Monday, April 27, 2015

Notes On the Underground

Call it a Metro, Underground, Tube, Light Rail, Rapid Transit or Metrolink. Color it purple, gold, blue or red. It’s coming to Santa Monica. By this time next year it will have changed not only the landscape but, as Gerald Manley Hopkins called it, the inscape of our lives.

Our car culture has been embedded in our psyche and now we shall see if we can take the off-ramp to public transportation. Our individuality may shift slowly towards that of a social creature. The psychic space of a car will need to adjust to a public one and our individuation become more inclusive.

When I moved here 61 years ago I rode the red car for about a week and then bought a ’48 De Soto for $100. Behind the wheel I was aligned with the physicality of Southern California. Los Angeles County is still far larger than Delaware and Rhode Island put together. But this place has changed from the open road of a sprawl to the Sig Alert inside a sardine can. 

Freeway construction tacitly encourages more cars. No widening can accommodate the traffic. I suspect there is an untold story in which big oil money plus Detroit lobbyists, in the fifties, persuaded Sacramento to direct funding away from public transportation and into the car culture.

A metro-to-the-sea should alleviate some of the crunch. However much will depend on the available parking and buses adjacent to the stops. It will be a long-term process to change the habits of an aging population.

For my first 21 years I accepted subway consciousness as a given. We lived one block from a stop and five stops to Manhattan. For a nickel I could travel, with several transfers, to Flatbush and watch the Dodgers. I always had a high regard for the man in the change booth who knew the feel of twenty nickels when presented with a dollar bill. Now the price of a ride is $2.75 and the magician in the booth has been replaced by a vending machine.

For a rider as opposed to a driver I could catch up on my reading or just stare into the great beyond and think great thoughts. People put on a certain subway face which revealed nothing. The fiction of unlived lives got polished in ruminations. Riders of public transportation cultivated a way of not noticing in close proximity.

Our lives behind the wheel have given us the illusion of control…even if we’ve been taken for a ride in a larger sense. Soon I can say I live on the other side of the tracks. I am getting ready to relinquish my atomized self for a communal one. As we give up that private space of a car, 20% occupied, we will discover we are part of a city. Bring it on.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

The Anniversary of Peggy

Peggy’s birthday is coming up on May the tooth and I can’t let it go by unremarked upon. It will be number 94 which is remarkable enough.

There is an art to living and she has mastered it. If certain rules apply and need to be learned I don’t know any of them. Sorry, I only bear witness.

She keeps her creative juices flowing. Even with diminished hearing all her senses are on alert and in continuing dialog with each other. The daily malevolence brought to us in the newspaper somehow enters her psyche and gets spliced, chewed, alchemized, transformed and distilled into a poem. Typically some headline of folly or woe appears alongside a popped daffodil bulb or the orange cap on a dog-walker observed through the window. Matt Kemp may live on the same line with Immanuel Kant.

It is as if her interior landscape is a fertile field yielding a daily crop or an orchard with low-hanging fruit ready for plucking. Peggy has a thing for pods. Many have found their way into our rooms. She loves the seed-shell ready to burst. That is her perpetual state.

Her muse is on call 24/7. She has the toll-free number or in today’s parlance, the app. When I see a crescent moon Peggy sees it whole into the shadowed section of green cheese along with the cow jumping over and gossamer thread playing, hey diddle-diddle.

As for the influences whose voices have had her ear down through the decades I would list Krishnamurti, Carl Jung, Emily Dickinson and Wallace Stevens. I’m sure I’m forgetting some but echoes from their writings seem to infuse both her poetics and her guiding path… embrace of the unknown, acceptance of archetypes, reverence for Nature and the power of the imagination. After listing all this I can see it doesn’t come close to accounting for her full self which shall remain a mystery.

All this about her writing is not only to speak about the achieve of…. I mention it because her aesthetic is so much a part of her spirit as a person. There is a buoyancy well-known to all. Irrepressible is a fitting adjective. The risks she takes on the page are replicated in relationships as are her generosity and reception.

Peggy has cultivated the gift for halting time, not only in terms of her aging but in truly being in the present in so far as that is possible. She lives in the elongated now. She doesn’t dwell in past regrets or grudges and refuses to rehearse the eventuality of doom and gloom. The result is her reliance on her own resources to dodge the slings and arrows. Call it a faith or optimism. It is contagious. I thrive on a daily dose.  

We are now into our care-taking-giving period, our morning minion, rituals of running a bath, sorting of meds, small acts around dressing, preparing a table, all that I cherish as a new  dimension of  intimacy. It doesn’t get any better than to be fully met.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Presidential Bid

5:20 AM and I hear the voice of the Lord saying, Go forth. So I get up to pee but that isn’t it. The sound is either a calling for public office or a garbage truck backing up. I decide I am being summoned to throw my hat in the ring. Why not, with all the knuckleheads, wannabes and also-rans already declaring themselves.

We are faced with Rand, Rick, Mike, Mark, Lindsay, Carly, Bobby, Jeb or God-forbid Ted to name a few, already lined up just left of Louis XVI . Hillary hasn't learned how to fake authenticity as well as her husband. As far as I can make out they're all saying: We have those hard-working poor and the filthy rich. I know, I’m one of them. We need to fix that. Elect me and I’ll think of something. When Wall St. is targeted the investment bankers know they don't mean it. None address the systemic changes that need to happen.

Even with Bernie Sanders speaking truth to power I sense a space for myself on the spectrum. After all Elizabeth Warren is sitting this one out and McGovern is still dead. The alternative is to learn Canadian as a second language.

True, I’ve had little experience as an elected official. I last won the public trust as pencil monitor in 3rd grade. I used to get high on wood shavings. Before that I had a stint as milk monitor in kindergarten. The temptation for embezzlement never crossed my mind…. until now. Another missed opportunity.

My program is aimed at a broad audience. To confront the issue of crime in the streets I would favor less streets and slow bullets eventually leading to water pistols. I’m also an advocate for short lines and leniency on overdue library books. If elected I would support mandatory mixed marriages thus removing all racial and religious divides. Police would be required to obtain an advanced degree in temper-management, mindfulness, sensitivity-training, Buddhism, psychotherapy and genetic modification.

On day one I would dissolve Congress and convene a second constitutional convention. I would then urge impeachment of five Supreme Court members. They know who they are…. for malfeasance, dereliction, abuse of their prerogatives and obstruction of justice. Eighteen years would be the new term of office, staggered so that two appointments would be granted each president during his four-year term. No other country has lifetime tenure for their high court. In fact nowhere is this mentioned in our Constitution either.

All off-shore bank accounts shall be closed, brought home and taxed like us, the 99%, with no loop holes. Penalty for legal chicanery would be revocation of passport.

With campaigning limited to six weeks and the lid on contributions at $2,000 we would be spared months of posturing, hollow rhetoric and other forms of noise pollution to say nothing of buying elections.

I would hope to receive grass root support from the none-of-the-above crowd who traditionally sit it out forming the largest constituency among registered voters. 

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Small World

I AM big, said Gloria Swanson to Cecil B. DeMille in Sunset Blvd., it’s pictures that got smaller. Einstein would have agreed, all things being relative. The older I get the smaller the universe seems even though the Big Bang Theory says it is expanding. I don’t mean THAT universe, I mean my universe. We all have one, constantly adding and subtracting at once as eulogies close doors and others open with new friends appearing in cameo roles who become top bananas in this feature film since they saw the same plays, read the same books, even went to the same school and were there when I was there at the  …. But who knew? ….until 65 years later when they dropped a name I also knew and our circles joined. It’s enough to make me wonder if there are really only 37 people in the world or maybe 73 and sooner or later I’ll meet them all as the separation drops a few degrees. Take last month for example when Peggy mentioned her crush on Benedict Cumberbatch and Caroline said her sister-in-law in the U.K. is a friend of B.C’s mother. Now that’s a batch of cumber if I ever heard one. Of course when you live in a small town like L.A. these things happen all the time. Who knows who was riding that elevator with me yesterday? If we’d had a power failure I would have found out; maybe even discovered the girl who sat in front of me in 6th grade and she might have been acquainted with Gloria Swanson or even Einstein though, more likely, Albert Brooks, whose real name is Albert Einstein since his father, the comedian, Parkyakarkas, had never heard of that other Albert Einstein and by the way the latest news is that the universe is not expanding after all. I’m glad to hear that in case I take the wrong spaceship and end up in someone else’s realm where I’d have to make new friends and BTW, as we now say, Gloria was right, pictures have gotten smaller. How did she know that about I-Pods and Selfies? She’s ready for her close-up now, Mr. DeMille.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

Where Have You Gone Abner Doubleday?

Simon and Garfunkel laid the icon, Joe DiMaggio, to rest almost fifty years ago. Baseball has since become too yesterday, so it is said. It’s an artifact of another time having disappeared with pastoral America; the equivalent of a dial telephone or sticky keys on a typewriter. A slow yawn for those uninitiated in the sport.

The new pastimes are basketball and football. Both games played against the clock as if time itself is the opposition. Hoops are scored in fractions of seconds. The game is hot jazz turned Hip-Hop turned Rap. It’s a car-chase in city traffic played with swagger and trash-talk. 

Football is chess with stretchers. Where coaches see strategy; we see bodies concussed and stacked while growing fangs ourselves on the couch.

Basketball was invented at the moment when the blocked writer threw his aborted page into the waste-paper basket across the room. Football came out of trench warfare when armies gained and lost territory as if inches mattered. Baseball was David aiming at Goliath’s eye. It goes back to the caveman who deflected the stone with a tree branch or swatted flies.

Baseball is no longer an urban sport. We use to play in the street with a manhole cover as home plate, a fire hydrant as 1st,  2nd was a manhole cover and a sycamore tree served as 3rd. A swiped and sawed-off broomstick was our bat. We would curse the occasional car. I don’t see this sort of kid’s neighborhood drama unfolding anymore; a great loss in the American landscape.

Baseball is stoic and square; it runs counter-clockwise from first to home where it all began. Ulysses makes his trek back to Penelope. We go from infancy to our second childhood, some of us back in diapers. Take your time. Enjoy the intervals, the green grass, vapors of beer and mustard, crowd noise and Chuck Easy, Baby.

The average baseball game is an hour longer today than 60 years ago. There are many reasons for the elongation. Owners have added field seats which result in more un-catchable foul balls. Pitching has become more specialized with a starter, set-up man, middle reliever and closer. Each pitching change requires a long jog in from the distant bullpen. Batters perform rituals, stepping out of the batter’s box to knock dirt (that isn’t there) from their cleats or fiddle with their Velcro gloves. Don’t you love it? I do.

Offense, seems to have been diminished which also turns fans away. They love home runs. Ironically it may be the speed of the fast ball that has over-matched the hitters. Pitchers now routinely throw over 95 mph. As a result the strike zone may be tinkered with in favor of the batters to boost the attendance.

Baseball has been subverted to analytics. It's become one teams algorithms to the other printouts based upon probability. Too cerebral for my pea brain. Much has been lost in terms of hunches and gut feelings, but still......

For the real fan a lot is happening between pitches. The wind has shifted. Signs are being flashed. There is stirring on the bench. The umpire is anticipating the next eventuality.

After battling traffic to get to the stadium one needs to relax and enjoy the spectacle unfolding in its linear-sequential way, admiring the God-given dimensions of the infield with its pre-ordained 60 feet, 6 inches from pitcher to plate and 90 feet between bases. Only Euclid could have passed that down.  And all this geometric perfection contrasts with the unspecified measurements in the outfield.

I say, leave it alone. One must vacate the fast lane to get to the off-ramp. We need baseball as a corrective. Doctor’s orders. 

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Cruel and Joyous April

It is holiday time. No, not the vertical rise of the (Y)easter souffle or the horizontal Hebrew trek out of bondage or even the shout of Play Ball as the baseball season opens tomorrow but the inner buoyancy of National Poetry Month.

Buoyancy may be the wrong word since T.S. Eliot tagged April as the cruelest month in his opening line of The Wasteland.  It accomplishes the shock of awakening us to unfulfilled expectations and an ultimate mortality to follow. Referencing World War One April was the month when military action began again sending young men to fertilize Flanders Field. 

In a larger sense it might have been Eliot’s rejection of all the myths, pagan and religious, surrounding spring. He seems to be saying we’re on our own in this pilgrimage. What appears all calm, beautiful and various and with certitude... (soon)on this darkening plain / ignorant armies clash by night.(Dover Beach, Matthew Arnold). It all ends without the illusion of progress as a given or a comforting god.

On the other hand what can hurt by conjuring the season’s burst of new life and celebrating its razzle-dazzle? We might follow Emily Dickinson in which a lane of yellow leads the eye / into a purple wood / whose soft inhabitants to be / surpasses solitude.

If happiness is fleeting it becomes our purpose in life to catch it. Jane Kenyon put it this way. Happiness is the uncle you never knew about / who flies the single engine plane / onto the grassy landing strip, hitchhikes / into town and inquires at every door / and finds you asleep in mid-afternoon/ as you do so in the unmerciful / hours of your despair.

Leave it to Robert Frost ( Hillside Thaw) to remind us how the sun lets go / ten million silver lizards out of snow… But if I thought to stop the wet stampede / and caught one single lizard by the tail…I have no doubt I’d end by holding none. The second stanza brings in the wizard moon which turned the swarm to rock and held them all until day, / one lizard at the end of every ray. / The thought of my attempting such a stay.

Frost, like Eliot, brings in the shadow side. Whatever stay he bears witness to against this fractured and uncertain world would be a momentary one. But our lives are just moments strung together. If April is cruel so is all emerging life. It is. And it isn’t. Whether we write or not we can all be poets alert to layers of meaning inherent in everything available to our mind and senses.

As for the two holidays of Resurrection and Passover, both are, in my mind, fables never intended to be more than metaphors when first written. (See the April 6th issue of the Israeli newspaper, Haaretz.) There is no evidence to suggest the Jews were ever enslaved in Egypt in large numbers. They most certainly did not build the pyramids. When they arrived in the Promised Land they, too, enslaved the Canaanites. It was the custom of the day. Too bad the 11th commandment was, Thou shall not eat shell fish instead of thou shall not hold slaves.  What most Americans celebrate today are two poems and that's not a bad thing.