Monday, January 28, 2019

Balls


They go in holes as in golf, basketball, hockey and soccer. They bounce, they roll, they get swatted. And then there is football, with its crazy-shaped pigskin of erratic landings and spiral flings. It also goes in a hole between the goal posts. Football is World War I with its model of trench warfare gaining real estate by the yard. It is the comaradarie of the huddle. The playbook strategy with each player on the field assigned a specific role. It is equal parts finesse and violence. It is chess with stretchers. Cheerleaders and concussions.

For some the Super Bowl is the high point of the year. It will draw up to 120 million viewers. It is a time for male-bonding, beer and bets. Metaphoric bricks thrown at the T.V. screen. For a few hours I’m one of them growing fangs on the couch. Tapping into my reptilian brain. Living by my glands. Acting as if it matters. It matters a lot to Domino’s Pizza and all the rest of them. Somehow football has been tied to the military with flags, bombast and squadrons of aircraft zooming overhead.

To the rest of the nation whose frontal cortex has not abdicated to their medulla it is Stupor Bowl Sunday. They will wash their car, shop at an empty Costco or maybe even read a book. They will sneer at us with a dozen reasons why we are wasting our time.

The game is more than a battle between two teams. It is America’s week of gaming. Some fans will lose their shirt, others will make a killing. We bet on the outcome, the total points, on the half-time show, the color of the coach’s hoodie and even on the number of Trump’s Tweets. It is America gone berserk.

My guess is the audience for the spectacle is equal parts Trump-defenders and Trump-detesters. For this one afternoon we are all brain-addled. We have regressed, suspended our rationality. And when it’s over at least half of us return to enlightenment.

And yet...

If baseball, the pastoral game, is poetry and basketball is the urban sport where everyone speaks fluent Trash as a second language…..football is all of these played by well-endowed human specimens with a high threshold of pain who are well-choreographed to overcome the next onslaught.

Think of it as theater. The players are actors in a long line of thespians unwittingly reenacting the siege of Troy or landing at Agincourt, the brutal expansion of the Conquistadors or the retreat at Stalingrad. Football is catharsis, the sublimation of hostility, the expiation of our aggression. It would be preposterous to argue that the rise of the National Football League prevented World War III. But it may have dissipated the urge for a barroom brawl here and there. If you don’t agree with me I’ll meet you at the park for a scrimmage. Bring your helmet.  


Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Sleep, Perchance...


Every night Peggy leaves me drifting off to Azerbaijan. I can almost hear her silently mumbling her mantra, Azerbaijan, Azerbaijan. The record will show that I furnished it. It works for her; it didn’t work for me. To each his magic carpet. As I recall Azerbaijan replaced Honduras when she read about all the atrocities in that country. Best when the word carries no particular baggage. Just the sound itself.

My current transport is Beaujolais. That final syllable buoys me to the clouds. Not that every long “a” sends me off to dreamland. Oy Vey does nothing but remind me of troubles. Have a Nice Day, has no lift to it. Maybe it’s that middle part of Beaujolais; the zhe that has a soporific effect. Or it could be the imagined alcohol though Chardonnay doesn’t come with wings at all.

Sleep is such a mysterious gift. It sneaks up when you’re not paying attention. In fact only when you aren’t. It enters when your brain doesn’t mind or your mind has half a brain or when your weary bones are aligned with a yielding brain. When your brain is neither agitated with worry nor celebrating some gladness. It’s a letting go experience. An unconditional surrender.

Factoring in those distant baby years plus occasional afternoon naps I come close to averaging eight hours a day. At nearly eighty-six years old that works out to about twenty-nine years of my life asleep which is four more than John Keats was alive. Gladly would I have bestowed him a few.

But none of this matters when you are sipping Beaujolais in Azerbaijan. Or even chardonnay in Honduras. There are worse ways to spend a third of your life. You could be stuck guzzling Budweiser in Birmingham; Alabama, that is.

Most of the above came to me as I was in a semi-state repeatedly mouthing, Beaujolais, at 5:11 this morning having woken from a dream which vaporized instantly into my pillow. The last thing I remember is glancing at the clock which announced 6:23 when I must have nodded off.

Evidently Beaujolais doesn’t work after midnight.  I call this period Severe Rest and have assigned it a value of one-third slumber. It ain’t sleep and it ain’t wake but it is a free associative time which admits no impediments. This is when I remember in which pocket my lost keys must have been left or the dental appointment I forgot to make yesterday. It’s also the time for creative writing in my head. Sometimes John Keats shows up with a nudge as if from some Grecian urn.  

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Missing the Bus


In my recurrent anxiety dream I am constantly late for the bus which goes to the airport then connects to the train which leads to the ship. In my waking life I’m the guy who gets to the terminal an hour and a half early.  It all goes back to my father.

He told me, early on, he was so poor as a child that when he entered kindergarten the teacher warned the class to Pay Attention and my Dad heard it as, Pay a pencil. He was shaken up because he had no money to pay for anything but relieved when told all he had to do was listen. So he listened hard and I learned to listen hard.

When all you do is pay attention you are ever fearful of missing the boat. In 7th grade I could swear something was passed on to the class while I was absent with the mumps or bumps. When I returned everyone knew the meaning of life or how to grow up or what they would do in the world…and I had missed class that day.

By age twenty-one I had accelerated through high school and finished college, married and flown three thousand miles to the other coast. By twenty-nine I had three children, a hefty mortgage (for the day) in suburbia and a profession for which I had little interest. Zorba the Greek would call it the full catastrophe. Clearly I had gotten on the wrong bus. It took me another twenty years plus to get off that bus though warned by Peggy it would complicate my life.

When Peggy and I were in Amsterdam we got to the train station early one day and took our seats in the last car. After an announcement on the loudspeaker one by one people got up and left before the train departed. Finally it dawned on us to follow them to the next car. It seems that the engineer had de-coupled that last one. By being punctual we almost missed the train and never would have seen Bruges with its great beers, belfry and canal boat accompanied by swans to the Lake of Love. Life with Peggy has been a magnificent complication.

In the movies the woman says to the guy you’ve already missed the last train out so I suppose you’ll have to spend the night...or the other way around…. and the plot thickens. Where you running? Bogey got those letters of transit out of Casablanca but he didn’t get Bergman. He got his moral compass instead.  

Now my wish is to turn it all around. I would like to miss the damn boat or train or plane. To linger. To find the scent in the tulip that has no scent, listen to the wind, to meander the footpath, hang out at the café, sip the spirits, overhear an argument in the next booth, join a celebration in another, to elongate the moment.

The next bus will be the one devoutly to be missed. It won't be the Streetcar Named Desire, nor Magic Carpet Airlines back to Eden. It’s the trolley heading out of this world with no return.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

Peggy's Novel


Imagine how it was for a single woman in New York City during World War II. When Peggy was twenty-one, in 1942, I was nine. I would have done her no good. Except for those with flat feet, punctured eardrums or bone spurs, eligible men were joining up or being drafted. Uniforms filled Times Square. Headlines were thick and ominous. Mortality hung over relationships. While I was collecting tin foil to win the war in the only way I knew how Peggy was living in Greenwich Village looking for Mr. Right against a background of distant conflict, yet close.

This is the setting for her novel, Morning in the Long Night City. In prose which rises to the level of poetry on many pages she paints a canvas of Manhattan during the war years revealing both the daily outer scene as well as the inner landscape of her characters. Her writing brings to mind Virginia Woolf’s, Mrs. Dalloway, with inner dialog and full dimensionality.

Her language is felt; the yearnings, uncertainties and dread as well as the small triumphs of love and spirit. Her eyes are open to small gestures and nuance and how the existential threat abroad impinges on a young woman’s maturation and assertion of her own creative process.

Within the narrative is the beginning of a blank-verse play written by Rachel, the main character, which dares to imagine a meeting of two real-life female renaissance painters and Lorenzo di Medici. We are treated to her rendering of how it might have been for women in an early time struggling for their place among the Masters.

Peggy is still in her prime approaching ninety-eight. Her spirit still ripe. I am witness to daily creative bursts not only in her poems but in her being. The transition from poetry to fiction is not an easy one. It requires a sustained effort of an imaginative muscle to enter into the voice and psyche of multiple characters. This book was conceived in the 1970s and completed a decade later. It is the first of three novels along with a children’s album, over a hundred Joseph Cornell-like collages and literally thousands of poems.

Morning in the Long Night City is her own morning, her dawning out of dark and troubled times which have been largely forgotten or unknown to most of us. This is a book about a period of privation overcome by an irrepressible life force, still incandescent. 

Peggy will be reading excerpts from her book at Beyond Baroque in Venice, CA. on March 2nd at 5 P.M. 

Monday, January 7, 2019

Mouthful


Huxley Pryce Aylsworth-Eitner, my step-great grandson, is one of the new people in the world. He is ten days old with twenty toes and fingers combined, with their appropriate phalanges and well-distributed. His name is a mouthful but he carries it well into this brave new world.

Amazing how his nose is perfectly centered and below it the tiny mouth into which will come mother’s milk and eventually solids and out of which will trot words which will rearrange his world.

I had a long talk with him yesterday apologizing for the state of our country’s disrepair that he has been bequeathed and how we are living under the reign of a man whose development has been arrested at an age not far from his own. It’s a preexisting condition you’ll have to deal it, Huxley. He did not disagree so I presume he’s been following our woes while doing the backstroke in that embryonic sea.

Speaking of mouths I have learned a couple of things in this New Year pertaining to that aperture which keeps us well-fed if our address happens to be a happy accident. Otherwise we might be spending a large fraction of our allotted time here scavenging for a decent meal.

On New Year’s Eve I had a bottle of bubbly at the ready as the ball descended in Times Square. The champagne was properly corked. If you want to know how it is approaching eighty-six imagine yourself struggling for thirty minutes to pry the cork from the bottle. It’s a case of arthritic and enervated phalanges. By the time I popped the cork the crowd in NYC was headed for the subway. For several years now we’ve settled for 9 P.M. as midnight. In three hours the clock will get around to us. I’ll take their word for it.

We took our glass and a half and went to bed. Then I had to deal with the rest of the stuff. Trying to replace the cork was out of the question, even with a normal cylindrical one and even when sober the next day. Ron (Huxley’s Grandpa) to the rescue. He advised me to pour out a few plastic bottles of water and preserve it therein. Beyond that, to cook with the Brut instead of wine. I did and it worked; I even drizzled some on an apple-cinnamon loaf. Now I understood William Trevor’s short story entitled, The Day We Got Drunk on Cake.   

I must tell Huxley about this discovery which took me over eight decades to learn. My second tidbit of culinary delight comes from Marcia T. whose knowledge of such things is unimpeachable. (It’s hard to write that word without sinking into political mud). She mentioned in passing that the best way to re-heat leftover pizza is to heat a pan on top of the stove for a couple of minutes, turn off the heat and then place the pizza on the covered pan for a minute.

There’s so much to pass along to my step great grandson. When I continued telling him about the President Huxley gave me a wise burp of recognition as if he knows that the dangerous fool in the White House will soon become an asterisk in the chronicle, a tiny hiccup in the narrative of human progress.   

Wednesday, January 2, 2019

Shameless Self-Promotion


That would be me announcing my new book now available on Amazon entitled, And Furthermore. This is my fourth collection of deathless prose following The Marriage of Everything (2010), I’m Just Saying (2012) and Now and Then Some” (2014).

The publication comes a bit late for Jesus’ birthday but just in time for anyone else admitting to a birthday next year. It is a perfect gift for insomniacs or for people you always wanted to unfriend anyway.

As those familiar with my blogs know, some of them are screeds and rants which I deem to be mentally healthy otherwise I’d have to repress my hostility and might break out in a rash. Others may range from ruminations to rambles and an occasional poem as a nod to that ragged right-hand margin.

Studies have shown that those who bought my previous books are 3% smarter, healthier and luckier than the general population. They may expect to die on a Thursday instead of a Tuesday. None have come down with diphtheria, whooping cough or German measles. Their shoe laces last longer. Their honeydew melons ripen faster. No one was killed by a runaway trolley car and none of my readers had overdue library books.

On the other hand, non-readers of my past books are among those who failed to win the mega lottery, had trouble finding a parking place at Costco and had 4% more cavities and paper cuts. It has been reported that those who failed to buy my books had a higher incidence of single socks coming out of their dryer.

It has also been reported that certain words appearing in this book, when rearranged, provide answers to questions which explain the meaning of life. However I cannot possibly comment on that. 

It is a multi-purpose book, entirely inflammable and recyclable. The book has also been used to place under uneven legs of tables. As for those who wish to ingest the pages as part of a high fiber diet, I cannot endorse the idea. Some of my words may be indigestible. Pages may also be removed and used to make paper airplanes particularly those filled with flights of fancy.

If you want to have your book inscribed please write yourself a message you’ve always wanted to receive and I promise to sign it. Be it known that I am physically unable to write due to a neuropathy in my right hand… seriously.

Having read my book you will find yourself more scintillating at cocktail parties though I cannot guarantee you will ever get invited back. It is also useful to carry with you to pass the time in the event of a power failure in an elevator.

And Furthermore is a collection of short essays. I don’t like 
that word, blog…which reminds me of blob and glob and rhymes with slog and bog. These pieces were written about 2 ½ to 3 ½ years ago and may serve as a chronicle of the pre-Trump days leading up to the unthinkable.

The purchase price is $15 from Amazon. If you get it from me I can let it go for twelve bucks. If you have a coupon it is still $12. If you are a distant cousin sharing my DNA according to Ancestry.com it is still $12. Students and seniors can obtain two copies for $24….from me. It is advisable to purchase a second copy in case you leave one on the bus or the back seat of an Uber.

I have just learned that Judi Dench also has a book named, And Furthermore. I forgive Dame Judi since she wrote hers about eight years ago.

In spite of the long shadow the dangerous Bozo in the Oval has cast across the planet with his moral and ethical degeneracy I still hold to the belief that there are nuggets of humanity to be found and absurdity in the gravity….such as this page.

Thanks to all who would have me in their library.  Here's the link...
                 https://www.amazon.com/dp/1790928052/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1546460444&sr=8-1&keywords=and+furthermore+norm+levine