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.


Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Tragicomedy


According to Horace Walpole, 18th century British author, life is a comedy for those who think and a tragedy for those who feel. I'm not sure what that means but I suppose if we both think and feel it must be a tragi-comedy. In the Age of Trump what seemed like a slip on a banana peel now has us all tied up in the trunk of a car going over a cliff.

Arthur Conan Doyle also had Sherlock Holmes meet his demise off a cliff only to reappear eight years later. I hope we don’t have to wait so long. Moriarty disguised as D.J. Trump is as American as poisoned apple pie…and apparently unrecognizable to the multitude.

Mel Brooks’ idea of tragedy is when someone cuts himself. Comedy is a person falling down a manhole. Even as we sink into an abyss we are cutting ourselves into slivers; denominations, tribes, sects, tents. The zeal of orthodoxy seems to me a form of mental illness but what do I know, as one whose allegiance is for inclusion and universality.


Bill Maher quipped that comedy is tragedy plus time. Maybe it will look like comedy in the history books of 2100 …if that year is reachable for the human race.

What is the common denominator of all this ferocity and xenophobia? My guess is an inchoate fear as a consequence of accelerated change. Technology has people longing, squirming and confronting the unfamiliar as never before. We have now created congregations of the lost even as social networking also brings together pockets of kindred spirits clinging on to what passes for identity.

Perhaps we are merely witnessing the last gasp of nationalism and a rush into some sort of spirituality, false or otherwise, looking for a piece of the rock that assures survival, salvation or at least a meaningful moment. 

W.C. Fields said it is comedy when a sword bends but not when it breaks. I wouldn’t know. The last duel I engaged in was with rolls of gift wrap when I was a wee lad. It does seem that the bonds of civilization have bent but are not irreparably broken.

Aristotle wrote that tragedy is man reaching for the divine. I prefer to think we all have a touch of divinity in us. It is in our nature to seek some form of transcendence. If we fall on our face in the attempt it is still more heroic than tragic.

The human comedy may itself be tragic. What started as a family squabble in 1914 turned into a crime against humanity. Today’s rising oceans, toxic air, encroaching deserts and cyclonic winds in all their fury seem to be our tale told by an idiot. As the curtain goes down who will signify our fate…our monarch, mad Dick the Third wrapped as buffoonish Falstaff?  Or is it Beckett, the absurdist, I hear snickering off stage?

When Sherlock returns from sabbatical he is on the moors disposing of the hound of Baskerville. Civility is restored. Gone is the uncaged beast and villainy disappears into the foggy bog. It’s elementary, my dear whatshisname.

Friday, October 5, 2018

Scans and Scams


With apologies to Gerard Manley Hopkins’ and his poem Spring and Fall, With golden groves unleaving / It is for this country I am grieving. Outside our window are large coral tree leaves toasted, exhausted and falling according to their autumnal schedule. For our country it feels as if we’ve jumped the season into winter discontent.  I look toward poetry to take its cue from Nature in its cyclic renewal.

Senators Mitch McConnell and Chuck Grassley appear to be withered and well into their foliage. The White forty-eight men have long been the bent bough ready to fall, as Thomas Jefferson said, refreshing our tree of liberty with the manure of tyrants.

While our democracy gets scammed Peggy awaits her next scan. The procedure has been delayed because of a nasty cough. Thursday is the day for her Pet-scan which will tell us and the all-knowing eyes whether her suspicious mass is this or that.

Our body politic has also been laid bare as if the entrails of the White House and Senate are available for viewing. The superficial FBI investigation gave a few senators, posing as voices of reason, the cover they needed. However we may never see what the F.B.I. report said and, more importantly, what it didn’t bother with. Twenty-eight corroborating witnesses never got interviewed.  As long as it rhymes with scam call it a sham.

Nefarious plots are more visible when hatched in Washington or Mar-a-lago. Trump and his lackeys have achieved a kind of transparency due to his needy ego. He cannot resist the adoration of his mindless groupies who require a daily dose of scorn. As a result we get his instinctive pugnacious vulgarity. His message of moral violence requires constant stoking to keep the rage smoldering. As James Baldwin put it, One of the reasons people cling to their hate so stubbornly is because, they sense, once hate is gone they would be forced to deal with their pain.

Peggy has been scanned and double-scanned. The Pet-scan (Positron Emission Tomography) coming up calls for an injected dye with a tracer which flares in the presence of abnormal cell-division. If Donald were somehow scanned it would likely reveal the absence of a conscience. Evolutionary biologists would be baffled by the curious phenomena of a devious ignorance and calculated impetuosity. They might have trouble locating his heart.

The ultimate mystery is the human body. We feed it and nurture it and yet… we never quite know what it is up to. Peggy, at 97.5, is still in her prime, cognitively, creatively and in her full humanity. Others in the tottering tower cannot deny the winds of change rocking their cushy cradle. When the bough breaks the body politic falls. 

Saturday, September 29, 2018

Sounds and Ultra-Sounds


This past week has been a time of public testimony and political posturing. We have witnessed perhaps the final gasp of the patriarchy in a naked abuse of power and contempt … and finally being called to account. Dr. Christine Ford’s emotionally raw recall of her traumatic event with its clarion ring of truth was in stark contrast to Brett Kavanaugh’s seemingly rehearsed vehemence and, at times, sputtering evasion. Sounds of authenticity and fury of denial.

At the same time Peggy and I have had a week of personal dread, anxiety and some relief. A series of scans and ultra-sounds revealed a tumor in her uterus. In a separate matter a biopsy came back positive for a lesion on her hand. The latter will be removed in a procedure on Tuesday. We await word from an oncological gynecologist for the former. One doctor cheered us with the opinion that it may well be something of long duration and benign.

Amazing how certain words can alter body chemistry. Benign is certainly one of them along with negative when it means something affirmative. Just as mass, malignant and metastasize send the neuro-transmitters into survival mode.  

The macro and micro have also come together for me in past years. The day JFK was shot in Dallas I had just returned from a doctor with the news that my daughter Janice was first diagnosed with possible congenital deafness. We had suspected but dispelled the notion. It was the day before her first birthday. 

The two events have been associated in my head ever since. 
I have also joined, in my mind, the assassination of Robert Kennedy with my daughter Lauren’s first encounter with juvenile arthritis in 1968. Her elevated sedimentation rate inflamed her joints just as our country felt to me like it was coming apart at the seams.

It makes me wonder if troubled times have a way of spreading across my entire landscape. No, I won’t allow it. Whether the Republicans have their way with this nominee or the next one on their list the tide of history shall ultimately prevail. Women are taking back their agency, their bodies. Sex between one consenting adult is done.

It is all of a piece. The sexual abuse. The tribunal of disbelieving men twisting a trauma into a political vendetta. And the intemporate nominee to the High Court. Each of Trump’s candidates is an anticipated vote to overturn Roe v Wade robbing women of their reproductive rights. Life is indeed sacred. That’s why we have birthdays. Pregnant women cannot ride in carpool lanes. We are not suddenly nine months older than we think we are. If Republicans really held life sacred they would not display calloused indifference for human life, once born. So-called Right-to-Life is a hoax wrapped in a cloak of bogus religiosity.

Forty-five years ago John Dean described a cancer growing in the Nixon White House. Today that virulence in the executive has metastasized into the Republican Senate. Grassley and Graham et al (except Sen. Flake) turned a deaf ear to Dr. Ford’s story and voiced outrage in defense of their client as if spokesmen for the Good Old Boys’ Club. They were the voice of male chauvinist porcines snorting in a vanishing mud. May predatory men and out-of-control cancer cells no longer have dominion.

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.

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Rites of Passage


Part of me is still a street urchin and will never leave the candy store. My place of first permission. Hearing street talk, unfiltered. To mingle with grown-ups. To watch them cry the day Roosevelt died. It was raw. Buying and selling, haggling and yelling. Fast nickels and slow dimes. Nasty and sweet together. This was the stuff of poems. If the candy store was a baptismal the drug store was my Bar Mitzvah.

I went from the smells of Gishkins to the aromatic vapors of the drug store. A few years after my father’s store closed I worked after school in four different ones through high school and college. I’ll merge the first three. I was the stock clerk / soda jerk / delivery boy. One store had no typewriter; labels were hand-written. We made our glue from macerating acacia.

I lasted just half a day behind the fountain; the toughest job I’ve ever had. Trying to remember who got the black & white shake, who ordered the vanilla malt, the strawberry frosted and who the root beer float. There were sundaes and frappes, Charlotte Ruses and banana splits. I put a bottle of Pepsi in the freezer when I started that day and forgot about it until it exploded by day’s end. Never again. I take my hat off to the memory of those who stuck it out….and still somehow found time to smooch with the girls.    

Thanks for coming in today, is how Buddy, the regular fountain 
man greeted everyone who walked in, even the pharmacist, cosmetician, salesclerk and me, and again as he left for the day. He must have been high on cough syrup. His chatter never stopped. After my first and last day, by mutual consent, I stayed away except to make myself an extra thick malt (which almost broke the mixer) as a reward to myself before going home. 

I was the guy who wrapped the Kotex and Modess in green paper. God forbid its name would show. Such were the times. All the merchandise was behind the counter, on shelves or in drawers. Windows were dressed by artists down on their luck, Bromo Seltzer, Ex-Lax and Epsom Salt stacked architecturally in empty boxes with pins. At fifty cents an hour plus tips I walked around with coins jingling in my pocket. I was almost rich enough to catch a few sets at Birdland listening to Dizzy, Ella, Billie and The Prez.

Pharmacy as practiced as late as 1950 was part sorcery and I was the sorcerer’s apprentice. The dispensing area was like a garden of herbs or at least their crushed leaves, elixirs, resins, and fluidextracts. Botanical names had to be learned, Prunus Virginiara (Wild Cherry syrup), Glycyrrhiza root (licorice), aqua mentha piperita (peppermint water) are a few that still cling to my bones.

My final drug store experience happened one summer in midtown Manhattan. This turned out to be my initiation into gangster capitalism. I was a clerk in the Roosevelt Hotel pharmacy. The owner had stores in five other high end hotels as well. I was startled, one evening when I heard the pharmacist invite the boss up to his apartment and see the new art he bought with money he had stolen during the month. Hundreds of dollars had gone into his pocket instead of the cash register…and that was perfectly O.K. with the owner because he was satisfied getting half of the $200 paid for a $5.00 bottle of Testosterone tablets. For reasons unknown to me very wealthy playboys and businessmen from South America and the Caribbean stayed at that hotel. On another occasion I was told to bring a box of Kotex (wrapped, of course) to the hotel cashier. I was to collect $39 instead of 39 cents. The money flowed and was regarded as nothing more than a redistribution of wealth.

All that old pharmacy air had vanished between my entrance into college and my graduation. By 1954 the store became deodorized and deracinated. Gone was the romance, the rhizomes and roots.  A deep inhalation yielded only plastic and glass. To reach the vapors escaping from apothecary jars I had to close my eyes and imagine. The old organic remedies had fallen into disrepute. They could not pass the F.D.A. test for safety and efficacy. In some cases the active ingredient in the crude drug had been synthesized to yield a more exact therapeutic measure. I was now a counter and pourer and would remain so for the next fifty-three years with all this arcana withering in my head.

Two months in that hotel pharmacy gave me a glimpse into a world I would never encounter again. I had traveled from sorcery to larceny. This was the territory of Donald Trump. There must be stops in between to be discovered. It was time to get out of town.