But the streets in winter (at least in Manhattan) are wind tunnels, turning a gust into a gale, which is chilly at best and painfully frigid at worst. The subway stations are grimy (as we step off the train in Chinatown and are hit with the overpowering odor of urine, Ry notes, 'Damn, it's not usually this bad'). The general brusqueness of the populace, while refreshing for a brief while, soon wears on me; I don't need the counter girl in a coffee shop muttering words of malediction simply because I've asked for a glass of water. And, really, there's too much grey.
So as much as I miss my New York-based friends, as much as I love the city's culture, and as much as I'm happy to visit, I'm reminded of why I am so enamoured of the West coast. I won't be leaving it anytime soon.
You are a free person and you are used to waking up every morning single, dear Cancer. But today, you will be confronted with commitment. Indeed, this period will incite you to change your life. The time has come to change your sentimental life. The times are difficult and you must make the right decisions in order to find your equilibrium.
"We asked her what on earth she was doing, why she was crouching down like that," she said. "Her reply was that they had been trained to do it, so that they could be on the same level as their customers." '
Thanks but no thanks (or perhaps Cheers but nae), said Hazel and her meal mates. Serve us; don't be our friend.
It's no secret that American-style shop and restaurant service doesn't necessarily translate well in the rest of the world (Safeway's policy in the US that employees must walk you to any item whose location you ask about would surely send Europeans fleeing). But, as the article notes, surely there's a middle ground to be found between our in-your-face style and the UK's ask not what your clerk can do for you style; I would gladly go for a touch of the latter (especially in clothing stores), while the comments at the end of the BBC piece suggest that Brits wouldn't mind a taste (a taste, mind) of the former.
It's odd that we're so infamously treacly in matters of commerce and dining while we're such assholes in matters of everything else. Such as, say, our current administration's attempts at world domination.
A coalition of Canadian peace groups called Rooting Out Evil has announced its intention to send an international team of volunteer weapons inspectors into the United States later this winter. A recent press release explains the group's decision:
'"Our action has been inspired by none other than George W. Bush," said Christy Ferguson, a spokesperson for the group. "The Bush administration has repeatedly declared that the most dangerous rogue nations are those that:
1) have massive stockpiles of chemical, biological, and nuclear weapons; 2) ignore due process at the United Nations; 3) refuse to sign and honor international treaties; and 4) have come to power through illegitimate means.
"On the basis of President Bush's guidelines, it is clear that the current U.S. administration poses a great threat to global security," said Ferguson. "We're following Bush's lead and demanding that the U.S. grant our inspectors immediate and unfettered access to any site in the country - including all presidential compounds - so that we can identify the weapons of mass destruction in this rogue state," added David Langille.'
When so much of the news is dominated by the bluster-filled and hypocritical things Bush and his minions say, it's a breath of fresh air to know that people are making attempts (however improbable) to shine some light on all the things the US is fucking up. This seems like as good a place as any to start.
So I'm thankful, first and foremost, for the lives of Poppa and Nonnie (literally, where would I be without them?), and I'm thankful that those lives ended more or less painlessly and peacefully. It goes without saying that I'm thankful for the rest of my huge, crazy, adoring family, thankful for their incredible insistence on bearing me up when I needed it most this year, thankful for the time I've been (and will be) able to spend with them.
I'm dazedly thankful for what seems to be the stubborn persistence of love, despite (or perhaps because of) the complications and messes and uncertainties that get in its way.
I'm thankful that when I sat down the other day to write out the invite list for my holiday party, I was pleasantly amazed by how quickly it grew long, a subtle but unmistakeable sign that however alone I might occasionally feel, I really am surrounded here by a sweet and ever-present group of friends. I'm further thankful for the knowledge that that list would grow exponentially were I to include friends who don't live here.
I'm thankful for how much of the world I've seen this year--the Mediterranean, the Corbieres, the wonders of Barcelona, the mountains of Slovenia, two Canadian provinces at the same time from the top of a mountain ridge--and how much there is to see in the years ahead.
And finally, finally, I'm thankful that Otis was dead right when he told me, sitting in the Bar on Castro at my lowest point this year, 'The human body is built to survive.' Indeed, it is so built, and this one, at least, is surviving. For that, Miss Manners, I am humbly, unquestionably grateful.
But truth be told, all of the thinking and moaning and grieving I've done about politics over the past few weeks has left me knackered, and I'm aching for a break. So I'll turn away from Bush, away from Iraq, away from the still-extant bin Laden, and will focus instead on turkey alternatives.
Indeed, after years of consuming Franklin's proposed national bird for Thanksgiving, the American populace is clearly clamoring for something new. Something slightly more exotic, perhaps, something surprising, perhaps something distinctly turkey-less. While some of my countrypeople may forego poultry (real or pseudo) altogether next week, opting for other flora or fauna, it seems entirely possible that those with access to a skilled (and willing) butcher and six hours of cooking time to kill will seriously consider a turducken, which Amanda Hesser described in detail in Wednesday's Times. (Dana and her band have shamelessly taken advantage of this cultural turducken zeitgeist with a song about the delicacy.)
Of course, those of us not inclined in the turkey (or duck, or chicken, or any combination thereof) direction might opt instead for the adorable and painlessly delectable Tofurky, complete with tempeh drumsticks, faux turkey gravy, wild rice stuffing, and--new this year!--a tofu jerky wishbone. Many a pleasant Thanksgiving meal have I spent in the company of a Tofurky, and this year's promises to be no exception. Val, Monique, and I will carve up our sweet little soy-based bird, dig into the stuffing, and give profuse thanks.
Rainey, who died last Friday, was the sheriff in Neshoba County, Mississippi, when, in 1964, three civil rights workers passing through the area disappeared. The three--Michael Schwerner, Andrew Goodman, and James Chaney--were part of the Freedom Summer Project, intended to help the state's black residents register to vote. On June 21, the three were stopped in Neshoba County on their way back from investigating a church fire, jailed for a few hours in Philadelphia, Mississippi, and then released. On their way out of town, Schwerner, Goodman, and Chaney were killed by the sheriff's deputy and a group of local men. (The murders were portrayed in both Mississippi Burning and the more accurate and engrossing Freedom on My Mind.)
In the days and weeks that followed, before an informant led the FBI to the men's bodies, buried and decomposing in an earthen dam, Rainey famously declared of the missing rights workers, 'If they're in Mississippi, they're just hiding out somewhere and trying to get a lot of publicity out of it.' After the bodies were found, the case was eventually brought to federal court (the state, not surprisingly, wouldn't touch it). Although Deputy Price and six other men were convicted of the crime, Rainey, widely suspected of involvement in the murders, was acquitted. After his term as sheriff ended in 1967, he became a security guard at a supermarket and a shopping mall. Historical evidence, investigations, and the testimony of several witnesses to the contrary, Rainey's son John, who still lives in Meridian, claims that his father was misunderstood: 'He was a good man. He had nothing to do with what happened that night.'
Myra Hindley, half of England's Moors murderers pair, died yesterday of a chest infection, after 36 years in prison. With her boyfriend Ian Brady, Hindley was responsible for the deaths of five children in northwestern England in the mid-60s. The killings were especially shocking for the youth of the victims (the oldest was 18), their sudden disappearances, and their grisly deaths--some of the victims were sexually abused, tortured, and buried in a remote moor.
After she was convicted and jailed, Hindley maintained that Brady had blackmailed her into helping him with the murders, threatening to kill members of her family if she didn't cooperate. In prison, she became a practicing Roman Catholic and received a humanities degree; she also admitted that 'my conscience will follow me to my dying day' (we may be dead and we may be gone/but we will be right by your side/until the day you die/this is no easy ride).
But, as the Times notes in its obituary, she also 'insisted that she had paid her debt to society, and she yearned to be released. "I know I could be out one week before someone assassinated me," she said. "But at least I would have had a week of freedom."'
Despite the volunteer work he did with his troop, and despite the fact that many adults considered him a role model for and leader of the younger boys, the heads of the BSA's Chief Seattle Council deemed Darrell, a college freshman and an athiest since 9th grade, unfit to be a scout unless he took the opportunity they gave him: find God within a week. (One of the Council's heads, evidently blind to the utter irony, said of the case, 'The 12th point of the Scout Law is "reverent," and that includes being faithful in your religious duties and respecting the beliefs of others.')
Much to his credit, Darrell did not take his elders up on the offer, and now he--like openly gay scouts and others the BSA deems undesirable--finds himself unwelcome in the organization he so clearly adored.
It's true that the Boy Scouts, as a private organization, is free to allow and ban whomever it sees fit. But as the Times noted in a recent article on the case, 'As for the other 11 points of the Scout Law, [a BSA spokesman] could not say whether anyone had been ejected for being untrustworthy, disloyal, unhelpful, unfriendly, discourteous, unkind, disobedient, cheerless, unthrifty, cowardly, or sloppy.'
We Americans botch our holidays something fierce: we treat them as either parameters for the summer season (Memorial Day and Labor Day), excuses for gluttony (Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year's Eve), or encouragement for shopping (absolutely every other holiday, including President's Day and Martin Luther King's birthday). And while I can't say definitively that Canadians are immune from those ills (especially as they have a mind-bogglingly greater number of holidays than we do), I can say that four days in Vancouver this week revealed to me thousands of poppied lapels, several newspaper articles about the country's war dead, printed invitations to join in memorial services, and not a single solitary godforsaken advertisement using Remembrance Day as a sales pitch.
I'm sure there are Americans who will treat tomorrow as the day it was intended to be, just as I'm sure there are Canadians who won't do much by way of actual remembrance. But I can't help feeling that there's something American culture has ruined irreparably by allowing its holidays, whether joyous or reverent or some combination thereof, to stray so far from their original intents. We've lost things of great value, and have gained only marketing tools. That's a sad and sorry trade-off.
I want to believe he was (and is) right, but in the face of so much political bleakness, that seems a tall order. As of January, the US will have a Republican president, a Republican-led Congress (both houses), and a judicial branch that will likely list increasingly to the right. Nevada has voted to ban gay marriage. A majority of our states will soon have Republican governors. Even San Francisco--supposedly fucking liberal San Francisco--has voted with pseudo-Republican, Willie Brown-picked, supremely offensive supervisor Gavin Newsom to stop giving its homeless residents the support they need.
So now what? What's left (literally and figuratively) in a country that has swung so head-spinningly far to the right? Do those of us who still believe in things like corporate responsibility, social services, and equal rights have to wait until the Republicans in power destroy everything so fully and completely that American voters start electing their officials based not on some shoddy idea of national security or wartime sympathy but rather beliefs, actions, and policies? Do we fight back (increasingly for naught, or so it seems)? Or is it finally, finally, finally time to just go? I'm sure Dana has saved the link to the online Canadian immigration guide, which we pored over back when our current head of state was appointed; it's awfully tempting to flee to Francesca in Toronto with the same degree of fervor and desperation she once had to stay in the US.
Now more than ever, I can say with an alarming degree of certainty that my country does not speak for me. My state (despite its narrowly re-elected Democratic governor, who's an idiot in his own right) does not speak for me. Even my city does not speak for me. And although I know I still have a voice, it's hard to keep shouting above the din of self-interest, delusions of grandeur, war mongering, love of the wealthy and severe hatred of the poor, and heartbreaking intolerance. After a while, after I've hollered myself hoarse, I'm afraid I'll find myself dejectedly, hopelessly silent.
But that's not really a complaint. Although the group of boys dressed as Jem and the Holograms last year did get the Jem theme song stuck in my head (yes, that is as painful as it sounds), I was amused by their antics outside my bedroom window late last Halloween, and couldn't even think of holding a grudge. More than anything else, the revelry in the Castro just seemed invigorating.
On November 1 last year, I dragged my tired self into the office and wrote this in an email:
'Unable to fall asleep last night because of the parade of cars and people past my window, I lay in bed and thought about what this year has brought, and what's still ahead in the next few months. And I know I say this in some form or other every other week, but when I finally did drift into sleep, I was left with a feeling of utter contentment and quiet promise.'
Reading that (not to mention everything else from last November) now sort of breaks my heart all over again. What I wouldn't give for the ability to fall asleep late tonight with even a fraction of that contentment, or a hint of that promise.
'A poem, Bloom wrote, was not an "overcoming of anxiety" but "an achieved anxiety." The struggle for meaning was the only meaning to be had. What's more, there was nothing sexual, or even psychological, about Bloom's theory. Bloom placed enormous emphasis on the difference between the poet-as-poet--what he called the "aboriginal poetic self"--and the human being who wrote poetry. "Anxiety" was not a psychological term. It was purely literary, having only to do with the relationship between one poem and another.'
I've finally moved on to Jonathan Franzen's piece in praise of difficult prose, and while it feels like slightly easier going, I still find myself grasping at his words, needing to work them over in my head again and again until they fall clear.
All of which has left me a bit depressed. Have I strayed so far from my academic past that I can no longer read even the lightest of literary theory without wanting to tear out my hair? Has my brain deteriorated so much from those days when I could sit in Mr. Chang's postcolonial postmodernism class and not only understand the concepts being bandied about but also throw thoughts of my own into the mix? Have years of writing basic instructional text completely ruined me for any sort of higher intellectual pursuit?
This terrifies me. I don't want my mind to go (sometimes it seems like it's all I have). I don't want to have to battle my way through The New Yorker (Harper's is one thing, but TNY?). I don't want to find myself capable of only discourse on page layouts and information flow, button naming conventions and standardized terminology. I want back what I was so sure I once had, and prized.
1.) At the request of Wellstone's sons, Dick Cheney did not attend. The official version of events says that the veep was asked to stay away because of logistical challenges, the need for added security (and Cheney always requires a level of security that seems excessive, even for someone in his position), and the whither-he-goest protestors that are his shadow.
The less official version, however, notes that Cheney, who helped get Wellstone's opponent into the race in the first place, would doubtless benefit from the publicity around his attendance at the memorial. To my mind, there is no politician in the U.S. today (with the possible exception of Ashcroft, and perhaps Dubya himself) who is less deserving of any sort of attention stemming from his attendance at such an event. Cheney is everything Wellstone was not--jaded, corrupt, power hungry, insensitive to everyone who is not cast of the same dye. If he's truly mourning the Senator's death (and I really can't imagine he is), let him do it in private, away from any camera that might catch him with a sympathetic expression on his face or any reporter who might extract from him some soundbite about how much he admired Wellstone's passion.
2.) The Times reports that the memorial included a video montage of a recent campaign commercial in which Wellstone said, 'Politics is not about power, politics is not about winning. [...] Politics is not about winning for the sake of winning. Politics is about the improvement of people's lives.'
And all I can think, in the wake of this death and in the face of another dismal election, is 'Would that it were. Would that it truly were.'
Over the past few days, we've had the following correspondence, a reminder both of our persistence (I can't go on. You can.) and of the strength of the net beneath me that has stopped short my fall.
From: Eric Wilska
Sent: Saturday, October 26, 2002 6:33 AM
To: Emily Wilska
Hi Em, Question. If a certain uncle heard through the family grape vine that life had given a bit of a kick in the ass to a certain niece and the uncle wanted to send a fairly good sized package to the certain niece to help assuage the ass (and heart) pain would the certain uncle send the package to the Sanchez address per usual and be assured that said package would arrive accordingly or to a different address? Just wondering.....
From: Emily Wilska
Sent: Sunday, October 27, 2002 10:54 AM
To: Eric Wilska
Subject: RE: package/Em
Answer: yes, the Sanchez address you have on file is indeed my latest and greatest, so anything sent to it will, sooner or later and given the vagaries of the USPS, reach me.
A certain niece got a bit teary reading an email from a certain uncle, so touched was she. Back in college, I read J.M. Coetzee's "Foe", and for some reason one simple line from it stuck in my head: "They say when trouble comes, close ranks." I've been thinking of that line over the past few weeks, marveling at how fully and completely my family and friends have rushed to surround and support me as things have fallen apart (and then fallen apart again). Now more than ever, I'm sad for what I've lost but immensely grateful for and in awe of all I still have.
From: Eric Wilska
Sent: Sunday, October 27, 2002 2:02 PM
To: Emily Wilska
Subject: Re: package/Em
So, ok, package to follow. And I think often of a line from Woody Allen. No J.M. Coetze, is he, but then again, he's no dummy (to quote Poppa) when he said, "the heart wants what the heart wants." It's always been a mystery to me how (and why) the heart lags so far behind our rational sense. We can figure it all out, apply all sorts of logic to matters of the heart, yet still, we look over our shoulder and there's our heart panting furiously to keep even step with our brain. It's pathetic, really. But while I don't have an explanation for the phenomenon, I can tell you, in my experience, at least, it always does catch up. And I mean always. Remember the Robert Frost quote from Cathy's eulogy? "The best way out is always through." I have no doubt that you'll emerge from this heartache a superior human being. In the meantime, take hot baths, watch the Marx brothers and eat chocolate. And if you'll permit me to close ranks around you closely enough to whisper in your ear, I say to you softly and confidently, "everything...will... be...all...right..." Love you, love you, love you, Uncle E
Why then, why there,
Why thus, we cry, did he die?
The heavens are silent.
What he was, he was;
What he is fated to become
Depends on us.
Remembering his death,
How we choose to live
Will decide its meaning.
When a just man dies,
Lamentation and praise,
Sorrow and joy, are one.
(W.H. Auden, Elegy for JFK)
You know the sort. You feel like you're dealing with things levelheadedly, and clearly, and rationally until The Thoughts come along and take up residence in your brain, front and center (or wherever the primary locus of concentration is), nearly obliterating all else. They don't let go until you manage, somehow, to purge them.
And sometimes that process takes the form of a message that you must sit down at your computer and write in a nonstop, keyboard-abusing blur, so impassioned are you with what you have to say. After you write such a message, you feel lighter, stronger, clearer, and you go about your day knowing you've won the battle against The Thoughts.
Unless you're me, that is, in which case you get only halfway through your day before the worries set in. You worry that what seemed like passion will come across as bluster. You worry that all of your attempts to set out rational arguments cushioned by honest caveats and admissions will seem just shrill and angry. And more than anything, you worry that the steps you'd seemed to be making in the right direction have now been completely undone by your clumsy backward stumbling.
But what's done is done, you remind yourself. You can't take back the message, even if the Recall feature in Outlook actually worked (which it doesn't). And although you think you may have botched the tone of your words or used 'fucking' one too many times, you're not entirely sure you'd completely want to take it back if you somehow could. You've said (however harshly) what something in you clearly needed to say, and you must find some comfort in that.
Besides, when you've already lost the war, what's the sense in trying not to lose more battles? You're done.
The passage ends with this:
'But that any of these things are misfortunes to him, is an addition which every one makes of his own. But (you say) God is unjust in this.--Why? For having given thee endurance and greatness of soul? For having made such things to be no evils? For placing happiness within thy reach, even when enduring them? For opening unto thee a door, when things make not for thy good?--Depart, my friend, and find fault no more!'
For placing happiness within thy reach, even when enduring [misfortunes.] As inclined as I am right now to wrap myself in layers of sadness, and as willing as I may generally be to accord others space for their own sadnesses whenever and however they arise, I refuse, in my stubborn, headstrong way, to believe that happiness is ever either truly out of reach or not worth reaching for.
I can't (obviously) claim to know much about the Stoics, but if even they were willing to concede the existence and accessibility of happiness, what's to keep us from doing the same? This is not a cry for self-centeredness, not an argument for the disregard of others or a full abdication of whatever responsibilities we may have in life, surely not a claim that happiness being within reach means it's something to be effortlessly snatched out of thin air.
Rather, it's a manifestation of my fierce belief that for all of its complications and difficult steps and imperfect choices, the quest for happiness--or true contentment, at the very least--is crucial to life (a twist, perhaps, on Auden's 'We must love one another or die').
I have put forth William Carlos Williams' line before: 'You cannot live and keep free of briars.' But now, more than ever, I understand: it is true, it is true, it is true.
The Ivy Crown (1950)
The whole process is a lie,
crowned by excess,
it break forcefully,
one way or another,
from its confinement--
or find a deeper well.
Antony and Cleopatra
they have shown
the way. I love you
or I do not live
is past. This is
the heart says,
and not even the full of it.
Though they will come
before our time
We are only mortal
but being mortal
can defy our fate.
by an outside chance
even win! We do not
look to see
jonquils and violets
but there are,
Romance has no part in it.
The business of love is
by our wills,
to live together.
It has its seasons,
for and against,
whatever the heart
fumbles in the dark
toward the end of May.
Just as the nature of briars
is to tear flesh,
I have proceeded
Keep the briars out,
You cannot live
and keep free of
Children pick flowers
Though having them
they have no further use of them
but leave them crumpled
at the curb's edge.
At our age the imagination
across the sorry facts
to make roses
stand before thorns.
love is cruel
and totally obtuse--
At least, blinded by the light,
young love is.
But we are older,
I to love
and you to be loved,
no matter how,
by our wills survived
the jeweled prize
at our fingertips.
We will it so
and so it is
past all accident.
(William Carlos Williams)
Here are the grasping reassurances Mom and I try out on each other on the phone tonight: she was 96, and lived a life beyond her own or anyone else's imaginings. She watched too many of her children die before her--Aunt Jo was the last straw--to want to stay around any longer. In the hospital today, she had a chance to make preparations for what she saw as the trip before her, and took communion, and was served last rites. We can't by any stretch call her death early or unjust.
But still, she's gone. The woman who was my mother's inspiration, and so much my own, is gone. My tough as nails Italian grandmother, who survived far more than I ever could (I mean, fuck, look at me now), my Nonnalina, is gone.
For her sake, I am grateful, as I was for Poppa's sake when he let go: finally, rest, and nothing more to fight. The sadness, I guess, is for those she left, Mom especially: a levelheaded view of this won't do much to dull her pain.
It seems we're all being forced to learn on our feet now: hold hard, let go, go on.
Arrivederci, Nonnie. Your Emmalina misses you already.
My first instinct was to say, with a tiny, aching laugh, 'Could you bottle that?' But I didn't--he likely wouldn't understand the English idiom, my Spanish isn't up to explaining it (my Spanish, in fact, is not up to much), and regardless, I didn't want to dilute his sentiment by trying to transfer it to someone else.
So instead I put on my sunglasses, hugged him, said as much of a 'Thank you' as I could get out before tears, and started my long walk home.
So Monique makes you dinner (when, at last, you are able to choke more than applesauce down) and coaxes from you your first laughter in days. Paula reminds you, One foot in front of the other and You're still strong at the core. Erfert offers a ride on her gentle blind horse (which, she says, will clear your mind of anything but the sudden realization that you are, in fact, on a blind horse), tells you that she's been where you are three times over her years and has lived to tell.
Dana, lately returned from a visit to Francesca in Toronto, gives you a KitKat and reminds you, You are here, alive, in front of me. Otis takes you out among the gay boys, buys you a ginger ale (sans whiskey this time), leads you to Walgreens to advise you on your tissue purchase ('No, baby, you need the ones with lotion. Blue box or green? Ooh, or peach?').
Val makes plans to take you to a documentary on a Fundamentalist Christian haunted house. Kris tells you she would banish heartbreak from the world if she could. Your wonderfully crazy design cohort Kumi, knowing only that something this week has made you sad, sends you a still from My Friend Totoro, a wordless reminder: there is so much rain, there is so much rain, but you have an umbrella, and you are not alone.
And when nothing else seems to work, you dig up Sylvia Plath's journal entry from August 22, 1952, and hope she was right:
"You have taken a drink from a wild fountain... 'and all the wells of the valley/will never seem fresh or clear/all for that drink of mountain water/in the feathery green of the year.' Not so, not so, for in parable the wells are sweet in their ripeness, and I will not cry forever, over the young wild spurting fountains--not forever."
I'm tired of writing, but am grasping around still for some true solace, for some tangle of words that will calm me for more than 15 minutes running. I think the following, by Li-Young Lee (Poet Most Likely to Express the Things I Can't, but Wish I Could), may do the trick.
From blossoms comes
this brown paper bag of peaches
we bought from the boy
at the bend in the road where we turned toward
signs painted Peaches.
From laden boughs, from hands
from sweet fellowship in the bins,
comes nectar at the roadside, succulent
peaches we devour, dusty skin and all,
comes the familiar dust of summer, dust we eat.
O, to take what we love inside,
to carry within us an orchard, to eat
not only the skin, but the shade,
not only the sugar, but the days, to hold
the fruit in our hands, adore it, then bite into
the round jubilance of peach.
There are days we live
as if death were nowhere
in the background; from joy
to joy to joy, from wing to wing,
from blossom to blossom to
impossible blossom, to sweet impossible blossom.
I think the lack of food is getting to me. I most certainly *do not* want to be the girl with the most cake--at least not today--because I know I couldn't keep it down. And Jed would be dismayed were she to learn of the waste of good cake.
Lessons Learned, Pt. 2
The way to pull yourself out of emotional chaos is not by going to see Koyaanisqatsi, even when it's a 35mm print on the big screen, accompanied by a live performance of the score by the Philip Glass Ensemble. It's an incredibly beautiful film, and the score is nothing if not epic, but together they're just heartbreakingly depressing. (Of course, they're meant to be, and thus have fully achieved their aim.) Anyone desiring (or needing to be force-fed) confirmation that the human race is well ensconced in the process of ruining what we've been given need look no farther than this film. While watching it, I could only think, Point taken. Point taken. Point taken.
And I admit that although I rushed out of Symphony Hall last night wishing desperately for levity and comedy, and although I woke up this morning, shaken, with the chants from the score running through my head, I'm glad I saw (and heard) it, if for no other reason than because it provided some much-needed perspective. This is not the worst it gets.
In short: no more telephone usage in the wake of multiple cocktails and/or solo dancing in the midst of couples and/or unchecked attempts at emotional analysis while not entirely cogent and/or rampant pining for boyfriend, because you will (there is no may about it) regret it heavily when you wake with a start at 6.30 the following morning.
So I've learned.
I'm sure others have risen from their ashes (while others, such as the brilliant T.W.I.N.K.I.E.S. Project, still live). But it's disappointing to lose some of the blissfully inane, pop culture-filled, gloriously irreverent pages of old. Sure, the ability to buy airline tickets, pay bills, keep a journal, and do all manner of constructive things online is great, but I think there also still need to be resources for the stupid shit people did when the Internet was still a novelty and it seemed like the best thing you could possibly do with it was post sound files of William Shatner singing the hits. So get out there and support your favorite homegrown, uneducational, fantastically silly web page; it just might be gone tomorrow.
In an effort to improve the English-speaking skills of residents and 'internationalize' his city, the mayor of Tainan in Taiwan has decreed that rubbish trucks should blare out English phrases over their loudspeakers. This novel way of getting people to work on their language skills is the brainwave of the mayor's wife - and now, instead of playing Beethoven symphonies as they used to in the past, the city's rubbish trucks teach conversational English.
The trucks announce their arrival with phrases such as 'How are you?' and 'I'm fine thank you. And you?' Some 300 separate phrases and sentences have been recorded for residents to work on, including some less frequently used ones such as 'How much is this cabbage?' By all reports, older members of the community have been a little mystified at what is being taught, although the mayor hopes that after a few months of putting out the rubbish, most of Tainan's elderly will have at least a basic grasp of English.
1.) A cab driver picks up a nun. She gets into the cab, and the cab driver won't stop staring at her. She asks him why he's staring and he replies, "I have a question to ask you but I don't want to offend you."
She answers: "My dear son, you cannot offend me. When you're as old as I am and have been a nun as long as I have, you get a chance to see and hear just about everything. I'm sure that there's nothing you could say or ask that I would find offensive."
"Well," says the cabbie, "I've always had a fantasy to have a nun kiss me."
She responds, "Well, let's see what we can do about that. But I have two conditions: #1, you have to be single, and #2, you must be a Catholic."
The cab driver is very excited and says, "Yes, I'm single and I'm Catholic, too!"
The nun says, "O.K., pull into the next alley." He does and the nun fulfills his fantasy. But when they get back on the road, the cab driver starts crying.
"My dear child," said the nun. "Why are you crying?"
"Forgive me sister, but I have sinned. I lied. I must confess: I'm married and I'm a Baptist."
The nun says, "That's O.K. I'm on the way to a Halloween party, and my name is Kevin."
2.) Duck walks into a hardware store. "Got any duck food?" he quacks. "Sorry, no," says the proprietor. Duck leaves.
Next day the duck is back. "Got any duck food?" "No," says the proprietor. "I told you before. We don't carry it."
Next day he's back again: "Got any duck food?" The proprietor glares at him. "Look, buddy, we don't sell duck food. We never have and never will. And if you ask me that one more time, I'll nail your little webbed feet to the floor."
Next day the duck is back. "Got any nails?"
"We're out of nails today," says the proprietor.
"Got any duck food?"
At work I find an email from Daryl waiting for me. He reports that while he and Shayne are generally happy in their Hawaiian idyll, they miss their friends and family back in the contiguous 48 and don't feel they've been able to make the connections with people that came so easily, relatively speaking, in San Francisco. ('We spend more time with fishes than we do with people,' D reports. 'It is good.')
And I turn on my phone to the triplicate beep of a voicemail message, which turns out to be from David, he of so many years ago and that one watershed summer. He and Ian are living in Mystic, he reports, which means that for all of their peripateticism of the past few years they've gone and wound up where they started. He called Mom and got my number, wants to know what I'm up to, wants me to get in touch. Which I will, soon, when I come up with something to say, some words to encapsulate the changes of the past nine years.
On Sinister, tucked into the middle of a story that's no less brilliant for being a non sequitur, someone writes this:
there is a loneliness that is not quantifiable in words. there is a loneliness that stems from the feeling of being somewhere that nobody else has ever seen. there is a loneliness that comes of drifting away from what you've been assured is real, never knowing if you'll come back into contact with it again. there is the loneliness of finding out you've been lied to. these are the causes, not the feeling itself. if words could befriend the feeling through expression, it would no longer be so lonely.
And although those words don't speak for me (this itch isn't loneliness, and to the best of my knowledge I'm not the recipient of any recent lies), they do, somehow, speak to me. I've been there, can sympathize, don't want to go back. And there's the key: I don't want to go back. What I'm longing for is the chance to find out--and to shape--what's ahead. Now it's just a matter of how.
Word of an opportunity named Cornell
wound its way down the country road,
reached the farm boy.
He traded dust-covered overalls,
plaid shirt, heavy boots
for chinos, a shirt crisp with starch,
Sunday shoes and a good cap,
piled into a car with friends to head north
to see ivy climbing brick walls,
a clock tower higher than anything he'd seen,
a town spread out at the feet of the hills.
The friends met with important men in suits and ties
who sat behind great oak desks,
wore specs, sucked on pipes.
Yes indeed, Cornell would be thrilled
to have some fine young men
from Old Chatham.
Tuition, you'll find, is quite reasonable.
Then hand-shaking and gracious
Thank you kindly, sirs.
The boys set off for home,
stopping at night to sleep
roadside, under the stars.
That night, he didn't dream of
his hands on udders,
or carrying warm buckets of milk,
hands blistered from the handle of a shovel
and stiff leather reins.
Didn't dream of counting
each penny over and over
until he was sure that the tuition was stored safely
in the collection of glass jars in his closet.
He dreamt instead of the greenest ivy,
of a clocktower touching the sky,
while a farm boy, a student, on a hill
beheld all the world stretched out at his feet.
And there were six months' worth of messages, sent between the day I switched from Pine(!) to Eudora and the day I switched from Eudora to Outlook, somehow archived without my knowledge. I've been reading through them over the past few days, a process that has allowed me (for better or worse) to reconstruct that period in my life job-wise, boy-wise, and friend-wise. It's sort of fascinating, I think, to look back on a you that you'd sort of forgotten.
Many of the messages are part of a continuous back-and-forth between my friend Monica and me. Monica was great--just endlessly fun, sarcastic, full of good humor and a true sense of adventure. She and Shayne and I fast became an inseparable triumvirate.
But then she decided to move to Alaska to be with her boyfriend Terry, whom she really dug, although Shayne and I could never figure out why. (He'd done a lot of assholic things to her in the past and did not, generally speaking, seem to be the sort of fellow one might move to frigid climes to be with.) She was leaving, and we were crushed. That disappointment translated to desperate (and, of course) useless attempts to get her to stay, mainly by dissing Terry but also by plaintively whining about what her departure would do to us.
And then, somehow, we realized we were making things worse. Better, it seemed, to let her leave as a friend than to risk alienating her and then losing her anyway. So I sat myself down and wrote this:
--that although the T word makes me squirm, I will not retch when I hear it, and I will remember that it is music to Monica's ears;
--that although nothing makes me more sad right now than to think that Monica will be gone in a week, I will remember that she's going not to make me depressed but to make herself happy;
--that although I want to do everything in my power to make her stay, I will send her off with my best wishes;
--that I will remember that I, too, picked up my life and moved to a totally different place, leaving behind people who loved me, and I will remember that we have all weathered this separation;
--that I will recognize that who we love may not always be who others love, or who others want us to love;
--that until Monica leaves, I will hold my peace in terms of her going, and if I cannot think of anything positive to say about Alaska or Terry, I will simply talk endlessly about myself.
That is all.
Love and kisses,
Reading those words again the other day reminded me of how much I miss Monica, and how sorry I was to see her go (although, ultimately, Alaska didn't work out, and she's gone on to do some amazing things). They also reminded me that the vows I made to Monica do hold--must hold--for my other friends, too, especially now that romance is in the air.
There's a fine and difficult line (I think of piano wire, or a laser) between what we hypothetically want for our friends and how well we're able to deal when they get it. It's entirely too easy for me to allow a friend's gain (especially in the relationship arena--more time as someone's amour=less time as my friend, dammit) be my loss. Because that's not how it works--or not entirely. There must be--and can be--a balance between holding hard and letting go. I found it with Monica; I just need to find it again now.
A highlight from the Times' coverage of this important news story:
'Adding insult to injury, the space agency said Mr. Bass, 23, would be replaced on the October mission by a cargo container.'
In Praise of the Passion Mark
First the unintentional: raspberry
blush, many-speckled lights,
and the message: oops, sorry.
Then the hard mark of the all-nighter,
a true Hoover, a hole black as leather,
daring you to plummet.
We were dancing, it just happened,
she said, helplessly sentenced
to a week of turtlenecks
in May, in the sticky South. The frozen
spoon failing, she took a curling iron
to her neck and still her mother knew
the mix of teeth and lips and love.
Alone, she admired her shoulder's
violet smear: she was wanted
and had wanted. She'd have it
needled and inked, a permanent
badge of desire, a license for love.
And when the plaid-clad chem teacher
appeared with his bright bruise,
news traveled fast: wanting
does not die after all, after age,
one sort of taking in does not
supersede another. Go
for the jugular. We cannot
But Frontline's Faith and Doubt at Ground Zero is not, admirably and thankfully, among said worst. Rather, it's a truly thoughtful and undeniably thought-provoking look at a variety of answers to the question, 'Where was God on September 11?'
A Catholic Monsignor explains how he knew immediately upon hearing of the attacks in New York that religion was behind them. A photographer looking at images of people jumping from thousands of feet to their death wonders whether they saw heaven beneath them as they leapt. Some parents who lost children tell how they've come to accept those losses as God's or Allah's plan. Marian Fontana, whose firefighter husband died in the towers, admits that she's given up on God, at least for now.
All told, the program is a stunning look at what seems to me one of the key questions of that day: how can faith answer for such an inconceivable horror? (Or can it?) In the process, it gives space to anger, and hope, and severe doubt--space that I imagine few other September 11 tributes in the American media will allow.
So thank goodness for Erfert, who has shared with us one of the many reasons she loves San Francisco:
'Last night Mendy and I had a few drinks at our favorite bistro on Chestnut Street. When we walked outside, we ran into a very seedy-looking fellow in a Winnie the Pooh costume, who was lounging around outside a bar and smoking a cigarette. I looked him up and down and said "What's with you?" He replied, with a world-weary air, "Pooh's lost his edge, sweetheart." "I'll say!" I said. Mendy, for once in his life, said nothing. Then an even seedier guy in a Tigger suit came out of the bar, and I knew it was time to leave. So we did.'
Then Melissa pipes up with a recommendation for a site that allows you to create a miniature Lego version of yourself. If that's not a cause for cheer, what ever could be?
Once again, the TEAM pulls through and the forces of slightly bizarre amusement prevail.
While putting laundry on his desk that January day, I noticed an envelope addressed, in Poppa's hand, to Greg. Actual mail from our grandfather being a rare thing indeed, I had to be the snooping little sister and read the letter, which left me in tears as I slipped it back into its envelope and replaced it. Here's what it said:
'OK og [only grandson, which, at the time, he was], here's the 40 bucks for your application to Syracuse. I only expect one thing from you and that is to try. There is no shame in losing--only if you don't try. You have Finnish blood in you and we have a motto--SiSu. As you grow older and wiser you will understand what it is. Love from Poppa.'
I'm standing in the middle of the Calgary airport yesterday, trying to dodge the hordes of passengers swirling around me, blurry in my eyes, while Dad tells me the news over the phone. He went peacefully, he says, and without pain. We were all there with him until the end. We held him and told him how much we loved him. He was tired, Em, and it was time for him to rest.
Between tears that are suddenly threatening to break me (but I can't let them, not here and not now), I murmur, I know, I know, I know. And I want that knowing to make the loss easier, but it doesn't. Not yet, at least.
I dreamt of Poppa on Tuesday night, in one of the small pockets of rest I got. He wasn't like he usually is in my dreams--strong and lucid and laughing. Rather, he seemed weaker, and his speech, when he spoke at all, was understandable but slurred (although he still said intelligent things). The last image I recall is him leaning wearily against a wall in a hallway somewhere and then, finally, falling straight back onto the floor. No one lifted him up, although I remember hoping they would. They seemed to know something I didn't.
In Pat Wallace's English class freshman year, we read Rita Dove's Thomas & Beulah, her paean to her grandparents, then wrote poems about our own families. I wrote one each about Gommy and Poppa, and considered those pieces among the best poetry I'd ever been able to create (a relative measure, to be sure). I tried to find Poppa's poem this morning, sat on my bedroom floor and dug through files, journals, folders. I came across papers, my thesis, every film analysis I wrote in four years of college--but no poem. I will keep looking. I'm convinced it's here, and in the absence of anything else to cling to, I need it.
Poppa was imperfect, sometimes deeply flawed, but still our cornerstone, deeply loved and (sometimes achingly) admired. I love him, and fretfully miss him, and only wish I had the chance to tell him so before he left.
But then we stop for gas, and across the street, swinging from the front of a shuttered cafe, is the sign again. J fuels up as I grab my camera and traverse the parking lot for a better look.
And, well, damn. Sure enough. Hausbrandt coffee advertises its wares with an anthropomorphic coffee pot that's either self-referential or cannibalistic (or perhaps both). I snap a few photos and head back to the Golf.
But that's not to be the last of it. The sign shows up again on a cafe in a Ljubljana alleyway, then on sugar packets resting in wait on a table when we stop for coffee, then again as we round a corner. It's just there, its subject smiling blisfully as it tips its head (?) back and prepares to drink deeply. Of itself.
While our president vaguely admits that global warming is an actual problem but follows that with the defensive stance that Americans should do nothing to change their ozone-wrecking ways, our European brethren drive ever-smaller cars and pay a premium for their petrol.
While we're almost willful in our waste of water, those across the sea (and, I'm told, the Japanese before them) have created toilets that one can half-flush or stop mid-flush, using only enough water to get the job done.
I won't even start on Europe's relative lack of chain restaurants, or the superior quality of their fast-ish food across the board, or the fact that a proper coffee is taken casually at a bar and does not cost a small fortune--all too hackle-raising to get into.
There are annoyances: diesel is pervasive, smoking is (mind-blowingly, to the American mind) permitted everywhere, and the toll system on the autoroutes is incomprehensible at best. But for the most part, I'm still left with the impression that despite the US's bluster and overweening pride, our quality of life doesn't match up to that of Europeans. There's a good deal we could learn if only, for a few moments, we'd shut up and listen.
We will soon endeavor to escape from these madding crowds, from the umbrella vendors and the ponchoed tour groups and the buses belching up diesel fumes. Barcelona is an amazing city, but this is not the best perspective from which to see it. (Standing hunched under an awning last night while the city exploded in rain and the street lights snapped off was a better, if still imperfect, vantage point.) I want quiet alleyways and restaurants that aren´t used to tourists and sites where the queue to enter does not snake around the corner (no queue at all would be even better). That´s the afternoon goal.
I´m losing track of days--was yesterday morning Bize Minervois? When did we leave Nice? Where in our journey did the Pyrenees fall?--but in a pleasant way. One more week of these shape-shifting days, these unstructured hours, and then it´s back to caring about the time. But I don´t need to think about that yet, not while there´s still the chance to let the days come and go as they will.
And this one, celui-ci, is not nearly done.
Greg and I had LPs and 45s when we were younger, but those were mainly filched from our parents (with the possible exception of Paul Hardcastle's '19', which came to us in mysterious ways). The first record I actually owned, presented to me (along with a Garfield nightgown) on my 11th birthday, to my immense pleasure, was Journey's Frontiers.
I remember this album well: the band members in a weightless, space-suited circle on the back cover; the vaguely creepy, Metropolis-esque face on the front; the lyrics printed out in miniscule type on the sleeve. I listened to it for the first time (although I had, of course, heard chunks of it before on RI104) the moment I got it, there in Aunt Connie and Uncle Vinny's living room. Glenn, my impressively musical cousin, slid the record out of its cover, held it (like you were supposed to) between his palms, barely touching it, and lowered it onto the player.
And there it was: 'Separate Ways,' that timeless plea of heartbreak and promise, swelling out into the room. Glenn turned up the volume; my 11-year-old self sat down on the couch and reveled in the music, the words, Steve Perry's soaring voice giving shape to a conundrum I could not, at that age, have truly understood (although that understanding would come some years hence).
It was bliss, and I was hooked. I don't think anything else touched my record player for the remainder of the summer and well into the fall.
As with so many things we adore early on, I eventually moved away from Journey, tucked Frontiers into Dad's record case and more or less forgot about it as I turned to (in approximate chronological order) the illicit pleasures of Purple Rain, Top 40, Bruce Springsteen, and, come the angst-soaked days of high school, as much moody Brit Pop as I could digest.
And although it's easy--almost too easy--to make fun of Journey these days ('What Would Journey Do?' is a prime example of the ease of the jest), there's still something in me that surges at the memory of that summer day, those notes, those words. My adoration of music, my belief that it said to the world things I was feeling but couldn't say myself, may have been established well before the needle hit the record, but they were reconfirmed, forever confirmed, the moment Journey filled the room.
There were some amusing photos, some worthy quotations scribbled down for posterity (including Jed's infamous observation about some album cover: 'I thought he was in a wheelchair, but that's a plate of food'), some scraps of half-recalled inside jokes. And then there was something I'd totally forgotten about: a message from Mike, composed on his Pocketmail device (ah, the heady days...) during a sabbatical he'd taken during the spring of '99.
Mike, our former boss (although only nominally so, as we actually had a real--read: older and titled and larger salaried--boss), was and is the consummate outdoorsman and adventurer. It was a rare weekend when he couldn't be found hiking or biking or climbing somewhere, and sitting at a desk made him nothing short of miserable. So he took off for a while in April and May, much to the envy of the rest of us, who remained cube bound and weepingly bored.
He wrote us dispatches from the road, and we lived somewhat vicariously through him. The message I dug up on Friday--one simple paragraph--showed up in my Inbox on Friday, May 7 at 10.06 a.m., in reply to something I'd written (since lost) with the subject 'I wanna be you!' This is what Robot (as we'd nicknamed him) had to say to me that morning:
I am writing to you from Yosemite National Park. Early today I was six hundred feet off the valley floor high on a granite cliff face about two hundred yards to the left of Yosemite Falls. Roughly 500 feet off the ground I was the lead man and I came very near to a major fall. This is a feeling of incredible aloneness. I was eight feet above my belay man very far past the point of return on an overhanging crack system and very tired. I have never felt this kind of fear. It is a strange feeling to be thinking, my foot is slipping and I only have my fingertips on this nob, but it's all I've got...and you move up anyway. It is a combination of belief in yourself and an acceptance of falling at the same time. I cannot describe the sensations of elation and deep sadness that slam together in those brief moments. They are as horrifying as they are fulfilling.
Wish me safe
I remember reading that message for the first time, remember wanting to cry both at the thought of a friend coming uncomfortably close to a situation that could not end well and in thankfulness that he'd come out the other side unscathed, that he'd been to the mountaintop (as it were) and was now sharing his revelations with me, grasping gratefully at his words.
Reading the message anew on Friday made me well up with tears again, as if the 1999 Robot were tugging at my sleeve with a reminder: you can't back off from the things that scare you the most; they just may be the things that keep you alive.
On an unrelated note, the New Yorker's summer fiction issue this year gets off to something of a grim note, with a number of pieces (which, now that I think of it, are not actually fictional) about the deaths of family members. To my mind, the most striking memoir is Steve Martin's, in which he writes about his disapproving and fairly cold shouldered father. Rather than attempting to dig into the words and analyze how they come together in such a way that poignancy and pathos seem present in equal measure, I offer up an excerpt:
'I walked into the bedroom where he lay, his mind alert but his body failing. He said, almost buoyantly, "I'm ready now." I understood that his intensifying rage of the last few years had been against death, and now his resistance was abating. I stood at the end of the bed, and we looked into each other's eyes for a long, unbroken time. At last he said, "You did everything I wanted to do."
I said, "I did it because of you." It was the truth. Looking back, I'm sure that we both had different interpretations of what I meant.
I sat on the edge of the bed. Another silence fell over us. Then he said, "I wish I could cry, I wish I could cry."
At first, I took this as a comment on his plight but am forever thankful that I pushed on. "What do you want to cry about?" I finally said.
"For all the love I received and couldn't return."
He had kept this secret, his desire to love his family, from me and from my mother his entire life. It was as though an early misstep had kept us forever out of stride. Now, two days from his death, our pace was aligning, and we were able to speak.'
An article in today's Times reports that the president of the Synod's Atlantic District, the Rev. David Benke, has been suspended from his post because, according to his church, he 'offended God, the Bible and all Christians..."dragged" his faith...to the level of Islam, committed heresy and violated two of the Ten Commandments.'
All of these offenses stemmed from Rev. Benke's attendance at an interfaith prayer service at Yankee Stadium last September, 12 days after the World Trade Center was destroyed. His elders claim he broke the First Commandment ('I am the Lord thy God') by 'worshiping together with "pagans,"' and the Second by 'putting other gods before him.'
To his immense credit--and with my incredible admiration--Rev. Benke has refused to apologize, as the leaders of the church have demanded in exchange for lifting their ruling against him, and has appealed that ruling. He's hired lawyers and has a solid team of backers. According to the article, the Reverend says he is 'waging war against religious intolerance, and an insular view of faith that not only prevents unity among peoples but promotes violence.' While his aims are inspiring, it's more than a bit maddening to realize that once again, the voices within organized religion calling for change, tolerance, and inclusion are almost never voices from the top, and those who are in high leadership roles almost always seem to do their best to silence the murmurings from below.
It's true that change always needs to start somewhere, and that that somewhere is almost never in the seat of power, religious or governmental or corporate. And it's gratifying that there are, relatively speaking, so many people willing to risk censure from their higher-ups in order to at least make some noise. But here's hoping that this noise--which is of particular importance in a society, like the US, that makes such lofty claims for itself--doesn't get drowned out or, worse yet, ignored altogether by those with their hands pressed over their ears.
I've never suffered from the sort of insomnia that might rob me of rest altogether (knock on wood), and always manage to will myself to sleep through some combination of sheer fatigue and repeated reminders that whatever I'm preoccupied with on the verge of unconsciousness can wait until the morning. The worries will still be there; the lists of things that must be done will rewrite themselves come sunrise; whatever pleasant thoughts may be keeping me up won't be gone for good if I succumb to sleep. But pushing those things aside tends to be an arduous process, and one at which I'm not particularly skilled.
Last night as I lay in bed with the usual set of fears (albeit with some recently added variations) racing behind my eyes, I found myself suddenly thinking of a line from Robert Hayden's 'Night, Death, Mississippi':
O night betrayed by darkness not its own
Whether that was just another example of the constant storm of lyrics, lines, words, phrases kicking up dust in my head or an attempt by my subconscious to steer me away from the melodramatic path to which I seemed to be making strides, I can't say. I do know, though, that it pulled me up and back, away from the details of my own fretting, at enough of a distance to show me more of a diffuse picture, to dilute the worries and uncertainties and doubts enough to allow me, finally, to sleep.
Night, Death, Mississippi
A quavering cry. Screech-owl?
Or one of them?
The old man in his reek
and gauntness laughs --
One of them, I bet --
and turns out the kitchen lamp,
limping to the porch to listen
in the windowless night.
Be there with Boy and the rest
if I was well again.
Time was. Time was.
White robes like moonlight
In the sweetgum dark.
Unbucked that one then
and him squealing bloody Jesus
as we cut it off.
Time was. A cry?
A cry all right.
He hawks and spits,
fevered as by groinfire.
Have us a bottle,
Boy and me --
he's earned him a bottle --
when he gets home.
Then we beat them, he said,
beat them till our arms was tired
and the big old chains
messy and red.
O Jesus burning on the lily cross
Christ, it was better
than hunting bear
which don't know why
you want him dead.
O night, rawhead and bloodybones night
You kids fetch Paw
some water now so's he
can wash that blood
off him, she said.
O night betrayed by darkness not its own
But maybe we've been fooled--or, more realistically, have allowed ourselves to be fooled--by his 'good' days (i.e., those in which he's at least somewhat lucid, or can open his eyes for 30 minutes at a stretch, or when he comes out with things we can't believe he has stored away in his brain, like the name of a couple who came to his and Gommy's wedding). They make us think that there's still a glimmer of a chance that he might pull through. I think we all know, though, whether or not we say it, that we're trying to pull him back to us with gossamer threads; we can't stop his leaving.
Dad writes, in his most recent letter, words that cause my breath to catch in my throat:
'I visited Poppa Wed. and Thurs. and found him in an even more weakened state than even a month ago. He spends almost all the time with his eyes closed, whether sleeping or not is hard to tell. He did show a glimmer of recognition when I showed him an old woodworking tool and [he] made a very faint gesture with it to indicate he knew how to use it. I suspect we are witnessing Poppa's twilight days that will soon bring an end to his long and productive life. As a man of great native intelligence, tho not always so cultured, I know he looked up to you as a kindred spirit who better than most understands the workings of the world and never ceases to add to your quest for knowledge. To be curious is a good thing, he would admit.'
There are losses far worse, I know, than an 87-year-old man who has lived, by all accounts, an explosively full life. If he had the words, I imagine Poppa would acknowledge that he's had the chance to cover most of life's bases. But what loss is ever easy, however long in the making or inevitable? I can't help ruing the coming end of a life that has so profoundly shaped my own.
In Seattle, as we're getting dressed one morning, Sarah and I chat about Poppa. She leans forward toward the mirror and, as she brushes on mascara, says, 'I dream of him a lot these days, and always--really, every time--he's his old self.' This stops me. 'God, I have those dreams, too. He's always up and about, laughing and talking like he used to. It feels' --and here I am trying not to cry--'almost as if he's trying to reach me now the only way he can.'
And that's the truth: when I dream of him it's as if we're communing. As if the things he wants to tell me, the things he's got stored in his brilliant mind that can no longer reach his lips or his fingers, can pour out in my dreams.
I'm not a big believer in the mystical, and there are definite limits to what I find plausible as far as human communication goes, but I do cling to my dreams of Poppa. And I wonder whether he doesn't have his own dreams, coming to him in all those hours of closed eyes and half-consciousness, dreams in which we speak to him. Dreams in which the 3000 miles between us, and his disease-racked body, and the limits of the flesh--dreams in which none of that matters. And he can hear me say, 'I love you, just impossibly love you.' And, 'I always loved making you proud.' And, 'Know what I miss? Your big, callused hand around mine as we walked into the fields in Brewster; the way we rode the waves in Lake Worth; how you used to bolster my spirits throughout my gawky adolescence by reassuring me that someday I'd find a partner who would both love me and be worthy of my love; the tilt of your smile.'
And, 'Whenever you're ready, you can let go.'
The upcoming Independence Day holiday has instilled in me the desire to load up the trusty Corolla with friends and go to a drive-in. This stems, I think, both from the fact that I quite like the concept and from my unfilled hankering for a good dose of straight-up Americana, the likes of which can be hard to find in the Bay Area. (We like our fusion here.)
As I recall, I've not been to a drive-in for quite a while, at least since we had the blue VW bus (whose lack of heat was bearable in the summer). We equipped the back of the van with sleeping bags so Greg and I could retire at our leisure, filled the trusty Coleman cooler with dinner, and went to the theater over in Waterford to watch, if I remember correctly, Animal House. There must've been a kids' movie as the first half of that night's double feature (perhaps Lady and the Tramp?), but far clearer in my mind is the memory of watching Jim Belushi and friends stumble about in togas.
Anyway, thinking of drive-ins this morning brought to mind the eternally pleasant Let's All Go to the Lobby trailer (stills here), whose cavorting foodstuffs were meant to incite in patrons the need to proceed to the concession stand with all deliberate speed. I find it fascinating that this film was added to the National Film Registry in 2000, joining such other luminaries as Apocalypse Now, Lawrence of Arabia, and Porky in Wackyland. A prescient move on someone's part, to be sure. If only more theater operators replaced their tired, mid-80s live action concessions trailers with this one, moviegoing might once again seem sort of whimsical.
But still, does no one realize by now that the 'Woman finds flat tire on her car, man offers to help fix it then requests ride to his car on other side of mall, turns out to have been plotting to rape and kill her' story did not, in fact, just happen to your friend Betty's daughter's friend at the mall last week? It's been making the rounds for years, and while I couldn't find a listing for it on snopes.com, it still smacks to me of urban legend.
Here's a direct quote from the list of tips:
(b.) If you are parked next to a big van, enter your car from the
passenger door. Most serial killers attack their victims by pulling
them into their vans while the women are attempting to get into their
While I will not claim to have tapped into the workings of serial killers' minds, I will venture to guess that most serial killers don't go hunting down their victims by sitting in vans in mall parking lots.
Just in case I'm wrong about, though, I'll exercise extreme caution the next time I park my car anywhere but my own garage, will learn to enter and exit through the passenger side door, and will work on BEING AWARE. Because, as the message informed me, YOU NEVER KNOW!!!
A river in a time of dryness/a harbor in the tempest
So I walk down Market this morning, iced Peet's in hand, and think, first, you must give sad and sorry thanks (always, always) for the fact that this street is not your home (an extreme view, but a useful and humbling reminder). Then I think, whatever you might lose now, you will always have that drunken night of donut soccer with Dave and Otis; those quiet moments of holding baby Ev, just up from her nap, in Mom and Dad's living room, and for a while it's just the two of you, her exceedingly pleasant weight in your arms; you and Sarah in laughing tears as you model her new underwear over your jeans; wandering around Nashville with Eric and Erfert, Tenneesse whiskey on the brain; lying on the grass with Dave and Jimmy at Kelt and Kristina's wedding and just looking up, forever up, and out, and beyond.
Is it so wrong/to think there's more?
Some Buddhist scholar (I'm blanking on the specifics) wrote an article in Yoga Journal last year in which he noted that it's folly to believe that you're either the cause of or the solution to all of the problems you face in life. It's a folly, I admit, to which I often subscribe. When I stumble, I spend what may be a phenomenal amount of time wondering what I could've done to prevent that stumble (even in those cases when the answer is clearly, 'Not much') and scrambling to right myself (and whoever else I might've taken down with me as I fell). But I think the lesson I'm missing in all of this is not, Why did I stumble? or How can I get up again? but How can I get myself on surer footing in the future? Because in this linear world, in which there isn't the chance for do-overs, isn't that the only thing truly worth learning?
You'll cry/believe me/come back
My head is full of words: imaginary conversations, apologies, strings of poetry, too many songs. But they can only take me so far. I can only plaintively quote Marge Piercy ('There is a turn in things/that makes the heart catch./We are ripening, all the hard/green grasping, the stony will/swelling into sweetness, the acid/and sugar in balance...') or Springsteen ('I'm no hero/that's understood') or Li-Young Lee ('Song, wisdom, sadness, joy:sweetness/equals three of any of these gravities') before everything becomes a blur, and I risk excess, and should just rest, allow some silence in, remember that it's either life or freedom from briars.
Whatever happens, whatever, we say, and hold hard, and let go, and go on.
'Reconstructing the ruminations of the Andersen jury and exploring their ramifications is "not the worst idea I ever heard," Jonathan Karp, an executive editor at Random House, said meditatively. "I think the worst idea was the Bible diet, where you ate all of the foods mentioned in the Bible. That was the worst. Although for all I know that became a best seller."'
My support for the cartoon WT does not, however, mean that I'll willingly go see the live action movie based on same when it comes out. Because, really, have we not yet learned to stop filching after-school or Saturday morning cartoons for movie ideas? (I suppose if the lesson is that movies based on cartoons may be dumb beyond words but are also painfully lucrative, it has been learned, and repeatedly taken to the bank, and we won't stop being inundated with such movies anytime soon.) Surely there must be better material for kid-appropriate movies out there. Can't we allow the Wonder Twins (and the Flintstones, and Scooby Doo) to remain in the animated realm, thereby saving their good names from the sullying affects of live action and computer animation?
- story about an elderly woman on a bus with (choose at least one) a large bag of groceries, a small dog, or an inappropriately warm coat
- story about elevator shenanigans in some co-op or other
- story about how, despite everyone's expectations, a New Yorker did right by one of his brethren, thereby exploding the myth that all New Yorkers are self-involved and ungiving
(Mind, I fully acknowledge the fact that the San Francisco version of the Diary would include endless variations on Muni whinging, tales of dot-com failures, and tourists in shorts in the middle of July. I'm not dissing the Diary.)
It's this last part I thought of last night when the middle seat in the row in front of me was taken, at the next-to-last minute, by a young woman who came barrelling down the aisle with a large suitcase, glared at us as she said, 'Well, SOMEONE has taken my seat' (when, in fact, she was looking at the wrong row), and finally plopped herself down after handing the bag to a flight attendant and almost hissing, 'That had BETTER be gate-checked.' She then put her tray table down to finish the cup of ice cream she'd brought on board and, after she'd finished it, thrust it in the direction of the passing flight attendant and said, 'Will you take care of this?'
In a nutshell, she made me want to smack her. I don't often have that desire. And while this is surely completely unfair and stereotypical and what-have-you, she also seemed to me the perfect example of the sort of insensitive, self-involved, purely selfish New Yorker who gives the rest of the city and its populace a bad name. Alas, on the plane, unlike in the Diary, there was no sudden change of heart, no turn for the good. She started the flight as a bitch and ended it the same way.
And, sure, no doubt she's nothing like the corrupt, Tonga-swindling businessman, but there still seems to me no reason to be so unpleasant. What's the benefit? Who wins out in the end?
I didn't dare ask and risk actually having to speak to her. Instead, I just waited in the aisle while she bustled out and down the jetway and into the maze of SFO with her gate-checked luggage and her self-righteous air.
(As an aside, I sometimes think that if I ever need to inure myself to public humiliation and/or criticism, all I'll need to do is publish my journals in toto and let the world have at me.)
I could write reams on the particular subject of Past Mistakes in the Boy Department, as Recorded for Posterity on Paper, but the less gut-wrenching (not to mention more politic) course of action would simply be to sum up those mistakes by noting that they've taught me what I don't want while reinforcing the details of what I do. I've let myself stumble into (more than) enough of the former to truly understand that what I have now--the sweet, gut-shaking, heart-palpitation-inducing latter--is meant to be held onto.
I intend to do just that.
I did read one interesting article this week -- the one about how a San Francisco banker bilked the tiny island nation of Tonga out of its entire $26 million national emergency fund (which the king claimed he had put into an American bank so Tongan authorities wouldn't use the money to fix roads). ... Before his dastardly deeds were discovered, the American managed to get himself declared court jester of Tonga. I assume that job is now open. I am adding it to my list of career possibilities if joining the circus doesn't pan out.
It makes me wonder whether the entire human race is always headed toward moral corruption, but most of us are able to keep ourselves from leaping over that ledge (sort of like how everyone carries around some strain of herpes, the vast majority of which are harmless), or whether the reverse is true: we're really all quite good, but some of us just can't hold ourselves back from making that terrible, sullying leap.
It also makes me wonder how many nations still employ court jesters.