Saturday, July 30, 2016

Nation Past-Time

My computer and I have been in the recovery room these past ten days. I’m told I somehow fried the circuitry and lost my Internet connection. It sounds like an extension of myself. My brain is also fried from over-exposure to the vocabulary of politics. I badly needed the time for triage.

I’ve taken refuge into the seventeen syllables of baseball haiku which make more sense than the Donald Trump bounce and has more coherence than his bombast. The game has been called our national pastime; it is played with no clock and is therefore past time with players running the bases counter-clockwise as if to unwind the clock.

Into a forest of green blades / a baseball rolls / Earth shrugs in orbit.

Mighty Casey takes called strike three / wings stilled / in Amazon rain forest.

Batter steps out of the box / Crickets hesitate / The scoreboard will wait. 

Mirrored moon in wet Chavez Ravine tarp / Game called / Climate change noted.

Another hot dispute / behind the umpires mask / Who bit the moon?

Cicadas drone a requiem / for double-header / no longer played.

Summersault catch in the outfield grass / Ants repair damage / while crowd cheers.

Outfielder climbing / heavy August air / Baseball waiting for his glove.

Batter crosses himself / like stretched rubber-band  / around bubblegum cards.

Left early in eighth to beat traffic / Tea gulped / without ceremony.

Manager flashes finger signs / Batter distracted / by butterflies.

Butterflies in his stomach /the knuckleballer / serves them to the plate.

In a slump / the batter can not recall / what went right during his streak.

Picked off second base / naked and erased / Pale moon can’t hide its craters.

Unshaven rookie pitcher / throws his menace / at patient veteran.

Conference on the mound / Cicadas regrouping / on the outfield grass.

Spectacular catch / Ovation just faintly heard / at concession stand. 

Beads of perspiration / thrown ninety-eight m.p.h. / swung on and missed.

Last of the ninth, two out / gulls from bay water overhead  /sense the end.

Fast ball down the middle / hit out of the park / craters found on the moon.

Line drives lose to bloop singles / game played on Mt. Olympus / by Greek Gods.
Inside-the-park-homerun / Rounding third he knew enough / to retire.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Law and Order

Let me get this straight. The schoolyard bully wants to head the PTA? That swindler who ran the fraudulent school? The vulgarian, the smug thug with the forked tongue is asking to run the Department of Justice? The plagiarist-in chief, violator of the 1st amendment, congenital liar is going to make the world safe?

D.T. thinks he is Dick Tracy. Donald Harumpf wants to be Clint Eastwood, the new sheriff in town. The guy who leads the posse to the hangman tree wants that shiny badge. He wants a shoot-out in the O.K. Corral.

I remember lawn oughta.

Like everyone else I had one of those green rectangles in front of our tract home. All the hours spent trimming, edging, pulling, mowing to keep it geometric, to keep dichondra from that old devil grass. God forbid a dandelion, that yellow menace, might overthrow suburbia and cause us to run for our lives. Weeds need love too. Even if they upset the order.

Disorder is the natural state of life. The world doesn’t hold still for a minute. Might as well rejoice over the muddle and the flux. The English cottage garden has that wild, meandering look with curved paths leading nowhere and perennials crowding together the way people of color and no color have learned to share the same sun and shade. What is seen as chaos may be another form of order as yet undeciphered and unrecognized. It remains for us to find a way to align ourselves.

What I’m hearing from Cleve-land is a yearning for the illusion of a colorless population where everyone knows his/her place and behaves. Keep off the grass. Keep quiet. Keep out. May the good Lord bless and keep you. You, not you. Walls, no weeds.

Garcia-Marquez regarded the imposition of order as a pretense invented to hide the disorder of his nature. The artist needs to push the margins into irregular shapes, to risk and to fail. And we need the artists, not only those gifted ones but the artist we all are.  

The candidate with the Mussolini chin wants, above all, to have the trains run on time. We tried that and the price was too high. Martin Amis in his novel Time's Arrow reminds us that Hitler was elected in 1933 to restore order in Germany which he did by building an Autobahn to their reptilian brain.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Republican Ramble

Here he comes, Professor Trump
from the University of Himself,
talking Cleveland, cleaving the land,
making America grate again,
like that other professor Harold Hill
talking trouble in River City,
selling the spirit of 76 trombones, selling
the Brooklyn Bridge, his paper moon, his flim-flam.
Part Elmer Gantry, part rainmaker, part
P.T. Barnum, parting the sea, partitioning the border
to keep out the nasties, 
those bad eggs that Humpty-Dumpty dumped
and no king’s horses can put back together again,
only he can do, can do, only the Donald can do.
Look, children, he is Paul Revere sounding forth his
trump-trump that shall never call retreat 
but Durante says Dat’s no trumpet, 
just some tin horn rocking the boat.
Yet he knows where the grapes of wrath are stored,
hears the grumble and the grunt and has the map
to the promised land of milk and money.
He says money makes the world go around, he says,
she’s fat, she’s bloody, she’s a loser, she’s Pocahontas
while he lives in a tower, babbling testaments,
chapter and vice versa godforsaken revelations,  
waxing biblical for the choir, shooting off his mouth
for the trigger-happy ‘cause anything you can do
he can do better, talk-trashier, bash bashier,
strut swaggier and boast brashier.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Looking Back To When

I’m revisiting two very corny jokes my father used to tell when I was probably at an age of discovering a delight in language and the joy of a joke. The first was:

Q- How many tons does a subway weigh?
A-Two tons, up-ton and down-ton.
And here’s the second……
Q- If you were stranded in the desert what would eat for lunch?
A-The sand-which-is there.

Ah, the elasticity of words. My fascination never stopped. Both these puns depend on audible language. My Dad had one faculty he didn't pass on to me. He could play a tune by ear on his mandolin. He heard a certain musicality in the sounds we make; a poet who never wrote. He once told me a long name for a milkshake: a frothy saccharine concoction of a lacteal secretion of a graminivorous quadruped. I let it roll it around my tongue.

I remember a fight I got into with another eleven-year old kid. I called him a fucking-bastard-son-of-a-bitch. I might just as well have called him a bucking-fastard-bun-of-a-stitch. The words had no meaning for me but there was a lyricism in the rhythm of it. Sort of like a poem.

A few weeks ago I wrote of a terrible incident as a kid in which my friend, Johnny Kassabian, accidentally had a knife go through his arm resulting in nerve damage to several fingers. My father had me look up the scientific description of this condition in one of his medical reference books. We came up with a term which brings back that moment: Palmer fascia aponeurotic expansion of the palmeris brevis. Whether this makes any sense I don’t know but the sounds still cling to me.

Recovering these early encounters with language is a form of archeology. Shards of broken moments make up a vessel. The collected and recollected are clues to how I became me and you, you...if we invest meaning in them.

One final recollection. When I was seven years old a hit song on the radio was, Beat Me Daddy Eight to the Bar. I thought it was about child abuse. You really didn’t, did you? Yes, I really did. Just as I thought, I Found a Million-Dollar Baby in the Five and Ten Cent Store, was about a kidnapping in Woolworths. There is a time in childhood when you take everything as literal. Then suddenly you don’t. You get it.

Imagine going back to that aha moment when you discovered the moon wasn’t made of green cheese unless you wanted it to be.
e once HHHHB

Monday, July 11, 2016

Mourning In America

I am crying my head off. My mother has just disappeared behind a green canvas curtain. We are in a large converted florist shop on Lefferts Blvd in Kew Gardens, Queens, N.Y.  It is Election Day, November, 1936. I was three and a half years old six weeks ago.

Memory is a blurry lens but this scene is so vivid in my head I’m going to declare it my earliest recall as unlikely as that may sound.

I know I was a cry baby. My older brother told me so. Victim, perhaps, of open diaper pins, or my mother’s general hysteria or a chronic earache I’m told I suffered from. Dating this event was not hard. It was definitely the day of voting and it couldn’t have been 1940. I would have grown into my ear canal by then.

I could make myself precocious and say my tears flowed that day afraid FDR would lose to Alf Landon. Had I read the newspapers and listened more attentively to the fireside chats instead of playing with my little red fire engine I would have known there was nothing to fear but fear itself. But fear itself was no small thing.

Eighty years later little has changed. I still fear Election Day. The specter of a Trump White House is enough to put me on a pea-green boat sailing down my labyrinthine ear canal with an owl and a pussycat.

How is it possible we have regressed so far so fast? Every piece of progressive legislation passed under Roosevelt was done in collusion with a nest of vipers called the Solid South at the expense of Blacks and poor whites.  Descendants of these scoundrels now overwhelm Congress as the 0bstructionist Party. Their racist pathology infects our entire society, particularly our police departments and courts.

My early tears were prophetic. There is much to grieve about. Racism was written into our birth certificate. The Constitution counted slaves as 60% of a human being and with that the worm of tyranny was institutionalized. Black lives did not matter except as instruments of forced, unpaid labor. The legacy of slavery morphed into a virtual Apartheid in the South and housing segregation in the North. Brutality practiced by a paramilitary police force is an extension of this American illness. It has been festering for four centuries.

In this summer movie called Election Season the Republican candidate could be cast as the sort of man who might incite a lynch mob. He speaks the language of defamation and knows instinctively how to mobilize mean-spirit into mindless violence.

If Trump prevails in November you may hear a cacophony of sobs. There will be keening. Owls will hoot. Cats might even bark.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Oh, To Be Vetted Now That Election's Near

Ouch, that smarts, I think I’m being vetted. Or it could just be the sting of my neuropathy.

Vetted is one of those words that sneaked into public usage without being vetted. It sounds faintly Yiddish. It is embedded in every kvetch. Or something a vegetarian might say after eating too much quinoa and kale. Excuse me, I think I’m going to vet.

I don’t remember the word before the turn of this century. Yet it turns out to have been around for over 300 years. It’s a Brit-word derived from what a veterinarian does. He vets as in, Don’t place your bet until you vet the stallion before the race. The term crossed the ocean around 1900 when it transitioned from four-legged animals to political animals….who often don’t have a leg to stand on.

It wasn’t in time for Abraham Lincoln to vet his vice presidential nominee, Andrew Johnson. In 1999 Dick Cheney was asked to vet a list of V.P. candidates. In characteristic fashion he choose himself. This must be the first recorded act of self-vetting. Possibly the worst case of vetting gave us Sarah Palin in 2008 who’s every sentence adds more ignominy to her vet.

Had Ivan the Terrible been vetted or Vlad the Impaler we might have gotten kinder, gentler despots. Even Katherine the Great wasn’t really. Just damn good.

I understand Hillary has already vetted Tim Kaine, Julian Castro and Elizabeth Warren. I’m preparing myself just in case. In advance I’m willing to admit the Norman Invasion was not my doing or even the landing at Normandy. I’ll have to remove them from my resume.

I’m not so sure it’s worth it. To be pinned like a butterfly naked under scrutiny. If it’s revealed that I peed in my pants in kindergarten I’ll deny it even though I can still feel that warm wet puddling under my chair. Yes, it’s true I once sneaked into a second multiplex theater and returned three times to a salad bar. When I had my own store I even stole money from myself. Doesn’t everybody? It’s been a life of crime.

Most of my misdeeds are sins of omission. I didn’t ride on the Freedom bus and get beaten up in Alabama nor did I throw myself in front of a troop train on the way to Viet Nam. Not sure how these entries will play in the swing states.

On second thought I’d better tell them not to bother. My record is not worth the vet. Not yet. Forget everything I said. No sweat. No regret.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Right of Return

No this is not about those dispossessed Palestinians and their descendants sweeping across the Israeli border to reclaim their homes after the 1948 war or subsequent ones or seeking restitution for their bull-dozed dwellings to make room for settlements.

I’m talking about bringing a cantaloupe back to Costco. Over the past six years I have taken back denims and sweaters for poor fits. I once returned Peggy’s unused running shoes we’d purchased three years earlier. But I never had the audacity to ask for a refund on a melon. With some trepidation I took my place on line and opened the shopping bag depositing a single cantaloupe on the counter.

Actually it wasn’t really a cantaloupe. It was one of those hybrid varieties. Honey-Loupe? Cant-Dew? Casaba? Persian or Cranshaw melon? In any case it cost $5.49 for two. The one we had opened was malodorous to the nose and noxious to the tongue. It should have been sent to a lab for forensic testing.  A disgrace to the melon family. You call yourself a melon?

My decision to return the un-cut other was as recompense on behalf of the hundreds of unripe melons I’d bought over the years which refused to sweeten after thirty days. One never knows if the damn thing is ripening or rotting.

I could say I was seized by two sumo wrestler security guards and thrown into the meat locker or pressed into indentured servitude hawking cheese samples at the end of aisle 304……but that would all be fantasy.

In fact they asked no questions. The clerk simply looked at me the way any compassionate and weary worker would look at her senile uncle who lives in the attic and is allowed down once a year for Thanksgiving dinner. I expect they added my name to a list of crazies for abusing the privilege. Maybe my membership is hanging by a gossamer thread. I won’t know till my next adventure on the return line when I might bring back an apricot with teeth-marks.

The right of return as practiced by Costco may be the eleventh commandment Moses forgot on his way down from Mt. Sinai. It has now become one of our most unalienable rights. It eliminates buyer’s remorse and redresses grievances. That may be why Israel has no Costco. Fear of being overcome by melons.