Archive for the 'Into The Light' Category



Four In The Afternoon

Obviously, modern mechanised life becomes dreary if you let it. The awful thraldom of money is upon everyone and there are only three immediately obvious escapes. One is religion, another is unending work, the third is a kind of sluttish antinomianism—lying in bed till four in the afternoon, drinking Pernod. In any case, the essential evil is to think in terms of escape. The fact to which we have got to cling, as to a life-belt, is that it is possible to be a normal decent person and yet to be fully alive.

George Orwell

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On The Nod

How many naps can a reasonable person take a day—the late morning, the early afternoon and late afternoon, before dinner, then after dinner on a couch in the living room preceding bedtime . . . .

Joseph Heller

 

Where Santas Crawl And Elves Chunder

“The word is world!” Orson shouted at her.
“I said world!” she shouted back.
“Speak as though you came from New York,” he told her.
“I did come from New York. How does one from New York speak?”
“Not the way you speak!”
“Why should I talk like someone special?”
“Because you are.”
“Yes, but I don’t want you to be conscious of it.”

—Orson Welles and Eartha Kitt, in rehearsal for Time Runs

New York City is known for many things. Among these, and fatally, as the demonic cesspool out of which slouched Mongo. The place has always been cursed, which is why the Lenape were content to let it go for a handful of beads. But neither they, the purchasing Dutch, or even H. P. Lovecraft, could conceive that it would one day prove such a hellpit it would belch forth the most hideous beast in all creation. But it did.

Which is why, in the fullness of time, it shall be drained of all its human inhabitants. They will leave in a long and winding stream of refugees; possessions piled high on wooden carts, strapped firmly to their backs. As behind them officials of the Department Of Shame set about demolishing the entirety of the city. All works therein of human hands shall be ground into dust. The city shall be returned to the wild, and it will stay that way. The only human-crafted object to remain shall be a small plaque containing the words of Mongo’s mother: “What kind of son have I created?” Forever shall it stand as an otherwise mute monument, to What Can Happen.

But that is in the future. (Though it won’t be long now/it won’t be long.) Here, today, in the present, New York City, it is ground zero for the strange holiday ritual of SantaCon, which involves dressing up like Santa Claus, going out into the streets, and then drinking the alcohol, until there is the puking.

Such, such, are the humans.

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Suffragette City

Ten years from now, do you think we’ll be talking about where we were when Al Franken announced he was resigning from the Senate?

You never can tell.

It was a historic moment that had virtually nothing to do with Franken himself. In the grand cavalcade of sexual assault charges we’ve been hearing lately, his list—from fanny-gropes to tongue-thrusts—is appalling but pretty minor league. And the picture of Franken feeling up the well-protected breasts of a sleeping colleague on a tour could have been subtitled “Portrait of a Comedian Who Does Not Suspect He’ll Ever Run for Senator.”

Franken was a good politician, and many Democrats hoped he might grow into a presidential candidate. But it was his destiny to serve history in a different way. He was caught up in a rebellion of epic proportion, one that was not just about unwanted groping but a whole new stage in the movement of women into the center of public life.

For most of the long span of Western civilization, they were consigned to the home. (Back in the 1860s, the A. T. Stewart Dry Goods Store in New York City installed a ladies’ restroom in what was possibly the first acknowledgment that respectable women might be outside their homes long enough to need to go to the bathroom.) A century ago they won the right to vote, but it didn’t come attached to the right to walk down the sidewalk alone.

Over the last 50 years or so, the rules about a woman’s place were shattered. It’s still hard to appreciate how vast the change was. It began at a time when, in many states, jury duty was regarded as an inappropriate task for women since it would take them away from their housework. They almost never worked in the outside world unless they were too poor and desperate to stay in their proper place.

Now we live in a world where men who were hoping to hand over their business to the next generation, or maybe have a doctor in the family, look at their new baby girl without a shred of disappointment. I saw all this happen, and it knocks me out whenever I think about it.

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Can’t Get No

(December 7. That was yesterday. Pearl Harbor Day. “A date which will live in infamy.” Revisiting below: the man who devised the plan. Though he didn’t much like it.)

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.

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Stand In The Fire

I have no patience with those who, from heartbreak at life, decide and decree that humans are an irredeemable species, who shall destroy themselves, and the world will be better off without them. I know that humans can be bad and mean, but I also know that they want to be good. There are examples of this every day. Here is today’s: a man ran into the fire to rescue a rabbit who was scared. He did not want to be identified or interviewed. He just wanted the rabbit to be okay.

Do The Right Thing

(Yesterday was my brother’s birthday, so I thought I should reprint the Smelvis story.

(I wrote the piece, for a little alternative weekly, back in the fall of 1994 . . . which now “seems a thousand centuries ago,” as Colonel Kurtz did say. It was composed while a shrieking tooth died howling in my head, radiating ceaseless waves of pain that not even liquid morphine could long calm. The plan was to finish the story & then the paper would give me some money & then I could go to a dentist. But by the time the money arrived the tooth had at last expired, and so I was back in but the daily pain of living. I no doubt spent “every darn penny on booze or women or movies,” as Chuckles Grassman recently glowered.

(My brother always liked this story. He was the model for the character Tector. He was supposed to accompany me on this journey, but for some reason backed out. I brought him along anyway.

(My brother never made it to South America. Because when he died identification of the corporeal container was at best a guess, I like to think he actually did, and thrives there to this day. Freed at last of white people, and all the other demons that possessed him.)

calling elvis
is anybody home
calling elvis
i’m here all alone

The Feather River delta died years ago below too many goddam dams. The banks of the Yuba/Sutter bottomlands shimmer in that shade of scummy yellow-brown that settles round the throat of the toilet when you don’t scrub the thing very often. In signal-clotted fits and stalls I am following the highway, preparing to cross the river, frantically throwing garlic at the “I YAM WHAT I YAM” messages emanating from the jesusjumping signboard hung above the Yahweh Hotel.

I’m going to Graceland, Graceland West, in Yuba County: I’m going to Graceland. Poorboys and picaros, from felonious families; and we are going to Graceland. My traveling companion is thirty-three years old; he is the child of our father’s second marriage. With that shotgun cross his knees, we will not be well received, in Graceland.

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When I Worked

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