Batty And The Devil
It was a middle-of-the-night session with a trusty laptop. Perhaps it was nerves, or too much coffee, but the Professor couldn't sleep that night. In his pine-paneled garret, the unreliable narrator worked on yet another installment in that ongoing forum known as Flippism Is The Key. The night was warm, and while a rumble of thunder in the distance augured a storm, at that moment the air was still, with ominous, almost putrescent odors of mown grass, cloying flowers, and humus permeating the neighborhood. While glancing at the clock - 2:30 - a shadow crossed Batty's line of sight, going from the open window to the darkest corner of the little room. "Drat! A bat is that! Scat!", muttered the Suessian Professor. He picked up a throw from the couch to gently capture that 'child of the night' before it could hurt itself or arouse the rest of the household.
He arose, turned toward the corner and then stopped. Instead of a winged mammal, he saw before him, wearing an elaborate Victorian outfit (complete with a red-lined black satin cape), was what appeared to be a man.
"Allow me to introduce myself," the apparition purred, "and please forgive my brash intrusion. I am Beelzebub, the Prince of Darkness, Satan, or he who some may call the Devil, and I am here to make you an offer that I think you will embrace willingly, once you comprehend it in its entirety."
The dubious professor thought: I simply must get that screen replaced...then spoke: "What do you want with me?"
"I notice that you're blogging, having a tough time of it tonight, aren't you? A little short on inspiration tonight?" -the hint of a sneer curled the nocturnal visitor's lip as he continued; "You realize, of course, that I could help you make your blog an overnight sensation, MILLIONS of hits, book offers, screenplays, groupies, even your face on the cover of Wired magazine!"
The professor seemed tempted for a moment, but then slowly crossed his arms over his chest and shook his head; "No, no thank you. I'll pass on that."
"My dear man, don't you realize that I can bestow to you all these things and much more? You don't grasp the breadth of my power, do you? It wasn't Al Gore that invented the Internet, Bub, and may I add, 'you ain't seen nothin' yet!'"
"Thank you, no, I'll stick with what I've got. It isn't much, but what goes in this blog is as true as we can make it, no matter how silly or oblique it may appear." The professor was a little irritated by Satan's boasting. "You may be the Devil," he continued, "or you may be the Lord, but this place exists for its own purposes, and is not in service to God, the Devil or Mammon."
"Truth!" snorted the Devil; "And can you be so sure of the others who appear here? What darkness lies within their nature?"
"They are who they are. They write what they see fit, and I have neither feeling nor reason to doubt their integrity." The Professor was truly angered now, "They have their own demons to deal with, and need no help or hindrance from the likes of you!"
The true nature of the interloper now became manifest, as his fine clothes turned into reptilian scales, and his unctuous voice now turned into a sulfurous hiss- "Wait and see, my ersatz professor, wait and see- you'll be on my side yet- or as I have often been quoted: 'If you aren't with me, you are against me!"
With that the otherwise timid blogger flew into a rage, throwing his copy of HTML for Dummies at the hideous creature. This caused the transformation of the stranger back into his winged form, which then flew through the window leaving Batty alone with his musings once again.
Truth In Packaging
I was reading my milk bottle this morning (my life is a thrill a minute!) and printed upon it was this cryptic epigram: "For optimists, dreamers and the inspired...". It was skim milk. If ever a dairy product was uninspired and not conducive to dreaming, that would have to be the one. Maybe whey would be less so, but not by much. This led to thoughts about other products and what little aphoristic phrases could be applied to them:
Coffee- For realists, disenchanted and the uninspired...
Chocolate- For hedonists, cravers and the decadent...
SUVs- For overcompensators, megalomaniacs and the insecure...
Hot Dogs- For the indiscrimminate, greasy and omnivorous...
George W.Bush- For the narrow-minded, elitist and disingenuous...
Blogging- For optimists, dreamers and the inspired...
Blogging: The skim milk of literature?
"...throw some more wood on that fire..."
"...so I figured it was just bad gas, the motor would die if I let the idle down..."
"...no, the labor wasn't too bad, my water broke at nine and the baby was born by 8 the next morning..."
"...Ooh, com'on and do shots with us..."
"Squeeze me? Is that T-shirt for real?"
"You going up to the Boundary Waters this summer?"
"So do you think a 6.1 megapixel is worth the extra dough?"
...don't know why I come to these, too much smoking and drinking...
"Attention please, we're going to do the raffle now- the last three digits are 739...739...nobody?"
"...finished eleven commercials this week. That director was a real asshole though..."
"739? Okay, we'll try another...801...801"
"...do you want a piggy-back ride?"
...there she is with her new baby, I want a baby...
"We've got this new karoake set-up..."
"You play pool?" "Oh I've been known to..."
"...was stopped with a .068 blood alcohol, that was too close..."
"...so I tell my manager that I don't care if we are supposed to be nice..."
"Having a kid is really cool and really frightening."
"I always said that having a baby is like being washed out to sea, you wash ashore about five years later and resume your life."
"I'll see you, maybe we'll get that canoe trip in later this summer."
"Yeah catch you later..."
In my hands. A crude cartoon, done in love, but grotesque nevertheless, announcing the marriage of an almost-girlfriend. As if to rub my face in it, I thought. No, it was just a sign she still thought of me. "I'll ride that Chestnut Mare someday!" - my foolish words. It's over. not a chance. You never really had a thing going with her. You just weren't in her league, were you. You'd need a whole lot more of everything to catch a woman like that. And now she's up and done it. She married someone else. Get over it.
That was a long time ago. I got over it. I got married myself, and not on the rebound from her either. There all all sorts of different people. Some work out as a mate. Some don't. But despite their differences, there is a commonality. You commit, they commit, you figure it out. It doesn't exactly matter who it is, as long as you can see yourselves together. But years later, my old girlfriend and I, did get back together(Platonically), and renewed a friendship we should have had all along, that I was too emotional and immature to let happen.
Today I printed and mounted a photographic show for the Mitchell, South Dakota, Corn Palace. The Corn Palace is an auditorium building that has the outside covered with mosaics of naturally colored corn, changed yearly to reflect a theme. Most of the pictures were made from copy negatives of old postcards. There were also three made from digital camera files. The building, excepting the mosaics, has not changed in over 80 years. There were several shots of the Palace that were dated in the twenties. On these pictures, these copies of old penny-postcards, you can see every detail of the building. You can count the bricks, the ears of corn. On the new pictures, shots of the same building, shot in the same location, you can see sort of a impression of brick-like blobs and, as the perspective recedes, just colored daubs. The corn looks like blurry confetti. That's some kind of Progress, I guess. I don't know what kind, just some kind.
Futurism is a good way to make yourself look foolish. The rate of change of technology has been picking up, whether it's for good or ill can be argued on a case by case basis. What seems to be accelerating the most is communications technology- cheaper, faster, not always better, but "good enough"- and when fads, fashions and products have the shelf-life of a gnat, it becomes very hard to predict anything, except there will be MORE.
Medicine and health care always seems to be about ten years away from that big breakthrough- rebuilt parts, as good as or better than new. Transplants and bionics have made alot of headway, but still are not the same as new organs, with your genes. What has been done is the vast amount of research to take medicine to the next level: mapping the human genome, understanding cellular mechanisms, truly effective and application-specific drugs. I sense that our children will not suffer from many of the things we now find ourselves at the mercy of- but these changes are probably a little further off than a decade.
Transportation is another question mark. It is pretty obvious that the gasoline-powered era will be drawing to a close. If high-tech solutions can't be found (or made effective) we might find ourselves traveling less, with the world getting bigger in a sense. That overseas vacation may become a once-in-a-lifetime thing, rather than once a year. Sailing ships? Dirigibles? When the SST jets were shut down, an era of aviation progress ended.
Of course with the expansion of HDTV both in the mass media and over the internet, people may opt out of travel altogether and cocoon their lives away.
All of this won't happen if the world becomes further embroiled in war. If China were to erupt, and the warfare there spread throughout the Far East, (in addition to the current Near East situation), all bets are off. A grim, Orwellian future, instead of the chaotic, technological Brave New World. Check back here in 2015, with your HD 3-D screen, and my virtual body shall update you in surround sound and Odorama.
My Icelandic correspondent Kristín took time out from her Wyrd existence to be so gracious as to pose these interview questions to me.
1) Why Iceland? What made you want to visit it?
-Literature, certainly. Besides Jules Verne's Journey, I had a copy of Independent People by Halldór Laxness. "Who are these strange people who happen to think, mope and brood the same way I do?", I said to myself after reading it. As a child, I was fascinated by the Ísland postage stamps in my collection. My first time there, when my wife and I went in 2000, I only had a short time for a spring break and got a good deal on one of the Icelandair packages (we stayed at the Hotel Borg!) When I returned last year, it was by myself, to photograph and be alone for a while. The Icelandic countryside in March is a very good place to be alone.
2) In comparison to other countries you've travelled to, how does Iceland rate?
I'm not much of an international traveller. I've only been to England and Scotland a few times, which I enjoyed very much, they were very pleasant and charming. Iceland is very severe and stunning. The people I met in Iceland were very intelligent and they all asked me: "Why Iceland?"
3) What is the greatest thing about America?
The ideals upon which it was founded.
4) What is the one aspect of your country that you dislike the most?
The hatred and intolerance upon which it was built. The American Civil War has never ended- the current international disgrace of the Bush policies is only a continuation of the old evil of elitism.
5) On your blog you mention that old clothes can become like ghosts. Do you believe in ghosts? Have you, or anyone you know, seen one?
In dreams, yes. As a sense of spirits, perhaps. Ghosts in real life, no.
6) Trains, planes or automobiles?
Trains in my part of the country are pretty much commodity freight movers, I like to hear their whistles at night when I'm half-alseep...Passenger jets are commodity people movers, although I did have one great flight...Automobiles are commodity petrol wasters, where I live it is almost an imperative to have one- due to lack of options. I really enjoy travel by bicycle or canoe.
If you would like to be interviewed by me, reply in the comments section, we'll see if we can keep this chain going.
...somewhere, Scandinavia, in a city with a group of people, some of whom I know, others are strangers, or perhaps locals. It is night, it is around Christmas, buildings are decorated, shoppers hurry by with packages. We meet another group of people. She is there, this time she speaks; she says that she has to go. We do not touch. I call her name, she turns and looks at me, she is smiling, and she is crying. I speak to her: "...please don't leave us...". It begins to snow...
I was afraid of Richard when I was growing up. Richard was the Bomb Boy. He made bombs in his garage, and blew them up in the empty field by the creek. His specialty was the crafting of pipe bombs, made with sections of steel pipe and match heads. He would set them off with firecrackers, they made a big explosion. Richard was working in his garage one day, making the biggest pipe bomb yet, and he was hammering the end of it shut with a hammer.
When Richard got out of the hospital, he only had one hand and one kidney, he walked funny and was blind in one eye. The sight of him limping down the street always gave me the willies. He did a bad thing, and he paid the price. I had done things just as dumb, but I was luckier than Richard. Maybe God liked me, I thought. Maybe Richard was bad and deserved his fate.
There are hundred of thousands of bomb boys (and girls) now. None of them are any better or worse people than Richard. They didn't make their own instruments of self-destruction. They were just in the wrong place at the wrong time. Maybe God doesn't like them. I don't know what God thinks.
Digging through my old clothes, filling a bag for the thrift store, I came upon my summer suit. A beauty: imported fabric, cream-white with pinstripes, perfectly tailored for me: or rather the man I was twenty-five years ago. I last wore it at my 30th class reunion, I had to lose twenty pounds to get into it then and it was still plenty tight. It remains a very nice suit, it's a luxury to have a suit that isn't a business black or blue or a frumpy brown. I should have taken it to Hawai'i. And left those pounds home.
Old clothes can become ghosts, in a sense. Hovering above the floor, hanging around in attics and closets, always there to remind you of what you once were. Sometimes they can be downright scary. Maybe I'll lose that weight, wear that suit again, start calling myself Professor Dandy as I hit the town. Or maybe I'll exorcise that demon by letting someone else have that summer suit.
Coast Of Malabar
Far away, across the ocean
...with the world changing so rapidly...
Underneath an Indian star
...what was once unthinkable, now common...
Dwells a dark and lovely maiden
...inner thoughts of a stranger...
On the Coast of Malabar
...coming to me daily, planting their seeds...
In the harbour, where we anchored
...her exotic aspect tempered by her humanity...
I can see her, shy and sweet
...knowable, yet untouchable...
With a bunch of wine-red roses
...facing the same problems...
And the wild waves at her feet
...from a different perspective...
"Come to me", I can hear her calling
...quoting Edna Millay and Liz Phair...
Across the oceans, wild and far
...while I sit here, surrounded by mindless xenophobia...
"Come to me again and love me,
...loves her parents...
On the Coast of Malabar"
...and tolerates no fools...
And my thoughts keep ever turning
...age, circumstance and geography conspire to separate...
To that far-off distant shore
...but we will meet, if only in dreams...
And the dark-eyed girl who loved me
...and this perfect love with no end and no beginning...
Will I see her never more?
...will forever hide in our hearts...
Oh fare thee well, my little dark-eyed queen
Oh fare thee well, my Indian star
In my heart you'll live forever
On the Coast of Malabar
"Coast Of Malabar" -is a traditional Irish ballad
My Own Modern Day Saint
"My grandmother started walking five miles a day when she was sixty. She's ninety-seven now, and we don't know where the hell she is."
Ellen Degeneres. Why the owner of two dogs named "Bootsie" and "Muffin"? Why choose a woman that did the voice of a fish?
Now that I've been home, I remember what TV is again. Every afternoon at 5 PM, Ellen pays my mother a visit. After the opening monologue, Ms. Degeneres does a dance number and her audience always participates with the most enthusiasm.
For someone that has had to deal with "coming out" and facing loads of controversy for being herself, I'm always amazed that she dances everyday. It never fails. And she maintains that great sense of humor.
"I ask people why they have deer heads on their walls. They always say because it's such a beautiful animal. There you go. I think my mother is attractive, but I have photographs of her."
I used to be cool. Really. I went to dances, was a bon vivant at society affairs, and wasn't that Jackie O beside me in that photo in the Village Voice? Frankie and Sammy, no second name needed. Henry Kissinger in my Rolodex under "Hank". Groovy baby.
But now my 'hip' is broken. Young women think I am the janitor. Teen-aged punks sneer: "old man". My former tonsorial splendor is but a memory, gray and going, going, gone.
Enough of this wallow in the sty of self-pity.
What assets do I have?
#1. Wits- at least half of them at any given moment.
#2. Family- the kids are alright.
#3. Wife- restricted topic.
#4. God and Country- well one out of two ain't bad.
#5. Real friends- and none so close as to want to borrow my tools.
#6. Imaginary friends- some more so than others- just who are these strange people that keep popping up in this blog?
#7. Health- my middle leg neither drips nor droops
#8. Money- enough for a six-pack of German beer once in a while.
#9. Home- yeah. Ok, I'm a homeboy, not a player.
So, I'll have to trade stability for glamour. Frankie and Sammy and Jackie aren't looking so good themselves right now. I'll pop open a Spaten and kick back. It could be worse. I'll put off that 'hip' replacement for a while longer.
"...and the charms o' the min, they fade and wither awa, mon..." -Robert Burns
This bit of grim philosophy has haunted me over the years, I always felt it to be a little disingenuous, especially coming from a poet who certainly had his share of fleeting pleasure. It seems to me that the very nature of ephemera gives these simple moments of beauty their value. I'm not advocating living for the moment as a constant state, but am merely suggesting that those who can never enjoy the lighter side of existence are missing its point.
BOGOTA (AFP) - A Colombian town has taken a hard line against gossip, with fines of up to 6,000 dollars and three years in jail.
"Residents come out with things that they have no reason to say, that are mere gossip and that have even gotten people killed," Margoth Morales, city manager of Iconozo, 150 kilometers (90 miles) south of Bogota, told RCN televsion.
Morales explained that only gossips who cannot resist talking about their neighbors will be punished to the maximum. Recidivists could get the full three-year, 6,000 dollar punishment.
The Iconozo gossip ordinance is not the first in Colombia. Two years ago, the mayor of Ibague, also in Tolima province, imposed a fine on gossip.
Modern-Day Saints #1
What would your definition of a saint be? Someone who has led an exemplary life, a performer of miracles, the leader of an enormous organization? Or perhaps it would be a humble hermit, a seeker of truth whose quiet example shows us all perfection? There are the saints of old, saints of minor interest (St. Ives?) and even mystic- warrior saints (Joan of Arc). The Roman Catholic church had made sainthood a growth industry in the last few decades, and there will soon be another one. But all saints have to have an iconic presence. They, and the lives they led, must symbolize some aspect of humanity's struggle between existence and fate.
Marilyn Monroe, born Norma Jean Baker, is certainly an Icon. An actress, a woman, a sex-symbol unequaled. But in her life, as in most of her movie roles, she also shows us the missing part of Christianity, she is Mary Magdelene, worldly, sexual, misunderstood and mis-used by the males in love and life. Always searching for a good man, always disappointed, maintaining a strong moral center that held in spite of betrayal and degradation. A single woman. Was her death a new crucifixion, with her as the Daughter Of God, dying for our sins? Was her death necessary to enable us to appreciate her life?
Her light may fade: she wrote no philosophy, she left no church, there is no Gospel of Marilyn. But she was. She left a body of work that may survive. It shows an actor in a role. The role that billions of women must play, to some degree or another. A role that is half of humanity, without which we are lost. The promise of her sexuality is the promise of love, of new life. As Venus and Aphrodite fulfilled that role in classical times, so does Marilyn in modern times.
Come. The door is open.
We'll cross the threshold
Through that door. The bed awaits.
The bed is inviting, even
more so than he
Now is the time.
This event was
Years in the making
We've waited long enough.
Someone knows what he's doing
and I think I know it too
I won't pull you in.
Am I pushing him
or is he pulling me?
In or out, it's up to you.
Should I? Will I? Why wouldn't I?
The door is open.
We'll cross the threshold
You said you wanted to, now you don't.
Where's my confidence?
I am virgin, see me shudder
Uncompromised you will remain- virgin you will not.
I won't let him see me wince
Or will you?
I want this, I think...
We've already begun.
By Comica and
The Eagle Has Landed
The Apollo astronauts were ready to make the final descent from lunar orbit to the surface.
The '63 Ford came to a halt in the darkened country lane.
They had been in lunar orbit for several hours, preparing for this event.
The young couple had been seeing each other for several weeks, spending their time together in closer and closer intimacy.
"Mission Control, we are ready for our approach trajectory adjustment."
"Let me push the seat back all the way, we'll get a little more comfortable"
Grasping the joystick, the pilot's firm touch, developed with years of training, manuevered the tiny craft into the proper attitude.
His eagerness, already expressing itself, needed a careful rearranging, so as not to be deployed too soon.
The tiny lunar excursion module enveloped the explorers on their way toward touchdown.
The family sedan became a love-nest for the excited couple.
As the moon's surface neared, the astronauts breathing and heartrate increased dramatically.
The lovers gasps were coming quicker now, their pulses raced faster and faster.
Touchdown. The crew prepared for their lunar exploration
Touchdown. The lovers' caresses now reached the intimate areas.
"Misson Control, this is Tranquility Base. The eagle has landed."
"Roger, You've got a couple of guys down here turning blue."
Later, the young explorers looked up at the rising moon.
The lunar explorers looked up at the earth-rise.
"It's really beautiful, isn't it?"
"It's really beautiful, isn't it?"
One of the joys of adolescence for me was creative destruction. It seemed that nothing was safe from my urge to dismantle, blow-up and otherwise ruin my immediate surroundings. I was encouraged in this behavior by that bastion of middle-class America, The Reader's Digest. In between abridged novels (Gone With the Wind - in only 200 pages!) and helpful health related features (I am Joe's Colon) the editors (who must have been drunk that day) published a story about teen-aged rocketeers - including a formula for rocket fuel! Well, after my buddy Tom and I read that, it was only a matter of time before we put it to a proper "scientific" test. The science room at our junior high had the proper ingredients so we mixed them together during "science club" after school one day. Now you may ask: "Where was your faculty advisor?" and the answer would be: "Who knows?". Unlike the virtual lock-down conditions of many of the schools today, in the innocent sixties students often spent a great of time unsupervised. At any rate, we had procured a tin can to be our test vessel (so as not to damage any of the schools equipment!) and proceeded to ignite what we assumed to be a small amount of fuel.
What did we learn from this experiment?
#1. Rocket fuel has A LOT OF ENERGY per mass.
#2. When you ignite rocket fuel in a tin can, the can immediately turns red-hot
#3. Any combustible material adjacent to aforementioned tin can will be immediately charred.
#4. It takes a long time to sand out char marks from a wooden table-top.
#5. Science club was canceled for the rest of the year.
Well, they did allow us to continue our studies- I'm sure if we were students today and tried a stunt like that we would be incarcerated until our twenty-first birthday, and then would have begun a lifetime of crime. Somehow I think that The Reader's Digest doesn't publish rocket fuel formulas anymore.
Take a load off Fanny,
take a load for free...
Take a load off Fanny,
and put the load right on me...
Man, nothing could get me down today; I flew into work singing, breezed through my shift on overdrive, came home, made supper for the Weaver, and I still felt great. Now it's not that I am never down, and it's not that I had any particular reason for my happiness, it was just a great day. So, in light of that, I give you this no-obligation proposition:
I am now accepting and will willingly bear your burdens, funks, foul moods, and any of your other minor ailings. Com'on! Pile 'em up! Here's a chance to drop some of that baggage that you've been carrying around. I promise not to give it back! A deal like this won't last long- act now! That old heartbreak? Give it here. A sense of not belonging? Drop it off pal, no prob. Feel that you can't talk when you really need to? I'll pry that cat off your tongue. Feeling a little better? Good. That's all there is to it! LET IT ALL HANG OUT! I saw that little smile! You don't have to suffer like that- let it be me. Self esteem issues? You're alright by me. I've got Karma to burn, baby, burn- toss your bad vibes on my pyre. It's here. It's now. It's free. It's just for you. Why do I do it? Because I like your style and I hate to see it cramped. Now go'on. Have a ball. It's your turn. I'm bleeding.
Departing Tomorrow for Greener Pastures (Literally)
Au Revoir city lights. Sayonnara Mojo's, home of the best cheese fries on the planet. See-ya' later sirens blaring at 3 AM. A fond farewell to Professor Brinegar. Happy Trails to dorm life. Here's lookin' at you Shafer Dining Hall. Auf Wiedersehen to my roommate, and may she fare well until I see her lovely face again. Goodbye Richmond. Thanks for a year that I will never forget.
Much remains unsaid.
Yeah. Uhu. Is that right? Aha. Ummm. Yeah. Ok. Oh really? Ummm. Right. Aha.
I look at her as she over-eagerly nods her head and takes notes from all that I'm saying. Then she stops and looks at me with her penetrative stare. I feel as if I should have something to say but I know I can't say the things she wants to hear. Avoiding her eyes I stare out the window and play with my headphones like there is no tomorrow.
Tell me something about you. Aha. Umm. Ok. Uhu. Right. Yeah. And how does that make you feel?
I carefully dodge her questions even though I know she needs to know the answers to be able to help me. I don't know how any of it makes me feel. I don't know what to tell her. I sink lower and lower on her couch and while she waits for me to open my mouth I wander off on to the other side. To the other side where everything is good and you don't have to tell middle-aged head bangers how various situations make you feel. To my kingdom, my own little haven, where I decide who I let in and who not. I sometimes wish I could spend all my time there but at the same time I know the day that happens is the day they have to lock me up at some mental institution. Because as much as I like the other side, life is happening on this side. Right here, right now. So I better start coughing up the answers.
Aha. Uhhh. Ok. Right. Aha. Wait. Why? When in doubt, buy a sweater? Uhu. Road Trip? What?. Foreign Mafia? Yeah, we need another session. Next week? Good.
Not needing, not needing you. Or boys. Or girls. Needing myself and no one else. Drinking water. Being messy. I think not. Not caring. Not trying for this. Just happening. Just doing. For once. Not watching. But knowing. It'll be the right thing. It'll be therapeutic. New and exciting. Butterflies over someone new everyday. Being sexy, desired, wanted, available but unable to be reached. Smart, in a non-overwhelming way - just know how able I am. So appealing. It's 9:22 AM in May. Wishing it was December. Wishing it was innocence. And that way forever.
That would be absolutely B. E. A. U. T. I. F. U. L.
Agree? Only myself. You couldn't possibly understand me. Or any of this. The desires, wishes, wants, needs, loves, hates. Only me, only me and you. Me single, alone. The most appealing thing. Catch eyes. Blink. Flirtatious eye-batting. Lively. Ravishing. Me. Why yes! This is merely the beginning.
Fun In Montana
1958 was a watershed year in my childhood. It was the year of the great western family vacation: South Dakota, Wyoming, Montana and North Dakota, in our brand new '58 Ford. The Dakotas and Wyoming were fine, with all the usual picture-postcard scenery and the tourist traps (yes, we did stop at Wall Drug!) But the high point of the trip, what made it transcend the ordinary, was a stay in Chinook, Montana, where one of my dad's brothers lived with his family, and where my dad's sister-in-law, the widow of another of my dad's brothers, lived with her son. Now Chinook is a small town, a little east of Havre, on the north central plains. My Dad's brother had four or five kids, two boys, two girls and some other boy, now grown up, who had some kind of unexplained relationship to us. All of us cousins had fun together, visitors to this part of Montana were somewhat scarce at that time, none of my other relatives ever went out there. Montana was a lot wilder than Minnesota, we did things that were unheard of for this eight-year-old: playing poker till 2 a.m., fun games with liquid mercury (!), shooting off fireworks(and not ladyfingers either!), target practice, dropping water balloons on unsuspecting townsfolk, teasing their 'pet' magpies, and many other pranks. After three or four days of this, we went home and forgot all about our country cousins.
Ten years later. I was a student at the University. On Thursdays my last class was over at noon; I took the bus home. I was home alone, everyone else was at work or school. The phone rang. The operator's voice said "will you accept a collect call from ____, in Havre Montana?" It was my uncle. In a trembling voice he explained that his younger son, the one my age, had been 'out hunting' with his cousin...something happened...he had been shot to death...it was an accident.
As I grew older, the missing parts of the story began to get filled in. Montana was a wilder place than Minnesota. Fun with cars, and booze, and guns. My cousin who pulled the trigger spent the next thirty years drunk, and died from a fall while drunk. His father had died drunk, found frozen to death in a feedlot 45 years earlier. His grandfather - my grandfather - had died drunk. My uncle and aunt never got over it. When they'd come to visit they'd look at me closely, and always commented on the fact that I was the same age as the son they lost.
Yup, took in the first hay of the season today. That bare spot on the south acreage isn't getting any better, s'pose I'll git some fertilizer in there or nothing will grow. My spread is not so big as some, I can get my hayin' done in 'bout an hour. The old Toro does a nice job. Big thunderstorm brewin', guess it taint the smartest time to be on the computer...the rabbits t'were into the garden this spring, munchin' on the veggies...Ma! You seen my .22? Well, I'll sign off now, afore the next bolt of lightnin'... ZKX#W?@ZZZZZAP!
Father Knows Best
As the second-born, my childhood perceptions were always colored by the example set by my older sibling- my big sister. At every step of our lives she was there first, doing all the things I would do later. Some things that happened to her I could not understand, and I still have trouble with. The biggest thing was her relationship with our father. For some reason, her transition into puberty brought out the worst in him. Abusive behavior, some physical, some psychological, imprinted indelible scenes in my child-memory. I knew they were wrong then, and I never forgot them. She never speaks of them. What caused him to act this way? Her rebellious demeanor? She was no saint, but she was hardly a problem child. Was it that she was becoming a woman? I vividly recall him repeatedly slamming her head against a closet door, telling her: "You're fat! You're fat! Say it to me! You're fat!" What is a 13 year-old girl to do? (And she wasn't fat.) She cried of course, and said it - anything to get out of that humiliation. What could have been his justification for such behavior? Was he threatened by her budding sexuality? That he was losing his control? Control issues were very big with him. And never a reconciliation. Father knows best. End of discussion. The rage. Always just below the surface, ready to explode with the slightest provocation. He pulled stunts like that on all of us as we grew through adolescence. We all got over it, sort of.
Of course, there might be some who say, "The world is a hard place, you need to be tough, spare the rod and spoil the child".
But if you can't rely on your father, who can you rely on? If there can't be at least one stable intermediary between you and the storms of life as you pass through to adulthood, is it any wonder that so many people grow up fearful and distrusting of any relationships? The mother, of course, is the nurturer - if only by her innate biological relationship to her child. Her actions can be just as bad . And the failure of so many fathers to understand their potential role in a family is not a modern phenomenon - although the freedom offered by modern life makes it more common - it is one of the central problems of the human condition. Or is this issue cultural, something that is transmitted, generation to generation, in some sub-conscious ritual, satisfying the father's need to assert his dominance in a changing relationship?
Whatever the answer (if there even is an answer), the result is a weaking of the family bond, a sense of alienation of both father and child, and a loss of human potential.
Buster, the king of the feral cats of Anoka, stands, or rather lies, on guard at the feral cat compound. His job is easier this spring. All the cats have been neutered, and the overall tension level has dropped considerably. No more yowling, hissing, fighting over mates and social position. Once in a while one of the younger cats will approach Buster, perhaps to curry favor, or probe for weakness. Buster will dispatch them with a grimace, or perhaps a quick bat of the paw. Peace is restored. No kittens this year. None the next year either. With about 20% mortality annually, it will take about five years to eliminate the colony if the trap-neuter-release policy continues. Then the colony area will revert to raccoons, rabbits and vermin.
Some may infer that the application of such an approach may prove applicable to the control of the males of other species, notably homo sapiens. Any volunteers?
Dialogue Appropo Of Nothing
"...of course there can be no true monologue."
"What? What of Hamlet's soliloquy?"
"A solitary actor, to be sure - but his lines shared with the audience, each in their own minds delivering a reply."
"I disagree, surely there is the interior monologue we all have running, as a background to our lives..."
"Our conscience? Jimminy Cricket, our guardian angel or perhaps a tempting dæmon, Goofus or Gallant? Are we not talking to God? Is God talking back?"
"What is the sound of one voice, yapping?"
"So it boils down to this. If there is an omnipotent force, all knowing, then everything is known, heard and interpreted."
"Or not. Then it is nothing."
"How many people live inside/outside of your head?"
"Real or imagined?"
"Does it make a difference?"
"There is a reality, and if you believe it an illusion, place your hand on the table and I will stab it with this ice-pick."
"I get your point."
"Point, set and match."
"Violence never proves anything...OUCH!"
Interestingly, some of my friendships remain friendships even after long periods of non-contact. I must be doing something right.
Losing My Religion
Pick one. Pick the right one and you win. Pick the wrong one and you lose. Like the lottery, you pays your money and you takes your chances.
Pick any one. One's as good as the other. Like buying a car, there are differences, but you end up where you wanted to get to anyway.
Pick two (or more.) Not allowed. If you aren't with us you're against us.
Pick none. You're on your own. Now what are you going to do?
As a teenager, I wrestled with the question of religion. Not the question of faith so much, I accepted the daily miracle of existence at face value, what ever it is that's going on has been going on and will continue going on, with or without me. Try your luck, you're already in the game, you might as well play. The question of which religion to follow is harder. You can examine articles of faith, see how each faith works in the world, and try to come to an acceptable conclusion. The active faiths (Christianity, Islam) are built on bloodshed, intolerance and tyranny. I'm not saying that's bad, that just happens to be how a organized faith maintains its existence. The passive faiths (some forms of Buddhism and meditative disciplines) seem to be so disengaged from the world that there comes a time where life becomes meaningless (indeed, that is the aim). There are a few that mix 'n match and others based more on social structure (Mormons) that lacked appeal for me. The big idea that is missing is the old religion, the White Goddess, Astarte, Venus or any of the other suppressed early religions. Naturism, Animism, Paganism, ways of belief that have been nearly squelched, but whose principles underlie most of our religions. What I became aware of then, and have continued to see, is the failure of modern religion to come to grips with sexuality, and the inherent complementary equality of men and women. Through a long biological history, we have become the human organism, in two parts, but each essential to the other. Jesus was close to breaking through the emnity that had been established after the Goddess had been overthrown. Mary Magdelene, currently a very controversial figure in biblical history, could have been the completion of a unified religion. History, of course, shows otherwise. Perhaps one problem of the feminist movement is that it has been primarily political, whereas it is really a religious issue.
But men and women do meet, fall in love (is love a religious belief?), and some couples make it together, some better than others, some longer than others, some not at all. Children are born, the world is renewed. So, are you on your own? Or must you be part of a larger 'body of faith' to be complete? Whatever your choice, you have to live with it, you have to die with it.
Living a life without god is a conscious choice. You learn about the religions of the world and if nothing appeals to you, decision is made to do without it. You don't judge those who do believe and you can only ask of them to do the same for you. As you get older and you experience more you start questioning your decisions. Did you get it all wrong? Maybe there is a god and he is punishing you for abandoning him. Do your skeptic thoughts mean that maybe you do believe in more than you want to acknowledge?
You look at those who have faith with envious eyes and you wish you could find it within you to believe as strongly as they do. Their faith gives them answers you so desperately seek and for a brief moment you consider converting.
You then realize you can't make up faith not matter how strongly you want it. It's wrong to disown something when things are going well and come crawling back when things are bad. Either you believe or you don't. Something else needs to fill the emptiness inside and that becomes your quest. Who provides you the answers?
By Edna St. Vincent Millay
My heart is what it was before,
A house where people come and go;
But it is winter with your love,
The sashes are beset with snow.
I light the lamp and lay the cloth,
I blow the coals to blaze again;
But it is winter with your love,
The frost is thick upon the pane.
I know a winter when it comes:
The leaves are listless on the boughs;
I watched your love a little while,
And brought my plants into the house.
I water them and turn them south,
I snap the dead brown from the stem;
But it is winter with your love,-
I only tend and water them.
There was a time I stood and watched
The small, ill-natured sparrows' fray;
I loved the beggar that I fed,
I cared for what he had to say.
I stood and watched him out of sight;
Today I reach around the door
And set a bowl upon the step;
My heart is what it was before.
But it is winter with your love;
I scatter crumbs upon the sill,
And close the window- and the birds
May take or leave them, as they will.
Read it again. Please.
Not the big ones, like those from surgery or a major accident. Just those lttle nicks that most of us have here or there, from a moments carelessness, or a freak mishap. There are a couple of straight-line ones on my right wrist left by the cat of my childhood, the only marks he left in the world. I see them everyday, reminding me of a creature that was more than a pet, he was a true companion, we shared so much together, I am almost overcome with sadness/happiness as I write about him. There are other marks, each with its own story, most of them pointless. Then there are the hidden scars, all the minor traumas that befall one on the trip through life - the poets speak of the 'heart' and its affairs. The heart is pretty resilient, whenever I thought love was breaking it, it was only testing it, making it stronger. The heart's little scars define it, not defile it.
In Honor of Beltane/May Day
Attraction by Ella Wheeler Wilcox
"The meadow and the mountain with desire
Gazed on each other, till a fierce unrest
Surged 'neath the meadow's seemingly calm breast,
And all the mountain's fissures ran with fire.
A mighty river rolled between them there.
What could the mountain do but gaze and burn?
What could the meadow do but look and yearn,
And gem its bosom to conceal despair?
Their seething passion agitated space,
Till lo! the lands a sudden earthquake shook,
The river fled: the meadow leaped, and took
The leaning mountain in a close embrace."