Wednesday, December 12, 2018

palimpsest people

I have already lost touch with a couple of people I used to be.  

Joan Didion

He crashes his head onto my chest. The baby blanket draped over my shoulder. Will it hurt him? The rhythmic pacing and patting. The ardently sought burp. His eyes on mine. And when he cries it's full and all and now and forever. To him. I know, he doesn't know, it'll pass. Travail will not last. Baby, be my metaphor. The sobs of relief and joy into the bathroom towel before they came home. Triggered by John Lennon's Beautiful Boy.

The first-grader whom Mrs. Nutter called "Sunshine," memorialized in a photo lost, for now. The one who forever onward remembered "left" as the windows side in the classroom and "right" as the wall side with the entrance door; he who idolized Willie Mays but more so decades later cherished fatherly arms wrapped around him, secure, swinging at a lobbed baseball, this being the hugs and outward love signally recalled; he who played priest with a blanket over his shoulders, awed by the breathless fear of eternal hellfires and brimstoned purgatory mirrored. bookended, by pristine absolutioned after-bath crisp sheets purity. 

Soho. 1973. A few pounds sterling. Drunk. Another drink. A few more pounds. In for a dime in for a dollar. Another drink. More pounds. How much is that in dollars? Her name was Tanya.

At the altar, at a cathedral no less the velvet kneelspace of the prie-dieu not cushiony enough. Her back hurting, she in Renaissance array. Vows. Not a word of the sermon called to mind. Mom and Dad supposed to bring up the "gifts" but a foul-up, a confusion. Have and hold. For richer or for poorer. Sick or well. Unto death do they part. No incense. No asunder. No consummation, not here. The exchange of rings. Looking into the eyes. The hand places the ring on the finger. The public kiss. Not the consummation. The communion, even for Protestants. The beard, gone. The suit, not a tux. 

The splash of liquids, fluids, on the other side of the draped cloth. Here. It's a scissors. Here. What? Take the scissors and snip. Tough meat, that umbilical cord. Want to keep it? No, thanks. The fierce and roaring wind the night before. The nub on the bottom of her foot, subtracting from a perfect Apgar score but not hindering the strength or buoyancy of a soaring ballet career. Looking across the glass, at the latest crop of newborns: there, there, no, yes, there there that's her his beaming.

Noon. Up the dark wooden stairs, slowly, hopefully, warily. Raise your hand. Stories. It was just stories. J. was there. Drunk in the middle of the night at a party months before on your side of town. He was not drunk now. Serene and sober. Just stories. Only an hour. The hot bath at home. New water. Lighter. Buoyant. Walking up those steps. And back down again.

Kentucky Derby. Waiting. Timing contractions. Chinese takeout from Seymour Street. Her walking, her nausea, her vomiting. What? She had taught childbirth. What was this? Walk halls with her, the IV tubes trailing. Sleeping in the room. Sunday morning. Here we go. Is this possible. This is physically possible. The slow miracle. The shrill cries. Hold her. New. She's okay. Newer. They're okay. Newest. We're okay. More. Even more. She. Her.

Let's try this again. A chapel we never returned to. Warm and windy for November 11. Veterans, we joked, of previous wars. Was the priest drunk? What did he forget? There was talk. The kids said we came back, driving in a November blizzard, peppy. Was that their word? Peppy. 

Out there, the life of the party. They were all laughing. The Rolling Stones' song about the Puerto Rican girls. Miss You. Carrying on as if it were a dance floor. What a time we were having. We were all laughing. Shitfaced. Almost falling down. In the bathroom, in there, staring into the mirror and proclaiming and praying: You can't do this anymore. You can't. It's gonna kill you. You can't keep doing this. You... What am I gonna do? Back out there, the life of the party, the ringleader, manic. What a carnival. A circus. Closing time.

Sunday, December 02, 2018

The Clementine Chronicles

The morning rite: one seedless succulent clementine on the tabletop, on the wood portion, near the slate. Sit in high-backed chair. Steaming black tea, half and half, no sugar. Heidelberg Cracked Wheat, toasted, three slices. All three with butter. One with Bonne Maman Red Raspberry Preserves, French. Clementine, Algerian. The Clementine Challenge: peel it uninterrupted, unimpeded in one fell swoop, one unbroken peel. Has yet to happen. Its taste less acidic than the typical, larger orange; its size, small; its nine morsels edible. (Nine edible portions? Sometimes, for example, ten. And if nine, here's a mathematical conundrum: when I break the sphere in half, 50 percent, how do I get two equal halves [4.5?] without splitting one morsel in half, squirtiness and all?  The peeling: paper towel underneath in case of juice release. Aren't polishes for wood citrus-y? The first challenge is the start. To puncture, to break through its skin without squirt or puddle. Skinny dipping. Take a fingernail to break the barrier. Pierce it. Then curl, roll, peel, delicately. Okay, so the disrobing is interrupted. Breakage. It won't be one exciting unpeeling with a presto! ending. Nevertheless, when all is said and done, what, six segments of peeled skin which, if fitted together, comprise a fruitful Rorschach gestalt structure. Four or five on an exceptionally good skin-spin cycle. Is one perfect Pauline peel possible? Who can say? Then, a reversal: the inability to puncture, to get things started. Is it because of closely clipped fingernails? A difference in the batch of clementines? Temperature or humidity? Try a small cut with a knife. Bleeding of clementine juice (not blood orange's). Droplets on the tabletop's wood, the paper towel yellowed, urine-colored yet still brightly and refreshingly citric. The worse wound: the whole peeling venture has run amok! Portions cleaved with skin intact. Take the fruitflesh to mouth and peel that way. So unaesthetic. So sloppy, drippy, and skill-less. Such anarchy. What happened? Who knows. But the next morning, after the words up to this point, a refreshed peeling venture. Softly, with pressure, pick at the outer layer of the outer layer. As if performing a patient surficial scraping. Indentation. Breach. And then, ah, the most exquisite peel-curl yet: inches long, liberated from the sphere, fragrancing the morning air. Five peeled-skin segments but really four if the crumb-sized bit is not counted; three if the large-crumb-sized bit is discounted. Mostly one, an elongated scroll, a clementined unfurling in all its clement mercy. Maybe it was the switch to Smuckers. Most likely the recast attention afforded from the previous draft, the one that had ended with "What happened?" And did anyone perchance mention the pruriently pleasing uncleaving of the crescent sections of edible fruit, a secret, quiet, and delicate undertaking requiring the dexterity of a surgeon, a lover's tender patience? 

Friday, November 30, 2018

white space

white  space 







off  white

off  color

outer  space

square  one

ground  zero

white  noise

static  free 

 room  to  breathe

elbow  room

no  time

to  spare

personal  space

cling  free

opposites  attract
 white  smoke

Sunday, November 25, 2018

recalling the future

 ... and as I watched, with the stark lucidity of a future recollection (you know -- trying to see things as you will remember having seen them). 
Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita

In the bleachers during the World Series, October 2012, San Francisco. I will remember this. I will remember it like this, as starkly and irretrievably happy, as I am in this film being filmed right now. The smell of beer on the metal floor. Moody clouds as the sun set. The fans in front, back, and sides of me. The frenzy. The crack of the bat. Roars of the crowd. My coffee. The manic shouting (by me). My weeping as the Tony Bennett recording played. Texting back home. All of it. Framed. Sealed. Under glass.

Are such recollections a forced inevitability? Can you will this tape into memory edited in the way you prescribe? Or does that make it a foregone conclusion a self-fulfilling prophecy?

And was it really like that? There is no way to prove or disprove it, the subjective parts. Maybe by hypnosis. 

I would suggest we do this with Big Events: birth, death, marriage, hiring, firing, divorce, travel.

But now I'm confused.

It's never as you imagine you will remember it, not exactly. Yet sometimes it is, or seems to be. Is it like the Werner Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, whereby the observer, the very act of observing, influences the outcome, the results, of the measurement? (I just butchered the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle. Never mind.)

I said we do this with Big Events.

I take it all back.

It's not so much a super-hyper-future recollection as a super-hyper-experience.

I don't even know what I'm talking about anymore. I don't even know what point I was trying to make.

Maybe you can help me out.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

ghost in the machine

It is 2018. Election Day. The Feast of Choices. I voted, made my choices. I had uncharacteristically backed into the parking space outside the Hazard branch library. I won't hazard here a guess as to the 5Ws and an H of the hazard. Turn the ignition. No push button. The engine starts. Wait. Hold it. I'm not ready but I'm rolling forward, sliding as if on black ice. I'm pushing down, down, down, pumping on the brake. To no avail. Huh? Hold it. Can't stop the forward motion, the inertia. Panic. Sweat. Brake. Brake. Wait. The car is in park. What? Oh. What? Hunh? The car to my right, parallel to me, doing the sliding, the gliding, the creeping forward. Rapid heartbeat slows. Reorients. Back to normal. Things in their proper place and time. Back to normal, whatever that is.

It is 1956. I know it is 1956 because later in the journey, after Mom, Dad, Jack, and I, and the Kandas visited Washington Crossing State Park in New Jersey, a mysterious conversation ensued in the car. "Are you okay, Josephine?" The dialogue among the adults was confusing. I was 7 years old. The words "morning sickness" were uttered that summer day in the car, in New Jersey, where at the Kandas' for vacation I would enjoy buttered and salted corn on the cob that has yet to equaled in sweet and salty succulence, a trip so satisfying I saved sand in a Dixie cup from Ocean County Park in Lakewood after wading in its tea-colored lake water. After Bobby was born, in January 1957, did I hearken back to Mom's car-sickness obliquely discussed? Doubtful. It was more of a mosaic, a gestalt portrait painted in stages over the years since.

It is 1956. We are on a train in Stamford, Connecticut, bound for Trenton, New Jersey, for a family vacation. One could only hazard a wild guess as to the costly burden this put on our family. We lived in a city housing project, well kept, reasonably safe. We moved there in 1955, part of a seismic postwar transformation unknown to the scared and curious kid in the front passenger seat with cousin Joe Kanda driving. How did six of us fit in the car? No bucket seats, no seat belts. We are on the train ready to embark on our adventure. Some kid in school (for all I know, it was a teacher not a classmate) once told a story of someone being sucked under a train and dying. So, when steam burst forth from the arriving New York, New Haven and Hartford line (the New Haven line; oh, how I would long for a gorgeous serial comma inserted there, seifs or not) engine, what else could I ponder but swift death and extinction by locomotive vacuuming? A terrifying prospect.

Not sucked under but alive, oh, the excitement of sitting in a train chugging toward Manhattan, solid and rhythmic, stoic and hypermuscled, iron in its will and movement. Passengers on a train, human cargo -- living and breathing after not being mercilessly sucked into its abdomen!

We arrived at the terminus of Grand Central Terminal (not Grand Central Station, which is a post office). Presumably to change trains for the Pennsylvania Railroad, a coveted ownership property in Monopoly.

I am sitting near the window, the window is on the right. We start moving slowly, pulling out of the station. We are underground. Here we go. A gentle rolling sends us toward Trenton. Wait. Something is wrong here. What's the train on the other side of my window doing? Going backward? I don't get it. I stamp my feet on the floor, as if I could step on my own personal braking system to set things right.

"Mommy? Daddy? What's the train do -- ... ?"

Did they see it too?

Some kind of secular miracle. Movement not movement. We weren't moving, the other train was. What's going on here? Did you catch that? Was that for me to see or does everyone see it? As if my beloved Willie Mays wasn't tracking the ball over his shoulder in center field but instead the outfield and the stands and naturally the batted ball were conspiring to move while he was stationary.

And a seven-year-old boy doesn't know where to begin so he swallows his words and buckles up, so to speak, for the ride.

Who or what authored this vection vision of illusory movement? 

Tell me.

Don't tell me. 

Not yet.

Monday, November 19, 2018

What's It To You?

You can't put a price on it. You can't put a price on him, on her, on them. The Price Is Wrong. The cost of medications, of healthcare, of surgery. A matter of life or death. A pauper's grave. A penny for your thoughts. How about a dollar? Or a million dollars for your thought? That single unspoken thought, the dangerous one you can't speak even to yourself, the perverse and criminal thought that will shame and ruin you -- and you didn't even know it was a floating subterranean tidal whisper. A living wage. The cost of living. The wages of sin. Thank you for your time. Paying for the privilege of your time. Our shared time, and space. How much is it worth to you? The meter is running. Stop the meter. Rare silks and spices from exotic lands. Explorers, navigators, plunderers. A lunar rock. A Roman emperor on a broken coin. Fragment of fossilized bone. Anonymity. Secrecy. Mystery. Coin of the realm. The crown jewels. Cupidity. Need. Want. Bartering this for that. Transaction. Gold. Dust. Silver. Rust. What's it worth? What's it worth to you? And to me. Diamonds, rubies, emeralds, crystal. Paper or plastic? Ultimately, what's it worth to them? Currency. Flow. In circulation. Streaming. Exchange. This for that. You for me, me for you, us for them, them for us. David Hockney's "Portrait of an Artist (Pool with Two Figures)," $18,000 in 1972; $90.3 million in 2018. Off the grid. Unavailable. Digitally absent. Gone. Missing in inaction. Flood of images. Verbal inundation. She of few words. He of sphinxlike silence. Rare blood type. Bloodlust. Donor fatigue. Daylight Saving Time. Daylight Saving Space. Saving for what and how? Freedom isn't free. Currencies of blood, time, space, platitude, demagoguery, faith, courage, history, and myth. Terms and conditions. Are you available Thursday? They're never available. I can never reach her. He never answers. Rarely. Rara avis. Rare bird. Rare book. What am my bid? Going once, going twice. Sold. How much was that again? 

Thursday, October 25, 2018

'No' Is a Complete Sentence. Or Is It?

You can debate it. You can logically and persuasively argue yes or no as to whether "no" constitutes a complete sentence. Your answer depends on context, communication theory, and linguistics. (Go ahead and Google away at "the Gricean Theory of Conversational Implicature" as you're waiting for your Americano at the coffee shop.) Also entering the equation (oops, that's math; wrong subject) is whether you are a strict or loose constructionist in how you define a sentence.

Yes or no, either one works for me. I don't care, as long as I can continue to say "'No' is a complete sentence" and apply it to the matter at hand.

And what exactly is the matter at hand?

Two matters come to mind:

  1. People who have a hard time saying no to demands imposed by others
  2. People who feel the need to explain, defend, or justify their refusal of a request they want to reject but can't 
Enter a play within the play, as in Hamlet:

Can you lend me $500?

No, I can't because my counterfeit money-making machine in the basement stopped printing when the black-ink cartridge ran out, plus I need to reorder the special paper from my 'friends' at Treasury.

No, the triplets need formula, diapers, binkies, onesies, and meds. And I owe our upscale, artisanal photographer a down payment for the quasi-royal official portraits of the triplets.

No, not today; can I get back to you after I check with my accountant, my lawyer, my therapist, my Zen roshi, and my local arms dealer?

How about $300. Can you lend me that?

No, I'll never get it back.

No, I just spent my last $275 on Mega Millions, and I have no gas in my car, and I forgot to buy my pain meds.

No, I won't. I would but I can't. No, I might but might not. Not sure. I sometimes can and sometimes do but I usually can't and don't. 

Dude. Just give me fifty effing bucks until Monday when my effing ship comes in, okay? Can you do that?

No, my ship is coming in too, at the same dock.

No, because when your ship comes in I'll be at the airport.

No, because Monday I'll be tied up all day in bankruptcy court.

Dad/Mom, can I have the car?

No. Dad has a date.

No. Mom has a date.

With each other?!

Now, answer each of these questions with the monosyllabic no.

Start with an interior whisper to yourself.


Practice it.

Out loud now.

Mantra it.

No. No. No.

How do you feel now? Feel better?


"Because if you can't say no, your yes doesn't mean anything." Regan Walsh

palimpsest people

I have already lost touch with a couple of people I used to be.    Joan Didion He crashes his head onto my chest. The baby blanket...