Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Scrimmage

An article in the newspaper last week told of an autistic teenager who correctly picked the first 24 winners in the NCAA basketball tournament against odds of 30 million to one.

He reminded me of me.

In 1949, when I knew everything, I was also a part-time sports savant. I became big news in one particular newspaper when I predicted 18 out of 20 college football games one weekend. Forest Hills Prognosticator, the headline shouted.

I walked around beaming like Nostradamus for week or two but couldn't talk about it or show anyone. Why?, I hear you ask.

Of the dozen newspapers in New York City I had to choose the Communist Party's one, The Daily Worker. This was no coincidence.Along with the N.Y. Times (A.M.) and Post (PM) the Daily Worker was frequently read under our roof. And, yes, they had a Sports section in which the achievements of Black athletes was regularly celebrated. Maybe they thought overtime meant time and a half, as if I was to lead workers out of the class struggle.

My father was a quiet, self-contained man who radiated equanimity and abhorred confrontation. He was also among the minions whose compassion for the down-trodden resulted in his joining the Communist Party. He had no violence in him, no conspiracies. He was incapable of overthrowing anything, including my mother.

Politics and sports can not be separated. Certainly not in those days. I knew it then but never expected the two to converge the way they did. Who knew when I nailed Fordham over Syracuse and other upsets I would open a page in the FBI files.

Two of them, suited, clean and after-shaved came knocking on our door one day. Was it my breadcrumbs that lead them here? If they knew about my football feat it was because half the readers of the paper were FBI agents probably reporting on each other.

My father didn't give an inch in that scrimmage. He stiffened like a goal line stand and wouldn't let them cross, closing the door on their badges. They did an end run, went to his boss and had him fired but my father seemed taller after that day. His silence was his spine.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Spring Sprung

Easter, yeaster, a soufflé rising as out of bondage, tulip bulbs pushing up on sweet chariots swung low; an exodus, sprung as in Spring, a perhaps hand reaching across; tendrils, rhizomes, old and new testaments, that word derived, swear-to-God, from testicles held in oaths, phallic spires, a resurrection-erection-insurrection toward a promised place, pass the bitters, pass the old words, chosen, not chosen, bless wine, bless herbs, most of all bless us all, good eggs hard boiled go up the hill with Jesus, Moses and Jack and Jill to fetch and pitch nine commands and one for extra innings, take two for C.B. De Mille with his cast of thousands, no time for leavened bread, for corn rye sliced thin with seeds, but seeds, yes seeds for hope and homelands, for miracles, for turning cheek to cheek, think Fred & Ginger, think love is the answer 'cause Jesus don't like killing no matter what the reason for, think outside the box, a fable is a fable; it's enough that the equinox is vernal, something to shout about, the poppies going wild wearing April dresses, odes of them in terraced stanzas strutting their stuff from Fifth Ave. to desert floor, from plots to flower pots to bombed and empty lots; it’s been a too long winter; let me hear that trumpet in the daffodil, the sax in the foxglove, what was dormant is now emergent.....an urgent aching for Spring.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Non-Verbal Communication & Non-Communicative Verbiage

What do heads-of-state talk about when push comes to shove? When one is a hawk and the other’s a dove? When there is no lost love and one is below and the other’s above? Blah, Blah. What did he say? zzzzzzz Jet lag. Winston and Franklin seemed to get past the smoke of cigar and cigarette.. Even Putin and Bush wore the same cowboy boots. Did Mao tell Nixon it was opera they were rehearsing? Does diplomacy-speak ever get real?

As authentic as what passes between a batter and a third base coach with 50,000 eyes on them? You have to admire the certitude of the scratch, the tip of the cap and hitch of belt; that elegant dialog resulting in a steal or a bunt.

John Boehner must have his language nuked in the tanning salon. His words die from exhaustion on the way to our ears.

In those Spelling Bees you would get it right or sit down. No mumbles.

Instead, what we get are "talking points"; the re-fried beans they have cooked up for the day's sound bites. Flip the channels and you hear the same limp phrases from dittoed lips; the sound and the fury that signify nothing.

Contrasted with this we can watch a Marx Bros. movie and see Groucho overthrow a government (or Margaret Dumont) with a raised eyebrow and flick of the cigar. Harpo breaks our hearts when he plays as if he is communing with distant stars.

Van Gogh regarded himself as a musician of paint. We hear his voice on every canvas, his howl to the sky, his anguish in the shoes.

Women in high circles spoke volumes the way they positioned their fans. We have to talk she said, as her fingers crossed the ribs. I love you she sighed, her eyes behind the open fan.

In 1919 Nijinski danced for the last time. He spun and whirled and fell apart crashing through the window into the snow. He was deemed to be mad having entered his exile. He said he had danced the war.

Ahead of his time and ours Antoni Gaudi's archetecture still sings and shocks us. His aesthetic is a choir of mosaics, a hymn to the pagan and sacred in us all.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Action And Reaction

Isaac Newton’s third law of motion….
For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.

True in physics and politics as well. The push-back against healthcare reform reveals the Republicans as classic Reactionaries.

The word came into use describing defenders of the Bourbon monarchy and authority of the Pope against the French revolutionaries. They argued for the restoration of the old order. In the 20th century Reactionaries were the pro-fascist elements leading up to WW II.

The current Conservative rhetoric has the same rancid smell marked by repetitive lies, demonizing of opponents and instilling fear and dread in the public imagination.

These people must have had mothers who never taught them how to be gracious losers.

Consistent with their opposition to every piece of social reform from woman’s suffrage to popular election of senators to anti-trust laws, graduated income tax, rights to collective bargaining, Social Security, Medicare and Civil Rights they have earned their proper name, Reactionaries.

They offer nothing except to stop the clock of progress. Reactionaries are the palace guard protecting the privileged be it the emperor or corporate self-serving agenda. Greed has been alchemized into a virtue and compassion branded as coddling.

They wrote the playbook; a compendium of grand deception at high decibels. They are very practiced at the art and seem to have already won the war of rhetoric. With their finger on the pulse of inchoate rage they have tapped into the loathing of an uninformed electorate. Certain code words are understood to incite racial tensions.

The beast in America has been un-caged snarling, spitting and spewing hatred at every turn. These are the functionally deaf among us for whom reasoned conversation is outside their audible range. One can only conclude that they are either pathological racists or just nitwits incapable of directing the source of their woe begotten existence.

If Barack Obama’s name was Rocky Alabama and he looked like Joe the Plummer much of the vitriol would go away. It may well be that all the rancor is the rant of a lynch mob, noose at the ready.

When will civility return to our national discourse? When will the slumbering underserved population align themselves with a government ready to reach out?

Monday, March 22, 2010

God, Julian And Apple Pie

We arrived in Julian after an arduous 4 hour drive with mirages of their famous apple pie in our head. Julian is a destination for those of us who regard hot apple pie as a religious experience.
Thank you Jeeeez, Yahweh’s in the crust, and pie Allah mode.

It takes some special skill to wander into what must be the only restaurant in town with no apple pie on the menu. This is a town of bountiful appetites. The leftovers on my plate contained enough food to feed the Mormon Tabernacle Choir but as any glutton can tell you there’s always room for a slice of apple pie. We had come this far; made the pilgrimage to Americana to worship at the altar of the almighty apple.

We then mosied across the street and found the Julian Café & Bakery. The menu reminded us that there was “no freedom in a godless world.” Was this their way of saying that they reserve the right to refuse to serve their sanctified pie to anyone but the properly ordained? Too much piety in the pie for my taste.

The fake flowers which sprouted at every turn and the seventeen frilly pillows on the bed of the Gold Rush B&B should have been a warning. When we left town the next morning Peggy suggested we pick up some Godly Julian apples at the market. I was told that the apple harvest was long gone and they only carried regular apples brought in from godless places.

Do you mean that the pie I ate last night wasn’t from home-grown apples?

Yup!

God was in evidence as we headed down the 4000 feet grade onto the Anza Borrego desert floor which ends 235 feet below sea level at the Salton Sea. The drop is spectacular with the green rolling mountains of the Cleveland National Forest almost close enough to touch. The landscape looked like the skin of an immense mastodon.

Wildflowers were seen along the side of the road but not in great profusion as we had seen poppy fields in the Antelope Valley a few years ago. Lupine and desert Lily strut their stuff as well as the red blossoms of Ocotillo and Brittlebush.

Too late for the apples and too early for the desert flowers that bloom in the Spring, Tra La, we got our reward in the unexpected as we drove through the Borrego Badlands, the most un-earthly geological site I have yet witnessed. As far as could be seen were canyons, caves, sunken mesas and corrugated hills dating back 1.6 million years. This was the receiving basin of the ancient Colorado River, the best place in North America to view sediments of the Pliocene and Pleistocene age.

For all this I bow my head in awe. The Badlands don’t get any better. It could be God's address.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Life On The Cusp

Life On The Cusp

With my life half over now I feel it’s time to get off the cusp. How much longer to I need to equivocate between Aries and Pisces? I’m ready to either swim or do whatever it is that rams do.

All these years I’ve been a fish out of water flapping for breath, only half on land mingling with the golden fleece. It’s been an amphibious life, out of the wet, finding my legs to sheepdom yet straying from the herd.

This may account for my preference for un-matched socks or why I keep seeing re-runs of The Agony and The Ecstasy and The Bad and The Beautiful.

Ambiguity is my default position, is that clear? Keats wrote about his version of living on the cusp. He called it Negative Capability; a comfort with uncertainty and doubt without reaching for facts, reason and resolution. When I come face to face with the inexplicable I know I’m getting close to truth.

In an early poem I wrote about friends who went off with Jim Jones I had a line, Dying begins when doubt is forbidden. Lose doubt and you lose your autonomy. When you have to check your autonomy at the front door you are doomed. And so they were.

As for ambivalence I feel strongly both ways. Baaah as in humbug is the way I might lean on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. Then sharpen my battering horns in the other direction on Tuesday and Thursday. Cusp-people reserve the right to make U-turns, even cross double yellow lines in their reversal.

Come to think of it I withdraw my petition to get off the cusp. And what better time to sprout than at the vernal equinox when the sun is directly overhead on its way over North America and day and night equipoised?

I’ll continue to straddle the Zodiac; half-splashing around in earth’s aquarium and half-woolly as in the mammoth who roamed and rammed until the big ice came and then finally melted under the stars all Piscied and Aried. Who am I to question the choreography of constellations?

Thursday, March 18, 2010

The Permanence Of Change

It has taken me 77 years to become 77 and it's become a cliche among my friends to regard our lifetime as witness to the most astonishing changes in human history. Here's the question: Have these past 77 years been all that or did those who exited this world 77 years ago feel the same way about their 77 years and so on? Consider the fine run they had, having been born in 1856.

They marveled at telephones, electricity and its many offspring, movies, cars, planes. Slavery, gone. suffrage, universal, Indians, ethnically cleansed. The greatest migration of people from one continent to another. Freud, Marx, Einstein, Whitman, Darwin, Joyce, Babe Ruth, Charlie Chaplin and Picasso. Coca Cola, Olympic Games, Nobel Prize, World's Fair, World War, God,dead then making a comeback, jazz, antiseptics, aspirin, pasteurized milk and lawn mowers.
How could anyone live through all this and not be rattled and raptured? Both inscape and landscaped so thoroughly ushered into a new land.

Or consider this imagined year-end letter written by a Chinese youngster circa 200 BC.

It is a great time to be alive here in Xian province. Papa’s oxen furrow our field pulling a new marvel called plow. Emperor Han’s doctors have mapped our bodies; blood rivers like the Yangtze, run inside our village leader, neither to be clotted nor spilled. Papyrus has given way to paper but we have no word yet for these many wonders. Some write the ideogram of body leaping. Kites have come to our town. Paper birds fashioned with whistles bring music over rice paddies. We are blessed by the wind’s thousand lutes. Some denounce sudden change but Grandfather’s wisdom is always new. We have made room for brother Wu’s bride, now living under our roof. The cut worm welcomes the plow and multiplies.

Maybe everyone has been awed by the changed landscape during his/her lifespan. Have we been changed accordingly? Ah, the subject for another day.

Monday, March 15, 2010

The Anniversary Of Myself

My birthday is this Sunday but if I were some social conservative, right wing, fundamentalist fool I’d have to say that it really was nine months ago. After all, life begins at conception, no? So, instead of March 21, 1933 I should be celebrating June 21 of the year before. I can almost remember the moment.

He: That was quite a sprint.
She: Just nestle in and make yourself at home.
He: What’s a classy egg like you doing in a hole like this?
She: Just hanging out, biding my time.
He: Do you come here often?
She: About once a month.
He: I’ve been tailing you for some time.
She: Come on up to my place and we’ll make music together.

Me: I hope I get the best of you both

Them: Be quiet you’re not sentient yet.

Embryonically speaking you did good, Mumsie.. I sloshed around like the fish that I was according to the ontology rule book and then moved on, picking up all the requisites for three semesters.

No regrets. I am missing a few cards but maybe they just weren’t in your deck. The music gene didn’t survive the big swim; it must have sloughed off your sperm, Dad. Even if I didn’t make the Glee Club, being branded a listener, I did learn from you how to listen hard.

And thanks, Mom, for your double-helix nurturing gene even if you squeezed some life out of me, umbilically, holding on a bit too tight. In that fetal buffet, I may have gotten some of your demons on my plate. But some I grew by myself which I count on my daughters to dispel. The oy turns to ah in one exhalation as I blow them away with the candles on my cake.

Am I right that you never went on vacation……except when you did? My earliest picture of you is the sepia one in the family album taken of the two of you frolicking on a hillside in Hunter, N.Y. The date on the back says June ’32.

A coquettish turn of your head, Mom, was met by the twinkle that was me in his eyes. Did I ever thank you for all that; to be seeded, especially in that year of dread and woe? I hope your shouts were in unison and sufficient to scatter the gloom.

Blessed was I to have begun on a bucolic summer roll in the hay out of the urgency of love, more potent than the press of hard times.

March Madness

Most likely a pre-existing condition it is characterized by squandering pay checks in office pools, pizza deliveries and grunts & moans from the coach. If your alma mater isn’t included among the 64 chosen teams you may not even notice all the hoopla, unless of course you have money on the point spread.

Basketball is to urban America what baseball was to the pastoral in our collective imagination. It is an inner-city sport played on pot-holed courts, with dead rims behind chain link. Players held to hard ground as in bondage till they are sprung in manumission. Centuries of hang-time, climbing the air in grace for all those who fell before, they soar toward a promised place. The ball is claimed with a stretch and howl, trunk and elbows contoured like a sax, the way Yardbird held his wail, then passed like notes inside the paint, low post, quick pick and cut could be Miles, these riffs, double pump and a slam. Bodies as instruments in sync, one organism answering as if another verdict just came down.

When I played for my college as a freshman in 1950 it was a finesse sport. I was considered tall at 6 ft. 1. I quit after 5 games when I realized I couldn’t dribble and memorize structural formulas at the same time. My memories get polished every time I play that tape in my head; my fall-away jump shot, my vertical leap, my indefatigable tenacity. Damn, I was great! Ah, that rosy lens of time past….and no one around to dispute my hyperbole.

Now the game is played above the rim; bruised bodies, trash talk along with balletic moves and gravity-defying body control. The last 30 seconds can take twenty minutes and there better be someone around who knows CPR.

I love it all, even the clichés of the coaches who will praise their opponent, like humble gladiators, and then conduct themselves like their lives depended on the outcome.

And indeed it does. Sports programs bring in millions to the college and their jobs are often on the line. It’s fun, it’s entertainment, it’s big business. Successful coaches scout kids in middle school and recruit them out of high school. Some bodies keep growing, others stop. Some are congenitally endowed. To get a scholarship is a prize but the bigger goal is the recognition and TV time to be noticed by the NBA.

The gifted athlete who receives inordinate adoration and privileges early on enters life with a handicap. By age 30 or 35 he finds that his swagger has no market in the real world. Eighty percent of professional athletes are divorced and/or broke within three years of retirement. And the great majority never make it that far. Maybe that’s why I reverted back from jock to nerd.

Friday, March 12, 2010

The Meaning Of Life

There are no plots in real life; so said Henry James, only fabrications. He ought to know, he concocted some of the best. His animated inner life seems to us where his life was lived.

What I think of as the story of my life is most probably a series of vignettes strung together into a working myth. Delusion, erasure, randomness and revision have become my narrative. If the chapters aren’t actually true, at least, they feel true. Facts and big truth are trumped by a good story with its own small emotional truth.

So I look for a coherent chronicle as a way of finding meaning in life. Meaning is the ah ha we get by taking the risk of investing ourselves. This is the sum of all my wisdom to date.

I have a long and vivid memory for events that probably never happened. My first love occurred at age nine or was it ten or not-at-all during a spelling bee.

As if in a slow dance we faced each from across the room; the only ones left standing. She perfectly dropped handkerchief while her eyes spelled boyfriend. I sailed past island and rhythm buoyed by my mastery of silent letters and their hush that drew me closer. Flushed as if stung by the bee, no misstep could break the spell. Syllables swarmed in that 5th grade room. Both bitten, we dueled each other with bouquets of words. Her pauses were offerings. Non-verbally I shouted her a kiss. When the bell rang we were tied having left the class behind, off to a new country of forbidden words.

From back then to almost now….

No other restaurant promises so much at the end as our local Szechwan. For all my gluttony there is always room for a fortune cookie with its strip of wisdom inside. I never give up hope that Lao-Tse will turn up. Instead I generally get some Chinese version of Have a nice day which I would never settle for on an empty stomach. But that night’s words. a few months ago, could have come from Rilke (or my eye doctor). You will see beauty where others see nothing unusual. Is it any wonder this is my favorite Chinese restaurant?

As the tea steeps I am drawn into the wallpaper where a foot bridge spans a stream in a hill town along the Yangtze, soon to be dammed and the village flooded. The river is a dragon whipping its tail through the mountains swallowing the landscape with its unseeing eyes. Beauty seen and beauty erased but with its residue left within.

On the way home I am suddenly fluent in the language of roots, how they slither under the fig tree half in, half out of their mind doing their fancy dancing. What does it mean? Nothing and everything depending on how much we give ourselves over to it.

What's it all about, Alfie? He never did figure it out but when I see him I'll tell him it's about spotting Peggy in a market far down the aisle by the way she moves and the warm glow of destination she engenders in me.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

P.O.V.

Breaking news as it is happening in downtown Los Angeles. Police are following a getaway car on the 405 in a live action chase. The alleged gunman fled a 7-Eleven Store after an armed robbery. The images you are watching come to us from a helicopter overhead.
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From up here it looks like the red Chevy is doing about eighty weaving through traffic. He's a helluva driver; I'll give him that. Look, his tires are loose, now he's riding on his rims, down the off ramp. It’s a residential area. He's pulled over and taking off by foot through the backyards, vaulting over walls. It appears that his pants are falling down. A dog is pulling on them and has his shoe. He's done. The police have cuffed him.
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This is infuriating. The guy should be put away for a long time He has endangered the lives of so many people. No one is safe anymore even in a quiet community.
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I'm part retriever, part everything else and not even Golden. I could chase tennis balls 20 hours a day. My preference is green. I was bored until this guy climbed over my fence heading straight for my fuzzy green ball. So I gave him my best growl, flashed my teeth and got them around him. The next thing I know all these men are circling me. Good boy, they keep saying and I'm get patted on my back. All I want is my ball.
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It’s been the worst day of my life. I don't know what I was thinking. After I see my girlfriend drive away with some dude, my boss tells me to take a hike. Nothing matters no more. So I go into this convenience store and have myself a little fun. I make like a crook, you know, and stick my hand in my pocket pointing a Bar-B-Q chicken like a gun at the cashier. The guys panics and I run.

Monday, March 8, 2010

And The Winner Is.......

I must preface my remarks by admitting that I have not brought myself to see any of the films mentioned herein. My comments are therefore about the idea of them plus numerous short clips.

The Academy Awards came down to two films. All of youse Avatar freaks get over dere; and you Hurt folks on the other side of the room. Now go ahead and have a food fight to settle the matter. And why not include Tarentino for some added sadism.

Wake me up when we return to human beings in human relationships absent the wet dreams of Cameron and the woman-with-male-sensibility. Extolling the risks of soldiering is, by extension, a celebration of war itself. The most courageous act would be to end it. All the rest is a distraction from our policy of occupation, vengeance and arrogance. It is not enough to declare neutrality on the issue. Support for our troops has no meaning beyond bringing them home. If the Roman Empire had our technology they would have made the same movie.

This is no occasion to cheer the first woman director to win an Oscar. Better if we had a man with a feminine sensibility.

Film contains ideology however covertly. Certain presumptions are presented as givens and we tacitly accept them. When our sensibilitiues get blunted war becomes a ready option.

Avatar not only patronizes the "noble savages" it argues against humanity in favor of a new, advanced uber-human with techno tough skin. From Schwarzenegger on, this is Cameron's fantasy.

Too bad we can't be offered fewer grotesqueries with whom to spend our time and money. As if the human predicament is not enough without relying on computer-generated surrogates to depict our joys and sorrows.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Oscar Night

Ah ha, Oscar Levant, Oscar Homulka and Oskar Werner.

Not quite.

The louder movies get the more I run for cover. Take your inter-galactic comic book monsters or war weaponry explosions, your chainsaw massacres and mayhem, high-speed chases with high decibel shrieks. I’ll be waiting in my monastic cell practicing my vows or at a Quaker Meeting Hall.

For my pantheon I’ll take Nat Cole over Ethel Merman, Benny Goodman's Sing, Sing, Sing over Stan Kenton's Artistry In Percussion and YoYo Ma is better yet. Silence is my first language.

This is sounding more like your mishagosh.

I had my idols but they were the sort that didn’t hang around for the ovation. My war hero was the guy who got off the train one stop before the big brass band waiting for him. He was the Lone Ranger who rode away while the town folk wondered who that masked-man was. I fell for the Green Hornet and Batman because they had doppelganger day jobs. Clark Kent was my kind of guy; a man of steel behind his glasses and a flying cape under his mild-mannered suit. Your classical schizophrenic from Krypton.

Henry Fonda, ever humble, was my sort and gulping Gary Cooper as Lou Gehrig who proclaimed how lucky he was while dying of Lou Gehrig’s disease. I most identified with Spencer Tracy, fierce with few words in Bad Day At Black Rock or just quietly resolute as Thomas Edison. The loudest I needed of him was as Clarence Darrow inheriting the wind.

Conversely my tolerance for hysterical actors is low. I can barely put up with Jack Lemmon, Jack Klugman, Red Skelton or Lucille Ball. Give me Walter Matthau, Alec Guiness and Glenda Jackson who knew the power of the understatement over the histrionics of Lawrence Olivier or Al Pacino. Al Jolson is my idea of auditory water-boarding.

If not mishagosh then arrested development.

I’d rather be killed softly with a song but there are some notable exceptions to my preference for hushed tones. I gave it up for Cabaret and Chicago and laughed myself silly with the rollicking, zany, madcap antics of Alan Arkin and Peter Falk in The In-Laws.

If my mother had had me seven or eight years later I’d probably have a different set of names to offer.

Maybe I’ll watch the Oscars with my finger on the mute button and when one of those noisy films walks away as best of the worst I’ll just continue on my counter-clockwise spin back to those days when a close-up of an expressive face spoke volumes.

So what happened to Levant, Homulka and Werner?

They're all dead.

How come they died and I didn't?

That's debatable.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Museum Guard

Out of luck. out of town and on the bus from outside Des Moines headed to the big city. Destination, the Art Institute of Chicago, hoping to land a job. The man sitting across from you the past few miles gets off also. He says you need to know to somebody and he becomes that person whose name you can drop.

You’re thinking how all this fell into place twenty-seven years ago. You’ve seen them come and go; other guards and daily viewers. You patrol two rooms on the second floor containing the most treasured artworks. Two paintings in particular you have claimed as your own, as steward. You possess them as much as anyone can ever possess a work of art; Hopper’s Nighthawks and Grant Wood’s American Gothic. They have followed you from flatland to city street.

The farm couple with pitchfork faces are well-known to you….and you to them. You greet them in the morning like your no-nonsense, taciturn parents. You know their story; you’ve done some homework.

As the artist tells it he was in the chair braced with a few shots of whiskey waiting for the Novacain to do its numbing, studying Doc McKeeby’s face. He remembers thinking how his dentist must stare into teeth all day the way his neighbors stare down rows of corn all behaving themselves. Folks do a lot of staring here in Iowa. Byron McKeeby says to relax, then yanks out the misbehaving tooth.

Tell you what, Doc, the artist says, what if I cover the bill by painting you? Suits me fine, says McKeeby. That’s how it all started he recalled. Then Grant Wood persuaded his sister, Nan, to pose. He aged her thirty years and gave her a face that could make milk sour. The dentist was already pinched and dour.

You know all this but to you they are American icons, hard work, stern and church-like with their gothic look in front of the gothic window. A museum guard can know too much or more than he wants to hear. You disregard what you have heard; that Wood, even toothless, had an ironic bite. It could be that the icon is a parody of who we think we no longer are. But for you it remains a time gone and austerity left behind.

In the other room you alone have found the portal into Hopper’s late-night café, this human still-life, gloomy for all its illumination. Even in the morning it is always near closing time. You take your place on a stool and stare into coffee, black and bitter. These night owls can’t afford to give a hoot. They are hawks scavenging for their lives.

You know these people from the resident hotel; the salesman down the hall, the redhead in the lobby waiting for a return call. Sometimes you are willing the counterman to catch your eye and be that man on the bus who lent you his name.

There is no one on the street, no easy chatter for the lost; only you, in your uniform, moving in and out of the frame rescuing yourself from this dead-end street where now and then you can almost spot the moon yellowing the wall like some sudden hundred-watt bright idea.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

The Essential Sunday Paper

Ever shrinking as it is I’m not sure I could go on without it. The certainty of it just being there, waiting at my door, heedless of storms, in its all-weather wrap affirms my existence. It’s the habit of its heft, how it re-orders the amorphous days of the week into a proper stanza.

Not for the news within; the Sunday paper is mostly for sorting. The ritual goes like this: One stack to be discarded, the other to be read or glanced at. As if I am sorting out my life I define myself by what I no longer want or need.

In the trash heap goes just about everything on slick, colored paper; reams of ads for electronics, appliances and clothing. I’m done with all that. My acquisitive hunger has been satiated or so I’d like to believe. As for marketing with coupons my time is too valuable. I could be thinking great thoughts instead or saving my fingers for typing blogs rather than scissoring.

I’m not smart enough for the Comics. I only have patience for Doonesbury. All the rest I somehow feel I can live my remaining days without. I know I must be missing a lot but the lives in the first section are comical enough.

Into that stack I also throw the Real Estate section, auto sales and classified. I’ve bought my last house, my last car, answered my last call for a job. What a relief. It’s worth whatever I’m paying for the subscription. The act of physically separating what hardly matters from what doesn’t matter at all is a satisfaction you don’t get on-line. By late morning I am granted the illusion that my life is in order.

I’m also ready to concede the Travel Section. There are many places in which I’d like to be but not to go. Far away places seem further and further away as the section gets smaller and smaller.

I may glance at the Financial section as I lay it on top of the pile. The advantage of meager assets is the relief from making yet more foolish decisions. As long as Dow is still talking to Jones I’m OK.

The Image section is another one that has passed me by. All the pretty faces but not for me. Who are these people? I‘m still loyal to Ava Gardner.

This leaves me with the unrelenting dirge of national and world news and the un-even op-ed. Local outrages and obits are worthy of a few minutes, the Calendar section gets diminishing attention. Arts & Letters speak to me most compellingly and then there is the Sports section, an infantilism I hope to never outgrow.

Pared down to these few pages I’m all the lighter for it. In time I’ll shed it all, buoyant with my encyclopedic unknowing, that great mystery unfit for print.