Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Morbid Thoughts On a Sunny Morning

Friends are falling. Hips and knees are letting us down…literally. Hearing is diminished. Sight blurred. Hair thinning. Memory fuzzy. We’re losing height.  It’s as if we are being written out of our own script. In fact maybe this is a re-run and I’m already a goner. I’d hate to think I died and it slipped my mind. Could it be that I fell on my face into a key lime pie or a vat of chocolate malt crunch ice cream and am too busy enjoying my demise to notice? I must check Google to see if I exist.

There was a time I was happy to die for my country but I got over that in a New York minute. I knew early on I was not made of such stern stuff. Throwing myself on a hand grenade to save the flag is not my idea of how to spend an afternoon.  If I were Galileo I probably would have renounced all my scientific sacrilege rather than endure another session on the stretching rack or whatever monstrous papal technology of persuasion was in use in the name of Jesus, Mary and Joseph.

Immortality is a comforting thought but it doesn’t do much good for the corporeal body of the late-lamented one. This morning I put on a CD of Glenn Miller’s biggest hits. His music brought that familiar sound back into the room but as far as I know he is still dead. On the other hand it can’t hurt to be a household word like Mozart, Einstein or even a Caesar salad or a Hoover vacuum. I wonder how it feels posthumously to have a medical condition carry your name into posterity.  I’d rather be remembered as a Heimlich maneuver than a bout of Hodgkins. Imagine having a suffix after your name like Whitmanesque or Shakespearean.  Another way to be immortalized closer to home is to have your name under lamination on the menu of a local deli such as: A Billy Crystal………turkey pastrami, brisket, and Russian dressing. We once knew a poet who was also a waiter at Izzy’s Deli. Perhaps his best-known published work was a Jerry Katz sandwich. I’ll have to settle for the Norman Invasion.

Then there is love. Love between Peggy and me to cite one such. I submit this to the sum of all other great loves. No, strike that. Each love speaks its own language fluent to nobody else. What if love both charges the air and gentles it? Love opens the fist, to the soft skin of the palm. It causes a drone to go astray from the wedding party with one bad guy among dozens and allows the suicide bomber to inhale a more rarefied air, causing him to unstrap his arsenal. Death is no match for love.

It's a nice thought, anyway, and it can't hurt.

What I really want to say is, Fuck You, Death. Just get out of my head and away from my door. I know you're that man going around taking names. I plan on not being home when you knock and I hope all my family and friends don’t answer either.

About twenty years ago a poet friend, Bob Flanagan, wrote a book called, It’s Fun to Be Dead…. as if he had a sneak preview. He died of cystic fibrosis shortly after. If anybody could report back to us it was Bob. Absent of any opposing view I’ll go along with him but not just now or in the near future.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Father's Day

Pipes, power tools and Porches. If these images represent fathering I would say I’ve never had the pleasure. Fishing rods wouldn’t be a good fit either. Yet each year my three daughters are challenged to find an appropriate Father’s Day card and they manage to do so along with a loving message.

And I think …what do I know of parenting other than to try being the best version of myself?  That isn’t so easy considering all my gaps and flaws. Gaps are what they have filled in and in a sense extended me. This is a day to celebrate my children. Each have shown me ways of being in this world beyond my imagining. Whatever they learned from me is reciprocal.

If I have been judgmental I apologize; it comes with the script and out of my own trepidations. If I’ve been absent it may be because I was searching for myself at the same time.

I can speak with more clarity about my own father.  He was the voice of equanimity in our family; the Spencer Tracy in a household of Ethel Merman, which was my mother’s noisy unease in this world, and a sullen James Dean, my brother. My father achieved a fluency with few words. His eyes smiled and occasional displeasure was conveyed in his lips and furrowed forehead. He hushed the clamor and from all this I learned that life was malleable and I could shape it to some extent.  If I couldn’t at least there was a sanctuary within. Not in so many words he embodied an inviolable self.

When he listened I felt totally heard, received, even from what was left unsaid.  He was a presence felt. My father seemed to know when to walk with me and when to let go.

Where this wisdom came from can be described but not explained. He was motherless at three and his inebriated and destitute father gave him to an aunt to be raised, in equal impoverishment. He sold newspapers on the corner. Yet when he entered into the life of the street it was with an imperturbable grace. If my mother was in daily combat with merchants his impulse was to bring out the trust in others and assume their best intentions.

The single area which he deemed non-negotiable was his embrace of left-wing politics growing out of his identification with the disadvantaged. When a knock at the door brought two FBI agents asking for names he stood silently blocking their way. They knew of our subscription to the Daily Worker and monthly meetings in our apartment. He refused them and that silence was his spine, resonant for me still. 

Fatherhood, like childhood, is a mysterious theater. It slips by while you’re busy living it. There is no rehearsal other than the memory of how it was for me. It is all serious-comedy improv and my daughters are each perfect in their way; may I never see the curtain go down.

Friday, June 6, 2014

Cereal, Box and Bowl

Consider the snowflake. Or better yet, a cornflake. Each one unique so we are told. If a cornflake were an island country it would have many miles of seacoast. None resemble Colorado or New Mexico each with its perpendiculars. The flakes look more like the coast of Washington state or Michigan, jagged as the right-hand margin of a contemporary poem.

The latest literary sensation is Norwegian writer Karl Ove Knausgaard whose Proustian volumes recall the minutia of his life even before he first gazed upon either snow or corn flakes.  He ponders whether the cereal is tastier when crunched or soggy with milk. Such deliberations inevitably lead to weightier ones. But a reader marvels how he has traced it all back to the child’s early engagement staring into his cereal bowl. Everything is contained in anything, after all.  

Is it a memoir or fiction? The answer is, Yes. It is life revisited and reimagined; what didn’t happen, almost did, or happened to someone else and is reclaimed.

Of equal importance is the cereal box, itself, the variety and arrangement in the cupboard. My step-daughter used to alternate her three cereals, flakes, rounds and squares on consecutive days of the week. If it’s Tuesday it must be Cheerios. The cereal became a way of ordering the world.

Friend, Fred, arranges all the cans on his shelf alphabetically. As he tells it, this is done in case he wakes up suddenly blind. He could grab the tuna fish and know it isn’t the salmon.  I call it the Artie Shaw syndrome. The band leader insisted all pillowcases face the same way and lined up his coins at night in ascending order. Eight marriages later he wrote all about it.

Fred never played Begin the Beguine on the clarinet but has other qualities to endear him. He was miffed when his daughter and son recently scrambled his pantry, as a prank, and even switched his Hi-Lo flakes and Bran Buds. He was immediately returned to the chaos of life. But he recovered in time to email them that he was sitting at his desk with his will and an eraser. Humor is the best revenge.

I can almost remember hiding behind my orange Wheaties box on the kitchen table. It was probably my first newspaper and I was becoming the hero pictured on the back. What better model than Breakfast of Champions? There was a certain magic seeing spoken words come to life on a page (or box). Like watching a flower bloom. These days the only thing I read on the box is the carbohydrate and fiber content.

My cereal bowl is now a flag of blueberries, strawberries and Almond milk with a few slivers of something called Twigs. It keeps me alive …or at least hasn’t killed me. I accept my fate. Never shall my image appear on a box of Wheaties. As for the turmoil of existence I have no need to tidy it up. Flakes, clusters, shreds….every day snaps, crackles and pops; let me hear dat music.
 e has written thousands of pages recalling

Monday, June 2, 2014

"Whats" in the Movies

What do you want to do, Marty? I don’t know. What do you want to do?
What are you doing in my closet, Reggie?  I can explain everything.
What’s it all about, Alfie? Life's too short, init?
What’s happening? I was just telling the boys here to lay low till the heat’s off.
What’s the story, Frank?
What’s a guy to do? I bought you a new hat, didn’t I?
What's that fly doing in my soup, waiter? I believe it's the backstroke, sir.
What’s the big idea? Nothing, boss, I’m just saying.
What do you think you’re doing? Put down that gun. The place is surrounded.
What was that all about? Forget about it. Make like you weren’t here.
What I want to know is how you knew he was stabbed with a kitchen knife.
What's with the violin case? Shut up and keep driving.
What’s a classy dame like you doing in a joint like this?
What’s good today, Mabel, if the lox ain’t fresh, the coffee’s bitter and the hash-browns are overdone?
What's for dinner? There's leftover spaghetti in the fridge. It's bowling night for me.
What will you have, Mac? The usual and make it a double.
What do you mean, I’m fired? I’ve worked here for 37 years. My father built this place.
What a day for a daydream.
What are you going to do when we get home? Me, I’m going to open me up a deli in Brooklyn.
What can you tell us about the investigation, Senator? Just what I read in the newspapers, boys.
What you're about to hear from the defendant is a pack of lies.
What happens in Vegas….you shouldn’t know from.
What do you want from my life? I got a wife and 2 kids.
What if the experimental drug doesn’t work, doc? Then what? What if it does?
What’s it to you? You got a problem?
What was that? I didn’t hear anything. Listen, there’s a scratchy sound coming from behind this wall.
What are you in for, Pops? Got five years for recording a Netflix disc.
What happens to us in this crazy world doesn’t amount to a hill of beans.
Someday, my son, this will be all be yours. What, the curtains?