Wednesday, October 30, 2013


It said an update is ready, click here, so I clicked afraid if I didn’t I’d be left behind, out of the loop, which is worse than exile in 300 B.C. Greece, left to wander across barren pages, void of typographical topography until I make my way to an ice flow recycle bin for deletion. Inclined to do as I’m told I then hit download and that brought me to six paragraphs of fine print scrupulously unread by me or anyone including the person who wrote it. Naturally I swore I’d agree to every syllable and then hit the next button and watched a green worm make its way across the page until I was congratulated for successfully following the prompts and as a result …..

I’ve lost all my passwords so my bank doesn’t recognize me and they aren’t sure I am me and I’m also not sure I’m me… but I just checked my driver’s license and sure enough I am me thus avoiding an existential crisis… because I failed to answer my first security question which was, What is your favorite movie? They don’t ask me something like the street I was raised on or my father’s middle name which never changed but my favorite movie changes from film to film so I guessed at a musical and was wrong and then made another stab. (Strange how most films that come to mind were made before 1960….Casablanca, Citizen Kane, His Girl Friday, Inherit the Wind, The Third Man,The Godfather. Lives of Others…some Ingmar Bergman, Krysztof Kieslowski and a few Woody Allen).

Wrong again so I called the 866 number and a robotic man gave me multiple choices to choose one address I had lived at among many; but none were familiar until I vaguely recalled that my ex-wife lived there 27 years ago and that saved me a visit from the Update Police, a branch of the National Security Agency who would have hauled me off for hacking into my own computer and sent me to Greenland to cool off for a while on a calving glacier.

The next time I’m asked to upgrade, update or upload anything I shall respectfully decline even if it goes on my record as, a Decliner, a most dreaded designation. They don’t tell you they are going to reconfigure you. Luckily my face remains symmetrical but I’m not altogether sure my nose landed in the middle. 

It wouldn’t surprise me to find out that Decliners are the subject of some diabolical app by which you are dematerialized and wake up in a cave with other troglodytes typing away on their manual Underwoods with sticky keys using ink eradicator and carbon paper where the word, blog, does not exist. 

Saturday, October 26, 2013

What Bounces And Rolls

Baseball is down to its last hurrahs with football well under way and the basketball season soon to come. Who cares, is a legitimate question for any mature, rational adult to ask. After all, athletes are arrogant, vainglorious, inarticulate brutes. Right? And owners are unyielding, greedy and obscenely rich. Furthermore collegiate sports programs have caused universities to lose their primary mission as they exploit their student-athletes.

Only an incorrigible fan who never grew up watches the World Series. I know. I’m one of them; unless, of course, you live in Boston or St. Louis and can’t help yourself.  My Dodgers have already gone home waiting till next year. So I must slip into the skin of one team and generate a slight antipathy for their opponent. It’s make-believe, this suspension of objectivity. Fans share the secret allegiance for a few hours. It’s no more indefensible than wearing a Halloween costume. One can be civil and constrained for only so long. Repressed vehemence is uncaged.

Being a sports fan is so demanding, so time-consuming, so distracting and ultimately inconsequential. And that may be why I’ve embraced it for lo these many years. Strategizing offers the illusion of control and coherence. To the disinterested, football is a game of violence. For students of the game it is a human chessboard with a concussion here & there.

Sports, like politics is theater. Instead of mendacious, soporific speeches and pandering we get live human drama. The real debate that never happens in Congress at least takes shape on the playing field with unrehearsed outcomes; a form of meritocracy prevails. It may not be as meaningful as health coverage but I would argue that competition is a pre-existing condition of our species. No harm, no foul. Let fevered opponents, pretending to care, do battle as entertainment and sublimate, for a nation, the urge to enter into real combat spilling real blood.

As William Hazlitt the great English essayist wrote, Nature is made up of antipathies without which we should lose the very spring of thought. Life would turn into a stagnant pool were it not ruffled by …the unruly passions of men. This was written in the early part of the 19th century when all we had were tugs-of-war and pitching horse-shoes; no sports bars, slam-dunks or point spreads.

The operative words, for me, are transit, transformation and transcendence. This has been a difficult year in the real world. I need my alternative universe. When my team loses I grumble for twenty minutes and push it away from my consciousness. But when they win, I win. They have represented me well, my imagined speed, power, agility, and grace; the competitive spirit I have otherwise disowned.

In last week’s playoff series the Dodgers were painted as overpaid Hollywood types, hot dogs, disrespectful to baseball traditions. The Cardinals became the team with proper decorum exhibiting little emotion in the manner of Middle America. Subtext: The Dodgers have a preponderance of Latinos particularly from the Caribbean. They brought a child-like enthusiasm to the game, a dimension apparently offensive to those who still regard baseball as an American pastoral sport. Seen through a political lens this was a contest between changing demographics. Si habla beisbol.   

Monday, October 21, 2013

Square One

We never know when we’re there unless we go back to it, as if life were a board game. And when we say we’re back to square one we really aren’t. You cannot enter the same river twice.  Was it Yogi Berra or Heraclitus who said that? You are not the same person nor is the river with the same waters.

So now Peggy is back at Berkley East Convalescent Hospital where she recently made her summer home. (Seems like just a few years ago we had fantasized summering in the Cotswolds). Same facility, same staff but her hip has healed and we are now dealing with a compression fracture of her T-12 vertebra.

Going back to square one may be some people’s idea of immortality, a wish to keep starting all over again until they get it right. Not an altogether bad idea considering the alternative. An instant replay of the whole damn thing!  In that case I’d need to crawl into my time machine. Where are my ski pajamas? Isn’t that what space travelers wear? Woody Allen says he doesn’t believe in an after-life, but just in case he’s bringing an extra pair of underwear.

I remember, in elementary school, the most egregious threat hanging over us was to be Left Back. What could be more dreaded and ignominious? On the other hand a few (not I) were skipped. Two early forms of time-travel, to be returned to square one or launched into the great beyond.

If life is cyclic rather than linear there is no turning back. The best we can do is to keep spinning with our receptors open and pass along what we live and breathe. Peggy with her nonagenarian bones and made-fresh daily, irrepressible spirit is stepping again into the stream like never before.

As we wait for the vertebra to knit I don’t dare pat her on the back. The spine is its own tree bent perhaps but still providing swift passage from head to hand and heart. On its branches birds perch, a child swings and messages are still being carved. She is still mid-life in tree-years. Ninety-two is insufficient to contain all the life Peggy has yet to live.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

A Modest Proposal

We are witness to a coup d’etat. Arrest the lot of them, the subversives who would overthrow our government. Send them to Boehner’s tanning salon for a few months, an American version of a gulag. Let them turn as red as their banner. Assign them remedial civics books.

They have committed sedition against the federal government, this minority of a minority party who hold office fraudulently, after surgically scissoring a district for themselves. These are the ones who ran with scissors in third grade and never let go of the scissor. They are the schoolyard bullies who defy the ground rules, move the goal posts and steal the ball if they don’t get their way. They want less government? Let the lawless have their own lawless country.

The fundamentalists within our borders are as great a threat to the democratic process as their fundamentalist cousins abroad. Al Quaeda must be grateful for the Teaburtarians who have created a model for chaos and regime change.

Legislation cannot be undone by threats. They subvert the Constitution as if they had kidnapped the president until their ransom was paid. They act in defiance of the legislative, executive and judicial branches. They are finishing what the British started to do in 1812, destroy the Capitol.

Who are these miscreants? Some belong to the 1% who say, I got mine, don’t bother me. There are the militia-ready rugged individualists who obsess over their penis-guns. Others include the Bible-thumpers staunchly compassionate about human life until the baby is born. Then there are the simplistic -minded who have reduced the complexities of modernity to slogans. Having identified Government itself as demonic the rabble is appeased. The sheep have their shepherd and know exactly what and whom to hate. Add to the above a deep vein of racism, that pathology which infects the American psyche, marshalled for the past five years against Barack Obama.
Would it be a different story if Hilary Clinton sat in the oval office? I think not. We’d have misogynists instead of racists to deal with. Born out of the Enlightenment our country from its inception has managed to coexist with the seeds of its own destruction. A slave-based economy, systematic genocide of indigenous people and suppression of women’s vote are all embedded in the American grain.

Sad to witness these malevolent strains dominant again as a counterforce to progress. The toxic worm presents itself, one hopes, as a last gasp against reason, empathy, diversity and inclusion.    

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Night-Train To Nowhere

It’s tough enough falling asleep these days and then when you do the night-train comes along and transports you to unforgiving destinations.

Here you are again in a large building with many rooms set in the surround of a grassed area. There are lots of people milling about. It's not a bad place but not a good one either, because you haven’t packed yet and the bus is waiting to get you to the station or airport. Where is the damn bus or did you get here by car and where did you park it? You’ve lost track of time or run out of money.

This is where you find, or rather lose yourself, about three times a month between midnight and five. The place is your unconscious, your Oz, and you seem to be anxious to get to back to Kansas.

Jung tells us to make the unconscious conscious and honor it. The dream is a hidden door which opens to that cosmic night beyond the reach of our ego. He would probably say that all those other people are also yourself. The fact that your dream is recurrent must be telling you something you need to tend to.

It has never occurred to you to stay put. The dream always starts with your leaving as if you had walked into your movie with ten minutes left. You have no sense of what preceded this anxiety state but you’re not escaping over the wall or running for your life. In fact you may be running away from your life.

I wish I had better access to my imagination in the waking hours. Wallace Stevens wrote about reality being the necessary angel. His poetry was a seemingly inexhaustible excursion into his imaginative life. But flights of fancy require grounding and his was at his desk at the Hartford Insurance Co. where he worked for decades and refused to leave even when offered positions in academia.

Reality begs for sorties into that vast unknown, whether we like it or not.  It is as if a forbidden rendezvous between the two happens nocturnally or otherwise. How we reconcile their ongoing dynamic can be a lifelong struggle or joy, a wrestling match down on the mat or a slow dance.

In his 15-part series currently being shown on TCM, The Story of Film…an Odyssey, Mark Cousins argues that movies of the 30s while escapist on the surface often ended with a soft landing back to the reality outside the theater. Scarlett O’Hara ultimately faced the death and destruction of the Civil War even if by that time Rhett didn’t give a damn. Gary Cooper gulped and accepted Lou Gehrig disease and Jimmy Stewart learned that Mr. Smith cannot go to Washington and remain innocent.

The hope is that by writing this I can own my dreamt place, then mosey around the corridors scribbling graffiti, read the shadows, maybe tunnel the basement floor under the moat of lawn across to the woods, climb a tree and release the stars. Then turn my back on the waiting vehicle and find a return on some gossamer thread of my own making.

Maybe the night-train doesn’t stop there anymore. There is no arrival and no clock. No need for a train or plane to get back. You’re just there and then you’re not.