Archive for December, 2010

Chimes At Midnight

“Just a moment, sir!”

Security guards, in uniform and in plain clothes, seemed to materialize from every quarter.

“May I ask you what you have in your pocket?”

In no time at all he was being patted down by a person or persons he could not see. He reached into his pocket and came up with the handful of red stones he had picked up on Sinai.

The security woman looked at him questioningly.

“From Sinai,” he told her. “To keep.”


“Because they’re from here,” he said.

She stared at him for a moment and then gave him a smile of such radiance that all the angular suspicion of her features passed away. It made him think again of the Zohar: “The light is the light of the eye.”

He was flying out business class; he had gotten an upgrade on mileage. He took his aisle seat in the cabin and ordered champagne. Moments after takeoff, the plane was over hazy blue ocean. The brown land fell away aft.

The stones were still in his hand, and when his champagne came he spilled them out onto the tray table. When the flight attendant brought him the drink she asked about them.

“Just rocks,” he said. “From Sinai. Or what’s supposed to be Sinai.”

“Oh,” she said, “were you there?”

He began to stammer. Perhaps it was the prospect of champagne in the morning. Had he stood on Sinai?

“Yes,” he said. “I guess so.”

When they approached Frankfurt, where he would be changing planes, he had a moment’s panic. New York? But he had no life in New York. No one there. Yet that was a ridiculous notion. One always had a life. Whatever you lived, wherever you lived it, was life.

Yet he kept thinking of life lost. A woman lost, a faith, a father lost, all lost. So he had to remind himself of something an American painter whose work he had once seen at the Whitney had offered as a credo, which had been fixed on the wall beside his work, and which Lucas had never forgotten:

“Losing it is as good as having it.”

It was a hard text, one of great subtlety. One needed the pilpul, the analytical skills, of a Raziel to interpret it.

It meant, he thought, that a thing is never truly perceived, appreciated or defined except in longing. A land in exile, a God in His absconding, a love in its loss. And that everyone loses everything in the end. But that certain things of their nature cannot be taken away while life lasts. Some things can never be lost utterly that were loved in a certain way.

At Frankfurt airport, between planes, it was a different world.

—Robert Stone, Damascus Gate


The Wife Of Lot

The sun was risen upon the earth when Lot entered into Zoar.

Then the Lord rained upon Sodom and Gomorrah brimstone and fire from the Lord out of heaven; and he overthrew these cities, and all the plain, and all the inhabitants of the cities, and that which grew upon the ground.

But his wife looked back from behind him, and she became a pillar of salt.

—Genesis 19:23-26

I don’t get this story. Why did the woman have to be transformed into salt, simply for looking back? Sure, in doing so she disobeyed The Dude, who said not to do that, but there has to be more to it than that. Because we already got, back there at the beginning of Genesis, in the story of Adam and Eve and the serpent and the fruit, the lesson that it is necessary to at all times Do What He Says. So there has to be more going on there.

And why aren’t we even allowed to know the woman’s name? Any why salt? Why not cobalt, or gypsum, or a life-sized replica of Ronald McDonald?

There are many questions that need to be answered here. Like, did the Hebrews just steal this story from the Greeks? Bearers of the cruel tale of Orpheus losing Eurydice, while bringing her up out of Hades, because just as they were about to enter daylight, he turned round to gaze upon her face, and thus violated a commandment not to look back till they were clean out of the place? And what was that commandment all about? Why do these deities do these nasty things?

I don’t know the answers to any of these questions. I’m going to look into them, though, in the months to come. In the meantime, I’m here to make like the wife of Lot, and look back at the last year on this blog.

In the present day, in Sodom and Gomorrah v2.0, it is traditional to look back on the dying year. So why not here?

And who knows—maybe somebody someday will want to go back and read those scattered pieces linked beyond the “furthur.” If, say, they’re ever felled by mononucleosis, or are granted computer access while interned in a prison cell. Or get turned to salt.


In Tradition With The Family Plan

Elton John and his lover David Furnish recently became the parents of a baby boy, courtesy of a surrogate mother, who birthed Zachary Jackson Levon Furnish-John on Christmas Day.

“For many years we have talked about fulfilling one of our greatest wishes by becoming parents,” John said. “And now this wish has been granted to us, we feel so blessed and lucky.”

The child was born in the United States. John and his people are refusing to furnish any other details as to the mother’s name or precise whereabouts, which of the two men is the biological father, or the nature of the surrogate arrangement. As is their right.

“We are overwhelmed with happiness and joy at this very special moment,” John and Furnish stated in a missive to US Weekly. “Zachary is healthy and doing really well, and we are very proud and happy parents.”

Of the several names applied to the child, one is familiar to those versed in John’s music—”Levon,” the title of a tune from his 1971 Madman Across The Water release. Some may figure that John and Furnish couldn’t resist appending the name because their child, like the Levon in the song, was “born on a Christmas Day.” But there is probably more to it than that.

Because John and Furnish in 2009 sought to adopt a 14-month-old Ukrainian HIV-positive boy named Lev. But were prevented from doing so, by fossils.


Counting Coup

Next come the Gindanes. The women of this tribe wear leather bands round their ankles, which are supposed to indicate the number of their lovers: each woman puts on one band for every man she has gone to bed with, so that whoever has the greatest number enjoys the greatest reputation for success in love.

—Herodotus, The Histories


There seems to be an inordinate amount of snow in the United States at present.

Not just in places where snow in late December is Normal—like, say, Buffalo, New York, or Icepick, Minnesota. Oh no.

For it is also besieging joints like Atlanta, Georgia, and Charleston, South Carolina, a couple of burgs where the white stuff has not put in an appearance since the 1880s—when, some say, God decided to send down snow in order to Punish People for abandoning Reconstruction (there in Genesis, The Dude promised never again to wash the world away in water, but he never said nothin’ ’bout sending snow; the guy is all about loopholes; methinks he’s a lawyer).

All day my radio has been asquawk with the sounds of half a million people marooned there up and down the Eastern seaboard, loudly expressing their displeasure, unable to get back to from where they came. For having journeyed for the holidays by plane and train and automobile to places now buried in the Snow Zone, they cannot, at present, Escape.

Heart attacks are also marching across the land. For my radio also informed me today that catastrophic cardiac events peak in the US each year around this time, as people leave tables groaning with food and wine, and television sets bellowing about men quarreling over balls, to go out and vigorously shovel snow—an activity to which their hearts say: “no.” Seems the heart must work harder to pump blood through the arms, than through the legs, and so when folks get jiggy with the shovel, Danger Lurks. This is especially true of this sort of snow, heavy snow, which appears to be known in the medical and meteorological communities as “heart-attack snow.”

I find this interesting, that the heart is less stressed in sending blood to the legs, than to the arms. I guess this settles the old Lizard Brain question of “fight or flight”: the heart votes for “flight.”

There are people who seek to blame Burning Man for this snowblind phenomena. And perhaps there is some truth in that, because the fellow has been unusually not-present over the past several days. It is possible that, abashed, he has gone into hiding.

However, as with most things, where there is bad, there is also good. So as counterpoint to the suffering that has come with this snow, I offer snow in the realm of pleasure. Specifically, a very nice snow poem authored by my daughter, the deviant. Make that the award-winning deviant.

In scrutinizing the fine print on the page where she has posted this poem, I find that in reproducing her work here, I may be treading upon her copyright. That’s okay. She’s welcome to sue. And, when she prevails, if I can’t come up with the necessary monetary damages, I’ll make up the rest by signing on to forever-after shovel clear her path.

Snow White Queen

First snow falls, a beautiful sight
white like you, but never as bright
soft and powdery, fresh and new
but nothing could ever be soft as you

Delicate, dancing, a graceful ballet
though never as graceful as you, I say
fascinated, you watch it fall
slowly cascading to cover all

Tiny paw prints in the snow
sparkle with enchanted glow
shivering paws, wet and cold
I warned you love, yes you were told

But you love to see the world covered in white
white like you, but never as bright

Career Opportunities

I’m thinking about maybe having a mid-life crisis, complete with career change. So I’m interested in this list in the January Harper’s of private-sector jobs legalized in September by the Cuban government, said legalization accompanying layoffs of some half a million state workers. Sure, that could be some fierce competition. But I’m game.

Now, and as I recently mentioned here, I do not speak Spanish. So I need a job where I will not be required to communicate with other human beings in words. That knocks from the list all the various professions involving sales: “vendor of artificial flowers,” “seller of religious articles, except those with patriotic value,” “tour guide in a colonial-style taxi,” “seller of yokes, harnesses, and ropes.”

Such careers as “documentary-film translator,” well, they are obviously out as well. “Tarot-card reader,” that I could handle, but for the language problem: I suppose I could just grunt, gesture, and Stare Meaningfully, but people having their cards read, I know from experience, usually want a little more than that.

The list also offers various manual tasks, for which, alas, I am singularly unqualified. This is because my hands, for just about any pursuit not involving typing, turning the pages of books, guiding a steering wheel, smoking cigarettes, crushing chili peppers and heaving them into various cookpots, or stroking beloved pets and persons, are pretty much, to use the rude phrase, “useless as tits on a boar hog.” So “eyeglass repairer,” “cleaner and inspector of lightbulbs,” “button sewer,” “repairer of wicker,” “restorer of dolls,” “tuner of musical instruments,” “maker of plaster figures,” and “maker of pinatas and other articles for birthday parties,” well, they’re not for me.

But I am not in despair. Oh no. Because I think I can cobble together five of the jobs on the list into a suitable new career: “clown,” “muleteer,” “pet breeder,” “zookeeper,” and “driver of animal-drawn taxis for children.” And since mules are involved, a sixth career on the list will be necessary: “magician.”


Many Mansions

(Another reprint, more or less, from December 29 of 2009. This piece will probably conclude this blog’s little “Jesus run” for the year. Probably.)

* * *

In my Father’s house are many mansions.

—John 14:2

For another year, Christmastime has come and gone, and so has Santa, and so has Jesus.

This year in contemplating Santa and Jesus, the two began to get confused in my mind. Santa Claus, for reasons that have never really been explained, devotes each year to overseeing minute laborers who fashion gifts which he annually delivers, in a single night, to all deserving children the world over. Jesus Christ, for reasons that have been variously explained, roamed for a short time across a relatively minute plot of land, uttering gnomic wisdoms, then was seized and subjected to excruciating suffering, so that all, deserving and undeserving alike, might be gifted with salvation.

When a sprout, I was taught that while Santa’s labors never end—a yearly, year-long grind—Jesus’ was a one-shot gig. Wander around Palestine, ascend the cross, into the tomb, three days later out again, brief appearances before various friends and lovers, then up to heaven for a well-deserved eternal rest.

I no longer believe that. I believe that, as is set forth here, “Jesus Christ suffers from now until the end. On the cross. He goes on suffering. Until the death of the last human being.” That is the mystic meaning of his tale: he suffers with all beings suffering in the exile of existence. And we are called upon to do the same—to grow to empathy, so that thy neighbor truly is thyself, and suffering everywhere, for everyone, may be eased. With this meaning there is no need for the resurrection. All of us are him, doing the same work; our work, his work, never ends.

For those who are wedded to the resurrection, the advances in science and philosophy in my lifetime, in the understanding of the multiple dimensions and multiple worlds about us, too mean that his work never ends. For the planets, it is now known, are innumerable, and so are the dimensional variations of this one. And if salvation is indeed his calling, he will forever be busy as twelve bastards, for there are those who need saving, inhabiting every one.


When I Worked

December 2010
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