What I share won't come from after dark but rather the quiet before the light, warm morning kisses, and the cold grip of the day.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Half Life

I’ve read, or heard people say, after a loved one dies the memory of what they looked like fades in a blur of time.  That hasn’t been my experience.  First off, don’t they have a photograph?  Unless they’ve fled from a pogrom, or went through a hurricane and no family albums survived, there must be a picture.  Or, it could be their imagination is faulty.  There must be people, visually challenged, who aren’t never-forget-a-face types.  It may be the pain of loss prevents them, protects them, somehow, from the recollection; suppresses the memory.  I’m not sure.  I may forget when and where something was said, but I see the face saying it.  I lost a five dollar bet with Kid when she was 15 about a scene in an old movie.  One of those 40’s madcap comedies we both love made with a stable of great Hollywood character actors.  I saw the actor in my mind, and could imitate him giving the line, but I bet on the wrong film.  I can call up my father’s face, the beginning of jowls perspiring, bristled with whiskers, like a clear cut slope after a rain, his handsome forehead, eyes the color of pumpkin pie, small ears, features as clear to me as if he’d just left the room.  He died almost fifty years ago when I was a teenager.  In fact, seeing pictures of him gives me the creeps, but I can look at him in my mind.

A boy, a hellion, I hung out with because I craved something sensational in those days, died, like James Dean, alone in a one car crash.  He had oily blond, wiry hair, combed back from a part on the left.  Some years later, when Jeff Bridges was first appearing in movies, he reminded me of my friend Mike, whose last name, it occurs to me, was also Bridges.  He’d encourage me with manic energy (which today would have been medicated) and his coyote laugh, to burn rubber in my Dad’s new GMC pickup, to steal booze and cigarettes, to skip school.  It isn’t Jeff I see in my memory’s eye, it’s Mike.  If I could lay hands on a yearbook, I know his picture would match my recollection, but, I don’t need the confirmation.  Ask me what year I was in Shaw’s Misalliance, and was it before - or after - I did Michael Weller’s Fishing, I’d have to pause, place it, chronologically, by the face of lovers at the time.  It’s the reason I write, and usually about the past: I see it, and that vision, a sense memory, helps me work out how I felt, or feel now; what I was wearing, textures, the light, an expression.  When our friend Audrey died suddenly in 2003, we were all those things that people are, sad, shocked, it can’t have happened, missing her.  Now that it’s been ten years or near about, I could write of her, a rectangle of a woman with bird legs, delicate hands, her voice, thought process, her loyalty, wisdom, the collection of miniature chairs, her beach house, the day she showed us her first cell phone.  I see Kate Rooney, a childhood playmate from Kansas farm days, with a fox face, kiwi-green eyes, gamine, a gentle hoyden.  I never got enough of that face.  We’d play imaginary games beneath bridges, climb trees, in and out of barns, walk the fields, talking for hours, sometimes, seriously, about the dysfunction of our families, though we didn’t know it was called that at the time.  Notwithstanding, a start of a smile was always on her lips and her laugh was like a trill of a golden flute.  Kate didn’t die.  After elementary school, our friendship became a wave in the hall, and since college, we’ve never seen each other.  I could give more details of her.

My step daughter, Shannon, was about 12 the last time I saw her in 1978.  I was stoned and on one of the arranged visits after I divorced her mother.  I asked her if she had been smoking marijuana yet.  It had been a couple of years since we’d lived together, and she was in New York public school, so I didn’t know.  Did she want some?  No, she said, thankfully.  We had lunch, she got on a bus, and it was the last time I would ever see her.  She told her mother I offered her marijuana, which I had, sort of, conversationally.  Robin called to say she would not let Shannon see me again.  Probably, deep down, it was what I wanted.  I was not meant to be a weekend father at that time of life, though there was a cost to her in my finding out.  It was a shameful way to go about it.  I wish that girl well, smart, wonderful kid.  I see her face, too.

 Anon, James

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Do Super Heroes Have Sex?

Do super heroes have sex?  I ask sincerely.  Greek heroes and gods were randy and adulterous and it led to a lot of problems, though their pride, desires, egos, reflected the foibles of our own mortal souls.  To the point, however, the Olympians had families.  Parenting skills were in the early stages, but children were born of their couplings.  I didn't read a lot of comics, so I don’t know if they begat, etc., or even if they have the requisite parts for such practical purposes.  The physiques of super heroes make you look.  Muscles and breasts, O my!  Wonder Woman?  Captain America?  For all those tight suits and bulging deltoids you don’t see much in the way of a basket.  Maybe it’s the steroids.  I mean, you go to the ballet, and at least they have socks in their dance belts.  Bruce (how do you get lucky with a name like that?) Wayne and Tony Stark may be heroic but they aren't super heroes, they’re men of mystery.  Iron Man is more of a jet pilot.  It’s the clothes that make the man.  Rich, handsome and, “O, I’ll reveal my true self to you, Miss: I’m a hero on the side and I suffer for it.  Please don’t love me; it wouldn't be fair to you.”   It’s annoying.  I saw that kind of panty-dropping routine all the time in New York from privileged playboys.  Those with true super powers have the potential for gratifyingly intense sex lives, one would surmise.  Is it evolution's way of righting the population?  Would we really want breeders who are faster than a speeding bullet?  Spiderman?  Good luck, Gwen.  A peck of Peter Parker Spiderbabies would have you crawling up the wall.

I was a fan of Superman on TV during the 50’s.  My young romantic self could tell there was a certain fondness between Clark and Lois.  (How was she not able to see Clark Kent and Superman were one and the same?  Apparently, horn rims were an effective guise.  Maybe she’s the one that needed glasses.)  What might have passed for sexual tension between them was more on the part of Lois, a real, red-blooded woman, if impetuous, and darn fetching in fitted suits.  Kent had eyes, hell, he had x-ray vision!  There is the reality of being a professional woman in her day and age, having to work harder than Kent to prove herself in the work place.  That left little time for a personal life.  Kent couldn't reveal his secrets as it might have put her in jeopardy from various malefactors, I get all that, but he was continually coming to her rescue, anyway.  Having to save Lois, and Jimmy, from two-by-four situations must have been a terrible distraction.  Metropolis was a big city with tall buildings to leap, multitudes nefarious schemers, citizens in peril, and it might have been a big turn-off, her constantly stepping in it.  Thought bubble over Superman’s head: “Nincompoop!  I could go for her if she wasn't a member of the 40 Watt Club!”  Another bubble: "Now, Donna Reed!  She’s a whiz and mint.  May have to blow some wind up her skirt.”  And face it, Lois, for all her pertness, lacked a sense of humor.  Not to mention, what happened to all his business suits left behind in phone booths?  How about his cash and driver license?  Draft card!  (They probably could have used a man like him in Korea.)  I suppose he had to fly around downtown and upend some bum to get his stuff back.  Whatever the explanation, there was a lack of nookie.  What kind of life is that?  The futility just takes it out of you, I guess.  Clark put on the milk toast ruse, but Superman seems to have been deeply exasperated most of the time; to have an aspect both benevolent and condescending toward his flock.  And, how could Lois get close to a man like that?  Was he even capable of intimacy?  Maybe he liked Jimmy.  Perhaps, it isn't how his kind reproduced on Krypton.

Comic book super heroes make me rather sad.

Anon, James

Take a gander at Noel Neill:

Sunday, September 2, 2012

“Turning Retrospection to the Future”

Things come back.  Thin ties.  Cat-eye glasses.  Cocktails.  Writers.  Expect fins on cars.  My fashion dowsing rod is pulling toward the double-breasted jacket…again.  (I must check in the closet in the hope Darling hasn’t Goodwill-ed my navy blue Donna Karen double-breasted blazer!  Classic; just a hint of shoulder pad.)  Go further and bring back the “Hollywood Roll,” a double-breast style from the early 50s with a long, wide lapel and one button near the belly.  Not to mention, a nifty pun.

I have designs on the fashion of language and call for some of that old-time slang to reappear and, to put into the closet warn out, threadbare, contemporary slang.  ‘Whatever’ - needs a moratorium.  Says you!  Get out!  Who cares? Tell me another!  ‘Get a life’, can go buh-bye, as well.  Most of us use popular words and phrases as linguistic, trendy shorthand; it can be fun and current.  But, ‘24/7?’  Round-the-clock. Habitual. Ceaseless.  If I never hear ‘the whole nine yards’ again, I will be relieved.  (What does that mean, when you think about it?)  ‘Whole enchilada’ isn’t any great shakes, either.

I’ve begun to seed my conversations and missives with jargon from various eras.  It’s time for ‘dude’ to take a hinge and to bring back cat.  Cat has some dignity and edge.  It’s jazz age.  ‘Cool’ is the black of slang: you can’t go wrong using the word and I was delighted it reentered the scene many years back.  It may be irreplaceable, like, ‘like’ (talk about overuse), or OK.  That’s hunky-dory.  Why not vary it with keen, neat, hip, ace, top-notch, the berries, ducky, or copacetic?  (From Copacabana.)  ‘Right on’ surfaced during the millennium and ‘totally’ blew me away.  Utterly.  Flat-out. Sheer. Purely. Indubitable.  Anyway, we sound Swedish when we say, “toe-tahlee.”

I had to explain, and produce confirmation, to convince Kid, a college sophomore, that And, how! is a legitimate old time expression for You bet! Right on! Indeed!  She’d never heard it used or come across it reading.  (So many ways you can spin that one, too: Annnnd, how!  And, HOW!)  When I was a boy and saw the film “The Music Man,” I got a hoot out of Robert Preston warning the town folk of River City to watch out for words sneaking into their kid’s conversation.  “Words like – swell.”   At which point the chorus of folk all gasp!  I’ve been using swell, recently.  It takes people a back, at first.  They’re not sure what I’m saying, or whether I’m being sarcastic.  Not all of the old-fashion slang is wimpy.  I’ve commandeered one from my dad.  He would use balls as we use crap, hell, damn, give me a break, or even shit.  Perhaps, bull would be a back-up if balls is too hairy.  My mother, if I overstepped, would say, “Don’t give me any sass!”  Isn’t that the cat’s pajamas?  If she felt someone was a pain in the ass, she’d say they were a pill.

“Just sayin’!’, ‘no offense’ but we could all endeavor to be a little bit more creative, and if we can’t find an old-fashioned word, create a new idiom, with the proviso that at soon as you hear your invention said back to you, drop it, and find another.   In the nineties it was rather dear to hear a masculine man use ‘sweet’ for nice.  My 11 year old nephew says ‘awesome’ is passé and epic is now.  ‘Shut up!’  I recently attended a national sales seminar, where our trainer sprinkled modern idioms like confetti.  ‘Oh. My. God’, he used ‘Really?’ in that sarcastic manner of you gotta be kidding, forty-seven times in four hours‘Seriously?’  The first dozen, I thought, well, he has the lingo to show he’s au courant…then, after a while, I started counting them and (‘Duh!’) not listening to his message.  ‘Shoot me now.’

When you get down to it, many idioms are pejorative, hurtful denigrations, and require a more serious discussion than I am up for.  It’s certainly demeaning to refer to a young woman as a ‘babe’, or a ‘chick’, and so many terms we all should stop using and perpetuating.  Euphemistically, older isn’t necessarily better: tomato, dish, toots, chica, skank, bushpig, fox, woofer, sea donkey.  (Old joke – so old nobody gets it: Why are mother-in-laws like seeds?  You don’t really need ‘em but they come with the tomatah.)  Skirt?  Dame?  (When it comes to a broad, I’m a gam man, myself.  But, then I’m a closet dick.  That is, I read old detective novels.)  There are instances where slang, a diminutive, shouldn’t be applied in gender, race, religion; respect should trump our baser motives.  Repressing the use of the word won’t make the hate go away.  Sad, isn’t it?

Admittedly, old nomenclature may be just that: old and from an era that is best forgotten.  I wouldn’t want to see ‘Boss!’ invigorated, or ‘Groovy!?’  ‘Eew!’  ‘Get out!’  Trends can overwhelm our creative, snappy spirit and soon what seemed ‘fresh’, ‘dope’, ‘sick’, ‘rad’, jaunty, raw, crisp, recent, or just plain catchy, is spoiled forever; its very uniqueness, old hat.  (Does every ‘dork’ sport a pork-pie, now?)

Anon, James

Sunday, January 29, 2012


I have a friend, let’s call him Bud.  He is older.  If I were casting Bud in a movie it might be Dustin Hoffman, trim, good head of hair, a schnoz, always has a bit of a smile, as if something is pleasing him deep down and bubbling up.  Costumed like a tidy professor.  Direct him to leap up from a table when a friend approaches - a spry 80-something bantam.

Bud greets his day with jauntiness.  His profundity catches me off guard.  I don’t know why it should.  I know him to be very well read, a culler of the Times, educated, traveled, retired from careers in the military and the arts, and to have been bruised by life.  Without spelling it out, Bud has faced what most of us shouldn’t.  Is it that face-off with tragedy that has made him so appreciative of the graces he encounters?  Whatever it is, he points them out with impunity.  That catches me off guard, too.  His compliments arrive stealthy, like a drone, with precision.  It’s easy to get used to, as with someone who massages the knot in your shoulders without obligation.  Such generosity of spirit is like beautiful weather: it makes you feel good.  Perhaps, it is faith (we don’t discuss it), but he’ll frequently use the word “bless,” as someone might pepper their speech with a “cool” or a “sweet,” a pronouncement of fact.

I’m not good at goodbyes and I can’t articulate the welling of feeling at the moment of departure.  I choke, verbally and emotionally, becoming lumpy.  I have stopped beating myself up about it, it’s just how I am, and those to whom I bid farewell, if they have half a heart, figuratively, pat me on the head.  Dear, dear.  My daughter very adroitly deals with this trait in me, by simply standing quietly outside of airports or a dorm, like ignoring a faux pas at a holiday table.  Bud, on the other hand, is good at so-longs.  He will sum up the visit, toss in a “bless,” and off he goes.  You begin to look forward to the next time he comes to visit in however many years.  Years.  Years can bollix even the most faithful.  In a recent email he confessed to being in a “mid-January funk,” to having “winter grumbles.”  Bud went on:

The last 10 days have been filled with obituaries of dear friends and lovers.  It is a sign of my age that when I call a former buddy to tell of another friend's passing, I discover that the former buddy has also recently died.

Dear, dear.

In Renascence, Edna St. Vincent Millay tells of a young woman (she herself was a teenager when she wrote the poem) who lies back in some fresh grass, looking at the sky, and naively, as a young mind will, probes eternity.  Abruptly, she is sucked down into her grave.  (Before we had CGI, there was poetry.)

I saw and heard and knew at last
The How and Why of all things, past,
And present, and forevermore.
The Universe, cleft to the core…

For my omniscience paid I toll
In infinite remorse of soul.
No hurt I did not feel, no death
That was not mine; mine each last breath…

After she has felt, infinitely, the agony of all dying souls, seen her vision of eternity made manifest, having “ceased” – just as suddenly - she is yanked from her grave, and her nightmarish vision, her “thatched roof”…

Fell from my eyes and I could see,
A drenched and dripping apple-tree…
Into my face a miracle
Of orchard-breath, and with the smell -
I breathed my soul back into me.

(I have never taken for granted the sight of rain dripping from a leaf, not in the forty years since reading that line.)

I have had a lot of older friends.  When I was 21 (no, it was not a very good year), I moved to New York City, and socialized with no one less than 70 for the first six months.  It happened those were the people I was first introduced to, and, subsequently, their cohorts.  I liked them and I learned of their wisdoms and was ever comfortable in their company.  For the most, I was ignored or spoken over.  What had I to offer other than to be able to go for gin?   I provided witness to the telling of lives.

I have continued to friend elders and heard their plaints and rants as they endured the price of long life, longer than those they have loved.

T.S. Eliot:
And I have known the arms already, known them all –
Arms that are braceleted and white and bare
But in the lamplight, downed with light brown hair.

How do you say goodbye to that?  That memory, I mean?  Life, I really mean.  Repeatedly.

Don’t ask me.  I am soon enough to find out for myself.  In the – mean – time, it is mine to tut “Dear, dear.”  I have often quoted, in my lame attempt to condole, the etching on the grave stone of Emily Dickenson: “Called Back.”  I guess that’s comforting.  I am not religious but it doesn’t matter, we all go back to some essence.  It isn’t the past I address, but the present, with empty, tepid, puerile efforts.  But, then I apply the advice of Eva LeGallienne, my teacher and friend who was in her 70’s when we met, when she spoke about the task of acting, “DO something about it.”

I wrote to Bud:

Very, very difficult…facing such sadness…and no real help for it…perhaps the only thing to do is watch a silly, wonderful movie, like “Funny Face”…or any of the Thin Man series, embrace the day, eat a piece of cake, give a kindness – as I know you do, continually, generously.

A few days later, I received an email back from Bud in which he said he had been watching “Glee” on television.  (That fits into the Silly, Wonderful category.)

Yes, I'm in a better mood now.  I have a new tooth, $1100-worth, to smile on the bleak terrain.  And I've been to three musical evenings so diverse, I had to smile! Last Friday to hear the Shaun Booker Blues Band.  I've become a fan of the dynamic singer with shoulders to match the First Lady. 

Better than contemplating a wet leaf.

Anon, James.