Archive for May, 2011

I Had A Dream I Stood Beneath An Orange Sky

Please do not forget anything that you take with you.

—automated announcement, Beijing taxicab

One of the key indicators that I do indeed too often dwell in what William Burroughs identified as “an annex of Hell” is the local radio newsperson. He labors out here in the sticks, in the near-invisible bush leagues, but he is in his heart a Fox person—his station a Fox affiliate. I suppose his way of feeling as One with those far-off Fox mandarins who don’t even know he is alive is to endeavor ebulliently al-ways to out-Fox Fox. Thus, there is nothing too mental to come out of this man’s mouth. Nothing.

This man was on the air the morning that President Obama convened his extraordinary and unprecedented press conference to Stop The Madness. Obama deploying his long-form birth certificate as a sort of seawall, to break the tsunami of maniacal jabberers roiling with Knowledge that Obama is a nefarious foreign-born Manchurian Muslim out to outrage all that is America.

This man’s radio station aired Obama’s “Yes, I Am Not A Not-Person” statement, in its entirety, live. The man himself then returned to the microphone to declaim that Obama had just said things that he had not, in fact, said. Words were put into Obama’s mouth; words were taken out of his mouth. And the sense of all these omissions and commissions was that Questions Still Remained as to whether Obama might not truly be a nefarious foreign-born Manchurian Muslim out to outrage all that is America.

It was a jaw-dropping performance. I mean, mere moments had passed since we’d heard the words from the president himself. All had been recorded; the thing itself was even then available for playback to anyone with access to an intertube. Other tubes already bore transcripts of Obama’s words. Yet this “news”man was boldly, methodically laying a track along which chugged an alternative reality.

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Orwell Is Bored By Doom

I sent you about two thirds of the rough draft of my novel yesterday. You are not to think that when finished it will be quite as broken-backed as at present, for with me almost any piece of writing has to be done over and over again. I wish I were one of those people who can sit down and fling off a novel in about four days. There is no news here. I am frightfully busy, suffering from the heat, and exercised about the things in my garden, which are going to dry up and die if this cursed weather doesn’t change. I have read nothing, I think, except periodicals, all of which depress me beyond words. Do you ever see the New English Weekly? It is the leading Social Credit paper. As a monetary scheme Social Credit is probably sound, but its promoters seem to think that they are going to take the main weapon out of the hands of the governing classes without a fight, which is an illusion. A few years ago I thought it rather fun to reflect that our civilisation is doomed, but now it fills me above all else with boredom to think of the horrors that will be happening within ten years—either some appalling calamity, with revolution and famine, or else all-round trustification and Fordification, with the entire population reduced to docile wage-slaves, our lives utterly in the hands of the bankers, and a fearful tribe of Lady Astors and Lady Rhonddas et hoc genus riding us like succubi in the name of Progress. Have you read Ulysses yet? It sums up better than any book I know the fearful despair that is almost normal in modern times. You get the same kind of thing, though only just touched upon, in Eliot’s poems. With E, however, there is also a certain sniffish “I told you so” implication, because as the spoilt darling of the Church Times he is bound to point out that all this wouldn’t have happened if we had not shut our eyes to the Light.

—George Orwell, letter to Brenda Salkeld, June 1933

He Are Evo

The young’un cat, having won the battle of the fish tank, and proceeding swimmingly with his project to transform himself into an amphibian, has of late been seized by a new evolutionary ambition: a determination to stand on his own hind legs.

This began because there is Something in the ivy. With the young’un cat’s usual outdoor playmates, the deer and the turkeys, off yonder somewhere attending to family matters, he’s had to find something else to absorb his attention. And that Something is in the ivy.

I’m not really sure there actually is Something in the ivy. But he is. Every morning he’s down there, below the deck, peering intently into the mysteries of the thick pale-green-pants-colored coils of ivy winding down the slope.

In order to better focus in on the Something in the ivy, he began standing on his own hind legs, his front paws dangling like those of a kangaroo. Then, occasionally, he will leap into the ivy, in an attempt to apprehend the Something.

He hasn’t come out with anything yet.

Now, after a couple weeks of successfully standing each morn on his own hind legs, he’s begun shuffling forward a few paces on them. I think he’s teaching himself how to walk. Like you and me and Darth Cheney.

I would Tell people about this, but I am afraid that some morning They would come, and put him in a Science Lab. Or a Herzog film.

Sage And Spirit

(A piece from last May, reprinted for reasons that become obvious in the text.)

The ancients were enamored with sage. So am I. The ancients believed that sage could confer immortality. What I believe: who knows? I eat the stuff, and I’m still knocking around.

“Why,” demanded one Latin commentator, “should a man die who grows sage in his garden?”

Beats me.

Among the English, it is believed that the plant’s immortalist properties are most pronounced in May:

He who would live for aye
Must eat Sage in the month of May.

We have a few May days left here. So get to nibbling.

Or maybe it’s okay to wait until next month. For over there in Provence, says Maguelonne Toussaint-Samat, folks aver “[i]t should be picked on the dawn of Midsummer Day when the first ray of sunlight strikes the highest mountain.” Provencal proverb: “he who has sage in his garden needs no doctor.”

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Can’t Get No

After this world war, the United States and the USSR may unquestionably emerge unhurt when all other nations are devastated. I can imagine, therefore, that our country, which is placed between these two giants, may face great hardships. However, there is no need for despair. When these two lose the competition of other countries in their respective vicinities, they will grow careless and corrupt. We will simply have to sleep in the woodshed and eat bitter fruits for a few decades. Then when we have refurbished our manliness inside and out, we may still achieve a favorable result.

—Lord Koichi Kido, to Emperor Hirohito of Japan, December 3, 1940

Isoroku Yamamoto was a gambler. Though cards, and other games that matched him against fellow human beings, were too often too easy for him; shortly after he learned poker, while attending Harvard, he thoroughly cleaned out his classmates.

So roulette was his game. Like most who have become truly entranced by the wheel, Yamamoto understood that it was there that one may best flickeringly apprehend the ineffable laws of chance, and, maybe, occasionally, fleetingly, ride them. Aboard the wheel, Yamamoto became one of the few people ever to “break the bank at Monte Carlo”: that is, he won more chips than were present at the table, requiring that a black shroud be thrown over the whole works until replacement chips could be summoned. Yamamoto often mused aloud that he would like one day to quit his day job, and open his own casino.

Yamamoto was also a conjurer, adept in feats of magic. His speciality was making things disappear. At a White House dinner in December of 1929, he enchanted down-table aides to President Herbert Hoover by vanishing coins and matchsticks.

In December of 1941, Yamamoto successfully vanished an entire fleet. One moment the ships were in port, there in Japan; the next moment, they were gone. Reappearing some days later, unobserved, off the coast of Hawaii. From this disappeared fleet, was launched the attack on Pearl Harbor.

As a gambler, Yamamoto didn’t think much of his country’s imperial adventurings. He pronounced the invasion of China doomed: too much land, too many people. He likewise predicted failure for any Japanese war on the United States: too much wealth, too many resources. While traveling in the States, Yamamoto had passed through oil country in Texas, and there observed in one field more oil than was present in all of Japan. War runs on oil. Japan didn’t have any. Once the US and its allies ceased shipping oil to Japan, the taps ran dry. By December 7, 1941, many of the private vehicles in Japan still on the road were running on charcoal.

But although he thought it a mistake, Yamamoto, at his emperor’s command, devised the plan of attack on Pearl Harbor. And when that attack was over, it was Yamamoto who in the States was made to shoulder much of the blame: the nasty little arch-fiend of a sneak who perpetrated the “day that will live in infamy.”

And thus it was that, in April of 1943, Yamamoto’s spirit disappeared from his body. Departing through a bullet hole in his head, drilled there at the personal command of President Franklin Roosevelt, who had ordered Yamamoto’s assassination. In “Operation Vengeance.” America much more honest and direct, then, in its operational code names.

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El Día De Madre Feliz

Flesh Wound

I read once that one needed only two things in order to be happy: the first was self-respect and the second was to give no importance whatsoever to what other people might think of you. I used to believe that I fulfilled both those conditions, that I was different from my family and my friends. But it isn’t true, I fulfill neither one of them. Especially not the second one. The day before yesterday, for example, when I was just about to go into the shop, I distinctly heard someone say, “it looks like even she needs someone to cuddle up to,” and I turned around and came back home.

I’ve been very stupid. I’ve done everything wrong. The attitude I adopted from the moment I arrived in Albania, that of not talking to anyone, of keeping my distance and trusting no one, has worked against me. Because my arrival, naturally enough, provoked a mood of expectation amongst the local people. They wanted to know about this girl coming from outside, what her story was, and my attitude only increased their curiosity. But now, at last, they have something to get their teeth into; I myself provided them with the long-awaited story; and there they all are licking and biting their way through it and who knows how long it will take before they’ve had enough. Of course, it can’t be said that my situation has improved much. Before I couldn’t leave Albania. Now I can’t leave my house. And who knows what the future will bring. There’s still time for things to get even worse than they are already.

—Bernardo Atxaga, Obabakoak

Meet Thy Maker

In his tent of skins, the magician sat tapping on the drum with the tips of his fingers. There was no one else in the tent except the child, kneeling beside the drum, black-eyed and beaver-faced, like the magician, watching intently as the three stones danced on the drumhead. One stone was black, the second stone was white, the third was gray. All three had been formed in a reindeer’s stomach. Lokk, lokk, lokk, sang the magician. His voice made hardly any sound. On the drumhead there were lines, most noticeably one running from east to west, painted in reindeer blood. Two stones, the black and the gray, were on the west side; the white was on the east.

The Devil sat enclosed in his wings, baffled. Even with his hands over his eyes he was blinded by the brightness. His cheeks were freezing cold. It dawned on him that he was weeping, the tears turning to ice.

Now the three stones on the stretched skin of the drumhead were perfectly balanced, the black on one side, the white on the other, the gray stone balanced on the line. The magician grinned, lost in his trance, mindless. Abruptly, impishly, the child reached out and struck the drum. The gray stone leaped eastward, as if by will. Lars-Goren, clinging to the ice that sheathed the Devil’s neck, seized his knife of bone.

Suddenly the Devil was seized with terror. He shaded his eyes with both hands, bending his head forward, trying to make out what it was that was wheeling around him. It was as if, for an instant, all existence had become one same thing, at the center of it a will, a blind force more selfish than the Devil himself, indomitable, too primitive for language, a creature of awesome stupidity, wild with ambition.

Something tickled his neck, a colder place on the coldness of his skin, and he raised his hand to swat at the annoyance, but then a voice came to his ears, and he hesitated. It was the voice of Bishop Brask. “Dreams! Illusions!” the bishop was shouting. “It’s for yourself you do this, Lars-Goren. No one but yourself! Do you think they’ve elected you God, Lars-Goren? You’re a tyrant! Mad as Tiberius! You’d kill them all as readily as you’d save them, you know it! And if killing proves fittest, then it’s killing that will survive! How can you act, then, confronted by such knowledge?” The voice was full of joy and rage, a kind of cackling, crackling glee. It was as if the man’s mind had gone as blank as the face of Bernt Notke’s carved statue, decadent art in all its curls and swirls—ten thousand careful knife-cuts and a face more empty of emotion than the face of the world’s first carved-stone god. I repent me that I ever made man, thought the Devil. His ice-crusted eyebrows jittered upward.

Slowly, thoughtfully, he felt along his shoulder until he came to the bishop’s little body, perched like a cockroach at the end of his collarbone. Almost gently, respectfully, he crushed it. Then he frowned. Had the bishop’s loud crying, right there in his ear, been a trick of some kind? When he shook his head and tried to speak to himself, he understood that his throat had been cut.

“Whatever it may mean,” said the old woman at the gate, “the Devil has been killed.”

“Who’ll tell the story?” said the child to the magician. “People should be told.”

“Never mind,” said the old man, smiling like a beaver. “For centuries and centuries no one will believe it, and then all at once it will be so obvious that only a fool would take the trouble to write it down.”

—John Gardner, Freddy’s Book


When I Worked

May 2011
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