Nov 2, 2014

I've told you about Carbo; he's an angry man.  Always has been, and will be. There's nothing he enjoys more than needling people, than undoing them in some way.  His father was a college soccer referee, a little bitty guy and famous for giving out red cards at the beginning of games.  Normally, a referee would give a warning and then if that wasn't heeded, a yellow card, and if that didn't instill order, red. But Carbo's father didn't give a damn about protocol and he would wave a red card with no warning. He told Bernie once he did that because he wanted the players and coaches, and of course, the fans to know that he was in control, that he was never going to be invisible.  He wanted to be part of the show....  But above all, he liked to piss people off.

We were on the phone on Halloween and Carbo asks me what I'm doing.  I shrugged.  He said, you get down here, I want to show you what these fucks are doing. He was so excited, I couldn't say no. Where are you? I asked.  So I go down to Market Street.  The place is on fire, weirdos galore, and there's a long line for a rock concert.  Right away I notice somebody wearing a sandwich board, which looks like an I-phone.  Very elaborate costume.  And the person in the sandwich has a doll in his hands and he's sticking the doll the way people do when they're texting. But he's doing it with pins so it's actually more like voodoo.  I get closer and who is it but Carbo. He's walking up and down while the people in line are texting and he's doing his own texting. He stands next to this group of boys and starts 'vexting' — that's the term he told me later.  'Yea, I vext 'em. After you text and sext and do any fuckin' thing, you vext. Put the curse on 'em. I hate those people.'

Meanwhile, the kids didn't really notice him; occasionally they would just turn and watch him and maybe laugh and they have no idea he's ridiculing them. He's just another weirdo.  I told him, let's go get a drink. Fuck that, he said, I want to piss some people off.  When he's like that, there's nothing you can do, so I just left him there, vexting, and went to a dive I know around the corner.

Oct 23, 2014

“It’s the ‘fake life’, she began.  “That’s what I call it now.  Don’t you think that’s a good book title?  I know it sounds a little down and maybe too simple. But don't you think?  It’s the ‘friend’ who calls to talk to you for five minutes, but there’s no conversation.  They tell you all about their lives, and it’s usually about one problem in particular.  Something won’t start or turn off; maybe it’s a mental condition or it's the kid, the car.  Menstuation. They make a few observations and that's the conversation.  There is no conversation.  And it all began on such a high note.  You were so happy to hear from this person but then just as suddenly the joy disappears and you’re thinking, why am I even friends with this person?  And the answer is because you don’t have a lot of friends and everyone is telling you to stay in step, stay tuned, stay up, get the latest gadget to stay in touch.  “Otherwise, we worry about you.” So you fake it up. All I really want to do is say, “I love you” and hang up before I can be disappointed.  Just take that one true thing, throw it out there, and leave it…. Here’s the worst, though.  I have these friends, and they’re well meaning.  They’ll call me and say, so Cassandra, how are you and we haven’t heard from you in a while and we just hope you’re getting out.  And you think to yourself, ‘you hope I’m getting out?’ That’s the last thing I want. Going out is just like the phone.  You’re so excited at the thought and then by the time you walk in the front door you just want to keep right on going, through the foyer, the den, the living room, the kitchen, the guest bedroom, and out the back door and back to your car.  So what I do is this:  I lie. I say, ‘I went to the most fabulous party the other night. I don’t know why you weren’t there.’  And they’re caught off guard and you make up some scripty thing about the agent you met or the cute guy who swept you away and actually did all the things he whispered he would do, and isn’t that unusual, because usually men these days always never do all the things they need to do for long enough and then they’re back to sleep in a flash and you can’t even wake them up to send them home.  But see I don’t have that problem anymore. Yes, I am withdrawing from sex, but at the same time I’m longing for romance, and then sometimes I’ll get in heat but then that diminishes and it’s just the thought of romance that’s enough. That’s what I realize. I’m happy with just the thought…. But here’s what happened this morning. I was going out for a walk, as I do every morning, I go out to the university, and there was this woman standing in the street weeping.  I don’t know what was the matter.  She lives across the street. I don’t think she's Hispanic; maybe Portuguese, but I just went up to her and hugged her and we just stood there for about 10 minutes in the middle of the street.  Incredible.  I felt so good later and it just stays with you for the whole day.”  There was the sound of ringing in the background. ” Okay, my friend, I love you.  Gotta go……

Sep 27, 2014

Often, there is a metaphor to capture the essence of calamity.  For the attack on 9/11 and the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq that followed, the metaphor is the 'falling man': that anonymous business man falling from the North Tower at 9:41 a.m. on that September morning, stopped in a remarkable photograph by Richard Drew. And stopped also by Don DeLillo in his novel, Falling Man — "then he saw a shirt come down out of the sky. He walked and saw it fall, arms waving like nothing in this life."

Everyone and everything was falling then. Falling from and away. Symbolic landmarks,  institutions, policies, the illusion of being isolated from the rest of the world, all falling to smithereens. People falling to the cement but also to fear and anger, to mistrust, and at the same time unity, for a moment, but then inevitably perhaps, to faulty judgments, to war and ambiguity, to a hunger for clarity and security, never satisfied.  It was all summed in the zeitgeist horror of the falling man.

The revelation from the metaphor was a reminder that like the man jumping out of the building, forced by fire or blown out, we have no control of our fate, and to make matters much worse we may have lost the faith to help try to win it back.

Now, ISIS, ISIL, Islamic State — the very lack of an agreed-upon name is emblematic of confusion. The metaphor here is the beheading.  That's a zeitgiest horror. And if there is just one beheading, to match the falling man, it's not that of the two American journalists, or the British aid worker, or the French tour guide; no, for the moment it's the beheading of Colleen Hufford, 54, a worker at Vaughan Foods in a south Oklahoma City suburb.  She is nearly as anonymous as the falling man and her death is equally horrific. That she is a woman tops the horror.

And the revelation? It is that we have all lost our heads, and so survive by other means, by runaway emotion, by passing passions — and thoughtless rhetoric.  Which, of course, is true in America as well as Iraq and Syria.  In that sense we are cut off from our humanity, from ourselves, form reason, from evolution itself.  How can we argue for evolution when some of us are still feeling their way through the Dark Ages.

Aug 12, 2014

This is the other problem with suicide.  First, you give up your life for a pittance, the cost of a few flimsy synapses gone awry. Then you undermine everybody else. You put a fine Moorish arch on a cave-like little doubt. And, frankly, it becomes another key hole for the wrong key. Of course, it's the last thing on your mind when you're beyond recall, when you're gathering your belongings, whatever thoughts those might be...  That's the problem, particularly in this case, with someone so beloved.  Is that too strong? Cherished, certainly... The problem is that you set the trap for others also at wit's end, a gossamer away... "My God, if he gave in, what hope have I?"

But then by strokes of luck, completely out of the blue, you make your way into the dark, that lovely blackening, to your movie seat, to watch Calvary, the new Irish film by John Michael McDonough, best known for The Guard.  Starring Brendon Gleeson, in this film as well.  First, a cop; now a priest. Written and directed by McDonough, which is always a wrong for some filmmakers I know, who insist you must never direct your own script.

But discard inside double-A baseball: here you become the old, wise, once-married priest, in the hell realms, in amongst demons, all thoroughly possessed. Each by turns renounces your church, your priesthood and you. And finally, there is no escape and you are stuck with your integrity. In the end, your sad fate is that you do care for your flock, and not to fuck, and as fucked up as they may be. And so you grasp your Christlike moment, you endure that, it's your fate and desire, although suicide by any other name.

Still, the story rings true, even if the faith in that story is not enough to save you.  Even you.  No solace that somebody already did what you're doing, to save you from it. That's the real problem, you have to know what you're doing at a moment like that, but how could you. That's the absurdity.

But if you care to see it that way, if you're willing to stop watching the waves break and just walk home, then it's enough to get you through another day.  You just wish the poor man, with all of his dexterity, had seen it, seen the nature of true demon possession and how ephemeral that is, and how hopeful faith can be, not religious faith, but human faith, all that was born in the bang, the slime, the cave paintings, all of it.

Jul 10, 2014

Peet’s at Franklin Square. Two men at the next little round table. Big guy; little guy.  Ethnics.  Little guy: no distinguishing features, barely visible, impossible to remember even as you're starring at him.

Big guy: jowls in a baby blue t. With a tourist gallery of low-brow body painting. Don Quixote hanging on one arm.  SCOTUS on the other, in big letters. And then in the neck area, where the tie knot goes Lady Liberty with big tits holding her scales but gingerly.  Some writing you can't read. Code maybe. But not prison scratch.

"You know what I mean?" says BG.

LG nods but it doesn't look like he knows. 

"It's absolutely atrocious.  Some of the investors are fucking suing us.  And this is what it is, these fucking bastards have no fucking patience.  Know what I mean?

LG nods but he has no idea.

And they're saying, 'can’t you walk us through some of this shit?'  And I'm saying how hard is this. We have an idea for a site. The idea is you sell this to people who are dying.  What do they need? Hospice, a lawyer, mortician, a hug from the nurse, calls from people they knew in grade school. They need somebody to take care of all  that.  That's what we do.  We do everything you need in those last days, months, what have you.  One stop shop.  You go out feeling great about it because you know, everyting is taken care of.  Boom.  Secure. The kids, the wife, the dog.  All done. Boom.  But now Dick Tracy doesn't get it and so we have to explain and they're saying but you told us something else and we said, what something else, this is what we told you.  Take it or leave it and you said, and I'm quoting, "We'll take it."  How you gonna miss with this.  Everybody dies right. Everybody needs things taken care of.  We have a mailing list of people on medicare, people in the hospices.  Eberybody north of 50.  We send out a note. How hard is all this shit?"

Feb 19, 2014

"Speaking of the Holocaust," someone said when the movie, a German comedy, had concluded, "apropos of nothing, what do we think of these new Himmler letters?"  
Our hostess nearly fell out of her chair in a paroxysm of laughter. " 'Speaking of the Holocaust', she mimicked, and added, " 'Am off to Auschwitz. Kisses, Your Heini.' "
"Did he actually write that" the somone continued, referring to the newly released Himmler letters.
"Absolutely," replied our hostess. "Love you mommy. Your Heini.'"
"Your heinous," she added and now, in an instant, her temper switched.  She is not a little bi-polar.
"Yes, I read that too," said someone else getting up from the sofa to stretch. "Didn't he actually call his wife, 'Mommy'? How bizarre." 
"The unbearable lightness of being," our hostess replied, referring to Kundera's novel.  No one in the room seemed to understand the connection, and Margrit was in no position to explain. This late at night she's gone to the moon, even without substances.
Her husband pushed a button and the movie screen rolled up into the ceiling. 
In the silence, people in the room drew on their cigarettes and brandy. Our hostess scratched her right forearm where years ago she'd had a six-digit number tattooed.  You can barely see it now. At one point she decided she didn't want to live with the number after all and tried to remove it. The number had been on the arm of her mother, who was among the last Jews sent to Sachsenhausen from Warsaw in September, 1944 — when there should not have been any more deportations, and the Russian army was idling just on the other bank of the Vistula, and the allies were dropping money and supplies, nearly all of it landing in German hands.
Margrit is herself an expert on the Holocaust (And one of the peninsula's most distinguished psychoanalysts). She's read every book, seen every film, and visited many of the historical sites in both Belarus and Poland.  She can tell you all about Anna Klein, the chief supervisor at Ravensbruck, and Arthur Greisser, as well as those particular horrors, Reinefarth, Kaminski, and the incomparably evil, Dr. Oscar Dirlewanger, who you may remember started out as a convicted pedophile.
A friend of hers told me once that Margrit has erlentless nightmares where she is at the train station at one of the camps and the Gestapo captain is signaling, 'this way'; 'that way.' Over and over, 'this way'; 'that way'. And all the while the line is getting shorter and she's summoning up all her wiles, recasting herself as Scheherazade, and it works.  But always only for a moment and then she's back in the line, dreaming up ever newer, more provocative stories....   

Jan 6, 2014

The other day my friend Carbo and I were catching pastries down at Tartine's, and talking about the difference between Wolf and Hustle, and whether Scorcesse had gone over the top with his portrait of Wall Street.
Well, it's partly metaphorical, I said.  They didn't actually do all those things. Right?
"Oh yes they did," said Carbo. "Absolutely they did. I did. I was there."
I hadn't known that.
"I was an insurance broker down on Water Street and there was all the fucking and coke you could handle. And doing lines on the girl's ass? Sure. The breasts. The candles. It all happened. That wasn't exaggeration."
He had to stop to take in his almond butter croissant with sugar on top. And perhaps out of habit he began sniffing the white sugar off the top of the croissant.
"You really need a hundred dollar bill to do this right," he said. "But here's the thing, all those people, you know what?  Actually, you didn't want want to spend any more time with them than you had to.  That's the problem with the movie; he made those people a lot more interesting than they really were."