Wednesday, October 21, 2020

LOST

Will the person who climbed through the window and stole my glasses please return them? No need for forced entry; just drop them off at the front door. No questions asked.

All right, forget all that. I’ll take the rap. I haven’t been out for three days so it’s got to be here somewhere. The truth is I don’t wear them much. They are bifocals and I can read better without them except for tiny subtitles and when I’m driving.

It’s understandable that the glasses might be upset. The last time I drove (I can’t remember when) I sprayed on some shaving cream to prevent them from fogging up. After wiping, the film is supposed to prevent the haze from wearing a mask.  

Or maybe they’re upset because Peggy has about seven reading glasses from the Ninety-Nine Cent Store scattered around the house and they don’t want to be associated with low-life cousins. It could be they escaped like some of my socks. I could swear a few of them made their way across the street and showed up in yard sales.

Looking for anything always turns up something else. So far, I’ve discovered a small flashlight behind my night stand and a set of car keys from a Honda I owned eleven years ago. Usually I find my credit card when I’m looking for my checkbook. Of course, my cell phone knows how to ding when call it.

Listen to me, glasses, if you're out there, it's true I've never cared for you much. I was always afraid someone would mistake me for an intellectual. And then what? So maybe this is payback. You're hiding because of my constant vacillation. One day I'm seeing through rose colored lenses and the next through a glass darkly. I can't help myself. Call it existential dread.

Could it be you are hiding to teach me a lesson? If you think I'll go blind and suddenly play the piano, forget about it.  Nor will I become a seer even with the beginning of macular degeneration. There's a long tradition in literature to assign inner vision to the blind. I have no wish to become either Tiresias or Homer. However I have gained a bit of insight in this grand search.

I have discovered a most profound philosophical concept. Are you ready? Namely, drumbeat……… that Everything is Somewhere. The converse is also true: Nothing is Nowhere. This is the kind of wisdom that is hard-earned after losing something every couple of weeks over the past 87 years.  

Now I’ve taken to imaging. I can picture my glasses all spread out behind or under something. They’re just lying there with their astigmatic correction maybe missing my nose or my ears. Who knows what emotional attachments they’ve made?

I can’t take this much longer. It’s one thing to lose my glasses but another thing to be numbered among those known as Losers. Trump has got my number. Not only a Loser but maybe a Sucker also. If I find them will I suddenly become a Winner?

Ah-ha, I got up this morning and spotted them looking forlorn on the floor around my computer. I forgive them for their wanton ways. In the words of Donald, I take all of the credit and none of the blame.

 

Sunday, October 18, 2020

The Untied States of America

 America is a sandwich with artisanal squiggly breads of rocky shores on either side and rigid perpendiculars of Dakotas in the middle.

The Blue coastal states are a bluesy sax blowing grievances and joy as if those islands in the Pacific Northwest were new ideas bubbling overhead in a comic strip and the Florida Keys, a work in progress. Maybe someone took a bite and these were the indigestible chunks.

California is a baguette and Oregon an Everything Bagel while Puget Sound is the piece of an argument that resists containment, giggling and probing into some vivid unseen.

Jersey is seeded rye. The Carolinas ready to burst and Georgia has a blue moon rising. Maine is mainly independent indigo and from Massachusetts to New York harbor diverse as huddled masses yearning to be free.

Here are Wisconsin and Michigan which obey no ruler, shaped by the deep blue lakes and Pennsylvania is stretched out in blue-collar blue under an azure sky.

The swampy bottom of Louisiana is shaped by a parade down South Basin Street to the St. James Infirmary. I’m seeing red going to purple or is that Texas inching out of the red from the Rio Grande northbound.

In the mayonnaise middle is Oklahoma, long as their buried Trail of Cherokee Tears. Alabama, the Crimson Tide. Mississippi, red from Strange Fruit that hung from their trees. Arkansas red as rednecks.

And what does West Virginia think it is doing sprawled out in public with Kentucky blushing red as a MAGA cap while Illinois is belly-laughing into Missouri?

Kansas and Nebraska, lined up like Boy Scouts busy behaving themselves at the hundredth meridian. There’s Utah and Wyoming, straight as the page of Donald’s tax return, caught red-handed. Iowa is straight as a cereal box.

Arizona, home of well-fixed retirees used to be red as John Phillip Souza’s um-pa-pa marching in file on their fixed border but now there is a purple dawn rising.

We are a color chart turning from red herrings to blue remembered hills. From rectilinear slabs of red meat to plates of quinoa and kale. Not yet united but, at least, untied.     

Monday, October 12, 2020

Monarchs

I am monarch by decree

To which my family all agree

Whose praise the heartland heartily chants

And so do my daughter and my sycophants

My daughter and my sycophants   

                                    (With apologies to Gilbert and Sullivan)


 

Look, Peggy enthused, at that huge monarch butterfly.

She saw it flutter down, through the window,

and settle on the end of that branch.

Five minutes later it still hadn’t moved.

Perhaps, just perhaps it was a golden bough unleaving,

from the Gerald Manley Hopkins poem.

 

That’s the way it is with monarchs.

They can make us see what isn’t there.

Sometimes it’s not the butterfly that flutters by.

We can’t wish its existence like monarchs do

from inside their wooly caterpillar chrysalis.

 

Donald is having another tantrum flapping

his monarchial orange fuzzy-wuzzy

as if he were a maga lepidoptera

buoyant and flamboyant   

having astonished his mother-worm

with leaves masquerading as wings.

                                                                                            

Wednesday, October 7, 2020

Individualism: Rugged or Rigged?

Having been born into the Great Depression followed by World War II the role of the federal government felt like mother’s milk, even after I was weaned from the bottle. Roosevelt provided alphabet soup with his NRA, WPA, CCC  et al. If the New Deal had its enemies most of them fell away on that day of infamy, Dec. 7th 1941. The pronoun, WE, was the order of the day.

Since the second half of the 20th century, We the People, has given way to, Me/Mine. We’ve gone from plural to singular. On the political spectrum the greedy who ask, What’s in it for me or I got mine, don’t bother me, are aligned with the so-called rugged individualists who love their guns almost as much as the gospel. Together they comprise the Republican Party.

The Wild West on the frontier is now wild Appalachia and the Heartland for whom the beneficent government of my day has become, in their eyes, some diabolical force out to take away their Social Security and Medicare even though the government is the provider.

The notion of Man-Alone translated to Indian-Killers, slave-owner’s inhumanity vigilantes, and the lawlessness of Jim Crow lynch-mobs. 

The irony is that the so-called rugged individualists are really the conformists who march in lock-step to the demagogue having abdicated their autonomy in mindless obedience.

Poor Karl Marx. He got it all wrong. Groucho could have done better. The working class is allied with Wall St., coalmine operators and hedge-fund operators. The down-trodden masses have swallowed the opiate in massive doses. Maybe that’s why they are unmasked. After all, Macho men don’t get sick and I suppose they don’t care if you do.

Masks are the new bumper-stickers, the great signifiers. The unmasked face is the emblem of pathological individualism. Donald’s behavior suggests masks are for suckers and if you happen to die I suppose you’re nothing but a loser.

Walt Whitman in Song of Myself wrote, I celebrate myself, I sing myself. Even on the Progressive wing there is a confusion between Individuation and Individualism. Psychotherapists have long urged their clients become their own best friend. Self-actualization is not the language of community or necessarily receptive to global responsibility. In a perverse way it can lead to the Not In My Backyard argument as we see in the rejection of homeless shelters or wind-farms which are perceived as driving real estate values down.

We lack the words for collective social discourse, the language to express programs for the greater good. The case for public service or even sacrifice has been subsumed by louder protests of self-interest. America-First translates to America alone heedless of global concerns.

If asked why one either supports or opposes measures to meet the challenges of climate change, the answer is regarded as authentic if they make the person feel better about themselves. This, I submit, is a poverty of language. We are inarticulate speaking in moral terms.

Trump, of course, has exacerbated the situation with his malignant narcissism. If Whitman were alive today would he still hear America Singing? I expect he would hear two tribal camps in a discord of voices.

Sunday, September 27, 2020

Small Pleasures

The specter of a Trump sweep feels like a diagnosis of metastatic carcinoma. Inept and uncouth barely describe the man. How, I ask you, how could anyone vote for a guy with no ept and even less couth.  But we’re too old to move and besides, my friend on a Greek island doesn’t have a spare bedroom. So I look for small pleasures to keep me sane.

I’m told it is now autumn. It happens here as soundlessly as that silent n. We have plenty of weather but no seasons. The only way I know is that Trader Joe has suddenly filled their aisles with everything pumpkin. I now have a supply of pumpkin bread, pumpkin beer, pumpkin biscotti and pumpkin pancakes. I can now die happy……almost.  

To reinforce the calendar the green leaves have turned golden on our coral tree. Their loss of chlorophyll becomes our brief spectacular show. The foliage falls in a blaze of glorious decrepitude. Sort of like the way I feel on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. On the other days I’m filled with pluck and spunk.

See Naples and die, so said Virgil. I’ll take his word for it. I’ve read Elena Ferrante and that’s as close to Naples as I’ll ever get. So I say, See maples and die. And we did eleven years ago along with the sycamore and other deciduous leaves ablaze in the Vermont woods.

Here on the other coast the blaze is an inferno of calamitous proportion with nothing pleasurable about it.

Low-brow that I am I cannot claim to have watched any ballets. The closest I can get is the balletic leaps, spins and twists of LeBron James as he hangs in the air giving gravity the finger while throwing the ball through the hoop. Truly a sight to behold. Nothing matches the athleticism of a great basketball player. 

He reminds me of myself in my wildest dream. I played on the team in my first year of college enough games to get a varsity jacket. My one acrobatic move was grabbing a high rebound around the foul line and in one motion depositing the ball back in the basket. It gets better with each recollection.

Put the kettle on. We need our small pleasures to keep the wolf from the door.

Sunday, September 20, 2020

Plenty of Nothing

As Alice said to the White King in, Through the Looking GlassI saw Nobody.to which he replied, I only wish I had such eyes to be able to see Nobody. Nobody is like Nothing…… And Nothing’s plenty for me.

What’s up? Nothing much. And therein lies the tale.

Shakespeare, that rascal, wrote Much Ado About Nothing but his nothing was a pun for No Thing, thing being the term for phallus at the time. Nothing has quite a history.

Poetry changes nothing said W.C. Auden………but people die everyday for lack of it wrote William Carlos Williams. Maybe that nothing which poetry changes is worth looking into.

There is a vast something in Nothing. It’s the absence better left unsaid or unsayable. Look for the meaning of a poem in among the words. The intervals make the music. The pause is pregnant.

When a friend needs our ear we are best advised to be quiet and reflecting. Just being present and silent allows the flow. All is nothing at all.

One of the problems with this world is our hunting and gathering of too many things. As the comedian says, I don’t want everything. Where would I put it? With our consumer brains we want, we grab, we accumulate heedless of consequence. The earth is scarred. The air is toxic. Our souls are not fed.

On that Streetcar Named Desire we lose touch with a healthy simplicity. Maybe that new car, shirt, shoes, I-phone was merely a distraction. Much can be said for nothingness.

At this age our time is now to liquidate. No attachments, the Buddha said. Disowning isn’t all that easy. That Kwakiutil mask is still blessing the Hopi pots. I’d like to think those books on one shelf are in conversation with those on the other. Wittgenstein is in dialog with Foucault and Samuel Clemens with Dorothy Parker. Reluctantly we'll let them all go. I’ll invite them to our fantasy Thanksgiving table.

In the end we have the Nothing which is Everything. It has all been interjected one way or another. The album is in my inner vault, that inviolable place which takes up no space, gathers no dust and is impervious to the next quake.

As Janis Joplin screamed about freedom…. It’s just another word for nothing left to lose.

 

Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Magical Thinking

For those of us in California, PCH means Pacific Coast  Highway. It’s that vertical ribbon of highway which runs through Malibu and later winds into and out of Big Sur, with waves crashing below. However, to folks in Dreamsville, USA, PCH is short for Publisher’s Clearing House. The wait for that phone to ring or that knock on the door is their retirement plan.

Wait, says our inspirational leader, one bright morning the coronavirus will just disappear. Yesterday he also proclaimed that the weather will soon get colder. Since autumn begins in a week that’s a fairly safe bet but it won’t necessarily mean the end of the fire season.

Trump, in his infinite wisdom, relies on his audience’s short term memory loss as his unfulfilled promises stack up. As a devout naysayer to science and one who sits next to Jesus he believes there’s a time for fire and a time for floods; a time for pestilence and a time for hydroxychloroquine. Gaia sighs awaiting his next delusion.

And when a tree falls on your car or your house explodes it must be part of God’s plan. After all, everything happens for a purpose, doesn’t it? Actually no, it doesn’t.

Our thoughts and prayers are with you. That’s nice. I suppose. This has become the stock phrase for politicians. Translate as, Don’t expect this fire, this hurricane, this mass shooting to bring with it any new legislation.

Those words get the bearer off the hook. Too bad the sentiment is wasted. When we extend our fervent wish for a friend’s recovery it is all we have to express our love. And that matters to the extent that self-healing can happen.

But do thoughts and prayers travel through the contaminated air into the bloodstream of the infirm patient? Or vibes? Or pulsating energy transfers? Or pins in an effigy?

Count me among those who do not subscribe to wishes or curses. Nor can I, as an avid fan, determine the course of a ballgame by standing on my head or opening an umbrella while sitting on the couch.

I’ll probably lose a few friends saying all this. Prayers are wishes sent to God but she doesn’t answer mail no matter how many candles we light or gospel we mumble or how loud the exhortations from the pulpit.

What causes God’s wrath? We do. From denying, from abusing our habitat, from electing morons, from abdicating our duties as custodians. God’s wrath is nothing more than a cocktail of neglect and randomness.

Don’t bother me, say those in their moral torpor, I’m waiting for the phone call with my PCH sweepstakes retirement check.