Sunday, August 31, 2014

hot air on Labor Day

Missing as yet from the Labor Day Weekend skies are the hot-air balloons that take off from a jam-packed fairgrounds perhaps half a mile away and then float, hissing and silent, over my neighborhood.

Wikipedia describes the Labor Day holiday in the United States as:
Labor Day in the United States is a holiday celebrated on the first Monday in September. It is a celebration of the American labor movement and is dedicated to the social and economic achievements of workers. It constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of their country.
Given the economy, the definition has a kind of icy ridiculousness -- a holiday to keep the peasants happy since honoring its accomplishments ... well, those with hot-air balloons know the value of hot air.

Many people get Monday off by way of celebration. A long weekend is probably welcome to those whose "productivity" inflates the pocketbooks of others, if not their own.

Yesterday, two immaculate automobiles from the 1920's puttered by my house on the back road that leads to the fairgrounds. Boxy, buffed and utterly nifty. The fixed horse races that once marked to fairground celebrations have been done away with (gambling is so déclassé, dontcha know) so there are fewer drunks driving by my house: The fair these days is top-heavy with music and kiddie rides and farm animals... a small venue that resembles gatherings in Hollywood and Versailles -- a place to see and be seen.

But where are the balloons? The weather is good -- clear, with small breezes -- but the balloons have not yet appeared. In years past, they dotted the skies and there was something delightful and uplifting in it. Who knows -- maybe there is another new and improved rule that disallows them.

Or maybe it's like owning horses -- another mark of casual wealth: Ballooning is a fairly expensive hobby and in 'productive' times, even the wealthy feel the pinch: What would the peasants do with a balloon if they saw one? It's more pricey than it's worth ... as, for example, to the Chinese middle class that is currently buying up Manhattan. Let's skip the balloons and add another bathroom. Wealth trickles down, right? Fried dough and Pepsi are enough.

The hot air has gone out of the hot air that once inspired the 'productive.' Or anyway, that's how it currently seems. Whatever the case, I do miss the balloons: They have no concrete meaning and from that perspective take on a meaning of some delightful kind.

Hot air and colorful floating. Hot air and labor gets a pat on the back. Hot air ....

Saturday, August 30, 2014

where did I come from?

My neighbor Joe and I slowed down a little yesterday and met in the street that separates our houses. Our meetings are never deliberate, but when they happen, they are pleasant enough.

Joe said he was just back from a couple of vacation months in Canada. He was packing the car to return for a couple of more months after which he and his wife were headed to Sicily and a trip that would help Joe fill in some of the blanks in his lineage.

Joe sounded enthusiastic about the small villages near Palermo that he had already researched: Relatives reaching back in time had lived there. Imagine that! Imagine knowing where you came from, who your forbears were, and possible common threads of interest or profession might exist! In his retirement, Joe seemed to have found direction and purpose, partly in a lineage investigation and partly in an eventual plan to move -- perhaps to Kenya -- where he could put his Christian convictions to work helping the poor.

Mostly our conversation centered on lineage and Joe's gathering of information. Joe obviously took it seriously. I had a hard time being quite so enthusiastic. As I said to Joe, I had done similar research in the past and invariably ran into a brick wall: To know where or when someone lived and to know what they did for a living and the offspring they sired ... well, it's interesting up to a point, but then I always get stuck wondering what a person's favorite color might have been; what cheese excited his/her palate; whether they ever tried bigamy or robbed a bank; what made them angry or sad; what a best friend did for a living; what vanity was most appealing ... you know, the human stuff.

I can sympathize with a clinging to lineage, but in the end, I am not interested. If you knew where you came from, what, precisely, would you know?

This is not so suggest that lineage be ignored. It is merely to suggest it does not hold much water when adored.

Yes indeed -- mother, father, sister, brother and on an on into the unfathomable past ... and the toilet bowl still leaks whether the king or scoundrel provides a backdrop. Intellectually, this is fun, perhaps. But I am interested in the personal seriousness anyone might be willing to apply.

Friday, August 29, 2014

police department upgrades

Passed along in email was this reminder to local police departments ... yes, you can upgrade.

skunk perfume

Sashaying through the crisp light of dawn today, a local skunk unwittingly tints the neighborhood silence with her scent.

It's not as if s/he cared or as if s/he didn't. Like the rest of us, s/he may carry the responsibility, but paying attention to every jot and tittle of import and impact is wasteful in the end: A skunk smells -- get used to it; what is vast importance to one is not all that important to another.

The desperate search for something of cemented importance may be desperate indeed. Check the human landscape. Check the bathroom mirror. Things refuse to stand still, the little fuckers!

Imagine the horror of World War II's D-Day landing in Europe. Imagine the horror of the Holocaust. Imagine the pain of a splinter or the sweetness of a kiss. The impact, the importance, the value of -- of anything at all ... it's no damned joke and yet it may as easily be a joke: Who, for example, can slip on the shoes of the poor soul shot dead on a Normadie beach -- cast casually aside after mother, father, sisters and brothers so lovingly raised him up and loved him and helped to instill the love-ability that raised the horror to its screaming status.... or know the sigh within that tiptoes behind a sainted kiss?

It sounds so wise and yet smacks of silliness: "He knows the cost of everything and the value of nothing." Don't be ridiculous! Skunks smell. The most far-reaching god or saint or notion of importance ... it doesn't work everywhere and always, no matter how desperate the search for cemented importance. And yet the longing is there and the insistence can be worthy of bloodshed.

Today, for example, I considered the possibility of selling the Buddha statue that stands in the small zendo behind the house here. The statue is about two feet tall, is made of African Wonder Stone, and
was an unimaginable gift from a woman with whose son I am friends. I imagine it weighs 50 pounds. It has been with me for years and weaves in and out of my gratitude glands ... Jesus! what a present! Jesus! What an impact! Jesus! The importance! I cannot begin to compass its cemented meaning ... and yet ...

The roof on the zendo needs fixing. I am getting old and will die and would like to think my family might get some use out of what does not interest them in the way it interests me. The statue's cemented importance -- like the cemented importance of all household gods -- is strictly skunk aroma on a crispy dawn.

This is not a bid for sympathy. Whether I find something vastly valuable or dismissively ordinary is simply something I, or anyone else, has to cope with. Still, the idea of selling the statue came as a bit of a surprise. The present was such a blessing in its time... full of implication and love and friendship.

Now, a little at a time, it is rock.

A bit like skunk perfume.

A D-Day landing.

I haven't quite learned to laugh at myself yet.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

shaping a best-seller

I was talking on the phone with my sister (actually, half-sister, but she's my favorite relative whatever the designation) a couple of evenings back and we rambled through recent family and personal happenings before settling like a couple of bumble bees on "the organ recital."

At 68, my sister is six years my junior, but that doesn't mean she too isn't feeling the pinch that older people feel. She was telling me a story about going out to dinner with a bunch of similarly-aged people and how the conversation, somehow inevitably, sank like a flat-car in quick sand into a recitation of various aches, pains, doctors, hospitals, exercise and other fixer-upper activities which young people find boring, even when they are willing to imagine the same may at some point afflict them.

My sister and I agreed: The older you get, the more likely the organ recital is likely to insert itself in the conversation. My sister and I laughed ruefully -- we too had found ourselves sucked into that maw of physiological frailty.

But another thing we agreed on was this: Not only was the topic likely to bore the socks off anyone else participating in the conversation; it also bored the socks off the one making the conversation. My aches and pains bore me. I would far rather talk about something more imaginative or funny or socially relevant ... and yet here I am, writing about the organ recital. Shiiieeeet!

We laughed about it, my sister and I, and yet when I said there might be a pretty good self-help book in how to avoid or sidestep the organ-recital earth, my sister said immediately, "So write it!"

Or, if not write it, at least think it through. Those unwilling to play the kidney or liver game might write/talk about something else. The trouble is that the something else is too often a regurgitation of someone else's analyses and the speaker is left either being a bore or a pimp. Originality seems to have flown the coop together with youthful energies and there are all sorts of socially-acceptable issues to keen about, but original thinking -- the emphasis and care it once commanded -- has lost its oomph. There is the pretense of 'caring' but the caring is largely on vacation.

I really do think there is a best-seller in this arena -- and not just from some do-good 40-something who uses the word "we" without a second thought -- but I can't think of the hook, the alternative, or the area of relief.

The organ recital is boring.

The second-hand social observation is, well, second-hand.

Perhaps candy bars really are the answer.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014


What is death but openness?

What is music but openness?

Why is music sometimes so heartening and sometimes so sad?

You can sort of see why those intent on war always bring music to bear, striving to open in others what no heartened soul prefers.

Wide open.

Perhaps this is why some take up whistling..... or something similar.

musical miasma

law stuff

A report out of Rotherham, England, finds that  some 1,400 children -- some as young as 11 -- were sexually abused, trafficked and officially ignored between 1997 and 2013. The specifics are horrific. Everyone is very sorry.

There are many aspects to the abuse and the unwillingness/inability to take corrective action in the matter, but one stood out as commonplace in the world of the good-hearted -- the fear of being accused of racism. Most of the perpetrators in the Rotherham case happened to be Pakistani ... but officials admitted they were afraid to say so for fear of being accused of yet another social-no-no. And this unwillingness to face one aspect of the tragedy, far from ameliorating it, instead drove it further underground.

Interesting aspect -- everyone trying to be politically correct in an effort to make things politically correct. In essence, a Pakistani lawbreaker was a Pakistani first and foremost and a lawbreaker only coincidentally.

And similar aspects are evident in the decades-long revelations of sexual abuse within the Roman Catholic Church ... put the abuse on the back burner and remember that these (largely) male perpetrators were priests first and foremost... divert attention from the breaking of the law. Morally, the argument may not hold water, but it is a palpable diversion: Let's not tar the entire institution or accuse it too broadly and hence bring down the curse of unwarranted generalization. Let's not be knee-jerk anti-Catholic.

One bad apple -- be it Pakistani or priest -- is no reason to tar the lot and call down an equally-invidious charge of "racism." Good-hearted people would like to be thought good-hearted through and through and not bring down the slimy tendrils of racism on a pristine parade.

Taking its cue from Ferguson, Mo., where an 18-year-old, unarmed black man was shot to death recently, Dallas has taken up the cry to establish "trust" in the black community. Will it work? History suggests that is unlikely, though there will be earnest and good-hearted talk. And one of the aspects to consider is this: Anyone can be a jerk -- black, white, Pakistani or priest. Fearing an accusation of pointing out who IS a jerk is one way of assuring that little gets done. Without laying all the cards on the table -- that's 'all,' not just the good-hearted and well-intentioned -- the old doubts will simply dig a deeper hole.

Oh well ... this goes on and on. I just dislike the notion that the law does not apply to everyone. A white asshole is a white asshole. Ditto a black asshole. If there is a law about such behavior, I would like to see it enforced for young and old alike.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

polished shoes

It was so utterly complete and clear that I hardly dare write about it. It reached back what felt like a million years until the past curled around and bit the present on the ass. It was like an ancient taste whose known-ness over-rode anything as insignificant as time. It was astounding to me and probably meant nothing to anyone else....

It was, as some Buddhists sometimes ooze, "ordinary."

Because it is part of the regimen of the age I am, I went to a doctor's office this morning. I was early, grabbed a relatively-new issue of "Time" magazine and waited my turn with the one other 50's-ish fellow who was likewise waiting. He was wearing a conservative tie, a tan sports jacket, and a pair of neatly-creased black slacks. He had some sort of hospital-esque badge hanging from his neck on the left side. I couldn't read it without my glasses.

My eye, like some Star-Wars bit of light-speed gadgetry, scoped him out and filed him away in a nanosecond. Until something reached out and smacked me in the head:

The man was wearing black shoes.

They were polished and I knew in an instant that he had polished them himself. Personally. I knew because I too had once polished my shoes ... shoes that were not uncreased or brand new or plastic-looking in the way of so much that is for sale these days. The man cared for his shoes ... as we had cared for our boots in the army ... as people had once kept what was useful and broken-in.

It came to me in a rush.

All of it -- what had been experienced and what was no longer experienced. I knew that they were not new and they were, in their way, better than new. No one would spit-polish them as once, but still ... great movements rise up, shine in the sun, and are gone.

Polished shoes ... no one does that shit any more.

principled position

Maybe it's one of those dog-ate-my-homework human proclivities: When current principles become too binding, don't change the principles, just change the vocabulary. In that way, personal or social,  it is possible to forgive a frailty while maintaining a 'principled' position.

On Aug. 21, 2013, a sarin gas attack in Syria left between 281 and 1,729 people dead. The United States among others was quick to condemn the use of chemical weapons and equally quick to suggest that Syria itself had been the author of the attack, though no perpetrator was named specifically in the wake of an investigation. The slaughter in Syria was OK, though criticized, but the use of chemical weapons was a wartime no-no. U.S. principles were intact -- Syria was the bad guy, a Goliath stomping down on a rebellious David. The message was that if it could, the U.S. would aid the rebels, but ... well ... it was complicated so, although principles were intact (dictatorship was a bad thing), involvement was not wise if principles were to be maintained.

The world yowled as the dead piled up. Syria was the bully. It would be unprincipled to cozy up with Syria.

A year later -- which is to say last night -- Syria offered and the United States seemed to be seriously considering Syria's aid in fighting 'terrorism' on its soil. Of course, there was no notion that the U.S. might commit "boots on the ground" -- though in an aside there was a suggestion that perhaps specialized troops might be invested. No one mentioned the Joint Strategic Objectives unit ... the hit men who took out Osama bin Laden at the president's behest.

JSOP is troops -- boots on the ground -- but if no one mentions it, the principle of no-boots-on-the-ground assuages a war-weary American public. The principle is maintained without actually maintaining it. The U.S. remains a principled and thoughtful player. Within this speculative scenario, principles count even when actions are likely to belie their assertion. We are the good guys.

How many times does anyone cozy up with yesterday's enemy? If you can't lick 'em, join 'em. How many times, for example, does the "compassion" of spiritual life get drip-by-drop transformed into a very-very-very-nice persuasion or another psychological escape valve? Compassion is said to be "incomparable," and yet the need to compare, to find a principled foothold is overwhelming?

Are principles worth the price of admission? If so, why? If not, why not? One thing seems to be certain -- changing the vocabulary to suit some feel-good need hardly seems to qualify as "principle."

Monday, August 25, 2014

repairing the dolls

Doll restorer Kerry Stuart rubs a filling compound into the cracked head of a plastic doll at Sydney's Doll Hospital, July 15, 2014. Opened in 1913, Sydney's Doll Hospital has worked on millions of dolls, teddy bears and other toys. Behind a toy shop on a busy suburban street in Sydney's south, "doll surgeons" transplant fingers, toes and heads, and repair broken eye sockets in dolls who were the victim of a childhood tantrum or sibling rivalry, sometimes decades ago.
REUTERS/Jason Reed

political mug shots

My younger son put a fire under my tail today and challenged me to go for a walk. For the better-endowed, this was clearly cotton-candy for an exercise, but for me it was ... something. Down the block, around the corner, about-face and return ... total-elapsed time, perhaps 8-10 minutes. For someone largely housebound of late, it was an adventure and the air felt good on the skin. Staying indoors creates mental bedsores and there's nothing like a little fresh air for a bit of healing, however small.

Little thoughts....

-- If you want to do zazen, do zazen.

-- In the same way that criminals/sex-offenders/etc. have their mug shots collected in a place where authorities can pick them out in an instant, perhaps one of the requirements of running for public office should be a rogue's gallery depicting full-frontally nude (and full-sidewise as well) pictures of all political wannabes.

Objective: Everyone is naked and everyone knows everyone is naked and yet each time there is a political scandal that involves another (wo)man, everyone seems to get pretty upset that the participants should, in one way or another, display what they couldn't escape if they wanted to. Allowing mug shots might help to sidestep the ersatz wonder when it turns out everyone is naked from the get-go. Further, since being what you are is socially embarrassing, allowing mug shots might encourage a certain courage on the part of candidates ... do you want it bad enough to get naked? And last, such mug shots might encourage candidates to stay on topic ... yes, I'm naked ... now what about the economy or racism or jobs ... the stuff that affects a national constituency?

--  Some of them are stuffed on shelves on the porch -- fat books reminding me of a time when -- literally -- I would choose to read books by the pound ... fat books that wouldn't peter out so fast. Thomas Hardy; Leo Tolstoy; and even -- no shit -- Jane Austen.

The other day, I thought I might try again and pulled a dusty copy of "Lonesome Dove" off the shelf.
Nine hundred and sixty pages. Does anyone read -- let alone write -- such things any more? Yesterday, when I looked, somehow 842 lilting pages had passed like some shepherd absently humming to his flock. Not non-fiction, but fiction that staked its claim in my 'non-fiction' universe. So much more soothing than the writing parading its soothing qualities. Sometimes a good lie is so much better than a good lie.

-- A grey dawn of four or five hours ago has turned into a sunny day. Heat, which is normal at this time of year and yet has been absent along the East Coast, is promised. There are doctors to call -- a chore I dislike -- but the sunshine eases the burden somehow.

Friday, August 22, 2014

keep from singing ... seeger

hogwash among other things

For forty-plus years, give or a take a little, I have been interested in spiritual life. Sometimes with a fiery verve, sometimes with a warming glow, sometimes with satisfaction, sometimes with utter confusion, sometimes with cranky skepticism, sometimes ... well, hell -- you name it and there are times when I have felt as if I've been there.

One of the constant aspects of spiritual interest, at least in my life, is the constancy of questions: Implicit or explicit, there have always been questions,  even when the answers are most-loudly proclaimed. What about the ineffable? What about the 'effable?' What brings meaning? What fails entirely to bring meaning? How does belief play a role or is belief an exercise that flummoxes the peace it promises or suggests?

I imagine everyone has his or her own questions when it comes to spiritual interest. Little and large, subtle and raw....

But for anyone who has been serious about spiritual life, my guess is that there is at least one question -- one bit of willingness -- that is crucial to verifying the usefulness of spiritual adventure:

Laying all else aside, what is spiritual life when it is recognized as a choice. Not good and not bad, not tall and not short, not profound and not flimsy -- just a choice? A choice that can be made or a choice that can be left to its own devices.

It is important to acknowledge the choices of this life ... or anyway I would say so for anyone serious about spiritual adventure. True, it's scary to take responsibility, to stop waffling, to step up with all possible certainty and uncertainty.

I choose.

That's all. Never mind the Jesuitical delicacies of "who is this I?"

I just choose and it is my responsibility.

Everything else is pretty much hogwash.

Other questions are likewise possible, but this one strikes me as pretty important: I choose; spiritual adventure gains footing ... is there more?

bicycle slide show

According to the Earth Policy Institute, a US-based environmental advocacy group, bicycle production quadrupled (slide show) between 1950 and 2007. During the same period, car production merely doubled. It's a trend that continues to this day, accelerated by rising fuel prices and urban congestion.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

blue suede god

Once, probably before you were a twinkle in your daddy's eye, a fellow named Carl Perkins
Carl Perkins
wrote and performed a rockabilly song entitled "Blue Suede Shoes" that later gained momentum when Elvis Presley took up the melody. The song began:
Well, it's one for the money,
Two for the show,
Three to get ready,
Now go, cat, go.

But don't you step on my blue suede shoes.
You can do anything but lay off of my Blue suede shoes.

Well, you can knock me down,
Step in my face,
Slander my name
All over the place.

Do anything that you want to do, but uh-uh,
Honey, lay off of my shoes....
Like  a lot of songs at the time, the lyrics were not as important as the gut-deep je-ne-sais-quoi of the  beat and joy that came with it. This was eeeeeee-hawwwww DNA-deep stuff: Words didn't matter -- meaning was what mattered and those who listened knew the meaning even if they didn't know the meaning. Like a sunset, the song was both yummy and d'oh ... just shovel it in and dance your ass off! This was passion ... low-flame, hot-as-molten-steel heat!

I think there is something to be said for passion that is passion even when knowing the nature of that passion remains somehow secret.

Take real chocolate, for example. Or, in my case, mayonnaise. Or, if the Associated Press is to be believed, a South Korean love of instant noodles:
Hence the emotional heartburn caused by a Baylor Heart and Vascular Hospital study in the United States that linked instant noodles consumption by South Koreans to some risks for heart disease. The study has provoked feelings of wounded pride, mild guilt, stubborn resistance, even nationalism among South Koreans, who eat more instant noodles per capita than anyone in the world.
Do not mess with my Blue Suede Shoes or South Korea noodles! This is important if ineffable stuff ... sorta like God: You may not be exactly sure of the meaning, but do not fuck with the meaning I am 100% sure exists!

I am not kidding. Doesn't everyone need to pick his or her poison at some point -- some music to which they are willing to dance and dance and dance some more? Sure, there is sniffing around the edges and pretending and solemnizing, but then isn't there a point at which to take responsibility and dive in? Isn't there a point at which to assert meaning even if the complete meaning is not quite known? Isn't there a point at which to assert that this -- whatever this is -- is true and even if it's not true (even if it turns out to be a pair of blue suede shoes)? Isn't there something about noodles that deserves an undivided attention and willingness to go the whole hog ... to find out if what is called "true" actually is true?

Maybe not. Maybe "blue suede shoes" is enough to get through life on. Maybe praise is enough. Maybe belief is enough. But I think that the passion whose passion cannot be explained deserves better... and makes the shoes more truly comfortable. Go for the dance floor! Go for the dance floor and dance!

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

time passes photos

Cleaners abseil down one of the faces of Big Ben, to clean and polish the clock face, above the Houses of Parliament, in central London August 19, 2014.
REUTERS/Toby Melville
A man is doused with milk and sprayed with mist after being hit by an eye irritant from security forces trying to disperse demonstrators protesting against the shooting of unarmed black teen Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri August 20, 2014.
REUTERS/Adrees Latif
A Palestinian boy fleeing with his family from their house in the Shejaia neighborhood, looks out of a car window in the east of Gaza City August 19, 2014.
REUTERS/Suhaib Salem
Resident John West hands a rose to a police officer, showing his appreciation with help in cleanup efforts in Ferguson, Missouri, August 19, 2014.
REUTERS/Mark Kauzlarich

please don't take my habits

Mexico and Venezuela were competing on TV yesterday for what seemed to be the world series of Little League baseball. My eyes and ears idly took in the scenery -- kids who seemed to be 10 or 12 dressed in uniforms that might feed an African village for a couple of days ... very spiffy and athletic and it always makes me wonder at what precise point that gimlet-athletic stare enters the player's eye ... the one that says "I'm gonna kill you!"

No matter. I was watching and listening idly. These were serious kids and serious is interesting. Mexico was leading by a couple of runs, but the Venezuelan pitcher looked determined: He struck out one batter and prepared to meet the next, whose statistics stuck in my mind: "five feet, six and weighing 170 pounds."

 My mind came to a full stop. Five feet six and weighing 170 pounds??!!

From my advancing-age perspective of someone coerced into keeping a daily track of his weight (concerns with the heart), it was weird: Here was a kid who was shorter and considerably younger than I was who weighed more than I did at six feet and 155-plus pounds. Had the world's axis reversed course? How could this pipsqueak whose killing days had barely begun weigh more than I did and yet be shorter by several inches? It was a jolt. A reality check I wasn't entirely ready to digest. No one else might care, but I was, for the moment, caught flat-footed.

The world moves 'forward' until such times, it seems, that it begins to move back.

The recognition was not a time to pull out the old-age violins ... but ... but ... but one of my habitual views of myself had received a bitch-slap: I was not taller, heavier, stronger and more of a killer: I had been outflanked by a 12-year-old who couldn't give a shit one way or the other. Life moves on ... what's the big deal?

The big deal, of course, was my long-standing habit: I saw myself as stronger when in fact I wasn't stronger at all. My habit might flex its 'killer' muscles, but the only factual 'killer' was some killer wuss brought into focus by a Little League game.

Moving backwards: How did that match up with moving forward? There was a nanosecond of topsy-turvey to it all. The killer who had once sprouted wings seemed to have lost his flight/fight potential. Please don't take away my habits!

Nor was my Little League moment the only turn-around for the day.

Several days earlier, I wrote to the local paper and begged off writing a monthly column. It was more freight -- however minor at 600-700 words -- than I was willing to take on. I excused myself from the chore I had once agreed to shoulder ... until yesterday when a flight of whimsey overtook me and a somewhat sloppy bit of fun popped off the computer keys ... belatedly, there was a column in hand. It was silly, it was fun, it wasn't very-well argued and yet I enjoyed the smile: If it costs so much to raise a child in the United States, is it possible to sell off the kids for the price it cost to raise them ... and thus ease the fixed-income burden of those who are retired?

A ludicrous proposition and yet ludicrousness had a certain allure. How many of the serious and solemn propositions of daily life dwindle away into ludicrousness and, if there are quite a few, why not enjoy the ride? There were plenty of others hell-bent-for-leather on seriousness and solemnity, so why not pay some small homage the the ludicrous?

Even as a sloppy attempt, I enjoyed the fun... which is quite a far cry from the seriousness and solemnity I have brought to bear in the past?

Is the clock turning backwards ... or forwards?

Tuesday, August 19, 2014


Palestinian boy takes on an adversary. Clearly he poses an explosive and powerful threat to judge by the counter-measures.

But it's not really fair if the Israelis get to use all that American hardware to quash a vocal-but-poorly-equipped citizenry in pursuit of democratic values.

Who knows what might happen in Ferguson, Mo., where a black teenager was shot dead and the citizenry (some, but far from all, hooligans) took sticks and stones umbrage. Bring out the 'protective' gear! Let the American taxpayer pay to defend the American taxpayer from the American taxpayer ... the Israelis shouldn't have all the fun.

Monday, August 18, 2014

animal lovers can be so cuuuuuuuute

A woman was licked and kicked by a giraffe like this one when she jumped into the animal's pen at the zoo in Madison, Wisc., on Saturday. The 24-year-old explained she loved giraffes. Zoo personnel pointed out that giraffes can kill lions, so the woman --  whatever other enfeeblements she might suffer -- was lucky not to have been hurt worse.

rabbi (etc.) retires

Today in the local newspaper, a long-time rabbi was retiring after 40 years on the job. I have no clue as to who this fellow is and yet was drawn vaguely to the story in the sense that people retire after long-term service as firefighters, stock brokers, and heavy-equipment operators and seldom bring with them the 'goodness' factor sometimes associated with religious life.

Am I making it up or is there a certain glue-y intensity to the religiously-inclined as seen on TV or depicted in news stories? It's not as if they aren't good people, but there is a solemnity or importance to them that I hardly expect from a back-hoe specialist: This is "God," after all, and "God" brings with it a tip-toe-y reverence that can work pretty hard at not appearing different from the average schmo.

On TV or in news columns, there seems to be a look in the eye and a lilt to the voice and everyone is dressed neat and clean but not exactly fancy ... this is "God" after all.

The whole air may just be something that revolves around belief: I've never met a back-hoe operator who, sotto vocce, insisted on an ethereal payoff, whether good or bad.

All of this may just be my overactive imagination, but the crux of what interested me was this: When someone has devoted long hours and days and weeks and years to their religious persuasion, what happens to that person when it's time to 'retire?' What happens to "God?"

I know there are heaps of spiffy answers, but I think the question is interesting because for anyone interested in what might tentatively be called "God," there comes a time to take the next step if "God" is to have any meat-and-potatoes meaning. If the best anyone can do is believe and believe and believe some more, how credible or consequential can "God" actually be?

Who will pay the bills? When the 'man of God' retires, what happens to "God" if "God" is to have any continuing consequence? Are books and lecture circuit really the next best step? Without the bully pulpit, is the retiree 'lost' or 'found?'

I imagine that any dovotee -- professional and otherwise -- finds his or her own path, but how fresh that path might be can be a sticky wicket. Is there a time -- perhaps in retirement -- when retirement is called for ... a time to give things a rest?

I wonder whether, as a man of God, if "God" too doesn't deserve a rest if "God" is to have a continuing, relaxed, presence.

oops du jour

Received in email:

A man received the following text from his neighbor:
"I am so sorry Bob. I've been riddled with guilt and I have to confess. I have been helping myself to your wife, day and night when you're not around. In fact, more than you. I do not get it at home, but that's no excuse. I can no longer live with the guilt and I hope you will accept my sincerest apology with my promise that it won't, ever happen again."

The man, anguished and betrayed, went into his bedroom, grabbed his gun, and without a word, shot his wife.

A few moments later, a second text came in:
"Bloody autospell! I meant 'wifi', not 'wife'  " . . . . . .

Sunday, August 17, 2014

law enforcement again

Passed along in email -- "The Psychotic Militarization of Law Enforcement."

The piece ain't picture-perfect, but it certainly takes some trouble to collate and weave the incidents and directions of a growing feudalism nourished by a neo-conservative patriotism that encourages fear and supports the trickle-down economics whose arguments cannot and do not hold water.

However big a fib the "Emancipation Proclamation" turned out to be, the mirror-image slavery enshrined and exemplified by this growing militarism leaves that fib gasping for air.

The word "shame" is the only one I can think of and simply uttering it makes me feel like a white-whine pussy... the kind who, I guess, may eventually take up the necessary arms and ... lose as scheduled.

where August dwindles

Talking on the phone with a friend from Maine yesterday, both of us paused for a moment or two and wondered if the cool weather this August betokened a real change in environment or whether we were just a couple of old farts looking for something to complain about.

Foliage in Pa.
As habits go, August has always been the hottest of the summer months in my mind -- a time to get to the closest water, jump in and stay there. It was a time for serious sunburn and, on a road crew, serious sweat. August was a "height" of some sort -- an apex accumulated over years of practice and assumption.

But now a couple of geezers were noticing that old habits, once again, were betraying them. Both of us seemed to need a light sweater ... in the middle of August.

Some habits are easier than others. They occupy space and toot their horn, but it's not as if you were bitten by a Great White ... you could dump it and not feel any particular loss. Other habits, however ....

On Aug. 11, 2014, American comedian Robin Williams committed suicide. Talk about a habit to nurture and release -- humor is so welcoming and warm to those who feel chilled and lonely and alone. To find a warm place and then be raked by the understanding that that too lacked the warmth and inclusion and kinship ... and yet where else could anyone look? what other habit could fill the void? Hollywood is so fucking, fucking lonely ....

Kind of like ordinary people, only on a big screen.

How do you become as good as Williams was and live with the inevitability of no escape ... a place where habits can be appreciated, perhaps, but set aside in the end? Who will point the way?

I liked Williams quite a lot and yet the Miracle Glu of humor is something it is hard to envy. Humor comes from the outside and being on the outside is a tricky and painful business.

I guess the Buddhists are about right -- suffering points the way. Wouldn't it be nice if humor were as easy as August to dispense with?

Saturday, August 16, 2014

stepping back from writing

Today, I decided to back away from the once-a-month column I wrote for the local newspaper ... an easy-peasy 650-750 words per month whose difficulty-level once ranked as a 2 or 3 in the writing department.

The interest and willingness seems to have slipped away and I dislike saying I will do something that I really don't much want to do.

Things seem to be heading backwards and I don't like stealing someone else's thunder as a means of enhancing my own noise.

The conflict necessary to any kind of writing ... well, pourquoi ça? Dredging up the conflict is an understandable part of writing, but....

I once asked my mother if she would be willing to be interviewed by a young woman about "The Horizontal Man," an Edgar Allan Poe Award-winning novel she wrote in 1947. We were on the phone and I could hear my mother's reluctance even before she spoke.

Finally, she did: "No," she said, "I'm not sure I remember what it was about."

Friday, August 15, 2014

western civilization

Even with the F-18's running their macho touch-and-goes over the house, I think I will refrain from describing the limited luxury of taking a bath today ... something I haven't done (as distinct from showering) for at least 50 years.

I could almost feel the I-was-born-in-another-time crowd squeezing into the bathroom. Small bath tubs were not built for mighty spirits ... or miniscule ones either.

But for all that ... ahhhhhhh.

picture I like

Just a picture I like:

wake up time

3:30 and everything seems to be well. No real sunlight as yet, but my younger son is galumphing around gathering up freshly-washed clothes he plumped on the floor yesterday during a surprise visit to his mother at the tag end of his two-week National Guard hiatus out on Cape Cod ... a surprise visit, eat a home-brewed hamburger, hook a leg over an easy chair and watch some TV drama, be a center of attention without being a center of attention, sleep, rise early, drive 100 miles back to clean-up chores on the Cape and then come back home again. His mother was pleased  as she cleaned up as for the King and Queen and the house took on a new dynamic....

Which will morph again today as my wife heads down to New Jersey for the the first same-sex marriage ceremony in her bunny-rabbit Roman Catholic clan. Who would have thought that the whisperings of same-sex marriage would one day be largely a yawn capable of producing as many divorces and midnight squabbles as any other marriages?

My older son sleeps through it all.

The TV, as I skip around, devolves into an uptick of war and religion. Food prices are rising enough so that lettuce (in the person of dressing) takes on a new and scrumptious invitation. Fast food is the new gourmet.

Yesterday, I had a first-class, home-grown cruller. It's nice to have something that doesn't work so hard to be mediocre.

Yesterday, I watched a woman named Nomi Prins, author of "All the Presidents' Bankers: The Hidden Alliances that Drive American Power" on C-Span. Listening to her was like listening to a very sharp tobacco barker ... another chance to recognize that mediocre is not the whole story ... or anyway, she left me in the dust. The comment I found most compelling was that smart people like Prins have lately found themselves coalescing in the face titanic family/banking interests. The outcome may be uncertain, but it's nice to think that someone outside the greed machine is thinking about the $2 trillion in public money set aside for private uses.

Of course, smart people have a drawback ... they're smart.

Yesterday, I said I would work on a column for the paper. A sign of health, perhaps, if not much excitement.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

value neutral?

Today, with the rain pummeling down soft and insistent, there seems to be some small return to 'normalcy' -- a more ordinary craziness in which I do wish I had the capacity to wish the rain on the western part of the United States where desert conditions are no joke and, unless I am very much mistaken, the waxing of dry-dry-dry may easily lead to a war that, like any war, will kill black and white alike.

I don't mind losing the days of the week, but the nearness and dearness of water, the protruding ribs of this cow or that and the crackling tan beneath the farmer's foot ... it simply cannot be fixed with that perfectly-coiffed hair the TV advertises every three or four minutes. A time and place without thunder and small, muddy rivulets .... it may not frighten others, but....

There are three or four-hundred paper-backs shelved around the first floor. I've reread six or seven as I play the lie-down-on-the-bed-game. Even second hand, they're OK -- time passers, better than most TV and with an occasional bit of literacy... not too much literacy, just a little will do.

My younger son is almost finished with his two-week first stint with the National Guard out on Cape Cod ... running around, making loud noises, I assume. The world comes back into something resembling serious focus. On TV's C-Span ... there was a serious conversation or at any rate something that drew me in ... into something that sounded serious to me....

A friend sent along a phrase I haven't quite got the nerve to consider ... "value neutral."

Bit by bit .....

crumbs on the table

-- In the evening newstelecasts these days, there are almost invariably news cuts of Toyota pick-up trucks sporting camouflage-clad men bearing at least one, mounted .50-calibre machine gun. It seems to be a rolling pillbox and I wonder what correlation there is between Toyota pick-up sales and the melon-smashed crania of Israeli and Palestinian boys and girls.

-- And, conversely, if Toyota pick-up sales dwindle, is there any suggestion that either Israelis or Palestinians actually give a shit about blowing each other up under cover of "peace efforts."

--  It seems to me that since Edward Snowden et al let the spying-on-Americans out of the bag, every adventure movie and book (they're the paper things with consecutive pages) would be severely called into question when the hero/heroine pretends to be on a secure line talking with his/her handler. Once there was a belief in secure communications. This, however, is not that time.

Perhaps book-burnings can find another foundation since reading is no longer a likely pastime.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Robin Williams

7/21/51  -  8/11/14


The demons overtook him, but he gave as good as he got.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

ready, aim, ....

Puttering here and there in the blog-ether, I came across:

Friday, August 08, 2014

Beyond the clichés...

I have at least one post pending on one Robert Sharf, who, I would submit, despite his academic credentials doesn't get it.

That's a post for another day.
I have no clue who Robert Sharf is and even less clue as to the writer of "Notes in Samsara" -- someone called "Mumon" who appears to have Mr. Sharf in his sights. What I do seem to understand is that from "Mumon's" point of view, Mr. Sharf would indeed "get it" if only he had his academic credentials screwed on correctly.

I wonder how often that happens ... the subtle and not so subtle invocation of the intellectual and emotional gods as a means of pinning down who "gets it" and who "doesn't."

Sorta like "compassion" when it means really, really, really, really, really, really nice.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

back to a bit of fervor ... just a bit

From July 22 to July 29, 2014, I was in the hospital.

There. I said it.

Both arms looked a bit as if I had taken up residence in some dripping alley-way, accompanied by other lads and lasses who had found a medicinal way to stay alive or do whatever they do down drippy alley-ways ... bruised and battered and surrounded by yet one more caring attendant searching for a place to slip in yet another bit of improvement ... "just a little pinch."

Day by day passed. The hellishly-tan walls, the ones that lacked even a bit of hotel-and-motel art, seemed relaxed and smug: "You're sick," they whispered with assurance and "we're here to take care of you." The attendants, like the walls, were ever so nice.

The drugs fucked with my mind. Like the elderly warehoused in old-age homes, mind and body sank lower and lower into the comfort of circumstances. The one bit of dignity that went un-offered was the obvious means to commit suicide. The window looking out on the hospital parking-lot and evergreens was three stories up ... but was locked tight against the wiles of Harry Houdini. A man or woman who is not offered the right to do what is rightfully his or hers is surrounded by poseurs.

Eventually, I got out, got home, got to a place where the mess made a remembered sense, even if things have become less cranky. Not much has changed ... sort of. The Christians still believe. Zennies too. Hamas and Israel pretend they want peace without making serious sacrifices that would actually assure such a peace ... i.e. war is so much easier to bemoan than peace is to assure. I wanted to write and couldn't find much to write about. Dick Cheney and his insurgent Middle Eastern pals still think they should/could/would run the world. "Meaning" is still meaningful if you insist.

I suppose I could do the "organ recital" and laundry list the ailments, but if I honestly found that interesting, I would have become a doctor. Bureaucracy is not my favorite sport.

The sky is mottled today.

There are pictures on the wall.

And my mind is still a mess.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

bobbing to the surface

Though it seemed a bit early in the season to me, a long-tailed pasha of a squirrel lolled and hung upside down in a patch of Japanese maple across the street this morning ... munching, as best I could see, like Louis XIV at some daily levee. There were no servants or sycophants, but when life is good, relish it, with or without the applause.
Bit by bit, energies return after a stay in the hospital. "Death" is not so much the treacly threat as is trying to re-splice various bits of living importance. Today, a small coupling suggested itself in the story of Toledo, Ohio, where the water system is under serious threat. The fourth largest city in Ohio ... and about 2/3 of its 400,000 residents are threatened.
Simultaneously, Calif. Gov. Jerry Brown declared an emergency along the Californian/Oregon border in the face of wildfires... coupled with on-going drought. The apocalypse Christians must be dancing a jig ... but that doesn't improve anything.
Water emergencies and the Ivy-League pundits and pedagogues cannot figure out what is important?! Let's pick sides, have a war, kill kids and see if that takes people's minds off thirst.

It is hard to care or be convinced by much of anything when physical ailment comes calling. The problem is that physical ailment, like the caterwauling of lonliness is pretty boring after a while. I mean, I'm interesting, of course, and profound and wise and hoary and whatever all else ... but, shit, tell me something interesting; tell me something without pretense and guile and improvement. Tell me a good dirty joke. I've heard the heart-felt pedagogy and can deliver it, but isn't life more interesting than the improvements people (me too) insist on slapping on it?

Oh well, just bobbing to the surface.

Saturday, August 2, 2014

a little torture ... no big deal

“We tortured some folks,” Obama said to reporters during a news conference Friday. “We did some things that were contrary to our values.”
 I beg your pardon! The most powerful man in the world stands in public and says that, we made a boo-boo ... sort of like tipping over the cucumber sandwiches during a pool party ... surely a gaff, but it was a folksy one, dontcha know? .... "some folks" to whom an apology might be extended and heal the wounds.

We tortured some folks? When you put it that way, it's not so bad, right? Heck, it was kind of a one-off, hardly worth noticing.

I don't know about you, but that sort of cutesy language just won't cut it or excuse it for me.

if you can't fix it, why try?

Passed along in email:

With a promise I would keep what I heard to myself, I was once invited to sit down with a group of hospital nurses discussing "alcoholism." What pissed them off was that the inebriated would arrive at the hospital door falling-down-drunk; that they would be taken in and tended to; that they would be given a b-12 shot and sent on their way ... only to return the next day with the same symptoms.

I guess the question hung in the air: "If you can't fix it (one and done), then why bother?" Is that the way spiritual life works, Abrahamic or otherwise?... quid-pro-quo spiritual offerings?

Friday, August 1, 2014

die with your boots on

In a small, imprecise and misasmic moment last evening, I was reading a novel I have read at least 25 times before -- a comic book to fill my mind without requiring much thought and yet offering some pleasure -- when I heard my wife talking on the phone in the other room. I couldn't hear what she was saying, but I could hear the happiness in her voice and looked forward to learning what might have made her happy.

As it happened, she was talking to a cousin in Texas, a long-gay guy who planned to marry his partner later this summer. The couple planned to return to New Jersey (where the family originally spawned)  for the family gathering there ... not stay in Texas.

Texas -- land known for its human executions.
Texas -- land known for its admiration of an integrity that is sometimes expressed as "died with their boots on."
Texas -- not a state fluttering with pink or rainbow ribbons fluttering with homosexual fervor.

My wife got off the phone and the two of us took those two or three seconds to acknowledge the mixed blessing that comes with the decisive move ... getting married: It may work and it may not, but you can be pretty well assured the party will be fun. Good luck and God bless.

"Died with their boots on" generally has an implication of outlawry or of a social naughtiness that is continued despite social disapprobation ... bank robbers, crooks, etc. But in my mind, "died with their boots on" carries with it a willingness and embrace of the actual life anyone lives. You just do it. If changes are necessary, changes are made, but sitting around like some thirty-something do-gooder is no longer the way to lead a life: THIS .... IS.... IT!

And it is in this regard that I wonder that more Texans who aren't homosexuals don't honor more homosexuals who are. It takes courage and patience and balls to stick to your guns ... to die with your boots on ... to live a contented life that harms none and asks no permission.