Personal Space: The Final Frontier

melkweg

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

T-Bird of Happiness and Crashboat

T-Bird Tragedy and Joy

Oh, and here comes the holiday season like a runaway Edsel, excuse me. It’s always a little surreal how suddenly it shows up. Another year? Really? Is that Jack Frost nipping at my nose or the taunting, flicked finger of the Grim Reaper? “It’s almost Christmas!” the little ones yell with unbridled glee. Yes, you tiny, careless immortals; it’s almost LAST Christmas. How’d the year pass by so quickly? Just a week or so ago we were throwing ourselves into the ocean in full-tilt escape from the brutalizing heat wave that we were sure would set the mountains on fire. Now, a couple of puny rain squalls later, the inevitable “fall” weather sweeps in as an almost reluctant little cold snap, and we Santa Barbarans respond by excitedly dragging on our pea coats and diaphanous, utterly useless Donna Karan scarves. We swoop our gossamer “winter” accessories around our room-temperature necks like NY hipsters or movie actors, turning up our collars and stamping our feet as if to shake the snow off our galoshes, we’re so giddy at the change of seasons and the prospect of candlelight and mulled wine. It’s the one time of the year you can gulp Tramp Juice from a soup-bowl sized mug without the other guests remarking about it behind their sleeves. The whole demeanor of the town changes

“Ooh, it’s a little chilly, isn’t it?”

No, not really. But let’s live it up. We get maybe 80 of these. It’s time to get about the business of Holiday Cheer. And what’s not to love? The city workers begin dutifully stringing the lights up along State Street, great arcing stars making of our downtown a glowing arbor. Suddenly the shop fronts all have paper snowflakes in their window displays, faux-Victorian carolers hunch and yell in close-harmony at every street corner, the chill evening air takes on that seasonally pleasant aroma as the town’s fireplaces gently surrender a fragrant bouquet of crackling cherrywood, and frightening soot-covered chimney sweeps flash-mob the rooftops with mad, high-stepping dance routines. Chim-Chimney, Chim Chimney, Chim-Chim-Cheroo, if you damage my ridge vent I’m likely to sue. Soon enough that strangely phallic Christmas Rocket erects itself near the Arlington Theater, they throw some lights on it and we’re off and running.

But first…ah, yes. First there is Thanksgiving to get through, the weird, uber-American ritual whose most famous visual expression remains that nightmarish Normal Rockwell painting of an aproned matriarch proffering a slain and naked bird; recumbent, belly-up, beyond embarrassment (the bird, I mean), its truncated little wing-arms relaxed at its sides, its formerly strutting legs now stiff and shortened and dressed in paper anklets. In the iconic painting, which like most of Rockwell’s stuff is meant to embody and crystallize the rubberized American Soul, the homespun Ma and Pa figures stand at the head of a table crowded with strangely leering family members in da Vinci-like attitudes of conversation, but strangely feral; all teeth and eyebrows and clasped paws. It’s an unnerving work of art. In the upper left-hand corner of the photorealist painting is a grinning boy with a slightly reptilian expression, and seated beside him a little sister figure likewise stares down the length of the table like a drowsy viper. In the lower left of the painting a man is laughing maniacally at the empty air, displaying a scary set of choppers, while a sunlit pear with a suggestion of humanoid countenance looks balefully up at him from a bed of grapes. In the lower right corner a man’s haunted eyes stare back at the viewer. Even for the diabolically exacting Rockwell, it is a strange and unsettling hymn to the Holidays, one of the most singularly dread-inducing paintings this country has ever produced. What did Rockwell call this thing? Freedom From Want. My alternate title, you ask? Horn of Plenty Heebie-Jeebies.

But Thanksgiving means well, and however cynically plasticized and oversold the “gather and be thankful” vibe is this time of year, however much it is leveraged by the Commercial Sector to brace us for the aptly named Black Friday, all doubts fly up the chimney with the cherrywood smoke when you start mingling with family and friends in closed quarters while through the windows brisk, happy breezes stir the trees and foliage in blanched autumnal sun. As hard as the numbskull forces of human avarice try, they can’t completely wreck Thanksgiving. They can’t strip away, for instance, my hard-won memories of my mom coming over on those Thanksgiving mornings.

Per the yearly ritual I would have dropped in on my mom’s apartment at Villa Santa Barbara the evening before to remind her of our Thanksgiving breakfast the next morning. She would inexpertly and comically disguise her uncertainty as to who exactly I was, and we would have our usual bemused summit for a couple hours, watch the home movies for the several-hundredth time, bat the same over-familiar questions and answers back and forth. I’d long since stopped being maddened by mom’s endlessly repeated questions, and came to be charmed by a universe that oversaw our elderly parents exasperating us with the same ninny repetitions they’d had to suffer when we were mindless little non-stop blabbermouths. Fair play.

The next morning, Thanksgiving morning, I would stop in to nab mom for the drive over to our place and explain our Thanksgiving date all over again. “Hey! What are you doing here? And who are you, again?” She would laugh nervously at her own question sometimes, but she knew in her core that I was on her side, that we shared something. “I’m your son, mom. Jeff?” “Right!” she would laugh again, making comic gestures of dismissal, still not quite believing it. But she would grasp my arm, dance me into the elevator and veritably skip from the Villa Santa Barbara lobby to my car parked on the street outside.

We would take the long way to our place, the miraculous, palm-lined, ceaselessly stunning Cabrillo Drive, the unlikely Pacific sparkling off to the left like an over-earnest special effect. At our condo, mom would be greeted like royalty, Judie and the kids rushing her at the door. Mom’s face would be simultaneously aglow and bewildered, Judie’s Dutch broodtafel likely adding to her dislocation as it featured breads and cheeses and sliced meats and hard boiled eggs. This isn’t what the Indians and Pilgrims ate, is it? I can clearly picture mom sipping delightedly at her mimosa as the rest of us blab away in conversation she only half follows, her sated half-smile turning to each of in turn as we speak, her expression a sort of uncomprehending exaltation in the moment. She didn’t know I was watching her watching us, her indefinable love and gratitude shining like an aura. She’s gone. This year will be our second Thanksgiving breakfast without her, and I’m unspeakably grateful for the sometimes harrowing 14 years we had her in town.

Sometimes after Thanksgiving breakfast we would flop onto the couch and flip through a photo album, one of the weird old ones I’d known since childhood. It had a dissolving, nautically-themed cover and stiffened pages to which the fading photos had been sloppily fastened an eon ago with now-opaque squares of yellowing scotch tape. I’d seen all these pics a hundred times or more growing up. When I was a kid I was bored silly by the album (as by everything else to do with my parents), all the black and white snapshots of laughing men in government-issue khaki, lots of pics of my mom – the beauty, the dreamer – now an 89 year-old with failing faculties and loose-fitting flesh. Of course as I grew older I became forensically interested in what the album held, particularly a photo of my dad, now long gone, as a 14 or 15 year-old. Wonder of wonders.

And here was a curling picture of Crashboat Beach, in Puerto Rico, 1956, at the foot of Ramey Air Force Base, that particular stretch of sand and surf a scene of so many storied parties and languorous afternoons during that time, my parents, Bob and Aloha, drinking and talking and laughing with Air Force chums and wives, a rough circle of lawn chairs, the men leering comically at the camera and hoisting cans of Falstaff beer, my dad there with a can in each hand, his smile-worn dimple catching the late afternoon shadowfall just so, his black curly hair already hinting at the premature gray that would soon compel comparisons to the actor Jeff Chandler. In the fading picture the seated women are wearing scarves over their hair, and Capri pants, and beautiful bug-eyed sunglasses. Just a lovely thing! Their legs are crossed, they’re all laughing with their lady heads thrown back, happy yaps aimed skyward forever. The men and women and the kids present are all turned toward the camera in a posture of hilarity (one! two! THREE!). Over the sea, in the sky behind the party, a single towering cumulonimbus cloud boils straight up into the sepia sky with frozen, explosive force, and mom has her feet up on the lawn chair and is hugging her knees. Though her face is turned away, the flesh is seen to follow the smooth cornice of her jawbone where it meets her neck, cleaves as snugly as the velour skin of a new love seat. Unlike the rest of the gang, she’s looking away from the camera and out to sea.

sadness of the animate

laika in a relaxed state

It’s as if there were a cumulus of sadness adrift through the floor plan, a cloud of melancholy filling the rooms and hallways, swirling around the appliances and inhabiting the corners and interior architectural niches like a….cloud. It’s not terribly literary. Maybe it’s just pity.

“for the human condition?”

I just got done telling you it’s not literary! It’s not a malaise, or whatever! It’s not that French guy on Sartre’s ‘Nausea’ dust jacket with his hand on his gut. All I can tell you is that the bad feeling, when it shows up, emanates from my daughter’s guinea pigs. It moves out through the house from there.

“your – “

yeah. Maybe it’s just pity. I said that. Anymore I’m beginning to think it’s simple pity, but the pity or sadness radiates out from their little cage on the floor at the back of the house. Their utter helplessness has real power; radiant power. It colors the whole house some days. Like the old animation of an atomic blast radius, which starts from ground zero with the illustrator’s naïve and almost playful little cartoon spark, because despite the horrid magic of what follows the viewer needs to understand the catalyst is just a bomb going off. The spark is followed by a red swelling ball, and it quickly swells outward from ground zero in a perfect circle, filling all the irregularities of the doomed city; the alleyways and schoolrooms and churches. I think this ‘swelling bubble’ atomic blast radius illustration was informed more by the technical limits of that day’s commercial art than by atomic science or the observed practice blasts they’d conducted in the field, but it makes the point with an unintended accuracy. And the guinea pig sadness is like that, or feels like that.

So sometimes (every time, actually) when I feed the guinea pigs I watch them eat and I feel a nearly debilitating sadness. It seems related to the sadness I felt one weekend afternoon as a teenager, watching a man lean over the glass at JC Penney, carefully poring over the wrist watches. The guinea pigs’ names are Chloe and Buffy, they’re two little girls. Their food is fancily packaged hay. The hay neatly fills an elaborately printed plastic bag, but is clearly just dead grass swept up from some field somewhere and jammed into these bags, bits of thoughtless meadow, minutely parceled out to those whose interrupted Darwinian lot was to roam the meadow. Now we bring the meadow to them. I raise the hinged top of the cage and the hay is stiff and comes out of the bag in longitudinal clumps that have to be smashed down into the dumb little bowls, two bowls, one for each guinea pig. Per the human conceit the meadow has to be eaten from bowls, so the straw and bits of dried flower get jammed down into the bowls and all the while the guinea pigs are making their whistling sound of joy or excitement and raising themselves up with their forepaws on the horizontal bars of their cage. Then they run in to the eating section of the cage, over a little ramp, as lithe as you please. They eat with their grateful but, honestly, expressionless little feminine faces, looking askance at me like I might take the food. Me, the giver. I’ve stood there for 15 minutes, 20 minutes. They’re completely unconscious, unenlightened, pure id. They don’t know they’re captured. What will they do after they gratefully eat? They’ll crap and then eat again. They don’t know they’re alive. What are they for? Why are there living things that don’t know they’re living things?

“We’re at the top of the food chain.”

shut up. every little scrap of meaning isn’t defined or explained in terms of what eats who.

“Life is an end, not a means.”

wrong.

“Well. You mean being alive is a state that is only available so that the living can see themselves.”

yeah. it sounds buddhist or whatever, but it’s not.

“What’s so great about knowing? What’s THAT for? You want to ascribe a purpose to everything. Try that one.”

i’m working that out.

“The animals are fine. Their cognitive darkness is a salve. They don’t know enough to be sad.”

The guinea pigs are a pillow pressed over my face. Eat sleep eat eat sleep. Like the JC Penney guy. He wanted just the right watch.

“He probably got it, too!”

Drone Strikes for Jesus

MQ-1_Predator_Unmanned_Aerial_Vehicle_UAV_Drone_United_States_American_US-Army_line_drawing_blueprint_001

Are we blessed creatures, or only a self-impressed residue of the Big Bang? Is life sacred? These questions tend to bring out the worst in us. In Washington D.C. (this nation’s largest and most lushly appointed Executive Lounge), a pious lawmaker will inveigh sonorously and with great moral gravity against the taking of the Life of the ‘unborn’, and then turn on his heel and blandly wave into law a drone strike program that splashes Pakistani viscera around like rainwater. Our apprehension of the numinous is childlike, but does not always express itself as poetry.

Mr. [Constitutionally Mandated] Bubble

It’s been a little less than a year since Mr. Bubble dominated the news cycle.  No, not the Mr. Bubble called upon by 1960s parents to hover menacingly over the kids’ baths with his clean-freak chatter and unnerving man-giggle. I’m talking about the ‘Bubble Ordinance’, the court-ordered rule/attorney catnip that tells Christ’s foot soldiers (and others) how to comport themselves when ministering to young ladies on the steps of Planned Parenthood.  The Bubble Ordinance (also known by its lighthearted nickname 9.99.010(D) Section 9.99.020) tells sidewalk Right to Life counselors how far away they need to stand from those they would loudly dissuade from seeking abortions at those clinics that offer the service.

The questions are Big Ones, and the intercession of the courts has only served to add a byzantine layer of legal gibberish and towering billables to the eternally unanswered questions, to which have been added one more: “When delicately parsing the metaphysical arguments for and against the existence of an inviolable and eternal human soul, how close may I stand to you and scream like a bug-eyed banshee before my passion for Life becomes legally actionable intrusion?” This Sanctity of Life thing – it gets people riled.

Luckily the Supreme Court has solemnly spoken on the matter, and there are few sights more solemn than that of nine bewildered oldsters wading into a room in billowing black muumuus. As one would expect in a newish country founded by angry runaways tired of being broken on the rack just for saying the wrong thing, the Justices have done their utmost to balance the sacrosanct Right to Free Speech against the more recent constitutional guarantee of the right to an abortion (or ‘privacy’, to recall Roe vs Wade’s 14th Amendment raison d’être).

Privacy-Respecting Mobs

What sounds Solomonic, though, is in practice moronic, a surreally choreographed minuet that serves no purpose but to ineptly enforce the letter of two very very fundamental human rights – talking and privacy. You can occasionally view the fruits of their wisdom in front of most California family planning clinics on any given day – two opposing mobs yelling like drunks and a terrified woman trying to push her way through and thankfully surrounded by an imaginary, court-ordered protective cordon; 8 whole feet of thin air ringing with the guttural cries of narrowly informed First and Fourteenth Amendment loudmouths on both sides. Constitutional chest thumpers are drawn inordinately to family planning clinics and gun shows. It’s a fact. And whatever happened to that amendment that confers the Right to Ignore ear-splitting Free Speech? Must’ve died in committee.

And so it all comes down to the usual, touchingly human attempts to embrace the Eternal through placard-pumping, fistfights, and endless litigation. In the quietude of a lamplit evening, though, the central, driving questions burn like insistent little flames. What are we for? Is there Something in the middle of all this? One gets misty thinking about the millennia of horror, brutality and bedlam spent simply trying to approach some semblance of an answer to that one. How we achieved our coveted spot at the top of the food chain is anyone’s guess.

Gordian Knot Defeats Bobble-Heads

The soul-searching provides our sorry-ass “lawmakers” in D.C. much comic opportunity. Many of these well-fed clowns seem to actually believe they can untie this ancient Gordian knot with phony, quiet-talking piety, ministerial press conference singsong and Bible-waving. They are National Defense Hawks and Right to Life Crusaders. In our leaders’ under-furnished bobble heads, these mutually exclusive propositions cohabit like two peas in a cozily impossible pod. Between explosive “collateral damage” missteps (Woops! That was a wedding party!) they have the balls to wave the Bible and preach to us about saving the unborn. Maybe you’re the wrong messenger, dimwit. If there is a special room in Heck for those who cynically leverage scripture, it’s a room that surely needs a huge daily build-out.

True to their on-again off-again desire to end life, certain of these stargazing jackasses on Capitol Hill would put a shield of hope-killing sanctity around the embryonic stem cell, a so-called pluripotent cell whose ability to be teased into becoming any sort of tissue an ailing body requires both promises large scale relief for the ailing, and makes of the scrap of tissue a magnet for the pious empathies of Sanctity of Life poseurs.

When a single unconscious cell trumps a hopeful Parkinson’s patient with a family, loving friends and a life force that is struggling to continue, we have donned our thinking caps completely ass-backwards. These “Primacy of the Individual” fakes in the legislature have for decades been telling us how to screw and marry. Now they tremble tearily over the hallowed stem cell, attempting to block its use as a healing agent while lustily blowing up innocents abroad with Conscience-free aplomb. Makes the head swim.

First Amendment Nessie 

Luckily it isn’t all dour. There are moments of levity from both sides. Take for a start last year’s episode at UCSB, complete with affronted cell phone footage, featuring a Feminist Studies professor angrily grabbing a visiting Pro-Life protester’s sign and smilingly walking off with it. For those of us who struggled as teens to stay awake in 2nd period Civics, it is heartening to know you can have dozed with your head on your desk through the whole Constitution chapter and still go on to earn a doctorate. The herky-jerky cell phone-verité footage of this self-satisfied blockhead professor wandering laughingly away with the protester’s sign is as utterly amazing a video document as a grainy film of Nessie humping out of the icy Scottish waters of her famous loch. You can’t quite believe what you’re seeing.

A Slap in the Prima Facie

Is Life sacred? No. Life is Prima Facie not sacred. Through the recorded and unrecorded ages we have been anonymously mown down in our trillions by disease, privation, saber-toothed dinner companions, mass murder, hailstones, sinkholes, ungrounded microphones, shipwrecks, faulty brakes, landslides and dogs. Pediatric cancers spring up like wildflowers in the guts of our children. If this is Life as a State of the Sacred, what on Earth is luckless, ordinary life going to look like? Best not to think about it.

I spent my teens and early college as a Born Again Christian, proselytizing, going to Bible study and worshipping barefoot in a terrific and loving hippie church. I can still reel off Galatians 2:20 (it’s a good one). But I slowly came to understand that folks who take the unvarnished view that we should never kill, never go to war, never ever murder, were seen by my Christian mentors as endearing fringe oddballs, these Jains and Mennonites and what have you, these quaint and curious relics whose greatest contribution is the smiling guy on the box of Quaker Oats.

The awkward fact is, the state of The Sacred isn’t a sliding scale, it’s not a continuum. It’s binary; one or zero. Yes or no. We are all sacred, or not one of us is sacred. Is a fetus sacred? If the answer is yes, than so is the 18 year-old kid about to be blown up in al Bayda Province, so is the skeletal, fly-covered baby in Somalia, and so is the lady on death row. But I guess we can’t save everybody. That’d be like reaching for the stars.

 

 

SB Sentinel Vol 4 Issue 6 March 21 – April 4

Looking Back at the Surprise Attack

Jupiter II!

Tiptoeing past my middle-passage afraid of rousing (or worse, arousing) whatever cloaked figure awaits the creak of a floorboard or the sound of a stepped-on garden rake levering up to thwack my beak, I am nevertheless confident in the New Day. May it bring an Elysian lawn chair or the romance of slaughter at the disputed Hot Gates.

Startled by the flying beige flag! Yes, teens, my decline and your prom are coincident, this bit of manufactured magic acquires a seam once the liquefied plastic is blown in and all the Wonder of wonder bread is its balloon-daubed plastic bag. Einstein fires a bullet in a car traveling 800 feet per second per second, and another per second thrown in.

I know exactly where you are: the sweaty, temporal nightmare of roiling youth and feeling good, when Elton murmured from my Panasonic ball and chain like a man singing through a hangman’s hood.

So, yeah. Speaker tech and outerwear? Much later the radio “sounded” better. But we lost through that advance the letter of the law; Gilbert O’Sullivan stands down and in sweeps Ke$ha. We threw it all away for a pair of fancy-pants.

Really now; imagine actually waking one day, Samsa-like, to find you are an older man with sudden dappled paws. And I don’t mean “Perhaps”. That happened to me. Hand-backs shiny with Arbus cross-hatches and arranged spots like those that trouble the failing sun and indicating the same collapse.

The microwaves turn back around and the heat-death of All This sees God tiredly lifting the latches again, this time to let it all back in, tired energy pouring homeward from near and far, as was expected all along. “The day is done! Lamplighters, would you please snuff this dim embarrassed star? And turn up the stereo one last time on Billy Joel’s ‘Zanzibar’! Jesus, what a song!”

Star light, Star bright, the star our God turned off tonight, I wish I may I wish I might be delivered of this overbite. No more to burn the petals or leaves, and buh-bye melanoma. O teen you have some insufficient inkling but you won’t grow comfortably into this weirdness any more than I will return to pinrail and glory in the wings of Oklahoma.

But I I I I…I have the plucky interiority of a 30-something and have retained, against every expectation of my own childhood certainties of decay, a sense of timelessness, and now see kids glance sidewise at me several times a day.

I used to shiftily spy on ‘older adults’ with whom I would periodically be trapped, utterly trapped and panicked, my expression naked with dread. “Kid” (I’ll say); “as strange as you think growing older is going to be, I’m here to tell you that your untested powers of imagination are not up to the task of painting that picture on the inner walls of your earbud-deafened head”.

Now it occurs to me that, in the space of some individual year, no way of knowing which one, in a future whose approach I only guess (not a calendar year, but I’m supposing about 1 year of adventurism from a stem to a stern, more or less)

I’m likely to unravel like a ball of yarn, my sensory nonchalance, this thoughtless unenlightened physical well-being of my middle passage will be cruelly undone, my spirits in flight like foul bats from a foul barn.

An inexplicable, sudden cascade of cancers, renal failures, plummeting bone density numbers, aortic blockage, and x-rays that cause my doctor to breathe hard and raise his hand to his mouth – a melting pilgrim’s cornucopia of disintegration as my architecture takes the express line south.

That will stun me! Stun my hapless fa-mi-lee! Clusterfeck of bewildering setbacks and teary, faux-philosophical internal and external monologues (arms waving around like those of the over-earnest Branagh), hug the wife and kids and step onto that ceremonial last banana.

Questions, I have but a few; could we have been less murderous as our cowboys headed west? At the top of the Space Family Robinson’s flying house what’s that little bubble do?  This is what I have to look forward to.

Visionary thinking, an aching frame, every day the same sustaining pill. Don West and the older Robinson girl? Not Penny, but Carol or whatever? Thanks to Captain Robinson’s intransigence and the finally distracting Alpha Centauri mission itself, they never got together, and now they never will.

Bee Geezus II

BeeJeezus

Mention the Bee Gees and time stops. Your suddenly chagrined companion will pause to reflect. The reverie is typically an unpleasant one; gold chains nestled in Barry Gibbs’ chest hair, three unsmiling grown men with their arms crossed, standing back to back in satin like Charlie’s Angels, lapels that could lift a fighter jet, and John Travolta strutting cockily down a Brooklyn street in white, jewel-crushing bellbottoms, aiming his dumb dimple and triumphalist double-wide yap at passerby. This is upsetting. The Bee Gees are not “Stayin’ Alive”. The Bee Gees are not “If I Can’t Have You”. These three doomed faux-Aussies are emphatically not “You Should Be Dancin’ (yet another bullet from the Bee Gees Nadir Period whose suffix-apostrophe illustrates how far they had fallen by the mid-seventies). Song titles that drop their final ‘g’ in a gambit for insouciance have always inspired contempt in me, as they should in you. Just sayin’. What the Bee Gees ARE is ‘How Can You Mend a Broken Heart?’, ‘Massachussetts’, and the jarringly unhip “I’ve Gotta Get a Message To You’, wherein a man on death row both pays penance and says goodbye to his love in a weirdly heartbreaking paean to loss and earthly regret. The brothers’ wordless start-and-stop harmonizing on that one should be enshrined in the Louvre. “Message” was a global radio hit; this in 1968, the year after the Youth Revolution’s high watermark had been codified by the tie-dyed nihilism and public screwing of the Summer of Love. The Brothers Gibb were the nerds at that party, eschewing shiny marching band regalia and the Billy Shears Mystery Tour at a time when psychedelia and stoned self-importance ruled.

They were often accused of riding on the coat tails of the Beatles, but their life-informed balladry was always of an entirely different species both in approach, and in the glorious femininity of its floral compositional style (he blathered unwisely). If there is a Beatles song like “Run To Me” I haven’t heard it, and it’s unlikely it would have occurred to the Fab Four (whom I adore) to pen a tune about a mine cave-in, as did the Bee Gees in the very un-sixties, starkly beautiful “New York Mining disaster, 1941”. The last gasp of the Old Bee Gees Order can be heard in the evanescent (and nowadays reflexively derided) “How Deep is Your Love”, also from the “Saturday Night Fever” soundtrack, but a gorgeous filigreed ghost of what was.

The brothers stumbled tragically into disco at the mercantile behest of producer Robert Stigwood, who was bankrolling a movie based on what turned out to be a largely invented New Yorker article about Brooklyn’s very real 70s underground dance culture. For that film, fellow Aussie and longtime producing partner Stigwood asked his boys for more of the ‘R & B’ the guys had featured haltingly on their recent “Main Course” album (listen to “Edge of the Universe” from that record. I beg thee, listen to “Baby As You Turn Away” as Barry tastefully explores, in a melodic swoon, his newfound falsetto. If you’ve a lick of sense, skip the risible “Jive Talkin'”, whose street-cred-seeking apostrophe foreshadows the coming sorrow). The boys obliged Stigwood, and were themselves as freaked as the rest of the world when the shoestring-budgeted little movie took off like a ballistic mirror ball.

The accompanying mayhem and largesse rang down a curtain, as often happens. Inevitably, disco fell out; lavishly and with much ado. The torch-carrying mob rose up to murder its emissaries and the Bee Gees were first in line to the gallows. They are hanging there still. Later, impish little brother Andy would come over to the states and make pop waves and grace the cover of Tiger Beat Magazine before sampling a little powdered sugar and taking it to heart, in fairly short order passing away in hospital at the age of 30, almost before his broken mother’s eyes. Bee Gee Maurice would die suddenly of a knotted intestine some years later and the grief would stun the surviving brothers into what would turn out to be an unbroken silence.

In a documentary made just before the very end, Barry and Robin, looking weathered and defeated, vow before the camera that they really want to get back into the studio, come in from the wilderness. The unintentionally elegiac documentary ends with Barry and a gaunt, bewigged Robin obliging the videographer with a couple roughly harmonized lines of old school, Pre Fall Bee Gees, looking at each other across the ages and smiling tiredly. Soon thereafter, dulcet-voiced twin Robin would slowly succumb to cancer, joining Maurice somewhere, it’s nice to think, though evidence is scant.

Now big brother Barry, 66 at this writing, is left to recollect. When the Brothers Gibb were wearing button-down shirts and blue jeans, singing songs like “To Love Somebody” and smiling unguardedly at the camera, Robin cupping his ear in performance to capture that inimitable harmony, they might not have guessed at the steamroller they would become, and how the later Disco Big Bang would poison their legacy. For some of us who know the boys by their gorgeous earlier efforts, the question still remains, and we can assume Barry asks it of himself every day on waking; how CAN you mend a broken heart?

Starry, Starry Day

starlight in a growing womanI don’t understand by what relativisitc Einsteinian sorcery the years pass like months. Songs and books and laments have featured this phenomenon forever, I know. But our former saucer-eyed little bowling ball Stella is a willowy young woman today with the carriage and demeanor of a smartass gazelle. How I wish my mom were here to see this day; Stella is built with great exactitude from Aloha’s blueprint. Mischief-making, wild spontaneous laughter and radiant love are the salient features. Another fuzzy little Earthly soul who awakens every morning laughing and pirouetting. It’s madness. Any scanning electron micrograph of Stella’s DNA would show Aloha climbing the double helix, waving and laughing from the highest rung. Today is Stella’s day; not at all coincidentally it is the shortest day and longest, starriest night of the year.

 

Aloha Gist with PeeWee Lincoln NE 1938