Tuesday, April 30, 2019

Ninety-Eight Candles

There is a certain elegance about numbers particularly when your checkbook balances or your four digit pin opens the vault at the ATM machine. However we also know that numbers are a fiction. As for Peggy’s 98th birthday coming up on Thursday, May 2nd, it is the supreme fiction.

When we became a number she was a few months away from age sixty. I was forty-eight but never imagined how she would knock off a year every birthday while I have entered my late innings. It’s the difference between wine and cheese.

True, her architecture has bent, hair thinned, sound muffled but this is all superficial wrapping. Her spirit has never left the mind of summer. It charges the air, bursts like bulbs of wildflowers, communes with horses, purples her hair, and flabbergasts the page. Her daily poems articulate that wide embrace of life with an insistence of hope piercing the dread.

Six years ago when Peggy broke her hip she spend a couple of months in a rehab facility. Most people would count the days till they scale the walls and blow the joint. Peggy regarded it as a cruise ship to nowhere and wrote poems for all the care-givers and physical therapists. 

I think it was on our first weekend together we were driving around Santa Monica when Peggy told me about a favorite book she had read by Aldo Leopold called, Sand County Almanac. We came upon a yard sale and she suggested we take a look. Maybe they have that book, she said. I silently scoffed but sure enough there it was as if only eleven books had ever been written and why wouldn’t it be there. I knew then I was blessed with a mysterious woman who expands possibilities, who conjures what she calls to mind.

Peggy repairs a fractured, cacophonous world. In her Joseph Cornell-like boxes, in her collages, in her poems she brings together the often disparate pieces. The operative word is connectivity. She drags in palm fronds and bamboo bark, pods and stones, shards and shells. She keeps what she calls commonplace books (now up to number twelve) containing anything on paper which has captured her gaze… ticket stubs, newspaper clippings, business cards, menus, quotes, magazine images, faces, etc… However there is much more than her resumé.

Her Art is on a continuum with her Self. Put her in an elevator and she’s made connections with fellow passengers in the space of three floors. Find her in a waiting room and the woman in the next chair becomes her newest dear friend. Relationship comes with its risk of rejection, one that Peggy willingly takes. There is a safe harbor in her welcoming eyes. 

All this doesn’t quite capture her essence which eludes words. She enthuses life as it shows up and returns to those within reach her touch, her generosity.

If on a dark night a ship has lost its way let it navigate by the light coming from the room where Peggy's poetry shines with the incandescence of ninety-eight candles. 

Monday, April 22, 2019


By age ten I knew everything. I had movie-smarts. Those Saturday matinees taught me that most people wore tuxedos, sailors were all great dancers and cattle rustlers didn’t shave. I had it all figured out …the language of cinema, the difference between the clean chin and the villainy of the mustache. I could spot that double-crossing dame from the schoolmarm at the drop of an eyebrow.  

We could smell death. In war movies when a soldier spoke of the deli he would open in Brooklyn when the war ended he’d take a bullet a couple of foxholes later. When someone coughed it meant tuberculosis; a headache was shorthand for brain tumor. They’d be dead in five minutes. I knew it was a jungle out there like Tarzan said to Jane.

None of my friends ever rustled a cow or went up the river for packing a rod. Uncle Irving was in the navy and was a klutz. All the girls I knew were second bananas. I would never glide like Fred Astaire or be suave and debonair like Cary Grant. Henry Fonda, maybe or Spencer Tracy knowing not to bump into the furniture.

Movies prepared us for the life we would never live….and yet. We got to know the difference between real life and the dream factory of Hollywood. Movie maladies were part of the fiction we learned to separate.

Over time movies developed a new vocabulary. Authenticity required a vomiting scene. This demonstrated that the film aimed for real life…even if it never got there. The cattle-rustler moved to the big city and became a hit man but with a back story which almost excused him.

One theme that seems not to have changed much over the years is gender politics. In the forties the girl next door who became a successful career woman was empty inside until Mr. Right came along to provide her with two and half children and an apron where she could know her place in the world heading the bake sale for the P.T.A.

Today’s formula pits urban values against the Real America where men and women must return to reclaim their soul. After all, the big city with its inclusive urbanity (Democratic voters) is no match for the rural heartland (Trump base) with its bowling league, good old boys and deer-hunting.

Movies have always been a sneaky form of ideology. The themes often reinforce values through the side door. When our hero lands in the hospital after fracturing a few ribs or even after a triple by-pass he rips off his bandages tears away the I.V. and makes it out of the deserted corridors to avenge his attackers with good-old vigilante justice. The message is: real men are invincible and don’t feel pain. Of course not; not when we are the planet’s police thwarting terrorist’s plots. The stuff of comic books is the delusion of the Pentagon given support by the dream machine of Hollywood with big box office receipts to prove they have their fingers on the pulse of Main St.

It’s not easy to find a movie without the syrup of a small town or the carnage of the war machine. Our thirst for dead bodies must surely numb our sensibilities which is yet another link befitting a country with bases circling the globe and an arsenal unmatched in human history.  

Sunday, April 14, 2019

Plato, Pluto and the Whole Damn Thing

Peggy has been reading philosophy books and talking Plato lately. I got to sleep thinking how I must Google him one of these days to refresh my credential as a pseudo-intellectual even though I recall his Republic disinvited me with my poetic license. At 3:37 A.M. I woke with Pluto on my brain. I suppose anal-retentive Plato had trouble moving his vowel.

Pluto has had many lives. Probably my first encounter with him was as the Disney dog in cartoons. Then there is the faint memory of Pluto Water in my father’s drugstore. This was a laxative; maybe the one Plato used. However in the chronology in the Great Ledger the name goes back Greek mythology. Pluto was the early name of Hades who ruled the Underworld. He got the short end of the stick when the universe was divided among the three brothers, Poseidon (oceans), Zeus (above) and Pluto (below).

Of course, before any of that, but as yet undiscovered, was the planet Pluto. So named because it was dark being furthest from the sun. The first two letters of Pluto are also the initials of Percival Lowell, the astronomer who speculated there was a Planet X around 1905. Twenty-five years later Pluto was found and in 2006 it was un-found being drummed off the list and relegated to dwarf status. Imagine the humiliation. On the other hand it may be better to be the first among B list than the least among column A list.

The other notable thing about Lowell … all this between 3:37 A.M. and 5:23 A.M. …. is that in 1896 while pointing his telescope at Mars he inadvertently closed the aperture and swore he saw canals on the red planet which turned out to be the arteries on his own retina. However this spawned the fiction of H.G. Wells’, War of the Worlds and Ray Bradbury’s, Martian Chronicles. Art, said Picasso, is the lie that tells the truth….but does illusion spell truth? I don’t think so.

Unaccountable is the trace of the insomniac’s itinerant leaps. From there I went to Greenland or more accurately to the map of the place as it appears on the flat page of Mercator’s Projection of the world which was a sensation in 1569. How many school kids were raised to believe that Greenland was larger than Africa due to his distorted rendering as the latitude increases from the equator to the poles?  In fact fourteen Greenlands could fit into that land mass from whence we all came.

My rambling took me from the map to the territory. Namely what we now call Middle America or the Heartland or Fly-Over America….Trump Country. I know it’s a stretch but everything preceding this is gone into my pillow. The operative word is now Truth. What people believe often bears no relationship to the actual. Enormous Greenland. Canals on Mars. Plato’s shadows on the wall and Pluto, a planet no longer.

Aristotle had it right. The world is indeed in flux. But those in Trumpland won’t take that news without a battle. Where’s my gun?  Downtown is boarded up. Mom and Pop stores can’t compete with the Big Box. New-fangled gadgets. Folks don’t look like they used to. Money has gone off-shore. The Boy Scouts takes girls. Watch who you’re hugging. Better hang on to what is fixed….Bible class, the National Anthem, The Constitution as our Founders meant it.

And here’s the man with all the answers, the stuffed, hollow man, who has no doubts, who tells it like it is, who promises to set the clock back to that old time religion. It was good enough for Grandpa and it’s good enough for me.

That got me to sleep. Wake me up when it’s over.  

Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Conundrum of Pronouns

There’s so damn many of them. Almost as many Democratic candidates as there are pronouns. I count six Senators, five from the House of Representatives, two governors, a mayor, a former Cabinet member and assorted other wannabes.  

It’s not a matter of Us vs Them; it is Us against Us. The last thing we need is a discord of trumpets.

She’s good and Her also and for Him I still feel the Bern. I want to vote for Her or Her or Him but not sure They, in the heartland, will cast their lot for either of Them. It won’t surprise me if the primaries go to Him, that guy who doesn’t get it, the Delaware apologist for banks who can’t bring himself to apologize for his touchy-feely ways and whom I can’t forgive what He did to Her back then and now we’re stuck with that other Him on the high court.

If the white-haired He gets the nod over all of Them will Those with skin of darker shade even turn out and why should they unless the overwhelming issue is to get rid of the venal disgrace in the oval whose conscience must have been removed along with his tonsils? So tell me please, I beg you, there are plenty of undecided Us.

Can it be that the S word, once poison, is finally an electable tag? It would be a crowning valedictory moment as I ride off into the sunset. Not that long ago We had to whisper, Socialism, even though Socialite was an elitist word, Sociology an acceptable major in college and Social Tea Biscuits have endured…or have they? And there is Social Security and all those other government welfare programs for the defense contractors, agribusiness and football teams. 

In any case Bernie has ushered Socialism onto the American tongue as long as it is preceded by the word, Democratic. I expect Trump may be salivating over the prospect of defamatory epithets. He doesn’t bother with pronouns; He goes right to the noun of it.

Maybe Kamala Harris or Elizabeth Warren, She or She, can ride in through the back door given old man Biden’s age, actuarially speaking. Either one of Them. Undifferentiated pronouns. Republican defectors might go for Klobuchar or Gillibrand or Uncle Joe but not for the aforementioned. Do we vote our convictions or settle for the more likely winner, anyone of the Somebodies? The evil of two lessors is a familiar dilemma. 

These are no ordinary times. In any other election year I might regard our eighteen candidates as an embarrassment of riches. However at this point, with the most toxic administration in American history in the balance, my inclination is take the safer bet. Anyone will do who can deliver Donald to a rubber room observed through one-way glass by a man with monocle.

Thursday, April 4, 2019

Gods of Spring

Gods love good stories and the ancients told the best ones. Three thousand years ago, give or take a week, those fabulists knew how to spin a yarn. How did it all begin? Why doesn’t it rain? When will it stop? Our tribe is better than your tribe, isn’t it? What happens after we die? Behold the flowers that bloom in the spring!

Homer and the Hebrews, separately, took a collection of tall tales, songs, imaginings, and assorted folk lore from peasants, sages, pranksters and hallucinogenic gurus….anything to allow the group to cohere and answer the overwhelming questions.

The pivotal moment in human history was when stories were recorded rather than just told. The alphabet took the oral tradition and set it in down for evermore. The Greeks let theirs devolve into myth. The Jews held theirs as sacred and Christians concocted a sequel complete with cheek-turning, crucifixion, and resurrection.

Athenians of the day took on the story of Persephone who returns from the underworld just about now on the calendar for a six to nine month sabbatical. She was the offspring of Demeter and Zeus. You’d have thought with parents like that she wouldn’t have been snatched by Hades, brother of Zeus, but she was apparently very snatchable. So it is that spring flowers bloom right on time and therein lies the seeds of eternal life.  

With the Jews the season is celebrated horizontally rather than vertically. The tribe trekked ahead of the pursuing Egyptians across the desert to their freedom from enslavement ... only to enslave the Canaanites when they got to the Promised Land. More important is the summit meeting along the way with Moses and Yahweh in the room where it happens. Admittedly, most of what I know comes from Cecil B. DeMille and snatches of Seders when I had the tolerance for such things.

The Jesus myth is far bloodier, but blood is merely wine after all and the narrative had legs. Of course Easter is like yeast rising and the resurrection a bit of a stretch signifying, again, the bursting forth of poppies, daffodils and an array of blooms painting the desert floor.

Whether up or across, the holidays all go back to the pagans and natural world which deserves any attention it can muster in this age of neglect. The fables need to be reconsidered not as literal truth but as literature pointing us to pay attention to the cycles of Nature and blessings it brings. Miracle enough for me.

Now that I've offended everyone I'm going out to smell the flowers.