Feb 20, 2008

Something Out of Nothing

Hence, the purpose of the Holy Life does not consist in acquiring alms, honor, or fame, nor in gaining morality, concentration, or the eye of knowledge. That unshakable deliverance of the heart: that, indeed, is the object of Holy Life, that is its essence, that is its goal.

-Samyutta Nikaya, translated by Nyanatiloka

Feb 18, 2008

Woman Sitting In A Chair

I heard this from one of the parents at the school. Naturally, you're thinking, ‘was this one of those Steinerian hystericals telling how someone's birkenstocking got ripped, or else a finger-knitting went awry in the middle of winter.'

Actually, this same person once assured me that everything in the Spear of Destiny was absolute fact. Which is nonsense. What Trevor Ravenscroft wrote in that book was largely make-up, particularly the business about Rudolf Steiner coming up with a potion to rid a wealthy Bavarian landowner of rabbits, not to mention the story about the psychic battles he fought with the intelligencia of the Third Reich. It’s all cult memorabilia mixed with urban myths. Chatchkas from Lourdes.

On the other hand, Steiner did believe he was the reincarnation of Aristotle. And he did sell indulgences as it were, famous reincarnations, to wealthy Anthroposophists. He needed the money to rebuild the Goteneum after it burned down. You'll remember what an architectural triumph that was.

Anyway, this story I was told was about a man who recently suffered a stroke. There's been a lot of that lately. A man in our own school had the same thing happen to him. When you hear this, immediately you think of the character in The Diving Bell and The Butterfly, although the man I'm talking about can see, can talk, albeit with a slur, and he can almost sit up. He can also move his right arm a little.

He used to be quite a boulevardier; grew up in New York City, became an antique dealer, then a race car driver, bought a vineyard in Italy, married three or four times, and finally settled here and into landscape architecture and painting. He loves parties and women of all ages and gets a squeeze whenever he can. On certain holidays, and not just Halloween he dresses up as a pirate or a matinee idol. He used to come as Errol Flynn but nobody knew who that was. He also used to drink a lot and would make terrible fun of his wife.

Incidentally, his wife is a doctor at California Pacific. Harvard Medical School, very cold, according to my friend, no charm, but extremely bright and sexy in her aloofness. She's always talking about the latest therapies and can quote all the statistics related to your illness, and your chances of survival.

So the story is that a friend of theirs, someone who often comes to their house for dinner, visits this man once a week, usually on Saturday afternoons and strips for him. Partly as entertainment and partly to speed up his recovery. The wife believes the neurons fire faster with some sensual stimulation, but not from her.

The good samaritan is a former jazz dancer, in her mid 40s, very in her prime, luxurious long black hair, great figure. She arrives, but the wife, the doctor, is not there. The samaritan doesn't speak. Literally, never says a word. She comes in, and believe me he waits for this all week, she turns away from him, takes off her dress, sits on a chair, a simple wooden chair, with her back to him, and then reaches behind and takes off her bra. Sometimes, he asks her to do it more than once. Then she takes down her hair and sometimes she'll turn to one side to show just the curve of her breast.

What really drives him crazy is when, after moving around for a long time, and you understand this is all subtle, this isn't pole dancing, it's more the way a painter's model might move to find a comfortable position; what drives him over the edge is when she turns the chair a little to one side, so she's more in profile, and then leans forward and spills her long hair over the chair. This is his erotic button and the heart of it is the way she exposes her neck, a very beautiful long neck. There's something about the vulnerability in that he finds spellbinding.

This teasing goes on for about an hour. Sometimes, his wife has left on some music. Jazz, New Music. Sometimes, the patient moves his good arm, as though trying to paint her. Sometimes, he begs her to show more, to do more, but she doesn't and that, according to his wife is what makes the healing go faster. The wanting is the magic potion.

This lasts an hour or so and then the woman gets dressed but doesn't face him, gets her purse and leaves. My friend tells me that this therapy has done the man wonders. I'm also told that at least once the wife, the doctor, watched the whole thing from out in the hallway.

Feb 8, 2008

The Chords Underneath

You read about the nursing student who shot and killed two classmates at a school, in Louisiana. Her mother has no idea why she would do such a thing. In Arizona, a man who was angry that he couldn't secure a liquor license to open a bar, which he wanted to call Drunkenstein's, set out to kill a lot of people at the SuperBowl. He got to the parking lot with a rifle and ammunition, but at the last moment he caught himself and went to police. There's been an epidemic of shootings lately. Many of these involved multiple victims. There was a shooting in Chicago of five women, the shooter still at large; a couple of shootings in Colorado. In San Diego, and gang shootings in Pittsburgh. Bar shooting in New Orleans, Restaurant shooting in Seattle. The city council shooting in St. Louis. The shooting in Memphis: Two boys at odds; one shot the other at school. In Oakland of course there are shootings every night. And so what is that? Underneath, something is stirring again. The economy you'd say or soldiers returning from Iraq. Folks are jumpy. Weird weather you'd say, the icebergs melting. Or else maybe it's the same thing causing bees to drop dead. Bad transmissions. Electric lines. Radar's out.

Maybe, you can trace it to the year of the rat, the 60th year for some rats. Big change all over the place. And doesn't it feel cyclical. Things coming 'round again. Every 30 years, there's a convulsion. That's a real theory and look how it works. Look at the turn of the last century, the end of an era; in the 30s, the end of an era; in the 60s, and now, a little late, but there's something familiar. The beginning of a new era. There's a war, the economy has turned to quicksand, a "once-in-a-generation" presidential candidate is on the move, Amy Winehouse, direct from Rehab is singing Back To Black, the Janis of her time; old boomers having more sex, driven to recreate if not themselves then the feeling of themselves, the moth's last minutes.... New energy. Optimism. Disgust. The illusion of new. And a new cold war, albeit with Islamodogs. Everything is adjusted to this time. You listen to the music and the violence and you can hear the faint sound of something approaching.

Feb 7, 2008

The Senator's Charm

What is the man's charm? He makes reporters covering his speeches weep, forget their objectivity and become like so many pod people.

But how does he do it and why not the same success with middle aged women? Actually, I know one woman who becomes wet at the mention of his name, who can barely stand to hear Michelle's name mentioned, who read Dreams of My Father and was never the same. "He's Havellian, isn't he?" she'll say."He is. He's an American Havel".

Is she kidding? Yes and no. But most women, of a certain age particularly, prefer Hillary. The best they'll say about Him is that He reminds them of Gary Cooper in Meet John Doe (1941). Clearly, they like Hillary because they grew up in the 1970s alonside her, and also because she has achieved everything they ever wanted to achieve. She went to the best schools, was on the board of great corporations, moved and shook the communities she lived in, and did the life of a feminist and political co-pilot. She has EARANED the 'right'.

"After all I've done fa you and this is the way you treat me?"

She's done all those things that women have to do for men, cleaning up all the dirty work men do, all the deferring and sublimating, all the pragmatism and forgiving, which always needs to be done.... Now finally she can return to her destiny hold on to all of us who cannot return, who were systematically diswilled, who after being the best student in college and after being a successful executive, and after once believing 'I will achieve some great thing', got off track. Life happened and the uplifting, confident voice stopped. One too many banalities to endure, one too many years taking children to soccer games and recitals. And a little too long in the lap of luxury, which after a while wraps those steamy arms of kitchen smells and the annual week in Kawai, so tight you can't ever get away.

And so of course these women live vicariously through her. Her anger is theirs, her 'mysterious emotional life', as Judith Warner put it, is theirs. And her failure, if she doesn't succeed, will be theirs.

For Hispanic women, it goes without saying. Hillary is saint-saint, Mary-Mary, Madonna-Magdalene of Guadalupe and saviourena incarnate. Abd why not? More important she courted the powers that be in the Hispanic community for years. She did her homework, she tended her garden. She earned the right.

But what about men? What's their attraction to Him? 'He's not threatening' is the answer women give. Which is to say his femininity leaves men feeling safe. He's also articulate, he's the King Arthur that draws out the Lancelot in every man, the Sir that men long for. He's Tiger Woods, Walter Payton, and John Coltrane all in one. It doesn't matter what color he is, just let him play.

In that sense he brings out the fact that men in this country are all longing for a dream, for a lot more romance, for clear change, while women have seem to have become a little hardened, a little bitter. His campaign serves as the doctor's X-ray that show you just where men and women have been wounded.

When men hear women say he's not tough enough, that strikes home. When they hear women say he's not 'experienced' enough that has special meaning. It goes back to 7th grade and the girl you wanted, wanted an older guy who was more 'experienced.' So now a lot of men out there, men you wouldn't expect, are wishing he'll put the little blonde in her place, show her who the real commander and chief is.

The world has changed. Now white men want the black guy to rape the white girl. The dark truth is she betrayed them. She was the one who was not only too clever and too ambitious, and so made them feel less, but she also forgave her husband. But maybe not out of goodness, maybe because she needed him for her own ends. A man never wants to feel used, never wants to see another man used by his wife that way.

A man I know, a teacher, an artist, an exceptionally well educated man who has gotten to middle age and is happy with his success and his life told me about a dream he had. "I was in school and here were these two homeroom teachers: Barack and Hillary. And it wasn't clear whose class I would be in and I just wanted to be in his class and I tried to make that clear. I was doing everything I could to be in his homeroom."

Feb 5, 2008

A Campaign Path through Pittsburgh's Pub

It's a bar three blocks from the beach. Long reputation, low light, a holograph of Pittsburgh itself. I have some door knockers, I have one last sign. Obama isn't doing well with lunch pail men and riveters. They don't believe him, they don't think he has the muscle.

So then you better go in, I'm thinking. It's coming up to 11, evening has been downgraded to night, but perhaps I can leave something off. Up on the wall, Gonzaga leads St. Mary's by two, late. Around the horn: Someone at a pool table. Video game screens. A bartender from The Iceman Cometh. The master of bleary. In front of him, hunched over, man and woman together, and then another man at the far end of the bar, almost over the horizon: 50s, red hair, blue eyes, reminds me of Red Skelton, and sitting bolt upright, frozen, staring like a person in a casket whose eyes won't shut.

Woman sees me, the sign. "Yeah, Obama, I'm for Obama," she says, draws me over. She's curly, in a man's blue shirt, gold on her wrist, a pendant on tan skin. Pretty. Man next to her in an old Giants jacket, baseball cap, hunched over, smells smokey, never looks over his shoulder. "Oh don't mind him" she says and hits him over the head with the side of her hand. "He's my boyfriend but he's no damn good. Are you, dummy?"

"I'm from Chicago," she insists. "Three towns over from where Hillary grew up." Great, I say. "You know Oak Park right?" I shake my head. It's coming to me, but no names or dates. "Well you been to Chicago right?" Once, I say and I'm remembering the time my father took me to the Pump Room for dinner and then we went out in a limousine to a mobster's house. I don't remember the man. Danny Devito if I had to come up with a likeness. But I remember his house. Heavy dark wood, a view of the lake, I suppose. My father wanted to share his links to the underworld and it never occurred to me what that was about, what he was saying, what he wanted me to take from that.

And at some point on that trip, on the airplane going, my father, from 26 miles of unpaved streets, in upstate New York, having been a football star and fucked his French teacher, got down to NY to drive a cab and go to night school at Pratt Institute, and here he was in First Class showing me he could read Chateaubriand's Atala, in French.

"Well then you know Oak Park, right? Don't you?" She's saying. I know the name, but I'm not channeling anything else just now.

"Have you ever heard of anybody name Wright?" She says, rolling her eyes like a middle aged valley girl.

"Frank Lloyd."

"Where you been?" She says.

"I can't imagine".

"Well you better wake up there, boy.... Yea, Lake Park."

"He built some houses there," I say, "a few houses", remembering a PBS special about the first homes he built there. And I'm thinking that must be the money suburb on that side of the city. But is it West or East?

"A few houses? Are you fucking kidding me? He built hundreds of houses. Where you been?" She's bobbing and weaving. "You need to get up to speed there, mister."

Dummy cackles and she hits him again over the head.

Here eyes are watery but she's making a go of it, if only she could remember how all this came up.

"Oh yea, so Hillary lived three towns over from us. West side, right. Then the blacks started coming over from the south and the property went down and we had to get outta there. No, it was.... well we did, we moved outta there and got to... " then she lost track again. Nothing happend for a moment.

"No, but I'm for Obama," she said. "Let me have one of those posters." She took one. The bartender, the towel over his sholder, came over looked down on it, shook his head in disgust.

Time passed. She said something, I said something. Dummy cackled.

The bartender noticed I had a plastic cup I'd picked up down the street. "Can't drink that in here," he said. "It's just ice tea," I said. "Sorry, can't do it. Just what we sell."

I can't finish an ice tea?

"Get the fuck outta here," he said. I had that button to the floor. "Get the fuck outta here."

The woman looked at me frowning.

I didn't want to bend to this bartender. "Mystery to me," I said. "I'd think you'd want all the people you could get in here,"

He turned away and put the towel to another wet glass.

It's in the blood, I thought, I can't get rid of it. It's the nature of bars and organized alcohol, it's why birds can migrate, it's that the old gaelic bag of denial and woof-woof. It's what you get for running with Obama, I thought.

Feb 1, 2008

Three Sluts At Dinner

Around the oak table in the secret light of candle stubs,
Three faces coming to a reunion, three sluts of yesteryear.
This is the way they describe themselves, not me.
Between them, they've had hundreds of men, in their day,
Which was years ago, athough still now, at least one of them,
She is still very much at it. Prefering young professors,
The more esoteric knowledge the better. And above all, German.
Although she is Jewish, spanking the ghosts of Bergen Belson.
Is it that inexplicable pleasure in being told
you are a goddess,
By the sons of soldiers, feeling that heaviest of German artillery
firing right into your mouth, round after round,
incarnation after incarnation...
Or is it an Old Testament need to catch the bad seed
before it can take root somewhere
Else... somewhere more fertile, more deserving even,
more in the spirit
of Munich games, more supple truth to tell....
So yes, she gets her power
however she can, and when the conversation turns to a Berkely
Hot tub, a secret speakeasy for sex under the redwoods,
And one of the others makes a joke about the Jewess's predilection
for professors, she put her old friend right down.
"Professors weren't into you, truck drivers right?" Said
with a carefree bitterness you sometimes find
in childless women of a certain age.
had interest in you..."