thing? I measure my Self against the scar on my knee. I had my knee sliced open in 1968, 2o yards off the coast of Treasure Island, FL. A gentle, tourist-friendly swell in the crystalline Gulf of Mexico nudged me playfully into a breakwater whose barnacles constituted a many-faceted razor and my knee came open like an unzipped costume. The emergency room doctor I tried to talk my mom out of taking me to gave me a warning before the deadening syringe was jabbed brutally into the open, vaguely vaginal rip in my knee. I have always remembered his tryptich of pain, as he described what I could expect.

“This is gonna hurt, an’ this is gonna burn, an’ this is gonna sting”, he said to me levelly, eye to eye, in the pleasant burr of the deep south’s professional class, and through frightening Buddy Holly glasses.

Hurt, burn, sting. I have never forgotten that. You’ll notice it handily covers, like the quickly drawn da Vinci circle, an essential truth.  He was right. I also have a ragged scar on my left thumb which I only rediscovered five or so years ago, confirming, as do the startled pilgrims in Hitchcock movies, that what I had thought was an antediluvian shadow-scrap of dream was in fact a happenstance; a car door slammed by myself on my own fool toddler thumb, so hurried was I to join a little schoolfriend I’d suddenly spied on the playground. On her tricycle. I remember that. My mom shouting at me, a psycho puddle of vivid blood. The scar records it. I’m looking at it now. Call it The Dumb Mystery of the Changing Vessel. Get as old and crazy as you want. Throw up on the caregiver, lavishly crap your diaper, horrify the busboy with a napkin-ruffling gust of methane you don’t even know you’ve loosed, walk slowly out of The Home naked from the waist down, hollering. Any close (and likely frightened) inspection will reveal that scar on your left thumb from the time you wanted to run on unskinned knees to your little friend on her trike. The event seems in remembering to be at the other end of a darkling tunnel, but it’s right next to you in plain sunlight. That is You. You hurt your thumb approximately yesterday. Someone tell the teenagers. You got to make the morning last.

Now I’ve grown. On this special day I picture myself running after the bus with my laptop case and little polka-dot lunch box swinging madly from their straps. I’m trailing multi-colored balloons in various deflated states.

Stella Sparkling

a face that throws light! and a haircut she has come to appreciate

Entropy is all. It’s a vicious word, too, because it presents first as slightly floral, or to do with butterflies?  A closer look throws a klieg light on the real message inherent in the thing. That message is not death, which we can helpfully obscure through mysticism and chit chat (yes, you can chit-chat death to death). The Entropy message is dissolution, a scattering of the parts, an occupation of the vast cold spaces around us with our components. This horrifies. It is not an end but a reduced continuation, unto forever. We deserve better. We’re insipid and pitiable and hopeful and we love each other and deserve much better. Or a little better, anyway.

Discouraged Sam - 5th Grade

here reconsidering

Ok. Where once I was able to run and turn and dodge like quicksilver on the middle school P.E. pitch, so lightning fast the principal of my middle school asked me to join the football team, I now walk with a spring in my step, the rust-mottled spring of a ’59 jalopy up on cinder blocks. I found myself trotting lightly up the driveway two days ago and noted that my previous ‘run’ was beyond my ability to recall. My bald spot has expanded such that from certain sunlit angles I am the tonsorial equivalent of a medieval friar, with a ring of desperately clinging hair marking the spot atop my bent head upon which G*d’s menagerie of flying things may freely unload their disease-teeming semi-solids.

How easily people fall into disrepair, and not for want of goodness. On a city bus the withered 30-something woman to my right, bleary and dessicated and missing her top teeth, surely just took a wrong fork in the road. She was once a sparkler, like my Stella. We all fall down. Ashes, ashes. But the wounded carry in their furtive eyes, in their reticence to look up at their fellows, the scarlet letter of their cognition. They’ve fallen and don’t exactly want to get up. And so this is the Time of their Time. That can break your heart, can make you misty on a day like that day.  My birthday.

Juud en Jeff- an hour before wedding

morning of our big day, Amsterdam, 1988. The La Boheme. my little apple-headed child bride!

 

Duckface Empire

Duckface Empire

 

Dear diary: I’ve been reborn. J3ff’s the name, yo. With a backward 3. Well, the 3 is forwards, but looks a little like an ‘e’. Yo. I mean to infiltrate the Youth Culture and see what makes it tick. I’m a man of a certain age but have sufficient verve and vigor that I believe I can pass myself off as a hipster, as they call themselves nowadays. Turn the collar up on my Izod, tear the sleeves off, dog collar around my neck; like that. J3ff. Double-agent. Chameleon. Will report on progress from Inside.

Day 1: Went to first rave tonight. Pretty wild. 8,000 maddened children, 6 stages, 5 hours of noise and not one note of music. A couple of the acts were an underfed little cave fish named Shrillex, who really lived up to his stage name, and another emaciated man-child named DeadMouseHead. Kid had on a giant mouse head! Started laughing my ass off and couldn’t stop. Had my hand to my mouth like some high school girl. I mean, I couldn’t breathe for laughing. Thought I was gonna give up the game the first night. My mascara ran till I looked like Tammy Faye, or Alice Cooper. No one noticed. The place was pure bedlam, kids were in orbit, waving their arms like hydras and swaying in the crazy lights, eyes closed. Like…. a trance I guess. Speaker towers throwing out these 1000 decibel beats, my guts jumping like shocked jelly. Meanwhile the guys onstage, the ‘talent’, are just sort of milling around their machines, pumping their frail little arms once in a while. Damndest thing. Sad, really. Give me Ozzy in The Day biting the head off a live bat. Where has all the music gone?

Day 2:  Chilling with the posse. God, just saying that makes me feel like a cowboy in Alaska. But  I’m so in with these guys. They don’t have a clue I’m a middle-aged adman in a dog collar. So cool! And I’m adopting the lingo quite naturally. It’s like stenography, or code or something. Everything’s shorthand. When something is funny they just, you know, laugh. But if they’re reading something that is only mildly funny they laugh in writing; LOL. Which means Lil Ol’ Laugh. Kind of cute. That’s just one example.

Day 3; Went to another rave. Dropped ecstacy. While crawling around on the floor looking for it some punk-ass in purple platform jackboots kicked me in the Shins t-shirt, which is to say, my ribs. This compelled more crawling, now accompanied by moaning. On the other hand I found two ibuprofen down there. Score!

Day 8: How long can I do this? These kids got nothing going on. They sort of lounge around their computers and watch these little movies. Or they look at these stupid pictures, some with captions, some not. They call them ‘means’. Not sure why. But they look at these things over and over. Just..batshit crazy, I don’t get it. ‘Dramatic Chipmunk’ is one of these so-called ‘means’; three minutes of a chipmunk looking at you. Really? How unfair for these poor little bastards. We get Knievel in extreme, loving slo-mo going over the handlebars at Caesar’s Palace, hitting the pavement, sliding. That’s a video. I’ve watched that thing maybe 3000 times. Them? Dramatic Chipmunk. Hoo boy.

Day 15: Nearing the end of my rope. Another day, another rave. Just one act this time, a couple of French do-nothings in robot helmets, standing around under a neon pyramid. Daffy Duck — no…Daffy Punk. Crowd went into that trance, waving around like Bible Belt snake handlers. I’d been noticing that a lot of the kids at these things had pacifiers in their mouths, I swear to God. So I picked one up at Babies R Us in the afternoon and made a big show of jamming it in my yap outside the club that evening, so the bouncers and other trip-hip-hopper cognescenti could see I was in the groove, you know. I got a really good one with a little tinkling bell on it, and a little velveteen ribbon of deepest blue. Oh, they looked, all right. You coulda heard a pin drop. What you heard instead was the little bell on my righteous pacifier. Hey, there’s a spy in the house of love! This agent is all in, yo. But it’s a le Carre hall of mirrors. I mean, sometimes I wonder if J3ff is taking over. Then I see myself in the club’s filthy men’s room mirror with a tinkling little pacifier in my gob, a dog collar chafing my fat neck and my teal liptick a smeared slash across my mouth. Then I think, nah, J3ff’s probably not going to take over.

Day 21: I’m introduced to the Duckface phenomenon. omg. Duckface? It’s that omnipresent, deadpan pursing of the lips used by young girls in online snapshots to express either a kind of bored street-insouciance or the terrible ruin done by a gang of earwig larvae meandering from one side of the skull to the other through the middle of the brain. The Duckface phenomenon generates many gobbabytes of impassioned conversation on the www. Yes. Duckface. It’s worse than I’d feared. These things are viral, all right; crushing the culture’s outer cell wall and injecting a slow-motion pillow fight into the mitochondrial nexus. Soon enough the Zeitgeist develops a runny nose, itchy eyes and cascading organ-failure.

Day 28: Oh God oh God! Can we go outside guys? Shoot a little hoop? Catch a movie? Oh..we’re chillin…yeah. I’m down. OH NO! OH NO! I WON’T WATCH DRAMATIC CHIPMUNK AGAIN! NO! GUYS? NO! NO STAR WARS KID, EITHER. I — DON’T PLAY DRAMATIC CHIPMUNK OR STAR WARS KID AGAIN!  DON’T YOU DARE PLAY DRAMATIC CHIPMUNK!

Day 40: I think maybe my Dramatic Chipmunk breakdown 12 days ago was a mistake. When a grown man really gets to crying even the uninformed can see it for exactly what it is; a balding office worker in a frayed dog collar and carefully tattered post-irony Herman’s Hermits tube top, laying prostrate on the floor and weeping like the damned. The morning after my collapse I awoke to find my posse had Superglued my Sidney Vicious Clip-On Safety Pins to my earlobes. I tore them off in anger and there went part of my right earlobe. Still I maintained. Soon their fey passive aggressive taunting broke me. I flung the remains of my dog collar to the floor and with some quite awkward difficulty managed to peel off my bindi. “There. Now you see me as I really am!” I shouted, my floral leggings and aviator goggles already forgotten in the melee. If they would out me as a middle class bore whose ill-fitting Guy Fawkes mask would cause him to walk blindly into rush-hour traffic, I would out them as morons. This Establishment Grup would lift the veil on their almost explosive cultural ignorance. So began our hellish minuet.

“Taj Mahal!” I cried.

“It’s a kind of seizure, The worst kind.”

“Albert Einstein!”

“Monster with neck bolts.”

“Heisenberg’s Principle!”

“Don’t Ride in Giant Flammable Balloons.”

I paused.

“van Gogh!”

“An express car wash.”

“No, but not bad.”

At the end of the subterfuge, we made our peace, me and the Dramatic Chipmunk monks. We went our separate ways, with maybe a little more understanding of each other’s worlds; I grokked the hermetically sealed electronic cocoon that comprises their apprehension of the cartwheeling universe in all its multiplicity, they shrank even further from the soulless 8-5 fabric-covered cubicle in which I bake my daily bread. Two worlds that will never collide. It was a month later I noticed the tattoo. Somehow they’d punctured and painted the back of my neck, a miniscule little bit of clear blue script in an attractive and unassuming font. How had they done this? It says much about my largely unsuccessful attempts to weather their KitKat-fueled all-nighters. At first I thought it was a bruise of some kind, craning my stiff neck to see it in the mirror.

14AA41.

The Wonderful World of Dizzy

Thoughtful Woodland Sprite - Tomorrow Awaits

On the drive into camp Stella was buoyant. So was I. The impossible ocean rustled and shone in the near distance, a scratched azure slate the color of a pastille; something to put in your mouth. A certain university campus loomed on its bluff to the right, fake-stately and blank-faced in the sun, the dumb buildings and plazas and towers and self-regarding architectural flourishes as muted as the gestures of an embarrassed arriviste. The helpless minutes are pouring by. In time the mighty university library will be a fallen H.G. Wells ruin of lost provenance, even the far-flung disabled Eloi no longer around to play stupidly amid the disintegrating books. The sea will still be turning there, throwing itself at the denuded shore, the sun not our sun but a swollen dying furnace near the end of its epoch. Stella will be gone by then, me too. Gone. So absolutely gone we will not even be forgotten. It’ll be as if neither I nor my sunburned, radiantly alive little girl were ever here at all. This stupidity pierces me, the bland cosmological fact of our nearly virtual transience. Look at her aimlessly grinning profile, her camp baseball cap, her sun-streaked hair. We aren’t here. My girl my girl my girl my girl o my little girl o my unknowing little girl with the sparkling v-shaped smile and barking laugh and nascent hourglass figure, I love you too too much. Why do we have to go?  Where are we? Where are we going? What have we been before? Where were we? How did we luck into this incandescence? Look how our paths crossed, Stel. Wherever we were 10,000,000,000 years ago, this morning we’ve arrived, two pinpricks of fleeting thought and laughter only momentarily suspended in a ray of sun. We’ll always be Stella and Dad, we’ll never be Stella and Dad again.

‘When is that guy you like coming back from his vacation?’

‘I don’t know,’ she said, shrugging lightly with an almost convincing nonchalance..

“You excited to see him?’

‘He has a girlfriend,’ she said without ceremony.

‘…he has a girlfriend?’

‘Yeah. But…I don’t care,’ she said, shrugging again, more emphatically. She angled her face away from mine. I glanced. She was staring at the dashboard, her little jaw set in an unmistakable attitude of resignation. My throat seized. O my little girl! This is the stuff! Here comes the flood tide! It’s what people are for.

Stel, your mortal life awaits like an unlit movie set. When the movie is over you’ll join the ether. It’s that simple. For now you’re almost ready for your closeup, sweetheart. You can’t know this yet. It’s a short feature. Look around the sound stage. It’s littered with glory.  The Battle of Thermopylae, Debbie Reynolds singing ‘Tammy’, Groucho, Neil Armstrong flubbing his line and hopping like a bunny, da Vinci, Peter Gabriel, Judy Garland hunched in form-fitting black, spotlit, cropped black hair throwing sweat as she reaches for the note, inoperable cancers, the middle east, the far east, Clint Eastwood in ‘Two Mules for Sister Sarah’, Sam Peckinpah, the last afternoon of the last Neanderthal, Thomas McGuane, the Fall of Rome, the Cambrian Explosion, Johnny Mercer, the Impact Event, Harold Lloyd, Sartre, Ava Gardner, Saul Bellow, Anthony Newley, Bob Mould, Neil Aspinall, Stu Sutcliffe, Henry Mancini. The world is huge and doesn’t pause. Imagine what you will. Expansive fields of waving grasses and dark-skinned strangers walking there, absolutely unaware of you, people sitting down to eat all over the world, children pushing toys under beds, then naked children sprinting down sun-dappled forest paths; Hawk faced George Gershwin massaging a Steinway and glancing coyly over his shoulder – the grand, straight unbrowed nose, the slight underbite. Enola Gay, Gary Cooper, Fred Astaire, Nouakchott and Wilmington kiss in the night, Henry Fonda, the Marianas Trench, Steve McQueen, Dana Andrews. Jimmy Stewart collapsing atop a paper-strewn table and sliding to the floor. Noel Coward, Glen Matlock, Isaac Newton, Andy Partridge, the Magna Carta, the first bird, the first fish, Gene Kelly, the hasty burial of Pompeii, Dodge City, Verdun, Auschwitz, Cary Grant walking off into a snow-filled evening, Caligula, Captain Kangaroo, Franco Nero as Lance, Dresden on fire, Gene Kelly again, Nelson Mandela, and a distinguished pack of tuxedoed figures standing around a brilliantly underlit emerald swimming pool in the dead of a desert night, pinching martini glasses and tossing heads back congenially, in laughter, free hands in pockets, backs arched, knees bent slightly; the orgasmic synchronous bomburst of everything happening, and having happened, everywhere, every second, even as our dear tormented rock pirouettes lazily through an empty living room.  In the company of all this gorgeous mayhem, a dumb little kiss, your very first, Stel. It will infinitesimally slow the stirring of the stars. I believe this. I BELIEVE IT.

Stel, we’re 2 molecular swerves, two frequencies made flesh, anomalous waveforms, Fancy Children of Christ, bumps in the night. We’re the same age, the same dust and water. We’ll very soon return to the mix. You, my temporary angel. I don’t like to think about it. The day is not long enough. This time I’m your dad and you’re my adored, adorable Stella. Next time, who knows? I can’t hug and kiss you enough. We’re alive we’re alive we’re alive we’re alive we’re alive, honeybun. Small matters of the heart will outlast us and the galaxies. That’s not made up. What we Feel is as large as all of outer space, Stellie, all this black velvet jewel box is a boring hole in time compared to a kid’s awakening heart, compared to you and me in this car under this sun. We look at each other and laugh. That’s no illusion. We’re stardust. We’re elementals. Just forget that two-timing 6th grade lothario, sweetie.

The von Trapp Family Strangler.

Plummer_Andrews!

She is covered with river mud.

She has dressed her charges in re-purposed curtains

to the Captain’s chagrin

and now the children have pratfallen extravagantly

out of the little boat,

all the frantically waving, camera-conscious child actors

lurching, and in one case leaping, into the brown water.

Now the Captain is dressing the governess down.

The group tumble into the silty water

has exposed her child-minding technique as

dangerous and uncomely.

He is about to proffer the pink slip.

There comes whispering from the near distance,

as if a switch is thrown,

an almost visible wafting of voices,

cottony and evanescent.

“The children…”

Captain von Trapp follows the sound

to a small elaborately draped room.

He leans against the doorjamb

and the cinematographer shoots him,

suddenly and jarringly,

through gauze.

There are the children, recently

of the comical river mishap, standing sedately

with their little jaws open,

gossamer flying out of their unblemished yaps.

They are lip-synching a frankly

prerecorded miasma of loveliness,

an abrading innocence.

They were last seen running

anxiously into the house but here they are,

the sudden picture of quiescence and seduction.

The Strangler enters and lays his expert mitt delicately

across my trachea. He is a bald brute in lederhosen

and one of those peaked tyrolean caps with a feather.

He enters wearily, tired of squeezing my neck,

applies at first a gentle pressure.

It grows more insistent as the singing continues.

From the doorway the Captain’s scarred jaw works

in a loving half-grin,

his blue eyes clouding with something beyond love

because it is here commingled with surprise.

And so the effect is actually a kind of awe.

Loving blue eyes that

are beautiful to see.

He gazes at his children

for the first time in many years.

My strangulation proceeds apace.

The gap-toothed Bavarian brute takes a good hold

and really begins to ring my neck.

His feather vibrates with the effort.

The captain, without warning,

rouses from the jamb,

strolls unbidden into the room, suddenly chorusing his children,

and their stupefied expressions

tell a story of previous benign neglect,

paternal distraction. That epoch is gone.

He  joins them incongruously in song.

They gaze at him and at each other with wonder.

The singing concludes as motes

of darkness signal my own aerobic emergency. My throat aches.

The family regard each other now in a silence

broken by odd staccato bursts of laughter.

Curt laughs in a non-actorly fashion,

perhaps tickled by the scene’s conceit, or just embarrassed.

They all laugh.

The scene plays out awkwardly.

There are pauses and dead air.

What are we seeing?

Kids, we’re rolling.

Chris Plummer takes them all in with what looks

like a seldom-rehearsed and beatific grin.

When the Captain tousles Curt’s hair,

the Strangler nearly squeezes out of me

a little gasping sob.

This Heidi-adoring cough-drop promoter

would have me cry out in full,

but I won’t, I won’t.

The family is reunited.

Maria has run up the impossibly sweeping staircase,

she’ll pack her things.  It’s over.

The Captain calls out to her,

runs to her.

I…ask you to stay.

The oaf prevails; my abortive gasp

becomes a merciless tracheal cramp,

then a ragged sob.

It is the Captain’s decision

not to cashier Maria after all.

She has brought music back into the house.

Atheists and Pantheists and Little Lambs Eat Ivy. Again.

Maypole!

Druids, Wiccans, Zoroastrians, Nuwaubianists, Cthulhu acolytes and well-off Vatican habitués in ill-fitting silk: hello. And hi to you, herniated bronze-age nincompoops who assembled Stonehenge. Was it worth it? We don’t know what the hell it is.

Tanned, muscly Aztec priest with your heavy eyeliner, Marcel Marceau-anticipating pancake and over-serious tribal headdress: put down those sacrificial entrails and come down from your gore-littered ziggurat. Let’s have a word. Your worship has grown tiresome. How many still-beating virgin hearts can you gnaw in a week? You must be paying a fortune for floss. There is an easier way to venerate.

To paraphrase the Old Testament: it’s summertime, summertime, sum-sum-summertime in Santa Barbara California! Santa Barbara’s Summer Solstice Spiritual Heartwork and Drink Specials Celebration® has come staggering down the pike once more, and our relationship with Nature® is the better for it. First day of summer! The longest day (not to be confused with the 1944 coastal invasion of France) of the year! What the ancients used to call Midsummer and would celebrate with enormous bonfires and dances and chanting? You’re in! Gather up your healing bunches of St. John’s Wort, raise your arms to the stars and sun, embrace the season cycle and the circularity of it all. Let’s ring it in with a gaudy parade and send it packing with a terrific organic hangover. All that genuflecting before old-timey Titans in the clouds, multi-armed Vedantic yoga freaks, that laughing fat guy with the incense holes? So yesterday.

Santa Barbara at Solstice is the Way, The Truth, and The Lite. Paganism, venerable pre-Abrahamic obeisance to the natural order, is here thrown a party in which the celebrants are happy to raise a toast. To what they aren’t exactly sure. These are folks who think Wicca is the stuff lawn furniture is made of. No matter. Let us pray for two whole days and nights. This mammon-haunted burg shall become a New Church where the faithful feverishly worship the sun, the Earth and the trees, well drinks-two-for-one, Puff the Magic Whatnot, and the sun and the Earth. And the trees.

We Santa Barbarians have seen this before. Going on nearly 40 years now. What began as a gentle mime/artist/eccentric playfully celebrating his own birthday with pals by traipsing down State Street in a colorful show of self-congratulation (RIP, Michael Gonzales) has, in the well-meaning decades since, morphed into a self-loving juggernaut fraught with all the trappings of a metastasizing commercial enterprise.

On Solstice weekend, a reported 100,000 people pour in from all parts, nailing their lawn chairs to the Main Street curb in the wee hours before the big day, the better to be in the middle of the action when the parade comes broiling up the main drag with its balloon arches and scantily clad pan flute wielders, and army of annoying bubble-blowing flower-children adults.

The parade’s terminus, beautiful Alameda Park, is so crowded with vendors that weekend you can barely make out the grass for all the electric cable. Stella and I were accosted in the early hours of vendor setup last year by a Goat’s Milk Soap purveyor intent on a sale. No, thank you, ma’am. If it squirts out of a goat, I won’t want to lather with it. Later in the day, the entrepreneurism was in full-flower at the park, Ra looking down in wonder. This in the midst of a Summer of Love mob of dancing, swirling babes in translucent rainbow-colored gauze, and the ingenious chameleon-like “Dockers and Izod” infiltrators who slipped unnoticed (they truly believe) into the melee, wearing confused grins and glad for once to be in Church.

And while the yearly parade themes change, the parade itself does not. Beverly Hillbillies theme! Peace theme! Sunshine theme! Affectionate Gargoyles theme! All the themes feature the same goldfish on bicycles and young ladies in chiffon batwings, flapping serenely down a main street thronged with the stoned, the stunned, the curious, and hideously sunburned visitors from the Heartland who keep raising and then slowly lowering their cameras. Normally respectable orthopedic surgeons twirl down State street in papier-mâché tree outfits alongside besotted clerk-typists in loincloths, drill-teams of faux Amazons on roller skates, and kettle-drum beating, shirtless and worryingly crimson Hedge Fund managers in the first stages of heat-stroke dementia.

That tired-looking, older gentleman-hippie on stilts lumbers about ponderously for the umpteenth year in a row and is not yet pitched screaming into the roadside kiddies by stilt-loving termites. The high-priced DUI attorney (probably still on the clock) for once tipsily commingles with and does not attempt to prosecute the inebriated IT guy, both of them dressed ineptly as sunflowers: the Lion and the Lamb. Overtanned retirees, who fancy themselves “fit” and have the sort of hairy upper arms that make you throw away your ice cream cone, prance about in regrettable form-squeezing lycra – their sweaty, balding pates ringed with denuded wildflowers. It unnerves the children. Oh, the children, the children. They come for a parade and a little shower of tossed candy and instead have their innocence ripped from them by oldsters prancing in floral leggings, their unearthly, outthrust, collagen-plumped derrières like ill-placed jet engines. Don’t look, baby! Turn your head to mommy, turn your head to mommy!

But then (speaking of Bringing Up the Rear) troubled hearts are made new again by the monstrously cheery, primary-colored, bobbling inflatable giants that more often than not signal the end of the Parade line every year, and which are invariably greeted with cheers and even more feverish, lumbar-tormenting gyrations. We have the brilliant and indefatigable wonder-worker Pali-X-Mano to thank for that; a lettered Hungarian artisan and Budapest’s gift to our twisted little Candyland for many many years now. His brilliant, happy creations have become emblematic of the very spirit of the celebration.

And it’s all for the love of Mother Earth, or Mother Nature, or that margarine in the 70s that used to invoke Mother Nature. There’s some Mother involved, okay? Flower-bedecked, bra-burning. We have come to worship Her. Gail? Sounds like Gail, I think. The communion wafer is a peyote button, the Blood of the Sacrament a hidden flask of warm Wild Turkey. The only sacrifice this religion requires is that of your pride as you toddle blindly into traffic owing to your sloppily aligned butterfly mask and the several pints of Guinness sloshing around in your happy, swollen thorax.

By the end of this two-day orgy of spiritual growth and graceless tipping over with
painted arms a-waving for help, one can see the acolytes scattered about the twilit
landscape like people dropped from a low-flying airplane; face-down, arms outstretched in a show-closing embrace of Gaia (that’s it!), supine, exalted. The fruits of faith.

Oh-How-We-Adore-It, this indescribable weekend of bedlam! Solstice in Santa Barbara! A freak! An anomaly! A disheveled clown cruising through your neighborhood at dusk on a Vespa! There are no truly apt analogies, and that’s as it should be. It is a yearly grand mal carnival that is wholly our own, completely SB, and we wouldn’t have it any other way. So, till next year, dear ones. Cast your bread upon the waters. Just aim away from my new shag carpet.

 

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

SB Sentinel, Volume 3/Issue 12/June 14-28. Page 6

http://issuu.com/santabarbarasentinel/docs/_sntnl_11_3_full_adf48d74ad58f2/7?e=6198003/8260873

Soliloquy on the 11

Napolean's Death Mask_In a Bus Essay

This is Napoleon’s Death Mask

The driver today is Nick. His wrinkled ‘At Your Service’ piece of paper, above the driver’s seat and to the right in an inexplicably battered black frame, says so; a gesture of civic mercy seeking to ameliorate the anonymity of someone whose daily work it is to just drive us around, drop us off, and pick us up again later. Cabbies have a similar nameplate affixed to the dashboards of their little ships.  The nameplate speaks to the centrality of the professional rideshare’s role in the larger progress of the Anthill,  a humanizing device that stills and fixes the blurred driver for the moment it takes him to get you to your destination.  I’ve got a name, I’ve got a name. The paper in its scuffed frame is just to the right of the blinking arcade of nonsensical green and red lights, square little lights; the wide NASA-like panel with switches, above the driver’s head, that I’ve long suspected is just a phony sideshow placed there to remind the benumbed passengers that the Secret Underside to Everything also holds sway on a city bus, as of course it does, and with much more of the swagger than is found in places more conspicuous as temples and places of self-important congress. They always place the switches in these machines above the drivers – airplane cockpits, space shuttles, ocean liners. You always see these Argonauts reaching up to flick some switch or genteely turn a knob above their heads. This arm-raising confers a Pilot Importance to the proceedings. Han Solo, Luke. Chewy. And what was that thing Darth kept screwing down in the final Death Star scenes? He’s closing in on Luke and the other rebel flyboys as they attempt to loose a nuke into the anal pore of the Empire’s pride and joy, some of the good guys sporting double chins and conspicuous 70s mustaches as they zip around, dodging Establishment torpedoes. When Lucas cuts to Vader in his black space-bullet, he seems to be continually screwing the lid onto a jar of peanut butter or something.

This morning Nick is holding forth in a stream-of-blather at the top of his lungs, the whole way in to campus. The oblong concavity of the windshield  amplifies the shouting and sends it rolling in a crisp mid-range wave down the aisle of the bus. Like drivers everywhere, but most familiarly those on t.v. and in the movies, he’s looking straight ahead and yelling at the windshield while he talks. It’s as if he’s talking to the air, or to His Time, and maybe that’s also an intended or unintended effect of the yammering driver/philosopher, a worn and condescension-gathering trope. We’re charmed by these philosophers the way Rousseau is charmed but have no intention of being swayed or moved. But this guys is a moving speaker. I can feel that his blabbing is the wallpaper covering his room, his happy motif, his pleasure in the sharing of this and that, and then this again. The simple fact of a man happily shouting detailed, harmless, personal information into the air in a confined space? It’s upsetting to people, the Everyday people (not the Sly Stone kind). The bus passengers clear their throats and avert their eyes, or in plain vanilla fear zero in on their little hand-things and glare intently at them. As his shouting continues I look around to poll my fellows on the bus. One or two of them meet my eyes with Mona Lisa grins, concurring with what they believe is my projected opinion that the driver is a funny embarrassment and an anomaly and a sufferably bad deal, a regrettable entertainment.

But Nick? He’s loudly alive. Yeah, he knows it, which is sort of disappointing. But he’s still a hothouse orchid. He may be proselytizing, saying nothing of import but this: ‘Hey, morons! You can shout if you want, no one gets hurt. You can sing in public, feign a seizure, skip a rock on a pond, do a fucking jig in the funeral parlor, talk loudly to a stranger. This is all a lucid dream. How many times you gotta have that shown to you?’ Every minute or so he shoots a glance at the long mirror installed by the manufacturers, a rear-view mirror whose only contained ‘rear view’ subject is Us. When he can see us, we can see him; such is the nature of the aimed mirror. He flashes his dark, laughing, beetle-browed eyes at us through the mirror, just his eyes, that’s what we see. He’s checking his captives and shouts through what could be an approaching fit of laughter. Behind me a woman is talking into her cell phone.

“Pierre Cardin,” she says, then more plaintively, “Pierre Cardin!”

“I went to El Monte High School, in L.A.!” Nick shouts, really seeming almost to laugh. Is that how I write that? “I remember our young handsome substitute teacher, in 1966! On June 6; 6-6-66! You see? He told us — ” and here I think Nick is going to say the thing about the three sixes being the Number of the Beast and so on, the mark found under the hairline of the sleeping boy when Gregory Peck or Lee Remick go in to check. But Nick says something more interesting than that – something, though, that is also vaguely related to the End of the World. ” — he told us we’d need to wait 11 years for this to happen again!” He laughs like a bad actor in a movie. Though the laugh is unforced and genuine, it has that loudness of a half-performance. I’m alive and a hothouse orchid! “Then we’d have to wait for another 11 years for it to happen again! You know? July 7, 1977! My school was just a few blocks from the Ambassador hotel –” here I look up from my laptop. The Ambassador –

“That’s where Bobby Kennedy was shot,” a withered and toothless guy in the seat behind me says through his gums, and I nod to him, once, and murmur agreement with a half-smile, and the withered guy looks at me with a slow aiming of his head that yet manages to convey a surprising gratitude.  The fanning creases at each of his mouth corners are an Egyptian delta clogged and crusted with what look like the stains of crystallized tobacco juice or something. The crusted scum there exaggerates the downward turn of his lips, which are themselves supple and not cracked, just bracketed by this awful scum. His eyes widen briefly at my remark, I suppose, his sunglasses pronouncing the arch of his eyebrows above the frames.  He briefly radiates a fascinated gratitude.

“Sirhan Sirhan shot him!” Nick shouts with a strange joy, voice fraying with near laughter. “That busboy helped him! Remember? That busboy bent down and helped Bobby! Remember? Remember the picture?” I remember learning as a pre-teen that the photo of Juan Romero in his busboy-whites tending to the calmly staring Bobby K was not a strange studio composite or other trick, as its nightmarish perfection had always made me suppose, but a captured moment; Kennedy looking past Juan with a bored expression, the crazy mannequin sprawl of his body beatified in the corona of light on the wet floor, an unexplained clip-on necktie on the floor there with him. “They got John in November, 1963!” Nick continues, almost laughing again. “They let us out of school early! I had to walk 18 blocks to get home! I shoulda taken a cab!”