Feb 28, 2011

We went to watch the oscars with the Unwanted man and his wife. He was in the badly lit parlor room, sitting in his customary spot on his sofa nearest the old television. He designed the sofa, along with the chair his wife sat in: a clever wrought iron frame with a canvas seat, so comfortable you need to be excavated to get out of it.

They are getting a divorce, there's no question now; the papers are already in files underneath newer files. The reality is new but already old.

During the show they don't address each other. She makes fun of him and rolls her eyes; he comments on all the women he sees. How this presenter has a great body but her dress doesn't suit her, or that woman's body should be hidden, or this woman was in a film 20 years ago called such and such. He remembers all the details. He remembers the plots, who the actress was married to at the time and the director...

The Unwanted man talked with guests but never took his eyes off the screen. He said he was looking into moving into a high rise where many of the city's wealthy live. And for sure his own house will sell for a lot of money but the profit will all go to the bank to pay for indulgences long forgotten, trips and cars and chancy investments. He will be lucky if he doesn't have to live in the Tenderloin.

The unwanted man was himself was always a cinematic character, and even tonight, in his Fellini fedora, huddled in one corner of the sofa, hiding his gnarled hand, yelling at the Rhodesian Ridgeback when the pizza arrived, and when the faces appeared of all those who had died over the last year his lower lip turned over and he sobbed, really sobbed, but so quietly only I heard him.

He was grieving in that way when you are overcome by some sad reminder of life's quick trip and then just as suddenly you catch yourself, a long cloud on a cold clear day, you're in the shade one moment and out the next. The grief is so deep, and so shallow at the same time, and so tied to the memory of years ago and those actors and the lives they portrayed — you're so caught by that — that you almost can't tell what was real and what was not and which was your life and which was theirs.

Feb 24, 2011

The worst part of the day came in low and fast like this...

First, there was Hannity, that all-in-one Abbot and Costello, saying how poorly the president had reacted to the situation in Libya — "pathetic, isn't it?" said the Innanity, and wondered what would it take Obama to see the light, have some guts and take a stand?

Perhaps, he said, 'if the protesters in Tripoli joined the teachers in Madison The Annointed One would do something.'

With that I turned off the radio, got out of the car, went down five flights, and made my way to an Information desk where I was told to 'have a seat for a moment'. After 20 minutes, the girl leads me down to the trailer. The Mustang Ranch, as it were, where they service your wits, take apart your last remaining sanities. You put anything metal in the drawer, save your wedding ring. But your belt, your coat, not your shoes, you can leave those on, which I don't normally do, and now there are two girls — can I do this I'm thinking? — and then they strap you down on the tray and — and you think of executions, but no it's not that, yet something nearly as Sfi-Fi, they move you into the fallopian, and there you go, wearing ear plugs and a face mask, going up stream with the salmon, home somehow, all in the embrace of an acronym, MRI, or you're like a torpedo in a tube, in sinking submarine, or a football player who they think has a neck injury and as they get you on the cart you want to be sure to wave to the crowd, even if just the little finger, give them some sign of life, get a kind word from Ron Jaworski but you can't, and then the clanking begins.

It's the test of mind sinew, of course. Can you delete all your material world files and be a baby Jesus. Be just clean and open and fearless. Or maybe find cultural links. "This sounds like something Philip Glass might like," you think. Or not. After all, how much more koyaanisqatsi can we get here, folks? No, there's just no tempo except once, for a few minutes, as though someone was saying "Tony" over and over and very fast: tonytonytonytony, and soon you're imagining you're a Peruvian miner and then you're the girl in True Grit and the rattle snakes are in the tube with you and then you desperately shuffle through the pages of better thought, noble thought, and there's the enigmatic smile of the buddah statue in the entryway at home.

But hard to keep that smile front and center because of all the clanging and clanking, gonging, and every once in a while they recalibrate, you feel the pulsing on your fingers, they start all over again, and one of the girls is talking to you, the speakers are very bad. Here's this million dollar machine but the speakers are incredibly poor and the she-Hal is saying 'you're doing fine' as though, 'yes, you're doing fine, you're almost dead now, we just want to knock out any remaining life forms, and we'll have you right out of here'.

As Ram Dass once told me, I keep coming back to that, "you'll be dying and I'll be surfing', and that's how life is, and once more you feel the pulsing as the magnetic coils dismember you cell by cell, and you feel yourself becoming no more than a gopher out in a plastic yard hole.

Suddenly, there's the sound of birds, little yellow birds, or else something needs oil, because clearly the valve lifters are coming apart. No, those are definitely birds, what an odd thing, and something about the sound makes you think they're as yellow as sunup. Which brings to mind the mechanical bird, or was it a real bird, on the branch out the kitchen window in Blue Velvet and a whole other train of dark insanities comes roaring along.

Finally, it ends and five years later you can't remember if you ever had one of those, and the girl gives you your belt and your coat, but no kiss, as though there's nothing intimate that's gone on here, they should give you a kiss, no question, something to go with the $50 co-pay and the $1,100 a month, and the fact that you didn't call for help, but no, all you get is the 'attaboy', and frankly I wanted a little more sincerity, because the fact is 42.3 percent of the people who get in the magnetic orgamatron can't stand the pleasure and have to be pulled out of there. They squeeze the little red bag and then endure the humiliation of not being able to do it... The nurse smiles, a grim smile but still a smile. Remember, she's doing 18 people a day. How much affection does she have for you, especially when you can't do it....

So then I rush out the trailer, down the metal steps, into the hospital, through all these metaphors, and up the cement stairs, to street level, like popping up out of the ocean, and you get your ticket validated, up the elevator, I remember the floor on the first try, how sane am I now you frankendocs, and then throw yourself into the car, at 257,000 miles and the permanent scent of Jack-in-the-box, home sweet home, and then you turn on the radio for a little face cream for the mind... Silence would never occur to you.

And for just a fleagasm of a moment you wonder how could that possibly be, what kind of person are you to turn this on, especially at a moment like this, what is it? You haven't a clue, you have this obsession with political fanatics. You're sick. That's why you went to the hospital....

No matter, the on-life switch is on and you're just at the dot of the hour, at the beginning of another resonance machine, it takes a string theory to understand this, but there it is, the ever effervescent, and Mr. Evanescent, Mark Levin, always introduced by the heavy rumble of guitar grunge, and the barker's faux life-in-wartime prologue, "He's here! He's here. Now broadcasting from the underground command post deep in the bowls of a hidden bunker, somewhere under the brick and steal of a nondescript building.... We've once again made contact with our leader....(Grunge dirge up... swell) ....Mark Levin.

And it's all strangely comforting, even the sound of someone so absolutely malicious and vile and, under any other circumstances, bonkers — a recall unit if there ever was.....

Feb 19, 2011

I'm always happy to get a note from Tim Phillips, whose function reminds me of the ball and claw on the leg of an old-fashioned piece of office furniture, something called the Kock Brothers Corner Chair, perhaps.

No, always a delight to hear from Tim, who's not only a great American but he's an American for prosperity. So many are not these days. Why you look around and you see how people hate prosperity and run away from it as though it were the devil.

Tim began his missive today on the horrible situation in Wisconsin:

As I looked out from the stage on the faces of thousands of folks at the "Stand With Walker" rally in Madison, Wisconsin today a young 7 or 8 year-old girl atop her dad's shoulders stood out. She was waving a "Fight Back Wisconsin" sign and cheering happily. Before the rally her dad had told me they gave up her basketball game today to come to the rally because "It's time to stand tall." Next to them in his hard hat was Mansfield, a tall, wiry gentleman who runs a small brick laying business near Madison. These two individuals symbolize what's at stake.

Such an accurate personification of the conservative view: an 8-year-old-girl atop her daddy, and Mansfield. And can you not hear the little girl saying, "Daddy dearest, I've been listening to Rush Limbaugh, what an old pussycat he is, and he said people who want to know something about government should listen to his show. So that's what I did. That's where I went on all these mornings when you thought I was watching Spongebob, Wizards of Waverly Place, That's so Raven, and Suite Life of Zach and Cody.... But I gave that up to watch the Rushbow ap on your I-phone. I luuuuuuuuuuuv it. But this morning he said there were bad teachers in Madison who just want to do bad things and they want us to pay for it. He asked me if I could believe it and I said no, 'Uncle Rush I can't.' So then he said I should make a sign up to express my feelings. So then it jsut came to me, "Fight Back Wisconsin". Yea, because we're fighters, aren't we Daddy? Aren't we?

"And then Daddy I wanted to ask if you could make it so I didnt have to go my basketball game tomorrow because it's like Uncle Rushbow said.. No, wait. Uncle Hannity said. He's the other fatty guy, right. Boy wait 'til Mrs. Obama gets on HIS case. Well he said we all have "to stand tall". And I want to stand tall, too. So can we go to Madison tomorrow, and I could sit on your shoulders and together we'll stand tall. Can we daddy? Can we?"

But then what about Mansfield, the tall, wiry gentleman with a hard hat and a brick-laying business symbolizing all those hard working tall, wiry gentlemen with hard hats and a brick-laying business.

If Wisconsin isn't really about the survival of the Democratic Party as Rachel Maddow believes and it isn't about the brass balls of the Tea Party movement as Tugboat Limbaugh believes, I'm glad Tim's got his finger on what's at stake: the obscure, off-key symbolism of an 8-year-old girl used by her father to make his political point and Mansfield, a tall, wiry man, a brick shithouse of a man, who never takes off his hard hat even when he's finished laying bricks.
I want to offer a public apology. This is no joke. Some years ago I wrote a profile of Ram Dass which appeared in West Magazine, the Sunday magazine of the San Jose Mercury News. He told me something in a way that I didn't understand. Now I do. I think I do. I didn't see it then. I'd like to apologize.  He was seeing AIDs patients and then on his 60th birthday he was going off to Australia to go surfing.  He'd always wanted to do that.  And I asked him how he would do that, thinking it must be very difficult to leave people who depend on you so much.  He said, "well I'll be surfing and they'll be dying. And that's just the way it will be."  Something like that.  And I thought how coarse, how tough.  What kind of guru is this?  Where's the compassion in any of that?  But I understand now.  I get it, as best I can.  I see how this works.  Although quite honestly I can't explain it.