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. 







Thursday, April 21, 2016

Guttersnipe Bookshelf: Ferreira Guilar

Ferreira Guilar, Dirty Poem
Translated from the Portuguese by Leland Guyer
New Directions Poetry Pamphlet #18, 2015


If the good doctor, William Carlos Williams, returned to life and I was given the task of looking after him on the first day of his Second Coming, I wouldn’t panic.  I’d show up in New Jersey with this book.  Perhaps we could take turns reading to each other?  What greeting could be better than this great “Dirty Poem”?  Williams might well begin making additions to Patterson at once.  “Dirty Poem” is a triumph of the long poem.  As well as being beautiful and profound, it is actually exciting.  You may find that you need to stand up to read it, or pace quickly around the room.

Because I so much love poetry that illuminates small, quiet, ordinary things, I think I tend to forget that a poem can also be an extravaganza, a blockbuster.  Such energy and motion!  “Dirty Poem” could be a movie -- but the budget would be prohibitive.

It is overwhelming to think that Guilar, in exile from Brazil, fleeing for his life, believing he would soon be dead, somehow found within himself the force to write this epic about his personal history, his home and the nature of time.  An important figure in the literature of Brazil, this work should be important to English-speaking readers too.   In particular, anyone interested in the possibilities of the long poem has to read this small (and enormous) book.

It's Supposed to Be Spectacular

Spell the Fifth


A Single Moment of Perfect Kindness 

Or, for the beatification of bearded Mexican muscle daddies



1.  A question of proportion: because it used to be that I was 973 trillion parts horny and only 826 trillion parts scared out of my goddamned mind.  Whereas now I am just 797 trillion parts randy versus 902 trillion parts terrified.  That’s still A LOT of horny -- several trillion times more than is conducive to sensible living -- but panic now edges out spunk by a small but decisive margin.  Which is one reason I can’t quit it with the mouthwash, for example.



2.  Should I call it a novel?  Because who is ever going to read a miscellany?  The word grimoire may be be unfamiliar, or mislead the Harry Potter crowd, or, worst of all, encourage the I’m not religious I’m spiritual fakers I abhor.  As a person with several purely decorative degrees, I am well-qualified to assure you that you can put two thick slices of avocado on whole-grain and call it a novel.



3.  Short of grievous injury and loss of life, wearing shorts at the gay beach is pretty much the scariest thing I can imagine and here I am doing it.  I’m good once I get in the water.  Not that I can swim much but, you know, image-wise.  Still, sooner or later I must climb out of the waves and then here is my withered hairy peg stick leg with its little hoof at the end.  Thus, I never know if I should flirt while I’m out in the waves.  Just now, while in over my head, a tremendous bodybuilder began making eyes at me. He was one of those men so dense he doesn’t float.  Like a cute rock.  He said he had a place right here on the beach, but once I climbed out of the water he never looked in my direction again.  In the past a few guys have acted like I’d scammed them once I took off my pants.  Big arms should mean big legs too, big everything.  But is it actually my fault if I do not have all the parts that they imagine?



4.  Went to Reception to pay for another week’s hotel.  They only smile of course -- but how could I not be a joke to them?  I am a joke to me.  Paying for the two rooms, Dad’s and mine, a week, faking my father’s signature with his consent, more money than I live on in six months.  Meanwhile: stained t-shirt, buzzcut, and torn jeans.  The built-up part of my left boot has come unglued so that it snaps like a plastic flip-flop when I walk.  Buck teeth, one mad jug ear, face like an accordion.  It’s obvious that I am a person who has not been properly maintained.  For better or for worse, I was left out in the elements.  How ridiculous I am now, residing temporarily in luxury, the personal attendant to my mad old father.  He isn’t actually rich you know, he just spends money that way, it’s one of his symptoms, like calling himself ‘we’.  And I am what’s left of his lop-sided queer son.  “Jonathan is a WRITER.”  Oh god.  Oh fuck.  Of course he is.



5.  Maybe it’s hard to understand why it’s so much easier to be bareassed naked than to wear shorts.  It’d be easy to explain if I were hung like a mule.  Sadly, that’s not the reason -- grateful as I am to the Italian who referred to me as girthy.  The shorts, I guess, seem like a frame around it, a neon arrow: here it is, the crippled leg.  Naked is easier.  Naked has its own rules.  There’s A LOT one can do to run interference, provide distractions.  The truth is it’s just much less difficult if guys see all of me at once.  Then at least there’s nothing I might warn about, nothing I have to explain.


6.  Only very rarely will someone ask.  Almost never.  They act as if it isn’t there.  Same as I do.  But the very first guy I had sex with in Mexico, after I’d been in the country about 8 minutes, was a sturdy muscle daddy, bearded, stocky, gruff-looking.  An answered prayer, in other words, and it was all I could do to not collapse in an avalanche of thanksgiving.  Abject gratitude was unavoidable -- I just didn’t want to actually cry.  He tugged off his towel, then mine, and we started in on each other and right then, in the middle of everything, he said, “What happened to your leg?”



7.  And, before I could say anything, he said, “It’s totally OK.  I just wanted to know if I should be more gentle.”



8.  He actually said that.  That is an actual honest-to-god quote.



9.  As you must know, there are whole batches of Protestants who believe that signing on the ideological line for a single moment is all that is required.  Just Jesus is my personal Lord and savior -- and you’re done.  This seems dull and bureaucratic to me but, on the other hand, if I were in charge of the universe, I think it appropriate that a soul might be redeemed by a single moment of perfect kindness.


10.  If the bearded Mexican muscle daddy never did anything else right in his life -- it shouldn’t matter.  This ought to be enough.  Not because I am important.  Because perfect kindness and attention are important.  In other words, that bearded Mexican muscle daddy deserves to be beatified.  (Note: beatification is not sainthood.  Beatification is the first step.  Sainthood requires actual miracles.  We must now pray to the bearded Mexican muscle daddy and see if he intercedes.  Let us pray.)



11.  Beatification, as any good Catholic can tell you, is “establishment in Heaven”.  Your presence in Heaven has been verified.  Direct to paradise for the muscle daddy, wings, harp, drum kit, cigar, whatever daddy wants.  All right, he does have to be naked.  His holiness is non-inclusive of underpants.  For such is the glory of the Lord.



12.  In the meantime, may he know no suffering, not even arthritis or headaches, no bounced checks or hemorrhoids, just excellent muscle tone and vigorous erections until his entirely harmless death, at ease, free of pain, and held in the arms of beloveds.  Nothing less is sufficient for the bearded Mexican muscle daddy.  This is what his perfect kindness deserves, has earned.



13.  It’s totally OK.  I just wanted to know if I should be more gentle.





Friday, April 08, 2016

It's Supposed to Be Spectacular


Spell the Fourth

So That Things May Speak and Also Cease to Speak



1.  Things I’ll not do (anymore): 
     
      Henceforth I will only pick up one (1) man at a time.  To pick up three (3) men at the same time and bring them all back to the hotel is ill-advised.  Moreover, it is tacky if they are left waiting outside the door for each other to finish.      

     No more tracking down long-lost relatives to see if they might want something to do with me.  They don’t.  

     No more pouncing naked on people at the door.  I have reached at the age at which supplemental means of inspiration must be found.  

     No more jostling rich white relatives in their rich white worlds.  Zombies don’t wake up.  

     No more fellating the security guard at a hotel where I am a regular guest unless I really like him and am pretty sure he’ll still be cute in 10 years.  Otherwise it just gets to be a chore.  

     No more drinking bottles of red wine and blasting tango music at 8 a.m.  OK, not unless it is an emergency.  And not more than once a month. 



2.  This sky tonight has been done with construction paper and children’s scissors.  Those who came for sunset were disappointed, no sun in sight, but now the sky is all black clouds and, in-between, this here is the Great Pumpkin.  Why assume the world minds the world ending?  As for civilization, we should at least be alert to suggestions it was over-rated.  Even those of us who found it compelling cannot claim that it was wholesome.



3.  When wandering has stumbled on for years, there is nothing one wishes for more than a reprieve for being a guest.  If not a room, a coffee house at least.  A broad clean table bolted to the floor and a mug of bitter coffee.  Security, I think and -- smash -- across the room a glass carafe explodes.  Fuck no, wails the barista, not the poltergeist again!  The bathroom door unlocks and opens.  An old man walks out wearing an enormous feathered headdress.  



4.  Evidently I have swallowed a television.  I can make it large or small but the smaller it is, the louder it gets.  Also there are odd flashes of silver in my head, as if I’d ingested handfuls of aluminum foil.  My blood pressure is presumably terrifying and I want to have sex with everyone.  Of course I always want to have sex with everyone but now I am ready to put my plans into effect.  The name for this, I am told, is hypomania.  It is not nearly as much fun as it sounds.  Even depression would be preferable.  It is far easier to make myself do things, than to keep myself from doing them.



5.  iPhone + PReP + Grindr + Deca + Botox + Uber + Scruff + Cialis = a strange, strange place.  Shouldn’t I be running alongside, offering commentary?  Isn’t that my job?  When it seems vastly preferable to me to drop out entirely.  When did anachronism become a term of high praise?  Oh, to live as one lived when one was still alive!  Also, I am thinking that when the robots take over, officially, it won’t be much of a shift.



6.  Is it wrong to be obliterated?  Or, rather, is it always wrong?  I am one of those persons who believes that sitting down to work every morning at a quarter to eight renders one worthy.  This I will do 9 days in a row, then head to the baths and not be seen for days.  I lose so much time.  But then, the hyper-disciplined days seem wasted too, just differently.  (Can anyone determine what it is I am doing, or whether it is an improvement upon doing nothing?)  Yesterday I traveled to the abode of Cosmos in speedos, the gay beach.  I kept my jeans and my boots on.  In the back corner I sat with two clipboards -- the one for pages and the one for cards.  Venturing near the water would have meant being a lop-sided peg-legged man.  It is so terribly obvious that I am mostly only ever good because I am afraid.



7.  Perfection is nowadays significantly more perfect; the lads at the gay gym are wearing white tights to prove it.  They look like triple X ballet gay action figures.  Which is not meant in any way as criticism.  There are at least 3 doing a circuit now and each is everything you could ever ask for.  Uncut with a generous overhang -- you can see that much.  Between sets each one stares into his phone.  That’s the routine: machine, phone, machine, phone, machine, phone.



8.  About Cialis: when was the last time I saw cock half-hard?  2009, approximately?  Now every 50-something’s hard as a teenage boy.  Photo ready.  Suitable for use as a tuning fork.



9.  In public spaces, ear plugs are remarkably useful.  Not just the plugs themselves -- yellow or orange foam, translucent putty -- but also the process of fishing them from one’s bag, removing them from the box, rolling them between the fingers, inserting them into the ears, and checking to make sure they are functional and secure.  Without even a glance at cacophonous persons in the vicinity.  With zero dirty looks.  Very often persons will notice, “that man has resorted to ear plugs so as to survive my presence” and spontaneously and with hardly a thought those persons will compose and diminish themselves.  A miracle which could not ordinarily be accomplished even by punching them in the head -- which is another of those treacherous stray desires that is as unhelpful as it is deeply felt.



10.  And the waves, one after another, after another, boom onto the shore.  To me it seems the waves are the cause of tight knot in my chest, the terrible intensity of the smallest news, even a chair pulled out from the table across the room.  To me it the waves are the cause but I assume I’m wrong because -- I assume I’m wrong.  And just the same it seems to me that the waves are breaking, breaking on the shore but in me they’re adding, adding up.



11.  At the bar behind the gay beach the wrinkle-free old men are discussing the price of Xanax all over the world.  Then Retin-A.  Then AndroGel.  Then Ambien.  South India, I could tell them.  And the MEN!  But dammit they do not deserve it.  My hunky Tamils aren’t for sharing.



12.  This is a question for Spanish speakers.  After a very long and boozy Sunday brunch, the young and gleaming muscle man at whom I’d stared all morning stood up to leave.  He and his buddy, nearly as perfect, had had 3 cocktails a piece at least, as well as a double tequila to polish off brunch.  Both young men were impossibly handsome, upholstered, super-deluxe, with the air of young porn stars so in demand they are now being offered serious roles.

I’d had no cocktails, only coffee.  Several cups.  The most beautiful young man was directly in my line of sight, straight ahead, so that, whenever I looked at the sea, I couldn’t help but look at him.  I have a problem with staring.  A serious problem.  Intrusive and voracious staring is one of my most evident and appalling qualities.  I could not satisfy myself that it was actually skin they were wearing, beyond the edges of their taut t-shirts -- so smooth it was, a darkness full of light and gold.

Do not be taken in by lazy, fancy words.  My staring is disgusting.  It is intrusive, aggressive and rude.  He was right there, so that I was always looking at him, even when I was looking at the sea.  Some men are so beautiful that I do not understand how it is possible, so that I look and look and look, always thinking that, the next time I look, I will understand.  But I don’t understand.  Not ever.  I just stare.  It’s rude.    

At last they paid their bill -- exorbitant, I saw -- downed the last drops of tequila and stood up.  The one most god-like, a young man whose elegant breakfast had doubtless been impinged by my obsessive leering, was wearing thin gray sweats over hugely muscled legs, like the undergear of a jack-off fantasy lumberjack.  If he’d adjusted himself just then I would have died of an aneurysm.  Instead my reprehensible yearning life was spared. 

So greedy was I of my last chance to view him that I did not even pretend to look away.  (Generally I act clueless at the critical moment, as if I hadn’t seen or looked or noticed anything all along.  It is the only reason I still possess something like a nose.)  As he stepped around the table to depart he looked right at me and said, huarache.

I bowed my head and he departed.  I assumed huarache is Spanish for nasty old gringo queer who stares all through breakfast -- equal parts cockroach, loser, faggot.  I was ashamed.  I am ashamed.  Of all my faults, leering is perhaps the most egregious and never have I made any progress with it.  No doubt it has gotten worse.  In a boy staring might be excused.  Not so for a slouching pot-bellied man with a gray and scraggly beard.  

I paid my bill and scuttled back to my hotel.  Back in my room, with the aid of my computer, I pored over a list of Mexican insults.  I was quite sure it wasn’t a ‘ch’ sound.  As the meaning could not be the standard one, I searched vocabulary, alternate spellings.  Huarache.  Is this another way of calling a person a “heel”, as we do in English?  Or is it actually possible that, after all those cocktails, that last tequila, he was actually just struggling with his sandals?

None of this, of course, serves to excuse my appalling behavior.  Upon which I must someday urgently get a real and proper grip.



13.  I chose the paragraph because it was the home I could afford.  It still is.  I chose the paragraph because the other vehicles required gasoline or coordination, because I could hardly look at them without imagining a gristly, ghastly accident.  Straight up into the air, up from the wreckage, the paragraph rises, until the curve of the Earth is visible.  The danger, it’s true, is real, but at least we make do without the din of helicopters.