Saturday, May 28, 2016

As some of my kind allies are aware, I am attempting to create a manuscript of stories.  Deep in the archive now, I found a few odd small comic stories that I thought were worth dusting off, revising, and considering for inclusion.  If any readers have suggestions about these stories -- or about the manuscript as a whole -- I am grateful for your suggestions and advice.  My peculiar solitude and senseless labor are most thankful for the solace of your company.

Mr. Gerber Is Living the Life He Always Dreamed About

(2016 revised version)

We never learned how Mr. Gerber maintained himself. He helped out here at the building certainly, he kept an eye on things, but that hardly could have been enough to live on.

Mr. Gerber was peculiar certainly. I do not doubt that he was somewhat mad. He may have been a pervert. A skim milk-looking middle-aged man, thinning hair, the kind of man you can hardly tell if he is 38 or 61. The sun seems to never shine directly on such a person.

In a crowd of people Mr. Gerber was useful as an end table. You gave him your drink to hold when you went to the toilet. Fifteen minutes later he hadn't moved. The ice hadn’t melted. I suppose you could have thrown your coat over him.

Mr. Gerber was part of the complex. He lived in a corner basement apartment. A made-over utility closet, I suspect, though of course I never saw it. In this building we're all good friends -- it is required. When we had parties we invited everyone. Inviting everyone meant inviting Mr. Gerber, too.

If you forced him to speak, Mr. Gerber would straighten up, tuck his chin down toward his chest, and say that he was grateful, grateful to be at a party like this one, among people such as these. Mr. Gerber was so strenuously grateful one wondered if he was grateful at all.

I should clarify some things about myself. I am a person who tells the truth.  I believe in Absolute Honesty. Thus people do not like me very much. I am not a sentimentalist. I am not a sympathetic sort of person. I am a pragmatist. I am an M T V person. Do you know what that means? That means: My Time is Valuable. All right.  Let's continue.

Mr. Gerber was extremely unobtrusive, but he was always around. If you came home early feeling under the weather, there was Mr. Gerber. Or late on Sunday afternoon when distractions were running low. At 3am when you couldn't sleep, there was Mr. Gerber, clearing away the junk mail, sweeping out the entryway.

If you caught him alone Mr. Gerber was chatty, in a style both humdrum and bizarre. He'd chat about the light that was out, about trash collection, about the weather -- and then he'd sigh and say, "For so long I dreamed of this and now I'm living it!" And an enormous smile would sweep over his face.

I am not impressed by poetic-type people. If you take a moment to investigate their self-conscious behavior, you will nearly always find an attempt to camouflage failure. Like women who gain lots of weight and become spiritual.

For all his false modesty, Mr. Gerber was extremely grandiose. His life appeared to be 10% of one's own life, which frankly was shoddy in some departments, and yet he talked like he was rags to riches, like his whole wish list had been delivered.

Mr. Gerber was delusional obviously.  He was probably actually severely depressed.  I'd seen a case or two of this before.

I suppose he was giving me some clue the afternoon we discussed Christmas shopping, while leaning up against the mailboxes. He said he was pleased to be finished with his shopping. (I have no idea who he could have been shopping for. I myself never received anything from him.)

Mr. Gerber said, "I like things -- but most of all I like the space around things."

Well. It sounds a bit spiritual written down, doesn't it? Trust me, it wasn't spiritual at the time. He had one hand buried to the elbow in a crinkly bag of BBQ ripple chips, He had little orange specks around his lips.

Conspiratorially he leaned near me, breathing on me with ersatz barbecue breath. "Have you ever been in the train station at rush hour, shoving and elbowing along with everyone else, when, without warning, a gap appears? You've got 144,000 people in front of you. 144,000 in back. But nobody is quite exactly where you are. You're in a little gap. I love that."

I bet, if we looked into it, that we'd find out that Mr. Gerber really was a pervert.  Surely someone’s underwear was disappearing.  He fits the bill.  Perverts, it is well known, resemble skim milk and are careful always to be the nobody next door.

As for myself, I don't shirk responsibility. I believe in doing things. I celebrate achievement. That is why I live on the top floor, whereas Mr. Gerber lived in the basement. Both of us, it's true, live alone. But a top floor penthouse is obviously very different from a corner in the basement!

All religions of the world agree on one point: every little thing you do matters. All of us are born with a 'to do' list. We must work, procreate, ornament, etc. Like it or not this is the situation. When we die we go to Heaven, to the auditors, and all our exotic destinations, university publications, and tall youngish redheads are tallied.

You can pretend otherwise but that just means you are Afraid Of Life. At very least you must avoid blowing your nose on cloth napkins and eating potato chips on the train!

One night -- I admit I was having some troubles. I don't have nearly as many troubles as most people, but I do still have some. For some reason I was walking around in my t-shirt. And my underpants. I promise that this is not as inappropriate, or as abandoned, as it may seem. I am very fastidious about underwear, about its cleanliness.  All my underwear is very modest; it is more modest than what many people wear on the outside.

Anyway, it was the middle of the night. In one of my hands could be found a fifth of whiskey. I turned the corner and saw that someone was there. I began to apologize -- but there was no need. It was only Mr. Gerber.


Mr. Gerber looked at the bottle. "It isn't really space," he announced. "Actually it obliterates space. But it feels like space." I thought this meant I could continue enjoying my liquor privately, but, no, he took the bottle from me, and he had a good long slug of it.

I remember he didn't shiver.  His eyes didn't widen any.  So maybe that was Mr. Gerber's story.

"Isn't this the very best time of night?" said Mr. Gerber. "I adore it. I like stumbling on these odd times when one can really live."

Well, this was nonsense, and certainly I would have said so, had I not been overwhelmingly intoxicated. And so instead I said, "Gosh, Mr. Gerber. You really like some unusual things."

"I like all the things that are likeable. And I like also those things which cannot help but be loved. Dust, for instance." Now he started counting things off on his thick stubby fingers. "I like train stations when the train is gone. I like gardens in winter. Nothing charms like the absence of charm! I like cafeterias. I am addicted to laundromats. I dislike traveling, but I enjoy being in transit. There's no place a man can really live, don't you agree, besides in a city, in a basement apartment, in a building where no one actually likes anyone!"

Obviously this was not Mr. Gerber's first whiskey of the evening. As you are no doubt aware, some people actually enjoy being eccentric and contrary. And they expect other people to find it just as delightful.

Personally, I dislike monologists. Don't you, too, dislike monologists? It's the back and forth of dialogue that enriches one, connects one to the species, even has health benefits. Mr. Gerber did not agree with us. He did not seek the back and forth, the to and fro. No, Mr. Gerber had his speech prepared. He was no doubt a deeply lonely man, and monologues, as everyone knows, are a hazard of that species.

"One of the joys of modern life," said Mr. Gerber, "Is the perfectly anonymous coffee shop -- not the most popular chain, but its cheaper, though still over-priced, imitators. Each shop is just like another and even the street corners on which they appear are so similar, so dull and gray, that you could never agree to meet anyone there, because you could never think of anything that might distinguish it from any other shop, its street from any other street, its city from any other city, until finally you cannot even distinguish yourself from anyone else: in such a place you can actually finally just live.

My fine diction doubtless makes Mr. Gerber's gobbledygook appear more distinguished than it was. I firmly decided to confront him about his evasions and to remind him that work and restraint are necessary, that the age of consent is 18. Unfortunately that drunken evening was the last I saw of him. For, shortly after this discussion, Mr. Gerber disappeared.

I don't mean that there was anything untoward about it. I don't think he ran out on the rent. He just isn't with us anymore.

The odd thing is, now that Mr. Gerber is gone, he has become a very common topic of conversation among residents here in the building. They want to know where he went. They want to understand him. This is a sentimental and foolish interest which Mr. Gerber does not in any way merit.

It disturbs me to discover that I, too, am unable to stop thinking about Mr. Gerber. Mr. Gerber is absolutely stuck in my mind. He appears to have become part of the structure, like train stations and street corners. Like dust.

I very much want to see Mr. Gerber again.  Even though I am a pragmatist, even though my time is valuable, I promise that I would greet him courteously. I would listen to whatever he wished to share. And at last I would be sure to tell him, "Mr. Gerber, we simply cannot forget you.  You are always on our minds.  No one we have ever met was as completely unique and special as you, my dear Mr. Gerber."

That is what I want to say to say to Mr. Gerber.  I am certain the look of disappointment on his dull skim milk face would be most satisfactory.

Strawberry Jam

(2016 revised version)

I am thinking of Miro, who once began a painting with a blackberry stain on a canvas, and from there his imagination extended -- but he needed that stain, that irregularity, to begin.

I thought of that when I got your note that you’d spent the night jacking off to porn on the Internet, that there was nothing to eat except strawberry jam and no money coming through until tomorrow. You wrote you’d had a big fight with your roommates over bills – indeed, that seems inevitable when the sum of one’s assets is a nearly full jar of strawberry jam and a train pass.

Please don’t bother apologizing for your English mistakes anymore. You won’t see me apologizing for mine.

And I am sorry – you obviously have not been informed of my rules for friendship. By now I should have prepared some document, which acquaintances graduating to friendship could sign and have notarized.

The requirement is this: although I am perfectly willing to have poor friends, I am not willing to have friends who do not eat. You are free to broadcast or disguise your poverty in any way you choose. However, actual non-eating is not permissible and is, in fact, grounds for dismissal.

Since you were not aware of the rules, your offense will be overlooked, just this once.

Strawberry jam does not qualify as food. Even with bread and peanut butter it barely qualifies. I prefer my friends to combine lean meats with dark leafy greens and whole grains. It is very important for my friends to eat well. Especially considering the mass of self-destructive habits nearly all of us are carting around.

This requirement for friendship is strict and will be enforced and there is no room whatsoever for negotiation. Happily, a delivery service is available. Within the local area and also internationally to the best of my ability. Call me in other words. You dumbass. I will show up with food.

If the thought of receiving charity is humiliating, please, don’t think of it that way. Think of it as prostitution. You need only say, when I arrive, “Sorry, buddy, I’m going to need to charge you 5000 yen to suck my cock today.”

Isn’t that reasonable? Considering that there are masses of people who would seek and enjoy this privilege and there are, presumably, only several dozen people actually currently enjoying it. Therefore it is natural to request a modest fee for admission.

Is this reasonable? Of course it is perfectly reasonable.

I hope I’m not embarrassing you. Am I embarrassing you? I embarrass some people. There are some people, specifically some spiritual homosexuals, whose entire spiritual practice, so far as I can tell, consists of avoiding me.

Evidently they feel that I interfere with their disembodied lifestyle. And I would never want to interfere with anyone’s lifestyle, however disembodied, unless they were a friend of mine, and not eating.

If you perceive in yourself any discomfiture, it is because you cannot conceive of your own worth, and that may be because you are incapable of seeing the line of your back as it extends down across your furry ass. I could take a photograph, I suppose, but still -- you wouldn’t see it, not the way I do.


After saying all this, did I invite you to dinner?

No. You invited me.

"I have only one plate," you said. "I'm pretty sure I have two forks." I would have shared a plate with you, of course.

We stopped by the 100 yen shop. You bought a plate and bowl. The plates and bowls all had smiling tomatoes on them. Which is not a bad thing. Personally, I am extremely, even strenuously, grateful to receive encouragement from any quarter. Especially here in Tokyo -- even a tomato that smiles is most welcome.

In your tiny kitchen you made pasta with eggplants. You had to bend over so far to chop the eggplants on the counter. Aren't these counters low even for Japanese? Everyone is getting taller now and the counters cower still down by the floor, afraid of big people with knives.

I've never known what to do with an eggplant. Of course not. I am American. Actually, I  honestly thought I was supposed to blacken them.

Your eggplant became translucent cubes of gold. You added Parmesan cheese you'd smuggled in your suitcase.

Just four things: pasta, oil, eggplant, cheese. And yet it was extraordinarily delicious. I praised you and your eggplant skills.

"Don't overdo it," you said.

Indeed I would never want to overdo it. And I will do my best to not overdo it henceforth. Whether it is praise or eggplant.

After all, it is also true that lovemaking proceeds this way, with what appear to be simple and earthy ingredients.

About the Difficulty of Making Good Choices

(2016 version)

After much deliberation, after contemplating and delineating their desires and expectations, as well their weaknesses, histories, and needs, along with the possibilities and limitations of their current situation, they decided not to become lovers. Because, despite their physical attraction to each other, they recognized a physical relationship would not likely lead to happiness, not for themselves and not for others, at least not in the long term. This was the choice that they had made and they had made this choice carefully. This was the right choice.  The choice was made.

They were still friends. Of course. And so they met for coffee. As friends do.

“Great to see you again.”
“Great to see you, too.”
“Thanks for meeting me.”
“My pleasure.”
“I think – is it okay to talk about this? I think we made the right decision.”
“You’re feeling well?”
“And you’re -- comfortable sitting out here? Not chilly? You don't want a table inside?”
“No, it’s lovely out here. So bright.”
“Can I ask you something?”
“Of course.”
“Personal questions OK?”
“Well. Ask me and I’ll think about it.”
“Why are you wearing a face mask and a scarf and galoshes and industrial overalls and a motorcycle helmet? It’s a warm day – and you are not riding a motorcycle.”

“Just felt like it.”

The café was a little expensive, the coffee incredibly strong. They sat sipping it now.

“A face mask is a common sight in this city. Flu season after all. As for the winter clothes, well, plenty of people believe that winter begins on a certain day and so they wear their fur trimmed coat and snow boots even when it’s downright balmy. Overalls are always adorable but the overall effect – I hope it’s OK to say this – seems to me, frankly, outlandish. I’m not hurting you am I? You know I never want to hurt you. The motorcycle helmet seems particularly superfluous, since you came on the bus --”
“I’m comfortable.”
“That’s what matters. Are you comfortable?”
“I’m not comfortable at all. Physically. But I can say that I have a certain spiritual comfort as well as a hard-headed pragmatic satisfaction.”
“You’re quoting my letter.”
“I agreed with your letter.”
“I’m very glad to hear that.”

They sat together in silence for the next few sips of coffee. The man who asked questions bobbed his head around and nodded like he was checking off a list. Yes, it was Thursday morning. Yes, this was Tokyo. The sun was out and so were the high society wives, along with their ten thousand dollar dogs. He never stopped smiling.

The other man may or may not have been smiling. He kept his visor down.

“You’re okay?”
“Yes! I’m completely okay,” said the voice inside the helmet. “Of course I’m a little sweaty, but that’s to be expected.”
“Good, good.” He went on nodding at the air. “Listen, I don’t want you to feel like I’m pressuring you – because I totally respect you and your decisions and those decisions, we both agree, don’t have to look anything like what other people are deciding but – are you sure you don’t want to remove something?”
“Of course I would like! But no, absolutely not. Oh, hell.” There was a muffled sob from inside the helmet.
“Oh honey – I mean, dear friend. Does this have anything to do with what we decided?”
“I completely agree with what we decided. It’s definitely the right choice.”
“It’s good to hear you say that.  I agree.”
“And sometimes, when you make the right choice, you have to accept, it’s going to be a little awkward sometimes. For example, now.”

Another long silence.

“I am very interested in what you are saying. Please -- continue.”
“We made an excellent choice. A mature, thoughtful, and ethical choice. I will sleep better. Eventually. I assume. In the meantime, there may be, as I said, some awkwardness.”
“I think I see what you’re saying. You mean, despite the choices we made there are still residual feelings which – point in another direction.”
“Something like that.”
They nodded to each other, one hairy head and one motorcycle helmet. The natural opening was lost.  The moment passed. Their coffee was nearly finished and what was left was cold.

The man in the motorcycle helmet lay one gloved hand on the other man’s thigh. The other man looked carefully at that hand.

The voice behind the visor said, “I want to fuck you in bed. But only to start. Really what I want is to fuck you down on the floor. So we can really have at it.  I want to fuck you in the shower and over the arm of a sofa and in a public park. I want to spank your hairy ass.  I want to wrestle you.  I want to pretend to be an intruder.  Then you can be an intruder and I can be a cop.  I want to be pirates together.  I want to be buck naked with the blinds open and the sun streaming in. I want you to make me beg for it.  I want to make so much noise that nearly deaf punk kids will knock on the door to complain. I want to choke on your cock. I want to feel your balls resting on my beard. I want to put my tongue in your asshole. I want to drink your hot spunk.”

At tables all around them, Japanese ladies did not turn to look. Immaculate in linen, in the style, still, of Audrey Hepburn, those ladies did not turn and did not look. Perhaps a particularly sharp eyed observer might have noticed the muscles straining in their delicate necks. Perhaps they might even make an appointment later with their acupuncturist. To help them manage the discomfort accumulated over a lifetime of not turning. Because these were absolutely first-rate ladies, the kind who do not ever look.

Their dogs had no such qualms however. Naturally. The dogs were positively riveted, straining at the end of their leashes. Those little dogs were absolutely interested in finding out what happened next.

But anyone with even rudimentary knowledge of men, or dogs, will not require much elucidation.

The Necessity of a Precise Diagnosis

(2016 version)

After years of attempting to manage the problem with vitamins and acupuncture, with exercise and affirmations, Randy decided to go to an actual medical doctor.  One doctor led to the next and tests found tests were needed.  In a stream of vague explanations, the drugs kept flowing, but Randy did not get better.

At last Randy secured an appointment with a celebrated and accomplished doctor, an innovator, considered the very top of his field.  This doctor was able at last to pinpoint the source of the problem, the very origin and essence of the thing.  He introduced a finely-tuned treatment program which made use of cutting-edge medicines in quantities measured precisely according to Randy’s symptoms, weight, and age.  Even though the regimen was daunting, Randy was profoundly relieved to have located the source of so much suffering.  Here was a diagnosis, a treatment, a way forward.  Here, at long last.

It didn’t work.  Not in the least.  Actually he got somewhat worse.  The celebrated doctor said not to worry.  Instead, they would use the “classic” treatment, which worked for nearly everyone.

Didn’t work for Randy.  Certain of his symptoms got better.  Others got dramatically worse.  He felt like a congested urban area that finally solves its traffic problems -- only to discover that its pleasant picnicking volcano is not actually extinct.

The celebrated doctor, surprised by his failure, suggested Randy had not followed the regimen faithfully.  Randy swore he had and located the celebrated doctor’s rival, a radical dissenter known for his out-sized ego and celebrity clientele.  This doctor found that, although the diagnosis itself was unassailable, the celebrated doctor’s treatment had been – lo and behold -- entirely wrong, quite dangerously so in fact, just backwards.  This renegade doctor placed Randy on an ingenious regimen that would make perfect sense to anyone whose reason was un-blinkered by convention and mistaken assumptions.

This treatment was likewise wholly unsuccessful.  The acute bad periods, which had been interspersed with periods when he was relatively all right, were replaced with a consistent and reliable blanket of grinding misery.  Randy felt like a loyal serf who knew he could trust in the absolute security of a thatched roof over his head, a stone floor under his ass, three meals of stale bread, and back-breaking labor each and every day of his life until death.  Stability and reliability is not enough, Randy discovered, when it’s pain you are counting on.

Lining up his medicines on his black kitchen table, Randy discovered he had every color of pill except turquoise.  The next doctor prescribed a turquoise pill.  The succession of doctors continued.  It seemed to Randy that they eyed him warily now.  He felt like a girl with a reputation for being impossible.  No treatment helped more than the one before.  In the pastel torture chamber of his problem, the machines just kept moving around.

Suicide, always attractive, now appeared downright ravishing.  After all, this was the only treatment which required no testing or referral and, while a prescription was certainly helpful, it was by no means required.  The treatment itself might be unpleasant, but it was bound to be conclusive if administered with care.

While he was planning his suicide, equivocating over gunshot versus drowning, a tree on the side of the highway versus a fatal plunge, he met a dotty silver-haired lady in the bulk foods aisle of his local health food market.  (In his quest for treatment, Randy had been told at one time or another to avoid meat, wheat, eggs, sugar, soy, nuts, raw and cooked foods.  The health food store had thus become a habit.)

Actually he had met the dotty silver-haired lady before.  Once when he’d been having a very bad day and had demanded, out loud, to be told, once and for all, just what the hell tamari was.  She saw him again.  She asked how he was doing.  Her name was Marti.  She was the kind of lady who asks her Tarot cards what to have for lunch.  That day she’d drawn “The Tower” and so she was making club sandwiches.

Marti didn’t wait for the full explanation.  “Why amplify the unfortunate?” Marti said.  “Why dwell on the negative?  Breathe out black smoke!”  She invited him for sandwiches with her friend Denis who just happened to be a Filipino spirit trance medium and reliable churchgoer.  She said Denis had fixed her up plenty of times.  She didn’t get her migraines anymore.  Even her fingernails were stronger.

Denis arrived for lunch with his own can of Spam, which he sliced, and added to each level of his organic vegetarian club sandwich, and didn’t offer to share with anyone.  After they’d finished their sandwiches, Denis told Randy to lay flat on the floor.  He lit candles to St. Rita, Hermes Trismegistus, and the Buddha.  He blanketed the area in rose water.  He called upon Melchizedek, who had vowed always to help the earnest aspirant.  He poured wax on Denis’ forehead, did a short dance with a feather duster, and instructed the evil spirits to get the fuck out already.

Afterwards, Randy lay on the floor for a long time without moving.  Marti and Denis were on their second cup of coffee before he even dared sit up.

Randy felt well.  He didn’t think he’d felt so well in the past twenty-five years.  He didn’t think he’d ever felt so well.  Marti and Denis didn’t seem particularly interested.  They were deep in a discussion about manifesting unlimited abundance.

For days thereafter, Randy remained very cautious.  He was careful to not lift anything heavy, or think about his childhood.

Despite his fears, Randy’s symptoms, his pain and misery, his appalling suffering, did not return and have not returned to this day.  If he has even the slightest hint, suspects a little twinge, he doesn’t panic.  He places sixteen drops of a certified organic flower remedy under his tongue.

Randy has become a tremendous source of positivity and good faith to everyone around him.  He is confident that health and healing are possible for everyone, once a correct diagnosis has been made and the correct treatment embarked upon.  He speaks of his gratitude to anyone who’ll listen, of his good fortune, and of the way he feels he has arrived, at last, right in the very center of this, the real world.

Saturday, May 21, 2016

The List of 84 Values, According to the State of Kerala

2016 revised version

Late one afternoon at the ashram, when the teacoffee man had come and gone, after the singing of bhajans and the holy name, the swami read to us from the lives of the saints and exhorted us, as ever, to live lives of faultless diligence, purity and goodness.  In his talk that day, the swami happened to make reference to an official list of values, which had been created by the state of Kerala for the edification of schoolchildren.  Straight off I was curious.  Because: being good is a fuzzy business, is it not?  Is it not hard to know of what goodness consists?  And yet: the state of Kerala knew.  The State of Kerala had made a list.

As soon as satsang was finished, after a final round of Ramnam, prostrations, and the flower offering, I hastened to the swami’s side.  “Oh, pardon me and please excuse, dear Swamiji, that list you mentioned -- is it possible to get a copy of it?”  The Swami, effulgent, as ever, with generosity and with grace, acceded at once to my request.  An attendant was dispatched to make a copy of the list, which was done and presented to me at once.

The following discussion is intended for the benefit of those persons not in possession of the list.  Surely it goes without saying that we all wish to progress in virtue.  Any assistance in that task, from any source, is certainly most welcome.  

Seeking to boost schoolchildren, so that they may ascend in virtue as they rise in years, the state of Kerala has compiled a list of 84 values.  These 84 values, as delineated and enumerated by the Board of Education, are those which the state seeks to cultivate and nurture in its young people, in hopes that they might be assisted in the process of becoming upright and valuable citizens of Kerala, the Republic of India, and the World.

Kerala, as is well known, is one of the most thriving states of modern India.  The levels of health, public services, literacy and innovation in this small southern state are the envy of all India.  With a long tradition of religious diversity and tolerance, Kerala is well poised to consider the path of virtue.

Despite the fact that we are not, ourselves, children in South India, it is certain that we, too, can benefit from the contemplation of virtue.  Many will agree that nowadays it is difficult to pin down exactly which values to seek out and cultivate.  We are most grateful to the Board of Education of Kerala for their assistance. 

Without further ado, let us examine the structure of the list.  The list is divided into three columns, each with a heading.  The first is NCERT- Sr. No.  The second is Value.  The third is Brief Description.  In other words, the 84 Values are not only named, but also numbered and defined.  

The list of values is presented alphabetically.  No doubt state officials regret the constraints of the alphabet, which necessitate beginning the list of virtues with 1. Abstinence, which is hardly the most inviting virtue.  “Abstinence is a voluntary restraint from indulging in bodily activities that are widely experienced as giving pleasure.”  

As we all know, progressing in virtue is without question a strenuous task, with rewards that are not at all visible at the start.  Perhaps it is actually fortunate that Abstinence heads up the list, so that we might confront our reluctance head on, and thereby gird ourselves accordingly.

Nonetheless, we hurry on, with understandable relief, to 2. Appreciation of the cultural values of others.  Well, no one can argue with that.  It puts one in mind of folk dances and a smorgasbord of cross-cultural culinary delights.  Incidentally, this is the only virtue whose definition is the same as its name.  Brief description: “Appreciation of the cultural values of others.”  This is the only instance of this on the list.

There are four virtues where the space Brief description is left blank.  These are: 39. Kindness to Animals, 42. Loyalty to duty, 70. Solidarity of mankind, and 84. Value for national and civic property.  Kindness to Animals is, I believe, self-explanatory.  Loyalty to duty may pose some questions, particularly in how it differs from 19. Duty.  Solidarity of mankind is understandable – but exactly how is it to be practiced?  And, what does it mean: Value for national and civic property?  Is it enough to not graffiti national monuments and refrain from burning down national parks with carelessly strewn cigarette butts? 

There are also two values which have an identical Brief description.  10. Common cause and 11. Common good.  Both are defined as: “benefit of all”.  But then -- what is the difference exactly?  If they are one and the same, why have they been listed separately?  It is ardently to be hoped that the Board of Education of Kerala will, in good time, issue memoranda addressing these matters, as well as several others.  

Although we may admit some quibbles, this is not to disparage the work that the Board of Education has been done to name and define the virtues.  This is especially valuable in regard to virtues we may be prone to finesse or overlook.  For example: 48. Proper utilization of time.  Brief description: “List tasks, allocate, dedicate, do not postpone and review.” 

Truly, there are moments, while contemplating the list, that one feels oneself to be personally addressed, one’s failings ferreted out and brought into the light of day.  One cannot help but be grateful for this.  Also, despite the ambiguity of the text,  I assume that one is allowed to review, though certainly one ought not spend overmuch time in reviewing.

I am grateful, in particular, to be reminded of the value of 76. Simple living, for which is provided the second longest definition in the list of values.  Here, the brief description is less than brief.  “Simple living encompasses a number of different voluntary practices to simplify one’s lifestyle.  These may include reducing one’s possessions or increasing self-sufficiency.  Adherents may choose simple living for a variety of personal reasons, such as spirituality, health, increase in “quality time” for family and friends, work-life balance, personal taste, frugality or reducing personal ecological footprint and stress”.  The key word here seems to be voluntary.  In other words this lifestyle must be chosen.  It is not enough to simply be desperately impoverished.

The longest brief description is devoted to 23. Friendship.  No doubt it is a manifestation of the skill and wisdom of the Board of Education to devote so much space to such a lovable virtue, which is universally esteemed, even by those who may have second thoughts about virtue as a whole.

There are several virtues which might not occur on a list outside of India.  These include: 3. Anti-untouchability and 73. Socialism.  Kerala, it is well known, is the only place in the world to ever peacefully vote out Socialism, then peacefully vote it back in again.  It should be noted that 15. Democratic decision making is also listed as a virtue.

A pleasant sense of balance is found throughout the list. 78. Teamwork and 17. Dignity of the individual both receive nods.  However, there are, now and then, curious omissions.  For example, 30. Gentlemanliness is cited as a virtue, defined as “a man who is cultured, courteous, and well-educated”.  However, no feminine equivalent is found anywhere in the list.  Womanliness is not cited as a value.  The Board of Education may wish to prepare a response to what is surely an inevitable question.

One value comes with a brief description that seems pointed, perhaps unnecessarily so.  I am speaking of 18. Dignity of manual work, which “recognizes the dignity and intelligence of blue-collar workers (that is, that those workers as a group have just as much potential for dignity and intelligence, despite the fact that any individual workers may or may not display such traits), and it recognizes their civil (and civic) equality with white-collar workers.”

Ouch.  One wonders if the author of the brief description might not have had some mixed feelings about the inclusion of this value on the list.  On the plus side, perhaps this will finally provide an opportunity for everyone, myself included, to really learn, finally, the difference between civil and civic.

Of the 84 Values, fully twenty begin with the letter ‘S’.  Of these 9 values begin with the word self.  These include: 60. Self-discipline, 61. Self-help, 62. Self-respect, 63. Self-confidence, 64. Self-support, 65. Self-study, 66. Self-reliance, 67. Self-control, 68. Self-restraint.  No doubt this is an expression of the underlying pragmatism of the esteemed personages on the Board of Education in the state of Kerala, who recognize that, in a nation of 1.3 billion, people are going to have to look after themselves, and not expect a lot of hand-holding from an already burdened government.  After all, India is not Denmark.

Again, one must ask, what exactly is the difference between 67. Self-control and 68. Self-restraint?  Self-control we are told is, “the ability to control one’s emotions, behavior, and desires in order to obtain some reward, or avoid some punishment, later.”  Whereas, Self-restraint is: “Restraint of one’s emotions, desires, or inclinations, self-control.”  For that matter, what is the difference between 64. Self-reliance and 66. Self-support?  If one may hazard a guess as to the motivations of the Board of Education, it may be that they sought to re-iterate and re-state values which we might be prone to overlook, thus gently reminding us of the critical importance of that virtue.

The Board of Education of Kerala deserves credit for bringing attention to virtues that generally do not receive nearly enough attention or airtime.  It is to be hoped that the List may serve to bring about a renaissance of sorts for under-appreciated values such as: 32. Helpfulness, 34. Hygienic living, 54. Regularity, and 52. Purity in Public Life, which is stridently defined as: “Purity ●  Probity ● Sincerity ●  Decency” . 

In general, the definitions provided by the Board of Education are helpful in elucidating the nature of each value.  How excellent to have each value made clear, the real kernel of the thing laid bare.  8. Cleanliness, for example.  Brief definition: “Cleanliness is both the abstract state of being clean and free from dirt, and the process of achieving and maintaining that state.”  How convenient and satisfying it is to possess such clear meanings!  It is somehow tremendously reassuring.  

Some values may remain mysterious even when we understand them intellectually.  For example, 82. Universal Truth.  OK, understood, but – how is universal truth actually practiced?  Isn’t snuffling about for universal truth likely to result in all sorts of trouble?

In a few cases the definition raises more questions than answers and may even serve to render a common value unfamiliar.  46. Obedience, for example.  Brief definition: Obedience, in human behavior, is a form of “social influence in which a person yields to explicit instructions or orders from an authority figure”.  Even though I am not skilled in the practice of Obedience, I thought I at least understood it intellectually.  Now I am not so sure. 

How about: 50. Patriotism.  Brief definition:  “Patriotism is devotion to one’s country, excluding differences caused by the dependencies of the term’s meaning upon context, geography and philosophy.”  I am grateful to be told what to exclude.  However, now that I’ve been told what to exclude -- I need someone to tell me what’s left.
In conclusion: to fully contemplate the list of 84 Values, to incorporate the list into one’s life, might truly said to be the work of a lifetime.  This discussion represents only the very first uncertain baby steps toward an understanding and implementation of these essential values. 

For this opportunity we unequivocally state our indebtedness to the Kerala Board of Education, as well as our gratitude to that much-esteemed Board. Though the mastery of virtue may remain essentially a solitary task, we cannot state strongly enough our thankfulness, and deepest respect for, those who seek to provide us signposts along the way.  It is no flight of hyperbole to suggest that the State Board of Kerala has created a valuable resource, not just for the schoolchildren of Kerala, but also for all of humanity.

Without a doubt, we will continue to contemplate the list with a humble and open heart.  In return, it is ardently hoped that the Board of Education of Kerala will continue to provide aids to understanding, as well as further explanations, as it deems useful, helpful, and necessary.


Saturday, May 14, 2016

“He sees no other meaning he might give to his life than to bear witness to what no one wants to know.”   
-- Deputy Willy Bost, in Nevermore by Marie Redonnet

Marie Redonnet, Nevermore

Translated by Jordan Stump
University of Nebraska Press, 1996

I have a predilection for elegant and peculiar French novels in which almost nothing happens.  But here is an elegant and peculiar French novel in which things happen non-stop.  Events are reported in language as compressed and flat as a summary in TV Guide.  “A frenetic erotic thriler” said the Times Literary Supplement, which is true, but also totally misses the point.  It would be more true to say: “A frenetic erotic thriller totally uninterested in being a frenetic erotic thriller.”

As odd as it is to say, this book is not about what happens in it.  What happens is like a TV left on, at full volume, in the corner.  As ever, Redonnet is looking at power, at decay, at corruption, at the impossibility of separating virtue from vice, growth from loss, goodness from nonsense, in the human heart.  As in her previous novels, she employs prose that is spare, flat and overpoweringly hypnotic.

Redonnet is invariably compared to Beckett, but she has a special strangeness all her own.  At least five of her novels were translated into English 20 years ago.  At least among English language readers, she now seems to have fallen off the radar.  How foolish and ungrateful we are!  She ought to be at least as famous as Marguerite Duras.  

If you’re new to Redonnet, I suggest starting with Hotel Splendid.  Also, Dalkey’s
‘Best European Fiction 2013’ -- a hit or miss affair -- is totally worth purchasing just to read the stunning Redonnet story that appears there.

Redonnet’s deliberately flat prose is not for everyone, but I have been hooked for years.  No.  The correct word is haunted.  To give you a sense, here’s the first paragraph of Nevermore:

“This transfer to San Rosa, on the west coast, just next to the border, was not what Willy Bost had dreamt of.  But he wants to forget what he had dreamt of, just as he wants to forget the past.  One the first page of the notebook he wrote in red ink: ‘It is forbidden to remember the past.  It is forbidden to compare the present with what I had dreamt of.’  He chose that particular notebook because it fit into the inside pocket of his jacket, so that it would always be within reach.  As if he were going to need an assistant in San Rosa, and had decided that this notebook would be his assistant.”      

Sensible Regarding Beauty

(extended dance remix, 2016)

Starting on this very day, he resolves to be more sensible regarding beauty. And not just in terms of clouds or birds or dawn -- about which it is hard enough to maintain one’s composure -- but specifically in regard to the beauty of men, which is, after all, exceedingly common, so that a heightened sensitivity to it turns out to be as inconvenient, as nagging, as an allergy to wheat, or dust, or trees.

The beauty of men pursues and surrounds him.  The beauty of men flees from him – and then sneaks up again.  Is it not high time he learned to cope?  Falling to pieces, becoming terribly nervous, staring like a loon.  It is unnecessary.  It is exhausting.  Moreover, it is often disconcerting to others, who may quite naturally feel annoyed or intruded upon.  He must therefore  learn to moderate himself.  

The Buddha, seeking to combat lust, instructed his disciples to meditate upon the repulsiveness of the body by dissecting it into its components. In this, the Buddha was only somewhat successful. Because many men have handsome femurs and highly erotic scapula. It is more than possible to admire the gaping eye sockets of their adorable skulls. Poor unfortunate Buddha: some boys even have cute mucus.

Along with the downright perfect – always more numerous than is conducive to productivity or sense – there is an even more troublesome and pernicious breed: those men with imperfections so precise, so cunningly and daemonically fashioned, that they are thereby rendered even more impossibly desirable, so that he is unable to even glance at their crooked noses, jug ears and furred bellies, without being incapacitated by a single-minded aspiration to sodomize and/or fellate them to very limit of his ordinary (yet strenuously enthusiastic) capacity.

Certainly it is a surprise to no one that he has arrived at middle age with nothing remotely resembling a career.

It is neither pragmatic nor seemly to be a continuously swooning person. Not merely impractical, he is a source of embarrassment.  To others, as well as himself. Rather than continuously swooning over masturbatory visions in an ever-squalid courtship of humiliation, it’s time he cleaned up his act, thought about, heaven forfend, other people. How about that? Yes!  The time has arrived when he will learn to think about other people in ways that are actually wholesome.  Other people shall now appear very often in his thoughts.  Clothed, in his thoughts.

For example: he is the useless offshoot of a thriving family business: a multi-generational, multi-dimensional, transformational pumpkin farm. It is shocking really, what some wayward Bostonian might plunk down for a pumpkin. Why? Because they believe that pumpkin could change their lives. And are those affluent yet credulous Bostonians going to buy that pumpkin from just anyone? 

Of course not!

His brother’s wife, in possession of a patient heart and perhaps overfond of impossible causes, has tried to explain to him the importance of reputation. She herself maintains a top-shelf one. (She had only married into the family, the neighbors said, and thus could not be blamed. But, seriously, how far could this tolerance be stretched?)

An excellent reputation was like an enormous pedigreed dog: how glorious to take it for a walk on a sunny Sunday afternoon!

At the same time: how delicate that dog turned out to be. Despite its hearty appearance, the magnificent beast was downright fragile, subject to every stripe of illness and complaint, liable to keel over in the slightest ill breeze.

But, oh!  To possess such a dog! It was worth no end of fuss. Days of grooming, nights of worry. Reputation: such a splendid and precarious dog!

His sister-in-law had patiently and kindly explained to him the necessity of reputation. The overall point being that he had absolutely no right to go around shooting other people’s pets.

Be sensible, he tells himself.  Dignified!  Respectable!  And indeed he resolves to be so. Starting on this very day!

He wonders if he might fare better in some place where the men were not so beautiful. After all, he has heard a thousand catty remarks about such places, full of men guaranteed not to stun.

He has, in fact, traveled in search of such a place, a plain-faced paradise of reliable ugliness.  Not just once but several times, he has spent considerable sums traveling to remote and inhospitable regions, unpopular cities, muddy islands, only to discover, as soon as he disembarks: his own unmitigated defeat.  Here, too, he men are beautiful, they are very beautiful indeed.

His despair at these moments is easily imagined. It is vast and profound.  And it is brief.  Exceedingly brief.  In less than a minute he’s off chasing some soldier in tight pants, heedless as a dog after a squirrel.

A few times he has become hopeful upon finding himself in a place where the men seemed dull or unpalatable. I could live here! he thought. I could work! I could think for extended periods!

Yet, within three days, he finds that he has begun, helplessly, to admire the confident stomping of the bow-legged men. How astonishingly far they could spit! By then of course it is all over: he is swallowed up again by this vast encroaching beauty like a plague.

It is understandable, perhaps, that this man often feels that beauty is out to get him. Because -- even if he succeeds in averting his eyes from the mountains, even if he makes it past the little butterflies like glimmering bits of ash -- suddenly there’s some dusty unshaven hippie boy, adjusting himself in the street. Please, god, no! Not an unshaven freeballing hippie boy! But it is too late. A whole day of being sensible shot in the head.

On these downtrodden occasions, he takes heart by thinking of all the people throughout history who have resolved to starve, suffocate, stamp out, and obliterate beauty – and indeed have at times succeeded, very nearly, in destroying it entirely, not only in their own lives but also in the lives of people around them.

These heroes cannot be blamed if beauty turns out to be freakishly durable. Like honey in the Pyramids. All things pass away.  Except beauty.  Beauty is not impermanent.  Beauty goes on and on.

Firmly he resolves: Even though my faults are numberless, still I will remove them. Even though beauty cannot be destroyed, still I will destroy it. At the very least curb, restrain and moderate it! The Japanese understand so well. Beauty has to be controlled.  Beauty isn’t something you can just live with, or leave lying around. Certainly not. Beauty is too terrifying.

Consider what happens the moment beauty is perceived. In particular, the beauty of man – of all the kinds of beauty this is by far the worst and most incapacitating: the way it explodes in the mind like a bomb in a busy café on Sunday morning.

What happens, exactly, inside that single second – at the sight of a beautiful man?

First, shock. Actually a microscopic blackout. An abyss complete with a feverish dream. Upon awakening: sheer panic, which hardens into terror of imminent humiliation, such as one might feel arriving at an elegant party clothed only in wads of toilet paper held on by fresh crushed lice.  A sharp, desperate craving for invisibility is next, most preferably in the form of death. A plan to hide is hatched: to hide, most cunningly, within the body of the man. The strangling wish to become, oneself, that holy and radiant animal, followed by the wish to possess him,  at least to blow him. Next comes the agonized, cringing famishment: the wish to receive from him some half-hearted token of recognition, not as an equal obviously, but even as remotely satisfactory dirt.

This is a gross oversimplification, of course. What actually happens is much more complicated.  And vastly more extreme.

Even though this process occurs within a single second, it still lasts long enough to contort his face, rendering his attempt at a harmless smile into a hideous grimace, a rictus of deplorable yearning. This elicits, in turn, from the beautiful man, that tidal wave of radiance, that blazing wall of fiery terror -- a shudder of distaste. Beauty rolls its eyes – freak!

The torrent of regrets and recriminations that follow such an event is likely to last four to six weeks. An entirely unnecessary period, it turns out, as the process is bound to be repeated several times within an hour, and often within seconds.

Really one marvels that this gentleman manages to put together even the semblance of functionality. It is a struggle certainly. He wants to be respectable.  He wishes to be rational. Even sporadic good sense seems like something he could really grow to appreciate. Which is why he has resolved, starting on this very day, to be more sensible regarding beauty.

But: how does one go about it? he wondered. Particularly when one has – no rationality nack, no sense for sense? What is to be added, what avoided?

Anything provoking ecstatic trance should be cut right out: devotional singing, porno, coffee. Immoral and/or classic works of literature. Long walks. Nature. Memory.

He really ought to be supervised, he thinks. Sense requires supervision, particularly in its wayward early stages. There ought to be lectures on the concerns of rational people: security, dignity, reputation, retirement planning. There ought to be a guard, a very plain and not at all handsome guard, to supervise the senses, above all the eyes – those traitors to the cause – someone to bark, “No staring! No sneaking glances! Eyes up! Not that far up!  Down!  Not too far down!”

Would sunglasses help?

Ideally he would wear, in addition to a medical bracelet advising cute doctors and nurses to maintain caution at all times, a large pin emblazoned with the words: FAILS TO UNDERSTAND APPROPRIATE BOUNDARIES. PLEASE DO NOT CONFUSE.

Right now, for example. At the café he frequents, still reposing in the gleam of the early morning sun, the waiter greets him with a hug. He finds this hug extremely pleasant and entirely welcome. In fact he is totally ready to shove his tongue in the waiter’s mouth and help him out of his stiff black pants right then and there. But evidently this response is considered inappropriate.

Appropriate responses! If they are so important to people, why can’t people just tell him what they are? Armed with knowledge of the correct response, he could then proceed to enact it, with both precision and feeling.

But no-o-o. No one is going to tell him the appropriate response. Of course not! He is expected to guess. And meanwhile it’s all trial and error in front of a preposterously gorgeous waiter.

Apparently, when the waiter embraces him, his words and touch in response ought to be perfunctory and matter-of-fact, as if men with beards, eyebrows, shoulders, hands, and asses like this one embraced him all the time. He is expected to simply order his coffee, as if coffee mattered at a moment like this, when one has just reveled in the embrace of molten-hot waitstaff.

He ponders: would good sense ever come naturally to him?  Pure despair and inextirpable shame descends upon him now; he is wholly and utterly overwhelmed for very nearly all of three seconds.  It is appalling, it is unnerving, it is humiliating -- at least when he can keep his mind on it.

First he asks for coffee, but then he needs a glass of ice water, then realizes he’s forgotten to ask for just a little milk. The waiter walks cheerfully back and forth. Which is cruel and unfair. Because if the waiter had only one side – he might have managed. One-sided waiters would be well-suited to his self-control.

But the waiter has at least two sides and very likely several more besides. It is overwhelming. How did the waiter’s lovers ever possibly manage? You couldn’t ever just choose a side. If you ever got him into bed you’d have to just keep flipping him over.  Such was love.

Get a grip, mister! He orders himself. Checking to make sure the waiter was out of sight, he presses his glass of iced water against his forehead. Restrain, regulate, control, curb, moderate! He puts down the water and picks up his coffee, still black. He clutches the mug with both hands, lets the steam sting his eyes. He resolves, pledges and swears to become, this very day, sensible regarding beauty!

When he looks up again the waiter has returned, smiling, with his little jug of fresh milk.

In which his resolution drowns.

Saturday, May 07, 2016

Guttersnipe Bookshelf: James Schuyler

James Schuyler, Selected Poems
Farrar, Straus, Giroux: 1988, new edition 2007

One of the best and grandest days of being a college student, more than 20 years ago now, was the afternoon I sat in the big white tent at Naropa and listened to Eileen Myles read poems by James Schuyler and tell tales.  She had been his assistant for a time -- indeed, he chats about her in several of these poems.  Because I am such a glacially slow learner, I just thought this was all very cool -- it took me a couple decades to perk up to the fact I had to actually read the poems.

I read all the other New York School Poets first and still wasn’t serious about reading Schuyler until I read David Lehman’s discussion of him in The Last Avant-Garde, which seems to me a very beautiful and helpful introduction.  Since then, I’ve read these poems endlessly, over and over again.  The 3 long poems, in particular, seem to me essential -- absolute proof that the long poem can be the very opposite of epic bombast.

Excuse me for quoting Ashbery’s blurb: “Schuyler’s poems are seldom ‘about’ anything in the way poetry traditionally is; they are the anything.”  Or, as I said to a friend in a vastly more stupid style, “It’s all very ordinary in a completely inexhaustible way.”  (How excellent it would be to walk into a bookstore and announce to the staff, “Please, I must have a new book of poems!  But I don’t want poems that are ‘about’ anything!”)

Since I am something of a traveling hobo, I can only carry one book of poems.  Day after day, I am so very grateful that it is this one.  If you are already interested in the New York School of Poets, don’t let the bright lights of O’Hara, Ashbery and Koch delay you too long in getting to Schuyler.  Much as I love the others, Schuyler is, for me, the poet most suitable for reading endlessly.

from “A Few Days”:

                     A few days: how to celebrate them?
            It’s today I want
to memorialize but how can I?  What is there to it?
          Cold coffee and
a ham-salad sandwich?  A skinny peach tree holds no
           peaches.  Molly howls
at the children who come to the door.  What did they
           want?  It’s the wrong
time of year for Girl Scout cookies.
My mother can’t find her hair net.  She nurses a cup of
            coffee substitute, since
her religion (Christian Science) forbids the use
            of stimulants.  On this
desk, a vase of dried blue flowers, a vase of artificial
            roses, a bottle with
a dog for stopper, a lamp, two plush lions that hug
           affectionately, a bright
red travel clock, a Remington Rand, my Olivetti, the
            ashtray and the coffee cup.”

It's Supposed to Be Spectacular

Spell the Seventh

So As Pursue What Might Actually Matter

1. I remember the one bedraggled therapist I could ever afford.  In Chicago, years ago.  To her, I described peeping, very late at night, into the window of a solitary man staring at his computer and wearing only boxer shorts.  A man who turned, just then, to sip his beer: the man who saw and caught me.  Jumped up, stormed outside, hauled me in, tugged down his shorts.  My therapist was completely dismayed.  She said, “That’s NOT how it usually works.”  In the same way, please excuse: my life has been a long tutorial about how glorious it is to be unprofitable and drop out.  Keep in mind that I was well-remunerated, responsible, and self-sacrificing for a significant number of years.  Married, in other words.  A solid decade, if you figure it generously.  For which I was viciously punished.  Why censure me for being irresponsible?  Why not chide God for being misleading?

2. Because it is his essential function.  Something just next door to being.  He is the taker of notes.  (To say ‘someone’ goes too far.)  He takes notes for a test which is inconceivable, for a performance that will never arrive -- or else is ongoing.  A test on artichokes and infernos, on drag queens and onions.

3. As far as I can tell (aged 43) there are two primary things that make middle age dismaying.  The first, of course, is watching people fall apart.  I watched people fall apart when I was young but it wasn’t until later (now) that I realized it would be everyone.  Me, too.  The second thing, generally less recognized, is: no one ever figures anything out.  Or rather, they never figure out the thing that would make a difference for them.  They figure out other things, other people’s things, even major things -- but never the thing that would make a difference for them personally.  Almost never.  It’s there, right there, so obvious, so clear -- no use.  They, I, she, you.  Can’t can’t can’t can’t.  This turns out to be significantly more devastating to watch than the inevitable demolition.

4. I remember laughing at the rugged, dark-haired boy who told me, when we were both just 17, that HE WASN’T GAY -- he just liked to have sex with men.  He must be gray-haired by now, or bald, and does not imagine that I apologize to him most every day.

5. For once, the explanation is simple.  A cross-eyed 7 year old with bifocals and a limp takes refuge in perpetually studying.  Because he is praised for it.  Because it is so oddly soothing.  A skittish gimp-legged kid finds the one thing he can manage and hammers away at it relentlessly.  Because all else is so entirely too large, too loud, too bright, too complex.  He takes notes, he takes notes and notes.  A ritual, a tic, a grudge.  The blank cards make their appearance in third grade.  Originally they are emblazoned with monsters.  Little has changed.

6. Two whole hands (I got big hands) and so thick I couldn’t even get those same hands around it.  But that was only the most famous part of him, which he gave to everyone.  What I loved most was his broad soft mouth, reeking of cigarettes.  The way it made me feel I had been chosen.  Though really it was only (yes, always this) that he was glinting high and I happened to be there and reminded him of something we both half-remembered, from some bear porn in the Nineties.

7. In short, I seldom see the point of writing things that aren’t a little dangerous.  Embarrassing works too.  For small talk, why not attend your local bar?  Do you struggle to accept your acceptable thoughts?  And so, therefore.

8. Navratilova retired.  Did Navratilova stop playing tennis?  Of course not.  Navratilova simply ceased to compete publicly in tournaments.  Navratilova remains an icon.  Navratilova continues to have a good time.

9. This is a public declaration to the effect that I will be retiring as a cocksucker.  Naturally I will continue to suck cock.  This only means that I will be stepping back (or standing up?) so as to pursue other interests.  My primary interest, occupation and identity will no longer be as cocksucker.  I act for privacy and for patience at this time of turbulence and transition.  My subsequent career path is not yet clear.  Literature is one possibility.  (Hard as it is to imagine without sucking dick.)  Ecology remains the only path that is currently defensible.  That, or public health.  Maybe I’ll just switch to getting fucked in the ass?  Anyway, it is time for something different.  I had assumed it would be cocksucking start to finish.  Yet evidence of boredom had been lurking.  One night I went to Rawhide: Big Dick Rick was there, running through his Big Dick Rick Routine.  Evidently he’d been pumping.  Though my jaw was sore I did my best, and as I did so I thought, True, it is enormous, it is entirely enormous, but -- is it actually all that interesting?  Big Dick Rick: I would have loved him, but that was not an option.  I got up and caught the last ferry home.  When I woke up the next morning I discovered we’d lost David Bowie.

10. Other people’s revelations: Actual goodness is entirely unrelated to one’s popularity at the grocery store. I am not the king of Mesopotamia; neither did I model my life on Christ.  Sharing is a catastrophe I might well survive.  Not for ages have I looked 23.  Of course I am a therapist: I enjoy looking down on people.  Jacking off is just a cheaper way of getting drunk.  Awakened, my ass.  Tears, like song, are a reliable means to control conversation.  Another year at the call center will not put me any closer.  He doesn’t love me and will not ever; moreover, who cares?  One more will not be any closer to enough.  What matters is getting down to the actual work.  Morality is not a magical process accomplished simply by averting one’s eyes.  The problem is not that I’m fat.  The problem is not the leg.  The problem is not that white queers don’t want Asians.  Vodka could very well be the problem.  Porn or perfection, ditto.  There is almost never any time.  Fuck the neighbors.  You must allow at last the pain to meet the air.

11. I remember how it seemed to me that they were in charge of the world.  Or, at least of its pleasures and doors.  Now I see them: with their pedigrees and grooming needs, the militant luxuriant shrubbery, and I think, Oh look, they are still here.  I continue to marvel at what they have been able to do, with razors and injections, with weights and creams.  The Exquisite Gays.  I remember how terribly it mattered, that I could not be one of them.  This was before I understood: disqualification is a potent form of blessing.  I am no longer a mongrel, locked on the other side of a glass door.  Instead: an animal outside in the dark, mortal, uncorrected, unchecked, wild. Glancing at the shine of the dinner party before I lope away, continuing on beneath the waxing moon, busy in my own pursuits, in search of my own prey.

12. My father, with satisfaction, at sunset with his first red wine, says that I’d been a pretty smart kid, actually, after a slow start.  “But then, you had to be,” Dad says.  “You had to make up for having a crippled leg.”  “No.  Actually,” I say.  “I didn’t.  Have to.  But I sure thought I did, didn’t I?”

13. Although the Orthodox Hindu/traffic safety quadrant of my personality may yet retain reservations, it appears that perfect temporal happiness consists of dotting chicharrones with hot sauce and lime and swigging a Corona while riding through the jungle on the way to the beach, the angel at the wheel, my hand on his thigh, teasing him about his boner, feeding him a chicharron as the car swerves and Blondie shouts out MARIA!

Saturday, April 30, 2016

It's Supposed to be Spectacular

Spell the Sixth

So As To Open Secret Doors

1. Abruptly I am passionate in regard to neatness -- even to the degree of caring very much how the battered pots and pans are arrayed atop a shelf across the room from where I sit.  The colander, please, needs breathing space; the handles of the skillets must be aligned.  Two salts must flank Mrs. Dash.  Is this a point at which I ought to be concerned?  On the other hand: I just moved one of the four canisters of oatmeal a little to the left and now -- Phew!  I can hear so much more clearly what it is I have to say.

2. Accidentally I tipped the cleaning lady who looks after the cafe’s toilets so extravagantly that now, when I need urgently to pee, she finds toilets where toilets did not previously exist.  She has a retinue of secret doors and I have priority boarding.  I am in real danger of becoming one of those heinous Americans prone to announce, I am so blessed!!!

3. You’ve got such good handles, says the bartender with the long black beard as he, with one hand, passes me the first proper pisco sour I’ve had in years and, with the other hand, strokes first one and then the other ear. 

4. The triple pina colada at the next table is sad because she’s never seen the green flash.  I want to tell her I’ve never seen it either, though I have sat many times looking out upon the ocean and the people beside me have seen it.  I’m not saying it’s not real.  There are green flash people and there are no flash people: no use being bitter about it.  Take a pill to cancel the pineapple, ma’am, renew your hair, and go right on -- though not necessarily with this same man you’ve got here with you now.

5. It’s getting dark, Under the Boardwalk thumps along, and I realize that every time I’ve heard this song I’ve imagined, like, an 18 inch crawl space.  Which surely is missing the point?

6. Upon ordering nachos, in falsetto, each syllable precise, and calling the teenaged moustached waiter sir 3 times, at least, it occurs to me that perhaps my zealous niceness is simply the social mask of an alcoholic and maybe I’m just waiting for a few more drinks for that to become apparent.  Not so many drinks.  Niceness -- how could anything be commendable that is so entirely saturated with fear?  Would someone please like to adopt a gimp-legged fellating dog who continuously emits short book reviews?  

7. An army, that’s what I expected.  Instead, there’s just this down-low bar for swing-shift staff.  Crank up my eye gates and: whoever shows up.  (Even before the door opens they are there, knocking on the metal gate, wanting to drink, get fucked, somebody to listen to their goddamned story.)  Sure, there are regulars.  I am not in control of them either.  I have to welcome whoever shows up.  I have to feed and drink them.

8. To himself: You ought to practice playing hard to get.  This is not something with which you have any experience.  It is not something which is natural to you.  Nonetheless.  Por exemplo: when a big stocky man with a beard compliments your alleged hotness, you should NOT immediately say, “You can do whatever you want to me.  Start making a list.” 

9. When I go at sunset to check on Dad he says, “Is it because we talked too much about your brothers, how beautiful they were?  Didn’t you ask once, Aren’t I beautiful too?  We seem to remember that.”  I’d told him I was publishing a story; he asked what it was about.  I told him, “It’s about a man who’s promiscuous because he’s obsessed with feeling ugly and physically defective.  Same as all my other stories.”  Now, bless him, Dad is trying to understand.  He’s concerned that he said something wrong.  God knows he has.  Still, I felt it hadn’t been decisive. “I remember feeling ugly and ashamed when I got my thick brown bifocals -- and wasn’t that before I turned 4?  Please don’t worry,” I assured him.  “Mom was dead before I was 8.  I promise I never heard you say anything good about my brothers after that.  No, they were very thoroughly demonized.”

10. A man asked me, “Are you drunk when you write?”  Which I am confident is not a compliment.  I told him No.  Which is not exactly true.  I don’t drink when I write -- OK, a glass of red wine at most, when bribery is most urgently required.  However, when I do drink -- which I prefer to do in public but alone -- I often scrawl notes, deep thoughts and perversities, and these often form the basis of the next day’s work.  Moreover, approximately once a month, I get totally shit-faced and sit in a corner writing detailed instructions to myself.  (I always have a great time doing this and feel glorious.  Why is that?  Perhaps it is because I spend the lion’s share of my deeply sober, feeling stone cold lost.)  You should see what the pages look like when I finally go to bed: all bullet points, pronouncements and scrawl.  I could present one of those pages to a psychiatrist and the doctor would not even need to read it -- no, he or she would give me a prescription for something fierce on the basis of the handwriting alone.  And I don’t destroy or hide these proofs of pathology, oh no, I obey them diligently, every scrawled bullet point, every ungrammatical pronouncement of the Lord.  So, OK, I wasn’t drunk when I did the writing.  (That would be wrong.)  But perhaps I was drunk when I wrote the instructions.

11. How unnerving it is to open the drawer of my father’s nightstand and find, among the bottles of pills and dead batteries, dozens of note cards upon which he has scrawled pronouncements to the world and reminders to himself.  People say to me, “What?!  You are not taking over the farm?”  No.  I have chosen to extend the family pathology in other arenas.

12. I only wish to give to others what I myself have so often wished for: a little sudden unexpected rescue, now and then.

13. Waking up in the depths of the night to see my angel turned from me, covers off, bald-headed and bare-assed.  Smooth, soft, in early middle age, as stark and inviting as a sand dune.  When he’s awake I mostly get to see the other side of him, the kindly eyes, the hairy mouth, the big, insistent cock.  I am surprised to see he also has these gentler, smoother parts.  I no longer worry about not sleeping.  I rest, safe and happy, in the vision of beauty.