Sunday, January 30, 2022

Football As Ritual

In two weeks, America will be healed...for about three hours. Reds will sit with Blues, the vaxed with the unvaxed and those who shower before work among those who shower after work or not all, will sit on their couches, up to 111 million of them (us) plus another 30-50 million overseas to watch the Super Bowl.

Fandom is a phenomenon. It is not the same as being an athlete. An incorrigible fan, as in fanatic, has a passport to an alternative universe in which he gains the illusion of control or, at least, second-guessing. He ponders. He mopes. He parties. His behavior is almost indefensible, and yet a fan experiences an existential moment as he lives or dies vicariously. Lifetime fans will say their knowledge of sports was likely the first thing they knew that their parents did not, giving them a sense of individuation.

Of course, a large chunk of viewers are not fans at all and might call it the Stupor Bowl with more interest in the ritual as a communal experience, a stab at reconciliation. Their attention will be paid to the commercials and halftime show.

Thanksgiving with its turkey and pass the chardonnay will meet its match with pizza and pop open a beer. This is how we make America grate again. We put on our game face, our fangs, to vent our hostility. We cheer and we jeer in the great tradition to appease our reptilian brain as if it hasn’t been assuaged enough in these times of upheaval.

I submit football has been unfairly maligned. True, concussions happen, ligaments snap and bones crack. If I had a son, I wouldn’t let him go near a pigskin. I’d teach him the joy of backgammon.

However, the game is really not all about brawn. Football is closer to chess albeit with stretchers. We have twenty-two men on the field, each with a special assignment to execute. Each player has to memorize a thick playbook which can change at the line of scrimmage if the quarterback senses the play must be altered. Meanwhile the coaches on the sideline are anticipating the defensive alignment as they are desperately managing the clock.

I suspect I haven’t persuaded anyone. Look at it this way. Much as we try to contain our aggression or, at least, our competitive urges, we have failed. Team sports allows us to sublimate that belligerence. Have another beer. Better a brainy, semi-brutal conflict than the real thing. A few aches and bruises are far better than bodies fertilizing Flanders Field. 

Note how the players embrace after the game. It is theater, after all. They know it even if we have forgotten. A human drama has been enacted with neither rehearsal or certainty of outcome. Maybe a few bridges will go up between us and them in commiseration or jubilation. In any case, it’s a great day for pizza deliveries.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               



Wednesday, January 26, 2022

Fate and Free Will

Beware the ides of March, said the soothsayer to Caesar. Beware the soothsayer, say I. If you should run into one on your way to throwing out the garbage you may soon become part of that garbage.

Oracles, witches and assorted seers allegedly have a vision around the corner. You would be particularly advised to avoid walking with a murder of crows overhead. More often than not they convey bad news. There is enough bad news without their cauldron and cackle.

On the page, stage or big screen the palmists and gazers into crystal balls are a device to move the plot. They are never-ever wrong. Our fate is sealed.

Homer did it. Shakespeare did it. B-Movies do it. More and more it is done less and less.  Now such prophecies get a laugh from Woody Allen or Mel Brooks films.

However, in the hands of the Bard, as in Macbeth, the witches give us more of a shiver than a snicker. They seem to have taken possession of mild-mannered Macbeth. In my hopelessly rational mind, I regard them as an apparition, a projection of Macbeth’s overreaching ambitions. Those prognosticators only tapped into his darkest chamber. His innocence is transformed to megalomania and finally into madness accompanied by some of the greatest poetic prose ever spoken in the English language.

Macbeth and I had that same burning ambition. I saw myself as leader among my peers which is why I managed to get a gold star on my nose vaulting me to the not insignificant position of milk monitor in first grade. This was a mere steppingstone for the campaign to demonstrate my rule as class president in second grade. I stood outside the door with Diana D'arienzo while the votes were counted. Records will show I lost by one vote which may have been my own when I cast it for my opponent being the gentlemanly thing to do or so it seemed.

As I recall I did not drink any smoking potion. However, I may have inhaled the fumes from my father's drugstore escaping from tinctures, elixirs and fluidextracts. 

I suppose it all comes down to free will versus fate. As science provides explanations for such events as eclipses or lightning storms the less authority is assigned to Zeus. One more time it is a matter of attribution. Sorry, Reverend, but Katrina was not retribution for gay behavior or abortions. Rather it is tied to our heedless behavior as custodians of this habitat.

Room must be made for the serendipity and synchronistic and other happy accidents, but they don't measure up to the level of causation. We are given to over-reach and even act possessed as when in love or otherwise impassioned but these are not super natural dictates. If we have a destiny, by virtue of DNA, our script is only a first draft subject to revision. Ask any astrologer.

We can live our well-examined lives without fear of being hit by a runaway trolley no matter what is foretold by tea leaves or the arrangement of soft skin inside our fists. Stuff happens beyond the scope of even a high intuitive. For those who require answers try randomness.



Friday, January 21, 2022

Suddenly Nothing Happened

Holed up in this rent-controlled bunker dodging unseen variants and political  miscreants. It is not unlike trench warfare, trying to stay alive dodging bulletins instead of bullets and all that virulence it brings. Yet at the same time looking for Wallace Stevens', green freedom of the cockatoo.

I'm alternating good sounds by Gerry Mulligan and Gustave Mahler to accompany my morning melon and cereal. I thought I just saw Joe Manchin's face in my oatmeal so I threw in a few more blueberries to bury him, him with his filibuster. I was thinking of writing to a friend back east but I couldn't get a sixty vote majority.

This week marks the thirty-seventh anniversary of the very week Peggy and I moved into this apartment. Thank you Harry Bornstein. He had been a long-time friend of Peggy through the Valley Center for Arts, an organization of which she was a founder in the mid 1950s. Harry was an artist and designer. One Sunday he invited us to brunch and asked if we were interested in a two-bedroom apartment. YES, we exclaimed loudly in unison. Harry had owned an entire block in this Ocean Park area and built both condos and rentals. We came, we saw, we moved in. 

We were blessed. The Red Sea had parted and we made our exodus to this promised land. Let me hear that trumpet! The eleventh commandment:  Be willing to be lucky. Not as easy as it may sound. Many people, including myself, don't know when they have arrived. There come moments when one would be advised to cease being a seeker and instead become a finder. 

The bird of paradise plant right outside the front door was a sign of welcome and is still sending orange drones of bliss in every flight. It follows me to the laundry room and the trek around the corner to the drop off bags of trash and garbage in their bins. This could be the highlight film of my day.

Now I am thinking of how this block must have looked before Harry's first shovel. How many eucalyptus trees were felled and nests disappeared. Someday those woods will reclaim their habitat and from that garbage I may have dropped a pit or seeds out of which a fruit tree will yet bloom.

My strategy for today is to not turn on cable news. My prescription for myself. If nothing happens I count that as a blessing of good news. I shall read some poetry books instead. As William Carlos Williams said, It is difficult to get the news from poetry yet men die miserably every day for lack of what can be found there.

Raymond Carver wrote, I went for a walk. Determined not to return / until I took in what Nature had to offer.... Kept going until I reached the bluff / where I gazed at the sea and sky / and the gulls wheeling over the white beach / far below / bathed in a pure cold light / As usual my thoughts / began to wander. / I had to will myself to see what I was seeing / and nothing else.*

Now I'm going back to the long-neglected work by Philip Levine, the poet who gave me permission to write what I write.

I had been on my way to work as usual when the traffic stalled a quarter mile from the railroad crossing.... Back in the alley the guys in greasy dark wool jackets were keeping warm by a little fire made from fence posts and garage doors.. A police car dozed across the street.....Around me engines began to die and then my own went. I could feel a deep cold slowly climbing my legs which wouldn't move. My eyes began to blink on a darkness I had never seen before. I knew these tiny glazed pictures - a car hood, my own speedometer, the steering wheel, the windshield fogging over - were the last I'd ever see. These places where I had lived all the days of my life were giving up their hold on me.**

And these final lines from Peggy: A light from a window. Her fingers / will signify. Someone shouts. / Far off, a man deafened by snow / waits for an insinuation of blue.

Thank you again, Harry Bornstein, for these walls and windows with a sliver of the sea to be viewed over the kitchen sink. Hoping for another hemorrhagic sunset before it finds its portal into the Pacific soup. Nothing happened and yet....

*   Raymond Carver poem, This Morning
** Philip Levine poem, The Last Shift

Tuesday, January 18, 2022

The Rectangle and the Round

A baseball is exactly like an orange except one gets crushed and the other squeezed and the one is filed with cork and the other with pulp but otherwise they are identical in size and shape and every other way except for the rind in the orange and the yarn in the other covered in cowhide and stitched and if you threw the orange to a batter you'd get juiced, pulped and pitted and I don't imagine the orange would curve or sink or flutter like a knuckleball but otherwise they are indistinguishable in the dusk with the light behind them.

If you stick a band-aid on the orange it might fetch triple figures and become a museum piece as a decontextualized construction demonstrating the use of two disparate objects in juxtaposition causing a shift in our way of seeing and our conception of space.

The distinction between art and life has been closed. Pause is music. Sitting in a chair can be a dance and a clothesline is sculpture. Baseballs and oranges have a kind of beauty but beautiful is no longer the operative word in Art. We are suspicious of prettified images. Poetry is criticized for being too poetic. The pendulum has long since swung away from ornamental, classical forms. Museums might as well remove their walls.. Chris Burden's installation of Urban Lights adorn the entrance to the L.A. County Museum of Art and in the rear is a 340 ton boulder, Levitated Mass.

It is enough to have our perceptions rattled. A bandaged orange forces us to see the imagined wound, the confluence of round and rectangle shapes and the natural  and man-made incongruities. After being saturated with objects online, in magazines and on our tables every waking hour the effect is to grab us by the collar and LOOK  but look with different eyes. The art is in the experience of looking. For a brief moment the orange and the viewer may be transformed.

Better yet consider a blue orange and red Band-Aid. Or if the orange were a rectangle  and the Band-Aid round it would alter our senses even further. If you showed a straw coming out of an orange-colored baseball as a source of Vitamin C it could also take its place on a gallery wall in exhibition and shift our perceptions and maybe that's the name of the game.

Wednesday, January 12, 2022

Thursday the Eleventh

We all have our favorite numbers and probably for no good reason. But we’re talking here about something beyond the rational mind. My number is eleven. I have no idea why.

As for days of the week it’s no contest. Thursday has long been my favorite not only because it precedes Friday but more for its sound which is juicy to my ears. Maybe because it is a counterpoint to its cousin, Thirsty.

I have a fantasy that if Trump gets reelected, he will abolish Thursday and rename it Trumpday since truth no longer shall prevail. He might as well eliminate number eleven and decree that twelve follows ten until further notice. His choir will defend the move as an expression of freedom. 

Eleven is an echo of my name, Levine, a version of Levin as if life rhymes. I prefer a slant rhyme, myself which is why I became Levine.

Consider its fellow days of the week, Sunday and Monday, who remain in celestial dialog for perpetuity; I don’t wish to interrupt them. Tuesday has some lineage with a god of war and Wednesday carries that silent letter not to be trusted nor is Friday, which sounds like a recipe for chicken fricassee, not one of my favorites. Thursday, with Thor (thunder) comes on to announce itself as a new day dawning. It was Peggy's day to share her poems and herself.

Eleven is a couple of stilts, the first number beyond our fingers and it is the year before the War of 1812 which became a question put to my friend Roger when seeking his citizenship as to who won that conflict. When he answered I don’t know, the interrogator replied, That’s correct, nobody knows. Like most wars nobody ever wins. Roger was a visionary.

Unlike all other numbers (except seven) eleven also rhymes with heaven. Come to think of it eight ain’t bad either since it is infinity having just gotten upright. And how did that feel having witnessed eternity, I asked. She replied, I’ll have to get back to you on that. All of which proves my point. Just what is my point? Something to do with imagination and the possibility of dread. 

This is my lunatic way of amusing myself with the philharmonic sounds of floating notes and numbers since I never learned how to play the bassoon in the marching band to oblivion.



Sunday, January 9, 2022

"First Kill the Lawyers"

Shakespeare’s character, Dick the Butcher, said that in Henry VI, part two. I would never say such a thing.

Well, not all of them, at least. On one floor is our law firm of Probe, Prod and Plod.

Down the hall is their law partnership of Poppycock, Balderdash and Hogwash. It’s all gotten worse since they merged with Zeal and Zest. And they are affiliated with Dewey, Cheatem & Howe.*

We brought in Pluck and Spunk which certain Congressman took up but not the Attorney General. Not yet, anyway.

Why is it that Hogwash, Balderdash and partners are shameless in their audacity to lie, threaten and push for legislation which violates every tenet of fair play? When did bullying become the new norm? Probably when they brought on Phil Abuster and Jerry Mander, graduates of Cutthroat University.

All this is happening while our side pokes and prowls following a playbook no longer viable. Temerity is met by timidity. While they plunder we ponder.

It appears to me that our methodical deliberations are both our means and our ends. We are congruent. It comes naturally to an ethical, rational mind.

They are desperate, unthinking dudes lusting for power and heedless of compassion, civility, and the institutions we have long cherished. Naked greed was bad enough but now it is advertised as if a virtue.

Freedom is not license. We are not a confederation but a nation. Government’s role is not to suppress but to protect us from unregulated corporate avarice and extend support for the underserved. Let us proceed with Zest and Zeal along with Pluck and Spunk.

Leo Durocher, that infamous baseball manager, once quipped, Nice guys finish last. Say it ain’t so.


 * Borrowed from Car Talk, Radio Show with Click and Clack.

Wednesday, January 5, 2022

The Enemy Within

If America were some unruly, amorphous, organism, the one Whitman heard singing, one might say a chunk of our multitude suffers from an auto-immune disease. Sort of like myself. Something went wrong with both our body politic. We are attacking ourselves. Exhibit A: January 6th, 2021. Exhibit B: all the sycophants and their mindless acts since then.

Somebody once told me I was my own worst enemy. I forget why but how did he know? A couple of years ago I was diagnosed with exhibit C: Undifferentiated Connective Tissue Disease. Apparently, there are a nefarious cluster of cells up to no good, out to topple my ambulation.

I’ve always suspected my liver was phobic about becoming chopped and appearing under lamination on a menu at Fromin’s Deli. Good thing I have two kidneys in case one is part of a coup. Will my pancreas insurrect? Have a piece of fruit.

Who knew a third of the country would become a lynch mob directed by a miscreant in the control booth at Mar-a Lago? We are witness to America metastasizing against America, our defense subverting itself.

It could be that my connectivity is not really on the attack but merely stretching into unknown regions, misbehaving beyond its prescribed mission. I enjoy reaching for threads even if I fall on my face in the reach. And I even embrace that word, undifferentiated. My connectivity carries with it the possibility of astonishment

Just as I have an excess of antibodies who don’t know what to do with themselves and became inflammatory trouble-makers so, too, this country carries a swollen Pentagon budget ripe for foreign misadventures. Many of the rioters were ex-soldiers trained to follow orders without questioning along with an appetite for violence.

As for these domestic terrorists, our nation needs some sort of immunosuppressant, a massive dose of good sense, for redressing grievances and the fright behind the loathing. One might hope there would be a wish to reclaim one’s autonomy and reverse their abdication to a pseudo authority with self-serving sociopathic ambitions. 

We have met the enemy and they are us.




Monday, January 3, 2022

It's Your (My) Movie

You enter the dark theater with dilated eyes which do not yet see, the movie has already started. It’s your movie with a cast of thousands as they used to say. An epic almost eighty-nine years in the making. You’ve aged more than a bit but you are still the leading man.

Spencer Tracy is impersonating your father but he can’t quite. Your mother may be a loud Shelley Winters or Ethel Merman playing to the last row in the balcony. She’s in combat and she’s scared. She hasn’t heard the war is over.

You have dodged the usual movie maladies, the cough that was T.B., the headache that would become a tumor which killed your dear friend, that one more for the road your brother died with in his bloodstream.

You aren’t the second banana in this film or the guy who refused to lay low till the heat’s off and did a stretch in the big house taking the rap for packing a rod.

And you aren’t the sheriff who nabbed the cattle rustlers in the bar room brawl. But you have your eye on the schoolmarm.

As the arc on the big screen begins to sag (I don’t know why you say goodbye) you find your eyes and your heart. You find Peggy. (I say Hello.) Now it’s the greatest love story never told. It’s the first meeting twenty-five years after the first non-meeting. That intersection at the poetry reading, ordained. Can the camera catch the intervals, this change of pronouns? My needless dithering? Your knowing? Our meshing? The devotion in our dailiness? Can the language of cinema convey how we lived in a country off the map and knew when to not speak as our silences grew more articulate?

Knowing how to live prepared her for knowing how to die. Up so floating many bells down…She reaped her sowing / and went her came / sun, moon, stars, rain.*

Hello again. The movie is not altogether done. Maybe the credits are rolling but I'm still up there on the big screen behind the cameo roles, the gaffer and the grip. That's me getting a grip.

* e.e.cummings, Anyone Lived In a Pretty How Town