Wednesday, January 27, 2016


In Camus’ classic book, The Stranger, Meursault murders a nameless Arab for no reason other than the sun was in his eyes. He is condemned by authorities not so much for taking the man’s life but rather for failing to cry at his mother’s funeral.

Now seventy years later Kamel Daoud has written a response to this,  equal in intensity and absurdity. The Meursault Investigation picks up the thread of Camus’ victim. The narrator takes him on as his brother, literally. He breathes life into him with a name, a back story and most profoundly with his death which hangs over every page in the book.  So haunted is the protagonist he becomes a mirror image of Meursault and kills a Frenchman in another irrational, motive-less crime. Similarly he is vilified by Algerian officials not for taking the man’s life but for not doing it a day earlier, as a revolutionary act.

Daoud has created an instant classic. His assault on French colonialism is matched by an equal condemnation of his country caught as it is between ennui and Allah, the torpor of existence and the illusion of immortality promised by religion.  God, we are told, is a question, not an answer. His tirade against the irrelevancy of religion has earned him a fatwa by a cleric. Yet Daoud refuses to run and hide. He is a practicing journalist in Oran. 

Both books are meditations on life and death and how we are engaged in a futile attempt to impose rational order on our existence. In this construct we are all adrift in othernessTo confront a life with death as the only certainty seems to me a beginning not an end. It then behooves us to find purpose in our allotted time.

For my part I stay with the notion that we each contain an inviolable self, a mystery I wish never to know. Peggy astonishes me with her poetry. The reach of her imagination is a wonder. Love nurtures this strangeness. Can it be we must grow closer to each other to see the otherness?

On a beach under a blazing 2 PM sun or on a mountain road under a cold 2 AM moon I didn’t recognize my own estranged brother who died with family burdens he could never speak of. It has been 54 years and his silence has become loud. With car radio playing Dizzy or the Bird and blood alcohol enough to launch him he drove his Austin-Healy into what might have looked like a portal in the wall. 

Algeria and by extension other post-colonial states, becomes the existential question according to Kamel Daoud. Given our current array of Republican fools and proto-fascists I would say this country has reached its absurd and existential moment. Sadly, we have become strangers to ourselves.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Golly, I Think You're Swell

When Judy Garland was told that by Mickey Rooney eighty years ago it might have been a marriage proposal. When I got my diagnosis of a swelled pericardium yesterday it sent me reeling. Of course pericarditis is better news than a heart attack. The thought of my heart being attacked is enough to set off some serious chamber music.

Strange how that word, swell, lived and died like many stout-hearted words. The pericardium lines my heart. When it is inflamed it cannot be anything joyous except metaphorically when Peggy does the inflaming. I must tell her to turn it down a notch. Valentine’s Day could be my demise.

As we pilgrim through life organs seem to swell for attention. Toes gout, sinuses bulge, joints go arthritic. Beware the suffix, itis, as in tonsillitis, dermatitis, laryngitis, hepatitis and meningitis. It seems, these days, as if survival depends on simmering down with anti-inflammatory medications.

I’m not sure what to make of my swollen lining. It never even occurred to me that my two ventricles and two auricles needed a lining. I thought they were pumping happily in perpetuity. But I suppose they deserve a lining just like a salami or one of those mackinaws I used to wear in the bitter cold of New York.

It’s fair to ask what causes pericarditis. My mother would have said, I never heard of such a thing. The doctor says it could be viral or bacterial or some auto-immune response. I was once told that I’m my own worst enemy….but I can’t remember why. When your own body starts an insurrection all you can hope for is a counter-revolution. Two close voices tell me it’s all because Mercury is in retrograde. I give this explanation as much credence as wearing mismatched socks.

Golly, I have nothing more to say on the subject other than I hope not to be swell much longer. Not to shrivel either or have a heavy heart. I don’t even mind having a bleeding one. Like the heart of an artichoke mine is the most succulent part of me and I intend to keep its lining snug.

Friday, January 15, 2016

What's It All Aboot?

For many of us it’s all aboot learning Canadian as a second language. The specter of being Trumped haunts our country. The more he is denounced, even by his own party, the higher go his numbers. His constituency laps up his mocking misogyny, racist slurs and flagrant deceit.

Hitler enjoyed the same mindless support. In fact Trump is said (by his ex-wife) to keep Mein Kampf at his bedside. He alternately rants, charms, bullies, boasts and insults. Hitler had that Chaplinesque mustache. Donald’s hair is the color and abundance of the Iowa wheat crop particularly on his frontal shelf. To my eyes it connotes well-rehearsed fakery.

But this is serious stuff. He has ventriloquized the grunts and groans of America, the curses of the down-trodden, the road-rage of truckers, even the quiet desperation of the guy flipping fries at McDonalds whose girlfriend walked out, car gave up and dog just died. Charlie lunch-box and Debbie Sue whose job went to Indonesia.

They like him because he’s a winner and they’re not. Maybe some loose change will fall out of his wallet. Or they can hear themselves in his bluster. He says it like it is. Black lives don’t matter. Nor do weak people. Nor does deliberation and truth-telling.

Trump will tell us whom to hate. Everyone who doesn’t look like you, starting with Obama, that’s who. Women who use the bathroom. Disgusting! That undocumented-olive-skin guy who parked your car.

He has sniffed the Zeitgeist. What if he is the nominee? Have we lost our grip? Is anti-establishment sentiment so strong? Democrats have Bernie but he is speaking substantively, truth to power. Trump is a merchant of deceit speaking from a pedestal of power promising a sky of pies.

Yes, yes the system is broken. Who broke it? Mitch McConnell when he vowed to oppose everything in Obama’s agenda. The big banks when they gambled recklessly and lost pension-fund millions.  The good old boys gerrymandering a lifetime annuity for a congress of fools. And a money-based system disenfranchising a large chunk of the electorate. 

What is needed is a constitutional convention to repair an ossified document. Otherwise many of us look toward our northern neighbor to see what they are all aboot.

Sunday, January 10, 2016


When the judge in a courtroom drama asks the defendant to rise…I get up from the couch. This is what happens from taking on the world. There is much to account for. Historians may well ask where were you, Citizen Levine, when your country napalamed Viet Nam, overthrew Allende, invaded Iraq and tortured prisoners.

It’s bad enough that I swiped a deposit bottle from the back shed of a candy store when I was twelve and then brought it in the front door for the 2 cents. I also re-used an un-cancelled stamp once or twice and sneaked into a second movie at a multiplex. It’s been a life of crime, I admit.

For those of us with a conscience even these misdemeanors weigh heavily and grow exponentially in the fecund soil of the unconscious. In my dreams I most often find myself in the shoes of an escaped felon even if I forgot what it is that I did. I’m tired of being the international drug lord, serial killer and embezzler. I’m ready to turn myself in and confess to every unsolved case on the police blotter.

This could be my shadow-self. That guy who has been following me behind the newspaper on the subway, that goon holding up the lamppost across the street at midnight. I could be that double-agent urban guerrilla who forgot his assignment.

May I approach the bench, your honor? I ask that the jury disregard these previous remarks. My client is given to delusions of depravity. If he fell asleep in Star Wars-3 and woke up in Star Wars-5 it was unintentional. As for his alleged crime at age twelve the records will show that he never was twelve. He skipped from age eleven to thirteen. Further forensics will reveal that it wasn’t his DNA on those un-cancelled stamps. The defense rests.

The prosecution asks the jury to consider the accused acts of omission as well. In his near 83 years this country has gone off course and he did nothing to stop the skid. When we recklessly allied ourselves with corrupt scoundrels Mr. Levine merely whimpered in protest. Where was he when we kicked the hornet’s nest in the Middle East, engineered coups, occupied sovereign states, assassinated with drones and violated the Geneva Convention? The chronicle of History will show he tacitly endorsed these nefarious acts by his vigorous inaction.

We, the jury, find the defendant shall be sentenced to another year of guilt-ridden dreams. He shall be haunted by every cardboard box at the off-ramp, be made to feel the sting of para-military police rage and the toxic tongue of dangerous fools.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Rain, Reign and More Rein

Finally some wet followed always by official doomsayers warning that it doesn’t make up for a decade of drought. Grow up, El Nino! Give us a manly dump, something we can slurp and slosh in. Something biblical as befits your name, Christ Child, El Nino.

In return, fish and plankton will die off the coast of Ecuador and Peru as the Pacific heats up. It will also parch Eastern Australian and Indonesia. It’s Nature’s equation of life and death. Fisherman of South America suffer for the farmers of North America. A regime change from bottom to top.

Reigns elsewhere also fall. The reign in Ukraine is likely on the wane. Terrains of Husseins are going down the drains. Upheavals, carnage, migrations. The map quakes. This God squabbles with that God. A crowd of prophets and loss.  Heads roll. Fidel and Infidel. Miscreants foul the air with noxious words.

God forbid one of them takes the reins and rustles the horses in a November night then gallops us into an apocalypse. Can we really elect a gladiator / highwayman /  horse thief?

Only one week into the year so we can’t give up. Rain will quench the valleys green. Crops will be picked with illegal hands and undocumented lettuce will return us to salad days.

It is high noon in no-man’s land and faraway reigns will exit town on the next stage to Yuma. The axe-happy thugs shall meet their maker in a bar-room brawl.  I know. I saw the movie….even though the fame of John Wayne remains largely unexplained.