2012/02/10

The Sequel

by mdjb

Russell Crowe, walking on deck, meets a woman dressed in the flouncy skirts of Colonial times. He too is dressed in a costume of the past, the outfit he wore in Master and Commander which took place during the Napoleonic Wars and had nothing to do with Colonial America. It suddenly dawns on him he must be in a sequel to that film, or Hollywood’s version of a sequel, which doesn’t always adhere to the conceits of the original story.
A consummate actor up to any challenge, he steps into character and asks the woman, whom he does not recognize, but nonetheless admires for her lack of artifice, if he may help her in any way. She responds in the negative, thanks him for the uneventful crossing, and says she did not experience the mal de mer customary on long voyages. Russell tips his tricorner, says, “At your service, ma’am,” and walks aft. A moment later he recalls there were no women on board in the first film, but figures it will make a nice piece of acting if he turns to quietly survey this attractive female. However, when he pivots, she is nowhere to be seen. There is only the empty deck.
Perhaps she was a mirage, the scriptwriter’s way of letting the audience know although the ship is filled with solitary males, at least the captain still has manly desires. If that’s what it was, Russell applauds the unobtrusive effect.
His reverie is disturbed by the voice of a deckhand coming from one of the portals. It is Chris Rock who says without humor, “Captain, New York is in sight. Shall we prepare to dock and go ashore?”
“Eh?” he responds, thinking that like several comedians before him, Rock must have taken a serious role like this to get his shot at a supporting Oscar. “Why certainly.”
Chris makes a gesture at tipping his hat while saying, “Yes sir,” but bareheaded, his action only parallels Russell’s of a few minutes earlier.
Nice comic touch, he thinks. Everything cyclical but subtle.
Soon all the men are on deck but the focus is on Russell behind the man steering. Through his eyes we see the low skyline of Olde New York coming into view. Though impressively reconstructed, he’s thinking, this is not how the story goes. He cannot remember how the script develops, and doesn’t recall this scene from the O’Brian books, but not wanting to appear difficult or incompetent, he remains in character and displays a look he hopes expresses longing, or better – knowing anticipation.
Blunt cut to the men disembarking. Many are meandering off to discover the place, but a carriage is waiting for Russell and his firstmate, who has no lines. Maturin is not around, must have gone to research the flora and fauna. Chris Rock puts the captain’s things on top of the carriage along with a little bundle which is his own then climbs up to sit next to the driver. He glances back to see the leather bags and his little red kerchief-tied bundle. These things make their own statement through juxtaposition.
Our attention is soon diverted by the authenticity of the town, appearing more real than Scorcese’s Gangs of New York but oddly, though not disconcertingly, anachronistic for the time period we thought we were in. This is New York of perhaps 1870. Playing fast and loose with history, the designers have gone through great pains to make everything look authentic albeit for another story.
The carriage approaches a square. Chris notices a statue he assumes to be a pilgrim and remembers in the present day a statue of George Washington stands there. “Oh my, will you look at that,” he says aloud. However, as the carriage rounds the statue it disappears so only the plinth remains visible, as if the carriage’s movement has brought everyone a little further back in time before there was a monument to either.
The streets of the town are festooned for a coming or recent celebration. There are garlands of flowers strung from building to building. But people in top hats and tails are going about their work as if festivity were the furthest thing from their minds. In a window of one of the wooden buildings we see the face of the woman Russell had met on the ship. She looks sad. The hint of a smile as she eyes the passing carriage tells us she is hoping for release from a desperate situation. These men from elsewhere may be her salvation.
Inside the carriage we see Russell, the face of stoicism. He’s hoping someone will arrive to cue him on his next lines. It is strange indeed no one has called, “Cut,” in a long time, but grown weary of being known as difficult he will not be the one to break the mood.
Cut to the interior of an old building. Chris and a friend, whom we hadn’t seen before, are waiting outside an office where the captain has gone to speak to someone. On the door is a placard with the name B. Luhrman.
Chris says to his friend, “I think this other door leads to the roof. I’m going to see how the place looks from above.”
The other man says, “Better be careful not to change anything. You know how altering the past can affect the future.”
Chris looks at him as if to ask, “What are you talking about?” then shrugs and proceeds through the door.
Alone in the hallway, the man fidgets and paces. Now is when the viewer begins to question the sanity of everyone involved in this piece. We, like him, feel on the outside of knowing. If things are to proceed any further, an explanation has to come from someone, before the fourth wall fully materializes
At that moment, Russell comes out of the office. “Where is he?” he asks.
“Sir,” the man sputters, “Captain, sir, he went through that door to have a look from the roof.”
“Oh my god! He shouldn’t have..”
“I told him, sir, to be careful. I told him he could affect history. I said…”
“Stop gibbering, man. That’s not the problem,” Russell says, “We haven’t gone back in time.”
“Sir?”
“It’s just been made clear to me we’re in a sequel occurring in an alternate universe. I don’t think there’s any way out.”
Suddenly, Luhrman announces from behind his door, “That’s right captain and remember my advice regarding sunscreen,” followed by the voice of a castrato singing something unfathomable offstage.

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2012/01/20

Neurosis

by mdjb

So, I’m sitting in a chair at the end table at Angie’s party because I smoke and most of the others do not and I ask my friend Bill to change seats with me so I can sit next to Elly and speak with her about what is bothering her. Earlier in the day, between classes, she had told me she was troubled, very troubled, about something, and I suggested we could discuss it at Angie’s.
When we engage, the first thing I have to mention is how beautiful she looks with her longer hair, but that I can see by the way she keeps pulling and twisting it, it is obvious she plans to have it cut short again. She nods and thanks me for the compliment before we get into her problem. It seems one of the students who do social service for their scholarship, and with whom she has previously worked has been unilaterally assigned by my young assistant to work with Inez, a teacher with whom Elly used to feel much closer, but has lately grown away from. The reasons for their separation are various, but chief among them is that since Elly stepped down from the post I was promoted into, she sees intrigue everywhere, and she is not totally off in this because I can feel it, too. The group of English teachers who formed a close faction, Mexicans who learned the language and native speakers from the United States alike, in earlier days, are now aligning themselves with whomever they sense can do the most to help them preserve their jobs. This means several who used to consider themselves close friends are now wary of each other, and watch what they say in most situations. I, myself, inherited twenty-five year-old Alberto, fresh out of university, in a position that did not exist before, and am always aware of his eagerness to get ahead at any cost. Most of the other teachers have found him difficult to like, and it was in an attempt to exert authority that he wholeheartedly took on the job of assigning students as helpers.
I had had a moment with him over this when he told me of the two students he had placed with me, and I reassigned them, choosing my own favorites, most likely out of sheer cussedness and not liking an underling to be telling me how my job would go.
Anyway, Elly and I clear up the student issue. She tells me she no longer wants the girl to work with her, and I am guessing for the same reasons I had in changing my “two assigned helpers.”
“I don’t like Alberto,” she says, “He takes too much for granted.”
“Well, you know,” I say, “I never wanted this job. I wanted you to stay on as coordinator,” and she is already shaking her head, indicating that that would have been impossible, “And I find it hard to get along with him also. Try sitting in the same office with someone like that for several hours a day.”
“I understand there is a lot to do,” she says, “You know that’s why I stepped down, but this kid is too much. You need to tell him where to get off.”
I don’t say to her that I don’t appreciate her issuing directives. I am concentrating on how her long dark hair falls on her shoulders.
“Ramon,” that’s our Director, “told me you never let him do anything,” she says.
While I am trying to figure out why she is giving me two opposing points of view, she goes on to explain, “I’m just saying you also need to watch who you trust. I know you get along with Ramon, but the kid is also sucking up to him, and you may be asked to allow Alberto a freer hand in spite of his pushiness. Did you know a group of them,” and she emphasizes the word clearly indicating they are in the enemy camp, “went out together, and had such a great time, that Ramon’s wife had to talk about it on FaceBook?”
Then before she has time to go into more detail, or I can ask another question, Angie comes by and draws her away to introduce her to a friend visiting from Austria.

Now, all sorts of things are going through my mind. I have to realize that Elly is suffering sour grapes over the bad move, which she initiated, but which did not turn out to her advantage when her Master’s scholarship was discontinued, but I think, too, there must be some truth in what she has told me.
I recall the triangular meeting among Ramon, Alberto, and myself when the big boss expressed dissatisfaction over the way the two of us were not getting along, and at that time he told Alberto that I was the superior in charge and that due to my many years of experience in teaching at the school, he must follow my lead. He was not to sign letters as the representative of the department; he was not to make decisions on his own about how things should be handled, and so forth. I believed then that my authority was without question, and had since been giving him more and more chores to handle in an effort to make it clear that so long as he played the game correctly, he could be trusted.
This belief, too, is now in question.

Later, snagging a ride home with Bill, I complain about the situation and tell him I am thinking of handing in notice.
“Stop acting like a diva,” he says to me, “Knowing what’s going on gives you an advantage. Don’t act stupid.”
“But, I don’t know,” I say, “Someone is lying to me, and I don’t know who. I didn’t leave the rat race in New York to come down here and spend seven years playing at teaching only to find I’m in the same game.”
“Who do you think is lying?” he asks.
“If Ramon is placating me by telling Alberto to stay in line, and then hanging out with the kid, where all sorts of deals can occur, he’s lying to me. If Alberto is ostensibly watching his step, and then taking things too far when given the odd task, he’s being false, and quietly continuing to attempt a backstabbing, and…”
“And? something worse?”
“And if none of this is happening this way, then my old friend Elly, who by the way is looking very good these days, is lying about what she claims to have been told. I don’t even want to think I can’t trust her.”

“Have you checked FaceBook?” Bill asks, and I can almost swear there is a smile forming on his lips.
“Yes. I signed in on my Blackberry. That’s another thing. How come I saw your name on one of the response comments?”
“I ran into that group of jimopes at Zapata’s. I just said hello and kept going, but I’m not burning any bridges the way you seem to be planning to do. This guy’s a kid for chrissake. He’ll get in too deep, and hang himself one of these days.”
“Yeah, but I’m getting too old for this shit. I don’t want to wait out the time it’ll take for that to happen. If it ever does.  And just knowing there’s all this intrigue going on makes me want to crawl in a hole and die.”
“Pfft. Pussy,” he says. “By the way, Elly—she’s no great shakes, for all her good looks. Crazy as a hatter, and a bit neurotic. You’re not missing anything there.”
“You mean, you two…?”
And then I do see a full smile when he says, “Give me one of your cigarettes, will you? I’ve been good all night, and I’m dying for a smoke.”

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2012/01/10

The Din

by mdjb

The television volume was on high, at least 25.
“But, Evelyn, you sleep all the time!”
“Only to avoid the draft from the swinging door.”
“Sweetie,…”
“Don’t touch me. There’s no quickie sex here. No on-again-off-again, got-fifteen-minutes-between-meetings, try-to-keep-her-quiet sex here. Get it from someone else, but, you get it—I go, and the gravy train ends.”
The gigolo undone.
Almost the story of my life, Theresa thought.
“Bull shit. Bull shit,” kept ringing in her ears. Her own words from two hours earlier.
From across the courtyard, the discordant sound of one of the Mexican pop songs being rehearsed by the as yet unprofessional neighbor’s band came to layer itself over Evelyn’s retribution on the television.
Theresa sat watching a tiny bodied, long-legged spider weaving its web in the corner where the windowed wall met the bare one. What a waste of time, she thought, as she could also see the little gecko who would soon make dinner of the spider, only a short distance away. “Bull shit. Bull shit,” still reverberating.
Through the window, with its makeshift curtain tied back, which was on an angle to the living room, she could see Armando’s leg dangling from the couch. He was oblivious to Evelyn’s melodrama. She didn’t know it then, but he had stopped breathing fifteen minutes earlier. She would be told that he had died of alcoholic poisoning by a relative a week later over the telephone.
She thought for tonight she would rather not sleep here and went upstairs to pack a little bag. She would check into the Sheraton near the plaza. In the morning, she would purchase a one-way ticket back to New York on the last of her Mexican pesos.
With her overnighter in hand, she clicked off the television.
On her way out, she noticed Armando was not snoring, but her thoughts turned in another direction as the raucous neighbors finished rehearsing and the sound of crickets filled the courtyard.

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2011/12/20

Ebb Tide

by mdjb

Great waves of sadness that came in with the tide now with it return to the sea. No joy comes in their place; only the waves’ reflux. There is emptiness now where sadness dwelt. A cavernous shell of a soul longs for sadness to return. It was something at least. I will not speak of God.
This emptiness is unbearable, whereas the sadness could be borne. In pain, one felt alive. Empty, one feels nothing, perhaps the greater pain. If only the ebb tide could be grasped as it flows, if one could be pulled along with it to a new place—doubtless a place of pain, but one that could be learned.
Days passed and the feeling was learned, was absorbed through the roots until the soul said, “Yes, this I can live with.” Fate said then, “You will not. For everything that comes must leave. It is a way of learning. Take nothing for granted except: that which you accept will be taken.”
The wind dies and the water recedes. It laps the shore as if it will rise, but it is only a tease. On each return it only approaches nearly as close but recedes further and further. Here is a secret. The water will return in full but it will not be the same. It will be from parts somewhere vastly different. It may bring sorrow, but it will be a new kind of sorrow of a different provenance. Or it may bring joy, but again, it will not be the joy that preceded yesterday’s. Can one ever be ready for what the waves bring?
A wag said, “If you want to make God laugh, just make plans.” The tide of happenstance is God’s joke.
I vowed I would not mention Him, but had to because I wanted to get to the angels.
In the eerie silence of ebb tide before the wind picks up, if you listen intently, you can hear the murmur of angels. They have an inkling of God’s intentions, but they are not allowed to speak unless they are called as messengers, and that happens so rarely; hardly ever anymore, in a world waiting to be called to judgment.
Be reminded: when the tide is high, life will be rich with emotion, sadness, joy, fulfillment or loss, but in the interim we cannot know what to expect, we can only wait and see. If you go alone to a beach at the edge of the world and sit long gazing toward the sea, and even if you can hear the slightest murmuring of the angels when the tide is at ebb, you will never be prepared for what may come in with the waves tomorrow

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2011/12/10

Rat

by mdjb

“It sounds mercenary and it smacks of rats leaving the sinking ship. But get real, when everyone is bailing out, you don’t want to be the last man standing.”                             –Robbie Fowler

I was so tired that Saturday the rat came to stay. It was hot. I was living in southern Mexico, well into my second life.

I had had to go into school early to apply an exam that had been postponed from the week before. Only nine people showed up but I tried to assure myself that it is never a wasted trip (all the way across town) so long as somebody is there for the learning or the testing.

When I finally arrived home, after spending three hours at Plaza Crystal, I took a shower, opened my laptop and put the chronological CD I had compiled of pop MP3s from The Chordettes beseeching Mr. Sandman through Air Supply confirming I’m All Out of Love on the player. I lay on the studio bed to close my eyes for just a bit before starting to grade the pile of papers which had backed up on me, and promptly drifted off into some other time frame. I slept through the ‘Fifties and awoke to Ray Charles.

In my dream, I attended a Broadway show for which I had won tickets, lottery-style, and had an argument with my brother who died in Vietnam. I was at a party and just about to meet my future ex-wife when Ray Charles reminded me to, “Hit the Road, Jack.”

I got up to take a pee and discovered the water was low and I had to turn on the bomb, but was reluctant to go out back of the house because it was already dark, and I’d had trouble with rats lately. There was half a bottle of warm Coke on the table, and an opened pack of cigarettes. I tried to convince myself they would be enough until morning even if I did get up and work a while. It was 9: 30. I had slept for almost five hours. I never drink water from the tap here in this place, but if I wanted to wash my hands or even flush the toilet, I’d have to go out back and it would be later and visitors would be more likely. So I set my resolve and went downstairs.

I didn’t see anything moving, but I wasn’t convinced that something hadn’t slipped past me and I would discover the plastic bread wrapper chewed and a corner of the loaf missing in the morning.

I put the Coke in the little fridge to chill some of the warm out of it and went back upstairs, figuring if something furry began investigating in my kitchen I wouldn’t hear it under the music. Now Skeeter Davis was asking if they didn’t know this was The End of the World. I wondered how I could have slept for so many hours and woke up still in the ‘Sixties. Then thought I had spent far too many nights downloading old songs. I reckoned the CD could play for another couple of hours and it wouldn’t take me up to the time I had decided to move to Chiapas. It wouldn’t even take me to the time Alma and I split up. That much was by artful design. I never recorded those songs.

She had always told me she hated her life in Mexico. I could see why almost upon meeting her for the first time. She was sophisticated, an art lover, a business major who had trained herself to speak perfect English. In those days, I had never even vacationed here and from her poverty-laced stories thought I probably never would. Who could have seen that I would one day be sharing a house with a guy in Tuxtla Gutierrez? A guy who’s never around. Who has a full social life and plenty to do, and all those stories of deprivation, though ostensibly true had proven to have extenuating circumstances.

I had left the bomb working a little too long and only realized it when during a pause in the string of memories I heard water gurgling outside in the street, meaning the tank on the roof had overflowed and the excess was running off. So I had to go down to the damp, dank yard once again to pull the plug. By this time Johnny Cash was falling, “…down, down, down into a burning ring of fire.” I paused and smiled when I realized I must have been entering college then. Another couple of hours and I’d be dropping out to go work in the paper making factory. What a time I had there in Brooklyn, in those disco-inundated nights and sweaty, underpaid days, working hard to get nowhere and listening to sage advice from old, overweight George Sklar, who would shortly die of a heart attack while eating one of his wife’s greasy burgers. I didn’t even know I had a mission in those days, but I did store George’s philosophy in snatches of my favorite songs. The daylight songs, of course, the ones we heard from the tinny little radio in the lunchroom. You couldn’t associate anything meaningful with what I was listening to at night. That music was created for a different purpose. I still didn’t see anything moving when I re-entered the kitchen and locked the back door, but as I said, I take a lot of convincing, and so hurried back upstairs.

My housemate is a 39 year-old Tuxtleco who, though he pays half the rent on the house, still lives, to all intents and purposes, at home with mom and dad. That’s the way of things here in Mexico. I sometimes think, boy, you haven’t seen anything of the world. You’re settling for this life, and for better or worse, I made my own choice. Several women have drifted through these days, mostly friends of his friends, but none of them with Alma’s drive.

I graded papers for about an hour and a half until a rash of Beatles’ songs reminded me that Alma would soon be walking into my life and the music would end. I was getting hungry, and thought I’d have a peanut butter sandwich and finish off that Coke. However, when I went down and reached for the bread, I noticed it had already been got at. There was a sizeable chunk missing. I didn’t feel like opening another can of beans, so I took the jar of peanut butter, a spoon and the soda and headed back upstairs.

I closed my bedroom door. It was warm in the room and I knew the fan would not cool it off sufficiently even with the window opened. But the Coke was cool now, and I’d go back to sleep soon. I had another CD to plop onto the player. The late ‘Nineties were bearable. I could deal with the rat in the morning.

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2011/11/20

Next to Godliness

by mdjb

True knowledge exists in knowing that you know nothing.    –Socrates

Only after the winds finally died down did I realize winter had passed into spring. I no longer notice buds and birdsong. Or I do, but not in the expectant ways I used to. My interest in Eastern studies tells me I am supposed to, but then that interest is a holdover from our time together, and I am no longer certain of its attraction. I am grateful that neither of us were comfortable with the concept of making children as I would now be stumbling around in the debris of another half-finished project, having to answer for my incapability with no one else to blame, and it’s not as if I have role models to go by. On a windless day, I recalled my mother punishing me in a supermarket once for having bit into unbought apples. At first I was mortified in front of two strangers. Then, having put on my best feel-sorry-for-me face, letting tears well without spilling, and expecting at least a tut-tut from one of them, I was doubly disappointed to hear her say, “Children!” in a tone that I knew sided with my mother, while the other woman busied herself with choosing ripe and unbitten apples from the pile in an all too obvious manner. I suppose you were likewise expressing disappointment on that day late in January when you told me you thought it best to remain with your wife, but you waited so long to come to the decision, I wondered if it was a half-assed attempt at a New Year’s resolution, and I had nothing at home to console me other than papers from the office to review and half a bottle of brandy left over from Christmas that would provide a poor stand-in for dinner.

Insanity is doing the same thing in the same way and expecting a different outcome.    –Chinese proverb

Life continues on the ninth floor as if nothing has changed, and truly, for many nothing has. We sit in our tiny cubicles, personalized only to the point allowed by discretion, which means no more than three vacation photos, and no more than five family members preferably contained within two shots, and a small to-do list that is noticed by those authorized to delegate tasks. Good sense tells the singles not to pin up pictures of significant others in order to avoid having to make up stories when those others become insignificant. The marrieds lunch together as they share common problems over which to commiserate. The singles disperse and for forty minutes they are only reachable on their Blackberries, if there is ever any need to do so. Lately, I have been “lunching” at McCann’s alone, and losing my religion in pretty much my own fashion. Why I keep returning to the office expecting major changes have occurred during my absence is beyond me, but I fortify  myself every afternoon for such an occasion, looking at happier days in the privacy of my wallet, and for only minutes at a time. I never could commit to hanging photos on my board.

The great question is not whether you have failed, but whether you are content with failure.    –Chinese proverb

Thirty clean executive-types, including twelve women, eating yogurt or salad for lunch, or practicing tai-chi, watched four dirty youths, one of whom was a girl wearing torn jeans and a hooded sweatshirt, beat up what appeared to be a homeless man, also dirty and in need of a shave, who repeatedly called out, “Ayudenme, por favor,” though none of the thirty seemed to be able to break their concentration long enough to go to his aid even as he sat in a crumpled heap rubbing his bruises, and attempting to stop his nose from bleeding while the kids ran off laughing, having taken nothing from him but apparently enjoying the sheer maliciousness of the mayhem they had committed. Admittedly, any of the people on their break might have caused problems for themselves in returning late to work because of the recent sanctions against extended lunch hours during a bad economy.

The reputation of a thousand years may be determined by the conduct of one hour.    –Japanese proverb

Thirsty, very thirsty, I made six trips to the cooler, but there did not seem to be enough water in the world to quench my inquietude. Why this day of all days, when I thought I had learned to live my solitary life without feeling concern over the lack of friendly pats on the back or elbow nudges, I could not say at first, but as the afternoon wore on, I became certain it was due to hearing the talk about the man in the park and the tone of the story as it was told at the cooler. I wanted to shout. I wanted to hit somebody and knock the amusement out of them, but I had not been witness to the incident, sitting in McCann’s as I was, and staring at my useless cell phone. I was looking for that feng shui application called Portable Happy Placement, but could not find it. As the sun climbed high in the sky banishing the winter winds, I was sitting under a dusty fan in a darkened bar letting unvented anger fester, knowing I had letters to respond to upon my return to the office and building up a strong grudge against those more than likely happy recipients, clients and customers, who are always right.

In the midst of great joy, do not promise anyone anything. In the midst of great anger, do not answer anyone’s letter.    –Chinese proverb

In my after lunch haze, I stared at what was essentially a blank white screen, but I could have sworn I saw the pixels dancing. Been listening to too much REM after salad-dinners and evening beverages, and taking courage from Michael Stipe’s slashing of the air with lyrics that give no quarter. When shit flies your way, you have nothing to do but duck, scoop up the droppings, and fling a good load back at the source of your disgruntlement. It is unfortunate when innocent bystanders get smeared, but the sounds of laughter I could discern reminded me bystanders are not always innocent. Cleanliness of body and spirit is a virtue, to be sure, but on this passionless spring day I felt about as far from godliness as one can possibly get and still find reasons to proceed with the task at hand. In a haste to cleanse myself, and more likely to preserve the job providing my livelihood, I pulled out my wallet, took one last look at our smiling faces, then, began tearing my anger into insignificance.

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2011/11/10

Early Morning Dreams

by mdjb

Dreams are today’s answers to tomorrow’s questions.
–Edgar Cayce

The radio’s alarm is set for 5:30 A.M. which is about when the sun rises at this time of year, but almost every morning I wake a half-hour before sunrise and have to pee. This prompts the cat, who is sleeping on top of the blanket and whenever I get up she thinks it is time for her to eat. Sometimes I feed her after taking care of my business but the problem there is after she eats she always has to take care of her business and all I want to do is go pee and slip back into bed for another half hour. If the cat uses her litter box, the smell wafts in and keeps me awake. Plus, as clean as she is about herself, there is something unsavory about her coming back into bed with me after that and nuzzling right up near my face.
The gray light coming in the window induces the strangest half-dreams. There’s never enough time to get into the REM stage so I’m not sure the scenarios that play out truly qualify as dreams. I guess it’s more like wishful thinking. Some of my best ideas come during that half hour before sunrise and then, when I finally get out of bed and start to get ready for work, I test their logicality. Much of the time the plots are full of holes and only seemed to make sense through the haze of sleep, but the kernel is there, and it’s usually fixable.
Now, I think all fiction is based on the writer’s life. When writers say, “Oh, this has never happened to me. I made this all up. Why do you think it’s called fiction?” I say, “It’s called fiction so you can express your desire to make things happen the way you want them to and then step back and deny any actual involvement in the situation. The main character is gay because you are or because you’ve thought about what it would be like to be. The same goes for choosing to write about murderers or spies or any other preoccupation or persuasion.”
Dreams that occur during the night, real dreams, hardly ever stand up to analysis because we have so little say in their plots. That’s why they are so open to interpretation. Our subconscious minds are trying to tell us something. We are trying to work out issues we may not have even thought we had. But the little stories that play on the back of our eyelids during that half hour before sunrise–they’re the ones to watch out for. Consciousness has had most of the input.
Catholic children learn that thinking about committing a sin makes one as culpable as actually doing the deed, and you don’t want to see the white light at this stage because it just may be your time and you haven’t had a chance to brush your teeth or comb your hair. Fortunately, you have had a chance to pee before going on the long journey, but it will be of little consolation if you’re not coming back.
So, as you have a little say in the theatrics of that early morning hour, make it count. Read up on lucid dreaming before going to bed, ponder an alternate life and fly if you feel like doing so. Don’t worry about the absence of a net or the strength of cables. You won’t need them. But try not to disturb the cat.

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2011/10/20

Memorabilia

by mdjb

… I picked up on the heather
      And there I put inside my breast
A moulted feather, an eagle-feather—
      Well, I forget the rest.
from Memorabilia by Robert Browning

I am tired of having to prove my qualification over and again. Yet, once more I proffer a shaky promise to investigate possibilities and make good on my investment.
A stray dog looked at us with sad appearing, mournful eyes as if making commentary on the choosing of our path, as if to say she had tread that way, and losing her pups, discovered it led to no place anyone would want to reside.
Memory is the mother of all fire. The further removed it is from the spark, the brighter it burns, but briefly, for without feeding afresh, the flames are diminished, then, and sputter, dying. A friend suggested to me, “If you’re so unhappy there, why don’t you go home?” I did not respond with either of the thoughts running through my mind, the first being that home no longer existed, and the other that I stood tenuously in the middle of a track that had not run its course. Soon enough, however, the downed flag came into view.
Try as I might, I could not produce the transcript, based as it was on a fallacious scenario. What had taken years, many years, to build had been constructed with faulty materials, and when the contract was requested for review, by an independent auditor, the edifice began to tremble. I had always known it would, but never when. All those tremors were signs I should have heeded, coming as I did from a place where the ground is solid and hardly ever causes worry.
Still, I lingered over finding a solution, and was distracted by bright hues and melodious rhythms, often coming up a winner, forgetting joy and defeat may resonate as briefly as the memory of fire.
On the return trip, I noted an eviscerated dog’s corpse scattered in pieces across the road. The overall impression was one of dull red, no longer the color of blood, and I wondered for a moment if it was the same sentry who had warned us at the start of our journey.
I leave you all now to play the game as best you may. I have a friend to help me find my way, and so, we head to Paris and another life I never led. This time, this place, ignite something onto which I can and will hold.
It is late, and I am tired, as I have stated, but the beauty here is that the realization will come when it no longer has consequences over which I must be concerned.

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2011/10/10

You’ve Seen Their Faces

by mdjb

Erskine had scolded her once before for artfully arranging objects around a poverty stricken woman before taking what she meant to be a telling photograph, and at the time Margaret was taken aback by his remarks, thinking that was what an artist did to make art. Found art was a new wrinkle to her, now that she was involved in photo-journalism. When the moment was right in recognizing irony, there could be no argument as to manipulation. They were now ostensibly committed to documentation which was not to be regarded as propaganda. Still, she did not remind him of his former stance when it came to putting words into the mouths of her subjects. Erskine was a writer after all. Still riding high on the success of the theatrical version of his Tobacco Road, there was no stopping him. He believed he had found the true sound of America.
It was not long before she joined him in contriving voices to caption her pictures. She had her own celebrity to maintain, and if he could profit by bringing attention to the plight and proclivities of poor, illiterate dirt farmers, who was she to say he was wrong? Though it rankled that he had once implied that what she did was false, now that he claimed the same actions taken upon text were merely enhancement, she began to see his point of view, and sought opportunities with a vengeance.
They had gone to Louisville to take pictures of the flood victims, and on that cold winter day in 1937 when they happened upon a breadline of average looking people standing under a billboard featuring a white middle-class family taking to the road in their sporty new automobile, she saw irony in the juxtaposition of the row of black faces underneath and the bags and baskets these people carried. The caption on the sign negated the need for either Margaret herself or Erskine to come up with something though she believed he would want to anyway. Always ready with her flashbulbs in place, she caught the scene, and for a brief moment felt she had trumped her husband because, truth to tell, without the caption in place there was nothing so remarkable about the people standing there save for the difference in the color of their skin from the shiny white faces gleaming above. Without the words the irony merely stemmed from a racist attitude she had always stated she could not abide.
Later, when their book met with criticism even from the redoubtable Dorothea Lange, Margaret was crushed. It was as if the critics had seen through the veneer. Having forgotten what raced through her mind that dreary morning in Louisville, she had taken a great liking to that one particular photo and forever after kept it in mind when she attempted to exonerate herself of contrivance of any kind.
But take a look, and after you have seen the faces, ask yourself, “Where is the irony?” What is the biggest difference between the people at ground level and those above, besides the fact that one group is standing and the other riding? Without their baskets in hand, you might not even guess for what the former were waiting, though a little knowledge of history reminds you they had to wait for it for another thirty years.

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2011/09/04

The Setting Sun

by mdjb

Tom Cruise is visiting his parents who have recently embarked on a stay at an exclusive Upper East Side town house type nursing home. They are showing him its features and vast layout. It’s almost time for dinner.
They introduce him to some of their kooky new friends, moneyed people who dress oddly and behave a bit bizarre.
He starts to wonder if he could feel secure with himself leaving his parents here. Although the place appears sumptuous, Tom doesn’t think his parents are near as ‘gone’ as he sees the other ‘inmates’.
Taking a cigarette break outside, he meets Jennifer Jason Leigh, who has come to visit her parents. They are attracted to each other but she makes a snide remark about his jacket, says her father has one just like it. She enters the house and he soon follows, only to be waylaid by the snooty director, who says she hopes he is not planning to wear his jeans into the dining room. Tom flashes back on an ancient gentleman he saw wearing jeans and a woman who was wearing a denim skirt, but the director explains that that was Mr and Mrs Dennehy and says they have a special dispensation. She hints that dressing that way has improved their sex life. Sex life, Tom thinks, why they were likely in their eighties!
Afterward, Tom is in a pair of brown pants and is being shown a medallion by one of the inmates, who drops it and it rolls under a buffet table. The old man immediately drops to his knees and crawls under the table to look for it. As Tom gets down to help him, fearing the old codger might hurt himself, he notices the man is wearing green socks, one lighter than the other. Someone has dropped a dollop of mousse, which the old guy somehow avoids, but Tom, forging ahead, gets it all over his pants. However, he does retrieve the medallion.
Seeing his clothes soiled, Tom is upset and sees it as the fault of the establishment. After all, in such a ritzy place, why didn’t someone clean up the mousse?
The tailor/valet, Charlton Heston, steps forward and offers to take care of Tom’s pants. He says he has a pair that will look better. They just need a nip and a tuck. He also suggests lending a jacket which is not quite so out of fashion.
In fitting Tom for the pants, it becomes obvious by the tailor’s movements and touches that he is an old queen, albeit a nice person with wisdom, who explains obliquely why the place works – how it fulfills the needs of its inmates, who have arrived at a place in their lives, where, to stay in an average standard nursing home would seem like defeat. This place is voluntary and basically designed by the inmates themselves. “They’re happy here,” he says in a sad sort of way.
Later, Tom and Charlton are taking a cigarette break together and Jennifer passes again. This time she is all sweetness, having visited her parents and seen that they were comfortable and happy.
“I like your jacket,” she says.
“My father lent me the other,” he says, “And he told me he bought it from a friend. You know, I think it might have been your father’s originally.”
“They try so hard,” they both say at the same time.
A woman about to come up the steps of the brownstone, and seeing old Charlton with the two younger people, asks if there are any vacancies in the place. She seems like the wrong type of client, the type that would abandon an ailing parent.
“You’ll have to check later. They’re all sun-bathing at the moment,” Charlton says.
The woman glances up at the setting sun, steals a look at her watch, and in a huff, walks away.

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