Monday, December 28, 2020

Vision 20-20

Maybe history will record 2020 as the year Planet Earth was ravaged and made to pause in our rapacity. Some learned to turn inward and consider that vast terrain.

Rather than end the calendar with a chronicle of all the dread and woe I’d rather talk about someone who breathes a different air. I’m speaking of my wife, Peggy. Even with her shortness of breath (SOB) there is no shortness of breadth.

Her embrace is open wide. There are no bounds, no restraints. She sees the same awfulness on the newspaper and T.V. but manages to transform it to a different realm. The lost bridges are traversed, fallow fields, planted. Even death with its unfathomable chill is dismissed by love’s constant shawl.

.For the past eight years she has written a poem every day, with few exceptions. In 2013, with a fractured hip and nine weeks in rehab she had 52 poems published.  But the poem is merely the product. Poetry is not some acquired talent with words. He poetry is an expression of her being, how each day is lived with gratitude, reverence and wonderment.

The heart, lonely hunter that it is, also orchestrates its own chamber music. Peggy’s heart is beating with atonal sounds, arrhythmically, Schoenberg composing, Charlie Parker on sax. They call it atrial fibrillation. The discord wears her out.

In Peggy’s world being a hunter is not enough. She is a finder. Look down, the pebble is a nugget; that skeletal tree is about to combust. The world is always on the verge of a new stanza.

As her body declines her spirit sings Handel’s Hallelujah. The cardiac organ and her creative juice exist on different planes. The poem which is Peggy’s essence shall prevail.

+with a fractured hip and nine weeks in rehab she had 52 poems published. But the poem is merely a product. Poetry is not an acquired talent with words. Her poetry is in her being, how she lives each day with gratitude, reverence and wonderment.

The heart, lonely hunter that it is, also sings along with its chamber music. Peggy’s heart is beating its own atonal music, arrhythmically, Schoenberg composing, Charlie Parker on sax. They call it atrial fibrillation. The discord wears her out.

In Peggy's world being a hunter isn't enough. She is a finder, Look down, the pebble is a jewel, the skeletal tree is almost ready to combust. The world is on always on the verge of a new stanza.

But her spirit sings Handel’s Hallelujah. The cardiac organ and her creative juice exist on different planes. The poem which is Peggy's essence shall prevail.



Saturday, December 12, 2020

Shameless Self-Promotion

It’s coming round the bend. No, not the vaccine or the moving van for our deposed wannabe monarch but my new book, The Bus To Elsewhere. It may not cure Covid but studies have shown that among those reading my previous four books of essays there were no new cases of diphtheria, ague or dropsy.

Reader’s discourse became more scintillating. They had fewer incidence of busted shoe laces, paper cuts and lost car keys. They found themselves in shorter lines. Fewer socks disappeared from washing machines and scam calls diminished between midnight and three A.M. They also had a zero, zero, zero, point three percent better chance of winning the lottery, particularly if they bought a ticket.

I’m told that readers keep my book in their night-stands which tells me it serves as a way of catching up on their sleep. This doesn’t surprise me since many of these pages were composed in my hypnogogic state.

The book covers the period between 2016-2018 when all the lights went out. We suddenly lived in a country of moral depravity with a degraded public voice in a disfigured landscape and malice aforethought. The scourge of Donald found a habitat in my psyche. His toxic air fouled every inhalation. I could only hope that Peggy’s muse might float over to me as I stared at the blank page.

Trump seems to enter more essays than I’d like even if for a line or two. His presence seeps through the walls of my mansion like a miasma.

The Bus To Elsewhere is my journey out of these dark times. My wish  is for the reader to find some resonance with my reflections, ruminations and rants. My impulse is to leaven the sturm und drang with a dash of wit, levity layered in with the gravity against which the tyrant has no defense. I’m attracted to the absurd, the human comedy.

As it is too late to use as a turkey stuffing it comes at a perfect time to order from Amazon as a perfect stocking stuffer. The pages have a high fiber content but may not be entirely edible. In fact, at over 300 pages the book would fit only in Big Foot’s sock.

You may wish to buy 2-3 copies in case you leave one on the trolley or in the back seat of an Uber. If you’d like yours inscribed don’t let me stop you. Due to an essential tremor along with a motor neuron neuropathy I can no longer write except my name with great effort. Write yourself what you’ve always wanted to hear and I’ll scribble something resembling my signature.

I know what you’re thinking. What chutzpah to expect people to spend money, approximately the amount for a Chinese chicken salad, on a book of scrupulously composed blurts which you may have already read but forgotten. I don’t disagree. The alternative is for me to stuff them all  in a bottle and toss it off the Santa Monica Pier….and then throw myself. Or you can splurge and save a chicken.'

Just go to Amazon and put in,  books, then Norm Levine,"The Bus To Elsewhere"

Good words to you and thanks.





Sunday, December 6, 2020

Random Thoughts on Hunkering

Here we are hunkered down. I never expected to be hunkered. Nothing has prepared me for this. Up until ten months ago I doubt if I’d ever used that word. But I’ve come to embrace it.

Hunkered has a dank, down-in-the-trenches feel to it. It’s low-down and dirty. You don’t just hunker, you hunker down as in sunk or dump, even slam-dunk. Kerplunk!

I’m now in my subterranean laboratory hunkered and bunkered with a bubbling cauldron looking for the elixir of life. A vax

Monks were hunkered; they called it cloistered. Not a bad place to be during the plague with a direct line to God in one of his tantrums.

From the depths of the well you can best see the stars. Whoever said that I’ll take his word for it.

Hunkered harkens to muck and mud. Mississippi mud as in Huck Finn. It's all hunky-dory with me.

You don’t have to be a hunk to be hunkered. We’re all in this together huddled and bubbled six feet apart.

I take it back. With almost 188 years between us, everything has prepared us for this. Peggy and I rather enjoy the hunkering-down. Reading, writing, watching, reaching out to friends moves the clock just fine. We ain’t going nowhere.

I only unhunker to the laundry room or the trashcan. If I ever throw out our clothes or wash the garbage it's time to leave this orb.

Drunks do it. Spelunks do it. Even educated punks do it. Let’s do it. Let’s all hunker-down.

Archie Bunk does it. Folks in a funk do it. Even genetically modified skunks do it. Let’s do it. Let’s hunker-down.


Tuesday, December 1, 2020

Thank You, Now Please Leave

December is the month to look back and ask, what just happened. Now that he is packing his toothbrush it may be time to list all the accomplishments of the Trump regime. I thought this would be a good way to preserve the pristine blank page but there are some benefits when I thought about it.

First is the extent to which he has concentrated our attention in the way a terminal diagnoses focuses one’s mind. My deaf daughter’s vocabulary seems to have doubled as she emails me in well-rounded sentences with anger and dread in equal parts. 

It has been a four-year bonanza for comedians. What will Randy Rainbow and Sarah Cooper do without Donald to parody? We thought Dubya was a gift to late-night talk-shows but Trump makes Bush look like Stephen Hawking.

I can think of no person in recorded history who suffers by comparison. Perhaps Peter and Catherine were called Great coming after Ivan the Terrible and Vlad the Impaler. So, too, Andrew Johnson and Warren Harding now seem like benign incompetents next to Donald J. Trump.

It has been a negative lesson in Civics. America had an opportunity to see the function of government by its very absence. The vacuity and dysfunction demonstrated the noble role which the federal government could have played in saving lives and preserving our environment.

We have been witness to a certifiably failed human being. It’s a rare moment in history that mindlessness is on full display. Reckless and feckless acts combined with ignorance and arrogance have never been so nakedly revealed in public office.

There have been more than 16,000 books written about Abraham Lincoln. I expect the subject of Trump to become a growth industry topping that figure. I can see a creative burst coming in print and performance art trying to make sense of these past four years. CRISPR scientists will ponder what genetic defect accounted for his behavior.

Out of this darkness we might gain a new appreciation of our democracy along with an assessment of its defects. Eventually he will become less of an exclamation point and more of an asterisk in the grand chronicle.

Thursday, November 26, 2020

Bad News, Good News

The bad news is that we’re having a big Thanksgiving bash. The good news is that nobody is invited. In accordance with Dr. Fauci’s guidelines I thought this would be the perfect year to have my fantasy holiday party; only people already dead will be there.

Carl Sagan was briefed at the door over our low regard for science and decided to opt for life in one of those other galaxies.

James Madison was in distress over what we’ve done to his Constitution. He and his fellow plantation owners will only eat white meat. Tommy Jefferson is seated between Frederick Douglass and James Baldwin getting a lesson on the soul of America.

Fred Ebb (from Kander & Ebb) is composing, Come to the Cabernet, My Friend. Dorothy Parker says, I’d rather have a bottle in front of me than a frontal lobotomy. Mark Twain has stopped smoking cigars for the third time today. When told how books were written on the dangers of tobacco he says he never reads health books because one can die of a misprint.

Molly Ivins says if George Dubya Bush was a shrub then Donald Trump is a stump. Winston Churchill arrives, uninvited, when he hears about the soft-underbelly of Turkey.

Homer and Virgil are having a food-fight over the Iliad and Aeneid. Homer accuses Virgil of ripping off his epic work. The Roman admits he’s always had it in for the Greeks since he heard Cleopatra was in bed with laryngitis.

Freud arrived declaring that he never travels without his couch. He is upset when Sinatra starts to sing, You Make Me Feel So Jung.

Here comes Spencer Tracy showing off his red hair which no one ever saw on the big screen. I have to include him because he always reminds me of my father….even though  my mother could never be mistaken for Katharine Hepburn.

John Keats and W.B. Yeats are over there in the corner trying to get their names to rhyme. In the other corner Einstein is talking to the Barber of Seville about, at least, a trim. Descartes is quibbling with him over MC cubed instead of squared. When offered a glass of champagne he says, I think not, and disappears.

Socrates declines a swig of Merlot remembering the last time he had a drink. Euripides is conferring with Shakespeare whether or not to be or have been

Lincoln wants me to check if the current president ever slept in his bedroom. I assured him Biden will have the sheets changed since Donald probably donated them to the KKK.

Sylvia Plath was late to the party having spent some time in the oven with the big bird.

I almost forgot to mention that Antonin Scalia crashed the party. He was arguing with everyone citing Hammurabi's Code and a list of proclamations from the Oracle of Delphi. When he got up to scream at the assembled, Rosa Parks took his seat.

Now we shall sit alone mumbling our gratitude how we’ve made it so far and get down to some serious gluttony and sloth.

Friday, November 20, 2020

Ankle Talk

First, my back, then the knee, now the ankle. Is this the thousand cuts I’ve so much about? Up until this morning I couldn’t even strut and fret upon this stage. Of course, I’m still with some sound and fury and, as always, it signifies nothing.

I’ve never much given quality time to my ankle. And when I have it’s always been my left one which I broke playing basketball in one of my highlight moments. Now my right one is clamoring for equal time.

In fairness it isn’t really the ankle itself, just surrounding tissue for which I have no name; that mass of soft matter resistant to x-rays.

Thursday I was in a wheelchair at the doctor’s office. The visit was for blood work, physical therapy and radiology. The P.T. was out of the question. However, the lab work revealed an alarming increase in two markers which my rheumatologist has been tracking. One went up from 8 to 84 and the other from 6 to 160.

The phone call came from the doctor who immediately bumped up my dosage on Prednisone. Voila, I am now ambulatory again. I’d kiss my ankle if I could. It will have to settle for the same undemonstrative love to which my elbow has grown accustomed.

The older we get the more familiar we become with long-neglected body parts. It may be time to show some love to my metatarsals, my phalanges and to my spleen. I’ve got only one of those and the last I checked Costco doesn’t carry any. If they did I’d probably have to buy six and look for matches.

A friend suggested a brace but I don’t want to create a scarcity. I expect the entire Trump family will soon be wearing ankle bracelets. Maybe I could borrow one from previously indicted Trump racketeers who expect a pardon any day now.

This afternoon I went to throw out the garbage, both recyclable and otherwise. My plan was to put the 2 bags in the car and drive around the corner. However my key-clicker didn't open the car door so I had to do it manually. Then I couldn't open the back door so I put the 2 bags on the front seat........then I couldn't get the car started because the battery was dead. So I took the bags out and decided I'd try to use Peggy's walker to take one bag at a time on the walker..........but the bag dropped and broke open. I was picking up shrimp tails and banana peels off the sidewalk when a neighbor came along and rescued me from my distress. She took both bags and here I am. Now I must call roadside service to charge my battery. It seems that I left one door ajar and that must have drained the battery. And that's my story.

Sunday, November 8, 2020

The Campaign of '43

Reminds me of that bitter election in the 4th grade when I ran for President against the class bully, Donald Smathers. It was a grueling campaign as I remember it. There were unfounded reports that the teacher favored me in spelling bees lobbing softballs my way. I wouldn’t call upholstery or genuine easy words.

But rumors took hold when my opponent started a whispering campaign. It didn’t help my chances when he wrote on the blackboard, before the teacher came in, that I wet my pants. He’d been saying that since Kindergarten when he tipped over the milk carton onto my knickers. I think he’d had it in for me ever since he knocked down my blocks and I reported him.  He branded me a tattle-tale, teacher’s pet, bed-wetter.

Donald no longer ran with scissors but he did throw spitballs and didn’t play well with others. That was a minor matter compared to the money he stole when he was milk monitor in the 2nd grade. He blamed it on a hole in his pant’s pocket.

He had his group of trouble-makers come up with signs saying, I’d Rather Have Smathers. My constituency was a coalition of kids I knew, kids I wish I knew and a few who I barely knew but couldn't stand Smathers.

He had won in 3rd grade when he carried the most rows even though more votes went to Ursula Sherashevsky. There were five rows each with six boys or girls. Ursula won the first and fifth but Donald took the middle three. This time we were redistributed and I managed to eke out a win in three rows as well as the majority of votes.  

Then the trouble began. The war was raging across both oceans. Refugees were coming into our class. Donald targeted them for ridicule when they spoke with a slight accent.  All classes were urged to buy saving stamps to fill up a book worth $18.75 which would buy a $25 war bond, payable in ten years.* Our class was in competition with the fifth grade over the most bonds.

When he lost the election, Donald went into a tantrum shouting that he should be president for all time. He always boasted that his family was richer than the rest of us. Now he threatened not to buy any war bonds. Those of us who spent our allowance for the war effort were called Suckers. For this Mr. and Mrs. Smathers were summoned to meet with the teacher. They never showed up but sent a note defending their son. That was the last we ever saw of Donald.

Standing outside the room in the corridor waiting for the raised hands I knew then politics was not my meat. I would have to settle for an illustrious career as a shortstop or soda jerk or shaman.

(Part of this is true. It may not have happened to me but it must have happened to somebody.)

* Those war bonds raised 187 billion dollars during the war years.

Friday, October 30, 2020


In my dotage I’m thinking fondly of euphemisms. There was something endearing about saying, Shoot, I just bit my tongue or Darn that freakin' neighbor.

Fig leaves fall as they must on their way to language Heck.  By Golly isn’t that where people go who don’t believe in Gosh?

Holy Moly, I suspect all the gods can handle being taken in vain every now and then from Jumping Jehoshaphat to Geez to Gad Zooks.

Having now endured four years of Donald, Dad Rat It, we can begin to assess the wreckage. With his eight-year old vocabulary he has debased the language to my dang ears like no public official before him.

If you can fake authenticity all the rest is a piece of cake. Movies have an obligatory vomit scene as if that confers a note of edgy reality. Trump has tapped into what he calls locker-room talk which allows for racist and misogynist slang. Grab her by her pussy, says the man who sits where Lincoln and the two Roosevelts sat.

He tells the American people that certain countries are shit holes. In a speech recently he described China as Mother fuckers. If someone at a rally looks suspicious, he yellsthrow the sonofabitch out. I suppose this plays well in a crowd of maskless morons ready to gulp his Corona-spiced Kool-Aid.

He utters lies but they are naked lies. Is trash-talk any more truthful than decent speech? At least athletes’ chatter comes out of raw emotions. Trump's words are calculated. The real-estate mogul is slumming among those he would otherwise describe as losers and suckers.

My ears are burning, my mind is tortured. We must remove this man-child from office, lickity-split.

If you know any Trump voters remind them that Election Day was moved to Wednesday.


Friday, October 23, 2020


Did I ever tell you about the time I……….

Yes, Grandpa you did, many times.


Well, I was seven years old during the campaign of 1940. I remember the beanie cap I wore covered with FDR buttons. Henry Wallace was his running mate and Wendell Willkie, the bad guy.

Roosevelt was not only my hero; he was God incarnate. He spoke with patrician authority as if from on high with his fireside chats. I even imagined the fire.

Of course, Willkie turned out to be one of the best bad guys in political history. He and Roosevelt were on the same page in so far as recognizing the threat posed by Hitler and the Nazi war machine. The isolationist Republicans disowned him as he got trounced 449-82 in the electoral vote of 1940.

After the election FDR asked him to serve as a roving ambassador and he traveled abroad pleading the internationalist cause. In his book, One World, he not only advocated for a world order but also denounced Colonialism. Sadly, he died before the war was over.

Willkie deserved a special place he was never accorded on my beanie. Of course, my beanie is long gone but I do have a political button collection going back to Abraham Lincoln. Skip a few decades and I see Grover Cleveland’s face on one along with his running mate and there are William McKinley, Woodrow Wilson and I even have a Roosevelt/Cox button from his unsuccessful bid in 1920.  

George McGovern must have put all his meager resources into buttons. I have about forty of them. By the time Clinton ran, buttons started getting larger. An Obama button is ten times the size of some of FDR’s. I have one button showing the faces of nineteen ex-Presidents. 

Maybe that was a sign of their demise. I don’t see buttons anymore. Instead they’ve been replaced first by bumper stickers, then T-shirts and lawn signs and now by red caps and unmasked faces. We are walking billboards.

No button is large enough to contain Trump’s egomania. The only button needed for the first Presidential debate was the one Trump should have had on his lip. His behavior was so maniacal it called for a muzzle or mute button in last night’s debate though I don’t think it was used. In spite of his rambling bluster he did a fine impersonation of a grown-up.

I wonder if he has a Russian-American dictionary in his desk along with a one-way ticket to Moscow. The thought of his finger on the button to launch the nukes for another term is a prospect devoutly to be dreaded.



Wednesday, October 21, 2020


Will the person who climbed through the window and stole my glasses please return them? No need for forced entry; just drop them off at the front door. No questions asked.

All right, forget all that. I’ll take the rap. I haven’t been out for three days so it’s got to be here somewhere. The truth is I don’t wear them much. They are bifocals and I can read better without them except for tiny subtitles and when I’m driving.

It’s understandable that the glasses might be upset. The last time I drove (I can’t remember when) I sprayed on some shaving cream to prevent them from fogging up. After wiping, the film is supposed to prevent the haze from wearing a mask.  

Or maybe they’re upset because Peggy has about seven reading glasses from the Ninety-Nine Cent Store scattered around the house and they don’t want to be associated with low-life cousins. It could be they escaped like some of my socks. I could swear a few of them made their way across the street and showed up in yard sales.

Looking for anything always turns up something else. So far, I’ve discovered a small flashlight behind my night stand and a set of car keys from a Honda I owned eleven years ago. Usually I find my credit card when I’m looking for my checkbook. Of course, my cell phone knows how to ding when called.

Listen to me, glasses, if you're out there, it's true I've never cared for you much. I was always afraid someone would mistake me for an intellectual. And then what? So maybe this is payback. You're hiding because of my constant vacillation. One day I'm seeing through rose colored lenses and the next through a glass darkly. I can't help myself. Call it existential dread.

Could it be you are hiding to teach me a lesson? If you think I'll go blind and suddenly play the piano, forget about it.  Nor will I become a seer even with the beginning of macular degeneration. There's a long tradition in literature to assign inner vision to the blind. I have no wish to become either Tiresias or Homer. However I have gained a bit of insight in this grand search.

I have discovered a most profound philosophical concept. Are you ready? Namely, drumbeat……… that Everything is Somewhere. The converse is also true: Nothing is Nowhere. This is the kind of wisdom that is hard-earned after losing something every couple of weeks over the past 87 years.  

Now I’ve taken to imaging. I can picture my glasses all spread out behind or under something. They’re just lying there with their astigmatic correction maybe missing my nose or my ears. Who knows what emotional attachments they’ve made?

I can’t take this much longer. It’s one thing to lose my glasses but another thing to be numbered among those known as Losers. Trump has got my number. Not only a Loser but maybe a Sucker also. If I find them will I suddenly become a Winner?

Ah-ha, I got up this morning and spotted them looking forlorn on the floor around my computer. I forgive them for their wanton ways. In the words of Donald, I take all of the credit and none of the blame.


Sunday, October 18, 2020

The Untied States of America

 America is a sandwich with artisanal squiggly breads of rocky shores on either side and rigid perpendiculars of Dakotas in the middle.

The Blue coastal states are a bluesy sax blowing grievances and joy as if those islands in the Pacific Northwest were new ideas bubbling overhead in a comic strip and the Florida Keys, a work in progress. Maybe someone took a bite and these were the indigestible chunks.

California is a baguette and Oregon an Everything Bagel while Puget Sound is the piece of an argument that resists containment, giggling and probing into some vivid unseen.

Jersey is seeded rye. The Carolinas ready to burst and Georgia has a blue moon rising. Maine is mainly independent indigo and from Massachusetts to New York harbor diverse as huddled masses yearning to be free.

Here are Wisconsin and Michigan which obey no ruler, shaped by the deep blue lakes and Pennsylvania is stretched out in blue-collar blue under an azure sky.

The swampy bottom of Louisiana is shaped by a parade down South Basin Street to the St. James Infirmary. I’m seeing red going to purple or is that Texas inching out of the red from the Rio Grande northbound.

In the mayonnaise middle is Oklahoma, long as their buried Trail of Cherokee Tears. Alabama, the Crimson Tide. Mississippi, red from Strange Fruit that hung from their trees. Arkansas red as rednecks.

And what does West Virginia think it is doing sprawled out in public with Kentucky blushing red as a MAGA cap while Illinois is belly-laughing into Missouri?

Kansas and Nebraska, lined up like Boy Scouts busy behaving themselves at the hundredth meridian. There’s Utah and Wyoming, straight as the page of Donald’s tax return, caught red-handed. Iowa is straight as a cereal box.

Arizona, home of well-fixed retirees used to be red as John Phillip Souza’s um-pa-pa marching in file on their fixed border but now there is a purple dawn rising.

We are a color chart turning from red herrings to blue remembered hills. From rectilinear slabs of red meat to plates of quinoa and kale. Not yet united but, at least, untied.     

Monday, October 12, 2020


I am monarch by decree

To which my family all agree

Whose praise the heartland heartily chants

And so do my daughter and my sycophants

My daughter and my sycophants   

                                    (With apologies to Gilbert and Sullivan)


Look, Peggy enthused, at that huge monarch butterfly.

She saw it flutter down, through the window,

and settle on the end of that branch.

Five minutes later it still hadn’t moved.

Perhaps, just perhaps it was a golden bough unleaving,

from the Gerald Manley Hopkins poem.


That’s the way it is with monarchs.

They can make us see what isn’t there.

Sometimes it’s not the butterfly that flutters by.

We can’t wish its existence like monarchs do

from inside their wooly caterpillar chrysalis.


Donald is having another tantrum flapping

his monarchial orange fuzzy-wuzzy

as if he were a maga lepidoptera

buoyant and flamboyant   

having astonished his mother-worm

with leaves masquerading as wings.


Wednesday, October 7, 2020

Individualism: Rugged or Rigged?

Having been born into the Great Depression followed by World War II the role of the federal government felt like mother’s milk, even after I was weaned from the bottle. Roosevelt provided alphabet soup with his NRA, WPA, CCC  et al. If the New Deal had its enemies most of them fell away on that day of infamy, Dec. 7th 1941. The pronoun, WE, was the order of the day.

Since the second half of the 20th century, We the People, has given way to, Me/Mine. We’ve gone from plural to singular. On the political spectrum the greedy who ask, What’s in it for me or I got mine, don’t bother me, are aligned with the so-called rugged individualists who love their guns almost as much as the gospel. Together they comprise the Republican Party.

The Wild West on the frontier is now wild Appalachia and the Heartland for whom the beneficent government of my day has become, in their eyes, some diabolical force out to take away their Social Security and Medicare even though the government is the provider.

The notion of Man-Alone translated to Indian-Killers, slave-owner’s inhumanity vigilantes, and the lawlessness of Jim Crow lynch-mobs. 

The irony is that the so-called rugged individualists are really the conformists who march in lock-step to the demagogue having abdicated their autonomy in mindless obedience.

Poor Karl Marx. He got it all wrong. Groucho could have done better. The working class is allied with Wall St., coalmine operators and hedge-fund operators. The down-trodden masses have swallowed the opiate in massive doses. Maybe that’s why they are unmasked. After all, Macho men don’t get sick and I suppose they don’t care if you do.

Masks are the new bumper-stickers, the great signifiers. The unmasked face is the emblem of pathological individualism. Donald’s behavior suggests masks are for suckers and if you happen to die I suppose you’re nothing but a loser.

Walt Whitman in Song of Myself wrote, I celebrate myself, I sing myself. Even on the Progressive wing there is a confusion between Individuation and Individualism. Psychotherapists have long urged their clients become their own best friend. Self-actualization is not the language of community or necessarily receptive to global responsibility. In a perverse way it can lead to the Not In My Backyard argument as we see in the rejection of homeless shelters or wind-farms which are perceived as driving real estate values down.

We lack the words for collective social discourse, the language to express programs for the greater good. The case for public service or even sacrifice has been subsumed by louder protests of self-interest. America-First translates to America alone heedless of global concerns.

If asked why one either supports or opposes measures to meet the challenges of climate change, the answer is regarded as authentic if they make the person feel better about themselves. This, I submit, is a poverty of language. We are inarticulate speaking in moral terms.

Trump, of course, has exacerbated the situation with his malignant narcissism. If Whitman were alive today would he still hear America Singing? I expect he would hear two tribal camps in a discord of voices.

Sunday, September 27, 2020

Small Pleasures

The specter of a Trump sweep feels like a diagnosis of metastatic carcinoma. Inept and uncouth barely describe the man. How, I ask you, how could anyone vote for a guy with no ept and even less couth.  But we’re too old to move and besides, my friend on a Greek island doesn’t have a spare bedroom. So I look for small pleasures to keep me sane.

I’m told it is now autumn. It happens here as soundlessly as that silent n. We have plenty of weather but no seasons. The only way I know is that Trader Joe has suddenly filled their aisles with everything pumpkin. I now have a supply of pumpkin bread, pumpkin beer, pumpkin biscotti and pumpkin pancakes. I can now die happy……almost.  

To reinforce the calendar the green leaves have turned golden on our coral tree. Their loss of chlorophyll becomes our brief spectacular show. The foliage falls in a blaze of glorious decrepitude. Sort of like the way I feel on Monday, Wednesday and Friday. On the other days I’m filled with pluck and spunk.

See Naples and die, so said Virgil. I’ll take his word for it. I’ve read Elena Ferrante and that’s as close to Naples as I’ll ever get. So I say, See maples and die. And we did eleven years ago along with the sycamore and other deciduous leaves ablaze in the Vermont woods.

Here on the other coast the blaze is an inferno of calamitous proportion with nothing pleasurable about it.

Low-brow that I am I cannot claim to have watched any ballets. The closest I can get is the balletic leaps, spins and twists of LeBron James as he hangs in the air giving gravity the finger while throwing the ball through the hoop. Truly a sight to behold. Nothing matches the athleticism of a great basketball player. 

He reminds me of myself in my wildest dream. I played on the team in my first year of college enough games to get a varsity jacket. My one acrobatic move was grabbing a high rebound around the foul line and in one motion depositing the ball back in the basket. It gets better with each recollection.

Put the kettle on. We need our small pleasures to keep the wolf from the door.

Sunday, September 20, 2020

Plenty of Nothing

As Alice said to the White King in, Through the Looking GlassI saw which he replied, I only wish I had such eyes to be able to see Nobody. Nobody is like Nothing…… And Nothing’s plenty for me.

What’s up? Nothing much. And therein lies the tale.

Shakespeare, that rascal, wrote Much Ado About Nothing but his nothing was a pun for No Thing, thing being the term for phallus at the time. Nothing has quite a history.

Poetry changes nothing said W.C. Auden………but people die everyday for lack of it wrote William Carlos Williams. Maybe that nothing which poetry changes is worth looking into.

There is a vast something in Nothing. It’s the absence better left unsaid or unsayable. Look for the meaning of a poem in among the words. The intervals make the music. The pause is pregnant.

When a friend needs our ear we are best advised to be quiet and reflecting. Just being present and silent allows the flow. All is nothing at all.

One of the problems with this world is our hunting and gathering of too many things. As the comedian says, I don’t want everything. Where would I put it? With our consumer brains we want, we grab, we accumulate heedless of consequence. The earth is scarred. The air is toxic. Our souls are not fed.

On that Streetcar Named Desire we lose touch with a healthy simplicity. Maybe that new car, shirt, shoes, I-phone was merely a distraction. Much can be said for nothingness.

At this age our time is now to liquidate. No attachments, the Buddha said. Disowning isn’t all that easy. That Kwakiutil mask is still blessing the Hopi pots. I’d like to think those books on one shelf are in conversation with those on the other. Wittgenstein is in dialog with Foucault and Samuel Clemens with Dorothy Parker. Reluctantly we'll let them all go. I’ll invite them to our fantasy Thanksgiving table.

In the end we have the Nothing which is Everything. It has all been interjected one way or another. The album is in my inner vault, that inviolable place which takes up no space, gathers no dust and is impervious to the next quake.

As Janis Joplin screamed about freedom…. It’s just another word for nothing left to lose.


Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Magical Thinking

For those of us in California, PCH means Pacific Coast  Highway. It’s that vertical ribbon of highway which runs through Malibu and later winds into and out of Big Sur, with waves crashing below. However, to folks in Dreamsville, USA, PCH is short for Publisher’s Clearing House. The wait for that phone to ring or that knock on the door is their retirement plan.

Wait, says our inspirational leader, one bright morning the coronavirus will just disappear. Yesterday he also proclaimed that the weather will soon get colder. Since autumn begins in a week that’s a fairly safe bet but it won’t necessarily mean the end of the fire season.

Trump, in his infinite wisdom, relies on his audience’s short term memory loss as his unfulfilled promises stack up. As a devout naysayer to science and one who sits next to Jesus he believes there’s a time for fire and a time for floods; a time for pestilence and a time for hydroxychloroquine. Gaia sighs awaiting his next delusion.

And when a tree falls on your car or your house explodes it must be part of God’s plan. After all, everything happens for a purpose, doesn’t it? Actually no, it doesn’t.

Our thoughts and prayers are with you. That’s nice. I suppose. This has become the stock phrase for politicians. Translate as, Don’t expect this fire, this hurricane, this mass shooting to bring with it any new legislation.

Those words get the bearer off the hook. Too bad the sentiment is wasted. When we extend our fervent wish for a friend’s recovery it is all we have to express our love. And that matters to the extent that self-healing can happen.

But do thoughts and prayers travel through the contaminated air into the bloodstream of the infirm patient? Or vibes? Or pulsating energy transfers? Or pins in an effigy?

Count me among those who do not subscribe to wishes or curses. Nor can I, as an avid fan, determine the course of a ballgame by standing on my head or opening an umbrella while sitting on the couch.

I’ll probably lose a few friends saying all this. Prayers are wishes sent to God but she doesn’t answer mail no matter how many candles we light or gospel we mumble or how loud the exhortations from the pulpit.

What causes God’s wrath? We do. From denying, from abusing our habitat, from electing morons, from abdicating our duties as custodians. God’s wrath is nothing more than a cocktail of neglect and randomness.

Don’t bother me, say those in their moral torpor, I’m waiting for the phone call with my PCH sweepstakes retirement check.

Monday, September 7, 2020

Hidden Spring

On Friday Peggy took the stairs. All nine of them. A small step for humankind but a giant step in her return to ambulation. We didn’t plan this burst of energy; it came about because the medical transit vehicle was a no-show.

We may never know what resources we have until called upon to make the leap. The other lesson learned by me is that aging is a one-time adventure. We don’t get to rehearse our stumbles and bumbles. It’s all improvisational. I wouldn’t miss it for the world.

Peggy’s appointment was for an infusion of iron for her anemia; a certain motivation for making her way both down the stairs and back up on our return. The benefit of the I. V. has yet to be in evidence. The shortest distance from here to there is a zig-zag, sort of like life itself.

Part of the drama of aging is the discovery of what stuff we’re made of. In Coleridge’s Kubla Khan he writes, Where, Alp the sacred river ran / Through caverns measureless to man / Down to a sunless sea.

Coleridge never finished his poem. He was famously interrupted from his opium dream by a Person from Porlock. The poet, Ted Weiss, took this to suggest the beginning of the end of Romantic Poetry. In his book, The Man from Porlock, he makes the case that this was the metaphorical imposition of reality upon poetic flights of fancy. I doubt it. There was much more gas left in the tank. More likely Coleridge’s imagination simply dried up or the narcosis wore off.  

Thirty-five years ago, we visited the home of Samuel Taylor Coleridge. He is said to have believed that there were underground waterways in that region of England. In fact, we all possess some untapped springs within and Peggy reached deep down to find that stream by which she navigated those nine steps.

What allows the athletes to push themselves beyond themselves to break the four-minute mile? Up until 1954 it seemed an impossible barrier. When Roger Bannister first did it he ran seven tenths of a second below four minutes. Today the world record is almost seven seconds faster. Who cares, I hear you ask.    

I do, for one. When I followed such things, I used to listen to track meets on the radio. I recommend it for exercising the muscle of the imagination. Staring into the art deco speaker I could see the runner panting his way around the track and collapsing but not quite finding that extra push to beat the stop-watch. Perhaps he was nine steps short.

We don’t know every room in our mansion. There are  locked doors with secrets inside. The poet knows this but conceals as much as she reveals. The poet manages the nine steps but the well from which it is sourced and scooped remains mysterious and not necessarily replicated. Today we dip once.

Another poet, Ann Lauterbach wrote a book entitled, On A Stair. She suggests it may also be read as, Honest Air. For Peggy managing those stairs required a deep breath of honest air.



Wednesday, September 2, 2020

Land's Sake

In the past 170 years we have gone from Alice’s Wonderland to  T.S. Eliot’s Wasteland to Walt’s Disneyland. If this is progress, I’m on the wrong bus. And now Trump seems to think Kamala Harris wasn’t born in this country because she’s from Oakland. He must be thinking of Thailand or Iceland. Or maybe he is just upset because he couldn’t buy Greenland. Or perhaps he can’t forgive New Zealand for their enlightened approach to the Covid virus.

My preferred Land would be Wonder. Not as in white bread but the state of being astonished. There is an immense mystery to life which Eliot seems to be wary of without the presence of a supernatural being to propitiate. April is not cruel; it is full of wonder.

Yes, of course, Western Civilization was shamed by the cruel folly of World War One which had just ended when Eliot wrote his monumental poem. He lamented the absence of God in its aftermath. Could it be God picked up Lewis Carroll’s adventures of Alice and got curiouser and curiouser. Maybe it killed him the way curiosity killed the cat.

The bulbs that burst in April do indeed wither and go to Mulchland but that’s not the way Walt Disney saw it. His flowers are paper or silk; they never die. Just as Mickey Mouse and Pluto have found immortality, his Frontierland perpetuates the American myth.

Part of that myth is, Land of the free and home of the brave. I prefer Woody Guthrie’s, This land was made for you and me.

As far as Lands go my stop would be at Birdland, the jazz joint I remember from the early 1950s where Ella, Sarah and Billie sang and Lester Young, Charlie Parker, and Dizzy Gillespie blew. Those were the sounds that deposited me in a place to wander and wonder.  

Going back to Land’s Sake, I think that expression passed out of our common tongue about seventy years ago along with, For Pete’s Sake. Land is a euphemism for Lord and Pete stands in for Christ all of which brings us back to T.S. Eliot who couldn’t find God in the Roaring Twenties or in Be Bop and certainly not with the Mad Hatters so he landed in the Church of England. 

Some of us are willing to walk that Lonesome Valley all by ourselves. Not even Walt Disney can grant us a constant renewal on our lease.