Saturday, April 30, 2022

Color Wheel

Streets lavender with sudden jacarandas

lavish in their deceptive beauty 

of sticky, slippery flowers

cursed and extolled at once

exploding in loud declamations

of excess, purple as prose

hard to sweep from driveways of the mind

as those distant shadows of Ukraine

artillery gray with splotches of red hemorrhaging

each day a dark and stormy night

amber waves of wheat gone to

land mines and convoys in dark white smoke

while yellow trails of missiles scissor

blue skies seen through open roofs

against a green yearning

for return to the orange havoc of spring

and the unconditional victory of grass

along with apples and artichokes bursting

their baskets and bins in all their grandeur 

in this great spinning of the wheel.  

Wednesday, April 27, 2022

Radio Days

I’ll never know whether times were simpler then or it was just the innocence of my simplistic eyes. We could close them and conjure the pie in Ma Perkins’ oven or Jack Armstrong paddling down the Amazon dodging poison darts and leaping piranhas.

We memorized the Art Deco pattern of the speaker behind which the voices intoned. Roosevelt said fear not, even as the Shadow knew what evil lurked in the hearts of men. Eighty years later I think Lamont Cranston’s Shadow had it right. I don't believe anything anything has lurked since then.

In 1938 Orson Welles and his ensemble broadcast a version of War of the Worlds. He reported at Martian landing by a spaceship in New Jersey This was the birth of fake news which Fox now cultivates in their plantation.

I was, of course, a mere slip of a lad. I took great pleasure in the thrill of expectation, fulfilled. The world could be relied upon when Fibber McGee opened the door of his hall closet and the warehouse of civilization tumbled out. I knew the routines of Benny’s vault or Allen’s Alley and believed the ranking of top tunes on the Make Believe Ballroom show, unaware of payola. 

Trust was the operative word. We never doubted that Edgar Bergen’s lips didn’t move when Charlie McCarthy or Mortimer Snerd spoke. They probably held beauty pageants and we imagined Miss America. I visualized ball games; I could even smell the green grass and hot dogs. If it started to rain in Cincinnati, did I open my umbrella in New York? I wouldn't put it pass me. 

Blessed are those of us suckled by radio. It was a tonic for communal imagination. Our auditory faculty was extended until television came along which reset the ratio of our senses. In the same way the web of the computer screen with its collage of blurts, emojis and phrases is displacing print technology, for better or for worse.


Sunday, April 24, 2022

The Real Story

When I wrote my last blog I was just having some fun, or so I thought. Several friends took it to be true and in a strange way that made me realize I was reliving an actual event from forty-one years ago which I had consigned to a locked chamber.

In 1980 I opened a pharmacy in a medical building. I liked telling people my mother named me after the store, Norm’s Pharmacy. It is still there in Tarzana. The new owners from Odessa, in 1997, choose to keep the name even though it has become a Russian-speaking pharmacy.

One afternoon I was held up by a rather crazed gunman who ordered me on the floor with his weapon at my head. He wanted cocaine and all the opiates.

At this point my deaf daughter, Janice, walked in. First, she thought I was searching for my contact lenses. The man with gun told her to get down. I had to explain that she could not hear him as he grabbed her and threw her to the floor next to me.

She started crying in panic. The gunman had a wild look in his eye so my job was to assure my daughter and calm the bad guy. I had no inclination to challenge him. I'd rather be remembered for longevity than bravado on the police blotter. I gave him everything he wanted and he left happily, I suppose.

About six weeks later he returned calling me by name as if we were old chums. This time my other daughter Lauren happened to be there. Again, he wanted cocaine and I had to convince him I did not reorder it but I’d give him the narcotics so it shouldn’t be a wasted trip. When police showed up the following week, Lauren and I identified him from dozens of photos. She then went off to college up north.

Two months later I was called to the police station to pick him out of a lineup. He had held up about ten pharmacies so there were many witnesses like me. Three of us picked the wrong guy. I knew him as a white man with an abundant afro. However, this was apparently a wig. In fact, he was practically bald. He was also shorter than I had remembered; the gun added six inches to his height. Fortunately, there were enough eyes to arrest him. I’ve always wondered if I had picked the desk sergeant.  

He was convicted at court and sent away to Folsom. Two years later Lauren noticed our man’s photo in the Sacramento Bee. He was petitioning for early release so he wouldn’t die in prison from AIDS. Lauren wrote a letter saying he was still a menace as a drug addict.

All this felt like a B-movie script. Life sinks to that level sometimes. His name was Corlan Keller. He died in Folsom. I had many reasons to retire from pharmacy. This was one of them.

Life lesson: There are times when traumatic truth lies embedded in wit.

Thursday, April 21, 2022

Hold-Up

(A product of my fevered imagination)

The man in front of me is one of the enlightened, I’m thinking, his nose and mouth are well covered. In fact, his whole head is covered in a ski mask and I didn’t notice any snow outside. He has just locked the door. All I’m here for at the bank is a roll of quarters. The laundry is in the rinse cycle and I need four quarters for the dryer.

The voice under the mask tells everyone to get down on the floor and shut up. He doesn’t say, This is a stick up. If he had used those words it would be a giveaway that he watches old Jimmy Cagney movies on TCM.

He is waving his gun. No, I can’t describe the weapon but I’ll take his word for it. I don’t know an Uzi from a water pistol. It’s just a gun as opposed to a bow and arrow. One of those phallic symbols called packing a rod in Hollywood.

He tells the teller to hand over all her twenties and above. He doesn’t say, denominations, which would have meant he wasn’t in a remedial English class.

The teller is frozen, pondering whether to press the panic button. I’m thinking NO, that will bring the police with helicopters and I’ll be a hostage, a human shield. I’ve never thought of myself as a shield before. I’m not fond of near-death experiences.

The ski mask is sweating. Give him the money already and get him out of here so I can dry my clothes. My pajamas will develop mildew.

The teller is behind bulletproof glass, still hesitating, probably wondering if it is really bulletproof. I’m wondering if I’m being recorded by the surveillance camera. I’m overdue for a haircut and probably should have got my nose fixed years ago. He shoots out the camera. I’m impressed. Should I be planning my afterlife or rehearsing some pithy last words that might go viral for the news cycle?

He's getting agitated as if up on cough syrup and cappuccino. If I survive the police will want a description. Were they Levi's or Wrangler'sWhat about his sneakers? Nike's or Reebok's?

I wonder if he has a getaway car with the engine humming. I’m trying to remember if Bonnie was Clyde’s driver or if they did their bank jobs together. Everyone needs a hobby.  A lot of extras got their start being gunned down. Imagine acting as a corpse. Hey Mom, I just got my first break in Hollywood.

Finally, a teller at the merchant window slips a stack of twenties under the glass. I’m thinking they must be marked bills with a GPS embedded in Andrew Jackson’s mane. The manager on the floor next to me yells, now go as if that hadn’t occurred to the gunman.

As he heads for the door he steps on my hand. Sorry man. His mother had taught him manners. Maybe he just wants to pay off his student loan. A simple matter of redistributing the wealth. Now his footprints are on my finger prints. Exhibit A. 

Saturday, April 16, 2022

Cruel and Buoyant

It's that time again. Call it the vertical rise of Easter or the horizontal trek out of bondage called Passover. For me it's Home Alone. I wouldn't know how to paint an egg or how to behave at a Seder table. Dare I say I would squirm given the Israeli oppression of Palestinians? Liberation cuts both ways. 

I contend the real holiday in April is National Poetry Month. Both the Jesus and Exodus stories are fables which some of us pretend to take literally. It's not a bad thing to worship what were once poems, metaphors for the emergent spring with a sax in the foxglove and trumpet in the daffodil. Any reason to be buoyant is good enough for me.

Buoyancy may be wrong word since T.S. Eliot tagged April as the cruelest month in the opening line of The Wasteland. How did he know? I suppose human folly can always be counted upon. Cruel indeed as the shock of awakening brings us unfulfilled expectations. Referencing that crime against humanity we call World War I, April was the month when military action began again wasting a generation of young men.

Perhaps it was Eliot's rejection of all myths, pagan and pious, surrounding spring. Could it be he is saying we are on our own in this pilgrimage? What appears to be calm and joyful with certitude gives way to ignorant armies clashing in the night (Matthew Arnold, Dover Beach).

On the other hand (there's always another hand) what can hurt by conjuring the season's burst of renewal celebrating its razzle-dazzle? We might follow Emily Dickinson down a lane of yellow leading the eye / into a purple wood / whose soft inhabitants to be / surpass solitude.

If happiness is fleeting it becomes our purpose in life to catch it. Jane Kenyon put it this way: Happiness is the uncle you never knew about / who flies the single engine plane / onto a grassy landing strip, hitchhikes / into town and inquires at every door / then finds you asleep in mid-afternoon / as you do so in the unmerciful / hours of your despair.

Leave it to Robert Frost to remind us how the sun lets go / ten million silver lizards out of snow...But if I thought to stop the wet stampede / and caught one single lizard by the tail.../ I have no doubt I'd end by holding none. The second stanza brings in how the wizard moon turns the swarm to rock and holds them all until day, / one lizard at the end of every ray. / The thought of me attempting such a stay.

Both Eliot and Frost allow the shadow side. Whatever stay he hears among its fractured and uncertain world would be a momentary one. But moments strung together are all we have. If April is cruel so is all emergent life. It is and it isn't. We can all be poets alert to layers of meaning inherent in everything. All light is available light.

As for Testaments one and two I regard them as enduring poems, nothing less. The Israeli newspaper, Haaretz put it this way: There is no evidence to suggest Jews were ever enslaved in Egypt in large numbers. They most certainly did not build the pyramids. When they arrived in the Promised land they, too, enslaved the Canaanites. It was the custom of the day. 

Jesus and Moses went up the hill to fetch the Word. Too bad the eleventh commandment wasn't: It's OK to eat shellfish but not OK to hold slaves.

As a footnote to the above, last night I watched a a most poignant and artful movie, Mr. Harvey Lights a Candle, on Amazon. I regard my immersion into this film as my own religious experience. I would even call it poetic. Rather than a tall tale meant for one tribe to cohere while vilifying the other here was a story striking a universal chord.

Wednesday, April 13, 2022

The Toll

Ask not for whom the bell.

The dental assistant becomes a sniper.

Greengrocers and florists stop the convoy.

Destroyed tanks smolder among the crops.

Kyiv defended by librarians, accountants and teachers.

Unlived lives reduced to a number among body bags.

A headless doll found in the rubble.

Bombing his own with incendiary lies.

Ignorant soldiers looking for WW II Nazis.

Time itself has been struck running counter-clockwise into decades past .

Grass turns to blades.  

Neighbors in Brighton Beach, no longer speaking.

Baby carriage from Potemkin rolls down steps again.

Soft skin in his palm hardened into a fist.

War Crimes a redundancy.

 Civil War an oxymoron.

Innocence buried in the rubble.

Up from the shelters they danced a ferocious tango.

Bombs from 10,0000 ft. answered by painted eggs hatching.

 

 

Monday, April 11, 2022

Movie Moments, Real and Imagined

Won’t you sit down? 

I think this went onto the cutting room floor about fifty years ago. I’d never heard it said in real life.

 

I’m walking here, I’m walkin.

Ratso Rizzo (Dustin Hoffman) slamming a taxicab, stopping traffic in Times Square to cross the street. I wouldn’t advise trying this on the 405 but he is the least among us, those words an anthem for the marginalized.

 

Shall we risk the trifle? 

Delivered to Jean Moreau by Joan Plowright, in a half-giggle, conspiring over high tea, both no longer young. Naughty, naughty. 


I want to say one word to you, Benjamin. Plastics. 

You mean those plastics that have clogged our oceans and choked our fish. The plastics disallowed in markets in favor of canvas bags, replaced by paper straws. That plastic!

 

Such a spot of bother.

Words which could have come of out of the mouth of Lord Grantham in Downton Abbey when told his valet was arrested for dubious reasons.

  

The problems of three people don’t amount to a hill of beans.

So said Bogey to a bewildered Ingrid, the words having been written by the Epstein brothers at a stop sign on their way to the studio, nowhere near Casablanca.

 

I like to talk to a man who likes to talk.

Sydney Greenstreet speaking to Bogey in the Maltese Falcon, followed by an enormous belly laugh filling the room while Peter Lorre mutters something inaudible.

 

There is a specialist in Vienna who has developed an experimental surgery. It’s our only chance.

The bearded doctor with a monocle declares success as he removes the bandages to the chagrin of the greedy nephews imagining new-found riches unaware the rich mogul has left his fortune to his pet turtle.

 

It’s not what it looks like. I can explain everything.

Actually, it is what it looks like, Cary. It’s about time you and Grace or Audrey or Eva Marie came clean. Suave and debonnaire can take you just so far.

 

Now look here waiter, I asked you for more Pinot Noir ten minutes ago. Do you realize who you’re talking to? I’m the guest of honor in charge of North American Operations.

I heard you. Do you realize who you are talking to? I’m Vito, the sommelier, in charge of the wine cellar.

 

We have to talk.

Uh, oh, this can mean only one thing and it isn’t about the burnt toast; more like your life is about to become toast.

 

You’re probably wondering why I called you all here today.

Brace yourself for a transfer to South Dakota where that raise promised eleven years ago will never happen.

 

How long has it been since your last confession?

Trump: I never confess to anything. If I replace your old organ and repair the stained-glass window will that buy me absolution?

 

 

 

 

 

Thursday, April 7, 2022

My Father's Father

How he made his way, 130 years ago,

from there to here. There,

being this very spot in today’s newspaper

fertilized by dead bodies

in the indifferent spin of seasons.

 

How he hid from the clean chin and moustache,

buried himself in a cellar of potatoes,

how he got here riding a shoot

of the potato, swallowing his scream,

boots across the nonsense of borders.

How he staggered into steerage.

 

I know this because no one ever spoke of it.

I know it as the truth of my imagining.

I heard all the silence of the sorrows

my father had swallowed

yet how gentle he was as if sprouted from weeds.

He bloomed between thorns.


Now the children's children 

of Cossacks are falling

from clean, shiny mines and bombs

in the cyclic atrocity of history

while others are huddled in cellars.

Do they hear echoes of hooves overhead?

Have they visions of black tubers or know

of their fallen on top of the bearded fallen?

Can new light, briefly gorgeous, emerge 

through the shrapnel of thorns?

  

 

 

 

 

Tuesday, April 5, 2022

Enough With the Slap

Watching the self-congratulatory Oscars got me imagining how I might be sitting there among the nominated few rehearsing my spontaneous remarks­, and my aw-shucks moment when my name is called.

I’d probably klutz my way to the stage wondering how the losers were coping with the crumpled speeches in their tux or purses which we will never hear. Am I hearing myself being silently cursed, how the studio practically bought my Oscar with all those billboards and full-page ads?

Of course, I must feign equal parts shock, humility and chutzpah. It’s all theater, after all and there’s only one take. I’ll say I wasn’t prepared for this but I was in the neighborhood anyway so I just dropped in.

Then I’d better drop the names of my fellow actors whom I barely put up with on the set. I wouldn’t want to get a karate chop to my kishkes for neglect. I know everyone at my table was high on coke or meth anxious to party through the night and a few are already in anger management programs.

Actually, I’ve been rehearsing this moment for years since I started out as an extra in crowd scenes and worked my way up as a dead body with a tag on my toe trying not to giggle as the coroner cracked a joke. 

How I got a speaking part I’ll never know but I want to thank the best boy, gaffer and the grip. I never got it straight who gaffed and who gripped. And then there is my favorite person, the caterer without whom I might be mistaken for a cadaver back in the morgue.

Finally, I’d have to thank my loving family, especially my daughters who have done well in life by knowing when to ignore my advice. I told them not to stay up so late even though they are pushing  sixty or beyond. And a shout out to the dog I never had  and to Jack, my doppelganger; when I'm thirsty, he drinks. Special thanks also to my 4th grade teacher who cast me as Miles Standish rather than the turkey in the Thanksgiving play.

The music is playing and two goons are approaching to drag me off the stage. I have no parting zinger anyway.

I called my sister later to tell her the good news. She said, Do what you have to do.  

 

 

 

Saturday, April 2, 2022

Life On Hold

I’m glad my call is important to you but apparently some things are more important.

I'm happy to hear he’s away from his desk right now. We all need a break know and then.

No, I don’t know his extension.

Should I be congratulating you now that your menu has changed?

I’m sure you’re experiencing a high call volume. Have you considered hiring more staff?

I’ll go with jazz for now. Can I change my mind after a while?

No, I can’t call back between midnight and three.

I already went to your website. That’s why I’m calling.

I’ve given you the last four numbers of my Social Security now you want to know my favorite movie? I can only say my least favorite is Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

Now, you’re telling me your mailbox is full.

Wait, don’t hang up.

I’ve been waiting so long I’ve read the entire newspaper, the weather report in Asia, the police blotter and the obits. For a minute I thought I spotted my name.

Perhaps I was abandoned as a child and you've opened up the old wound.

The grandchildren have grown up. I’ve got the Neptune Society on the other line.

If you’ve changed your menu again, I’ll have the chef’s salad.

Now I’ve forgotten why I called.

I think it had something to about paramedics coming over. I couldn’t manage to perform a Heimlich maneuver on myself.

Yes, I know my call will be answered in the order it was received. I am trying to get on your queue in case something happens the day after tomorrow.