Thursday, January 17, 2019

Missing the Bus


In my recurrent anxiety dream I am constantly late for the bus which goes to the airport then connects to the train which leads to the ship. In my waking life I’m the guy who gets to the terminal an hour and a half early.  It all goes back to my father.

He told me, early on, he was so poor as a child that when he entered kindergarten the teacher warned the class to Pay Attention and my Dad heard it as, Pay a pencil. He was shaken up because he had no money to pay for anything but relieved when told all he had to do was listen. So he listened hard and I learned to listen hard.

When all you do is pay attention you are ever fearful of missing the boat. In 7th grade I could swear something was passed on to the class while I was absent with the mumps or bumps. When I returned everyone knew the meaning of life or how to grow up or what they would do in the world…and I had missed class that day.

By age twenty-one I had accelerated through high school and finished college, married and flown three thousand miles to the other coast. By twenty-nine I had three children, a hefty mortgage (for the day) in suburbia and a profession for which I had little interest. Zorba the Greek would call it the full catastrophe. Clearly I had gotten on the wrong bus. It took me another twenty years plus to get off that bus though warned by Peggy it would complicate my life.

When Peggy and I were in Amsterdam we got to the train station early one day and took our seats in the last car. After an announcement on the loudspeaker one by one people got up and left before the train departed. Finally it dawned on us to follow them to the next car. It seems that the engineer had de-coupled that last one. By being punctual we almost missed the train and never would have seen Bruges with its great beers, belfry and canal boat accompanied by swans to the Lake of Love. Life with Peggy has been a magnificent complication.

In the movies the woman says to the guy you’ve already missed the last train out so I suppose you’ll have to spend the night...or the other way around…. and the plot thickens. Where you running? Bogey got those letters of transit out of Casablanca but he didn’t get Bergman. He got his moral compass instead.  

Now my wish is to turn it all around. I would like to miss the damn boat or train or plane. To linger. To find the scent in the tulip that has no scent, listen to the wind, to meander the footpath, hang out at the café, sip the spirits, overhear an argument in the next booth, join a celebration in another, to elongate the moment.

The next bus will be the one devoutly to be missed. It won't be the Streetcar Named Desire, nor Magic Carpet Airlines back to Eden. It’s the trolley heading out of this world with no return.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Peggy's Novel


Imagine how it was for a single woman in New York City during World War II. When Peggy was twenty-one, in 1942, I was nine. I would have done her no good. Except for those with flat feet, punctured eardrums or bone spurs, eligible men were joining up or being drafted. Uniforms filled Times Square. Headlines were thick and ominous. Mortality hung over relationships. While I was collecting tin foil to win the war in the only way I knew how Peggy was living in Greenwich Village looking for Mr. Right against a background of distant conflict, yet close.

This is the setting for her novel, Morning in the Long Night City. In prose which rises to the level of poetry on many pages she paints a canvas of Manhattan during the war years revealing both the daily outer scene as well as the inner landscape of her characters. Her writing brings to mind Virginia Woolf’s, Mrs. Dalloway, with inner dialog and full dimensionality.

Her language is felt; the yearnings, uncertainties and dread as well as the small triumphs of love and spirit. Her eyes are open to small gestures and nuance and how the existential threat abroad impinges on a young woman’s maturation and assertion of her own creative process.

Within the narrative is the beginning of a blank-verse play written by Rachel, the main character, which dares to imagine a meeting of two real-life female renaissance painters and Lorenzo di Medici. We are treated to her rendering of how it might have been for women in an early time struggling for their place among the Masters.

Peggy is still in her prime approaching ninety-eight. Her spirit still ripe. I am witness to daily creative bursts not only in her poems but in her being. The transition from poetry to fiction is not an easy one. It requires a sustained effort of an imaginative muscle to enter into the voice and psyche of multiple characters. This book was conceived in the 1970s and completed a decade later. It is the first of three novels along with a children’s album, over a hundred Joseph Cornell-like collages and literally thousands of poems.

Morning in the Long Night City is her own morning, her dawning out of dark and troubled times which have been largely forgotten or unknown to most of us. This is a book about a period of privation overcome by an irrepressible life force, still incandescent. 

Peggy will be reading excerpts from her book at Beyond Baroque in Venice, CA. on March 2nd at 5 P.M. 

Monday, January 7, 2019

Mouthful


Huxley Pryce Aylsworth-Eitner, my step-great grandson, is one of the new people in the world. He is ten days old with twenty toes and fingers combined, with their appropriate phalanges and well-distributed. His name is a mouthful but he carries it well into this brave new world.

Amazing how his nose is perfectly centered and below it the tiny mouth into which will come mother’s milk and eventually solids and out of which will trot words which will rearrange his world.

I had a long talk with him yesterday apologizing for the state of our country’s disrepair that he has been bequeathed and how we are living under the reign of a man whose development has been arrested at an age not far from his own. It’s a preexisting condition you’ll have to deal it, Huxley. He did not disagree so I presume he’s been following our woes while doing the backstroke in that embryonic sea.

Speaking of mouths I have learned a couple of things in this New Year pertaining to that aperture which keeps us well-fed if our address happens to be a happy accident. Otherwise we might be spending a large fraction of our allotted time here scavenging for a decent meal.

On New Year’s Eve I had a bottle of bubbly at the ready as the ball descended in Times Square. The champagne was properly corked. If you want to know how it is approaching eighty-six imagine yourself struggling for thirty minutes to pry the cork from the bottle. It’s a case of arthritic and enervated phalanges. By the time I popped the cork the crowd in NYC was headed for the subway. For several years now we’ve settled for 9 P.M. as midnight. In three hours the clock will get around to us. I’ll take their word for it.

We took our glass and a half and went to bed. Then I had to deal with the rest of the stuff. Trying to replace the cork was out of the question, even with a normal cylindrical one and even when sober the next day. Ron (Huxley’s Grandpa) to the rescue. He advised me to pour out a few plastic bottles of water and preserve it therein. Beyond that, to cook with the Brut instead of wine. I did and it worked; I even drizzled some on an apple-cinnamon loaf. Now I understood William Trevor’s short story entitled, The Day We Got Drunk on Cake.   

I must tell Huxley about this discovery which took me over eight decades to learn. My second tidbit of culinary delight comes from Marcia T. whose knowledge of such things is unimpeachable. (It’s hard to write that word without sinking into political mud). She mentioned in passing that the best way to re-heat leftover pizza is to heat a pan on top of the stove for a couple of minutes, turn off the heat and then place the pizza on the covered pan for a minute.

There’s so much to pass along to my step great grandson. When I continued telling him about the President Huxley gave me a wise burp of recognition as if he knows that the dangerous fool in the White House will soon become an asterisk in the chronicle, a tiny hiccup in the narrative of human progress.   

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Shameless Self-Promotion


That would be me announcing my new book now available on Amazon entitled, And Furthermore. This is my fourth collection of deathless prose following The Marriage of Everything (2010), I’m Just Saying (2012) and Now and Then Some” (2014).

The publication comes a bit late for Jesus’ birthday but just in time for anyone else admitting to a birthday next year. It is a perfect gift for insomniacs or for people you always wanted to unfriend anyway.

As those familiar with my blogs know, some of them are screeds and rants which I deem to be mentally healthy otherwise I’d have to repress my hostility and might break out in a rash. Others may range from ruminations to rambles and an occasional poem as a nod to that ragged right-hand margin.

Studies have shown that those who bought my previous books are 3% smarter, healthier and luckier than the general population. They may expect to die on a Thursday instead of a Tuesday. None have come down with diphtheria, whooping cough or German measles. Their shoe laces last longer. Their honeydew melons ripen faster. No one was killed by a runaway trolley car and none of my readers had overdue library books.

On the other hand, non-readers of my past books are among those who failed to win the mega lottery, had trouble finding a parking place at Costco and had 4% more cavities and paper cuts. It has been reported that those who failed to buy my books had a higher incidence of single socks coming out of their dryer.

It has also been reported that certain words appearing in this book, when rearranged, provide answers to questions which explain the meaning of life. However I cannot possibly comment on that. 

It is a multi-purpose book, entirely inflammable and recyclable. The book has also been used to place under uneven legs of tables. As for those who wish to ingest the pages as part of a high fiber diet, I cannot endorse the idea. Some of my words may be indigestible. Pages may also be removed and used to make paper airplanes particularly those filled with flights of fancy.

If you want to have your book inscribed please write yourself a message you’ve always wanted to receive and I promise to sign it. Be it known that I am physically unable to write due to a neuropathy in my right hand… seriously.

Having read my book you will find yourself more scintillating at cocktail parties though I cannot guarantee you will ever get invited back. It is also useful to carry with you to pass the time in the event of a power failure in an elevator.

And Furthermore is a collection of short essays. I don’t like 
that word, blog…which reminds me of blob and glob and rhymes with slog and bog. These pieces were written about 2 ½ to 3 ½ years ago and may serve as a chronicle of the pre-Trump days leading up to the unthinkable.

The purchase price is $15 from Amazon. If you get it from me I can let it go for twelve bucks. If you have a coupon it is still $12. If you are a distant cousin sharing my DNA according to Ancestry.com it is still $12. Students and seniors can obtain two copies for $24….from me. It is advisable to purchase a second copy in case you leave one on the bus or the back seat of an Uber.

I have just learned that Judi Dench also has a book named, And Furthermore. I forgive Dame Judi since she wrote hers about eight years ago.

In spite of the long shadow the dangerous Bozo in the Oval has cast across the planet with his moral and ethical degeneracy I still hold to the belief that there are nuggets of humanity to be found and absurdity in the gravity….such as this page.

Thanks to all who would have me in their library.  Here's the link...
                 https://www.amazon.com/dp/1790928052/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1546460444&sr=8-1&keywords=and+furthermore+norm+levine 


Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Christmas Memories

I grew up with Israel Berlin’s White Christmas….just like all the ones he used to know. If he could remember all those sleigh bells and glistening tree tops in the shetyl, so could I.


I’ll never forget the nickel, dime and quarter I used to trace a snowman in art class. Next to Glee Club these were my most dreaded hours at P.S. 99. I was a handicapped specimen of a child; I couldn’t draw and I couldn’t carry a tune. There was a large chunk of my genome missing. Snow scenes were beyond me and they were mandatory. If this were a true meritocracy I'd still be in fourth grade for the 75th year with my three coins. However my mother was a force to be reckoned with on the P.T.A. and she probably sprung me.

I just read that Christmas is celebrated by 95% of America. I must have been in that 5% which has nothing to do with the 1% who run off to one of their off-shore accounts and visit their money for the occasion.

For me Christmas was the time when other kids got Lionel trains, complete with tunnels and bridges. I think I was about nine when I did receive a Monopoly board game. I’ve spent most of my life ever since on Baltic and Mediterranean. I got as far as Marvin Gardens once but ended up in jail. I remember that morning so well because my brother refused to play with me. He was a big-shot at thirteen. I was small fry and I suppose it was beneath him to stoop to my level. I don’t think Arthur ever forgave me for being born, ruining his status as an only child. By the time he was thirty I was older than he. He was not at home in this world and would be dead at thirty-three.

As an adult I always celebrated the holidays possibly as compensation for those early years being left out. I’m all into it as long as I don’t have to draw Dickensian pictures of scarfed carolers, one-horse open sleighs or red-nosed reindeer. I love giving presents however about five years ago Peggy and I put a halt to the ritual. We’ve run out of wall. Our bookcases are bursting. Closets packed. If I get one more sweater I’ll put it on e-Bay. We are in relinquishing mode.

I could tell you how we went to midnight mass last night, baked bread this morning for the big feast when Abner and Abigail are coming over and we let our crazy uncle down from the attic to sit at the table along with my sister and her no-good husband and how my teenage son is being released from drug rehab with an ankle bracelet ......but none of this ever happened.

I wonder if Izzy (Irving) Berlin ever wrote of the vivid memories of those dreams he really had in his Russian village running all the way across the ocean to the lower eastside. And now how marauding soldiers gather around a fire singing about his White Christmas.


Saturday, December 22, 2018

Solstice Ramble


Now begins our hemisphere’s return toward the sun in our celestial geometry. Our dear friend, Len, was born on this date which feels like the sun’s birthday as well. It can only get brighter. He will have to share the solstice with Jane Fonda and Emmanuel Macron. Lead the way good people toward the vernal equinox and invincible summer lying within.

Why do you say goodbye, I say hello? Maybe it really is darkest before the dawn. Hello to the shutdown which Ebenezer Scrooge might have done just before Christmas. Hello to the burst bubble on the street called Wall where Dow is ¾ of Down and to that other mother of all walls. Hello to our legions come marching home. Hello to glimmers of light in the Humpty-Trumpty reign in which we are ruled by whim and blurt; nocturnal emissions disguised as deliberative regal decrees. William S. Gilbert (from G&S) described Donald in Iolanthe:

When you’re lying awake / With a dismal headache / And repose is tabooed by anxiety / I conceive you may use / Any language you chose / To indulge in without impropriety…

History reveals that Humpty-Dumpty wasn’t an egg after all. That was only Lewis Carroll’s depiction. The hard-boiled fact is that it was the name given to a canon placed on the wall of Colchester, England, when the Royalists within were under siege by the Parliamentarians. The Royalists who favored the monarchy as absolute ruler found one bright day in 1648 that their Humpty-Dumpty weaponry had fallen irreparably when the wall collapsed. So all the king’s horses and all the king’s men couldn’t put scrambled Donald together again, however Oval his chamber may be.   

Just about this time 2,018 years ago, plus or minus a whiff of frankincense, Joseph and Mary were said to be trudging across the dry land. There was no room at the inn and no coverage by their H.M.O. All of which brings to mind my favorite Christmas carol.

Mary said to Joseph, so meek and so mild:
Joseph, gather me some cherries, for I am with child
Joseph, gather me some cherries, for I am with child.

Then Joseph flew in anger, in anger flew he
Let the father of the baby gather cherries for thee
Let the father of the baby gather cherries for thee


And wouldn’t you know it… from her womb Jesus ordained the tallest branch be lowered and Mary had her cherries by command. I like it for its interplay between human emotion and the otherness. Or maybe because Joan Baez sings it so beautifully. It is probably the only song of the season that doesn’t drive me up the wall.

Which brings us back to the damn wall. Did something go wrong with Trumpty early on? Did a class bully knock down his blocks or was he the bully so busy with tantrums he denied himself the opportunity to build his own?  Maybe our Bozo sees that China has one and Bibi has his so why not us? Something there is that doesn’t like one. We can only hope the returning soldiers are not assigned the task instead of building bridges and roads.

The sun sets at 4:48 today, one minute later than yesterday. Soon there will be buds on the high elbows of the cherry tree. Absent any providential intervention I take this as hope.







Sunday, December 16, 2018

The List of No Lists


This seems to be the time for year-end letters and lists. I enjoy hearing from friends however being a card-carrying contrarian and certified grouch, I refuse to  partake. Instead I’d like to list my reasons for not making a list.

First is my ever-diminishing brain. I can’t remember what happened last week or last month. I could say we traveled to Nova Scotia but research shows that was eleven years ago. It feels like yesterday when we visited Peggy’s Cove outside of Halifax……a fishing village with lighthouse, rocks, seals and a restaurant where Peggy ordered Finnan Haddie as from the lyrics of the Cole Porter song, My Heart Belongs to Daddy. As I recall it was awful. The fish, haddock, that is.

If I invite a boy some night / To dine on my fine finnan haddie
I just adore his asking for more / But my heart belongs to Daddy


I might also devote a paragraph to the passing of our dog except we don’t have one but if we did it would be an Irish setter and he would fetch Frisbees, the morning paper, my slippers and lick envelopes.

I’m reminded that we don’t travel anymore except vicariously as friends report back their adventures. I find this much less tiring and I recover from jet lag immediately. Suffice it to say we allow ourselves to roam the world the way Emily Dickinson did without leaving her habitat. Even as our architecture swells, stiffens and quietly screams as long as headquarters hums along and creative juices flow our spirit carries us far.

Much can be said for going nowhere and just enjoying (or not) whatever pops up without comparing it to something else. It’s safe to say Peggy will have written 365 poems this year minus those days in the hospital and rehab and I have managed about 75 blogs. The older we get the more inscape there is to revise, regret or embellish. Notable are the three books (two poetry chapbooks and a novel) Peggy has published through Amazon and one of mine soon to be available.

Calendars are, of course, an arbitrary point of demarcation though Hollywood loudly announces the year-end by flooding the big screen with its block-busters so Academy voters with creeping senility will confer their blessings on the latest razzle-dazzle. Award nights have a dozen or so winners and hundreds of losers with crumpled acceptance speeches in their tux and purses. I prefer the sleeper released in the spring with low expectations flying below the radar. I should add we have seen a few very fine films and read several brilliant books but won’t name them because…..

Second, or is it third of all, lists are hierarchical and I dislike rankings. Books, movies, art etc… should not compete, especially people. We don’t rate our friends, after all. (You're all tied for first place). Did Mozart and Beethoven have a food fight? Picasso and Matisse? Billie or Ella, Coltrane or Charlie Parker, De Niro and Pacino? Streep and ??

Golden Globes, Oscars…all of them strike me as an exercise in hyperbole. We get enough superlatives from the Bozo in the Oval. Last year the big question was whether Donald would leave in handcuffs or a strait jacket. It remains still unanswered but now seems he remains protected by an extended definition of executive privilege. 

Where is Tiresias the Greek who prophesied what lies around the next corner? The ancients must have listed Soothsayers in their Yellow Pages. They had a penchant for Olympian intervention. The best we can do are pundits who seem to live on different planets, the fabulists on Fox on one and the truth-seekers of CNN and MSNBC on the other.

My final reason for not making lists of what just happened is that I’m more interested in what’s up. I’ve already spent too much time in the rear-view mirror reviewing what went wrong….. until I met Peggy and now it’s all good. Bliss is a blur.