Thursday, December 30, 2010

New Year Resolutions

I'd better get them down fast before I forget them. Interesting how we start every year with great resolve and end with irresolution. My default position is the unresolved, muddled state which I call a work-in-progress. There is nothing heavier than a new leaf being turned over.

Most promises are wishes we want magically to happen like dieting or wearing matching socks. No wonder they are devoutly to be forgotten by the second week in January. Last year I went on a diet and lost height. At this age habit has a strong grip. I know health is a major issue but it is so boring with too many body parts and surely all that I hear about proper nutrition doesn’t apply to me, does it? As for socks, mine range from black to navy blue and I can’t be bothered sorting them.

2011 is my year to be more conscious of cutting down on carbs; swear-to-God. This could mean that I will eat the next chocolate Danish that crosses my path…. but with a brief sting of guilt and full consciousness of transgressing. I might also resolve to come to a full stop at all Stop Signs but I know in advance I don’t have it in me.

I’ve decided that breaking a promise such as this is not the worst thing. It’s only a promise to myself, not to others so it doesn’t make me untrustworthy. In any case we’re best advised keeping such goals to ourselves.

As for my incorrigible penchant for chipping cups or my resistance to eliminating books from our shelves I swear no oaths. Nor shall I resist the next hard-crusted French baguette which is a habit hard-wired. To do so would be Contra-Naturam; like turning the wheels in the direction of the skid.

Can we extrapolate any of this to our nation? Like bringing our legions home? Or setting aside immediate gratification to preserve our planet. Would that it were so. I wonder if the sum total of our folly is the equal of our country’s.

I’m sure change does happen but I wonder how. Is it an act of will or fear? More likely, I think, it occurs when we’re not aware. New relationships make for new behaviors, n’est-ce pas? Look how I have been made over during my time with Peggy. I used to be a #$%%^^&* and now I’m at *&^%%$# and I didn’t even know it was happening.

I expect any changes from now on will be in the category of wonderment rather than betterment. I’ll settle for heightened perception of whatever comes my way or around the next corner.

Sunday, December 26, 2010


Soon we shall be done with 2010. I expect I'll start getting it right on my checks in about six months.

Eleven is my favorite number. It's also very funny the way Thursday is funny. When I want to exaggerate how many people were at our table I'll say eleven or how many times I took a makeup exam it's always eleven. It's the only number that rhymes with heaven.....if you ignore seven.

Eleven is the first number beyond our fingers or toes. The one preceding a dozen. A football and soccer team.

It is the age when nothing happened. Think of 1911 or 1811. There were no elections, no wars or overtures written. I can't remember what I did at eleven years-old. I was too thin to be noticed, too dumb to get skipped and too smart to be left-back. The year before pimples. Innocence was still there but beginning to wear at the edges.

Eleven was made famous by the armistice ending the Great War. 11-11-11, hour, day, month...six upright verticals as if to compensate for all the millions gone horizontal.

FDR was in office eleven years. I was in 6th grade at eleven learning how the Dutch discovered Manhattan or rather how the Indians discovered the Dutch stealing Manhattan.

It was 1944 and movies cost eleven cents which was the deposit from three milk bottles and a soda bottle. Eleven was two popsicle sticks; perfect balance between safety and risk. It was the easiest number on the multiplication table. And the fourth number which reads the same upside-down. If ten is perfect, eleven is one better.

The eleventh hour is one that gets our attention. It must have something to do with elves.

December 26th

Jesus is one day old today. All that fuss. Already he is toilet-trained, posing for portraits and speaking in parables. Joseph has settled the manger bill with his HMO, insisting it was not a pre-existing condition. Nights are noisy again.

If you think he was an adorable child you should see his pictures. Aren't you a baby?...chubby and precociously beatific and that halo as if....

Jesus, they're making a myth out of you from old wives' tales and other stories. Do you know you're being followed? You're getting some good ink. But some got it bad and that ain't good. After your Bar Mitzvah you may want to get away for a while. Lay low and think it over.

Now you are out there turning cheeks and doing unto others etc... getting into the messiah gig, a congenital rabbi you are and more. One might say charismatic.

Soon, cathedrals will be built, manuscripts illuminated, crusades, inquisitions, heathen-converting missionaries, genocides. Jesus, something went wrong. Help these fools. They're seeing your image on pieces of bread and cloud formations. Save them from their edifice complex, from their faux-religious pomposity and dogma. Remind them how subversive you once were yourself. How dangerous. And wanted dead or alive. Or did you die for nothing, I suppose?

Saturday, December 25, 2010


It's been my habit to look for the metanarrative which is a way of locating a story within a greater context such as the Enlightenment or Feminism or the American Dream etc... To the post-modernists this is nothing more than a triumph of logos over mythos. They might say that my reading of the tapestry is weighted with certain pre-digested beliefs and expectations. What if I went to the other side of the tapestry and read the dis-embroided and absurd tangle. What if......

Well-suited said Marx of Hart & Schaffner to which Marx of Engels added, manifestly so, whose threads proclaim your class, at which time Marx, of many brothers, waved his cigar and with his eyebrows overthrew the order to the great dismay of Marx, the clothier, whose vested interest was seen as dialectical by Marx the bearded and seconded by Marx the mustachioed who declared whatever it was, he's against it while Harpo harped, communing with the down-trodden, as Chico fast-talked Hart & Schaffner selling them his Tuttsie-Fruitsie as Engels was installing Captain Spaulding, the African explorer, to head the dictatorship of proletarian Fredonia and that may be a wise-crack but I doubt it.

The problem with meta-narrative in history or geo-politics is that it assumes a single point of view, usually the one of the dominant culture. Brits are taught a different history from the French or Germans. Texans re-wrote their textbooks which have little resemblance to New Yorkers. We are in a prismatic world with everyone bearing witness. Twitter, Twitter!

However with competing small narratives, objective reality has been dismissed. Truth, drummed out of our vocabulary. We are becoming a nation with an erased past. History has been consigned to the revisionists who now oversee a growth industry. All this has tragic consequences. Global warming is relegated to just one of several opinions. Evolutionists are made to compete with the Bible-thumpers. Even vaccinations have been called into question. And then we have the Holocaust deniers.

I would argue that Science makes room for skepticism and pursues an evidence-based truth which is as close to objective fact as we can get. History happens in real-time to real people. To be sure, events are often clouded, even deliberately obscured but a measure of objectivity can be achieved. Even in literature the choice of words or their omission can reveal layers of meaning. There is room for all this in a pluralistic society and a reasonable place exists between relativism and the absolute.

Groucho is not Karl even if they both took aim at the upper class. But neither a Day at the Races nor a Night at the Opera compares to a year in the Gulag.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Year-End List

I was just listening to someone's ten-best list on the radio and realized that I can't remember ten of I started my pared-down version:

Biggest waste of an apostrophe;
Bill O'Reilly

Longest Fall From Grace:
John McCain…from maverick to hired hand

Best Sounding Food I’ve Never Tried:
Osso Bucco

Most Neglected Health Issue:
Creeping-sleeve syndrome in which pajama top sleeves crawl up one's arm causing annoyance and sleep deprivation.

Best T.V. Series Not Watched Till 6 Years Later:
The Wire

Only Understood domestic device, gadget or appliance:
Ice cube trays

Easiest Device To Explain When Aliens Arrive:

Best All-Time Bread Ever Baked:
Tomato-Basil Bread From Bay Cities Italian Deli.

Best Novel Written 30 Years Ago Just Discovered:
Shirley Hazzard's, "Transit Of Venus"

Best Recent Novel Read:
Let The Great World Spin

Best Jazz Pianist I'd Not Heard Of Before:
Bill Cantos

Best Lame-Duck Session Of Congress:

Best Movie Of The Year:
The King’s Speech – A reverse Pygmalion. Aussie Liza Doolittle teaches Henry Higgins how to speak

Best Way To End The Year:
Don't Make out Lists

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Christmas Memories

I have none....except for a few enduring images which don't qualify as memorable.

There were those school songs about one horse open sleighs, singing angels and shepherds, which I lip-synched in P.S. 99, banished to the back row with a voice labeled, listener.

You can't be good in everything, I said to myself, but then there was Art class demonstrating that I was good at nothing. All I could manage were green triangles for trees and a snowman with coins of three sizes.

If there was any justice in this world I'd still be in 6th grade trying to draw a passable winter scene. Between piloting flying reindeer and tending flocks of sheep I didn't see any career opportunities for myself.

I do remember my nose falling off or at least leaving my body when I worked one brutal day at a Christmas tree lot. My mother who was a completely self-taught practitioner of medical science, knew that fresh air was both the cause of all illness and it's cure. One got a cold from the dreaded draft and was restored to health by fresh air. I can't recall which of these happened to me that day at the tree lot.

There must have been a moment when I both believed and didn't believe in Santa Claus. I knew he ran back and forth between Macys and Gimbles. One morning a game of Monopoly turned up. I would have settled for Parcheesi or Chinese checkers. On the board game of life I figured I'd spend my days between Baltic and Mediterranean and never get to Marvin Gardens. But here I am with hotels on Park Place (metaphorically speaking).

I still can't carry a tune from here to there but I came to enjoy the exile and did become a close listener over time. For fifty-three years as a pharmacist, empathetic listening may be the one gift granted me, by a stretch, from Christmas.

Friday, December 17, 2010

To Each His Holiday

On one end of the spectrum are the pious who denounce the holiday for its revelry and commercialism. These were the Puritans and now the Jehovah Witnesses. They argue there is no precedent or command in the bible for the event. Furthermore the Santa Claus myth violates the Ten Commandments by fostering a lie to children.

On the other end are the non-believers, such as myself, who also decry the commerce but are fine with merry-making. We note the solstice which is the shortest day of the year and hence the compensation with lights.

The two poles bend toward a circle. Both recognize the pagan origins of the holiday. In fact the early church did not celebrate Christ's birth. This only came into the church when they appropriated the pagan rite as Catholicism was made the state religion by Constantine in the fourth century. While those who insist on a literal reading cannot accommodate the heathens. I’m just fine with them. In fact, as one myself, I celebrate out of the same impulse as the naturalists. Christmas customs have evolved from times long before the Christian period.

Chanukah comes closer, as a recognition of the solstice, with its festival of lights and accompanying story. The consumer orgy was a late after-thought.

Between the two poles are church-going, carol-singing, bell-ringing Christians who worship baby Jesus. Conservatives among them have noted a so-called war on the Merry Christmas greeting in favor of Happy Holidays. They claim the occasion has been secularized to render it politically correct. This is message from Fox News.

To this I say, of course, the holiday has been secularized because it is just that. Christmas has come to embody all of us for the entire month of December plus Thanksgiving and possibly extending to early November. At least stores, which have been salivating for ten months, take down orange Halloween in favor of red/green Christmas. If gift-giving is the message, I’m for it. My only reservations are: Why set aside generosity for just these few weeks and why not encourage a generous spirit without any material gift?

Instead we have turned a dying of the light into an ode to consumption. It is a celebration of Capitalism. With all the Christmas songs playing in the mall, nothing beats the joyful noise of the cash register ringing for the store owners. Black Friday puts them out of the red.

We just returned from an overnighter at the Riverside Mission Inn; a magical place for the season complete with animated Elves (Santa’s little schlepers), nutcrackers and angels in among 3.5 million lights. I didn’t count but I believe them. Absent was Jesus or any nativity scenes. Present was the Charles Dickens’ version which we have come to embrace, complete with a roving band of Dickensian carolers.

What could be bad? We were transported as if by a drunken Hollywood production crew to a version of the Alhambra….without the jet lag. It’s party-time; excessive and make-believe. All great fun in the spirit of the ancients who lit bonfires, dragged evergreen inside their huts and chanted to the heavens for the sun’s return. I join the revelers,.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Year-End Letter

I expect to be receiving some year-end letters from distant friends pretty soon so I thought I'd get a jump on mine.

Fishing on the Monongahela River was a highpoint or was it the Okeechobee? Actually I've never been to either one but it was fun writing their names.

I could tell about the time I was called to the hospital when my father took sick. I got there as they were wheeling him into surgery on a gurney. He whispered in my ear that there was five dollars under a flower pot on the window sill, ten bucks on page 137 of the bible and another fifty in an orange juice container in the back of the fridge. When he recovered he said to forget everything he had said because he changed them all. Except this happened to my friend, Fred, not to me.

Or I might talk about my days playing the sousaphone in the army band but that is Ralph's story or the time I sang a medley of show tunes at the Jewish Home for the Aged, but that Earl.

Instead I'll mention that home run I hit in the schoolyard last spotted over Lichtenstein and still in flight Those glory days get better ever time I tell it and I'm not even sure it ever happened.

We really did celebrate Valentine’s Day in Julian which is noted for its apple pie and long drive to get there. The pie was great but the apples were trucked in from San Diego.

Peggy and I went away for one night in March. I can't remember much of what we did except that the hotel room was furnished in a Babel of Moorish, late renaissance and early rococo with touches of Art Nouveau and Art Deco.

My calendar says that I had a dental appointment in April. All I can recall is getting a few words in edgewise when he let me rinse and spit.

We spent three nights in the Bay area and wine country for Peggy’s birthday in May. Remarkable how far they’ve come since the 1906 earthquake.

Peggy, who has genius for bringing things together in her poetry and collages, took it a bit too far in June when she aggregated her blood cells into multiple emboli. A few days in the hospital with anti-coagulants broke up those consanguinities. (another word I’ve always wanted to write.)

This was year the Dodgers were so bad I almost outgrew my infantilism...but not quite. I nearly became a Giant fan but attributed that to an overdose of artichokes and Vitamin D.

A few weeks ago I got up in the middle of the night and applied some toothpaste to an itchy genital instead of hydrocortisone ointment. It worked.

Also noted en passant: all those lunches & linners with friends, salads sufficient to feed sub-Saharan Africa, the thousands of pages we read which could stop a speeding bullet, plays hammed up, salons gathered and emails exchanged.

All this reminds me of my most dreaded class in school, English composition with the obligatory essay of what we did on our summer vacation. I spent most of August thinking of what to write.

Maybe it's not a bad thing to blank out on the past twelve months. It’s been a happy blur. All body parts accounted for though none are still under warranty. It’s been another voluptuous year in a very fortunate life ever since Peggy taught me how to be willing to be lucky.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Lend Me Your Ears

I've grown attached to my ears, emotionally, that is. And down through the years my ears have become attached to me. I like each one without favoritism. They don't draw attention to themselves like Obama's or Leonard Nimoy's. I have no problem with my lobes and I rather enjoy my outer labyrinth though I wouldn't know it from anyone else's.

It's only when they give me trouble that I give them the attention they probably crave. Now my right one is calling, or rather not calling in the manner I've grown accustomed. The doctor says I have otitis media, a middle ear infection or inflammation with a blocked Eustachian tube.

I love all my tubes though I can't think of any but a Fallopian; equipment I wasn't supplied with at birth. If I got one now I wouldn't know what to do with it.

So I'm hearing as if one ear is under water or on an airplane in a dive. Noises coming from the bedroom sound like they're coming from the kitchen. I'm walking west instead of east. I have to lip-read in restaurants and watch Rachel Maddow in closed caption.

Diminished hearing has its advantages. I'm not missing the noise from backing-up garbage trucks and the rhetorical garbage from mouths of liars spouting agreed-upon lies.

Every now and then a tune pops up in my head making its way around the planet. Is this the music of the spheres or just some ditty which has dislodged itself from some barnacle of memory? My right ear hears it even better than my left because the tune isn’t there.

Several friends have hearing aids. They're always complaining about them. Either there is feedback or they amplify ambient sounds too much. I hope my tube opens up again under the influence of antibiotics, antihistamine and anti-inflammatory. That's a lot of anti for one tube to withstand.

My daughter, Janice, is congenitally deaf. When she was about eight years-old a well-meaning friend urged us to attend a miracle healing service. We arrived at the Shrine Auditorium in a bus from the Assembly-Of-God church. I lip-synched Bible songs so we wouldn't get thrown off or even under the bus. Jesus was scheduled to make an appearance. We sat in the balcony and Kathryn Kuhlman floated in wearing her white angelic gown. People were pouring onto stage throwing away their crutches and seeing eye dogs. Looking in our direction she said that she felt ears opening. I looked down at Janice. She said she had to go to the bathroom. Jesus had opened the wrong tube. Maybe I didn't believe strenuously enough. Or not at all.

Janice is doing fine now, thank you very much. She is herself a miracle, functioning well in both the hearing world and the deaf community with her lip-reading skills and signing. I only hope she doesn’t get any ideas about taking me to a faith healer. I don’t stand a chance.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

To Be Right Or To Be President

It's easy to be principled as a candidate or talking head or even lame-duck legislator but not so when it comes to governance.

Progressives projected a lifetime wish list onto Obama as if the messiah had finally arrived. And now he is accused of leading them off the cliff. I, too, am disappointed but not disillusioned or disaffected.

My dismay comes from his seeming inability to communicate effectively with the American people. It's hard to get their attention when times are tough and to reduce complex issues to Twitter-length slogans. Those critical of his Healthcare bill minus a public option should note that the original Social Security bill covered only widows and orphans.

No doubt he has err'd in the recent compromise by not including House Democrats at the table. Maybe he hasn't used the bully pulpit as well as some of his predecessors who presided in a time of American ascendance rather than in this period of our empire’s decline.

Analogies break down further in the details. FDR had seventy senators with him and a large majority in the House. He got them by selling his soul to the devil; the Solid South was promised no anti-lynching laws, no disturbance of the poll tax nor interference with segregation.

LBJ had 25 years experience in Congress and the key to the closet where his good old boys stored their skeletons. Indeed once he squeezed through the Civil Rights Act the Faustian deal with the Segregationists was kaput.

Obama has to deal with intransigent Red state racist populism not seen since ante-bellum days. Indeed even Lincoln, without having to deal with slave states after secession, took three years to issue the Emancipation Proclamation. For the first half of his term in office he was under attack from the Abolitionists.

The process of pushing through meaningful legislation is the art of the possible. There is not even a footnote in history books for those who deem it better to stay pure rather than give their vote to an omnibus bill containing some reprehensible paragraphs.

The current tax/unemployment legislation also contains other provisions which can be seen as a back-door stimulus. When the new Congress convenes Speaker Boehner will most certainly not bring these matters to the floor.

Some say that Obama, as quarterback, huddled with the opposition and punted on first down. I would argue that his lineman offered little protection and he was forced outside of the pocket. He settled for short pick-ups, first downs and is still marching down the field.......even as his cheerleaders have gone silent and his backers lost their shirt because he didn't cover the spread.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Identity...No Crisis

Two recent books have set me off again on that elusive issue of identity. The recent Booker prize winner, The Finkler Question, addresses the issue of what it means to be Jewish. Ian McEwans's 1997 novel, Enduring Love, takes on the illusion of a rational, safe and insular middle-class life.

Harold Jacobson is at once wittier than Woody Allen and more penetrating than Bellow or Roth. We are presented with three characters; an aged Jewish widower, a self-loathing and rather loathsome Jew and a non-Jew who yearns to be Jewish.

My dis-indentification, even flight from, Jewishness was halted by the author's hilarious turns of language. I discovered or re-discovered a resonance and affinity for the culture in the cadence of his sentences. In the exaggerations, ironies and constant self-examination I recognized something in myself.

Is it possible to reject the religion and view the Israeli-Palestinian morass from a humanist perspective free from any tribal allegiance? .... and still accept a certain home within the (Talmudic) questioning and unmistakable Jewish humor? My answer is Yes.

I am more than uneasy at Bar Mitzvahs and squirm at the observance of holidays, high or low, feast or fast. I regard them as vestiges of pre-history; hypocritical, irrelevant and divisive. Furthermore they are faux-spiritual having usurped the trappings and vocabulary of transcendent experience and delivering nothing but arcane mumbles.

But am I self-loathing? The last time I felt so was when I spilled Ragu sauce on my shirt or when I’m stuck with overdue library books. The issue of Jewish identity has probably been on my mind since I was in the crib wondering whether my circumcision would lead to a circumscribed life. To the extent that free-will is available to me I have tried to claim a more universal tag.

The protagonist in McEwan's novel leads a life familiar to me, governed by reasoned choices and a certainty in life's expectations. He is a science writer whose day is ordered and humane. All this is shattered by the ripple effects of a single incident when an irrational character insinuates himself into his life; the menace lurking at the edge.

The book could be read as a cautionary tale for people like me. Let in the outrageous, the inexplicable, and the folly that is all around us. It may be art; it may be the Dionysian, the otherness that envelops us. I could inhabit the writer and experience his existential crisis. No matter how well we wrap ourselves in a well-ordered life there is always a piece of us uncontained which follows no logic.

It seems the issue of identity is never quite resolved. It's a work-in-progress always under revision and creation. Perhaps the very quest is all the identity I need.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Matters Of Life And Death

This past week a friend died. Truth be told we didn't know Maurice very well but are close to his wife, Bonne. The obituary in the Times listed his varied career as musician, actor and thirty years in the financial world. His last wish for a memorial was a celebration complete with jazz band.

The best response to dying is living the joyful noise; meeting sorrow head on. At a certain age we know there's a man going around taking names and we're on that list, somewhere. Maurice was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer just three weeks ago and choose not to prolong his allotted time. He went out on his own terms, even directing his posthumous passage as if speaking through the piano, trumpet and drum.

A few days ago Peggy and I had a rare argument. I felt wronged, she apologized, I lashed out further, she withdrew, I was contrite, and 12 hours later we were back in each other's arms. Even that is too long estranged; a small death. Love, for us, is nothing less than being defenseless with trust implicit. We put our lives in each other's hands.

Perhaps this is healthy; to pull back and refresh our perspective. I'm not persuaded.It feels more like a needless waste

The way we tell of a life in an obit is a pale coda. We list one's achievements, titles; the sort of material Google might note. Yet we know this is not the measure of the man. How can a life be summed up? Perhaps it lies more in the Being than in the Doing. How generous and present we are, offering our vulnerable self and receiving others, how forgiving and enabling we live, how congruent we live out our principles and how well we love. Invest meaning in each day as if our lives depended on it, all ways beyond measure.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Thanksgiving Fantasy Table

Such a strange holiday Thanksgiving is. Three hundred million of us, give or take a dozen, sit down to the same meal this Thursday. We eat and drink until we're crapulous (great word, look it up) with family and friends whose company we cherish….. or barely put up with. Considering the rivalry of siblings, festering grudges, generational divides, crazy uncles, bores and vulgarians it seems like a good time to plan my fantasy guest list......dead or alive.

I'd probably be tongue-tied if I sat down with Shakespeare, Mozart or Einstein. Jesus and I may not hit it off either. I'll let him and Marx chew on some communal scraps in the kitchen

Bill Clinton sends his regrets but says he agrees with everybody.

Orson Welles says he agrees with nobody but felt there wasn’t room at the table for another genius.

Sylvia Plath arrives late having been in the oven with the bird.

Sammy Davis Jr. was afraid the turkey wasn’t Kosher. Phillip Roth was afraid it was.

Tom Lehrer sits down at the piano and sings our benediction:

We gather together to ask the lord's blessing
For turkey and dressing and cranberry sauce.
It was slightly distressing but now we're convalescing
So sing praises to his name and forget not to floss.

Oscar Wilde is here after getting through immigration telling officials, all he has to declare is his genius. Mark Twain accepts the invitation when he sees the opportunity to violate at least a couple of the deadly sins….gluttony and sloth. Pass the Chardonnay.

Dorothy Parker is disappointed that the table isn’t round but sits between them because she always wanted the twain to meet They chat it up over all the stuffing they’ve known along the way. I let Yeats and Keats carve the bird and settle the white and dark meat as they figure out how to rhyme their names. Peggy supplies the contemporary poet's voice to bring them up to speed. Tom Lehrer tells John Keats that when the poet was his age he’d been dead for 56 years. Open the Merlot.

John Prine gets his gravy and lets loose with, it makes no sense that common sense don't make no sense no more just to bring the conversation down to my level. Molly Ivins passes the dark meat to keep us honest. If anyone’s a Vegan she reminds them of all that land out there God made good for nothing but grazing. Everyone digs in including Chief Seattle who hopes we haven’t forgotten how our ancestors came over here, undocumented, stole the land, killed their hosts and never left. Always forgive your enemies, Wilde chimes in, nothing annoys them so much. At that point Keats interrupts his ode to a turkey breast (thinking of Fanny) and injects his Negative Capability idea that we can hold opposing views without seeking resolution. He gets no argument about that nor is there any broken treaty over pumpkin pie. More white wine?

When Twain lights his cigar and starts raconteuring about those stiffs of the Gilded Age, Molly Ivins tops him with a description of Ronald Reagan who was so moribund that if he got any duller she’d have him watered twice a week. As to those Robber Barons she tells about the new barons of the 21st century who are so far up on the pyramid they can’t see folks on the bottom. Parker adds that if you want to know what God thinks about money just look at the people he gave it to.

D. P. asks to fill her chardonnay. She says she’d rather have a bottle in front of me, than a frontal lobotomy. She knows she’s among friends and doesn’t care what’s said about her as long as it isn’t true. Oscar has found a kindred spirit. He tells her that a little sincerity is a dangerous thing, and a great deal of it is absolutely fatal. Everyone’s feeling a bit crapulous. Yeats mumbles something about the center not holding as he slouches under the table asking which way is Bethlehem. Twain says he doubts what he reads in health books. One can die of a misprint. He remarks that all generalizations are false including that one as he disappears into his cigar smoke.

John Prine says he’s going to plant a little garden / eat a lot of peaches / try to find Jesus / on his own. Wilde stares at the tablecloth and says, one of us has got to go. Keats, in his cockney voice, says something about consumption. No one disagrees.

It’ll never get as good as this but Happy Thanksgiving.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Black And White Of It

Gulls and crows cawing and squawking outside our front door. I’m struck by their opposing colors; the forces of damn good against the God-damned. Reminds me of my mother washing the kitchen floor and laying newspapers down. Why didn’t she let it dry by itself? I never asked. What I remember is the way she cursed the evildoers of the world; the super who held back on the heat, the butcher who didn’t give good weight with her lamb chops, even an imagined sneer from a neighbor. The newspaper said it all in black and white.

No dark white or light blacks those growing up years. Mashed potatoes and over-cooked liver. Winter was black galoshes silhouetted against snow. Coal for eyes in snowmen.

Movies left no doubt. Van Johnson at 10,000 feet spots the sneaky Japanese pilot, coming out of nowhere. Bullets rip holes in the Zero and blood, black as his moustache trickles from the actors mouth. Always the same actor, wearing a white cravat.

Cigarette smoke curling around the noir night. Black sedans, Good Humor trucks, white shirts, bow ties. Which side are you on? Picket lines and placards. Rich or poor? Picket fence, tenements.

Black Crow licorice, marshmallow inside the Rocky Road. Baseballs, the cliffs of Dover. Piano keys. Dice. White tails, top hat, Fred Astaire.

Chalk on a blackboard, ink on paper. Below the headline, black arrow points to Allied advance, liberating Axis held land, islands, a continent going from black to white. The future was white sails escaping heart of darkness. Read all about it. Extra paper!

Eye chart. First you said this and now that. Which is it? Certitude of scales, finitude of clocks, rectitude of prophets' commandments on parchment. The sky is papered with crows and gulls cursing and blessing like pages of testament.

It ain’t necessarily so.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Elephant In The Room

There's one in our bedroom and it's the first thing I see in the morning if I'm facing west. I open my eyes to one of the fourteen bookcases scattered about our apartment. This one is crammed with an assortment of mostly non-fiction books from a baseball encyclopedia to the three volume letters of Vincent Van Gogh to a shelf of anthologies and some old left history books, too dated to read with too many memories to discard.

The elephant is a wind-up toy which sits in front of a collection of the Best Essays of the Century. She is riding a bicycle while her upright snout balances a beach ball from a long pole. I prefer to see the ball as the globe. As she pedals the world spins. It seems like a fragile thing but my elephant remembers how and hasn't let us down yet.

I had a dream last night that the home plate umpire took off his black to reveal an all-white attire. He then started pitching for Peggy and me and was unhittable. In the dream I remarked to Peggy how fortunate we are to have the ump on our side. At that I woke up.

I'm thankful for all our innings together and for the elephant in the room who keeps us in orbit. I almost typed obit. Strange how close and far away those two words are.

Maybe all this is my oblique way of dealing with death and dying; that other elephant prowling around but not yet in the room; just beyond my imagining. We have an entire lifetime to come to terms with it but can't.

If I first open my eyes in the morning to the east I see Peggy rhythmically breathing and making those wonderful sleep sounds we all make. That and the spinning planet are all the reassurance I need to ward off the dreaded elephantine shadows.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Hemispheric War

A funny thing happened to me while reading Mario Vargas-Llosa's book, The Storyteller. I fell asleep. This is nothing new. I can often be found in my reclining chair napping with a book on my chest. But this was a more profound sleep; close to a trance.

Vargas-Llosa's book was chosen for our novel group because of his recent selection as Nobel Prize winner in literature. I sometimes have resistance to one book after being transported by a previous one. This time I caught my left brain declaring war on its counterpart. As hemispheres go, I wouldn't lay money down on my defenseless right side. It's Sparta versus Athens.

The Storyteller Is narrated by an academic from Peru who tells of his university friend drawn into the Amazonian jungle culture. He immerses himself in their primitive life and becomes one of them, a storyteller, constantly on the move from one group of Machiguengas to another. He goes not as anthropologist or ethnologist, for whom he has great scorn, but as one of the indigenous people.

The book is largely told by the narrator but interspersed with three or four chapters in the voice of the storyteller. In every case I found myself almost drugged within those pages. Toward the end of the book we are told of an American couple from some institute who lived with these people for 25 years. When asked about the storyteller they, too, had fallen asleep when he spoke for 12 hours at a stretch. I might as well have been a character inside the book.

When I skipped those passages and Llosa's voice resumed his narrative I found myself snapping back to wakefulness. What does this say about me? That I'm hopelessly rational? Not quite. I enjoy getting lost. If my socks match it’s by accident. The morning melon is never cut into four equal quadrants. My preference is for the asymmetrical. I love fairy tales True, I always wondered if the Jack that fell down and broke his crown was the same guy who climbed the beanstalk when he was supposed to be nimble and quick.

But seriously... I discovered that my left brain must have felt the tug of being pulled into the phantasmagoric tales of animism...... men turning into fireflies and back to jaguars then rescued by doves from crocodiles. My North American grip was loosened just a bit as I suspended disbelief and I went off in heavy sedation to the Amazonian rain forest.

Given these two control centers, complementary if not opposing, I would petition for some tunnels, bridges and a decent mass transit system between the two. It's about time they met...possibly over a brew of macerated cassava plant.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

By Bread Alone

It's possible I could not live by bread alone but it's worth a try. There are worse ways to go. I'd give up in half a day if I was restricted to white bread (Wonder Bread , Silvercup) but I can imagine a diet feasting on corn rye with caraway seeds. Toasted raisin pumpernickel is a meal in itself. Then there are warm baguettes of sour dough and French bread to say nothing of the olive and rosemary variety. I could make a banquet of bagels; onion was my favorite until pumpkin came along.

I might put myself to the test, one day, by ordering a Reuben sandwich in a kosher deli and tell them to hold the pastrami, cheese and sauerkraut; the twice-baked rye bread would suffice. Or I could have a plate of focaccia bread in a Ristorante and just imagine the tomato and olive oil. Pita bread demands a bit more magical realism to make of it a meal. But sopapilla (fried bread) from New Mexico to Argentina could keep me going through a few seasons. Would I be stretching the point with a basketful of croissants? An in-breath from the oven is all I need when a challah is baking its heart out.

To add or rather subtract from my life expectancy I see that zucchini has morphed from cake to loaf to its new designation as a bread. I have no strenuous objections.

Before sliced bread, I remember my mother holding a golden-brown rye against her chest producing perfect slices at the risk of her life. This is a lost art today with the slicing machine in the bakery and its three settings. Peggy likes her egg bread extra thin and then toasted. Anyone knows that bread is meant to be chewy. But I would fight with my life for her right to be wrong.

Is it any wonder I've now been diagnosed as a borderline diabetic? From now on the bread of choice must be multi-grain whole wheat which has fewest carbs. I'm not sure I can hold myself upright with this as my staff of life.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Image Behind The Name

Up until a few years ago the word tea suggested a warm beverage, the all-purpose restorative in British movies or even the preferred drink given to trapped miners when they emerged to daylight, if there was no brandy around. Tea conjured a civil conversation in a drawing room or a ritual-laden ceremony in Japan.

Now the rowdy, right-wing Mad Haters, whose preferred drink is a six-pack, have walked off with the name, Tea Party. Of course the name was plucked from the pages of history, the night of insurrection in Boston harbor. A bit of genius as coined phrases go; patriotic, simple and a long-time steeping. More like seething. Not my cuppa.

On the other side of the spectrum there’s been a name-change under our very noses. Since Liberal sounds too close to Libertarian, the left wing has re-discovered the term, Progressive. It, too, has a history. Theodore Roosevelt first called his splinter party by that name and later changed it to Bull Moose when an assassin’s bullet proved insufficient to bring him down. Twelve years later, in 1924, Robert La Follette ran for president under the Progressive Party banner and then again in 1948 it was the party of Henry Wallace.

Now I notice how Democrats, left of the administration, have taken on the name, Progressives. And why not? Since the Republicans stand for nothing more than obstruction and reactionary counterclockwise-winding, the opposition is well-named. A century of social reform, environmental oversight, food & drug protection, health and retirement benefits all fall under the agenda of the early Progressive platform.

The associations with that word, Progressive, are new and improved. Two of the advertising world’s favorites. As new voters come of age and old ones meet their maker, Progressives own the future.

Not so fast, Buster, some folks are threatened by progress and cling to other images of times gone by when horse-driven carts delivered milk straight from the cow and people watched T.V. by candlelight. There are those who think Republicans can restore Downtown before it was wiped out by Walmart or bring back the smoke stacks in Pittsburgh. Those were the days when people knew their place. A time of un-locked doors and Social Tea Biscuits. And now we’re back to that cup of tea.

Elections are won and lost by votes, not by demographics. If the youth will only stop long enough to vote their future instead of Twittering what they had for breakfast the Democrats have a good chance. Bring it on! Let Progressives run bravely on their programs, not run scared, pandering for votes. It’s alright to pronounce the g in words ending with one.

The problem may be how to translate social justice, compassion and science into non-threatening imagery. In Art, the new is necessarily ugly to most eyes. In politics it often means the shock and awe of truth which is not an easy fit for many folks. In running for president one hundred years ago Eugene Debs told a crowd. The other candidates come before you and tell you how smart you are. They do this to keep you stupid. I’m going to tell you how stupid you are, to make you smart. I wonder how that would play in Peoria today.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

The Cookie Is Crumbling

Seasons are on the move. November Wednesday was hotter than any day in August which makes it tough on camellias or coral trees not knowing when to put out their red lanterns. They’re lurching like a sprinter jumping the gun. Whales are U-turning and migratory birds are losing their sense of direction. The world won't hold still for a minute. The writing is on the wall. A minute ago those clouds were sky-writing. Brazil is subtracting its forest as the Sahara multiplies its margins and chunks of Greenland are in Galveston Bay, floating. The Third World is moving into the First World and what ever happened to the Second World. Soon but not soon enough we'll have One World. Armies are contractors who don't march in columns or wear uniforms because there's nothing uniform about them and columns are blurring into hybrids like engineered corn and Chevies. Music is fusion. Races are mocha. Fox news is an infomercial. Documentaries are fiction and biographies and Bibles while novels hold truth, even Truth. Poetry is prose and prose is poetic. Families are extended, three days here and four days there. Modernism is old. Even post-modernism is done. The new-fangled is aging. Europe is erasing its borders. Cartographers’ colors are running. It's no problemo in 200 countries. Humpty’s been dumped and is scrambled. Grammar is Tweeted. Infinitives splitting. Assets are toxic. Houses upside down flipping. The tornado is rearranging the trailer park. The minister is preaching into the wind. Cataracts are ripening but the cantaloupe can’t. Let the moon tug the tides and the cow jump over while Zenyatta goes from dead last to almost first.....

and all this time the Buddha is sitting.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Post Morten on the Body Politic...and Then

My previous blog was meant to cushion the blow. I have a way of rehearsing bad news turning it into old news when it arrives. It could have been worse. At least the lunatics are not running the asylum …………in every state or every chamber. The defeat of two thirds of the Palinoids has to count as a small accomplishment.

Now that the American voting public has once again delivered a near-fatal blow to itself one might ask the coroner what was the cause of near-death. Forensically speaking, what accounts for the self-inflicted wound? Small turnout from Progressives? Disinterested, low-information Independents? Angry white males? Aroused Tea-bertarians? Tons of corporate money? Poor communication from the White House? The economy, stupid? All of the above, I suspect.

If I watched CSI I might milk that metaphor further but I’ve never sat through a program. Maybe the more relevant question is what we are going to do now. Voltaire famously said to tend our own garden. Friend, Mel, wrote immediately that he was watching over his tomato plant. I’ve been partial to orchids myself. I keep listening to their wagging tongues for a message from beyond. Then there is the basketball season or winter trades in baseball and the crop of year-end movies to keep us distracted for a few months.

Voltaire’s advice came in Candide written in mid 18th century Geneva where he was exiled. It has layers of meaning. The operative word seems to have been, tend or cultivate rather than, one’s own. Tend is what he did. He was tireless in protesting the abuses of the Church and the monarchy. Twice he was imprisoned in the Bastille for leading the charge against the inquisition and barbaric torture practiced at that time.

Some interpreted the word, garden, to mean, field, which gives it a broader reference. However Adam Gopnik rejects that translation. He argues that the reference is to a garden, the place we build by love and generosity, not that ground we must toil in. In this way it is an expression of Enlightenment thought based upon personal responsibility.

In fact Voltaire employed two master gardeners, twenty workmen and twelve servants to tend his garden while he watched. The other essential to a garden is the presence of a gate. He kept out those pests, human and otherwise, with corrupting influences. His proclamation also suggests that we look inward and stop finger pointing.

It all boils down to staying engaged but not despairing. Live globally and act locally is the slogan of the World Health Organization. In fact we do live, for the most part, in the momentary micro while not losing awareness of our place in the macro. Acting locally suggests living out our principles, backing away from reckless consumerism, buying locally grown produce and living our days congruent with what we profess, in ways we interact with each other.

Obama needs to feel his constituency has his back. We can not allow the Reptilians to own the narrative and suck the oxygen out of our garden. The carnival (as in carnivorous) of election politics will soon be upon us again. Let's hope we don't wilt from the smoky air and acrid rhetoric we are about to inhale.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Tuesday Blues

We are in a very large florist shop in Kew Gardens which serves as a polling place. My mother is behind the green curtain voting while I'm in a baby carriage, crying my head off. This is my earliest mermory. Is that possibble? I'm 20 months old which makes it the off-year election of 1934. Or was it the 1936 election and I was not in a carriage? Or is it 2004 and I'm still crying?

The first Tuesday night in November has generally been an occasion for depression,despair and grief. As the returns come in I'm hearing an accompaniment of funereal music or Bessie Smith singing the Blues.

I have a vivid memory of FDR buttons in 1940 though I didn't know a Blitz from a blintz. By 1944 I stood out in the rain to wave at Roosevelt and his motorcade. I began my political involvement in the 1948 campaign for Henry Wallace. I was scampering around apartment houses with pamphlets one step ahead of the superintendant. We had the best songs but came in fourth. This launched my habit of losing. That was year that Dewey beat Truman in the midnight edition of the Chicago Tribune and lost by the morning edition.

Since then I've voted for Adlai Stevenson, Eugene McCarthy, McGovern etc... which means I have suffered through Nixon, Reagan and two Bushes besides such local luminaries as Sam Yorty, Daryl Gates, Deukmajian and Schwarzenegger. With each election I feel more misaligned with the body politic and often wonder if that body has a pulse...or a brain.

When I walk into an elevator I'm aware that most of my fellow vertical passengers hold diametrically opposite views about most issues. It's a good thing I haven't experienced a power failure.....yet. If the elevator is in Dallas or Salt Lake City, I'm doomed.

When I was in the eighth grade, in my puckish phase, I led a group of like-minded nasties, in electing Robert H., a kid with learning disabilities, as class president. A cruel joke. The school principal invalidated the election. The crop of Liberbagian candidates this year reminds me of that act of malicious mischief. Where is the principal to yank them off the ballot? Has the American electorate lost their decency? To install a slate of semi-literate, delusional and malevolent fools is a cruel joke on all of us.

I'm preparing myself in an undisclosed bunker. I've got black arm bands at the ready. Dirges are playing. I'm checking the bus schedule for Canada. I'd consider defenestration except I'm in the basement. It's been a hard life rooting for those who would rather be right but been done wrong.

A parting look back at 1934.... was I crying with separation anxiety or (so I’m told) because I had a chronic ear ache? Either case might serve as a apt metaphor. Perhaps I've lived my life separated from the conventional world.... and/or deaf to that misinformed majority. In any case I’m bracing myself for those November blues.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Wholly, Un-holy Halloween

I love these pagan rituals...Christmas, Easter and Halloween. Christianity usurped the first two but couldn't quite get church doctrine around the latter. All Saints Day, as such, is pretty much ignored. But the holiday survives stronger than ever in this country and Ireland now that its roots, as the beginning of winter, have been commodified as an occasion for vampire films, costumes and candy.

The origin goes back to the Druids and Celts who noted November first as the start of the dark half of the year. It was regarded as a magical time when the dead walked among the living. The few days between the eve and day following Nov.1st were seen as no-time when the rules of society which allowed tribes to cohere, were temporarily suspended, a short period when chaos prevailed. Hence the mischief, dress-up and cross-dressing.

The veil between the living and the dead was also lifted so those spirits gone were celebrated for their wisdom, bravery or magic. Enter Christianity. Unable to rid the peasants of their tradition the Church built upon it, just as many European cathedrals were built on former pagan sites.

My memory of the holiday is associated with colored chalk. We would mark each other's clothing and engage in benign pranks. Through the years, this evolved or devolved to trick or treating, a mild form of extortion. You gimme this or I'll do that. Of course kids, with their parents behind them, aren't about to do anything except receive compliments on their get-ups. The origin of it all comes from the old notion that evil spirits roamed about and were pacified by a treat left out which also ensured a plentiful crop for the year to come

A more positive interpretation of our practice is that it introduces children to strangers and reaffirms the social fabric of the neighborhood. Fear and mistrust are bridged and adults get to relive their own childhood.

One of my favorite Woody Allen lines is, "My only regret in life is that I'm not someone else." Costume parties allow us, for one night, to shed our skin for another. If it takes Halloween to do it, I'm for it.

Up until recently people lived closer to death. The Mexican, Day of the Dead, is a healthy way to experience the natural inevitability. A small act to relieve our repression and meditate on our own mortality.

Halloween is rooted, literally, in the earth tied to seasonal planting, harvest and a recognition of the solstice. It is a time to recall our connection to the natural cycles of the seasons, a universal observance, one way or another. Pass the pumpkin pie and pumpkin ice cream, only available November 1st.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

What's In YOUR Wallet?

My wallet has grown fat. No, not with money but with plastic and assorted scraps of paper where I jot down very important websites or disembodied email addresses I cannot live without and restaurant coupons which probably expired last year, and tickets from the dry cleaner who doesn't need them because they have my phone number but mostly with essentials such as my four library cards two of which I've just decided to remove (Beverly Hills and L.A. County) but that doesn't help much since I must carry my Kaiser card and Peggy’s AARP card for prescriptions and would never leave home without my Auto Club membership or car insurance card and business card from my trusted auto repair shop to cover other contingencies and then there are punch cards from a frozen yogurt shop I haven't been to in three years, one from a carwash I no longer use and the Video rental store all of which I'm ready to jettison leaving me now with a few pictures of grandchildren, preferred cards from the three markets and two drug store reward cards (whatever that means), four doctor's business cards (you never know), a Barack Obama card I think I could leave home, a museum card, driver's license, organ donor card, ATM card un-used since our last European trip and two credit cards (Master and AMEX).

Having now removed all of them my wallet is flat. I shall now put them back, one by one, in order of importance, and assign the rest to my dresser drawer under a rubber band.

All of which reminds me of the bubblegum cards under crossed rubber bands bulging out of my back pocket through childhood until they vanished one day. I believe that was the same day I realized they were probably worth hundreds of dollars. Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio... and childhood?

I must make a note of that but if I do, my wallet will start rising again. I can already see one side is triangulating a few degrees like a devouring mouth. Maybe I should transfer it from my side to back pocket like most people where I can sit on it until it behaves.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

More Memories Than Plans

Nostalgia has a bad name in literary circles. It has been relegated to the basement in the ivory tower. Yet not as bad as in the 17th century when it was considered a pathology serious enough to send a mercenary home for treatment or a sailor to get a pass back to port. Homesickness was regarded as a subset of melancholia. Try getting your HMO to pay for that today.

In any case, nostalgia is what we old folks do at a typical lunch with friends after the obligatory organ recital. Even if we don't start traveling down memory lane, our complaints about this new-fangled world and the degraded state of politics, is an implicit reference to those good old days.

For many of us the past looms not only vast but present. 1941 may be more vivid than last Thursday. Our own personal history can and should not be dismissed in the human shredder. It is only when those memories are romanticized that it falls into nostalgia.

Mark Twain said that as he got older he not only started to forget things but also remembered events that never happened. Nostalgia tends to conflate and polish the shards into jewels of past glories.

All of which leads me to get nostalgic about old radio. We all had favorite programs which kept our rapt attention and loyalty, never missing a single episode. My friend, Fred, recently told how a fifteen minute radio show may have saved his life. He never complained when feeling ill so his parents were appropriately alarmed when he announced that he wasn't going to listen to The Lone Ranger one night. They called the doctor who rushed him to the hospital for an appendectomy.

Radio left much to the imagination. We conjured movies out of voices, suspended our disbelief when the whole world tumbled out of Fiber McGee’s hall closet week after week. In fact, we waited for it along with Mr. Kitzel, Sen. Claghorn or Archie the manager to announce that Duffy ain't here. The fulfilled anticipation became our reliable clock and a measure of predictability. Another instance where the media itself, far more than the content, insinuated itself in our psyches in ways we weren’t aware. If they held a beauty pageant on radio we would imagine the contestants. We even presumed that Edgar Bergen's mouth didn't move when he became Charlie McCarthy.

In sensory terms, radio is a low-definition media. It gives us little and therefore demands more participation to complete the experience. Today's stations offer music and news but before TV it was our ready window to life. When Edward R. Murrow broadcast from London during the Blitz, his words became embedded in our hearts and minds. Just as FDR's fireside chats came into living rooms as families gathered around and stared into the gothic-designed speakers.

We were astonished at the quick minds of the panel on Information Please and celebrated the precocity of the Quiz Kids. We honored smarts back then. Paradoxically, with our Googling glut of information today we mock intellectuals and elect morons.

It may be the 7th inning of life or the 9th but we still have a few plans and hopes. One would be to re-visit our past to see where we went wrong to have ended in this sorry place. If it's innocence we lost we must have traded it for more jaded eyes.

Is it nostalgia that leads me here with its rosy lenses? I think not. Resistant as we are to looking backward, we are not well-served to ignore the values in the static of old radio even as they are encrusted with their own illusions and folly.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

What's New In The Novel

Pick up any novel and we expect to turn each page, silently muttering, and then what, between Once upon a time and …..lived happily ever after. Who doesn’t love a good story? We each have one or more to tell. At the same time we know life doesn’t quite happen that way. We omit the boring parts and embellish the rest with each telling. Henry James said, ”There are no plots in life.” They are constructs; the illusions we create and cherish in order to sort out through the clamor and simultaneity . Over time we even get to believe our own consoling myths.

Something has been happening in all the arts for the past century. There’s murder afoot, as Sherlock would say, an assault on old forms to which we still cling. Poetry yielded its end rhyme but some can not accept blank verse even though it has been around since Whitman. The butterflies have fluttered by. There are still those among us who choose art on their walls to match the throw pillows. Impressionism, which we loved to death, is safe since it first offended sensibilities 125 years ago. Now we embrace it as we would a bedtime story.

James Joyce put a gun to the head of 19th century lyrical fiction with Finnegan’s Wake. But it was only a flesh wound. Even Beckett and Pynchon only scarred our taste for the straight ahead narrative. Perhaps the tidy tale set in a chronology is grounded in the receptors of our double helix. The paradox is that we really don’t think that way. Do we?

My head is swarming with digressions and ellipsis. I’m inhaling odors, looking out the window, scratching my back, hearing a car alarm, wondering what time it is, which reminds me that we’ll soon be setting our clocks back an hour and I’ll need to take my car in because I can’t figure out how to re-set the clock……

If literature, like any other art form, is meant to shake our perceptions shouldn’t it be at least faintly subversive? Not to lull us with a recognition of the familiar but to upset our complacency a bit. To wake our resistance and do battle with the new terms offered. What was Warhol about with his repeatable Campbell soup labels except to call attention to the broth of images we are drowning in?

Certain givens may be in for review….such as the belief that language can reveal truth, unravel the mystery and offer us the meaning of life. That authenticity of character can be revealed through deep probing into our psyche and old wounds. That a coherent childhood memory comes to us resulting in a great ah ha. That a perfect metaphor can be an essential key to unlocking the door towards resolution. Even though the cloud looks like Kentucky or my grandfather’s beard or a reaching hand it is just a cloud.

On the other hand what is left after stampeding our sacred cows over the cliff? Is there a literature of a wireless age for the generation whose eye reads a field on a computer screen easier than we read the linear sequential of a page? Can we even conceive of a new literacy that rejects the singular POV for the one claimed by Picasso’s cubism? Perspective in art or on the page suggests a dominant, singular eye. The Rashoman approach allows for infinite telling.

If you are disturbed by all this, move over. I can’t quite give myself over to the literary revolution either. But I know it’s out there and coming at us inexorably. A new way of saying follows a new way of seeing. Instead of epiphany, authenticity is achieved by accumulation of bits and scraps; by circling the subject as the Cubists did from shifting eyes including what is absent or unsayable. Characters, are hard to identify. They are more like blank screens on whom reality is projected from the material world. Ultimately, what connects us is a shared sense of bewilderment and a reaching, like Ahab, for the unattainable.

There is room and reason enough to welcome both forms. If change occurs it will be glacial and the reading public may be the last to notice.

Monday, October 18, 2010


Remember those kids in kindergarten who knocked over blocks. Unhappy at their punitive parents' attempt at governance, they displaced their anger in less confrontational ways. Maybe Mom forced Junior to finish his vegetables or Dad scolded him for wetting his bed or big sister closed her door in his face. All good reasons to resent authority. And bad reasons to let out that frustration by striking at the first thing in sight.

Some kids fester, then become bullies. Meet today’s Libertarian / Tea Bagger. Impotent but seething, they seem unable to trace the source of their discontent.The best target is the one they can most easily demonize.

Bush channeled the outrage of America and, in his own personal tantrum, invaded Iraq. In a classic case of shadow-boxing the Bush/Cheney cabal sacrificed over four thousand more American lives and 100,000 Iraqis. With an incapacity to recognize the nature of the grievance, or diffuse location of the terror, they reduced it to Sadam Hussein. The bullies of the world are content when they have found someone to hate. You can’t invade an idea pervasive in a dozen or more countries so you take out your map as if it is the last World War. And what better time to secure another outpost in that region?

Two ill-conceived and unwinnable wars are now Obama’s inheritance along with a dysfunctional financial system, the consequence of unfettered greed. Restoration of sanity calls for a nuanced redirection. His opposition from the Left has swallowed the poison of cynicism while the sound and fury from the Right wing is indistinguishable from a lynch mob.

Listening through the static of Tea-bertarians, one hears the rant against government; again a misdirected bogeyman. Do these simpletons want to abolish mining standards, food and drug oversight, traffic lights, FDIC protection, libraries, public schools, prohibition against child labor? Do they know that our rail system was government subsidized, and our interstate highways; both put into place by Republican presidents? Tea Party candidates have announced their intention to abolish four cabinet offices, several constitutional amendments and one hundred years of progressive legislation. Their decibels shout down civil discourse. They have been incited to riot against two centuries of civilization, reason and social justice.

The anti-government movement is specious to its core. What sounds like populist rhetoric is the reworked platform of the rich and privileged whose creed is, I’ve got mine. Go get yours and don’t bother me.

The Boston tea Party from which they got their name was also a bit of legerdemain. John Hancock was a Boston smuggler who made his fortune bringing in tea, molasses and such from the Caribbean. He engaged a band of dressed-up Mohawks to dump the British tea and extend his market of tax-free tea. The legacy has not been lost. Let the disaffected do the work of the wealthy and fight the wars in their name.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

All Things Being Relative

My mother had five brothers which left me with five uncles all of whom bequeathed me with cousins. I have faint memories of a few going back over sixty-five years ago when I last saw them. Soon after, a family argument estranged my mother from her brothers and left me cousin-less.

Even as I write this I’m aware it is a lame rationalization. I had ample time to re-cousin myself, and didn’t. In fact after moving to Los Angeles my mother developed a correspondence with some of her sisters-in-law. But, alas, they were now on the other side of the continent and I was erasing my New York past for no good reason I can now think of.

There was one cousin whose picture had found its way into our family album. I was on the monkey bars with my older brother and cousin, Mildred, about twice my age, was pulling up her dress. Did she have any designs on my brother? Had they already played doctor? Such questions belong to a fevered imagination.

This much I know…… whenever my mother referred to Mildred, down through the years, she was always quick to add that she “never got married.” Over time, I referred to her as Mildred-Who-Never-Got-Married and that is how she is now known.,

Along the way I started thinking about this from Mildred’s point of view. I imagined her overthrowing her bourgeois beginnings, living a Bohemian life in Greenwich Village have fallen from grace on the Grand Concourse. I saw her as Thoroughly Modern Millie in a long term liaison with a jazz sax player who blew in and out of town like Be Bop riffs.

Or maybe she opened an art gallery in SoHo where she hobnobbed with the Minimalists until disappearing in a white canvas. Then emerged as a buyer for the United Nations gift shop and traveled the world snatching up Ghanan masks, Japanese netsukes, Oaxacan woodcarvings and Tlingit baskets. On top of the world, she scared men as the one consenting adult.

Watching a ballgame recently, as if for the first time, I marveled how the outfielder settles under a fly ball. From the crack of the bat he gauges the trajectory. Maybe Mildred stuck out her mitt and muffed her chance, never having experienced that confluence of being well-met. Timing is all.

More likely, her preference was not for a man at all. She probably snared whom she wanted, roaming her own ground, having turned her back on expectant eyes long ago. There are multitudes of Mildreds out there and she found hers. A family secret then; hardly a raised eyebrow now.

About twenty-five years ago when I was diagnosed with some neurological condition my doctor asked if there was any family history. I called one of my aunts in the Bronx whom I hadn’t spoken to ages. After identifying myself as my mother’s son, I asked about my cousins, including Mildred. She immediately said, You know, she never got married.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Hit and Run

It could have been worse back there in 1955 when I opened my front door to two detectives. They didn't cuff me or haul me away but handed me a summons to appear in court the next Thursday. I was charged with hit and run.

Two evenings earlier I was driving to a meeting with my friend, Frank. A full-grown collie darted in front of my car. It was a residential street and I wasn't going more than 35 but probably distracted talking politics with Frank. I felt the impact, a sickening soft thud. I got out of my De Soto but as I did the dog ran away. I remember Frank saying, "C’mon let's go or we'll be late." I also heard someone call out, "You'd better stop." That was either the dog's owner or my conscience.

My day in court was also the day when honor students from high school were privileged to sit in the judge's chair with the judge behind them. For the student's benefit and mine the judge lectured me about dogs being our best friend. I fully agreed and gladly paid the $25 fine.

Without saying I just barked up the wrong tree there's more to this tale. If Frank is still out there 55 years later he might tell it this way:

I was out of work but, through my wife, had a few connections with the right people in Senator Knowland's office. He got me a job working undercover for the F.B.I. We were hunting for subversives and I won the trust of Norm, by chance, just hanging around the campus of L.A. City College. Every Tuesday night we drove to a house where a radical journalist named Martin Hall would review the current geo-political news with a left-wing slant.

That night when the dog was hit would be my last chance to collect names for the field office. I couldn’t risk being late because everyone socialized before the speaker began and that’s when I learned their names. The whole episode got me a few paychecks and I don’t think anyone ever suspected why I was there. I also got a friendship with Norm which lasted about ten years.

If Frank used me, I also used Frank. His wife’s mother was the sister of a rich and famous entertainment figure. When my daughter was born deaf in 1962, my wife and I were eager to get her enrolled in the John Tracy Clinic program. The clinic is named after Spencer Tracy’s son and supported by Hollywood elite. It happened to have been a year with a large population of hearing impaired babies due to a German measles epidemic. The Tracy Clinic was regarded as the best pre-school organization for teaching children to learn lip reading and oralism as a first language. It was through a letter from Frank’s wife's aunt that Janice was accepted in the very limited enrollment.

Regrettably Frank disappeared from my life. I liked the guy for his easy manner and marginal life-style. He got his haircuts at a barber college and his teeth cleaned at dental school. I never suspected his role as informer until years later when I met the man at whose house we used to meet for our Tuesday gatherings. He told me he never trusted Frank and even wondered about me having brought him into the group. It prompted me to send for my FBI file under the Freedom of Information Act. What I received was a three-page document with every word blacked-out except for pronouns and conjunctions.In the end maybe all the verbs and nouns can be left to the imagination. It's life's conjuctions that count the most.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Sports Fans

Mid-October, leaves oranging and my three favorite sports all happening in stadiums with frenzied fans, an entity that barely existed 100 years ago. Fandom is the creation of mass media and the more massive is media the more ardent and universal are fans.

From gentle ladies and men in proper attire at Wimbledon or Forest Hills to hooligans in Liverpool or Philadelphia or Chicago spectators give themselves over to their home team and vent their spleen at those other guys.


There is something ancient and tribal about this sort of animus against "otherness." Being sent into exile was like banishment to a nether world.

Consider the visiting team, braced to receive the verbal abuse from the crowd. Their players feed on that derision, like reverse acclaim and hate them back until the throng is silenced. The matador stares into the eyes of death and wins immortality, however briefly.

With the Dodgers out of the post season I needed some team to embrace and some team to hate. When I decided to give myself over to the San Francisco Giants my friend reminded me of Dodger history against the "hated ones" dating back to our New York City rivalry. How could I turn my back on this heritage as if I had betrayed a sacred trust and stepped into the enemy tent.

How indeed? Very simply by reverting back to the irrationality which is at the core of choosing sides. Most fans root for the home team if only because they get the most ink from local sportswriters. In this case my cheers go to the California squad. Do I need a reason beyond that? How's this one?........San Francisco is playing Atlanta; Blue state over Red state. Or........I like Buster Posey, the Giant catcher. I like his name. I like his face. Any reason will do.

But why (I hear you ask) must I wish one team to whip the other? Because I'm hard-wired that way. It's in my medulla and my glands. Indefensible, I know, but it ads to my enjoyment as a viewer. I cannot watch a game without cheering and jeering.

Of course every player on the field or court has a story.....this one’s brother died last week, that one overcame polio or donated money to Haitian relief ....... so I attach myself to them. I have a Zionist friend who asks himself which team's victory would be more beneficial to Israel. I recently made a decision to never root for the St.Louis Cardinals because their manager and star player recently attended the Glenn Beck rally.

I must stop now. The game is coming on and I need to find some reason to enter the skin of one of those two teams, quicken my pulse, sweat my palms, grow fangs and go berserk. Don’t worry folks, it’s only an alternative universe. I’ll return to Earth in a few hours and nothing will have changed for you mere mortals.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Marxism And The Maltese Falcon

If zealotry is in your life script it's best to have it come in youth and get it over with. I've come to this conclusion after watching a film on Dashiell Hammett whose trajectory included membership in the Communist Party in mid-life and a jail term twenty years later.

Hammett started as a Pinkerton detective, an agency famous for strike-breaking tactics. In the thirties he reversed himself and joined in left-wing action groups. I don't mean to disparage the work of these causes. However, along with labor organizing and civil rights advocacy came rigid ideology and a blind defense of the U.S.S.R.

My own parents were communists and I inherited some of their zeal and dogma. I regard their membership as political romanticism, a benign identification with the down-trodden. Partisan politics became part of my adolescence. It offered me a simplistic entrée into adult life and an outlet for my passions and occasional vehemence. At the same time it gave me a distant perch once-removed from the conventions of society.

It also marked me with some rigidity and limited my imagination. I took Marxism seriously. Not as an activist at the barricades but as a template for approaching social and historical events and as a lens through which to see my life ahead.

On balance I don't think I fared too badly. I haven't lost my radical persuasion or historical perspective. I've come to my senses about the Soviet Union without turning that embrace inside out. I recognize those early days as being close to a religious catechism in my apologetic for Russian repression. What, me religious? God forbid.

Hammett was a complex man and aren’t we all; reason enough not to think in doctrinaire terms. His writing went from hard-boiled to soft-boiled; from Sam Spade to the Thin Man. It's hard to imagine these two detectives springing from the same creator. As tough as Bogey in 1933 and la-de-dah as William Powell in 1936.

In a scene in which Spade turns his ferocity up a notch with particular menace he leaves the room and then his hand starts shaking. We are led to believe that his tantrum was an act he put on to cover his soft side as if Nick Charles lay in waiting beneath that veneer.

Fifteen years later Hammett was teaching a course at the Jefferson School in N.Y.C., devoted to Marxism. I was across the hall steeping myself in Dialectical Materialism. It took me many years to find my Maltese Falcon and a few more than that to fix a martini. But in the end the black bird is hollow. We're all detectives trailing our own shadow down a dead-end street,

Thursday, September 30, 2010

"Electile" Dysfunction

Why do Liberals go limp in November while Republicans are fully aroused? So say the poles..,.I mean polls. All that corporate money pouring in and the power it implies must be inherently sexy. And maybe malice and mendacity turn folks on; a perverse form of ecstasy.

In any case the right wing’s appeal seems more to the glands than the brain. While Democrats split hairs over agenda or lie semi-moribund, conservatives unite, rally around old myths and control the narrative however simplistic and distorted it may be.

A reasoned argument from the Left, supported with policy statements seems to address deaf ears. Indeed the opposition has grasped the concept that arguments to a mass audience can be seductive using simple slogans, images and signifiers.

This seems particularly true in an off-year election in which the task of both parties is primarily the turn-out of their respective bases and secondly igniting the vast, low-information middle. This is where public relations firms and advertisers play a decisive role.

Selling a candidate is indistinguishable from selling a car or a box of cereal. Why do I drive a Honda? On some level below consciousness I have a bought into a cluster of images that makes a statement matching me with my car. I’m not a Mustang. I’m not a BMW…….whatever that means.

Americans are nothing if not consumers. We not only purchase goods but we buy services the same way; evaluating teachers, judging waiters in restaurants and voting for our representatives often by subliminal impressions. Bush’s affability carried the day for eight years. He was the guy you (not I) wanted to have a beer with. If a candidate can fake authenticity the rest comes easily. The media pronounces whether he/she looks presidential as if our leaders should come out of central casting.

The agenda, the record, the issues all become subordinate to a snap assessment of the buyer-voter. A significant portion of the American electorate responds more readily to fear and loathing than to empathy and reason. It is primal; an almost instinctual reaction from the reptilian brain. The Republicans have tapped into this.

In 2008 when Obama won over first-time voters and independents it was also a visceral connection. Some of us projected a lifetime of expectation on him. He received other votes just because he wasn’t Bush or McCain. Since then we’ve been reminded of the deep conservative roots in this country. If an election were Masterpiece Theatre we would witness the paradox of Downstairs voting for Upstairs. The under-served identify with the privileged.

I can only hope those young people, minorities and undeclared voters get Viagrified and see through the slick ads from millions of corporate dollars and turn out as they did two years ago.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Triggering Town

I’m an old cowhand. Like Cooper or Eastwood, a man of few words. And right now even fewer thoughts. The well’s gone dry in my ghost town.

The general store’s boarded up. Yup. The last brawl emptied the saloon. I say set em up Joe but Joe ducked and never came up. The chorus girls left on the last stage out of town with the school marm and preacher. It’s so quiet you can almost here the g’s droppin. Even the posse’s gone chasin the sheriff and his side kick. The card shark’s got nothin but arm up his sleeve.

But this is a triggering town for blocked writers. Wet pencils lookin for words to say what folks say when they’ve got nothin to say.

There goes a tumbleweed scootin down to the old corral. Could be a few nuggets in the dust. Now the air is stirrin. I hear somethin rustlin that ain’t cattle. Could be crickets tunin up but sounds more like the piano beginnin to roll. Darlin Lil is kickin high and showin her garter.

Lightnin just split the hangin tree. Slim Pickens swallowed his toothpick. A new lore & oughta marshal is hitchin up his horse. His gun is cocked over his longjohns. He polishes his silver; gives us all a nod, by God.

The clean-cut good guys are showin gristle and the grizzly bad guys got themselves shaved clean. There’s Tonto telling his side of the storyat Kimosabe College The un-masked Ranger is cleaning his erasers. Doc Harvey, the barber’s doing surgery now, pulls teeth too.

Diamond Jim, the railroad baron, grabbed one too many and took a bullet in his wallet. His ranch got foreclosed in an open and shut case.

Andy Devine’s teaching bible school with Gabby Hayes. Buffalo Bill’s gone vegan. Three amigos are hirin to pick the cactus crop across the border. Prospectors are on their hands and knees panning for g’s as in gold.

The 9:45 from Yuma just pulled in with a fistful of lawless words. Here come the outlaws from central casting, spitting and cussing looking for work in Hollywood Westerns. It’s all over and it’s just begun.

I head over to the telegraph office to send a message shot straight from the hip.. Got me some wagging tongues….stop….. characters wanted….stop… dead or alive.

Thursday, September 23, 2010


Some things will never change like the three cent stamp and nickel cup of coffee. There are eight newspapers in Gotham and that’s the way it will always be. In my previous incarnation I’d just been taken on as a cub reporter for the World Telegram, learning the ropes from Pops. I’d been around the block a few times; even pulled a few strings but that’s nothing like knowing the ropes. Some guys seem like they’ve always known them. Me, I just get tied up in knots.

My big break came when old Pops’ eye went jaundiced from too many idols under the pedestal. He knew he was washed up when he lost the pencil on his ear racing to the nearest phone booth.

They had me covering the trial of the century. When the surprise witness broke down under relentless cross-examining the case was blown open. I bolted from the courtroom for the bank of phones and got the cigarette out of my mouth in time to scoop my rivals. I knocked the Lindbergh kidnapping off the front page and hit the street before the News, Mirror, Post, Times, Herald , Sun and Journal American.

My coverage gave the cigar-smoking city editor a raise and made the pipe-smoking publisher a shoo-in for D.A. Next stop for him was a seat in the Governor’s mansion. What we needed most downtown was an honest public servant to drive away the corruption from uptown.

Trouble was my middle name and I had the nose for it. With some late-night research in the archives under a forty watt bulb I discovered that the governor's wife had been put away ever since he threw her down the stairs when she caught him in a compromising position. I found the poor woman in a rest home on the other side of town registered under Jane Doe Ramey. With a little sweet talk I got her to spill the beans even in her comatose state.

But I can explain everything, the governor said as they cuffed him and hauled him away.I knocked off 500 words and had my second scoop. This time with a by-line. That and two bits would get you a BLT down, coffee and keep the change.

Saturday, September 18, 2010


It’s unbecoming to proclaim my good fortune but I’ll do it anyway. And what better place than a blog? Monday is our 24th anniversary. Considering all the gin joints in this galaxy I’m a very lucky man to have found Peggy. She’s showing me how to be willing to be lucky. When the moon is new I see a sickle; she sees it full.

It‘s actually 26.5 years since we’ve been together and 30 years since we met and mingled. I never did learn dance steps; my feet have no memory. Even the mating dance didn’t come naturally but marriage is a dance I can do; the tango and waltz of it, leading and following, the dips and twirls, leaps, stumbles and recoveries. Feeling the music of our moods; the enthusiasms and the quietude.

To be met fully is rare. To meet every day thereafter, rarer still. It defines love itself. To know that I can simply be and be received and at the same time have the opportunity to grow that same capacity for reception within myself. This is a coming together that also nurtures our solitudes and differences. We muse each other.

The bard said to admit no impediments to true minds. I say admit our faults and flaws and let them be no impediment. I’m a world-class chipper of cups and such. I slouch on the couch and constantly lose bookmarks. Mere misdemeanors. I worry too much, plan contingencies. Peggy refuses to rehearse bad-case scenarios. She lives in the moment and spares herself the what ifs. We’ve come to accommodate each other’s mishegoss.

Most mornings she bounces out of bed with a poem marinating in her head. She is an alchemist stirring yesterday’s conversation with a passing image a pinch of an old movie or song, an odd phrase drizzled with a sliver of a dream. She stirs it all in her crucible, filters the glob through her sui generis voice and distills into a remarkable poem. Her number one pencil is like flint on the page causing conflagrations. Not always comprehensible to my unseeing eyes at first, second or tenth reading but suddenly the opacity lifts and I’m inside the poem. This is a gift beyond measure. The nectar of her flowering.

Even then there’s so much more to each of us not to be entered and revealed. An inner world we know enough to remain unknown. This is an unspoken intimacy we honor.

How we met is a French movie of quakes and rubble, an avalanche from a glance, big hellos, half-bottle of wine and dulcimer, Brandywine café, an open window with a curtain swaying, a three-year walk in that lonesome valley, stump of tree, Miramar mist, ebb-tide, ranunculus, whitewater, close-ups and many a long-shot. A magnificent complication. Rupture to rapture.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Big Noise From The Tea Room

The current crop of Republicans has me longing for that nasty, tricky Dick (I'm not-a-crook) Nixon. On today's spectrum he would be left of Ben Nelson and Joseph Lieberman.

The trajectory since then is alarming. The G.O.P. calculated that electability was the name of game and they needed a less shadowy figure. We were presented with Ronald Reagan, the bad actor in his greatest role, who needed breadcrumbs to find his way out of a sentence.

Then the C.I.A. moved into the Oval Office and we got Bush the Elder who must share the blame for his offspring.

Dubya, ever affable, made Reagan seem like a scholar in epistemology. G.W. Bush was equal parts Forest Gump and frat boy. It as said that he couldn't find Europe on the map when he was offered the job by the Supreme Court.

From scoundrel to imposter to dangerous fool...just when we thought it couldn't get worse it has. All the aforementioned would have to take their place to the left of the Tea Baggers who are now steeping in the hot water we find ourselves in.

The recently nominated candidates from Sharon Engle to Christine O'Donnell to Carl Paladino to Rand Paul represent the voice of inchoate anger and frustration. Indeed there is much to be angry about. But starting a bar room brawl or cheering on the lynch mob does not a solution make.

To the extent this movement is anything more than a hired busload from corporate headquarters it is the rage against an economy which has left them behind and a changing demographic which taps into their latent fear and hatred.

Noise is not discourse. If they had a program for structural change the dots would lead to the very source of their own funding. Out-sourced jobs and institutionalized greed have been displaced by racism and nativism.

This field of candidates may be nothing more than an aroused fringe group among a slumbering electorate. I can only hope the Obama constituency from 2008 will be equally aroused and turn up in November or we may be in for the darkest moment in American history.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Thank You, Glenn Beck

Virulent buffoon that he is...salacious and self-righteous...I owe him one for bringing the issue of Liberation Theology to my attention. I'm for it.

What is the book of Exodus but a story of liberation, out of bondage through idol worship to a new consciousness?

Is it any wonder that slaves found resonance in this narrative? They adapted Christianity for the message of deliverance waiting for that sweet chariot to swing low and carry them home. Today they are no longer willing to wait. The promise of the Judeo-Christian ethic has not been delivered.

Glenn Beck rails against this interpretation as does the Vatican. The message of the good books, of Moses and Jesus threatens the fundamentalist Bible-thumpers as well as the Vatican. The hierarchy is taking cover. With a resume like that count me in.

The modern day movement of Liberation Theology originated in Central America in the sixties around Father Gustavo Gutierrez with its roots in the Gospel. It has become a peasant movement which speaks directly to poverty and injustice as a daily fact of their existence. It addresses the contradiction between the teachings of the Church and need to liberate the people from degrading social conditions. It calls for a Christian response beyond charity. Glenn Beck to the contrary notwithstanding God has always sided with the oppressed.

It is no small irony that even as fundamentalist Christians and the Catholic hierarchy denounces them the Liberationists are the fastest growing sector in Christendom and perhaps the only one not exhausted and irrelevant.

Religion has been given new life outside the church walls. Communities have formed theological reflection groups and human rights organizations which have resulted in land-reform and peasant cooperatives. The Liberation Church played a role in overthrowing dictators like Samoza in Guatemala and the military regime in El Salvador.

For many African-Americans the church has too long been associated with segregation. The Southern Baptist Convention supported slavery until a formal repentance just fifteen years ago. They offered an apology to Blacks for condoning and perpetuating systemic racism.

Black Liberation Theology seeks neither reparations nor reward in an afterlife but a recognition and redress through changes in their social conditions today. It is a living religion and as such scares the hell out of the preachers whose notion of religion is part soporific through the utterance of arcane mumbles and part militant dispenser of fear, obedience and punitive measures against non-believers.

Before the 100,000 assembled at the Washington D.C. mall Beck called Obama a racist. He amended that nonsense the next day branding him a follower of Liberation Theology as if this were an equal sin. I suppose it is to a man on a mission to incite the ill-informed through repetitive lies.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Lunch At The Time Warp Restaurant

The Spitfire Grille feels like a set in a B movie from 1945. It's on the grounds of the Santa Monica airport where prop planes take off with cargoes of who-knows-what to who-knows-where... hot jewels to be fenced or cold cash to be laundered? The sort of place I might have been led to trailing a blonde. One of us is in a convertible and the other in a black sedan with Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett writing away in the back seat.

A man of medium build and mediocre mind had popped into office yesterday; a cross between Sidney Greenstreet and Peter Lorre. When he announced himself as Murray Hill I already had his number. He said he wanted me to keep an eye on his sister. I knew he was lying through his teeth by the way he wiped his sweaty palms with his pink tie. But I had overdue library books to pay off and could use the few bucks.

I head for an outside table with a good angle. The place is swarming with weasels, hoods and undercover cops spying on each other. Looking up from behind my Look magazine I ponder the meaning of life in a godless world forgetting that I already did that in the shower this morning. If I came up with an answer it slipped my mind while sprinkling blueberries on my Bran Flakes.

The sun is just a rumor this summer. It disappeared like a corpse in Edgar Allen Poe's basement. I think of the shape of things and realize that a corpse is not the right geometry to talk about the sun. My attention shifts to an orange Lifesaver and how Hart Crane's father was a millionaire who invented the popular candy but refused to pay for his college education. Crane's revenge was to jump overboard where he still is swimming with the fishes.

With no umbrella to shield the sun that isn't there a round hole remains in the middle of my table. One might say it's a size larger that the .38 caliber slug that just whizzed through my Adam's hat but I would never say that. Instead I put the octagonal pepper shaker in the round hole. It fits.

But nothing else fits in this cockeyed what I'm doing here in this movie with my eye on the blonde who turns out to be the twin of a red-head who took the rap and did a stretch up the river. I remember an old Chinese proverb about never double-crossing a double-crosser.

I'm trying to think outside the box but the box is getting fuzzier and I'm ready to blow this joint when I feel something heavier than a double cheeseburger landing on my head. The world is spinning and I'm deciding to quit this racket and enroll in pharmacy school recalling my mother's words about finding something I can always fall back on,.