Thursday, November 15, 2018

In the Time of Our Scanning

Don't you know that stuff causes cavities? 

That's me talking to a dentist in the medical building where my pharmacy was located. Every afternoon after lunch he would come in for a candy bar. No, no, he said, it doesn't. Haven't I told you what causes cavities? It's my pencil mark on the X-ray.

If I wasn't a cynic before, this did me in. I've never altogether trusted imaging since then. Yet everybody's doing it. Florida is scanning. Georgia is scanning. Peggy got scanned four times since October. And I've been scanned twice this week.  My knee is either osteoporotic or the technician left his pencil smudge on my X-ray. Yesterday another doctor took the scenic route up and down my alimentary canal...snipping polyps along the way. No other trouble in River City.

Scanning deserves to be scanned. The word originated with the Latins who stole it from the Greeks who lifted it from Sanskrit. Poetry is its mother as in scansion having to do with where the stresses are.... iambs and dactyls etc...Originally it referred to the mount or rise and fall in the metric foot of a poem, a beat or rhythm as in toe-tapping. A poem scans when it rocks, when the body sways to the small leaps of the lines. In its travels the word has come to a halt in medical technology. Now it seems to mean, a close, careful gathering of data or image by a sensing device. 

In the end we have to trust our dentists and our voting machines, Trump to the contrary notwithstanding. Maybe he only trusts his dentists if they tell him he has no cavities, a perfect occlusion and a set of molars designed to make America grate again. Such a mouth should be donated, at the appropriate time, to U.C.L.A. for further research.

In the meantime. Our voting apparatus would be well-served if monitored by some Banana Republic where Democracy has taken hold after studying models of old American Civics books. The Republican Party seems to have forgotten all rules of decency and inclusion. First they close down polling places, then remove citizens from registration rolls, provide broken-down machines, run out of ballots, and finally poison the entire process by shouting "rigged" with no evidence to support the claim.  

After several Scans-Pet and Cat... Peggy awaits word from her from her doctor with results from her Tuesday ultrasound. May there be no smudges, no hot-spots or shadows. Or hanging chads.

There is some poetic justice about scanning. The way the machines spit out the ballots, knocking one Republican after another from a long-held throne in the House of Reprehensibles.

Listen, my children, to his midnight Tweets / the rants of a man in his web of deceit. 

In this ongoing opera Donald's arias do not scan well. His words are clunky, juvenile and hyperbolic. He is off-key and doesn't hear America singing. It ain't Whitman's yawp. It’s his own malice and loathing. There is a counter voice being heard. Millennials are stirring. The suburbs are waking. 


Thursday, November 8, 2018

One Thing Leads To Another


And that can send us out of this world.

When Peggy’s bronchitis was at a low point about ten days ago we thought it best to take her temperature. I had to search for the thermometer which we hadn’t used for at least twenty years. It was that old-fashioned type. After a few minutes of twisting and turning the mercury was still elusive and seemed to be stuck around 98 degrees before and after a few minutes under her tongue. I didn’t trust it and went out and bought a new digital one bringing me into this century.

I started thinking about that strange element, mercury, which I probably played with as a kid rolling the glob around, not knowing better. Quicksilver was the common name. It was quick and it was silver. Was it liquid or solid or both?

Before antibiotics or sulfa drugs mercury was used to treat all sorts of infections from syphilis to malaria. It was a favorite of alchemists who turned quicksilver into quick death. A corpse or two never stopped them.  Dr. Benjamin Rush, signer of the Declaration of Independence, was a great believer. His mercury panacea, Dr. Rush’s Bilious Pills, was so toxic it poisoned and partially destroyed whatever organ it touched. He gained fame by fighting off a Yellow Fever epidemic. Bodies reacted by purging it along with our partially poisoned entrails.  Lewis and Clark packed six hundred Rush’s laxative pills with their gear while exploring the western territory. Sam Kean in his book, The Disappearing Spoon, tells how traces of the stuff can still be found which tell us where William and Meriwether built their campfires. Lewis died shortly after their return from an apparent suicide possibly with effects of that slippery substance. Mercury took its toll.

At one time hat manufacturers used a mercurous compound in the separation of fur from pelts. Hence the Mad Hatter of Alice in Wonderland. The stories of mercury take us to a land of wonder. As the vet said to the cat-owner, I’m afraid it’s terminal. She has a case of curiosity. Kids and cats can die from it. Fortunately my curiosity stopped short of getting enough of that wonderful stuff spilling out of broken thermometers.

The Romans renamed Hermes, Mercury just as Zeus became Jupiter. Mercury gave us the words merchant, merchandise and mercantile. Hermes/Mercury, with his winged feet, was the messenger whose swift delivery corresponded with its rapid orbit closest to the sun (Apollo). Its elliptical itinerary is speedy but its spin is slow and the ancients mistook it for a sudden reversal of its west to east orbit. Actually it is just zipping around the sun at a faster speed than Earth giving the illusion of going backwards. Hence the notion, dear to astrologers, that Mercury is in retrograde 3-4 times a year. In Greco-Roman society Mercury, the demigod, reigned over communication, commerce and travel. He even escorted the dead to Hades and some of us living to an optical illusion.

It explains everything……if you are a believer. The missed flight, the bad phone connection, the overdue library book. Everything except a random universe and why quicksilver results in quick slivers when ingested. That glob of spilled mercury became a small planet, inhospitable to us earthlings and a trouble-maker as a nostrum for centuries. If anything is in retrograde it is America since Donald took office.


Friday, November 2, 2018

Peggy's New Poetry Chapbooks


I’m the guy who sharpens her number two pencil. Every morning, without fail Peggy Aylsworth, now in her 96th year, writes a poem in her composition notebook. And that’s not the only reason I married her.

We don’t travel anymore. Ambulation has its challenges but her spirit is undiminished. The poems are extensions of her perceptions and that vast country within called the imagination.


Her subjects range from trees, real and imagined, blossomed plants and feathered creatures at our breakfast window to an orange cap on the head of a dog-walker to an article about tragedy in South Sudan. All of these might find their way into one poem. She doesn’t linger to milk a metaphor. She darts, like a hummingbird, having distilled just enough from a single image to create a thread.


Peggy's poetry is an amazing web of connectivity. A collage of disparate notations. A quiet yet rhapsodic orchestration of what her senses register and her mind intuits. She is able to transform the largely un-noticed passing parade into her own language we call, Aylsworthian.


The result is much more than a montage of imagery. Through the alchemy of her poetics and a finely tuned sensibility Peggy finds veins of emotional universality in what seem unremarkable.


Wisdom is one of those words devoutly to be avoided yet the pile of years does confer at least an amplitude of vision which she manages to bring to the page. There is a celebration of the elemental. Her poems seem to extract an affirmation even from the dread and daily defamations we have come to accept as admissible in public discourse. Peggy’s poetry suggests not only the yes from yesterday but that a substance within us shall prevail. 

The above was written by me a couple of years ago. She's now two years younger. (Every birthday, I subtract a year)

Two chapbooks of her poetry have been in the works for a while and are soon to be released. One, Better In The Dark, takes as her subject about thirty films seen over the past decades. Most of them are challenging to the sensibility of an American audience. She sees through the opacity and reconfigures the narrative in her uniquely slanted way. The result is not a plot summary but the essence of the movie into another art form. Actually this book is already available from Amazon. 

The second, Two Is A Sacred Number, is a collection of love poetry written to, of all people, me. What can I say? Of course, they are wonderful and surely more meaningful to me but I'm happy to share. In a sense all Peggy's poems are love letters to the world. Most of these are part of our exchange of poems on special occasions. Mine tend to be too referential to particular names and places. Almost thirty-five years ago we were washed ashore to set sail at first light, not as Ulysses or Ahab but ancient mariners rowing to Eden, oar to oar. This book is in the final stages and will be listed on Amazon in the next couple of weeks. 


Monday, October 29, 2018

Merging


Arguably our major holidays are a conflation of pagan (peasant) rituals. Christmas is Chanukah just as Easter is Passover. The one being a festival of lights as days grow darker in the northern hemisphere and the other a version of spring renewal. Birth and resurrection or liberation, there isn’t a nobler cause for celebration. 

Soon the calendar says Halloween followed closely by Election Day. I sense a merging and I’m getting spooked. The ghost of Election Days past has got me. It all goes back to my first November voting experience at the wee age of three and a half. No, I didn’t run precociously for office on a platform of forgivable toilet training. Nor was I campaigning playpen to playpen. It was possibly my earliest memory, one which has stuck to my bones ever since.

Not knowing what else to do with me my mother took me along to vote. She then disappeared behind the green canvas curtain. Was it separation anxiety or chronic earache that caused me to start bawling? Or was I grieving for the plight of the nation? It was 1936. Perhaps I was weeping for the dust bowl, the breadlines and the rise of the Third Reich. Or maybe a leftover diaper pin was sticking me. I’m told I was a world class cry baby and still am albeit a bit more contained.

John Maynard Keynes put it this way: Capitalism is the astounding belief that the wickedest men will do the most wickedest things for the greatest good of everyone. This could serve as the epithet for our Age of Trump. The man with sinister impulses, both vain and ignorant at once, is being offered as a referendum in absentia and still half of registered voters will probably sit it out. It is the ultimate trick or treat.

When I was a kid (older than 3 ½) Halloween was a time for colored chalk, a nickel mask and some semi-malicious mischief. We might move a garbage can onto the lawn or chalk a front door. Now that the beast has been uncaged by Donald we’ve had our fill of malice.

Costumes? Why not? As Woody Allen quipped, My only regret in life is that I’m not someone else. There are certain people in Congress I wish were someone else and for more than one night.

The Day of the Dead comes along with Halloween. It brings to mind all those candidates I voted for on past November Tuesdays and grieved over their defeat......Adlai Stevenson, Gene McCarthy, George McGovern. Comatose and nearly dead is our dysfunctional Senate where aged white men from 35% of the population decide our fate in complicity with a deranged executive.

May the first Tuesday of this November not be an extension of another horror movie. May we expiate our demons who sit in citadels of power. May their ghouls be un-chalked from the great ledger.


Sunday, October 21, 2018

What's the Big Idea?


My default position seems to be looking for the big idea. That transcendent wisdom or folly extracted from the minutiae of the mundane. Show me a cough and I start to think cough syrup and I then wonder whether coughs should be suppressed or expectorated. And furthermore whether anything should be inhibited or let loose. What did Spinoza or Schopenhauer have to say about that?

In the case of cough preparations a friend swears by the narcotic syrup, Hycodan, which acts on the cough reflex to quiet it down. Socrates may have had a coughing fit when he chose the ultimate suppressant, Hemlock, demonstrating that sometimes the examined life isn't worth living either.

And speaking of coughs it’s a short leap to focus on Kleenex. I’m looking for a subject so ordinary it escapes observation and any sort of overarching significance.

It occurs to me that there may be something wrong with my nose. It drips. Where are you running, nose? And not only my east and west nostrils but also my bilateral eyes. A partial parotidectomy in 1981 seems to have tampered with my salivary glands causing an oversecretion. In addition ever since cataract surgery about ten years ago my eyes no longer reabsorb tears so they make their way out of their sockets and travel down my cheeks as if I’m weeping. Of course our geopolitics offers much to weep about. 

North of the neck I count seven orifices. Only my ears behave. As a result we have no less than nine boxes of Kleenex in our two-bedroom, two-bath apartment. I just counted them. They are always at the ready at easy reach. Peggy joins me in this mishagosh.

Maybe nine boxes are a function of old age. We are crying for you, Argentina…..and everything up from there on the map. We are crying a river. Our body humours are speaking in the only language they have. I grant them their fluency.

So call me rheumy, call me lachrymose, just don't call me before 8 A.M. And bless the tissue; so perfect in dimension (form follows function), so sublime in texture, so rectilinear and virginal as the driven blizzard in North Dakota only to find its demise as crumpled as Ohio or, better yet, the shape of Frank Geary's next building. 

What did folks do before Kleenex or any other tissue? Why they used handkerchiefs, of course. I used to have one in my pocket during my time at P.S. 99. I think my mother even ironed them. 
When you stop to think of it hankies are really not very sanitary. Far better to employ one of those downy swan-white tissues. There is nothing whiter and softer except perhaps a wad of cotton but wholly unsuitable for the task at hand.

Before handkerchiefs I suppose there was always long-sleeve shirts but that’s as far as I want to take this. I must stop myself before I start looking for the big idea. There is no big idea for a change. What a relief! Don't get me started.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Late October Gore

October would be my favorite month with all that pumpkin flavored ice cream and such along with golden foliage. If it wasn't for the saturation with memento mori.

The last horror movie I saw was probably Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein. I was fifteen and that hardly qualifies but I’d had enough. Earlier, I sat through Dracula, The Wolf Man and assorted graveyards, ghouls, zombies, vampires and haunted houses. The older I get the less capacity I have for what goes on in those dark and stormy nights.

In fact I can’t imagine what the attraction ever was. Are people starved for sensation? Just watch the news of carnage in Syria or corpses half buried in the latest typhoon. If it’s rage you enjoy check out the last Trump rally.

I abhor brutality, torture, can’t handle Holocaust films, prison movies or even fake autopsies in T.V. dramas. I close my eyes for butchered animals and cock fights. I can only handle food fights and pillow fights. And I must admit to enjoying the controlled violence of a football game. Indefensible, I know.

I suppose healthy people get inured to horror by laughing at it. I wouldn’t know. I’m not that healthy. My empathy gets in the way. I immediately become the victim of a Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Whatever catharsis that’s supposed to take place in the viewing doesn’t happen in my psyche. I understand folks watch Nightmare on Main Street in order not to have nightmares. I remember seeing One Million B.C. when I was seven years old. While Victor Mature wrestled with dinosaurs and assorted monsters I wondered how I would ever get home outrunning a saber-toothed tiger.

Here’s my problem. I must have suffered a mild but chronic case of post-traumatic stress. Maybe Nosferatu took a drink from my bloodstream. A Jungian would say I’m not facing my shadow side.  I don’t disagree. Some form of arrested development prevents me from differentiating the real from the imaginary. I know it’s not actual but it feels that way.

If there is a membrane between the graphic images of suffering in Yemen and the latest version of Hollywood spook… that membrane is no longer impervious. The shock and schlock of human depravity along with gratuitous scenes of blood-curdling beasts registers in my unconscious as a threat to my well-being. 

Strange how I wasn’t nearly so much of a scaredy-cat in childhood as I am now. I'm sure creeping mortality has something to do with it. My cerebral cortex doesn’t stand a chance against my reptilian medulla.

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Doyle, Donald and the Penny Dreadfulls


It is a stretch, I know, to find the thread between Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Donald J Trump but I’d like to give it a go. Arguably Doyle’s invention of Sherlock and Donald’s invention of himself are both high functioning sociopaths. Sherlock Holmes was one which fit the late Victorian age. Trump is less of a man than a phenomenon who came along to fill a vacuum created by an age of dislocation and accelerated change. The sleuth with the deerstalker hat was a noble outlier; the Donald is a megalomaniac who offers a satchel full of empty promises. 

Penny Dreadfulls were read by an estimated one million Londoners each week. They were illustrated sensationalist rags with stories of cheap thrills, piracy, murders and science fiction, aimed at young men. They ripped off versions of Charles Dickens, Wilkie Collins, Bram Stoker and Arthur Conan Doyle. Holmes’ exploits were fodder just as Trump and the National Enquirer use each other to fabricate his exploits while vilifying Hillary. For eight years they had Barack and Michelle divorcing with as much credibility as a JFK citing or alien landing. The Dreadfulls were the social media, the Tweets of the day. Both were the creation of fevered minds. At least the 19th century version presented itself as fiction while Donald seems unable to distinguish fact from fable.

Victorian England was at its peak of Empire. Think globalization. Big bucks were being made by a few people. The air was foul. Tradition under assault. Science seemed out of control with epochal technology and new-fangled gadgets. The bucolic countryside was fast disappearing with a growing divide between rural and urban consciousness. There were 200,000 prostitutes in London. Homelessness, filth and indenture coexisted with a genteel civility. People knew their place. Social mobility was virtually unknown. Rigidity and rectitude were giving way to randomness and relativity. Society was held together by a veneer of respectability, class fixity along with a sense of order and resolve. Every disruption had its resolution.

Enter Sherlock Holmes. He brought rationality and logic. He deduced. He rooted evil out and restored civility. He was their defense against a random universe. He never died because he never lived. Arthur Conan Doyle’s invention rested on the shoulders of Edgar Allen Poe’s invention and upon Sherlock’s shoulder came Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot, Raymond Chandler’s Phillip Marlow and Dashiell Hammett’s Sam Spade…the genre is still digging.  Detectives detect. They mostly act on their own as benevolent vigilantes offering the illusion of justice.

The new sheriff with the technicolor hair who rode into America’s heartland, on the last train from Yuma, is Donald Trump, that old robber-baron, land-grabber, in disguise. He and he alone nails the most-wanted posters to the wall. He leads the posse, locates the hanging tree and prepares the noose. He is the faux-detective offering simplistic words with a ten-year old’s vocabulary to complex problems.

Yet both Doyle and Donald appear at pivotal moments, albeit 125 years apart. Brits also encountered immigrants from their jewel, India. Holmes pandered to Londoners xenophobia with a distrust of foreigners. Many Indians ended up in Newgate Prison on the barest suspicion. Gay behavior was criminalized just as many Red states would have it today. It would be decades before women were fully enfranchised in England. Their first voting right act in 1918 was restricted to propertied women over thirty. 1895 Britain and the American Heartland bear some resemblance in their racism and misogyny.

The name Sherlock suggests razor sharp certainty. I suppose he would be repulsed by the fuzzy mind of our Prez. The man from Baker Street could surmise a man’s entire profile by a glance at his hands and the smell of his tobacco. Our guy from the high tower smelled angst and fear and inflamed it into irrational rage. There is a mystery afoot surrounding Trump something like the yellow fog that fell on London Town back in the day. May Sherlock Mueller get to the bottom of it all.