Sep 30, 2006

On the third day....

On the third day, nothing rose again. And no sign from the other side. Or from this side, for that matter.

When my father died a friend got a message. This friend was a carpenter who lived out in Malibu, and a very good man, which is no doubt the reason. The message was brief and cliched. I believe in those things. But you have to be tuned properly, I suppose. There's no yelling involved.

We went for a walk on the beach this afternoon. The sea was metallic and at rest. A seagull was picking at a crab washed up on the shore. As we approached the gull backed off. The crab was still alive. I threw it out in the surf, but it kept coming back like a bad trait. Finally, I walked out into the surf and put it down as the tide was receeding. Then for a moment, it was just the gull, the crab and I all struggling — for food, safety, some sense having done a good thing.

Sep 28, 2006

Add Out

I had just sat down on my first day in a new job, in the brick and mortar of New Detroit, in the shadow of Oracle around mid morning. I flipped through the morning email. This arrived...

September 27th, 2006

Dear Mark!

Thank you for your last e-mail! (which was 3 months earlier)
Here is, your mother past away today at 6 p.m. Ten days ago she was still coming to the room even if she was weak. Then she stayed in bed but we brought her outside in the afternoon in the sun. And for the last three days her consciousness was detaching gradually. Before she had a sore knee as she was walking. She died peacefully, without pain. There was a team that kept watching over her taking turns from one another every 3 hours, reading to her and putting her some music. We feel that it was a nice leaving despite all the worries of life.

We will send you her death certificate and I don't know if something else interests you. She has very few things. She wanted to be incinerated but before that we will have a little ceremony with prayers and songs on Saturday, September 30th, in a chapel, at 11 a.m.

We express you our sympathy. She expressed nice words and asked to her children and to all the people she offended to be forgiven.

May she rests in peace!

Sincerely!

Natacha and the family

Email has no force, even with so many errors. The voice is ambiguous, androgynous, all the words have a login quality. And after all, it comes on a screen, in impersonal and imperial type face. Without a nervous breath, without stutter and stammer.

So many questions. And so many more later.

A few minutes later someone calls from Jaffrey to cement the news. I'm almost home. It's a French voice. Brigit. I don't remember her. "We will have the funeral on Saturday," Ok. Seems a little soon I'm thinking. Not asking me, telling me. And would you sign the death certificate? Yes. Then Brigit is gone; she'll call back.

Meanwhile, I'm like Marcel with his stranger heart, knee deep in dust, walking up the road to see what had become of his dead mother. That's what I thought of. I went to literature first for bearings. Otherwise, no sensation. White line fixation, but nothing behind it.

And then another call. From the mortician in Cranbrook, an hour or so west of the commune. He explains that since there was no doctor present at the death, there must be a coroner's inquest.

"Yes, I'm agreed." I always thought that place would make a great soundstage for an Alfred Hitchcock thriller. A Canadian commune. French accets. The choir in the background, the people toiling in the field, the intruiges growing everywhere. Rumors of two sets of books, money stolen from a wealthy benefactor. Money borrowed and not paid back.

The mortician hangs up.

The rest of the day I go floating down the Ganges of memory. It was quite a life, say what you will. Quite a life. From uncertain wealth to more certain wealth, to poverty, to self banishment, to a room no bigger than a bed. From New York to Paris to New York, to Hollywood, to New York, to Paris, to Canada, to Morocco a year ago last June. See those posts for a photograph. But what a life. Grew up in Paris after World War I, the step daughter of an aid to General Pershing, was a cover girl at Harper's Bazaar at the beginning of World War II; learned tennis from Bill Tilden, at the beginning of the Korean War, you should have seen her moving around the court, with a man's forehand, 'like a tiger at the net', roving back and forth on the baseline, in the sleepy Zen peace of a long rally.... She had several tennis lovers, stars and bums alike, and her share of movie stars, famous and not. She gave dinner parties one moment, the next it seemed she was down on her knees at Bendal's in New York, literally pulling shoes out of boxes for women who had once sat at her table, and it was a great mystery to them, a Du Mauppassant story if there ever was one, of a woman spun off like overly ripe fruit in a farm wind, who finally ended up in Le Domaine Du Bonfin. Which has known better days I can tell you.

As for Morocco, it was no good when she came. That was a faux ending. Any writer would throw that out, save some mystery writer hack. But the better ending, a scene from Flaubert, would have been she and two other women sitting on chairs in a cinematographer's late afternoon light, telling you all about their lives and loves in August 2004...

Sep 24, 2006

From West Pokot, Marina writes....

I flew back to eldoret - only to spend the next four working days in the field - and then the weekend at this insanely surreal BEAUTY PAGEANT in the middle of west pokot - so I've only just returned tothe world of hitech communication (ie. a phone and a computer - let alone food other than ugali, sukuma, and goat meat - but no matter). the beauty pageant was an effort conceived and developed by R., that Swiss german
60-something year old I was telling you about who came to kenya and never left, always with a pipe in his mouth, gray curly hair, glasses, basically the look of the absent-minded professor — with a german accent. Basically, he's an entrepeneur who loves women. So, why not bring tourism/good press to west pokot by creating this 'peace beauty contest' that will have as its contestants 10 girls from four warring
districts/tribes? of course, there are some complications: mainly, what is beautiful? But, no matter, he and his pokot (female) assistant, pushed forward, and in the end, they found a sponsor to fund the 7 million kenyan shillings (about $700,000) to have this event at the turkwel dam (the heart of dispute between the pokots and the turkanas), inviting more than 1000 people, including the vice president (who arrived by helicopter - and stayed for all of 5 minutes) - so we all languished in the dry, thorny heat, enjoying warm soda and beer, watching these
'beauties' parade by in all their beaded, naked splendor... Definitely a site to behold - and never to be seen again. I left claustrophobic from the crowds and
filthy port-o-potties, disgusted with white men and their presumptuous, patriarchal bullshit, and sunburned by the incredibly unforgivable sun.

Sep 16, 2006

Angle of Repose

I went with Dash's class on a four day trip to Mt. Lassen, the southern most volcano in the Cascades. Mr. Lassen and Mt. St. Helens are the only active volcanos in the 'lower 48.' In the museum at Manzanita Lake, there's a mural sized photo taken by a man named Loomis on May 19th, 1915 documenting Mt. Lassen's last eruption: an atomic bomb of cloud swelling up to 25,000 feet, which delivered ash all the way to Reno, 200 miles away. These days the park is quiet, save for the eerie sound of wind smoothing through the pine trees, like the sound of distant surf or a new airconditioning unit. To children there's no suggestion of the ambiguity all around. The land is so docile you can pet it, yet underneath, there's all that magma roiling and boiling. Up at Bumpas Hell, the earth's ass farts sulphur out the fumaroles. Incidentally, one story about this man Bumpas, who owned land around the sulphur pits, is that one day he invited journalists to come up and see the place. When they arrived he stuck his leg into a mudpot, to show them it was safe or just as an act of daring. He was never the same again, his leg had to be amputated, he lost his land and fell into ruin. Another story is that nothing happened to his leg but he disappeared and no one knows what happened to him.

These things happened during our trip....

In the middle of the night, beneath the volcano, a child shouted out from the next campground. A boy by the sound of it. He seemed to be yelling, "forsook" or "forsooth." He said it once, there was a pause, then again and again. I zipped down the tent flap to hear better, but then he stopped.

*

We walked up a cindercone, to the top. I was to mind stragglers. One girl, a stick of 12, kept falling down, every few yards, on her back, arms spread. The book on her is that she's a drama queen, always does this kind of thing, always coughing in this Camille like way. She came from Hollywood a year ago. Single mother, absentee father. Mother's always gone. Girl doesn't get along with others in her class. Is always alone, blond and wispy. At breakfast one morning she used up all the jam for a sandwich and then asked for more. She was told there wasn't anymore and perhaps in future she should be more mindful of others. Her expression didn't change. She's heard all this before.

*

The park rangerette has long gray hair. She was past prime and kids thought she looked like a witch but I thought she was exotic and interesting. I thought of her as Becky Thatcher's mom. She talked all about the 50 kinds of fungi in these forests as opposed to a handful in Germany and how in Europe they take away all the fallen trees and so the forests are dying, there are no animals. She pointed out how different it was in America and how the 'Dougs' lived for 350 years, sometimes 500, and didn't drop cones until they were 175. She said it took them one hundred years to fall and two hundred more years to disappear, except maybe for a row of progeny. "One hundred years to fall," I thought. From the outside in. A hundred years to fall. So what does it take a man, or a woman, to fall? Ten, twenty years. Sometimes, life demands a long denouement, if you don't get cut down first.

*

Another straggler going up the cindercone was a one-armed girl. The armless arm ressembles a sausage end, tied up like a balloon. She didn't cough or swoon, but kept going, a few steps at a time. It's 1,000 feet to the top, at a 60 degree angle. She's overweight, unpretty and odd. I liked her. She doesn't talk much and when she does it sounds strange. She answers questions enigmatically, often with a nonsequitur. I caught her hand and lead her up to the peak and for a long while we just watched the world and nothing at all. I explained to her about the angle of repose, the angle after which there is no stability and gravity pulls everything down.

*

The nights were not good. Yellowish and still. On the second night I heard things but I assumed raccoons or bears were trying to get into the lockers to get food. The rangers make a big deal about putting everything away in the bear lockers or in your car. But the next morning it turned out someone had gone through the cars and stolen money. About $500 all together, $35 from me. They were good whoever they were, went in and took only cash, no credit cards, nothing that could be traced, although they did take a digital camera at another site. They hit four sites. The ranger thought they must be bad 'uns from Redding come up to pay for a drug habit. But they had to be sophisticated too. That they came the second night, not the first was significant. The first night nobody sleeps but the second night, after hiking all day, you're dead to the world. The ranger shook his head, claimed that this was the first time this year any thieves had come into the park. Later, he also said even though he'd voted for George Bush he wouldn't again. I asked him what to do about Iraq. "I'd go in there and round up all those bad people and just shoot 'em. What can you do with people like that. Just shoot 'em. That'd be the solution. That's the way they handle it. But we ain't gonna do that, so better just scatter outta there."

*

The nights were bad until you got used to it. Epic bad dreams; the mind does ugly shit when it's caught in the silence like that. As though it's trying to get out of itself, and out of your skull. I kept imagining a mechancial horse, in burnished blue armour, each leg and its neck tethered to chains, making this horrific sound the way horses do when they get spooked in their stalls. That was it, spooked in a stall, unable to get out, the smell of smoke. If only my mind could be bigger, I kept thinking. The same old ideas, the same old hopes and fears. The thing needs a bigger pot.

Sep 15, 2006

No Fear. No Hope

Everything is fine. Everyone is smiling. No matter all the films and commorations, no one really thinks about 9/11. Not really. America has no fear, and so, to fill in the vaccum creates a relentless entertainment of horror. The new fall TV serials explore 'the criminal mind'; kidnapped children; forensics and the end-all perils of 'Last Days.'

No fear and yet two weeks ago a woman, a friend of a friend, driving to San Francisco from Marin saw dark-skinned men driving two UPS trucks. The trucks followed each other and at high speed. Immediately, she stopped at the approach to the Golden Gate Bridge until she thought enough time had passed for the two trucks to reach the other side. I was told she waited half an hour.

I don't know if this is true, but it sounds familiar. I often imagine these calamities, and in great detail. They become points of departure for moral quandries. If the worst happened: would I stop the car and run to one shore or the other? Would I help others or run for my life? Could I hang on to the railings and survive? What would the sound be like of that bridge coming down? I imagine the car hurtling down into the bay and all of us with it.

Bizarre. How do you explain a society that cherishes fear, might even be addicted to it, on the one hand and, and on the other, feels it, deeply, neurotically, and flees it at every turn?

You could as easily substitute, 'death.'

It may be true as some scholars say these days that Americans have become so 'emotionalized' they can no longer reason or appreciate the value of reason. Sure, these are silly things to say; who can say anything at all about America? Who could speak for such a place? But if you were making that argument there was an interesting piece of evidence, a story today in the San Francisco Chronicle told how the cavalier attitude of Silicon Valley executives, whether in spying on board directors or sauteeing the books to boost stock values, has begun to undermine the valley's future....

It makes sense. The overly intellectualized strain in American culture has run its course. Reason has a bad reputation. Cavalier is back. Don't 'just do it'; John Wayne-it. Hence, the popularity of evangelicalisms. Modnernity is the real monster and so unable to comprehend it, much less acccept it, folks go back in Plato's cave.

But if you look over the horizon do you not see how some blend in the offing. Refined intuition, intellimagination, anim-spiritus. Common and sixth sense together, you might say.

Sep 12, 2006

Men — on life, art, beauty and truth

Two men outside a coffee shop on Filmore Street. (At the other end of the street from 'The Filmore', from Janis Joplin and the black jazz bands that 40 years ago gave the city its identity and inner beauty). Two men in lower middle age.

"Max has no respect," one said. He was wearing beige socks, soft leather loafers and a Polo emblem on his button down shirt. He spoke with a high voice. "No respect at all. He gets up in the morning and just throws his pajamas on the floor."

"Horrible," said the other man, "but I know what you mean. It drives Holly nuts."

"Kids these days..." said the first man and took a stiff sip of latte.

"They don't have to wash their own clothes, that's the problem," said the other man. "Lazy as hell. All they do as sit around."

"We do a load every day but I found this black detergent and it makes all the difference. I don't know about you but I have lots of black clothes, t-shirts, black underwear, black socks, black pants, and you just put it all with this detergent and comes out looking great."

"Black detergent?"

"Woolite, I think."

The conversation drifted to attorneys.

"You go in her office and she's got this old golden retriever. I like dogs but my god, this dog walks around like a cloud of shedding hair."

"Horrible."

"I walk in and all of a sudden..."

"...You're mohair man."

They were silent for a moment, taking the world in.

"I hate feeling dirty," said the first man. "I just can't stand it."

Sep 10, 2006

In dreamville, in the afterhours club of the subconcious, Don Rumsfeld has made my bed and I'm sleeping in it. It's all askew. I'm trying 'to get to the bottom of it' by stripping off the bedding, one layer at a time. But is this some convoluted reflection on my life solely or something else? I take off another layer of sheets. Each time there's a message that betrays Rummy — meeting notes, or scraps of newspaper, pity points that stun me. I can't remember them now, but the notion is that I've caught him in lies about the war and I alone have the proof. Now I must get to the 'authorities', have to make my way to 'headquarters', that upper room, where figures in the shadows sit around a lit table and discuss the great issues of the day. Men mostly, I can't see any women, in dark suits and white collars, vestments, robes...

Sep 8, 2006

News from car town

In the rear view mirror I noticed a 1956 Ford Fairlane Victoria Coupe (I looked it up later). Victoria looked so good, round-eyed headlights and a happy smile on the grill, braces and all. "Betty Furness," I thought, "I remember you, don't think I don't and all your refrigerators too." Victoria was rolling down 280 and of course so different from other cars, with their slanted headlight eyes, "Naruto eyes", as I've come to think of them — not the eyes of Texas but the eyes of Tokyo and Bejing. Algebra eyes, not Jane Austen eyes, and not just oriental but mind eyes, not mindfull, but intellectual eyes above closed mouths, tight lips, keeping mum about what's really going on, not wild, anything could happen eyes, but let's be careful eyes. Later, the boys in the back seat are talking about which cars they like and how Audis look cool and the $385,000 Lamborghini in the shop window on Van Ness is hella. But I look at all those eyes and sure, they're aerodynamically interesting, they're whizzy looking but they're not happy eyes, they're the eyes of designers who are trying to tell you somehing. If only you knew it. It's another message from the subconscious. Ibn Khaldun would say, 'look at the clock, it's after midnight, your society is past, passe and dead-oh.

Sep 6, 2006

Minutes in the hour of the wolf

The party ends. There are too many people. Wrong conversations, deceipts that can't be fathomed. You move from table to table, there's an uneasy feeling. Disolve. Walking along the side of a cliff, on a frozen trail inside a vast indoor cold world. Like a soundstage. I would almost have said an 'ice palace.' The cold is severe, yet artifical. You can only go so far on this trail, better to turn back. That would be prudent. You can see the trail reaching around the other side of the valley and you'd like to follow it, but it's too dangerous. You turn around but on the way back, the slippery slope not avoided, you drop something, a piece of tent flap, and in picking it up, in that motion of stooping, your weight shifts back, shoes lose traction, and over the edge you go. It's miles to the bottom, and for a moment there is relief that now it's all over, and there's no fear in that. You turn to say goodbye, to express real things in real time and that should be it, but your hands grab an edge. Not you, but your hands. And after a second you think, well 'it's not as difficult to hang by your fingers as you thought.' And so you are between rising and falling, living and not, stranded in uncertainty and ambiguity.

Sep 4, 2006

Rocketting off into the universe

We spent the night camping along the southern fork of the Eel River. The camp ground was jammed and noisey. People stayed up all night listening to loud music and chopping wood. They seemed to be mostly latino. Close to the road, everyone seemed to own a Chevy truck; down across the river, in the woods, everyone owned a Toyota truck. We left early the next day and tried to find a trail to an old growth grove but the trail petered out and there was no grove.

We got separated for a while and I came upon a doe, feeding in a thicket. It was about to scamper and kept stamping its left hoof. I stayed perfectly still, less than 10 yards away. It stared at me and stamped it's hoof, like a kid's foot gunning the engine. It's ears circled and dropped and rose, like some kind of weired radar system. After a couple of minutes, the doe stopped stamping. We both relaxed, but watching each other, dreaming in one way or another, transfixed, mindless, off. Eventually, I walked on; the doe went back to her feed.

We drove on, almost to Garberville and stopped at an old growth grove that straddles the road. I lay down on one of those benches fashioned from a section of Redwood. They're reminiscent of those deco style benches you used to see in Miami Beach.

The reason to come to this place is to lie on your back and look up. Many metaphors come to mind. One is the notion of a bridge and that in turn brought back an image described in a New Yorker Talk of the Town piece written just after the World Trade Center was built. The writer looked up and imagined a roadway to the stars.

You could do the same here, although on this day, with the sun coming in at an early afternoon angle and the way the branches were set, there was more the suggestion of four rockets launching simultaneously, amidst explosions of green and yellow blast. It was all about leaving the earth, escaping all the old gravities, going off on a 6,000 year-old-space ship bound for tomorrow.