[Because Blogger has changed its formatting in the four months since it denied me entrance into my own blog, I am unable to post photos at this time; sorry for the wordiness without a break to see the lovely scenes of Mexico]
The Typewriter and the Essence of Beauty
I spied my old portable Remington typewriter, circa 1940s, in the display window of Barnes & Noble bookstore on the corner of Eighth Street and Sixth Avenue in Greenwich Village of New York City, earlier this year, in the summer of 2012. I know it was the same one, because it had a nick on the frame that I recalled from 1964, when I bought it from a Las Vegas pawnshop for what I considered an overcharge of $45.
I needed it to accompany me to Mexico City, where I intended to write. To write what, I didn´t know, for, at 23, I had been writing with a ninth grade education in spiral notebooks for two years. It was my first typewriter.
I tried to recall when the Remington and I had parted company, but could not decide. Perhaps it was 1968, when professional burglars ripped off everything in my apartment on East 11th Street. Or maybe it disappeared earlier that year, when I was in California giving destitute hippies my winter coats, not realizing how cold it could be on Los Angeles beaches; and not predicting how soon I would be back in New York. Or maybe I had forgotten it in Hackensack, when I had left a good newspaper job to drive to California for rebellion and marijuana, and a disappointing involvement with the lovely but quarrelsome antiwar movement, and futile future Yippie-dom.
Seeing it made me nostalgic for a belief I had then in a dream of myself as a successful writer, actually making a living doing this, and ending a long, healthy life in comfort, overlooking the Pacific Ocean at sunset from my own stone cottage near Big Sur; still writing unto my last breath; read, acclaimed, honored, renowned, loved, feted and well-paid for talent, with the proof of classical leather bound books on library shelves in 100 countries; and the Nobel Prize for Literature of course.
Naturally, the opposite has been my ration. I am the Great Unknown, a legend in my own mind. In fifty years I never have sent anything for publication, for I detest rejection and most of my writing, and now believe that I have only a trifling portion of talent.
I wanted the handsome old black portable with gold lettering back anyhow, and fought an urge to grab it and run. Then I remembered my ruined left knee and was thankful for it, because I never get away with anything wrong; I am living proof of “instant karma”. But I´m sure that it was mine, and thinking about it now, I believe that the burglars stole it. I wasn´t using it much then, and was more distressed over the loss of a hundred 33 1\3 long-playing records, and one of several good stereos which I have bought that somehow vanished. Barnes & Noble, regardless of how the colossal book capitalist had come by it, was displaying stolen property. But I couldn´t prove it of course, and possession is nine-tenths of property law.
I continued learning to write with it in Mexico City when the municipality was smaller and finer than now. There were fewer than a million residents, and numerous Europeans attended the renowned University of Mexico. Sometimes I think it seems sad, that the computer generation does not know the use of typewriters with carbon paper copies. There was something solid and satisfying about the clacking of keys and the sliding slam of the carriage, now replaced by the silent Return button; and if keys stuck they usually could be fixed with a screwdriver or a pair of needle-nosed pliers, without paying a technician $80 an hour.
City buses then only slowed without stopping for most dismounting passengers. Mexico City was reputed to be disagreeable to infirm old people, due to the altitude and thinner air, and maybe the dangerous buses. I frankly never believed it or counted the old people, but jumped from decelerating buses like everyone else. Today, with a population of 25 or 30 million that no one has really counted, beneath contaminated atmospheres and heavens hidden by obscene pollution and the vexing luminosities of civilization, buses are trapped in traffic.
The world has changed so much. Walt Whitman might be discouraged, but Karl Marx would be encouraged to know that his ridiculed prediction of a world-around, self-conscious proletariat is being realized by the actuality of capitalist trade treaties, legislated by the power of indifferent money, and its exportation to poor places by contractual outsourcing, unintentionally-empowering needy millions with benefits of jobs, capital, the internet and cellphones; the creation of new middle classes, and the hitherto impossible dream of political rights and individual freedom. Latin America for example is turning left at an amazing speed, a direction long foiled by conservative oligarchies, and taking care not to overturn on the dangerous curve.
The Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions were internet revolutions. Someone posted the right post at the right time, and millions of irate people coagulated central squares, panicking potentates into toppling two tyrants from their thrones.
The remarkable and seldom-noted aspect was how the military in both revolutions skilled, imprisoned and tortured only a relative few, considering the numbers, because soldiers and officers sympathized. They could have done much worse.
Besides an elite core of dedicated, intelligent and humanistic leaders with a workable long-term strategy, and young, healthy cadres with creatively sane tactics, a revolution simultaneously must dilute resistance of the military, by proving to soldiers their commonality with the people and their objections. Forget about unarmed martyr-hungry people facing down tanks and helicopter gunships with insults and rocks. It doesn´t work. Palestinians have proved it. Most of the world observes their provocative sacrifices with false sympathy, cool indifference and total impotence.
I´m no armchair revolutionary, but an armchair reformer. I implore you from my abode of anonymous invisibility and inadequate skill to reform the systems, dumping only the all-bad and keeping the half-good, and to beware of utopian fantasies and dreams of adventurous heroism. Revolution after all is civil war. The warrior class, like the poor, will always be with us, because part of human nature is warlike. But nearly anyone can be improved, and defensive weapons can be aimed skyward to repel unwelcome Aliens or smash massive meteors.
I doubt that my imploration will be delivered, however, or heeded if it is.
Some of the people I know believe that things would be better for everybody if there were not so many people. They say that most of our institutions work but are overloaded. Others believe that the science of eugenics got a bad rap. They point to the national football leagues, dominated by Africans, who as slaves were bred like animals for their strength; big men and women forced to bed to breed stronger animals, who one day declared that they were, indeed, people, who could play football as well as music; and could even pilot jet bombers to drop bombs and rockets on other people of color, to establish for white people their own, American identity.
The “black Irish savages” of my ancestry—Caucasians all-- had to do the same to assimilate into a racist society, though they derived from one of the most oppressed tribes.
I hear all kinds of things. I don´t know where I stand on all of it and don´t know why it would matter. I´ve had opinions about many things and most were wrong. But it does seem that people could be bred healthier, wiser and nicer. Culling the weak from the strong, strengthening natural abilities and passing them on, how can this be a bad thing? It works with other mammals, and even with reptiles and fish. But there must be consent and even consensus, and it must be a slow and long-term strategy with a definite, sustainable population level in mind. Because all this wild, impulsive, anarchic breeding, sexual license, and orgiastic, hedonistic sexual coupling breeds only unwanted children, unhappy marriages, mental illness, disease, selfishness, unproductivity, and immorality, and a too-late awareness of the sensual squandering of life.
But how could you dictate to each country how many people to breed? And what about immigration? Parts of Russia are so unpopulated that a sensible country could support millions more, and other areas of the undeveloped world are the same. Yet people are so crammed together in large cities, that they literally are ungovernable without a strong military presence, and a reservoir of poor workers. Certainly China would like to have fewer people, and that sensible nation is downsizing its population, inviting opprobrium from the satiated West and the anti-dog-eaters.
There then are the demands of capital and capitalism, which like a savage old man refuses to die or change his diet, despite the diagnoses of every doctor that he is rotten inside and bound for the bone yard. Bristling with spotless new weapons, he whips the world to feed Death with anybody´s body but his. Afraid to change or die, he lacks the courage to live and simply be nice. From his luxurious deathbed he issues warrants for war like an oligarch ordering oysters: Fry me five dozen more! The world is his oyster, but it is poisoned by his mercury factory. He is eating himself to death and good riddance, say the doctors; he´s outlived his time; a selfish, abusive, penny-pinching old man, who hates his family and rarely pays his bill.
I arrived in Zipolite August 3, after a four-day ride with six torturous bus changes and one expensive taxi, a hassle with a racist ticket agent in Dallas, an in-your-face confrontation with minions of Homeland Security in Oaxaca, and a blister between the muscles of my butt, from the sadistic seat cushions now manufactured for buses. Imagine being jogged for two thousand miles with a hard foam lump exactly in the middle of the seat, running parallel between your legs like the spine of a donkey. Someone, who probably never rode a second-class bus in his life, earned money for that cruel design.
Some people fly. Those who can afford the gas and frequent tolls drive. But I arrived with about $200 and a near-empty bank account, so for several weeks I relied on the credit and generosity of Mexicans, who did not know me from Adam or Eve. I didn´t know them, either; but after 10 dips into Mexico in nearly 50 years, I knew about the generosity and goodwill of Mexicans.
It burns me up, how some North Americans treat Mexicans in the U.S. I actually heard a white racist store clerk in Louisiana shout, “Speak English!” to a poor Mexican man, who probably was better educated and more intelligent, but poorer than her, and certainly was more courteous, yet minus the advantage English fluency. Never have I heard a Mexican shout, “Speak Spanish!” at a pathetically fat, rich, North American, too lazy, too superior or too stupid to learn 10 words of Spanish. Unheard of. Mexicans as a general rule stand tall among the most-courteous and tolerant people of Earth. The war up North? CIA, DEA and FBI drug profiteers in league with a worldwide Mafia are behind it, and many here thinks so, because “Fast and Furious” proved it; in fact was only the tip of the famous iceberg.
It would have done no good for me to inform her that 30,000 Mexicans at near-slave wages had re-built most of New Orleans and South Louisiana, after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita had wrecked the place, while the skinflint Federal and Louisiana governments had their heads buried where the sun doesn´t shine but corruption stinks.
I arrived in Oaxaca with a full Marine Corps sea bag and a smaller carry-on suitcase, lugging only clothes, a few prosthetic devices for my back and knee, and as many books as I could manage. Everything else, tools, books, CDs, clothes, and this-and-that which I had collected in three years in Brooklyn, I gave to my wonderful landlord, Gary Davidson, the finest and noblest of men of New York in general, and Brooklyn in particular.
I had suddenly realized that if I died in New York City, there would be no one to bury me, and my moldering corpse would be buried by the City; laid to rest as a pauper (like Mozart), and stacked eight coffins deep with 3 million other anonymous skeletons of “Potter´s Field”, on Little Brother Island, to be unloaded from a barge, and laid to rot in an unmarked grave, by Riker´s Island prisoners, with cold cynical efficiency; and that no one, if one ever desired it, would be able to lay flowers on my grave. Good God, I thought, what a fate; worse than poor old Stephen Foster´s. Live alone, die alone, and disappear from history without an achievement. At least we know where the body of that sad, alcoholic, heartbreaking songwriter can be found.
But that was not why I came to Mexico, only to buy a cheap funeral and die.
For the first time in 50 years of compulsive writing, I saw a novel from beginning to end. The plot dawned on me like sunrise in a desert. The story was so good that it wrote itself in my head on the buses, where I lived on caffeine, snacks and an occasional cigarette, writing nothing. I came to Mexico to write it, mainly because I was sick of the deafening cacophony of New York City. I have literally lost almost 50% of my hearing in the past three years, due mostly to the hellish noise of that place.
I mean that stupid intrusion of horns, trains, lawnmowers, leaf blowers, jets, motorcycles, clattering Elevated subways, helicopters, boom boxes, car loudspeakers disturbing the peace by thumping low frequency booms on your body for blocks, making you feel that your internal organs are grinding together, and the incredible BLAST of a fire truck, whose horns can deafen a mule, and the incessant yapping of people; yadda, yadda, yadda, yadda, from dawn to dawn, all day and all night every day of the week without surcease; and of course the 24/7 sirens of the cops who will shoot you for a frown, and the ambulance capitalists, competing to haul the sick, wounded or dead. If Americans could have one whole day of not talking their intelligence would ascend like a rocket to a cleaner atmosphere where there actually is intellect.
I came to the right place. It is “tranquillo,” “sereno,” sane and affordable. Southern Mexico reminds me of the South of the late 1940s. It is so sensible. People are frugal and kind. Speed bumps on most roads replace traffic cops. Taxis are cheap and reliable, and since most Mexicans are socialized and family-oriented, they need no cats for companionship, so there are fewer cats and more birds. Great birds. There are big blackbirds that can peck out a cat´s eyes. The streets are clean and safe. Sane, self-sustaining but non-biting dogs laze on and guard every street and seem mostly to fend for themselves on scraps, but there is dog food in markets for people who feed their own. People throw rocks at them. Some of skinny and dying, while others prosper. But feeding good food to stray dogs in the second-poorest state of Mexico seems to me an insult to people; only tourists seem to do it, at the risk of being followed by one for as long as they remain.
Though I´ve been here many times, I have never become fluent, so this time I hired a competent tutor to take me from the First Grade up in Spanish grammar. Meanwhile, the language barrier increases the isolation and peace that I sought. My computer died an honorable death last May, so I filled eight composition notebooks with longhand in three months, impossible to edit, until I finally could afford this laptop, which I purchased from a student at the ecological university nearby. Now I am laboriously transcribing that scribbling, re-writing all the way. And it is going pretty well, but slowly, because I dare not re-read what I have re-written thrice, or I will re-write it again. I ruined a perfect first draft like that once in San Francisco, and never recovered it. It has waited in my Document files since then for me to remember how I had originally written it.
I keep coming across leftists from various Latin American and European countries. Students, mostly, on vacation in this happier land of easy mota, and the occasional oongos or hashish from Afghanistan, and “Mexico´s only nude beach,” here in Zipolite. Many are really into ecology, and are drawn to the ecological preserves, of which there are many; but many also are Che Guevera Marxists; “revolution” is such a great adventure you know. But eco-tourism is the bigger thing now.
Last night during a conversation with some ecology-minded Argentines, I remembered the words of Winston Churchill, who said, “A young man who isn´t a liberal has no heart, and an old man who isn´t a conservative has no brain.”
I swore off “revolution” when I learned in Nicaragua that the word actually should mean, “civil war”; that is, with guns, bullets, artillery, helicopter gunships and all the neat new weapons; at that time I became a dedicated reformer. “Reform, Reform, Reform” is my slogan. A step at a time, and expect no perfection. I don´t want to shoot at anybody or be shot at. So I tell these guys that much and they humor an old man. Please, I say, don´t overthrow the United States Government; my Social Security is at stake. Reform it, and don´t throw the baby out with the bathwater, leaving me breadless in Mexico.
But there is no getting around it. Latin America, after being restrained for decades from progressive reforms by various and nefarious CIA espionage and torture programs, has turned Left anyway. There are a few laggards like Colombia, Paraguay, Guatemala and Honduras, but dig this: Diego Riviera and Frieda Kahlo, two famous communists and bosom friends of Leon Trotsky, are back-to-back on Mexico´s 500-peso note. Take that, cowardly capitalists at the US Treasury and Wall Street. Mexicans are not afraid of communists. If as artists they loved Mexico, we put them on fifty-dollar bills. The United States is held in courteous disrespect but only rarely in open contempt down here; and no selfish, materialistic, racist, militaristic, greedy country ever deserved it as much; except perhaps Rome, Britain and Russia, other heartless Empires that bit the dust.
Anyway, I have been to Mexico enough to feel comfortable here. My first real visit, other than cross-border incursions with Marines into the fleshpots of Tijuana and Ensenada, was Mexico City, where I lived for two months trying to write like Hemingway in outdoor cafes. Alas, I had all the time in the world and nothing to say, and nobody can write like Hemingway. Now I have a lot to say and scant time to say it and don´t want to write like Hemingway.
I´ve been a political prisoner since Eisenhower´s first election in 1952; and predicted a year ago that President Obama would tromp Romney. But when he did I would not even have been aware of it, had I not finally relented and looked at a Yahoo headline, while checking my mail account. North Americans who live here, partly for affordability, and largely because Mexico is so beautiful, and also because they are disgusted by their own country, generally avoid one another. Can you see it?
Nobody wants to be seen with these ignorant rednecks and impatient dullards that have too much money, kiss their asses here but fear Mexicans In the United States, and support tougher immigration laws.
My line is, please, don´t tell me anything about what is going on back there. Talk about botany, or astronomy, or the weather, but please, don´t draw me into a conversation about the United States, or the difficulties of the poor little rich nation, or its mostly indolent, cowardly and badly educated people, or their economic and political plight, or their schoolhouse massacres and relentless executions, or especially about the present or the coming war with one of several prospective victims, or anything at all about the superior acting, self-pitying, destructive, alcoholic, drug-infested, class-conscious and hell bent government.
When I tell it to them like that, they lapse into tight-lipped silence, and I am no longer bothered by them.
I´m mightily tempted to give you an excerpt of the book. But it is so good I´m afraid someone will steal it. Believe it or not, the Godzilla movie was my idea—I had Ganzilla—Godzilla´s mate—by way of several accidents of nature, arriving knocked out and chained for a San Francisco circus at Seattle in an 1870s whaling ship, blown off course, and being buried when an earthquake and tsunami sinks the ship drowning all hands, and smashes the warehouse on the dock, where the whalers had chained her, only to be built-over, and for her to emerge from the long burial on worldwide television through center field of the Kingdome, more than a hundred years later, after the last pitch of the last inning of the seventh game of a playoff between the Mariners and Yankees, when Ken Griffey slams a game winning home run and the crowd goes wild; but I talked about it too much in a certain bar where writers hung out. My story was better and deeper than the garbage they finally produced. It had ecological, ethical, feminist and militarist perspectives, and a hilarious Japanese narrative of the event.
Here in southern Mexico, where I have returned for the third time in order to write, there are many poor people who count every peso; but even those who are not poor are sensibly frugal. Life on these coasts and in mountains towering above clouds has thrived for thousands of years with inestimable permutations. Whole organized civilizations more complex and beautiful than Europe or China have come and gone. Evidence is everywhere, in an old wall, for instance, barely discernible beneath layers of vegetation on a mountainside, built centuries before modern Mexico laboriously chiseled the road from Oaxaca to the Pacific Coast, only decades past.
It is a good place to write, as good as many and better than most, if you don´t mind bugs and barking dogs and pre-dawn cockcrows.
Some people like John Updike and Woody Allen love to write. Updike reportedly went to an office five days a week for a normal eight-hour workday at a keyboard; Allen is said to love to shut himself up in a writing-room all day, where he delightfully fashions scripts and conceives his hilarious gags in a tragi-comic world of his own.
But the main reason I write is to dismiss loneliness and substitute for my first unrealized dream of being a musician. I am compelled not by a need to “create” anything, but by an obligation not to dive from a cliff to taste the tempting rocks of oblivion. It somehow seems cowardly, and my dear, feisty, Irish grandmother would disapprove.
I must express my gratitude to the United States Marine Corps for teaching me that I could endure more than I thought. After having finished upright my first 25-mile forced march with a 40-pound pack and a 10 1/2-pound rifle, I have always been aware of it. It is splendid, knowing that you can do more than you thought possible.
Conversely, I want to express my contempt for the romantic idiots who tried to persuade me that “anyone can be President.” It is an outright con, repudiated by history.
I don´t know if life is hard for everyone. Some people seem happy. But everyone has some sort of trouble.
I love it here in Mexico, for despite hardships; most Mexicans humbly respect God and love their families, and fearlessly mock death.
Everybody knows that many impatient and discourteous North Americans need to learn a lesson. So they teach it constantly, by simple courtesy, patience and mercy. Welcome to Mexico!
Muchas gracias! Glad to be here. It is the closest to contentment I ever have come.
What have I learned this time in Mexico? That life is not what I lived, but how I remember it in order to recount it. There is no past because it is ever-present in memory. We are a certain arrangement of organic and un-disconnect able atoms, precious, permeated and surrounded by Soul, swirling in an undulating atomic and geodesic, tetrahedral and nucleonic, boundless and electronic dance of intricate design and grace; an infinite net of indescribable complexity; indissoluble, unbreakable and beautiful, interconnected like pixels on a screen to every other thing in Universe.
Everything is simply there, simply here, already created perfect, and artists create nothing. It is already created, and an artist can only move matter or concepts about, rearranging, combining, selecting, rejecting, adorning or defacing with erasable graffiti a perfectly incorruptible design of plain existence and pure, unalloyed beauty; exhibiting finally only imitations of the imperishable Idea of Beauty.
The duty of artists is to expose beauty for the edification of poor souls who cannot see it. For if all could but see it, there would be no ugliness. There is no place or moment more beautiful than here and now. Observe and memorize. Keep seeking, and sooner or later, you will find it: the essence of beauty; intended to be found by every conscious, seeking soul.
Now, if I could only retrieve my perfectly beautiful Remington portable typewriter…