A Lib Confesses

A Lib Confesses

I’m an NPR guy, okay? Yeah, I got beat up by the bike rack in 7th grade, earned my stripes like the rest of my lot – by being ill-advisedly sympathetic at the wrong time (see Homebuilders Association of Northern California versus the Vernal Pool Fairy Shrimp). The bully, who I’ll here call JK, had kicked poor little big-butt Tony Matthews so hard in the ass during a soccer game in PE, the force had actually lifted Tony off the ground. I’d reacted spontaneously and unwisely, earning my adolescent “Bleeding-Heart-Soy-Based-Bonehead’ creds by briskly hollering at JK and eliciting from him a promise he would meet me after school. “Naw, we don’t hafta meet,” I’d actually said in those first panicked seconds of sobriety, attempting to de-escalate. Think that worked?

Stingray in the Stingray Day

When after last period I went to retrieve my Stingray with its sparkly banana seat and faux-wood-knobbed 3-speed stick shift (litigiously positioned to bludgeon my groin in the event of even the most minor biking mishap), JK was there grasping the handlebars of my beloved. This weasel-faced bully was about half my size and so homely I found myself actually pitying him (see?!) in the seconds before his surprisingly practiced fist introduced itself to my left cheekbone. Could I have taken him? Yeah. I could have taken him for a short run by fleeing like a panicked rag doll. But I knew he and his two minions would quickly catch and thrash me with renewed vigor. That’s right, he was backed up by henchmen, or henchmiddleschoolkids, more precisely, though to me at that moment they looked like grown bruisers with police records. While the two assistants stood in the background smirking with their arms crossed, JK struck me in the head once, twice, Three Times a Lady. There was no ceremony, no verbiage, just a dreamlike minute whose sweep-second hand took its sweet time rounding the face of my cheap ‘takes a licking’ Timex. POW! two three. POW! two three four five six seven……hoo boy glad that’s over the future pessimist exulted…..POW!!!

The blows fell with a stunning blunt force that to my utter surprise did not mimic the slappy-sounding, easy-to-shake-off punches one saw on TV all the time. I vividly remember thinking, as the punctuated jabs landed with the sickening sound of skin smashing into skin; “Shit! This is nothing like I imagined!” From that moment on I understood that were I recipient of a Kojak or Mannix-quality beating in real life I would likely not survive it, let alone straighten my collar and make out with a beautiful woman afterwards. Huh UH. The next day I walked into Ms. Stone’s math class with a face so swollen my cheek stood out in my peripheral vision, a nagging omnipresent reminder of my humiliation the previous day. “Hey, what happened to your face, Wing?” JK chided when I walked in, and from the back of the classroom Tony Matthews giggled with the rest. An early dose of The Bitter Medicine. I looked shamefacedly at Ms. Stone and the concern in her beautiful eyes made me love her anew. But that’s another column.

Mug of a Carpenter

Later that same emotionally misbegotten lifetime, I of course became a member of NPR; the broadcast maypole around which we mercy-dispensing Libs delightedly prance in our forest-green tights. I love NPR. My ex-girlfriend (read: wife) and I pledge to them semi-regularly, and in pitiable dollar amounts insufficient to earn us the coveted NPR Grail, or mug, as it’s known to the unwashed. I depend on NPR’s deep reporting, interestingly unpredictable interviews, and frontline real-time dispatches to help augment my world view, which is informed by the twin lights of mercy and fairness.

Having said that, I can tell you that when I turned on my car radio the other day and the NPR team were murmuring soporifically about salad or human rights or some such, I reflexively punched the AM button for escape. Sometimes the radiant self-congratulation of the NPR gang makes me want to go out and shoot an endangered Snail Darter in the legs. There, I said it.

The Left! Look at us! (those of you who are sick of looking at us, look away) No wonder JK beat me senseless by my newish Schwinn! Was it this quality of mercy that so strained the Romans that they simply HAD to beat up our Guy? Oh, and speaking of Christ, how did the ‘Left’, whose goofy public policy positions actually reflect New Testament teaching, lose Christ to a Conservative movement that has not only armed the Lord with a machine gun, but seems to crap on His less-advantaged sheep with impunity? I’ll tell you how. It’s a little something called Freedom; a much-maligned and tactically abused concept. Freedom is a cult here, I would suggest. It is safe to say the U.S. is beholden to a cult. Do we need deprogramming?

How May I Help You?

My friend David, with whom I discuss much, once asked me out of the blue, “Do you think the Socialist experiment in Europe has been a success?” It’s one of those Great Questions whose discursive answer-seeking can sum up so much. As I said to David that day, “…it depends”. What does our race want? What are people for (all thanks to Vonnegut) and how shall we address this exalted animal? How shall we comport ourselves in this dumb, brutish life, whose pageantry includes both creme brulee and slow beheadings? Shall we build elaborate systems to ensure that no individual goes unfed, unsheltered? Arguably, yes. In the U.S. , where Modern American Liberalism is practiced (vs Classic Liberalism), a microcosmic outcome of this seemingly sensible and Christ-like philosophical practice is the awarding of a little tin trophy to every kid on the losing soccer team. Yes, some of us see a merit-based reward system as barbaric, or at least unnecessarily hurtful to the little boob who can’t kick a ball when it’s right in front him, and should be taught that ineptitude can also be rewarded, and handsomely. Or should the goal of our species be individual excellence? To be superb, a roman candle fulfilling in absolute terms as much of ones human potential as possible in the time allotted, whatever that may be? Arguably, also yes.

What else are we gonna do with our idiot’s eyeblink of a life down here on this meaning-starved wet rock in the middle of literal nowhere? I mean, we got the overcomplicated neural firings, the opposable thumbs, the inexplicable qualia. It’s not like we’re simply very expensive dogs. Having been handed all this largesse by the Big Bang/Giant Bearded Man in a Terrycloth Robe (to summarize the two most popular hypotheses), are we really just supposed to stand down and shade each other from the sun? That’s it? Are we self-actualized, pinnacle-seeking animals, or cosmic social workers adrift in a poetic vacuum, placed here against indescribably remote odds to be at rest, absorb the moments, and see that no one starves? Your answer will depend largely on whether you live in a cardboard box or in a three bedroom house with a mortgage.

Coming Clean

Okay, I’m gonna come clean, as they say (or used to say – and seeing it in type I understand why they stopped saying it): I get Conservatism. At least, I grasp their once doctrinaire embrace of Freedom as an undervalued social compact whose role in history has been that of a golden thread weaving in and out of a shit-smeared burlap onesie. I do understand the inherent common sense and actual human glory that inheres in the Every man for Himself model. In the heat of an argument I once yelled at my conservative nemesis that the U.S. has a “cult of Freedom”, by which I meant we hold people hostage to the idea of Freedom, and in policy debates consider top-down systemic attempts to alleviate suffering a blow against absolute freedom. What good is this double-edged Freedom if it doesn’t help anyone who is suffering?

Eugene Delacroix-La Liberte guidant le Peuple

Lady Liberty’s wardrobe malfunction scarcely registers as she leads the revolutionary French in Delacroix’s famous painting

True Freedom can be shown to leave people worse off, from a public policy standpoint, when Freedom is invoked to push back against government policies that seek redress for the helpless. Seeing Obamacare’s mandate as a blow against Freedom seems absurdist on its face. Christ in his mercy would surely have forced such an issue in the interest of decreasing suffering. The Lord didn’t give a shit about anything but saving people. But, this Freedom thing; it is the natural state of affairs in the universe, like gravity, the weak nuclear force, and so on. Does it exist apart from or somehow loftily above our questions about suffering? Is it a Golden Thread?

 

Bible-Thumping Darwinists

It’s a fact, oft-noted, that the Conservative aspirational model that posits a human life as a pinnacle-seeking enterprise is simple Darwinism (tactical Bible-thumping aside). And that is not to denigrate the term. Still another name for it is Freedom (yawn). Does an animal in the wild give up his taxi to the wheezing guy next to him when it’s pissing down rain? Nope. Is that a bad thing? Only if you’re the wheezing guy with walking pneumonia. Contrary to the religious posturing that is anymore an essential amino acid in the GOP’s political DNA, the party that champions individual accountability and liberty (within the party’s own curious limits, it must be said – wombs and pills still fall under the Heisenbergian “both wave and particle” purview of Freedom’s High Priests) is the party that favors the Shaggy Ol’ Laws of Nature as a design for living. And they don’t even like animals as much as we snuggly Libs do! Can you imagine a platoon of Republican PETA militants angrily breaking into a cosmetics lab and liberating the helpless test beasties? If you ever see that happen you can bet the rescued Maybelline rabbits will make their next appearance on a rotisserie being brushed with clarified butter.

Libs are philosophically the opposite and apposite. They want to lend a hand to the poor, the disenfranchised, the dispossessed; a decidedly anti-nature way to go about things. Animals in the wild are as free as freedom gets, and they screw and eat each other with thrilling/disgusting abandon (respectively). So it’s a little odd how feverishly Liberals venerate the natural world given their total abandonment of that model when attempting to retool civil society as a Play-Doh equality factory.

The Paragon of Animals

Big Bill Shakespeare described a human being as “The beauty of the world. The paragon of animals.” We are probably that. Oughtn’t we, then, encourage one another to stand and fight with all our exalting means, and not succumb? I’ve taken my shots at Conservatism, have gotten hot under the collar just looking at the way their chins interact with THEIR collars. And they are a fat, slow-moving target at a glance. But I think I do understand that the heart of TRUE and unpolluted conservatism is not contempt for the poor and the downtrodden, but contempt for a culture that doesn’t see them as the Paragon of Animals but as lost ninny children who will never find their way.

A Conservative can be the most ardent humanist you’ll ever meet in this regard. And I get it. Homelessness and hopelessness and poverty and the desecration of the human spirit – these are real, misery-sowing, ongoing diseases that need a dose of burning disinfectant. But awakening the latent immune system inside a human individual, arousing the army of antibodies placed in us to overwrite our weaker nature and to buttress our better one – surely this is part of the cure, if only a small part. Yeah, we’re only animals. We’re not beings of light, but we have a strange capacity for renewal that isn’t explicable in the Darwinian model. We have the ability to incandesce.

Freedom Isn’t Boring and May be a Two-Faced Biatch

It does come down to Freedom, I’m afraid; an uber-American noun so laden with baggage it looks like an Eastern Airlines scab on Skycap strike day. Freedom? Haven’t we long since become bored silly by that numbing word, inured to its deeper, almost religious meaning by the stupidity of today’s polarizing shitheel discourse? Today’s Conservatives champion “Freedom” but many of them throw the word around so recklessly it amounts to disrespect for what is a sacred state of being. Take for instance the “Freedom Fries” the House of Representatives cafeteria began serving in place of French Fries when the Gauls had the balls to equivocate at the U.S. decision to lay down a generation-screwing dose of shock and awe on the already massively f****d people of Iraq. I mean, Freedom Fries?!

I don’t know that King John at Runnymede had that kind of semantic b.s. in mind when he momentously (if a little reluctantly) signed that piece of parchment in 1215. Freedom is not an invention, and neither a discovery. It’s like oxygen. But here in the States, where it is as ubiquitous as actual oxygen, “Freedom” has the same spoken narcoleptic firepower as the words “beige” or “Jimmy Fallon”. Freedom is the Magna Carta and the Bill of Rights and Dr. King’s defiant march from Selma to Montgomery, and is absolutely central to every incandescent quality that makes us unique among the animals, that makes us human. Freedom isn’t an optimizer in a speech. It’s an element of the biosphere the “lower” animals don’t even notice. We’re higher animals, though. We owe it to ourselves to notice.

The Crackers and the Lorax

So, Conservatives? I understand that not many of you are raging bags of homophobic racism, but a few of you are. Dump your crackers in the public square, they’re screwing your mission. And your patriarchal ovum-diddling. WTF? Freedom, right? There is no Half-Freedom. For our part, maybe some day soon we Libs will stop glad-handing the Lorax, Dr. Seuss’ mustachioed, forest-defending cuddler that pit family members against each other for a time in the Pacific NW where the demonized logging business put food on many many families tables. Kids were suddenly questioning their parents’ working in the devil’s business, sawing down trees and upsetting the Lorax. I have yet to meet a Vernal Pool Fairy Shrimp or laudably ancient tree that merits starving out a hardworking family of human beings. We’re the paragons, not that dumb little cross-eyed shrimp. Time and the universe stretch out forever. The shrimp will be back, as will the tree. Let’s get real.

Final nagging note to Conservatism from a smug Liberal weenie. You’re right – the Freedom of the human being may qualify for Grail status, and all barriers to its hegemony should be thrown aside. But Freedom isn’t curbed by government policy that reaches out to the dispossessed and downtrodden, those imprisoned by circumstances. On the contrary. Policies that alleviate suffering give thinking Hobbesian animals the possible respite they require to avail themselves of the graspable rungs of precious Freedom’s ladder. To put this in awkwardly scriptural terms, the means to grasp Freedom is to Freedom itself as John the Baptist was to the Savior. Just sayin’.

 

Trump and Circumstance: Making the Case

Trump and Circumstance: Making the Case

From sea to shining sea, the republic is taking a cold shower. And whether one partakes of said shower to snap out of a drunken fog or to come down from erectile servitude, it’s a bracing habit to adopt, a reboot. Jefferson famously said we would need a good revolution every so often to keep the national motor humming and lubricated, though he wasn’t so far-seeing that he used the word “motor”. But he may have been talking about Trump. The New York Times’ likably clear-headed conservative columnist David Brooks went so far as to characterize the current madness as the possible beginnings of an emergent new political movement, though in my view that flatters the restless sea of knuckleheads who have taken up Trump’s “cause”, or “causes”, or “Tourette’s Outbursts”. Full disclosure: I may be one of those knuckleheads.

Open Carry on 5th Ave

What the hell is going on? We know damn well what’s going on. A billionaire Alpha-Loudmouth has entered the field and we’re enthralled. Why? Our Tom Thumb pundits, seated around their nonsensical, outsized pundit tables, marvel aloud at the wildness of this electoral season, shake their shellacked heads in half-grinning wonder and offer non-stop analysis, or at least enough verbal flatus to keep the methane-fueled news cycle from collapsing like a foul soufflé. Trump is a gift to the media, who normally have to overgrill the staid facts of the Body Politic to get this kind of juice. Suddenly Hilary’s EmailGate (or whatever the hell they’ve been calling it) seems quaint and cozy. Is the press really going to bird-dog Hillary about her e-mail server when the likely next leader of the Free World is saying stuff like, “I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters”? Trump is a gift, and I don’t mean that sardonically. Yes, he bloviates like an inebriated 5th grader, hollers unanchored nonsense for the record, and wears the squinting, pursed facial expression of a guy preparing to be slapped. But in the current field of jackanapes and anointed bots, he is a change agent like no other. Trump is our Jeffersonian totem.

Room

Your high school social studies class with its bland descriptions of the three branches of lockjaw, I mean government, might have predicted this, though it seems to have caught the Fools on the Hill completely off-guard, variously stammering and posturing. Pipsqueak Harry Reid has been seen haughtily crossing his little arms while the Republicans run to and fro, rubbing their spotty hands together and worrying that Trump may make them look bad. Seriously. Conventional wisdom says Trump is the hideous Republican creature the GOP deserves, the freak-synthesis of all their wrongheaded Tea Party-cajoling and class warmongering. Trump is no more a Republican than Senator Mitch McConnell is an underwear model. Trump is an apolitical freak, a Talker on the stump without handlers, a script, or a lick of sense. It’s enough to pleasantly jolt the chloroformed American electorate into a sitting position. And why shouldn’t we be excited? You don’t have to like Trump to adore what he is doing – taking a hatchet to “American Politics” and the palsied wraiths in D.C. This Trump veneration is not a protest movement. It’s a mad rush for anything that looks like a cracked window in a room filled, for a hundred years, with suffocating smoke. This unlettered billionaire dimwit in purple silk tie and almost endearing lower middle-class flyaway comb over is a trickle of air in the sealed and smothering Room of political discourse in this country, and we’re clawing over each other to draw a breath. I mean, did you hear the crowd at the Fox-hosted debate on March 3? It sounded like a gallery of Mixed Martial Arts enthusiasts with beer bongs. The Donald seems to have awakened the collective electoral Mr. Hyde whose latency has actually long been threatening to kill our political spirit from within. Now that Trump has reanimated the once-supine corpse of American electoral politics we may see a little action.

Reflux Pageant

The Iowa caucuses were the canary in the coal mine. In that first so-so contest of the 2016 Presidential Decision, with the nation watching to see if a blabbermouth know-nothing billionaire could really win any of these state contests, the sanctimonious, worry-faced Ted Cruz “beat” the amusing curiosity that was Donald Trump. Cruz then swaggered up to the microphone and, dripping with the stilted theatrics of a just-elected 7th grade class treasurer, regaled us with the sort of gasping E Pluribus Sputum that characterizes the very worst of this country’s dumbass political tryouts. Sure that he was at the very beginning of a steamroll, Cruz wheezed and barked his way through a wave of clenching self-congratulation in Iowa while his wife, who is reportedly thrice as smart and gifted as her hubby, looked up at him with that American Political Wife expression of adulation. This is a mold we have long been aching to break. Every election cycle is a reflux pageant of cloying dullards saying nothing nothing nothing (nothing3) in a rain of colored balloons. This cycle promised to be no different. Then came the aptly named Trump.

Rogues and Pogues

Let’s glance quickly and dismissively at the other candidates and the howling vacuum into which the Donald has inserted himself. Hilary stands to become our first woman President, she of the over-rehearsed sing-song and scary doll cheeks and vaguely North Korean pant suits. Really? Her? No she didn’t kill Vince Foster (though Trump might if he saw him on 5th Avenue) but do you, reader, not have a brilliant and informed and articulate powerhouse of a woman in your sphere who couldn’t better Hil by a country mile? Ted Cruz, what to say? If you wanted Grandpa from the Munsters to be president you should have voted him in back in the 60s when his show was a hit. Marco Rubio – the Cuban Robert Redford. Some of his advisers are quietly suggesting he drop out before the Florida primary so as to avoid the embarrassment of being drubbed in his home state by a shouting new yorker with a rooster on his head. Rubio did handily win Puerto Rico, though. Stop the presses. John Kasich is said by all who know him to be a stand-up guy and a gifted politician. There is, however, a mild charisma deficit, such that he vanishes if you look straight at him. This could prove tactically beneficial in an international stare down – but at the end of the day a President who vanishes when you look at him is probably bad for the brand.

Taxes Toast

And then there’s Bernie…the unrepentant pinko from Vermont with the puzzling Brooklyn accent. He wants to give us everything for free by raising a few taxes on a small subset of industrialists and bluebloods. Hey, it works in Europe (more or less). Oh wait, that’s why we broke up with Europe a scant 240 years ago. We had to shoot our way out of that relationship. Yeah, that nasty split was all about dough. An old story. Come to think of it, the American Experiment began as a tax protest; colonists in politically incorrect loincloths and face paint throwing tea into a harbor, to be exact. As national pastimes go, tax hatred in the U.S. is second only to the consumption of canned peaches in heavy syrup. So…feel the burn. HELL yeah, we want free college and health care here in the states, but raising taxes on anybody here to pay for that stuff? Um, that’s Stalinism, bro. Besides, the tiny trillionaire cabal Bernie is determined to soak for the free stuff the rest of us will get? They’re the management company that maintains the White House. We love you, Bernie! C’mon, we’ll call you a cab.

Trump is not Republican excess personified. The truth is simpler and more interesting than that. He’s a cursing, self-contradicting, boorish, racist, Pope-poking genie who, whatever happens this election cycle, is never going back into the bottle. Now the GOP Backroom Brain Trust are openly cooking up a Kooky Convention plan to steal any possible victory away from Trump at the 11th hour; red meat and a vindication for the millions who are aligned with Trump simply because they can’t stand the deal-making machine that is now so publicly determined to stop him. Yes, the genius Republicans are hurriedly shoveling vitamins down the neck of their own insurrection.

Grab some popcorn and sit back. They may well have to take up torches and chase our new Candidate Karloff into the nearest burning windmill to wrap this strange little episode, but at least we and our fellow villagers will be able to look at each other with wild grins and say, “Wow! Wasn’t that something?! Let’s do it again!”

Go Donald.

Fortnight

Gene Cernan rehearses flag assembling before Apollo 17_Wife adn daughter_ap17-KSC-72PC-379HR

Last night my daughter and her mom and I (her mom is my wife, you see) watched the television. We gloried in the almost cellular movement, seen from high in the air, of great herds pouring across the denuded dustbowl of the Kalahari in search of water. All they want is water! And when they’re not eating each other they seem so cooperative. I guess if they bitch and bicker their way across the Kalahari, none of them will get to the water, or it’ll take too long to get to the water, or some other thing ripe for allegory will transpire. Here on the ground it’s been a rough fortnight for the often graceless human animal, our anthropological manifesto poking inconveniently through the shiny veneer of civility we’ve managed, at great cost, to pull over our culture. This is a bad time to be a car in Baltimore, or a human of a certain color – and there are two unfortunate colors to choose from, neither one looking that great just now. Yeah, there’s more to it than a plaintive “Can’t we all just get along?” But it’s not a helluva lot more. Can we please move on from the Plasticene, or the Stupidlyobscene, or whatever this dumbass car-burning/secret spine-smashing epoch is called? What are we, animals? (hint: yes). Our opposable thumbs are supposed to exalt us in the animal kingdom, but so far have mostly resulted in fancier and fancier thumb-screws. Dear _____; please help us get our shit together, and while you’re walking around in your robe please make a nebula that looks like Charles. Nelson. Reilly.

Older Woman Waiting for a Ride on Sunday

Steenwijk_what a church

Though god sees mostly
through and inside us,
she is wearing her best earrings,
wielding a shiny purse chosen
for the occasion.
Though god at a stroke
swamps and destroys,
unleashes cholera on the already-ragged,
crushes to death
3rd graders in Haiti,
and In His Mystery
swipes with seeming anger
at luckless townships in Tornado Alley,
she shivers with the anticipation
of cozily hunkering down in her
pew among friends and loved ones,
all that stained glass,
the bath of color,
sunstruck pastels of the hereafter.
The dispossessed
and the well-fed
praise god;
one wanders tearily through diseased muck
clutching with starved paws
a mortally wounded baby
begging for God’s goodness,
one hugs herself beneath the vaulted architectural
dome of heaven,
pleased in her new earrings
feeling the beatific dullness of Christ,
daydreaming about coffee cake,
wishing the loquacious kindly pastor
whose words are meant to edify
would shut his trap.

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!

 

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. That is not my opinion, you bore.

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!”

 

Carp Diem II

Jean-Paul no Ringo or George

Despite the brief and lilting feeling of uplift you may experience seeing the title of this piece, this little essay without purpose is not going to exhort you to grasp life with both hands, bound sunnily into the Offered Moment, or rapturously twirl on an Alp. Note that the first word in the title is Carp and not Carpe. Carpe is a word popularized by the poet Horace around 23 BC in his Odes, a near-ancient collection of lyric poems of reportedly unsurpassed beauty. His suggestion was to carpe, or pluck or pick or seize, the day. You know, with joy or vigor or something. But the first word in the title above is actually Carp, without the suffixed ‘e’ that so makes the heart skip with its suggestion of joyous lunging. Carp means carp; a type of fish. In fact, it is the type of fish French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre famously resembled. And so we have not ‘Seize the Day’, but ‘Carp Day’. You will not rush headlong into the waiting hours with your stubby little mitts already grasping at a promised epiphany. You will join me in contemplating the way five fused cubes of ice will suddenly decouple from the bottom of the Tom Collins glass you are stylishly tipping while you glance rakishly sideways at your beautiful date. Because you have a glass to your lips your smile will be more a leer; something Mannix might have tossed at Peggy, however involuntarily. As your leer reaches apogee the sparkling and asymmetric agglomeration of rounded, hugging ice cubes, which has waited all this empty eternity to arrive just here just now, will release from the sticky, electrically charged cohesion of fluid at the bottom of the Collins, slide like a cold heavy rock straight into your nerve-filled teeth and as your left incisor is jarred sharply loose from its greedy blood-lined socket you will scream briefly like a lady and the hostess, across the jostling room and poised on the shag-carpeted landing, will start with a gasp and in her vivid orange form-fitting cocktail mumu fall dreamily backward down the stairs with her newly purchased silver tray in a flinging, yelling confusion of limbs and canapes and an affronted spinal cord whose Newtonian adventure will stem, finally, the flow of chemical signals to her brain and stymie further attempts to don the mumu. 1971. Sartre has 9 years.