Friday, March 29, 2013

Adventures in Car Rental

We needed cat litter. We needed Gatorade and light bulbs and chocolates and coffee and cheese. We needed paper towels and Love’s Labour’s Lost and the power of prayer. We needed Walter Benjamin. We needed autonomy and socialism and soap. We needed a combination smoke and carbon monoxide alarm. We needed guns and lawyers. We needed conviction and cashews and a CD player for Eric Burdon. Some of that stuff was heavy, some was not. But there was also a house and a townhouse we wanted to look at. So we rented a car: a black Chevy Malibu.

We caught a number 3 bus to Virginia Street. My Orca card registered “out of funds” and so I slipped two dollars into the pay machine and plunged my hand into my pocket for a quarter and came up with a gob of miscellaneous change including a nickel, at least I think it was a nickel, which (of course) fell to the floor and rolled into oblivion. I caught a glimmer of it before it disappeared into the space around the driver's feet. The driver was a large black man with large thick work boots. He looked momentarily puzzled by the dilemma but I joked “consider it a gratuity” and he laughed and I went to join Roberta who found a seat midway into the bus.

We got off the bus at First and Virginia and walked the rest of the way in chill March air to the car rental office on Westlake. The staff was made up of young men, all with short bristly haircuts and eager beaver personalities. I wondered if they were that way naturally. I don’t remember a single time in my twenties when I beamed such zest and cordiality. If this was an act, I was impressed. If not, if these guys were truly that full of vim and vinegar, I was equally impressed. How had the heartbreak and sorrows of young Werther not yet stricken them down and made them appear at least a tinge forlorn? Did they not know these were post-Apocalyptic times and Obama was a fraud and Wall Street bansksters had corrupted what was left of western civilization? That they were working hard for wages that had been frozen since 1970? Was their innocence to be trusted? There was, I had to admit, something very appealing about their zest, however surreal it appeared to me on the surface.
I filled out the necessary forms (there are always forms) which never fail to confuse me, I do not do well with forms, but I got the pertinent information down however illegibly and signed my name and promised to give them my first born child in case I lose the car, or fail to return, because I don’t know, I’ve driven it underwater to Siberia via the Aleutian Chains.
There was also the matter of insurance, which I hadn’t really thought about. It was expensive, the same price as the rental per day. But I could easily see myself at an intersection amid broken glass and looks of stupefaction wondering why the fuck didn’t I buy insurance when I had the chance? Now I am in fealty to the car rental company for the rest of my adult life.
So we paid for insurance.
A chipper young man in a suit and tie disappeared into an underground garage and reappeared with the black Chevy Malibu. He got out a disk of cardboard about the size of a silver dollar for measuring scratches. Any scratch that exceeded the circumference of his disk merited attention and registration on his form. That way, we would not assume blame for the scratch. We all went around the car looking for scratches, dents, contusions, cuts, graffiti, and signs of early man. The scrutiny went deep and felt archaeological. We completed our journey around the car, and the young man handed over a set of keys. The keys were attached to lumps of plastic on which little icons represented their function as lock openers and secrets to the wind and grave.
I got into the driver’s seat and Roberta clambered into the passenger seat. It felt strange. I’m used to our old Subaru, now defunct and in possession of the Humane Society. The Subaru was a stick shift, small, and easy to look out the windows. It had a great turning ratio. The Malibu felt intimidatingly large and cumbersome and I could not see out the back. I had to rely on the sideview mirror to the right rather than look out the back window as I was used to doing. The Malibu was an automatic, which is good, but once you’ve gotten accustomed to shifting gears, it feels funny to slide the shift knob into drive. My left foot felt idle. It feels natural to me to step on a clutch at the same time I shift into gear.
I had a difficult time getting my seat adjusted. I found the button that made the seat go up and down or lean back but nothing for releasing the seat so that I could shift it forward, closer to the dash. I don’t like sitting far back from the dash. Roberta got the manual out of the glove box and said that there was a bar under the seat that could be raised for moving the seat back and forward. I reached under the seat and felt the bar, but it wouldn’t budge. I was stuck with the seat as it was. I would have to get used to the additional space between me and the dashboard. It felt like I was piloting planet earth from a balcony in Naples, Italy. I don’t know what made me think of Naples, Italy. Whenever I get confused or disconcerted I think of Naples, Italy. I’ve never been to Naples, Italy. It just looks like a confusing place.
Now for the emergency brake. The boys back in the rental office must be wondering why we haven’t left yet. Maybe they thought we just wanted to sit in the car and listen to music. Roberta checked the manual again. You put your right foot on the regular brake, then press down on the emergency brake with your left foot. I did so, and voila! The emergency brake released.
I entered the traffic on Westlake. Here I was again, back in the saddle, part of the automotive world. It felt good. Good to be in control of something this big. And scary. It felt simultaneously exhilarating and intimidating and dynamic and daunting. That’s what makes driving so addictive. It gets all those emotions going. And then we slid the new Eric Burdon CD in and the sound came out like gangbusters: “This world is not for me, I’ll make a new one, wait and see…”


Thursday, March 28, 2013

Eight Pounds of Feeling

Umbrellas are wonderful. Umbrellas are umbilical to being. The rain makes a certain sound on umbrellas, a patter and a splatter of spectacular matter. The umbrella flaps in the wind, bat-like, a membrane with ribs, and a pole, confusing it metaphorically with a bat and a pole and a house in the form of a membrane. Rain slides to its edges then drops to the world. Butters the sidewalk in alibis of water. The umbrella stages a resistance. The umbrella infringes on the asymmetries of rain. The rain is intense, then quiet, then intense again. The umbrella maneuvers the sky into a bivouac for the head. Spouts burble. Syllables drip. The umbrella angles upright in the rain. The rain insists on being rain. There are no metaphors for the rain. The rain is rain. The rain provokes. Incites umbrellas. The sky is held in place by bouquets of umbrella. This is silly. This is going nowhere. This is a swarm of words on hiatus from purport.  

Never cross a chicken with a president. Everyone wants to be president. Even Daffy Duck wants to be president. Daffy Duck is declaring war on the NRA. Go Daffy! Daffy Duck for President! 

Everyone colludes in a species of greed to create a city of watercolors. The sky is walking around like a drunk, crashing into walls and people. The Wisconsin sky lives in a trailer park and listens to Unchained Melody. Phil Spector enters a music studio and fires a gun. The musicians suspected, but did not know, he was this eccentric, this crazy about music.  

I often think of going to Iowa. Iowa is awake and wild. Spencer Selby lives in Iowa. Hi Spencer! Tornados harass the halcyon plains. Tornados have being, even personality. Sinister and crazed but weirdly organized. On April 14th, 2012, a tornado entered the kitchen of Celestia Cobb, ate all the mayonnaise in the refrigerator, then deposited house and goods and Celestia Cobb in the middle of the Bermuda Golf Academy.  

The surface of the earth reflects the moods of heaven. Cracks, gorges, canyons, fissures. Erosions, abrasions, corrosions, rust. The crust is brown and beige and green and molten gold inside where Haphaestus works, making weapons for the gods.  

I miss the Beatles.  

I once wore a sweater of oxymorons. The sweater was modestly extravagant. Each yarn was a story of fury and repose. The sweater was immutably adjustable, like whipped cream on a cake of golden flutter. I was happy as a ball of yarn in a dream of wool. I was happy. I was happy as mucus, happy as a monument, happy as an ear full of Rubber Soul.

A figment is a fragment in the form of a dream because it has a spine and a big idea. Because it is spring in this crazy world and perfumes run riot and the flowers are in rebellion. Gothic flowers turning bad, illumined in the orange light of dusk. It is the Season of Hell. Noises from upstairs, creaks and thuds and cracks and bric-a-brac. We should drill a hole in the ceiling to see what that woman is doing.  

Today I am constructing a paragraph. Each sentence will be ten feet high, and contain a Jacuzzi and propaedeutic den full of incandescent Peruvian pleasures, implausible as they are mezzo forte. The grammar will flow west, where the sun walks around in a robe of salt, treading on the fourth dimension.  

Our cat is, in fact, a giant frog dressed in fur, soft and clammy as Klickitat. This is where frogs play poker, my friend, and mean it. They have long supple legs and long supple arms and Aces are wild and the Jokers have little ambition. The King of Diamonds is friends with an anthill and the Queen of Hearts does her laundry in Greenwich Village. 

I am either sedate or ridiculous I’m not sure which. This type of thinking reveals a strange apparatus. That apparatus is the apparatus of thought. The machinery is wonderful, it is everywhere, heavy and telling and ruminative, especially the machinery of love. Love is never in a hurry because the bus is driven by Little Richard and his eyes are aflame with Tutti Frutti.  

There is always the threat of nuclear war. Politicians sit in their bunkers and watch TV. David Letterman laughs and brings on his next guest, Death. Death arrives in black in a black hood and robe carrying a huge scythe. He sits down. His head is a skull. Even on television reality can’t hide. Especially when the television is on. Mass is a form of energy and that includes television and bells and the Second Season of Enlightened, with Jack White and Laura Dern. 

Where there is death there is life and where there is life there is faith and wigwams and abstractions and moods and necks and eggplants and singing and warts. 

Not to mention seesaws. If you saw a seesaw would a seesaw see you? I have seen the seasonal seesaws and they have sawn the sea.  

In half. In half, brother, two pieces. One for you. One for me. Like and like and like alike. I have to go. A young man is at the door delivering pizza, and is a collusion with art, which is an odor of many different distinctions. The more the universe seems comprehensible, the more it also seems pointless. But this is jingles in a jaw, not a pomegranate. There is a thread of eyeball blood that helps an eyebrow bubble into its hair and slop itself against the cake of morning in defiance of all that is automated and patriarchal, and is eight pounds of feeling called a foment.

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Yes, It Is True, Collage Is Messy Like Love

Gris’s collages have their merits
Especially when the ice machine is broken
This is not the collage I expected
I was thinking more along the lines
Of muffled voices behind a door
And somebody’s kid kicking the pop machine
A simpleton in love with bubble wrap and Juan Gris
Who loved collage and paint and wine
Yes, it is true, collage is messy like love
My eyes can hear the paint sing
The song of the paint is a red song
Black is the color of oblivion
Infinity is transparent
Like lacquer on a chest of jewels
And so I wear skin and hair
But who needs clothing in Death Valley?
Here comes Clint Eastwood riding a white stallion
I need more wine, more words, more ink
He mumbles to no one in particular
And swaggers like Jim Morrison
Getting drunk with Michael McClure
You know, peyote knows a lot about the desert
It takes you so far into the night
That the morning star is wrapped in cotton
And the heat of the sun penetrates the skin
Ghosts of the desert dance in the eyes of a lizard
And everywhere there is the strange logic of gold
Cooked in the skulls of the miners
Each skull is a dome of bone
Because it inflates the mind
And wheezes like a sick lung
An iron poem groaning with an iron emotion
The shine of death the hardness of death
Are the very origins of poetry
Whistling and wheezing with molten lava
And a dream of mattress springs
In the soft Louisiana breeze

Friday, March 22, 2013

Eric Burdon Rolls On

‘Til Your River Runs Dry

songs and music by Eric Burdon, 2013 

I’m neither a musician nor a music critic so that’s not what any of this is, or about to be. That is to say, my word-swirls and reflections about this CD are gratuitous and unprofessional. I am an amateur, in the best sense of that word. A lover of the genre. The CD came into my hands serendipitously. I was at Silver Platters looking for a movie, not music. But then I saw Burdon’s face with its haggard wrinkly leathery joy and desert wisdom and bright fiery eyes and knew I had to get it, get this CD, and take it home and play it. So I did. And my reaction to it was such that I felt a compulsion to push it all into words, words as they came to me, words as they splashed or floated up to me, drifted down the river of my mind, bobbed and twirled and eddied, so that I might take a stick called a pen and guide them to shore, which is what these marks in the mud are about, and frogs and reeds.  

Burdon’s burden is emerald and old and circles the globe. The sky is old and lets drop its water. Water milky with ice and deadly cold and water warm as blood behind the eyes. Water is blood, blood is water. Water tumbles through ravine and canyon like blood flows through arteries and veins. The swimmers pause and leave the water to get some sun. Their bodies gleam. This is water in summer. Water in winter is still water but water that is prone to ice and snow and numbness and death. The sky is old and gray and full of jingling and friction. Thunder rolls over the hills of Greenland and Spitsbergen and Franz Josef Land. Control yourself, they say at the office. People go crazy in confined spaces. Water is fluid and has the need of movement. The sheen of water in movement through Wyoming and Blackhouse Burn and Charleville-Mézières. The shine of water in a dream of movement over rills of sand. The shine of water in a glee of dissemination. The shine of water swelling over stone. The shine of water in the eyes.  

Memorial Day 

War is a chronic reality. But it needn’t be. Though weapons feel good in the hands, skin and clay and fur and feather feel better. Wars begin with a line. This land is mine, someone declares. But someone else needs that land to live. They stay. They get killed. And so war is forever the whisper of a frightened man in a ditch or submarine of shell of concrete. The hearts of men beating fast behind the ribs. The excitement of the kill, the terror of being killed. It’s a drug. It’s money. It’s an addiction. Rockets flaring, bombs raining shrapnel. Heads blown off. Arms blown off. Legs blown off. Women and children running in a panic down a street raked by machine gun. A boy drops, bleeding. There is a bright red hole at the back of his neck.  

Devil and Jesus 

Mike Finnigan of Crooks and Liars plays organ here and the sound has a playful lilt that is a bit off, a bit macabre, a bit wobbly, a bit eerie. That species of giddy disquiet like the way the moon looks when you’re driving late at night and the moon is full and bright and you glance to take it in take your eyes off the road for a second and the next time you look it’s behind a cloud glowing and opalescent. It makes you go funny inside and feel scribbled and weird. That which was lucid and straight is now murky and vague and fugitive. Life is a tumble like that a bumble rumble jumble like clothes in a dryer. Desires for things we know mean trouble but are so strong, so wrong, so magnetically maniacally transgressive they have to be wrestled, worked hard, tied up or tied down or just plain crammed to the back of the closet where nobody can see this worrisome mess. Conflicts so keen, so exquisite, so harsh to soul and bone we hardly know whether we’re coming or going. Is there a yardstick for evil? Burdon’s voice rises to a falsetto, a subtle balancing act. The Devil and Jesus / Controlling my soul / They fight with each other / But I pay the toll. What is the texture of the devil’s skin? Is it like butter? Is it like rain? Jesus walks in the rain. He is followed by a mule. They arrive at the gates of Jerusalem. There is the smell of lightning in the air. Something burning. Something churning. Something wicked this way comes.  


This has a slow tango rhythm, maracas and Argentinian romance. Man is an ape in conflict with his own inner stew. Grace does not come naturally to a man. It has to be studied. Seduced. Lured. Carried in his arms, spun, hooked, thrown out. Grace comes naturally to women, but it’s hard for men. So is waiting. Waiting is hard. True love comes to those who wait. But waiting is an art that requires adhesion and faith. 

Old Habits Die Hard 

The ache of life gets tattooed to the heart. Pain comes in increments, silently, in stealth, during times of intense pleasure. Sneaks up on you. You don’t know you have habits until you try to quit them. Then you know how solid those bars can be. Not all prisons are made of concrete. Some of them are made of meat. Hunger and pain and fear and cocaine.  

Bo Diddley Special 

Now let me tell you what was so special about Bo Diddley / He had a hand like a plate of fish and chips / He dressed in the most romantic style / With a tartan jacket and pin stripe polyester pants / All the way down the aisle / He rode with his motor scooter around Clearwater, Florida / With his guitar on his back / You know it was square and it was red / And the last thing was the first thing he ever said  

Which is an open invitation to ride that Bo Diddley special. 

In the Ground 

The river gets a little dizzying in its prospect and spirals like a strand of hot DNA into a void carved out of space with a blade of hunger and handle of hard endeavor. No one wants to die. But you can’t live fully without knowing how to die. And that’s the charm of the river. Even when it ends it doesn’t end. The end of the river is the beginning of the river. And thereby hangs a waterfall. 

27 Forever 

This song has a haunted feeling and melody. The drumming is soft and drools consideration like an eye within. No one is ugly at 27. The mind and body are beautiful. The body accommodates the mind. The mind accommodates the body. But when a certain inexplicable hunger arises, look out. Life dilates into pins and needles. Things get shouted. Things get ruffled and dangerous. Jimi and Jim and Janis and Kurt and Brian and Amy all know. There is a fog that sings in the morning on this old rock of a planet, and Thanatos heals the pain of the albatross. 

River is Rising 

This has the sound and feel of gospel. The touch of exemption, the search for benevolence. There is a sparkle in these words, and a sense of impending improbability. We are braced for a clash with apocalyptic forces. White water and whirlpools pulling at our inflatable philosophies. Don’t muzzle the river. It may bite you in the ass. Just ask it to carry us into another world. Just let it take us wherever it’s going. 

Medicine Man 

There should never be a punishment for seeking salvation, even in a drug. The road has its severity, its detours and bumps, but no chimera cured a fever, and the spine will tingle as the body turns toward the light. The heart expands when the mind is calm. The milieu of music is a soothing force, and the antidote to crawling is the gallop of a horse.  

Invitation to the White House  

I’ve heard it said that there is power in powerlessness. One can dream, in other words. The president is an apparition. He is only an apparition of power. The capital is a slash of white on a background of slavery and chains. There is no savior. The saviors are all gone. All murdered and dead. True power resides in not living a lie. “There are times,” observed Václav Havel, “when we must sink to the bottom of our misery to understand truth, just as we must descend to the bottom of a well to see the stars in broad daylight.” 

Before You Accuse Me 

This song is self-explanatory. But I will explain it. I will accuse it of percussion. I will accuse it of repercussion. I will accuse it of stimulation. I will grant it flotation. I will call it tangential. I will call it quintessential. I will call it providential. I will call it existential. I will bathe it in paregoric. I will construct a metaphor of thread and water. I will hem it with aberration. I will sew it with silk and silver. I will be particular. I will be testicular and perpendicular. I will curl into a river. I will be curricular and droll. I will flail my arms. I will move my legs. I will hew to a wheel, and roll.  

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Piquant Pi

Thursday, March 14th, 2013

9:00 a.m. I get up, pour some coffee, and sit down to check our email. There is nothing from the contractor who came out to look at the wall on the west side of our building where, according to the home inspector, a high concentration of moisture threatens to bring Snoqualmie Falls into our bedroom. The contractor, a cleancut guy in his 30s, surveyed the situation with supreme confidence and rattled off an itinerary of things he would do to remedy the problem, including the surgical removal of the planks in the boardwalk blocking access to the dirt by the foundation. Two days later he’d emailed us an estimate, which I in turn emailed to the members of our HOA. They, in turn, emailed some questions. T inquired about the surgical removal of plants. Why was this necessary?  

"Surgical removal of plants??!?" I wondered. Did he envision a callimammapygian beautybush dense with ventricles and veins? Or that a team of horticulturists in hospital gowns would be grouped around a potted hellebore in heavy concentration as they delicately maneuvered the shrub to a nearby bed of soft, sandy soil?  

Then I realized his error. He had mistaken the word ‘plank’ for ‘plant.’  

Other more pertinent questions had to do with the actual repair: there was no mention of flashing or sealant, and no mention of what this guy was going to do with the dirt he excavated. Was there a charge for that?  

Was he going to remove the dirt? Z, who was the owner of the big potted plants on the boardwalk, wanted to know why they were considered a source of wall-eroding moisture. I wondered this too. I sent these questions to the contractor. But in the coming weeks, he will not respond to this questions.  

Nor had the attorney in Williston, North Dakota, who had been referred to me by the landman of Legacy Oil. I had emailed the attorney, explaining as best I could the complex saga of my father’s estate, one of three stepsibling’s refusal to sign the Letters Testamentary for the recently discovered property interests in the well currently being drilled. When he didn’t respond to the email, I phoned. He phoned back. Roberta took the call. She explained the situation, and drew his attention to the email I’d sent. He found the email and said it looked complicated, and requested that I fax the pertinent documents, which I did later that afternoon. I eagerly awaited his response. But there was nothing.  

I did get an email from the novelist Rikki Ducornet, who was in Marfa, Texas. She wrote that she’d just seen Jeremy Irons play psychotic twin gynecologists in a pocket movie theater with a cowboy wearing red long johns.  

I wrote another letter to the lawyer in Williston, feeling the utter futility of it diffuse through my body with the sweetness of dandelion greens. Unless there's a lot of money involved, no one is interested in giving help. I can feel the squirm of maggots in Williston. What was once a lively rural town of such rosy-cheeked innocence you could leave the doors to your house unlocked for a month and return to find everything intact is now a dead zone, a grim wasteleand of spiritual hypoxia driven by pandemic hydraulic fracturing, men exhausted by working twelve hour days in subzero temperatures and sleeping and doing their laundry in bleak man camps that make Solzhenitsyn’s labor camp in Kazakhstan look like a Balinese luxury resort. Is it any wonder that a Williston attorney would find my irritating probate problem anything but a dog turd? Why should he bother even to give the courtesy of a reply? Nobody practices courtesy anymore. Courtesy has become a doily, a Victorian antimacassar, the quaint remnant of a bygone era, cinnamon ferns and witty repartees in an Edwardian salon. The world now moves strictly according to the dictates of Mammon. Wit and imagination count for nothing. It's all about "show me the money."  

But I'm proved wrong. Several weeks later the attorney gives me a call. He'd gone over the documents I'd sent and gave me the sad news: even though the mineral rights were discovered after the death of my stepmother, it automatically goes to her estate. Since one of the stepsiblings refused to sign the Deed of Distribution, if I were to proceed further I would need to bring them to court in North Dakota. It simply isn't worth it. I drop the matter.  

I must also admit that the various agents from the oil industry in North Dakota that I'd corresponded with or talked to over the telephone were all gracious and helpful. The industry they worked for might be fucked up and evil, but they were uniformly courteous and conscientious people. Nothing in this life is black and white. Heisenberg was right: the act and quality of the observation being made will create changes within the observed phenomenon. It would appear that there is no objective reality. The marriage between perception and reality is as innate and inseperable as it is erratic and volatile. No wonder the law never made any sense.  

9:30 a.m. I listen to a French woman who goes by the Username Saperlipopette read the opening chapter of Balzac’s Les Perdues Illusions. I like this title. It fits my present circumstances.

The novel begins in a printing house in Angoulême, France, in the early 1800s. Angoulême, which is situated on a plateau overlooking a meander of the Charente River in the southwest of France, is a town full of paper mills and printing presses. The presses are still very crude. Balls of wool covered in leather are still used to dab the ink onto the characters. Jerome-Nicolas Séchard, a journeyman pressman in his late fifties, and who is referred to as a ‘bear’ in compositor’s slang because of his great size and continuous pacing to and fro during the operation of the printing press, can neither read nor write. In 1793, during the Reign of Terror, his business is on the verge of extinction when he is hired by a“Citizen of the People” to print the Decrees of the Convention and is given a master’s printer’s license. He becomes the only printer in Angoulême and his business prospers. He marries and his wife gives him a boy before she dies. The boy is named David. He returns home after receiving an education in Paris, and it isn’t long before he and his father are arguing about replacing the old equipment with the new Stanhope printing press, which had a printing capacity of 480 pages per hour.  

I can tell that the woman reading Balzac’s novel is elderly. She doesn’t pronounce words as crisply as the younger woman I listened to read Jules Verne’s L’îsle mystérieuse, but she does read smoothly and attentively.  

I have a hard time concentrating because of my frustrations and anger over finding a contractor. It's like trying to find a date for the prom. I can never get a definite answer. I get equivocation. I get intricate, convoluted reasons for why a particular man or outfit cannot do this job.

I call G, another contractor, the one who originally looked at our problem by the wall. He answered on his cell and seemed irritated by my call. He asked to send him our email and address so that we could set up a time to meet and do a formal estimate. I will not hear back from him either.  

At 11:30 I go do some writing. At around 2:30 I get antsy and decide to go for a run, even though I shouldn’t. I have a chronic pain on my left heel. It’s probably a heel spur, a symptom of plantar fasciitis. I watch a number of treatment solutions on YouTube, including taping. The taping videos never tell you where to go for the special tape they’re using. And all but one show a man taping someone else’s foot. Where is anyone supposed to find someone to tape your foot before a run? I mean, someone other than, say, Mick Jagger or David Beckham.  

I watch the one where a young woman tapes her foot, beginning with an X across the bottom of her foot, and encasing that in swath upon swath of athletic tape. I follow her instructions with the tape I bought before at Bartell Drugs. I’m not sure it’s the right kind of tape. It’s called Comfort Tape. I stick the Comfort Tape to my foot like the woman in the video, get into my running clothes and take off for a run. The heel continues to hurt. By the end of the run, I’m limping. I realize I’m just going to have to take time off. I dread the ensuing depression. Running is my favorite medication. It’s more effective than the Lorazepam. It keeps my head above water until I go to bed and with the help of 1 ½ mgs of Lorazepam, I can get some sleep. I’m not sure the antidepressant is being all that effective. It works, but not that well. Worries never cease visiting my skull or barging in like a SWAT team. I'm always at war with the world. Braced for conflict. Braced for disaster. Wild fires, tornados, and earthquakes. Buildings toppled by giant lizards in a frenzy of rabid destruction, their tails thrashing, cars flying, their jaws crunching military jets like crackers. Such is the palette of my mind: all dark browns and lampblack and steel gray and madder red. The colors of war. The colors of scorn and abhorrence.  

I don't like confrontation, but when it happens, I tend to get off on it. It's a dry drunk, as they say in AA. The free-floating antagonism is related to the decay of our society, the corporate hegemony and how it erodes the social membrane. There is something wrong when lawyers and contractors and people of other ilk and profession don’t reply to queries, voicemail messages or email. It's not just a lack of respect. It goes deeper. It's a lack of recognition, a loss of reverence for life in general. It's symptomatic of an epidemic anomie, a malignant narcissism fueled by a self-serving cynicism and apathy. I wonder what it is that is still holding the society together. It looks like the only thing people care about is vanity and money. How do you fight vanity and money?

After my run I put my sore heel up on a pillow and watch a show I saved about French cathedrals, Les cathedrals dévoilées. It is said that the cathedral is essentially an experience of light. Light is the most important architectural element. The rose windows of Chartres cathedral, for instance, celebrate the passage of light through a material, metaphorically transmitting a message of divine passage through the human body while telling the story of David's triumph over Saul, the birth of Jesus, the Last Judgment and Christ wtih the twenty-four Elders of the Apocalypse. The delicate stone tracery that holds the stained glass in the rose windows of the cathedrals is due in large measure to the quality of the stone itself. Most of the cathedrals are clustered near what were once quarries of calcareous stone. Notre Dame de Paris benefited from two nearby quarries, one at Charenton and one at Val de Grâce. The deeper into the quarry the workers went, the higher the quality of stone was discovered. This allowed for the finer stone tracery and sculpture. It was also crucial that the quarry was near a river for transport. An expert in Gothic architecture named Arnaud Timbert shows how the blocks were sculpted and initialed by the sculptors for payment at the end of the day. A 13th century artist from Picardy in northern France put together a portfolio of thirty-three sheets of parchment containing two-hundred and fifty drawings intended for sculpture, ecclesiastical objects, architectural plans and mechanical devices, such as a perpetual motion machine, a water-driven saw, lifting devices, and a machine for straightening the struts of a leaning house. The book survives and can be found in the Bibliothèque Nationale de Paris.  

Roberta comes home carrying two sacks of groceries, one including a four-pack of Virgil's root beer. This is heavy stuff. It amazes me she is able to carry these items up our steep hill, nearly a mile in distance. I watch the news on our French cable station while she makes fettuccine Alfredo. It's all about the new pope, Joge Mario Bergoglio, who will be called Francis, after Saint Francis of Assisi, and who had been archbishop of Buenos Aires. He appeared at the white balcony overlooking St. Peter's Basilica as thousands cheered below, and said “I would like to thank you for your embrace.” The crowd cheered back:“Habemus papam!”waving umbrellas and flags. 

I don't get any of it. I fail to understand how one man can get so many people excited. I find their beliefs touching, it's moving to see so many people find faith in something, in anything, when the world seems so overwhelmingly in the grip of Mammon, of war, of evil. But I can't understand it. This man is just a man. How could one man have a direct line to God? And is there a God? Is there a single intelligent being responsible for moths and grass and oysters and diphenylamine? For human beings? For dinner theater? For mathematics and matrimony vines? One guy? With omniscience? One single supreme being who can hear the pleas of a banker in Athens, Greece, create storms of ammonium hydrosulfide on Jupiter and minister occasion to the birth of a star trillions of light years distant, and do all this simultaneously, including the trillions of other events and traumas and prayers and tragedies occurring throughout the known physical universe? An omnipotent being? A being who is responsible for good and evil? For epilepsy and polio? For facial hair and opium? Who created hawks and ladybugs and geraniums? Who created silence and space and tumefaction? Who also created whatever extraterrestrial beings use for eyes and ears and mouths and whispers? 

Whispering seems so quintessentially human. It is what human beings do when they want to say something without disturbing other human beings, or make an unflattering observation about someone in the same room, or issue a piece of provocative gossip. But is this trait really all that anthropocentric? Do extraterrestrials whisper?  

Do extraterrestrials have popes?  

Do extraterrestrials have countries and borders and trampolines?  

Do extraterrestrials, any extraterrestrials, make movies about their planet being invaded? Or suffer xenophobia and racism? Dance? Pin nude pictures to the wall? Do extraterrestrials have a concept of nudity? Or drama? Do they act? Make speeches? Thunder invective? Carouse in gay apparel? Wallow in illustrious sorrow?  

Or is the phenomenon of being human so uniquely and profoundly human that it is impossible to even envision what life for an extraterrestrial intelligence might be like?  

And what, exactly, is intelligence, anyway? Most of the time, I don't feel intelligent. I feel stupid. I might be intelligent, but I don't feel it. Would visiting the pope alter my attitude about anything? Would I feel a sense of holiness in his presence? I wish I could share in the emotion all those people in the Vatican rain shouting Habemus papam were feeling.

During dinner, we watched Episode Six of Season Two's Enlightened on HBO, the one that ends with Amy (Laura Dern) glancing back through the passenger seat window at Levi (Luke Wilson), standing in the driveway, looking utterly incredulous and stupefied, as she and Jeff (Dermot Mulroney) go off on their dinner date. We watched Questions pour un Champion during dessert, then got ready to go see the Seattle Shakespeare Company's presentation of Love's Labour's Lost at the Center House.  

It was warmer outside than I expected, and colder. I wasn't sure on the entire way to the theater whether it was colder than I anticipated, or warmer than I anticipated. March is like that. It is full of ambivalent weather and so makes the mind ambivalent, flowering and crumbling in irrational equivocations. On the way, Ronnie told me that March 14th is Einstein's birthday, and that the number 3/14 is the number for pi, 3.14159265359, which is an irrational number.  

This production of Love's Labour's Lost was set in the 1920s, which I initially found off-putting. It has become such a cliché. Why, I asked Ronnie, do directors like staging Shakespeare in the 1920s so much? Maybe it's because everyone drank so much. It was a time of brassy extravagance. Frivolity, enterprise, and tragedy. Extremes of behavior burned in luxurious disregard. Everyone spurned the obligations of the future. Doom stood outdoors in the midnight banishment of raffish soirées, austere and inexorable, an ominous spirit amid falling snow.  

The Center House stage is semi-thrust stage. There was a white piano to the left of the stage, and a chaise lounge which appeared to be upholstered in Astro Turf off to the right. As the audience entered and looked for their seats and shifted their weight and adjusted their arms and legs and visited with their companions or played with their cell phones, the male actors stood on the stage drinking cocktails and conversing, all dressed in formal dinner wear, tuxedos and tailcoats. A constellation of mirrors hung above, just below the stage lights.  

The presentation was terrific. The audience laughed heartily throughout. I had tears running down my cheeks. I've never paid much attention to this play. I've always found it tedious and confusing. But this time I really got it. There isn't much plot to it, it's all language. Shakespeare really let go on this play. It's full of flare and wit and surprisingly meaningful lines, streaks and flourishes of provocative thought, elegantly delivered. Considering the overall vanity and studied superficiality of the characters and situation, lines such as “Make us heirs of all eternity,” “It adds a precious seeing to the eye,” and “As love is full of unbefitting strains, / All wanton as a child, skipping and vain, / Formed by the eye and therefore, like the eye, / Full of straying shapes, of habits, and of forms, / Varying in subjects as the eye doth roll / To every varied object in his glance,” surprise the mind with pith and scope. I realized that this play is a feast of language. The story is negligible. It is the words, hot and prodigal, that make the play a play.

In bed, we talk about the play. I ask Ronnie what character in Shakespeare I most resemble and she tells me Hotspur, because I'm grumpy, quick to lose my temper.  

I ask about Hamlet. Doesn't Hamlet qualify as a notorious grump? If I was younger, she says, I could be Hamlet. But Hotspur was a young guy, I correct her.  

That's true. I guess you could be Hamlet if Hamlet lived and got to be older.  

You mean If Hamlet lived to be 65, and lived in a one-bedroom condo apartment, and collected social security?  

Yes, Roberta answers.  

So that would be a viable Hamlet?

Yes, Roberta agrees.  

A contemporary Hamlet of existential angst vilifying cell phones and computers and Bill Gates and belligerent baristas?  

Yes, Roberta concurs. Ok, I'm going to sleep now, Roberta announces. Good night, sweet prince, and flights of angels sing thee to thy rest.  

What keeps me from being a total asshole, I wonder as I lie in the dark.  

I'm not sure. I am an asshole, I know. I possess asshole qualities, though it might be something of an overstatement to say I'm a total asshole. I'm not a total asshole on the scale of, say Dick Cheney or Donald Trump. I'm not a sociopathic, megalomaniacal asshole with a golf iron and a country club. I've been horribly unfair and unfairly unpleasant to a lot of people a lot of the time. I've been stubborn and willful and selfish and narrow. My attitude about life tends toward the dark. My head is full of morbid soliloquies and the tangle of cypress vines draped with the kind of sickly moss that is nourished by gloom and swamp gas. I am frequently given to making howling declamations anathematizing the stink of humanity and the futility of life. This is me. This is what I am. This is who I am. It is I, Hamlet, King of the Crabs. 


Friday, March 8, 2013

Recent Findings

I like to meditate on spice and send emails. I like to look at a can of root beer on a stepladder and then later drink the stepladder and climb onto the root beer. I like being perverse. I like digging in my pockets for change and finding a receipt. It’s a minor form of archaeology. Indications of a recent past. Among my most recent findings was a tiny crumpled piece of paper nesting in my right pocket with eighty-five cents in change. The paper turned out to be a receipt for Rust and Bone, starring Marion Cotillard and Matthias Schoenaerts, which we saw at The Harvard Exit. The Harvard Exit doesn’t give you tickets anymore. They give you a slip of paper that looks like a miniature grocery receipt.
I miss tickets. The ticketedness of tickets. I like grocery receipts, too, especially long grocery receipts with items scrolling down, down, down in a quiet drama of itemized purchase. But I prefer tickets. I like tickets. And cashews and root beer and obscurity.
I prefer seeing movies in theaters than seeing movies at home, or grocery shopping. But sometimes these things are reversed. I’m never in complete control of what I like or dislike. I once craved ice cream. Loved ice cream. Now I don’t like ice cream so much. I can eat it. It’s not like broccoli. I can’t stand broccoli. I see other people eating broccoli and try to imagine what it’s like to like broccoli. But the taste is too foreign.
Life is raw and life is intense. It goes better with drama. I like that thing Hamlet says to Polonius: Good my lord, will you see the players well bestowed? Do you hear, let them be well used, for they are the abstract and brief chronicles of the time.
You betcha. Emotions turn our lives into movies. I’m more inclined to think in terms of movies than theater because I see more movies than plays. Though I prefer plays. There are plays everywhere. Even the door to the laundry room is an abstract and brief chronicle of the time.
The door to the laundry room squeaks. Now there’s drama for you. High drama. The drama of squeaks and shrieks and freaks and geeks and profligate squirts of grapefruit juice.
I once saw a girl reading a book in a box office and thought, now there’s a curious thing. She’s probably got a movie going on in her head that is different from the movie for which she is selling tickets. A movie that is probably better than the movie on the screen in the theater. The book she is reading is A People’s History of the United States, by Howard Zinn. The movie is Oz the Great and Powerful. Your call.
Yesterday I saw a man eating an apple in the hole of the sculpture at Kerry Park. It’s called “Changing Form” and is by Doris Chase. It overlooks Elliot Bay and the Seattle skyline. People like to stand inside its fifteen-foot high steel form and take pictures of themselves. On this occasion, the man was simply enjoying an apple. He appeared to have at least half of it eaten. He gazed at me. I gazed at him. He took a bite of his apple, and I continued to pound the sidewalk on my afternoon run.
And this afternoon again out on a run I heard the Butterworth crematorium vent blasting the sunny air with someone’s exit from this world. It reminded me of my first real eight hour a day job at the White Center Funeral Home after graduating from high school, and on cold damp Seattle days standing in front of the big metal door of the crematorium after it had been in use, reading Homer’s The Iliad. I had a feeling that Homer’s Iliad would be pointing somewhere different than the White Center Funeral Home. It did, but not where I expected.
Materialism has triumphed over the spiritual. How do I know that? Everybody knows that. Just look around. There are places where goods may be bought in bulk, but no places where it is possible to just sit and think, and play the glockenspiel with a butterknife, and dream of souks and bazaars, places where fragrances evoke an ancient sensuality and cobras uncoil from baskets woven of reeds by the Ganges. Where sadus bathe in the cold water of the mountains and spices are put in jars.
There is a jar on a hill in Tennessee, and it’s going to stay there until someone comes to move it. Inhabit it with their full attention. Because it made the slovenly wilderness surround that hill, that hill in Tennessee, and the jar was round and bare and squat on the ground, and took dominion of the air and hill like nothing else in Tennessee.
And that’s how it goes. Goes in Tennessee. Here in Washington State jars do not take dominion. They get filled with screws and washers and put in the garage, or a shelf in the basement, where a Dayglo poster of Black Sabbath takes dominion of the space, the space beneath the house.
If you rub an abstraction a genie appears. The genie is a silhouette in the fog. There he goes. Fulfilling wishes. The wish of this sentence is that it will end with Snoqualmie Falls, a mass of water hurling over the edge of a rock and falling, falling, in droplets scintillating in sunlight.
And get everything wet in the ensuing paragraph, where bits of debris bob up and down in choppy green water.
Biological functions are humbling, but at least I don’t have to merge with traffic anymore. Our car is gone. This means we get to stay at home more often with our biological functions.
The woman upstairs coughs and coughs and coughs. I wonder what she has. Whatever it is, it must be bad. This is her second week of coughing. Her biological functions are in disarray.
I sift the present for the past. There have been times in my life when I coughed, and groaned, and was sick in bed. And once, under the influence of antihistamine, I became a wizard of hallucination, and created a formula: if prose is rubber, poetry is wax. This formula permits the following phenomena: apparitions carrying suitcases through a corridor of ice, density dreaming that it is pledged to the elephants of effacement, and coarse-grained hermenuetic Dagwood puppets ejaculating ukulele coal.
The ghost of a boat propeller caresses the sky. Naked words molest the mist. Some days I can’t get Antony and Cleopatra out of my head, and some days I see my ancestry in a pile of sawdust.
I find escape in the endless nuance of things. The quiet drama of the ineffable and unspoken. The various hues and whispers and gyrations of air that elude speech. That belong to a different language. You can’t plug a feeling into a wall and expect it to light up a room or power a saw. But it will inform you of things. How the weight of a box of cat food tends to get heavier as you walk it home. How it’s difficult to spend time in a room with people who do not share your vision or values. How the afternoon may be ripped into a thousand words and still elude being postulated as a story. How it resists narration. How it salutes the sky in the form of a bronze arm. The bronze arm of Chief Seattle. The bronze arm of Chief Seattle overlooking an empty pool by the Five Spot Café. The bronze arm of Chief Seattle lifted in reverence. How the unexpected warmth of a March afternoon can feel like a warm egg in the hand. How description is a gift, but can murder a straw. Destroy the purity of a simple image. A thingness. Thingnesses like tin. Like pain. Like pleasure. Like bending to tighten the lace of a running shoe, and seeing a worm on a pilgrimage of undulation. A thingness of nerve and word in myriad perturbation. A story plunged into frustration and skin. 

Sunday, March 3, 2013

On Spinoza’s Modes of Perception

Spinoza identifies four main modes of perception. The first, he calls hearsay. Things we hear through the grapevine. Rumors. Bromides. Platitudes. Unexamined truisms, such as the linear model of progress via technology : color is an advance on black and white, sound is an advance on silent films, computers and Smartphones have so revolutionized information and social activity that we’re all much smarter than people in the Stone Age, those beetle-browed clods that painted all those bison and horses on the walls of caves. Solitude is for malcontents and eccentrics, books and maps are for luddite hippies and nostalgic holdouts, and cell phones and GPS’s are essential tools for survival.

By this logic, Kim Kardashian is a genius, and Henry Thoreau is a total idiot.

The second mode of perception Spinoza identifies as anything we’ve acquired through some vague experience. That is to say, once, when we were very, very high on hashish or psilocybin or LSD, we realized that one day we would die, but that in dying, we would become a larger part of the universe, for that is where we are from, we are all clouds of molecules held together for a time in order to taste and experience being, simple being, simple existence, existence with no ulterior purpose, existence as a manifestation of the fundamental joy and benevolence that is the true marrow of the cosmos.
The third mode of perception is our understanding of cause and effect. The perception that if we lift a specified weight of iron each day, our muscles will grow, and we will look spectacular, capable and strong, our bodies symphonies of bone and muscle, heart rate and blood. Or, if we drink a pint of whiskey we will become very drunk and say things we may later regret. Or, if we drop a watermelon from the top of a high building it will splatter into a thousand pieces. Or, if we refuse to pay our rent, the marshal will come and put us out on the street. Or, if we press ‘L’  on the elevator it will take us to the lobby, and if we press 4 it will take us to the fourth floor, and if we press X it will take us somewhere mysterious, somewhere, possibly, in the clouds, where angels ride Harley Davidsons fueled with rat farts and Jimi Hendrix plays a Gibson Flying V guitar dripping with heavenly fire.
The fourth mode of perception is ontological : that which seizes us with its essence. When we know, for instance, the soul of a thing, and that it is knocking on our ribcage with its very truth, its very molecules mingling with ours, tingling in our nerves, potentiating our being with the power of its truth. The knowledge that one plus one is two, or that a circle is the set of all points in a plane that are a given distance from a center. Or that pumpernickel is a form of bread, or that a pump is a device that moves fluids by mechanical action. There are things that murder the sly demon of analogy with the solidity of their irreducible pith.

I would like to add a few more modes to Spinoza’s list. Perceptions, for instance, that are the children of ether, a post-surgical trance in which a thousand sensations coalesce into a lambent circumlocution of random ideas, and a fold of blanket becomes a hillock in Hyde Park, or a willow in the bloodstream sobbing with literature. This is akin to the second mode of perception, but with one important difference. The experiences aren’t so much vague as flirtatious, reckless and prodigal as gnomes in a goldmine. This is where the external world and the internal world meet at an horizon of prairie motel signs, a Buick LaCrosse burning through winter on a highway to Abilene. Or a soft punctuation of stars on a sentence of rampant parquet. 

Friday, March 1, 2013

Words and Worlds and Worms and Pearls

I don’t get belief. I’ve never understood the attraction. Believing in something has always fundamentally seemed sad. As soon as you believe something, it ceases to have true existence.
I agree with Montaigne: the more a mind is empty and without counterpoise, the more easily it gives beneath the weight of the first persuasive argument.
Belief has little cognitive value. Unless we question, research, query, test and experiment on various assertions and phenomena, belief merely dapples the ground of our knowledge with the play of shadows. It does not give actuality. It coaxes, but does not have the weight of bone.
It is equally foolish, asserts Montaigne, to go around disdaining and condemning as false whatever does not seem likely to us. Which (and I have found this to be true as well) is an ordinary vice in those who think they have more than common ability.
To condemn a thing with unflinching certainty is to reduce things to our capacity and competence. This is what is known as a smart ass, or asshole. There is no shortage of these people. They think they know everything, and so learn nothing. They turn away from the sun if the sun doesn’t fit their notion of sunlight.
But the sun doesn’t give a shit. It just keeps shining.
What I see and taste and hear as ordinary was once a miracle. It continues to be a miracle, but I don’t see it as a miracle, because I see it all the time. Water, for instance, or light. What a miracle light is. Or electricity or rhubarb. Words and worms and worlds and pearls. All miracles.
I grew up in Minnesota. I did not see the ocean until I was twelve. The first time I saw the ocean I could not contain my wonder. I had seen photographs, had seen it in movies and on TV, had heard stories of men at sea and the creatures that live in the dark of its depths. But until I saw and heard it for the first time, it was an abstraction, an imagined entity, a word.
The mind becomes accustomed to things by the habitual sight of them, observed Cicero, and neither wonders nor inquires about the reasons for the things it sees all the time.
I could not tell you how images appear on television, how they are transmitted through the air. I could not tell you how, when I plug a hairdryer into the wall and click a red button, it begins to whir and produce a flow of hot air. But these things happen.
Belief is often accompanied with a feeling of reverence. I believe belief begins with a feeling of reverence. The sense of awe that is produced when I see light begin to appear at the jagged summits of the mountains to the east leads to the production of poetry. Poetry is a strange phenomenon. It begins as an incident in the mind and drops to a sheet of paper in words.
I can’t say with certainty that after we die nothing happens. We just die. We don’t linger, we don’t walk toward a bright light, we don’t sit on clouds playing harps. That’s my belief. I believe that when we die, we die. We cease to exist. We leave our memory behind for a time, our image and behavior continues to have some residual effect on the people we know, especially the people we knew intimately. Actors leave behind movies, their images still vital and dramatic on the screen. Writers leave behind their thoughts and impressions and dreams in words. Musicians leave songs and music behind, their voices as real and ardent and textured as when they first sang into the microphone. But their actual spontaneous flesh and blood selves are gone. This is my belief. But since it is only a belief, I weigh that belief as I would a leaf. A light leaf of cherry, or maple, or oak. A leaf has dimension and color and shape. So does belief. A belief can be a fork. I can believe that a fork has meaning. The fork has a story to tell. The fork conveys a message. But is it the fork, or my mind reading meaning into the fork?
Or these letters. Assembled in a certain order, letters will have catch a penumbral wave of shadow during a solar eclipse and hang it in the mind. Carry purple. Taste grapefruit. But these things are the hallucinations of language. They remedy a lack, and insist on touching you.