November 19, 2010

The Fixing

The early stages of the Great House Fixing, a production of Gary & Mike, a weird partnership of landlord & tenant, in half-desperation racing winter to caulk a house like a ship on a street in Brooklyn.



Tired dog; 169 years old and counting...



The moon waxes above the waning tree and I can't think of a poetic thing to say about it.



My view most nights. This night the mirror looked like it was painted by a Spanish painter whose name I forget.



First meal I've cooked in about 15 years. Red beans and rice Louisiana style. Everybody liked it. I made enough for eight.



Getting ready for the messiest job on the planet, roofing tar; ugh. Then to make matters worse, we kept stepping in it while doing other work. Ladies, notice the nice flat belly, the trim legs, and the handsome head of pure white hair, none of it missing.



Work beckons on one of the few nice days, this morning first seen through plastic mystic haze.



This was once a true 2x4-inch stud, which now resembles the tree it was milled from. To remove a nearby post this decayed could collapse a brick wall that it supports. Hard as a rock where it was unrotted, we decided to fill the spiral cavities with cement, through a complicated but ingenious proceedure by squeezing very wet cement through a pastry-cone-squeezer rig. A two-man job, we're having a hard time coordinating our time to get to it.

The squirrels apparently have given up on moving back into the renovated quarters, and occassionally give us resentful looks. They will have to chew through cement to return.



For the carpenters out there, the apparent mis-alignment of the pump jack posts caused great problems pumping the jacks. The posts had to be evened with a belt sander, a back-breaking job from a ladder; all this the result of not having enough flat space to build the posts on level ground, and working in a cramped space.





This was where the original leak began about 80 years ago. Over the years it rotted out the tops of the 4 x 6-inch supporting beams and crucial true 2 x 4 studs and cripples. Fortunately, it is not a bearing wall, but a "balloon house," with a roof supported entirely by brick "party walls" shared by two adjoining houses built at the same time, about 1905.



Squirrels got into the place years ago and made it their home. Gary is too-good-hearted to use the rat trap trick, so he has lived with them because his cats could not get to them in the high attic crawl-space. We had to tear the roof back one shingle-course, and, after the major repair is done, need to go back one or two more courses to inspect and repair decrept roof underlayment.



Gary. His grandparents were the first occupants. The leak must have started in the 1920s.

I found these sturdy saw horses in the trash of a store on Madison Avenue, stowed them in my taxi, and took two hours off to haul them home. Useful! Gary wants to burn them when we're finished, which is a hoot, because we will never be finished.



Gary made a great firepit! It is deep and ventilated from beneath through a pipe, and woodsmoke goes straight up and not in your eyes.



There's this photo I have of a man photographing himself. He wears dark winter clothes and the camera obscures half of his face, while the other half is seen in ghostly outline. The man is myself, the moment long-ago, a never-to-be-forgotten moment, with a shifting meaning once clear but now grown more obscure with time and perceptual changes. A wintershed moment, I was setting out from New York due North in the dead of winter, not knowing or caring where I was going. It was the end of something and the start of something else, as every event must be. Our endings are in our beginnings as everyone should know.

November 14, 2010

Words Won't Work

There is too much to write about and I've been thinking about swearing off the habit anyway, so I'll just show some pictures of what has been going on and on: house-fixing, motorcycle gangs, weird skies, I don't know what-all:










Hardworking days with rotten wood and a tranquil night by Gary's fantastic firepit. And a taxi night that suddenly turned violent when a masked motorcycle gang attacked my taxi on the upper level of the Queensborough Bridge at 1:30 a.m. before Halloween. (I won.) More of that later.





October 4, 2010

Pump Jacks



I drove out to a small upstate town to buy pump jacks so that Gary and I can fix his house, which is structurally-impaired in the back because of a long-neglected roof leak. (80 years old.) I took the wrong exit off Route 32 and had to call to locate the place. I had timed it perfectly from East New York, and would have arrived exactly at the appointed time of 3, if I hadn’t turned late.

He gave new directions and I found the house about 15 minutes later. It was on a quiet tree-lined road with acreage between homes in the same town of Highland Mills, where I had lived for a couple of years in what seems like another life.

I saw a nice-looking couple of kids walking a big friendly dog with golden retriever and yellow lab mix, and stopped to ask where that numbered house was.

“It’s my house,” said the kid. I had expected an older guy; he was 17.

I pulled into the driveway, and they walked up with the dog, which was very anxious to meet me. We met. I ruffled his wintry fur, told them that he reminded me of my great old dog Finch, who’d had a similar mix. Finch might have been his great-grandfather, since he had been an experienced rope-breaker and unregenerate dog-womanizer all over the same town.

He put the dog back into the house, which was large and freshly-sided with a nice light gray vinyl. We walked to a back shed overflowing with tools that revealed a lifetime of working, and he showed me three pump jacks with extra braces. I had expected only the two he’d advertised.

He had told me on the phone that he was selling his dad’s tools.

“Your dad’s not working anymore?” I inquired.

“No.”

“How about I give you $75 for all three,” I offered.

“Sure,” he responded. The girl was standing nearby and didn’t say anything.

So I gave him the money and we carried the stuff to my van and loaded it. I was happy to get three jacks. It meant Gary and I could work the whole back of the house at once, and not have to relocate a jack in order to do it by halves.

“That’s a nice house,” I remarked as we finished loading. It occupied a small hill and had a big front porch and a long graveled driveway under a side entrance portico.

“It burned down,” he said simply. “It’s just been rebuilt.”

“It burned? You mean the whole house burned?”

“Yes, the whole thing.”

“Well, what for? I mean, what caused it?”

“They don’t know. Nobody knows. Inspectors were at it for months, and they still don’t know what caused it.”

“Could it have been arson? An electrical fire?”

“Nobody knows. My dad was in it.”

I was stunned.

“God! That’s terrible. I’m so sorry that happened,” I said lamely.

He nodded. He’d heard it before. He would be hearing it for the rest of his life.

He was a great-looking kid, clear skin and nice build, alert eyes, polite. He was going to be a strong working adult. But now I saw the resignation in his eyes. He had seemed older on the phone, and when I first met him I had thought he was mature for his age. His manner was mild, quiet, and accepting.

“That’s a life-changer, man,” I said.

“That’s right,” he said.

“I lost my dad when I was 15. He got run over by a car. It changed my life, my mother's, my sisters’ lives; everybody’s life would have been different if he had lived.”

He nodded.

“But it will hurt less as time passes,” I continued. “You’ll never get over it. But you can deal with it. I see you already are dealing with it. That’s pretty much what life is, a trial, a pretty hard trial sometimes, and all we can do is our best and deal with it as it comes. Whoever said life was easy was full of it. Life is hard, and maybe it’s supposed to be hard.”

He said he understood.

“You didn’t just lose your father; you lost your best advisor. Every time you make a mistake, you’re going to wonder what he would have advised you to do. When I got older, I wondered what my dad would think of me now. It’s a tough question. You see, you’ll never get to prove to him that you’re a man now. You’ll never see his approval when you do something right.”

He lowered his eyes and agreed.

“Is your education provided for? Do you have money for school and everything?”

“That’s taken care of,” he said. “I’m starting school next year.”

“What are you going to take?”

“He was an architect and engineer. I’m going to study engineering.”

“Yes! What kind of engineering?”

“I don’t know. I’m interested in architecture too. I want to be a builder.”

I was relieved somehow to hear it. The thought of his father burning to death had to be burning him up too every time he thought about it. When Sid had died, I kept imagining his living body being dragged down the Airline Highway by a car braking from 75 mph. I could almost feel it sometimes; tumbling and flipping and scraping and limbs being torn off, muscles being ripped, bones breaking, flesh tearing like wet paper, skull-crushed. Bloody tires. Did they roll over his eyes?

We shook hands goodbye and he went back in the house. She had gone in after the sale.

I sat in the van without starting it and thought about it. I felt like I had taken advantage of him with the extra pump jack. I walked to the side door and knocked.

When he answered I handed him two more fives.

“I didn’t come out here to make an unfair bargain,” I said. “That’s all I can afford for the other pump jack. People usually need at least two, and seldom just one."

He smiled.

“That’s right,” he said. “Thank you.”

I kept thinking about him on the way home through the coagulating stream of vehicles into New York. His whole future beclouded by an ugly memory, but himself fresh, fit, alert, and fragile but unbroken by a horrible family tragedy; and continuing anyhow with the realization that his life could never be the same, and there was nothing he could do about his dad dying in a fire but accept it.

The thoughts brought raw emotion out of me. I cried, feeling his loss.

I remembered that exact feeling when the bus had left New Orleans for Houston as Hurricane Audrey approached Cameron, La., in 1957. I had looked out the window of the Greyhound at New Orleans receeding under gray clouds and thought, “My life will never be the same.”

But I don't remember crying until 40 years later, when I finally let myself feel the enormity of what had happened when and after Sidney Havenar died on the Airline Highway.

Gary was as happy as a cat with a raw egg to see the jacks. Now we can get started fixing this house before hard winter arrives.

August 29, 2010

How Can They Go Wrong?

He was a young man sturdily built, dressed nicely, and carrying a coat. I saw him come out of the bar and wasn't surprised when he got in and said, "Grand Central Station, please."

"Perfect," I said, putting the cab in gear. I wanted to head home over the 59th Street Bridge.

"Had enough partying?" I asked.

Surprised, he said, "Yes, frankly. It's too noisy and frantic. I have some work to do tomorrow and can't stay out later. My friends are all undergraduates, but I graduated last year, and can't do this anymore."

"I know what you mean. What kind of work?" I always ask that if I can.

It was the financial industry, of course. He lived in Connecticut, way upstate, where it was quieter and more peaceful.

"I know how it is," I said. "Well, like what are you, an analyst?"

He said yes and explained that he was in his first job and just learning the ropes.

"All you can do is work hard, pay your dues, and hope for the best results for your efforts," he concluded.

I thought about it while I maneuvered up First Avenue in the thickening late-evening traffic back to Queens and uptown. He looked like a nice guy. He probably had a nice girl friend, close family relations, and good prospects. He was well-mannered and alert, though he had had a couple of drinks.

"I know what you mean about quiet," I started. "I grew up in rural Louisiana, and I've lived in some pretty quiet places, from Nicaragua to the Far North of Canada. I lived in the Rockies, and on the beaches of Texas and California. New York is an acquired taste."

He agreed. I added that I was about to spit out the taste.

"It's such a different time, mine and yours. I grew up in the 40s and 50s, and although I was older than most of the Sixties people, that really was my generation too. All kinds of things were going on. First the Vietnam War, which was the seminal event of my generation, and the Civil Rights Movement, which was happening before and during the war. There were riots, protests, shootings, beatings, prisoner issues, womens' issues, prison riots, political assassinations, and the toppling of Nixon from the White House. Things were busting out all over, and it seems like everybody was involved somehow. I had been a marine for four years, and then I started following the antiwar movement and became a protester."

I turned left on 42nd Street and the traffic was sparse so that I had a clear shot to Grand Central. Waiting at a light, I said, "I keep thinking of what Che Guevera said: "One, two, many Vietnams." I waited for him to think about it all the way to the terminal. He didn't reply.

I pulled to the curb and turned to face him.

"You said all you have to do is work hard and pay your dues. I say it doesn't matter how much dues you pay as who you pay them to. Vietnam nearly ruined this country. Now we got two more Vietnams going, and more in the works in Iran, Sudan, Korea, and South America. It's going to topple this country like a house of cards, because war is corruption. If your work promotes it in any way, like war production or working for corporations or banks that are invested in these wars and profitting by them, you're digging your own grave."

"I thank you for that," he said.

He paid the fare and we smiled good night.

I forgot to tell him to read Mr. Baruch, by Margaret Coit. Everybody in Finance should read it.

All the bright young people,
so handsome and fine,
educated by wealthy parents,
so focused, so social,
and entitled--
walking hand-in-hand on The Bowery;
which ain't what it was.

Armed with knowledge,
support networks,
decent gigs and digs and looks,
and fortified with skills,
determination,
and credit cards--
plus wanting to do the right thing;
how can they go wrong?

August 11, 2010

Joe Finnen



I'm sorry Joe Finnen is dead.
We drank together and talked.
Joe was sharp. He read books and he listened.
Joe appreciated ideas and would trade you even.

We felt the same way about the stupid government.
He wanted to shoot it down,
and I wanted to negotiate then.
But he knew more outlaws than I did.

Ironic and humorous,
He was the best pot dealer in town.
Sold it out of his boot
in a bar in Durango.

Everybody knew everybody,
But he was cool and natural about it.
Few ever saw.
None ever told.

Or I would walk home with him, not far,
where, outside his small rented place with Fran,
a big wild Irish rose tree thrived.
I'd never seen one before.

It was plush in summer with big yellow roses,
a carpet of them shading his porch
like an old green and yellow umbrella.
We joked and smoked there afternoons a-plenty.



Fran didn't like me of course.
"Don't take it personal," said Joe.
"She doesn't like anybody."
She feared I was a cop but soon got over that.

Fran had the nicest butt in town and Joe was proud of it.
She was Rocky Graziano's neice.
At their wedding, Fran's father had taken Joe aside.
"I love you Joe, but if you ever hit her, I'll kill you," he stated.

Irish Joe never hit petite Italian Fran, of course.
He wasn't that way anyway.
Joe was confident and tough and didn't have to prove it.
My best friends are all like that.



He was a tall rangy guy from Long Island,
Who'd moved to Colorado and loved it and stayed.
He had a thousand stories and so did I.
We hung together when I was around.

He'd first made love to Fran on a dark football field at night.
She was amazed he'd remembered that.
"Pretty good, Joe," she said.
Finally she became friendlier.



We had a standing joke:
He would buy me a shot of B & B,
And I would break out in handcuffs.
Because he'd bought me one and I'd flown down the road to a DUI.

Finally he managed to build a house but I was gone then.
I sent him some hash once from New Orleans,
concealing it so well he threw it away with the packaging.
Luckily I called and he got it back.

I left him like I left all my friends,
Touchstones over half the globe.
I called or wrote when the loneliness got too bad.
He always answered and helped me keep breathing.

He was the only guy I ever knew
who ate popcorn one kernal at a time;
an amazing act of self-discipline.
He cracked up once when he overheard me using a $20 word.

"Antithesis!" his laugh tickled my ear from across the bar.
He made me feel good.
You would have liked Joe.
He listened.

We both knew a guy, a survivalist militia guy,
Who is still on the FBIs Most-Wanted List.
The Feebies grilled him for days.
Joe never told them a thing.

Last time I called, Fran said Joe had died of cancer,
sudden and painful.
All I could say was
I'm sorry Joe Finnen is dead.

August 7, 2010

The System Works



World trade is a pure mess and getting messier. Fires in Russia cause higher bread prices in America and wheat shortages all over the poorer Third World; an oil spill in America eventually affects the ecology business and health of the entire planet; politics business and religion are corrupt from top to bottom; the American people and most of the people on the globe are largely-ignorant, badly-educated, and in some way depraved; materialism has run amok and hedonism is the order of the day; we live in a “friendly fascist” military state, and military “needs” are sucking us dry while our physical plant falls apart and capitalism produces more and more useless shit. Millions labor in worthless industries from flipping hamburgers to making hydrogen bombs, and the system can't be altered because they would lose their jobs and the profits which the wealthy suck from consumerism would fall. But “socialism,” which rules only in Cuba, is somehow demonic, and ultimately it always is the laboring classes who are blamed when the economy goes down in flames. The capitalist system is anti-social in character, false in philosophy, defective in spirit, and has a mean stingy and violent temperament. "Democracy" is a sad joke, the Illusion of the Age, and the excuse for every sort of heinous atrocity our rich nation does to poor ones. Most of what people are sure of is absolute doubletalk, total bullshit, and impervious to proof. Religion is politics and politics is religion. Triviality and irrelevance pervade every aspect of American life from business to art. Americans are the most-insecure and fearful people in the world. They also are the hardest-working and least-rewarded of all working classes in the industrial western world. Their "culture" is the Culture of Television: pure Thought Control, where they get their stupid ideas and idle away their lives lazing before imprisoning televisions. They live in an aura of self-congratulation and fantastic self-regard, and they are completely blind to the hard-won advantages that peoples of other industrial nations enjoy as the result of labor struggles for rights that now are taken for granted. The beliefs of "the American people" are almost mystical, and in fact the whole myth of America and most of their stupid religions is nothing less than believing in magic. They "pray" for things and favors as if their doing-so will persuade or alter the plans of an all-knowing all-controlling god which they themselves do not believe in. They have no faith but believe in "luck." Their "praying" is an act of magic. Americans are in about the same place where the “good Germans” were during the rise of corporate (fascist) government in pre-war Germany. All it will take is for us to involve ourselves in yet-another expensive and unwinnable war, and a Hitler will emerge from the resulting chaos to accuse and lynch the usual scapegoats for the failures of the Old Regime and the stupid, wasteful, mind-killing capitalist warmongering system.

And the President is too inexperienced and ultimately ignorant to know that retreat from a battlefield where his army is dominant is no disgrace, but tactically and strategically wise. He is wading deeper and deeper into "the Big Muddy, and the big fool says to push on." Just as it was in Vietnam and a dozen other places, President Obama and his cohorts are afraid to leave because they will look "weak." In fact they are weak. They will be weak until they decide that peace is the better and only option.

The fact that the American people are dumber and poorer than ever proves that the system works.

July 20, 2010

Renewal




“I love your eyes,” said a lovely brown skin cashier.

“I love your eyes,” I said back.

A black man standing near emitted a soft, appreciative laugh and walked away.

She was about 20.

I’m about 69.

Our eyes loved each other.

I wanted to say more than I could,

But she was too lovely for words.

For hours I felt like a new man.

July 5, 2010

Chance Meeting



I ran into her on a streetcorner near a lake in Stockholm. We simultaneously said, "What a surprise!" She said hello, I said hello. She asked what was I doing in Sweden.

On impulse, having some sudden cash, I had flown there for a mere two days, because it was all I could afford, and still make Amsterdam.

"I'm passing through on my way to Amsterdam."

"Why are you going to Amsterdam?" she asked in that perfectly melodic voice I remembered so well.

"I'm going there to smoke some marijuana and hashish and get high and maybe get laid," I replied.

She frowned. She didn't like that at all. I remembered her walking into another room when I had smoked with some friends.

"But you must know that ultimately those drugs are damaging to your body and mind," she said with the perfect assurance that she couldn't be wrong, not about that, because she is a doctor.

I laughed.

"Is that what they are saying? Still saying? Well tell them I said to go duck their heads in a vat of acid and call it hairspray. I'm going to get so stoned I wake up on another planet."

"But this is a very nice planet. We have many nice things. Beautiful women, for example, and strong, handsome men. You won't"...she laughed..."find them on another planet, but on this one. And you don't need to be stoned."

"Ummm. I haven't seen any beautiful women lately, and hunky men don't do much for me."

Of course it was a lie, a deliberate lie, because a beautiful woman was standing in front of me. I meant to wound just a little, because, like me, she is getting older. Of course she is a marvel to look at still, but I would be damned if I would give her any advantage.

"Why did you come to Stockholm?"

"I heard it was very clean."

"Oh yes, it is very clean."

"It is almost perfect."

"Ah hah," she breathed that small laugh that I remembered. "Well, certainly not perfect."

"Hmmm. I thought it was. Everything is so clean and orderly, and the people look happy and energetic. It looks almost perfect to me. No homeless people, no cops with guns. Perfect. But not cheap."

"No." She seemed distracted for a moment.

"But how did you happen to be here?"

"Do you think I was following you? Do you suspect me of stalking you? Do you think I arranged this? Is that why you keep asking that? No, neither of those. I just happened to be walking around, and there you were."

"How remarkable."

"Yes, nearly as remarkable as our meeting in Managua."

"What do you mean by that?"

"Nothing."

"But you must have meant something."

"No, I didn't mean anything. What could I mean?"

"You said our meeting in Managua. You implied it was not, ah, accidental."

"Coincidental. Well, I think the Sandinistas wanted to identify their friends and enemies. And you and they were rather close. And a lovely woman knows who she is showing her ass to."

"Showing my ass?"

"You came out the door across the street right after I came out of mine. You crossed the street to walk in front of me. I caught up. You knew I would. Maybe you needed to investigate me. Maybe with an eye to using me for something in the future."

"For what?"

"I have no idea. We never had a future."

"I didn't intentionally meet you. You approached me. Of course, a woman is always prepared to be approached by a man. I liked you."

"Hmmm. I wonder if that's true."

"Of course it's true. Why would I say something that wasn't true? You know I did."

"You might be a pathological liar for all I know."

"You know I am not."

"Yes, I know you are not pathological."

"Only a liar?"

"Ha, ha. I didn't say that."

"But, you implied it."

"You speak English so well."

"Most Swedish people do speak English," she lilted.

"Yes, I know. You told me. You told me a lot of things."

"But why wouldn't you think it was a coincidence?"

"I'm just naturally suspicious of communists."

"Well, thank you very much!" She said with a little indignation. "Why?"

"They're very secretive, you know. You never know what they are up to, what they are really thinking."

"I was open and honest with you."

"And I with you."

"You became very angry over nothing, really."

"And my anger frightened you?"

"Well yes, it alarmed me."

"You walk around with no protection in free-fire zones, and a little anger alarmed you?"

"You had no reason to be angry."

"Oh well."

"So. You are in Sweden. And you are going to Amsterdam. When are you going there?"

"The sooner the better, heh? Well, tonight I am going. No more chance meetings."

"I hope it was chance."

"I hope so too. But I'm afraid it's another trick of Fate."

"Fate?"

"You know, the gods."

"The gods?"

"Is there an echo here?"

She was imperturbable.

"You don't believe in the gods, do you? But that is so, so..."

"Banal?"

"Well, yes, it is banal. But it is so bourgeois, so childish."

"Yes, I know. Well, I'm just a child at heart."

"You are."

"Yes."

"You really are."

"Yes, I really am. I'm a case of arrested emotional development, in fact."

"You told me that you were paranoid-schizophrenic."

"I just said that to punish myself."

"You mean that you are not one? Why would you punish yourself by saying that?"

"I don't know. Because I fouled everything up again. It was the worst thing I could think to say about myself. But I'm neither paranoid or schizophrenic."

"How do you know?"

"My psychiartrist told me."

"You have a psychiartrist?"

"I've had many psychiartrists. Haven't you ever had one?"

"No, I haven't."

"Yes, well. Some people are near-perfect."

"I didn't think you were paranoid. But perhaps schizophrenic."

"Believe me, I'm obsessive-compulsive, narcissistic, anti-social, histrionic, and majorally-depressed, but not paranoid-schizophrenic. I made that up just to make myself look worse than I am. I don't know why. It was perverse. Well yes, to punish myself, I suppose. They say that for want of a god who will throw us into hellfire, we put ourselves there."

"I'm sorry to hear that."

"So am I. But, oh well."

"So, you suspect me of being duplicitous?"

"That's a good word."

"There were things I could never tell you."

"Well, I guess."

"Things that don't concern you at all. Things that have nothing to do with you."

"I'm sure of that."

"I had more reason to be suspicious of you."

"I know. You wondered if I was CIA." I laughed. "I wondered the same about you. But the CIA would not give me a job. I know, I applied."

"You applied to the CIA?"

"Yes, I did." I laughed out loud.

"But why did you?"

"Just for a laugh. I have to laugh sometimes."

"They gave you an interview?"

"I applied online. I didn't get very far. As soon as I listed my education level...ninth grade dropout and an auto-didact, the screen went black."

She laughed at that. God she had a beautiful laugh.

"What would you have done for them?"

"If I had gotten further in the application I would have asked to be an assassin."

"An assassin?"

"A hit man. You know, to kill people."

She must have seen the joke and thought it unfunny. She fell quiet, and deliberated for a few moments and looked out at the water with me. Then she stepped back a foot. A wind lifted her blonde locks then let them down.

"It was sad, what happened to us, Mike."

"Yes, it was sad. I cried the whole year long."

"But you shouldn't suspect me of things, of doing things to manipulate you, you know. I didn't."

"Am I suspecting you of anything you didn't do? By the way, when you flew to Moscow, did you stop at any offices? File any reports? Ask for anything? Did you make a report to the Interior Ministry in Nicaragua? And wasn't that a coincidence, getting a ride from Commandante Cabezas, when we were hitchhiking to San Juan del Sur?"

She let that pass. It had been such a put-up job that I hadn't even mentioned it. We were hitchhiking to San Juan del Sur on her insistence. She waved the first ride off, and then we just happened to catch a ride with the official who was in charge of keeping track of all the Americans in Nicaragua. And she just happened to be a communist official from Sweden.

I looked away at the water again. It was gray and choppy. It reminded me of Lake Managua, which had always looked dreary to me.

"I admired you in Nicaragua for awhile."

Her beautiful voice was getting to me. I had known it would.

"Amazing. Well I'm just an old angry white cab driver in New York again."

"What are you angry about?"

"The same things you're angry about. We just have different roles to play."

She looked at me tolerantly. Her blue eyes looked bluer, and there were wrinkles around them that had not been there before. She had gained very little weight, and still was sexy as hell, and, I swear, wearing that same diaphanous, violet dress.

"You were so disorganized. You didn't even have a driver's license, and I had expected you to drive us around in a rented car."

"Yes, I am disorganized," I admitted. "I probably have some brain damage from being hit on the head so much."

She didn't pursue that.

"I see you still have that dress."

"Yes. It is my favorite one."

"Mine too."

"Mike."

"Ah," I said. It made me tired. I almost invited her for coffee. I didn't know if she would accept and didn't want to risk it. Suddenly I didn't think I could talk to her anymore. I wanted to repair the relationship so badly I couldn't stand it, but knew I never could. What difference would it make?

"I've got to go. My ferry leaves early tomorrow, and I have a long trip. Good luck to you." I shook her hand. "Goodbye."

I heard her say goodbye as I turned to leave. Politeness wears me out sometimes. I walked off and didn't look back. I imagine she did too. It didn't matter to me. I had gotten what I had come for, amazed at how easily I had found her. I hadn't really expected to. Now let her wonder.

I could say more, but it's a very long, complicated story.

I got so stoned in Amsterdam. But I didn't get laid. I didn't even want to.

July 2, 2010

The Rule of Law



Representative Eric Cantor of Virginia was holding forth on immigration to the press: "Part of the reason we have been so successful as a country is because we live by the rule of law. We do live by its enforcement and transparency in our judiciary. And I think some of the ire right now is having to do with the illegal immigration, and, frankly, the flouting of the law."

I told my friend Gary about the statement and we scoffed together.

"Tell it to the Indians."

"Isn't the reason we've "been so successful as a country" because we stole everything on the continent?"

"Transparency in our judiciary, like secret warrants for secret courts and secret crimes about "National Security, and deletion of records of CIA torture sessions?"

"'Rule of law,' like when we ignored international laws to invade Iraq after being fed a feast of lies?"

"Like when we flouted the UN Charter?"

"'Rule of law,' like when we invaded Vietnam and ended up killing six and a half million people, destroying 60% of the forests, and sowing the land with poisonous pesticides so birth defects will recur for generations?"

"The place where we dropped three times the number of bombs in all of World War Two?"

"Like the law that gave us the right to leave 45 million bomb craters in Vietnam?"

"That 'rule of law?' Which rule of law are you talking about?"

"The law of the land, the law of the marketplace, or the law of the jungle?"

We went on like that for a few more moments. Gary and I are usually on the same page when it comes to official doubletalk and unofficial hypocrisy.

"The rule of law" is another of those shibboleths like "the American people,"
and "the American way of life." It is nearly meaningless, because it can mean anything.

Laws of treaties forbade American "settlers" from building on Indian land. Settlers moved in and built anyway. Indians attacked. Settlers asked Government to protect them from "Indian depredations;" Congress passed a new law; the army came to the rescue, pushing the Indians out, and killing them as the need arose; or for sport.

The rule of law.



Harold Pinter said, "Language is actually employed to keep thought at bay."

All the old crimes are new again. The crime of the Indians, the crime of Vietnam, the crime of Nicaragua and El Salvador, the crime of Chile, the crime of Haiti, the crime of American neo-colonial capitalist-imperialism, the crime of Iraq and Afghanistan, is ongoing and severe. People are bombed into becoming our sworn enemies forever. A tenacious war is escalating. Lies are being told about the other side.

Rapacious international gangsters posing as corporations are descending on Afghanistan to reap supposedly "newly-found" trillions in mining interests. Opium is in the deal. Oil pipelines are in the deal. Billions in arms contracts and supply contracts and "security" contracts are going down; the middle class is being gutted for a nice meal, and the poor as usual are always with us, and thousands are getting rich.

And no one is guilty. No one is to blame. We all are innocent.

The Rule of Law marches on.

June 25, 2010

Beautiful Again



I was working on something and suddenly she was sitting there with her chin resting on her hand. I could not have more surprised.

"Would you like some company?" she asked.

I had sworn to myself that if I ever saw her again I would not even speak to her.

"Sure," I replied. "I'd love some company."

God she was beautiful. But she looked different somehow; tired; more mature; still absolutely beautiful; and those eyes.

Then I woke up.



It was summer, 2010. I was 68. I was walking down Logan Street, returning from a colonoscopy that had hurt like hell. I had a feeling that this would be my last summer. I looked intently at the green trees and blue sky.

How beautiful, I thought.

June 20, 2010

Love I Guess



Okay, I painted that grimy black piano in an effort to lift my mood...didn't work...took forever to dry properly...now I'll clean the keys and get it tuned...someday I might learn to play it...someday after my novel is written and published and I've won the Nobel Prize for Literature...I love the piano because it's percussive and as you might know I meant to play the drums...the story of why that didn't happen is the story of my life...but who cares?..I told it already.

I tacked a map of Louisiana over the un-usable fireplace...I might as well admit it, it's my home...but I'm an alien there too...not to mention persona non gratis...New Orleans I'm sorry bores me to death...one bloody party after another...public drunkenness...the worst streets in America...the most-corrupt city government...some of the dumbest bastards you ever met...I know it seems cynical...okay I'm cynical...screw your frigging parties and your Mardis Gras too...Jesus what a boring spectacle.

But Louisiana is beautiful...I'm talking about the natural world, that is...the piney woods and cypress swamps...marshes and bayous...birds and...butterflies...what's left of 'em...they've been disappearing long before the current obscenity of an oil spill...I counted...there are only four cardinals in New Orleans and not a red-winged blackbird for 50 miles around it...I saw one tiger swallowtail in 14 months and perhaps one black swallowtail...they have the butterflies caged in the new "Insectarium" I hear...it reminds me of a vision I had once...the Metropolitan Museum has gobbled up Central Park and there is only one tree left...in the middle of the museum with a plaque: "An oak tree of the original Central Park, which once occupied this space."

Some of the rudest people in the world live in Louisiana...but they think they are polite..."southern hospitality" don't you know...there was said to be a white liberal living somewhere between the Sabine and Pearl Rivers, the boundaries of Texas and Mississippi...but it was only a rumor...and "liberal" there means liking Jimmy Carter...there are some liberals in New Orleans but they mostly are young people from other parts...New York, San Francisco, Paris...who came there to help out after the hurricane and liked the authentic dirty-ness and the palmetto bugs so much they stayed...they find something charming and appealing about those soft southern accents and the underlying hard-bitten meanness...oh and the parties the parties the parties...and the parades...good god the endless parades...and what they have to parade about I haven't understood yet...city parish and state government is so rotten and corrupt they think it's the natural state of things...between Baton Rouge and New Orleans oil and chemical refineries along the river have turned the corridor into "Cancer Alley"...they know as much about their own true history as I know about nuclear physics...I know a guy so mean he cut a dude's leg off then burned him to death...true it was revenge for the guy raping and killing a woman and her baby...and he's a well-known musician.

And there are the bone-crushing Saints of course...oh everybody loves the violence and boastfulness of it...but it bores the shit out of me...football my ass...they should take up ping-pong and chess...if anybody can invent a good game named "Corruption" it will sell like po-boys there...everybody knows how to play it already...it's known as hooray for me and fuck you...it's more popular than Jesus, but you won't find anybody to admit it...out in the country people have chronic sore knees from praying...and the only thing that hasn't happened in New Orleans yet to my knowledge is a mass killing in a church...bullets fly around like bees at any time of the day or night in any part of the city...white people whisper that "at least it's them killing each other"...meaning you-know-who all right...some whites see the horrendous murder rate among young blacks as a blessing...you think I'm shitting you?

I grew up a mile from one of the biggest oil refinery complexes in America...it's 10 times bigger than it was when I was a kid...I came over the Earl K. Long Bridge in Lake Charles at night and it looked like a Las Vegas of lights in my old hometown of Westlake...the old First Baptist Church has been replaced by a casino...the swamps are now parking lots...but I wrote about this in Tending Graves and Smashing Idols...in my mind's eye I see the hundreds of thousands of flamingoes and cranes that used to nest there...but people need jobs don't you know...and the Gulf is full of oil wells...more than three thousand of them I think...and numerous deepwater wells already pumping I hear...so the birds can find some other place to nest...millions nest in the Chandeleur Islands of course...where the oil is landing...oh well they are only birds...Louisianans would prefer nuclear war to losing their oil incomes...there is no comparable profit in flamingoes and cranes...and the future? oh Jesus will take care of that.

I wish I could think of something good to say about Louisiana but with the mood I'm in I couldn't find something good to say about Heaven...if there were such a place...I had an uncle once...he's dead I think...at least I hope he is...he was in the oil business his whole adult life...he told me once that large parts of the acquifier of West Texas was ruined long ago by oil companies pumping salt water into the ground to force the oil up...I think he told the truth though he was dishonest about other things.

But Louisiana is my heartaching home despite the fact that I find most of the people ludicrous shallow and boring...try having a sane conversation with those fundamentalist know-nothings who recently discovered politics...they discovered it on FOX...enough said?..I had one give me a lecture on Ayn Rand believe it or not...can you imagine?...I read that mean bitch and rejected her philosophy 45 years ago, but 30 years after she was absolutely discredited and her golden boy Ronald Reagan had tripled the national debt, sacrificed 45 unarmed marines in Lebanon, killed 250,000 Salvadorans and 30,000 Nicaraguans, illegally traded arms with terrorists, fired 25,000 air traffic controllers and upped the air accident rate 25%, and beat bloody hell out of defenseless Grenadians who were building an airstrip for tourists...to show what a macho guy he was after the marine debacle in Lebanon...where he cut and ran like the bloody craven empty-headed coward he was...this guy had just discovered her...and John Galt...trying to have a reasonable conversation with him was like explaining English literature to Eric the cat...and not nearly as pleasurable...Eric at least listens...and I never know how much he understands.



I was listening to this song with its incredible guitar riffs and almost felt love again.

Once I thought I saw you in a crowded hazy bar,
dancing on the light from star to star.
Far across a moonbeam,
I know that's who you are.
I saw your brown eyes burning once before.
You are like a hurricane.
There's calm in your eye.
And I'm getting blown away,
somewhere safer where the feelings stay.
I want to love you but I'm getting blown away.

I am just a dreamer,
but you are just a dream.
You could have been anyone to me.
Before that moment you touched my lips,
That perfect feeling when time just slips
away between us and our foggy trip.
You are like a hurricane.
There's calm in your eye,
and I'm getting blown away
somewhere safer where the feelings stay.
I want to love you but I'm getting blown away.
Blown away.

You are just a dreamer,
and I am just a dream.
You could have been anyone to me.
Before that moment you touched my lips,
that perfect feeling when time just slips
away between us on our foggy trip.
You are like a hurricane.
There's calm in your eye.
And I'm getting blown away,
somewhere safer where the feelings stay.
I want to love you but I'm getting blown away.


Hurricane by Neil Young



My friend hasn't dusted in the 35 years I've known him; doesn't bother him, doesn't bother me, and doesn't seem to bother Buddha.

May 24, 2010

Corner the Opium Market



ABC reports that marines are paying off poppy farmers for fields they burned by mistake. They even are encouraging the farmers to grow poppy, commiserating when the harvest is poor, and wishing them a better crop next year. As for the opium that finances our dreaded enemy the Taliban, the marines say they will interdict and catch the traffickers, and fight drugs that way. They've confiscated hundreds if not thousands of pounds of the stuff already, say the marines.

This all is patently ridiculous.

The US probably could win the war overnight by the simple expedient of buying this and all future poppy harvests at double the price the Taliban is able to pay. President Obama could corner the opium market. Opium is after all a commodity, and perhaps the most-important medical commodity around, because it is the base of a battalion of pain-killers, of which morphine is only one. Why not buy and stockpile this valuable and necessary commodity?

Aha! It would bring down the price of dope and therefore medicine; it would force the heroin-makers to spend more for product, and thereby constrict the outlaw market. Heroin-users would have to pay more for the illegal drugs, and presumably some would rather quit for economic reasons, as many cigarette-smokers have done.

Who could outbid the United States Government? Certainly not the Taliban.



A President who did this truly would be "Jeffersonian." It is exactly the sort of thing Tom Jefferson would do if he were in the White House now. President Jefferson transacted the greatest real estate deal in history with the Louisiana Purchase. How did it come about?

President Jefferson asked his War Secretary how much it would cost to fight France for the territory stretching from Louisiana to North Dakota, and was told three-point-five million dollars. Instead of spending it on killing, he decided to offer Napoleon the $3.5 million instead, and Bonaparte, strapped for cash by his wars with every king in Europe, accepted the offer. What was a distant colony to him, if France fell?

France fell anyway, because of Napoleon's mego-maniacal stupidity and royal European vengeance for the murder of the King and Queen of France by "The Revolution." But not all was lost. Napoleon had after all enriched France with what are now known as its "national treasures," meaning the booty he looted from every country he temporarily conquered. The treasures he stole from Russia to Egypt built modern France, and most of them are still in the museums he constructed, like the Louvre, and are more-valuable today than when he robbed them.

Oh well, some good came of it anyway, from the eventual births of Albert Camus and Simone de Beauvoir, and some very good books.

Of course, the United States Government will never try such a simple strategy to alter the course of its losing war in Vietnamistan.

Be mindful that the king of Saudi Arabia is reported to have told President George W. Bush that there was no need to invade Iraq in order to topple Saddam. He advised his friend George to buy the loyalty of the whole Iraqi Army for a mere billion dollars, and the suddenly-rich generals would overthrow Saddam for him.

It isn't known how much President Bush knows about Thomas Jefferson, or whether he would want to be historically associated with such a rebel .

But the Arabian king's solution was too simple, and there was no glory in it for George and the gang, and much less profit.

The same reasoning probably applies in Afghanisnam.