Friday, September 21, 2018

Your Call Is Very Important to Me

But I can't come to the phone right now. I’m too busy thinking great thoughts and looking for good news. If you are calling about molestation and harassment by Hollywood, the Holy Hierarchy or High Court, press one. If you are calling about derangement in the White House, press two. Melting glaciers and estranged polar bears, press three. Homeless folks living in cardboard boxes while the Dow is bursting its buttons, press 4. If you are asking for contributions to the policemen’s ball leave your message before the beep. If you are calling to tell us that Peggy’s Cat-Scan got mixed up with somebody else’s leave a message after the beep.  

The morning newspaper is filled with stories of bodies buried in a typhoon landslide, 124 immigrants found packed in a cargo truck, opioid drug overdose and a variety of mayhem and misdemeanors. Cable stations are feasting on bulletins of disaster. Netflix is bloated with serial killers, epidemics, carnage and apocalyptic scenarios.

As a kid I followed WW II in the New York Times. I remember feeling some pride learning how to hang onto the subway strap with one hand and folding the paper with the other. The pages were all about Allied retreats and advances, bombings, surrenders, liberations and maps of Pacific islands. It was a geography lesson. It all ended in the summer of ’45 and I wondered what there would be to write about. It seems that bad news is inexhaustible. Even in good times I read somewhere there are always about two dozen small wars going on which apparently don’t merit our attention.

Maybe some bad guy died. Does that count as good news? It’s probably why some people watch the Hallmark channel. Here’s a story of a woman living in her car for the past year who, along with four others, found a room in a five-bedroom condo through some charity.

The macro doesn’t match the micro. Just last week a woman let me ahead of her on line at the check-stand with my three items. The bonsai plant is still looking pleased with itself. That book the library claimed I didn’t return turned up on their shelves and they apologized. The honey dew I bought in August is almost ripe enough to open. At least I asked if it was ready and it didn’t protest.

Contrary to the impression left by Breaking News I don’t know any mass murderers, double agents, or human traffickers. I’ve yet to have lunch with a suicide bomber or been targeted by a drone. There have been no jack-knifed big rigs on our street. Dog-walkers bag their poop.

Singularly we are a noble lot. We hold the elevator door for each other. We stop (more or less) at stop signs and may grumble over prices but don’t blow up the market. There is no one on the road to incite me into rage. For the most part the milk of human kindness flows in every vein. And yet as we cling to some sort of neo-tribal identity the beast within is given legitimacy. We regress to feral-survivor mode as if…

We’re experiencing a high call volume. Your expected wait-time is seven hours. Best to call back between midnight and three when you can be assured no one will answer the phone.

As for that Cat-Scan, we are dealing with it. Peggy lives by these words of wisdom: No Resistance.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Where I Came In

Saturday between noon and one o’clock we’d be there inching our way across an aisle in the dark theater, my brother and I. It didn’t matter that the movie had started. Being four years older he was stuck with me; I was five, plus or minus. We were probably well-prepared for a long afternoon with boxes of Jujubes, Necco wafers and assorted agents of tooth decay and future zits. 

We would stay until we could say, This is where we came in. How many movies did I watch starting in the middle and working itself to the end and then the beginning? You might think that the lesson would have taught me that life is cyclic like the seasons. But it didn’t quite take. The counter narrative is linear sequential.

I expect most of us behave as if the world started when we fell to earth. Page one. Anything before was preamble. Progression was assumed, corresponding to our own growing up. Life in the 1930s was simple because I was a simpleton and my senses were rudimentary. See Dick run … and he did.

Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger sang union songs extolling the working class. You can’t scare me I’m sticking with the union…till the day I die, went one song. Another lyric was, They say in Harlan County there are no neutrals there / You either are a union man or a thug for J.H. Blair. Blair was a coal mine owner who probably had brought in scab labor during a strike.

In today’s world of the absurd we have descendants of these mine-workers voting for Blair’s would-be chum, Donald Trump. This isn’t progress. It is regression. Some sort of twisted dictatorship of the proletariat. Karl Marx had it all wrong. The down-trodden masses have turned into the mob and cast their lot with the guy in the penthouse. The forgotten are led by the misbegotten. The sit-down strikers of the thirties are now marching to the hokum of a flimflam man. 

We knew those fat cats back in the day. Sydney Greenstreet, Edward Arnold, Eugene Pallette and Charles Coburn weighed in at about half a ton. They nearly always played the filthy rich tycoons indifferent to the man asking, Brother, can you spare a dime.

As Ma Joad said in the Grapes of Wrath: Rich fellas come up an’ they die and their kids ain’t no good an’ they die out. But we keep a’comin. We’re the people that live. They can’t wipe us out; they can’t lick us. We’ll go on forever, Pa, cause we’re the people.

Yes, the people keep on coming but they took a wrong turn, it seems to me, back in Vietnam war days when unions of hard hats mistook it for WWII and felt left out of the social upheaval. They became misaligned with their own welfare and miscast with the generals and war profiteers.

Oliver Hardy famously said to Stan Laurel, Another fine mess you’ve gotten us into. Their movies were part of my Saturday matinee menu along with the double feature, newsreels, March of Dimes collection, Looney Tunes, and a serial such as The Lone Ranger. We are currently in a bigger mess than Stan Laurel ever imagined and no William Tell Overture to signal the return of the masked Ranger or Tonto to set the world right.

Another Laurel quote: I had a dream that I was awake and woke up to find myself asleep. America is half asleep under the spell of malarkey. There is a card sharp robber baron and his band of cattle rustlers running the show with tacit support from the town folk. I am waiting for the part when the clean-shaven sheriff calls them out. It is high noon at the O.K. Corral. I’m waiting for the drunken doctor to sober up. For the schoolmarm to ring the bell and the saloon-keeper to prohibit brawls and shoot-outs. For the decent poor folk to figure out how their bread is buttered and stop shooting themselves in the foot. I can't leave now. I'm waiting for the scene when I can say, This is where we came in.

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Damn Those Greeks

Rumor (which I just started) has it that when Trump heard Stormy was in bed with laryngitis he shouted, Damn those Greeks. He was overheard uttering the same epitaph when told the New York Times op-ed piece was written by Anonymous. Who knew our inspirational leader was a classical Hellenistic scholar.

Perhaps he was drawn to the Greeks when told that their early version of Democracy included slaves and that hubris was a feature of Greek heroes ... before they had their comeuppance. Trump has enjoyed many highlight moments usurping the prerogatives of the Gods. Zeus, himself, that old mischievous hurler of lightning tweets, when he wasn’t having his way with nubile nymphs, would surely have taken umbrage with our Donald. The Olympians didn’t suffer fools gladly.

Sparta, rather than Athens, might have been a better fit. Bone spurs to the contrary notwithstanding, he would not have shied away from an invasion or two. And certainly there would be no skimping on parades. Of course, any military action would have been fought by lesser men, the fools and losers. Trump would have watched from his eponymous (another Greek) Tower demonstrating his Edifice Complex.

To prove his immersion in all things Greek Trump follows Socrates dictum that the unexamined life is not worth living. He has tweaked it by declaring that the unexamined Tax Return is not worth showing. As for Plato’s assertion that we are mere shadows on the wall Trump seeks to test the notion by building a three-thousand mile wall. In the world of mythology heroes routinely kill dragons.  Rather than look inside at his own demons he has set out to kill the imagined one, namely, Government. Had he directed his angst against corporate greed we might have reason to hail him.
He has identified with Narcissus fixed as he is with his own face and hair. Opposing women’s control over their reproductive rights Trump might have looked toward ancient Greece where many an unwanted baby was set out among the rocks or caves …only to pop up years later (Ion and Oedipus) with dire consequences.

But Trump is, archetypically speaking, the Trickster. Though that designation insults the coyote. He certainly is not the disguised shaman or healer. His forked tongue may be his Achilles heel having put his foot in his mouth so often. He is part Odysseus with duplicity and deceit and part Orpheus charming his way into the underbelly while he lip-syncs the illusory dread in the Heartland.

My guess is Trump’s favorite Greek name is Xeno, meaning strange voice; hence xenophobia, that base fear which he has inflamed among his fearful base.  Damn those Greeks.

Friday, September 7, 2018

Conversation with the Other

In a recurrent nightmarish day-dream I’m the last one standing. Aliens have arrived and I’m there to greet the spaceship hoping, at least, for someone to have lunch with. After the usual small talk about our respective planets and what went wrong with mine I ask what took them so long. The pilot apologizes because they’ve been monitoring our decline and fall for many moons, alarmed at our recent planetary suicide but he says they just didn’t make the lights.

The three-eyed android who more resembles an over-sized grasshopper or an under-sized rhinoceros, remarkably, speaks a perfect English. Good thing because I only took Trash as a second language. It had been a while since I’d spoken at all and found myself fluent, at first, only in gibberish till I regained use of my tongue.

He then turns to a pile of what we used to call technology inquiring how all the gadgetry works. I dread the moment and plead total ignorance. Fearful of raising his hackles I try to explain that we earthlings used a lot of things but most of us had no idea how anything worked. His hackles did indeed rise. I worried that some form of inter-galactic enhanced interrogation was coming in which I might find myself impaled on one his hackles.

He seemed to accept my ignorance since, after all, we had convincingly demonstrated our collective stupidity by electing an infantile despot to lead our nation. The visitors regretted their delayed arrival and having to deal with such a poor specimen as me to enlighten them on our human progress. I could only assure them that there used to live among us some who could explain how the loom with its punch cards led to player pianos and eventually to programming the computer. I told him there were a few of us undaunted by hot wires or hard drives who could fiddle with links and algorithms and blue teeth and black holes. If one of those had survived they could build it all over again from a handful of dust. However I was not the guy.

All I had to offer was the paper clip, coat hanger and orange juice squeezer none of which he had ever seen before. We agreed to call it a start and besides it would take a lot more than things to get it right next time around.  

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

I Forgot the Question

But Arlen Specter is the answer. These days lunch could not be complete without looking up some piece of trivia on a smart phone. I don’t have one but my friends always do. It leaves no question unanswered except, perhaps, for the meaning of life, what are we doing here and what just went wrong with our country. As for Arlen Specter, Google him if it matters.

I doubt if any of our ancestors had as much knowledge crammed into their grey matter as we do. Our heads are stuffed with gigabytes (whatever that means) of facts. Too bad knowledge doesn’t translate into wisdom. Was it Plato or Yogi Berra who said that, knowledge is knowing that tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is knowing not to put it in fruit salad. Actually it was Miles Kington who deserves attribution. He also said that a pessimist sees a glass as half empty. An optimist is the guy who drinks what’s there’s and orders another. I know all this because I just looked it up…but at least I waited till I came home.

Given my creeping senility and early signs of nominal aphasia I expect to forget his name by next week, deleted in the clutter. Knowledge has a shelf life. Wisdom is more like what we know but cannot quite articulate. Wisdom is likely to be an interrogation. Why and How rather than Who or When. Possibly what happened when we didn’t notice. The ineffable. A instance of congruence in the discord. A pattern seen from a distant perch.

Knowledge has its place. It is one step ahead of info, data and nomenclature. If they opened me up out would come pouring a compendium of pharmaceutical terms, a dictionary of words and an encyclopedia of political events, a smattering of history & geography, a gaggle of ballplayers, movies, actors, big-band leaders and a libretto or two from Gilbert and Sullivan. The stuff that might get you on Jeopardy.     

It may be that wisdom comes in two sizes: petite and extra-large. The tiny wisdoms probably depend on a fair amount of basic knowledge. One couldn’t draw lessons from Karl Marx  without familiarity, at least, with the language of economics. There’s even wisdom in Harpo. Sort of like knowing what it takes not to add tomato (or ketchup) to the fruit salad. Harpo got to us with a shrug, a nod and a honk.

The great wisdom said to be found at the foot of the Himalayas or the bottom of your oatmeal bowl comes to those with a mind empty of distraction, ego and noise. When the Zen novice arrives at the monastery seeking answers he is told to wash his bowl. The floating world is that which eludes Google over lunch but may be accessible to the dishwasher in his reverie. In simplicity and silence one learns to listen for the wisdom which lies within.

Peggy knows all this. The poet doesn’t exert herself scrambling for the word. She receives it. The poet is not only a seeker, she is a finder. There is an art in the joy of irresolution, in the universal muck. It presumes a portal to the unknown. That may be the only wisdom I have ever witnessed.

Yes, Virginia, life is a fountain and a journey but those have exhausted themselves into platitudes. Wisdom is more likely to be found in the roots of an old ficus tree, Liszt's First Piano Concerto, a succulent peach or in Harpo's overcoat with his one roller skate, (unsmart) telephone and a cup of coffee... artifacts of a fractured civilization. He saw a broken piano and made a harp of it.

Monday, August 20, 2018

Planning My After-Life

As a mid-octogenarian it’s not too soon to entertain such thoughts. I’ve been forgetful lately. Maybe I already died and it just slipped my mind. Peggy and I like to think it may have happened about 30 years ago when we fell off the back of a bus on Oxford St. in London and were splattered under traffic. In that case this bliss could be eternal.

But just in case we survived that day I have a plan B. I look to the caterpillar. Not in her wildest dreams does she imagine morphing into a butterfly. If it’s good enough for that fuzzy creeper it works for me too. My shoulders have agreed to sprout wings.

In fact I’ve been in consultation with my aged body parts and they’ve all given their consent to make a contribution…or at least they haven’t said No. We recently signed up for donation of our organs and tissues. Have a spleen, a liver, an eyeball. (Pick up and drop off are free) I would hope that DJT has made similar arrangements so medical science might study what went wrong with his genome. He owes us that much.

Don’t get excited. Neither Peggy nor I have any imminent plans of leaving this mortal coil. I have set my dial to her present age, ninety-seven, which will make her a robust 109… unless I am a piece of broccoli with a pulse and nothing else. If you are reading this, Death, get away from our front door, even our mailbox.  

Depending on how you look at it this is either the best of times or the worst of times for a demise. I’d prefer my curtain to go down when the country is on the ascendant. That is to say, when Donald is a mere asterisk in our chronology, when the reign of tyranny and virulent imbecility has passed. I am foolish enough to believe in Progress however zig-zaged. Call it a spiral with its plateaus and dips but moving nevertheless toward higher consciousness.

Maybe I missed my chance to check out on election eve, November, 2016. Now it’s too late.  What a sadness it must have been to end it alI in 1914 or ’41 when we were on the brink of wreckage. I want to be here, not for happy ending, but for the happy continuance, to bear witness to our repair and reinvigoration. I would like to be around for the restoration of Science as we heed its call to save our planet. And when we learn to love each other or else.

Then I shall get my wings out of the dry cleaner and investigate the pollen in the flower bed. Hold the harps. I'll flit to the music of the spheres and at rest recall my previous incarnation grounded and always at the ready for transformation.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Con Artist vs Artist

I give up. In a previous blog I said he is an aggregate of ignorance, arrogance, mendacity and malice. My store of invective against the Nameless One is exhausted. I have the feeling he enjoys being vilified as long as his name appears…. which I no longer can bring myself to utter. We’ve been sucker-punched. What is red meat for his cohorts has also been our empty feast. The maggots and the birds together get their bellyful. The menu for Fox (faux) news to be revered is the same for MSNBC to be ridiculed.

It keeps us busy for the news cycle and distracts us from creating our own agenda. We need to make news, grab the narrative. Make the case for taxes as providing services, for Entitlements as compensation earned, that education is a Right without becoming a debtor for decades. For diversity. For healthcare, clean air and water as Rights which can be afforded by the wealthiest country in the history of the world.

If the Nameless One is an artist it is a con artist, creating a model for Mussolini-like Fascism. He is the master sculptor having turned the soft clay of amorphous fear and grievance into a hard edged hatred impervious to reason. He promises order out of the chaos of his own creation, repairing what he just broke. He resets the clock, makes sure the trains run on time…and the train of thought as well, absent of dissent.

Fifty years ago I had dear friends who saw their lives also in turmoil and the country mean and soulless. They joined in a counter-culture community with a powerful leader. I attended one of their meetings in San Francisco. The group of a few hundred were clearly under his spell in what I regarded as hocus-pocus paranoia. There was a jazz band. The members had been persuaded that society threatened their fellowship. Gradually they gave up their autonomy. Their dying began when doubt was forbidden. The judgement of the man at the helm was not to be questioned. His name was Jim Jones. My friends, Claire and Richard survived but lost their two teenage children.

The one whose name I cannot utter has also reached cult status. He can insult, act impetuously, fabricate, have tantrums and surround himself with incompetent and admitted criminals … all with impunity. His rallies generate chants. On cue his base drinks Kool-Aid staunchly supporting policies detrimental to their own livelihood.

To call him an artist does a disservice to all artists. True art doesn’t promise Order. In fact its vitality is in its association with the disreputable, disruptive and reckless. It more closely resembles the demography of this country in all its shades of skin and beliefs. It is inclusive and welcoming of the new. It challenges convention which Republican reactionaries uphold as a fixed ideal. Art resists margins. There is a democracy inherent in paint and words ever pushing toward a new way of seeing, rearranging the senses and interrogating the unknown.