Thursday, October 31, 2013

Things That Didn’t Get Into A Curious Confluence: Third Thing

I was in the real wild blue yonder with this one.

I had some vague idea how I was going to tie this woman to Adrianna as an alternate manifestation.

Someone might have been able to do that.

I was not.

The experiences described, however, are as accurately recounted as I am able of two things that really did happen to me.

The first time I saw the coffee colored woman I knew that there was significance to the incident, but I had no idea what that significance might be.  I say that I knew; I should have said sensed.  And I also should have said that that act of sensing had occurred at a level deeper than anything I had thought, at the moment of occurrence, that I had sensed ever before.

Up to the moment of the incident it had been a pleasantly normal day.  It was early fall and the trees were just beginning to turn, the nights were just beginning to have that it’s-not-summer-anymore touch of chilliness and the sun had that odd yellow gold color and that odd, not summertime, angle that is always the harbinger of autumn.  And, as is always the case, both of those things – the gold and the angle - had been sudden and recent appearances.

It was about eleven o’clock in the morning and I had been on an extended ride on my bike.  I had been a number of places but at the point of my encounter with the coffee colored woman I was in Seward Park.  I had just completed enough laps around the peninsula to have added an aggregate 25 miles to the total with which I had entered the park prior to the laps.  I was back in the main entry area to the park and was on my way to the prong of the road that goes up the hill so that I could do a few hilly laps and then probably call it a day and break for home.

Suddenly, although I could still see everything that I had been seeing only an instant before, I was somewhere else.  At least I had the distinct sense that I was not any more where I had been only moments before, even though I could still see everything that I had seen only moments before.

The big difference was the light. 

It was as if somehow a huge cosmic dimmer had been activated making things less light.  More accurately it was as if a just slightly less than transparent ingredient had been added to whatever constitutes the fluid in the atmospheric mixing bowlful of a sun-bright morning, making the mixture a just slightly brown-grey.  The crystal clarity remained; the mixture just acquired a slightly darkening tint.  I felt as if I had been enclosed in an enveloping dome that had separated me from everything which I had moments before been connected to, and connected with, and that I was instead suddenly in a separate place.

I had had a similar experience once before. 

That experience had occurred when I had been recovering from a fairly major foot surgery.  The convalescence time was six weeks in bed.  For me, who put great value on fitness and leanness, the thought of being confined to bed for any length of time – any length of time that appeared to be long enough to turn me into a puddle of fat – that six weeks loomed as a dismal fate.

So I had attempted to elude that fate if at all possible. 

As soon as I was able to use the walker to get to the top of the stairs that went down to the office, and more importantly, to the garage – the garage being where I had an exercise bench and my weights – I went to that top of the stairs, got out of the walker and scooted down the stairs in a sitting position and used the crutches that I had positioned for such expeditions at the bottom of the stairs to go and get the two twelve pound weights, scoot back up the stairs, one at a time, the weights on the stair behind me each time I caught up with them, until we were all back at the top and one again with the walker.

The weights being upstairs, coupled with the dining room chair that I had moved into the living room, gave me a place to do a modified form of lifting weights.  There probably was some physical value to the exercise, as limited as it was; there was for certain a high degree mental value.

It was in the middle of that weight lifting one morning when I  had the predecessor experience to the one in Seward park.

I just suddenly was, without any doubt, somewhere else.  That somewhere else, as in the Seward Park occurrence, was hard to come to intellectual grips with, because I could still see every familiar thing in the living room, just as I had seen them in that instant before the switch had occurred.  But in that post-instant universe everything became different.  Everything, though still apparently close, was distant to a degree that is difficult to describe.  Perhaps the train whistle one hears quite clearly, even though that whistle is coming from miles away is the closest phenomenon that the physical world has to offer as an analogy to what I am describing.

What I realized was that I was dead.

Or that, perhaps, I was dying but not dead yet.

In either event, I was in the process of departing.

And I wasn’t worried, frightened or – even – annoyed.

I was just mildly interested what it was going to be that was going to happen next.

And a list of things that I needed to do presented itself to me.

They were mostly trivial housekeeping sorts of things that one would probably want to do to leave things as acceptable as possible to those who one was leaving behind.  And I think I did some of those things.  One of those things that I know I did – the only one that I remember - was to move a Quicken backup file from one location to another.  I had had my ThinkPad as my constant companion for the term of my convalescence; it was only appropriate that one of my final acts would be to do some computer housekeeping.

The other thing I should mention is that, in addition to all the visual effects of the state to which I had suddenly been transitioned, there was also a physical feeling. That feeling was one of vacancy; it was one of overwhelming enervation; oddly, it was not one of withdrawal.  I was still there, but there in a new and different – altered – state.

As it turned out, the last thing I was going to remember was working on that quicken file.  I don’t remember anything else.

So, at the time there was a span which I didn’t remember then, and still don’t remember now, in which I don’t know what happened.

But at the time there came a time when I had come back from whatever state it was that I had lapsed into – death being the best description I have ever had for it.  And as I realized that I was coming back, or had come back, I began to try to remember what it had been that had happened once I had realized that I had lapsed into a different state of being, or transitional state to non-being, and what it was that had happened after that Quicken file change of location. 

But Quicken was all that there was.  After Quicken I could remember nothing until I had begun to come back.

Once I had come back, there was something about that Quicken file and the place that I had put it that wasn’t right and I needed to fix it.  So I went to the location that I had put it.  But it wasn’t there.  I had to fix the problem that I had created so I tried to go to the location a second time.  Again, the file wasn’t there.  The whole thing lapsed into what seemed about to become a never ending series of iterations of trying to find that file and fix the problem but not finding it.  It was maddening.

I kept trying and trying until I finally gave up and went to bed.  I was still inside the six week bedridden part of my recovery from the surgery so in bed is where I should have been in the first place.  And I was really tired from whatever the encounter had been that I had experienced and the post encounter bout of trying to fix my self induced Quicken problem.

Several hours later I awakened refreshed and feeling as well as not being able walk allowed me to ever feel.  I put the ThinkPad on my lap sitting up in bed and went after Quicken one more time.  The file was where it was supposed to be, not in someplace else, that someplace else being, if the file had really been there, an absolutely wrong thing to have done.

It wasn’t until weeks later that it dawned on me what the Quicken episode had been. (I never have been able to explain whatever it was that happened to me preceding the Quicken incident – death, or near death seems to be the only likely explanation.)  What had happened with the Quicken file had been a dream.  I should have recognized it immediately because it had followed perfectly the format of a type of recurring dream that I experience.

The most frequent version of the dream is that I am in some really large, rambling building that is an integral part of an even larger rambling sort of complex. I think a major part of the thing is a lodging establishment, but there are also shops and restaurants and a large theatre.  I always am in the process of tracing a path with which I am totally familiar from wherever it is that I am to wherever it is that I want to go.  But the path keeps changing as I track it.  Initially I am well on my way to staying in familiar territory and successfully getting to where I am going when suddenly I find myself in a different place.  That different place is also totally familiar to me and I know what alterations I need to make to my planned route to accommodate the changes that have occurred and still get to where I am going when things change again.  It never ends, and I continue with dogged certainty of success, constantly coping with the constantly changing path, until I finally wake up vastly relieved that the experience - which is so convincingly real that in the dream it never occurs to some shred of my conscious mind that I am dreaming - has been, in fact, that dream again.

So apparently the real sequence of events on that day was that I had some kind of brush with death, and that brush came, deepened and took me wherever it wanted to take me, but there was some vestige of me still not gone to wherever that place was, and that vestigial presence went to bed, had the dream, which, unlike the normal format of that dream, had a limited number of iterations and terminated with the dream showing me giving up on the Quicken problem and going to bed – a bed that I was, in fact, already in and already in a deep, albeit troubled, sleep.

So on that day in Seward park I recognized the phenomenon.

And from the enervating center of the thing that engulfed me, I saw, utterly differentiated from the other people and things that I could still see outside of that engulfing thing, the coffee colored woman.  I had the sense that wherever I was, she was also, and the way she appeared, which was with crisp clear reality - as opposed to the somewhat vagueness of the other people and things - seemed to support that sense.

And then she smiled at me and in that instant I rode back out into the actual world – the whole event had taken an immeasurably tiny slice of time, and I had been pedaling right through that whole slice – and she was gone and I was back in that state that I refer to as reality.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Things That Didn’t Get Into A Curious Confluence: Second Thing

There are several threads started in this fragment.  I had intended to develop them in the book – or perhaps books – but here they languish having been left out of The Story of Adrianna.

The one thing that did get into the published work is an idea, albeit in different form: the familiar.

“I came out of reverie with a start. The sun was well down toward the rue August end of the Jardin. Although September, the air was beginning to chill. For me the air always seemed to have a tinge of chill. With the exception of one time in June when I had been there when it was actually hot, I always seemed to be cold in Paris. To me it had quickly become part of the charm of the place. I had once even spent an entire month of August there during which, if I hadn’t just always had the habit of travelling in a navy blue blazer, I would have been chilly to the point of winter time. Numerous times that trip I thanked some providence for fostering in me that blazer habit when travelling. “Ou est l’été?” had cried out from the front page of Le Monde one morning of that August as I had leaned at the bar of my favorite tabac with my morning express and had been trying to see what if anything I could understand as I side glanced at the paper the guy next to me was reading.

So I wasn’t surprised that, as the sun descended that late September afternoon of 2002, the air was beginning to cool. I was surprised that it had gotten to be that time of day in such a short time. I had, after all, only terminated my run moments before: the September Eleventh Memorial Ceremony had been proceeding only moments before.

But my moments had moved differently on the solar timepiece now descending. And the shorts and tee shirt that had been right for a late morning, sunny day, run were not much shelter from the advancing chill of an advancing Parisian early evening.

I hadn’t had breakfast. I had been going to run, shower and go to Café du Metro for sustenance. As I passed Café du Metro, crossing rue de Rennes at rue du vieux Columbier, I had twinges of onion soup craving but I needed to get showered and changed. Perhaps dinner would be early. Perhaps a wine stop would suffice for that temporal interim necessary to yield a more acceptable Parisian dinner hour. I entered the code and returned to the apartment.

As I entered my apartment the gathering gloom of the lateness of the afternoon seemed to envelop me in a friendly fashion. It was a familiar and welcome feeling, and one I hadn’t felt in a long time. The light outside was still of enough strength to backlight the still green serrated leafy beauty of the chestnut tree that occupied a good portion of the enclosed center of the building. Down below, in the little garden of the zero floor resident a few shiny brown jewel-like nuts were beginning to be in evidence. Two rock doves sat in the limbs pretty much at the level of my first story window. They seemed to be interested in what I was doing. It was an extremely soothing time of the day in an extremely soothing place to be. The upwelling of wishing that I could be there forever, or at least longer than the four weeks that I had, two of which had already been spent, began to darken my feelings.

And so it had always been for me. I always had looked out at that little enclosed garden, sometimes at dawn, sometimes later in the day, sometimes, as was happening currently, at dusk. But I always had the same feeling of belonging there and of wanting to always be there.

The first time I had lived in that building had been in 1968. Instead of being on the first floor, that first time I had lived in the apartment directly below, the one currently occupied by Madame Greene, an ancient British expatriate. She had taken the apartment several years before, several years after I had left it, after I had left Paris. Madame Greene, knowing of my previous occupancy always invited me for a glass of wine and a conversation in English when I took – which I did yearly – the apartment above. Those conversations were the high point of my annual visits: she always started speaking English with a heavy French accent, and gradually migrated to an English accent. We took mutual joy in the interplay of the idioms she remembered from Britain and the television-talk derived ones of my west coast American heritage.

So when I had lived there in 1968, I had been living in what would later become Madame Greene’s residence.

One day in 1968 I had been out in a small garden with a grove of chestnut trees near the Musée Marmottan. It had been a sunny early November afternoon. A number of young mothers with their infants in strollers and nannies with their charges in strollers were out and about. Some of them had second and third young children with them, gamboling about among the piles of golden brown leaves, and occasionally finding a shiny new-fallen chestnut. When they found one they would shout joyously to their mothers or nannies and they would show their treasure to their siblings and then pocket it with ceremony. I picked up a particularly shiny one myself. “Sad,” I thought. “These things are always so beautiful when they first hit the ground, but then they shrivel and get dull.” Nonetheless I put it in the pocket of my jacket.

Several days later I was out in the little enclosed garden that fronted my apartment. The overall garden was sort of a “common” shared by three other ground floor dwellings that formed the base of the building.  However, each portion directly in front of each apartment’s double French door was the private domain of that unit. We were all gardeners, or in the case of Monsieur Le Blanc, farmers; he grew tomatoes and peppers. The rest of us were satisfied to have geraniums, chrysanthemums and a rose bush or two.

I was out weeding my little area. The day was chilly and I was wearing my jacket. I had been pulling things that didn’t look like flowers and putting them in a little wicker basket for later disposal in the poubelle when I reached absently into my jacket pocket. I felt something which turned out to be the chestnut that I had put there days before. It was already shrunken and dull. I was about to throw it in the basket when a thought struck.

The center of the garden area was a sort of common area. It was common at least in the fact that it was separated enough from each of our doorways that some sort of law of diminishing domain was mutually felt by all of us to have applied itself to that little plot. It was at the center and it was round and it was ringed by a circle of cobbles that gave it a separate sort of existence. There were roses in it but it was not deeply planted. There was room for other things. There were no other things merely because none of us had ever thought beyond our own little curtilage.

I took my scratcher which had been the tool I had been using to loosen the soil around the roots of the weeds and found a fairly clear little patch nearly dead center of the common center. I prepared the soil to a level about six inches down and pressed the chestnut into the loose yielding soil and covered it up.

And then I forgot about it.

I had reason to forget. I had reason to forget because a major life-changing thing happened just a little bit later.

That was the day I had met Moustache.

After making my secret contribution to the common area, a contribution that I had really been thinking of not as a planting, but as a grave, I went back to finishing the weeding. I was not quite finished when someone said, “Want to meet somebody important?”

It was my previous neighbor from across Toy Ngoc Hau in Saigon.

She had been at the Alliance Francaise for an afternoon of French immersion. As always, she had stopped and bought a baguette which was still stowed under her right arm, additionally, this day she had bought a roast chicken which I smelled hungrily as it wafted its siren scent from the bag at the bottom the woven palm market basket that she had slung over the other arm, held in place by the crook of her elbow.

She was, as always, beautiful. The short hair of tropical Saigon had given way to shoulder length Parisian style tresses. They were a sort of shimmering mix of perfectly French looking blackish brown with auburn highlights. The green eyes were the thing that set her apart. Otherwise she was undistinguishable from the average beautiful young woman one was likely to see from time to time on the streets, in the cafés or on the Metro. The difference was that she was with me, and that was a difference that I still hadn’t reconciled as a possible part of my life. I still looked upon the whole thing with her as a dream that had started with a bottle of Bordeaux in Saigon more than a year before – a dream from which I had yet to awake, but from which I knew I must, needs be, awake.

I put the scratcher down, brushing from my hands as much dirt as I was able, and bounded toward her. She had crossed the threshold and was two steps from me when I engulfed her in a hug, being careful to keep my hands suspended outside the hug. I silently cursed the dirt that still clung to those hands, precluding the fully tactile sort of embrace that we both had come to savor when we first saw one another after an absence.

The way it was then, a few hours had constituted an absence.

As it was, I made up for the hands off necessity by making the encirclement a bit tighter than a baguette and a bag with a chicken in it would have indicated to be advisable. A little yowl pierced the air.  I was in the process of wondering about the existence of the yowl, and had just about reached the stage of wondering if I had actually heard something, and trying to figure out what it might have been that I had heard, and trying to come up with some witty remark, noting the presence of something heard but not understood.

“Don’t smash him.” “Smash who?” “I think we’ll call him Moustache.” “Call who what?” “I said I wanted you to meet someone,” she said, disengaging and holding the market basket out and pulling its lips apart so the interior could be viewed. “Meet Moustache”

Inside the basket, astraddle what I assumed was the bag with the chicken in it was a really small kitten. He was fairly long haired and he had a kind of striped alley cat tone to his fur which I swore had a slight green cast to it. Otherwise he would be called a striped gray. I had always had trouble with colors. It had not been until early puberty that I had realized why I was always having confrontations with my friends concerning my descriptions of the color of things. As opposed to being color blind I possessed an acuity of color perception that exceeded normal human limits. With that in mind I didn’t say “you’ve gotten us a slightly green cat.” But I thought it. The other color aspect of this tiny new addition to our lives was harder to avoid mentioning. Moustache had eyes that were bright orange. I had never seen anything like it.

“He has orange eyes,” I said. “And he’s sort of green,” she said.

We put the baguette on the counter; we put the chicken in the oven on low; I washed my hands and we retired to the bed with moustache between us. He proved to be a non obtrusive third party. Later when we had finished we took turns scratching Moustache behind his ears.

After an extended period of silence, during which the petting and scratching behind the kitten’s ears occupied all of our apparent activities, she broke the silence.

“He’s our familiar, you know.” “I know,” I said.”

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Things That Didn’t Get Into A Curious Confluence

In the autumn of 2009 I completed the fifth revision of the first book I had ever written.

It was a memoir.

It was rather large.

I named it Screen Saver.

I thought that it had promise: it was about my personal experience with and involvement in many of the big events and key trends of the second half of the Twentieth Century; and it was totally non-linear (which is why I named it Screen Saver) so I was sure that the 18 to 35 year old set would take to it like the proverbial duck to water.

I was wrong about that promise.

Sixty five literary agents all told me I should look into some other mode of expression.

I was shattered.

I withdrew and licked my wounds for awhile.

But then an idea occurred to me.

Why not write a novel?

I was sure I could write novel, and even bad novels were selling scads and hoards all the time.

So, if only I could get enough fictional words in a document and if those words had some sort of plot and story line, I ought to be able to sell it and create the beginning of that which I lacked: a platform.

The platform of a even a bad novel ought to allow me to call attention to a good memoir.

That’s what I thought.

So I started writing.

I had no idea what I was going to write about; I just started writing.

In a few previous flirtations with writing fiction a Ouija took control of my keyboard and some usually amazing stuff came forth.

So I hoped that the Ouija would sign up for a more robust project of fiction writing.

And she did.

I was about ten thousand words into that effort when she stopped showing up and I had no idea what was supposed to happen next.

But a plot line had been laid down.

I had no idea when or if the Ouija would ever show up again, so I kept three backup copies, had a couple of martinis and went to bed.

The plot line that had been laid down was about a guy who was in Saigon during the Vietnam War and a woman he had, against all odds of sociology, managed to meet and become intimate with.

I was pretty sure that, once the Ouija tired of Saigon, she was going to move these people to Paris, but she got bored or something and abandoned the project and me before any of that could happen.

So I was left with the beginning of a novel.

A while after that I was in Paris on a four month sojourn.

Almost immediately the apartment where I lived began to speak to me.

And then the Ouija showed up again.

And she showed me what to do with what she had already given me and what else I needed to tell of the story.

She told me to abandon some of what we had previously produced.

A year later my Paris Apartment, the Ouija and my keyboard had produced a novel.

Recently I was looking at some of those initial pieces that the Ouija had compelled me to jettison.

They are pretty interesting.

Here is the first of them.

“An event that I have never been able to forget never actually happened. More accurately, it happened, but it was staged. I saw the result of that staging and was never able to forget it.

In that staging there were a loosely knit band of randomly dressed men making their way in an understandably stumbling manner across a brush overgrown field covered with football sized rocks. The terrain was so broken up that it was hard to imagine how they were walking across it at all.  In fact they were proceeding in a manner much more like marching than merely walking. And they were all playing musical instruments. The music was a dirge, but it had some life to it, making it less of a dirge and more of a march – or maybe a macabre dance tune. Years later Elvis Perkins would employ a similar approach to a song.

That scene was the beginning of Godfather II.

As I rounded the leg of the path that passed the Senate and all the old gnarled trees that inhabited the grounds beyond the plantings of the Senate museum and forged forth onto the straight stretch skirting the inside of the Jardin wall along Rue Guynemer I thought that I was again hearing that exact band playing that exact music.

But it was a different dirge for a different death.

This time I was hearing the dirge on a sunny September pre-noon in 2002 and I was in the midst of my daily run in the Jardin du Luxembourg. As soon as I heard the dirge I saw its source. There were a group of uniformed people with two flags, one the tricolor, the other the stars and stripes. And there were some men in business suits. And then the music stopped and the suits began giving speeches. In the process of marching, dirging and speaking, this group had moved into the portion of the Jardin and its path that I had been intending to traverse on my way around to the orchard of espaliered fruit trees – espaliered except for the persimmon which was allowed to grow unfettered – and the rest of the two kilometer course that I liked to run around several times each day.

But on that day I had had to alter my course into the center of the Jardin. When I got to the fountain with its large pool where little Parisian kids sailed their toy boats I just sat down. September 11, 2002 became a day of no running and lots of remembering.

But the memories weren’t what one might have expected on the first year anniversary of the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center, with the US Ambassador to France a few yards away giving a speech to a gathering of French military and civilians, thanking them, I supposed for their memorial of the event of the previous year.

The memories that came to me were from a completely different time and place, although a time and place that probably had a direct link to my ultimate existence in the then current time and place.

The dominant initial memory was of a place that was appallingly hot. It was so hot that my khaki short sleeved uniform shirt was always almost completely soaked – soaked as if I had been immersed in a pool. But the soak wasn’t like such a pool immersion would have caused. The soak was almost more like a thin slime that oozed out of the garment just short of the point of dripping to the ground. I felt as if I were engulfed in a well saturated sponge. This was the state of being that I had been enduring for months and months. That state of being had long since altered the state of the skin on my back to a state where, instead of skin, there existed a mass of pus filled eruptions, all of a redness akin to some kind of fatal festering infection.  I never went to a doctor about the condition; all doctors ever did was to say something like “yeah, it looks like you’ve got a nasty infection there” and give out some muscle relaxers.  Instead, I had long since accepted the slime and its adverse effects on the skin of my back as a normal state of affairs, and a state of affairs that I couldn’t any more recall having had a predecessor condition, and couldn’t any more imagine as ever being likely to have a terminating condition. The condition just was, just as I just was, and just as I wasn’t able to imagine ever not being, and just as I wasn’t able to remember ever having not been.

I was walking from the hootch where I worked to the Officers’ Club where I lived. At least I told myself that I lived at the Officers’ Club. I “lived” as in “came alive” not as in inhabited. I inhabited a grim little room elsewhere not on the base.  The base was where I was making my contribution to the “war effort”; the Officers’ Club was where I “lived”; the grim little room off base was where I inhabited.  That phrase was one I often repeated to myself as a sort of statement and summary of my personal basis for existence.

As I walked the smell of the ditches wafted to me. That smell was a mix of the scent of raspberries mixed with urine in some deviously beguiling blend.

“Living” at the Officers’ Club, I was telling myself, was to have special meaning on this day: I was meeting someone.

My sense of being on the brink of “something” was at an all-time high point. My entire life to that point could have been summed up with brief descriptions of other such feelings of having been on the brink of “something”, and having been correct about the brink and the “something” and having gone over, in each of those cases, the brink of each of those “somethings” that had been revealed. In each case, in spite of wild expectations to the contrary, once over each of those previous brinks, nothing had much changed in my life for better or for worse.  In each case there was just an additional factor newly introduced to the mix of factors with which I grappled daily. But the nature of the grappling and the results yielded from the grappling remained pretty much the same as the results of grappling had been prior to the addition of the results of each new brink gone over.

This time, though, I was telling myself that it was totally different. It really was true that the intensity of the feeling this time was beyond any I had ever felt. “This must be going to be good,” I thought to myself. “This may turn out to be that life changer that you have always imagined.”

Friday, October 25, 2013

From Screen Saver: A Flash in the Night

The paperboy wire leads to another time and place.

By the time I was eleven or so, we had moved to Portland. My mother and father had divorced. Annie had gotten some sort of initially undiagnosable malady. She had had exploratory brain surgery which had yielded no diagnosis. We had moved temporarily to Seattle to live with my mother’s parents so that a chiropractor that the grandparents knew could try to cure Annie with chiropractic adjustments. She had died. The autopsy had revealed that she had died of brain cancer. If the cancer had been diagnosable it wouldn’t have made any difference because the cancer once found was identified as having been inoperable. My mother and father had remarried and had a baby girl named Mary.

Having a “baby” sister, as opposed to a “little” sister lifted some of the weight of grief I felt for the loss of Annie. I was at an age and in a psychological state that made me an ideal baby sitter. It wasn’t as if my parents officially charged me with taking care of Mary for some discrete period of time on some periodic basis. I wasn’t paid for taking care of her. It was more as if, except for my school hours and highly infrequent engagements with friends – I basically didn’t have any friends – I was Mary’s shadow, her keeper, her mentor as she grew, and her earliest best friend. And she was probably my only friend; I had a few acquaintances.

So I took care of her a frequently. We lived at the time in a duplex in northeast Portland. It was a duplex, but it was old enough to be quite large and charming. It had one of those asymmetrical floor plans that were used when they built duplexes in the old days. The two sides were different. They weren’t the same size. Our side, although quite large, was smaller than the other unit. We even had a basement. The building was on a corner lot, at the corner of 17th and Clackamas, so we looked out on two heavily treed non-arterial streets.

My bedroom was on the second floor looking out on Clackamas Street, which was the side of the house. Mary’s bedroom was at the front of the house, also on the second floor looking out on 17th Avenue.

One evening my parents were out and Mary and I were home alone. It was about 9 or so in the evening, and I was playing with a radio I had, putting a newspaper binding wire antenna on it. My antenna, while lacking the grandeur of the cat’s cradle, was much longer than the ten or twelve inch piece of wire that most people using such antennas employed. I had gathered as many of those small sized pieces as I could find in the street and had twisted them together into a joined group of pieces that was fairly long. It was so long it needed to be hung out the window to be deployed. I had been at this activity for some time and had heard what I had thought was foreign language on one station, and country music on a station in Idaho. We called it hillbilly music then, and I didn’t like it. As I was playing around with this contrivance there was suddenly a blinding flash that completely lit up the room.

At that time I had a deep and ever present fear of nuclear attack; we called nuclear devices “the atom bomb” at that time. I really lived on a daily basis with fear of the atom bomb very near my conscious thoughts or actually in them when some sort of news about the Russians acted as a trigger.

That flash caused me to hit the floor because somewhere I had learned that hitting the floor was the first thing to do when attacked by an atomic bomb. That was my first, action. It was totally reflexive. My next action was to try to figure out what to do next. I was frantic. I knew I needed to get Mary and me somewhere other than where we were, but I didn’t know where that might be or how I was going to get us there. I got up off the floor, and fearfully looked out the window, intensely worried that my eyes might be incinerated by what I had expected to see. Everything was dark. I thought that maybe it had been a strike far enough away from the city that its effects would take a little time to get to us. I had time. I ran into Mary’s room expecting to find her awake and hysterical. She was sound asleep.

Later in life it became almost impossible for me to believe that I could have really believed that we had been attacked by an atom bomb. But it happened exactly as described. The description could never begin to describe the terror that I had felt.

But even in the face of my complete and total conviction that we had just been hit with an atomic bomb and the stark terror with which I was overwhelmed, there was a whole second level of conscious intelligence at work. I hadn’t yet gotten to the “maybe this isn’t going to be so bad, because it isn’t yet” stage of my thinking, but that was beginning to come into my thoughts. That viewpoint would almost certainly have quickly led me to the obvious conclusion, that since I was alive and not incinerated, the flash wasn’t an atom bomb at all, but something else. But I hadn’t gotten there quite yet. I was frantically analyzing what to do with Mary, where we should go and how, when at the window of her bedroom an amazing image appeared. It was a flash of beautifully defined chain lightning. I had never seen chain lightning before. I hadn’t seen many thunderstorms, and those that I had seen didn’t have chain lighting, although I knew what it was, but I considered it a “back east” sort of phenomenon. No, all I had ever seen was lightning that just made a giant flash from nowhere in particular, like the flash that I had been sure had been an atom bomb.

As I saw the chain flash, and knew what it was, I was surprised to actually finally have seen something that I had always relegated to a sort of myth. At that time I still believed in a personally involved God; I felt that I had just been given a personal message, a revelation that we hadn’t actually fallen into the nuclear abyss. The relief that swept over me was beyond description.

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

From Screen Saver: The Cat’s Cradle

Then there were the Huskies.

Some Saturdays the football Huskies played at home in Seattle. Sometimes they played elsewhere. On those elsewhere Saturdays there was no local radio broadcast of the game.

My father was afflicted by a malady that I had thought, from the vantage of a four or five year old, must have been unique to him. Like him it was a weird mix. It resembled insanity mixed with patriotism mixed with irredentism mixed with fantasy and unreal expectations. It was the Husky Football Fan malady. It often involved manic outbursts of deep despair followed by reciprocal outbursts of joy. It required some form of contact with every game.

In those days radios had recently metamorphosed from being large floor standing furniture-like boxes of gleaming hardwood with glowing dials and huge knobs into more svelte packages. My father had one of the new and small - about the size of a toaster - Bakelite encased portables. Portable meant it could be moved without a hand truck, not that it had batteries. It was, as they all were then, AM only and it only brought in local stations. On cold clear nights, with some kind of wire bolted to its back panel, acting as an antenna it was sometimes possible to hear distant stations.

The Huskies played half of their games away from Seattle. Since remote broadcasts had not yet been thought of those away games were not available on local radio. There always was some station in the physical venue – Los Angeles, Corvallis, Eugene, Berkley or Pullman - that broadcast those games, but only local listeners could receive those broadcasts.

“What if”, thought my father, “even though the games don’t occur on cold clear nights, I were to vastly increase the scope and quality of the antenna?” The typical antenna everyone used was a 10 or 12 inch long piece of the soft pot metal wire that bound the bundles of newspapers distributed to the neighborhood paper boys. You could usually find the wire in the street where the paperboys left it after cutting loose their bundles for delivery. But my father had a better idea. “What if”, thought my father, “I buy a couple hundred feet of copper wire? Wouldn’t that increase the antenna’s length and quality? We all know copper is much more conductive than pot metal, and 200 feet ought to be way better than a foot or so. Perhaps 200 feet of copper would improve the antenna’s quality to the level of a top-secret military antenna farm”. Or so he apparently thought because he soon had 200 feet of copper antenna wire. It turned out that 200 feet of good high conductivity copper wire made a significant improvement in the number of stations the AM portable could bring in. Armed with the knowledge of what the frequency of the out of town station was and some patience and finesse, my father could usually get reception of some kind.

Several things flowed from that ability to listen to distant stations with the very long antenna.

The first thing was that, on those occasions when the giant antenna couldn’t seem to bring in the desired station a cloud of gloom and moroseness descended upon the household that was almost a tangible resident of the place. It could have been called “personage one”. Those of us who were not afflicted with the Husky syndrome found it necessary to live with, and accommodate ourselves to this additional personality, this the-world-is-dark-because-I-can’t-hear-the-Husky-game personality. It was physically invisible but it was among us in a very tangible form.

The second thing was “personage two”. It was the result of those days that a station could be brought in, but faded, be brought in again, but faded again. This situation brought out the brother or first cousin of “personage one”. It had all the gloom of its close relative but, while it was every bit as non-tangible, it could apparently talk, although only my father seemed to hear it. Its ongoing lead off line must have been, “just one more tweak of the dial and all will be well”. If that proved untrue, “personage two” apparently suggested that perhaps some intentional act physical sabotage by a family member was contributing to the periodic loss of signal. Examples of such acts of sabotage were fanatically noted by my father. They seemed to be things such as moving from one place to another in the house. This personage seemed to tell my father to demand total immobility from family members on those occasions. When neither of those things seemed to fix the problem, the personage apparently suggested an even more heinous possibility as the source of the problem: someone, or some group, was thinking negatively and was really wanting to block my father from hearing the Huskies. I often felt that “personage two” was suggesting human sacrifice as a solution to the reception problem.

The third thing was a real estate issue. Two hundred feet was a lot of wire. Whereas one could just dangle a twelve-inch piece of newspaper wire, 200 feet of copper presented serious physical considerations. From a house on a lot with perhaps 30 feet of backyard to the property line any extrusion of antenna outside the house would involve 6 plus out and backs. This was deemed by my father to be untenable. So the deployment of the copper occurred indoors with wire wound around chairs and lamps and tables from room to room. My father had created a gigantic cat’s cradle.

There was a particular Saturday.

It had started out rather well. It was a sunny day. My mother had told Annie and me to be good, and take good care of our father while she was away. She was frequently away on Husky Football Radio Saturdays. She usually took us with her, but on this Saturday she hadn’t. Things were going so well that Annie and I even helped with the deployment of the cat’s cradle. My father complimented us on our scientific prowess and capability of high level thought. I was four or five and Annie was 18 months younger, so we put a lot of stock in the good opinion of our father.

Due to the meandering tangle of wire strung throughout the house it was necessary to have your wits about you when you moved from place to place. From my later perspective the prudent thing to have done would have been to become comatose for the hours involved in bringing in and tweaking the broadcast. But I was four or five and Annie was 18 months younger.

My father had found the station and had commenced to listen. As luck would have it the signal was rock solid, no wavering in and out. There was an upbeat, positive, almost lighthearted feeling surrounding us. It was as if we had just been introduced for the first time to a “personage three”. And that might have been the case, and its presence might have made the day continue to be positive and lighthearted; but I was four or five and Annie was 18 months younger.

Of course we forgot. What did we forget? We forgot the cat’s cradle primarily. But we also forgot “personage one” and “personage two”.

Also, we were becoming enthralled by “personage three”.

And I was four or five and Annie was 18 months younger.

Annie decided to go into the kitchen. Being a little girl, barely beyond a baby, she had two speeds: “stop” and “full-speed”. (Of course we forgot. What did we forget? We forgot the cat’s cradle, primarily.) So she took off at full speed for the kitchen, quickly making contact with some elements of the cat’s cradle and causing a sort of launch of the radio from its perch on the end table next to the big chair across from the couch. It leaped into the air briefly, and then executed a fairly soft landing thanks to the rug.

The radio commenced a complaining squealing sound, rather than the Husky game.

My father appeared from somewhere and yelled at us. I said “I didn’t do it.” So he yelled some more at Annie while putting the apparatus back together. No physical damage had been done to the radio; it had merely fallen on the rug, and the strength of the tug exerted upon it by Annie’s encounter with the cat’s cradle had pulled the antenna from its retaining screw. So he was able to re-attach it, and much to both Annie’s and my relief was able to get the station back.

But for some reason, he also did something else. He was going to take a bath and wanted the radio to be close enough to the closed bathroom door that he could hear the game. So he moved the radio to the hall outside the bathroom door. The crucial detail to this redeployment was that the hall outside the bathroom was uncarpeted oak floor. He put the radio on a dining room chair next to the bathroom door, made some minor adjustments to the cat’s cradle and retired to the bathroom.

So Annie and I settled back into whatever routine we had been involved with prior to the near disaster. But Annie suddenly decided to go to our bedroom, which was next to the bathroom. Again she forgot about the cat’s cradle, and again she made sudden and intense contact with it. Unfortunately the results this time were substantially worse. The radio hit the hardwood floor with something between a crash and a bang. The bang may have had electronic origin. It was obvious even to us two young children that the egg had been broken. The probably durable, but certainly not indestructible Bakelite casing had yielded to superior force. It was obviously broken in several places, although the basic shape and dimensions of its fairly recent existence were still discernible. The antenna may or may not have been still attached, the desperation of the moment precluded noticing that level of detail, but the radio signal was far from Husky land. It was emitting an even more hopeless sounding electronic cacophony than had been present with its recent first trip to the floor.

“Personage three” had fled permanently.

There was a delay before my father appeared. Those few moments seemed an eternity. I Again I said, “I didn’t do it”. It would have been useless for me to have tried to take the blame in either of these cases since Annie was not quick enough either time to untangle herself before our wrathful father appeared on the scene, but I just wanted to be sure that the blame was assessed accurately.

So Annie was sent to her room for the afternoon. Since that was where she was heading when disaster struck for the second time she seemed happy with the assignment. But the disgrace was overwhelming even to someone that young.

My father fiddled with the now somewhat amorphous shape of what had not long before been a fairly geometrically regular three-dimensional plastic rectangular cube. He actually got the station back. He put the remains back on the chair and retired again to his bath.

So then I was alone. I couldn’t stop congratulating myself for my maturity, manifested by the fact that I had consistently remembered to be careful about navigating the cat’s cradle. That’s why boys are better than girls I thought to myself. I thought of the times already in her young life that Annie had gotten me in trouble with my mother for some claimed or actual transgression of her person. (My mother always told the story of the day when, hearing Annie in another room saying “stop it” and “don’t”, she had gone into the room intending to wreak havoc upon me only to find that Annie was alone in the room). While I loved my younger sister deeply and totally, I was not beyond classical sibling rivalry, made sharper by the boy/girl thing.

So, deep in contemplation, I jumped up and headed for somewhere, probably the kitchen. Wherever it was it was not in the direction of the bathroom, because as I came in fairly violent contact with and became snared by the web-like cat’s cradle, I heard the now familiar mix of physical and electronic catastrophe from somewhere to my distant left, which was where the bathroom was in relation to where I was headed.

Of course my whole life flashed before my eyes. And that was followed by an intense sense of profound disbelief that I could have been so stupid. That was only the first of nearly limitless times that I was to feel the same feeling.

My father seemed at least twice life size as he appeared this time. As he looked at the now truly mangled mass of electronic flesh lying midst a clutter of shards of vacuum tubes, and making strangled, noises not dissimilar from a wounded animal in its death throes, he did the only rational thing one would do on such an occasion. He picked up what was left intact of his recent radio and lifted it over his head with both hands and hurled in down onto the floor. If he had had one eye in the middle of his forehead we would have had a scene from the movie Ulysses.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Closing Time: Closing Time


Now comes the imagined part.

Now comes the coming to grips with the very real inevitability of the end of life.

Now comes the part that says “it’s me this time; the rush of days weeks, months and years has finally become a place. That rush has become the endpoint.”

So what does that endpoint look like?

The real answer, of course, is “I don’t know”.

But that doesn’t move the theme forward, so I need to proffer a possibility.

That possibility goes as follows.

Perhaps the warning bell had rung the first day that I was rummaging around in the drawer of my bedside stand looking for an extra battery that I was sure I was keeping there as a replacement for the one that had just gone dead in my travel alarm. Among the other flotsam and jetsam in the drawer were several expired driver’s licenses.

I had begun removing stuff and putting it on the bed to reduce the number of things in the way of finding the battery.

The licenses were among those things.

They were in their own separate pile.

I couldn’t find the battery.

“Shit” I said to myself.

Then I cast a glance at the pile of stuff on the bed and my gaze settled on the driver’s licenses.

I decided to put them in chronological order.

I laid them side by side - oldest to newest .

I heard myself asking a question: “Who is the young guy with all the hair in the first of series?” That question was followed immediately by: “Who is that increasingly older guy with less and less hair that appears in the others in the series?”

And finally I wondered: “Who, for that matter is that really old hairless guy on the unexpired license in my wallet?”

By laying them side by side and blinking rapidly I saw a movie-like progression of a somber faced, vaguely familiar looking person changing from younger to older.

It took only moments.

“How many years do those moments’ of metamorphosis represent?” I wondered.

Those pictures looked progressively less like the “me” that I think that I remember.

They looked progressively less like the “me” that I continue to feel as if I am.

In fact, rather than looking like “me” they looked more like some ancient grandfather.

If they had anything to do with “me” it could only be from some other consciousness or some other life or some other time or some other place.

Except for being mildly entertaining, that experience of the progression of the pictures rang no bells of warning.


The longest day of the year, every year, begins to seem to be closer, every year, to the shortest day of the year.

The shortest day is always a day of quiet introspective internal celebration.

After all, the darkness will begin to retreat with the following dawn.

The longest day is a day for quiet introspective internal grieving.

After all, the darkness will only advance with the following dawn.

Those days both increasingly seem to be lurching out of their temporal containers of years and into increasingly brief temporal containers of months, days and hours.

It seems as if the longest and shortest days are moving toward merger.

Will time reach a point where it flows back upon itself? And if so, what happens then?

Is the apparently accelerating compression of time an intensely individual experience, or is it universal?

And, if it is universal, what is the end-game of that universe?

Or, what is that universe?

Or, even, is – as in does it exist - that universe at all?

Am I it?

Is it me?

How can it – in relation to me - have become fluid to the point of being actually in question as to its existence?

Am I where?

Where am I?

Am I, even?”

The increasing spin of the hands of the clock, the flow of the days, of the seasons, of the months and of the years and the little movie of the rapidly aging face in the pile of expired driver’s licenses have only seemed to accelerate.

And there are the chestnuts.

The specifics of their yearly march never vary, only the interval changes.

The sticky and shiny protectively coated buds always burst forth into little palm tree-like fronds. The fronds always become full-fledged leaf clusters, appearing from nowhere and taking on a darker green hue and looking like serrated green fans. Then the Christmas tree shaped clusters at the tip of each stem emerge. Each Christmas tree shaped cluster soon becomes a glorious burst of creamy white flowers with dark rosy colored throats or, in Paris, beautiful pink flowers with deeper rosy colored throats. Little round green nubbins appear where the flower clusters had been not long before; the leaves continue to darken; the nubbins become golf ball sized and then bigger; and the little protrusions that had been on the nubbins become identifiable spikes.

One-day fall arrives.

The angle of the sun always confirms it.

The chestnut leaves turn yellow. On a chilly night the wind rises and the husks of the golf balls split and shiny brown gems fall in cascades to the ground where children pick some up. The rest are pushed around in piles of leaves; those piles of leaves are then raked and burned. And some of the chestnuts get charred. And some escape getting charred. And those that escape are ground to meal by passing automobiles. And then the rain begins to torrent. And the car-ground meal roils into the gutters with the rain and is washed into the drains.

And only moments – it begins to seem – have passed.

And then it begins over again.

And each time the interval of the chestnuts seems to be shorter.

And there is the Mountain Ash.

There is the rapid-fire sequence of fans of small pointed leaves, masses of flat multi-petaled creamy white flowers and an unpleasant smell.

The flowers and fans rapidly fade and disappear into a summery green mass of leaves that flutter and shimmer in the summer breezes.

Suddenly after an extended anonymous absence of weeks there becomes a burst of emphatic attention-demanding clusters of red-orange berries, which have appeared as if from nowhere.

Robins, and sometimes, wax wings eat them with voracity.

They briefly complete the scene as it rushes by with an increasing speed but with an undiminished clarity.

And only moments – it has begun to seem – have passed.

And then the cycle begins again.

And each time the passage of the Mountain Ash is faster.

And there is recycling and garbage pickup.

It seems as if I have no sooner put the garbage and the recycling on the street than I am doing it again; and then I am doing it again; and then I am doing it again. Individual Saturdays or Sundays sometimes appear fuzzily through the blur of Wednesdays, and sometimes a Monday, but it has begun to be that every day is Thursday.

Thursday is pickup day. Early every dawn seems to begin with the roar then the silence, then the roar again of the oncoming trucks. Intermittently the sound of a bell of the truck backing up punctuates the silences.

And then the roar and the bells are separated by hours, then by minutes then by seconds; and then it is just one roar punctuated by bells.

And the chestnuts have begun to interleave with the Mountain Ash and they have both further merged with the Thursday morning roar and silence and roar and silence and the bell; and all of these are merged with and punctuated by the blinding transition from shortest to longest to shortest to longest days of the year.

And none of these are blurs but are instead are distinct and clear as individuals; and they are distinct and clear from each other; and in spite of their increasingly astonishing speed they have continued to act as individual marks in time.

And the moments in which those things are, become ever more brief between their beginning and their end and then their beginning again.

What I had previously perceived as the inexorably forward progress of time has begun to appear as if it is spinning toward some sort of merger – front to back - where, like the spokes of a wheel seen through the slots of a stroboscope running faster than the wheel, the wheel would appear to be rolling in reverse.

It has begun to seem as if there will soon be a moment when the longest day and the shortest day will appear together and then will pass one another in the opposite direction.

And the blackened chestnuts of the rainy gutter will merge with the reddish orange splash of Mountain Ash.

And there will be a flickering moving picture of a man with measured acceleration oscillating between images with hair and images with no hair, between younger and older.

At some point will it all become one and then, perhaps, will it all fade to black just like a real movie?

And what happens then?


One spring morning I awaken very early.

It is barely light.

I have long since ceased to be accustomed to be being asleep at that time of day, and on many similar mornings I have become familiar with the silence of that time.

When I realize what I am hearing I assume that it must be a dream.

There is an almost deafening sound.

It is almost like a medium pitched roar with occasional wisps of sound leaking out of it.

It is the sound of myriad birds, all chirping at random, and singing their morning songs.

I have heard it before. With a feeling of joy I recognize a chorus of robins sequentially calling for rain.

Or are they calling for the sunrise?

The house is strangely silent. It seems totally out of character for it to have abandoned its periodic creaks, snaps and pops.

Perhaps it knows something that I don’t know.

Perhaps it doesn’t feel the need to keep me awake anymore.

“I must be asleep and dreaming,” I conclude. “How else could I be seeing and hearing what I am seeing and hearing?”

“How could I be seeing the flow of the chestnuts, the flow of the Mountain Ash and hearing the bell of the recycling truck backing up? And how could the huge tribe of birds long missing suddenly have returned? And why are the faces in the driver’s licenses lurching backward beyond long known limits?”

Why indeed?

Everything folds backwards upon itself. The chestnut blossoms become recycle days and recycle days become mountain ash berries.

The time of a clock that appears from nowhere is at hyper speed even as it stands still, even as its hands pass one another intermittently backwards, even as it blurs, even as it disappears.

A sense of mortality blends with the realization of boundaries.

The dream is not a dream. The dream is reality.

And reality is a dream.

And the boundaries fade and opportunities lost and achievements unattained loom and overwhelm.

Whatever it is that I have ever thought that I might be or might have been is becoming a neatly wrapped package; it is becoming a sleekly designed capsule.

And then some infinite unseen and unseeable facility or force compresses it all – the hopes, the dreams, the illusions, the achievements, the misses and near misses, the loves, the hates, the intentions good and the intentions bad - into an expendable portion and inserts it into infinity.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Addendum to Closing Time

Here are the last few words of “Blitz”.

“I had never been in the presence of death - as it actually occurred - to a person. And to me Blitz was a person; and I was afraid to be with him as he died. So I waited in the outer office while the veterinarian administered the lethal dose.

I was never able to understand the emotional incapacity – the emotional paralysis - that had caused me to stay in that outer office as a friend and companion of thirteen years faded from existence.

But I did it.

And I didn’t even feel any grief.

I felt numbness but not grief.

It was as if the wrenching sobs in the car with my mother when Annie died had taken something from me that I didn’t have any more of.

I departed the veterinarian’s office after he came out and told me it was over. It had been quick.

I left what remained of my friend to be disposed of by the veterinarian as he saw fit.

I could have taken him home and buried him in the woods with a decent ceremony. We had five acres in the midst of a veritable sea of vacant five-acre lots in the Georgia woods.

I could have done at least that right thing.

But I didn’t.”


Bert the Cat lived with us for sixteen years.

He joined us as an adult cat.  He appeared one day in our garden.  Over several weeks he became more friendly and moved closer – out of the garden and to the back door of the house – until one day he passed through the door and officially became one of the cats.

That made six.

Until Friday he was the last one.

Thursday I had to face what I had been trying to avoid facing.  Bert was profoundly old and the fact that he was a skeleton that had stopped eating and had almost stopped drinking were evidence that he was dying. 

He didn’t have a condition from which he was going to get better.

But it appeared that his indomitable will was going to hold him in useless and probably painful stasis for more time than was of value to him.

So I called the veterinarian.

The veterinarian came to our house.

I held Bert and then he died.

I wrapped him in my 2012 Tour de Lopez sweatshirt and put him in the grave I had prepared earlier that day.

I can never make up for Blitz, but Bert and I – I guess – did it right this time.


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Bert the Cat: 13 November 1992 - 11 October 2013. I have been missing him ever since he started to fade, but I miss him even more now.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Closing Time: Chestnuts and Mountain Ash

Horse chestnuts were always a harbinger of autumn.

At about the same time that the pomegranates began to appear in little neighborhood groceries the ground began to be littered here and there with beautiful shiny brown asymmetrically round lumps with a white face on one edge.

It had taken some cold and some wind to split the green spiked husks that had been the protectors of those nuts since the first warmth of late spring.

Legend had it that if you ate one of those nuts you would die because they were poisonous. In spite of that legend their popularity with children was universal. They were so shiny and pretty that everybody collected them. They were always a disappointment because the shininess never lasted and they were soon dried out drab and dull shadows of their immediate fallen-off-the-tree glory.

About all they were good for then was to have their nut contents removed from their shell and to have some kind of hollow tube attached to that shell turning it into a play pipe.

Mostly they ended up back on the street to be smashed to pulp by oncoming cars and washed away in the autumn rains. Some remained un-smashed and cast aside, became long lived, blackened reminders of the season gone.

But for a day or two they had been shiny brown jewels to be treasured by kids who had felt a sense of awe at the beauty of nature and who had instinctively wanted to possess some of that beauty.

Sadly, that beauty quickly proved to be brief and fleeting.

But the beautiful shiny brown nuts of the first cold days of Autumn had not just appeared from nothing.

The beauty of that brown shiny shower of nuts in the fall had been the result of another burst of beauty in the early spring. Horse chestnuts have a palmate fan of five leaves. The leaves as individuals are beautiful. They are shaped like a feather, except, unlike a feather, they are symmetrical with both sides of the spine having the same size and shape. In the early spring these feathers emerge in lacy light green clusters all over the tree. They each gradually unfold from within a sticky and shiny protectively coated bud. For a brief period they look like a vast array of little palm trees gradually appearing from nowhere, spread evenly over the superstructure of the winter dead gray branches.

By the time the leaves have spread out and grown to their full size and have become a darker green, changing from looking like tiny palm trees to looking like serrated green fans, a new burst of beauty appears. Thrusting upward from fan bedecked stems, like the pointed tipped tubes of the old bubble Christmas tree lights, there appear not only beauty, but magic. At first they are just little points emerging at the up thrust end of every stem. Soon they show their serious intent to become something bigger, something significant. But they wait a little while to show their true intent. Suddenly on a sunny morning the entire tree is alive with Christmas tree shaped tips on each stem. Except instead of being green they are glorious bursts of creamy white flowers with dark rosy colored throats. They looked like living versions of Tai princess rings. And soon they will be alive with visitors: bees and hummingbirds love them.

In almost no time the flowers disappear leaving in their stead Christmas tree – or Tai princess ring - shaped masses of little round green nubbins. Through the warmth of the summer the leaves continue to darken and the nubbins become golf ball sized and then bigger; and the little protrusions that had been on the nubbins become identifiable spikes.

And then as summer wanes the day comes when fall has arrived. It can be seen in the angle of the sun; it can be felt in the incipient chill of the air; it can be sensed for no obvious reason at all. It just is. And one knows it when it is so.

And the horse chestnut trees know.

And their leaves turn yellow.

And their leaves begin to fall.

And then on an especially chilly night the wind rises and the husks split and the shiny brown gems fall in cascades to the ground and children pick some up.

The rest are pushed around in the piles of leaves being raked and burned.

And some are charred.

And some escape, having been left behind by the flexible tines of the rake.

And those that remain are ground to meal by passing and parking cars.

And then the rain, which begins to torrent, washes the meal down the gutters into the drains and out of sight.

It is as if they never existed.

But they did exist.

And the trees remember them. And as those trees present their barren winter gray trunks to the icy winds of winter they are already preparing for that glorious spring day when the cycle begins yet again.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Some Pictures I Took Today (Les Images du Jour)


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Closing Time: The Pool in the Rock

Once during a summer between years in high school three friends of mine and I spent a week camping on the Oregon coast. We were in a primitive campground: no electricity; the only amenities were cleared and defined campsites and concrete enclosures with iron grates for cooking.

There was also firewood.

To get to the campground required a mile or so walk.

We kept hearing rumors from other campers that there was a cable upon which it was possible to descend to the base of Cape Falcon. The rumor further said that the cable was at the end of a two-mile hike through the woods leading to the outer part of the Cape. The Cape was a huge outflow of basalt sticking into the Pacific Ocean and the cable descended a couple of hundred feet to a protuberant basaltic foot which was exposed above the waves at all times except high tide. They said that it was a scenic place from which to watch the ocean as it crashed against the shore, and a place from which one could fish for various types of rockfish.

We decided that it was a rumor well worth testing for validity.

So we had made the hike through the woods.

After some casting about on the Cape high above the ocean we discovered the cable just as it had been described. It actually was two cables. The first cable extended down a hundred feet or so and then stopped on an outcropping; then a second one went the rest of the way down to the foot. It was a spot as spectacular as it had been described. The ocean didn’t break against the Cape; it churned around below the foot upon which we were perched. That foot was a rather large area covered with mussels that were exposed when the tide went out. I broke open a mussel, put it on a hook and dropped it over the side into the ocean. I didn’t catch anything, although it was the best looking fishing spot I had ever seen.

But the view of the waves, the huge bed of mussels and the fishing opportunity turned out to be, once we looked around a little, the least of the attractions of the place.

What hadn’t been described to us, what was left out of the rumors, was a thing so beautiful it didn’t seem real. That was probably why nobody mentioned it. After leaving the place they must have felt that they had imagined it.

That thing was a pool of seawater filling a depression scooped out of the lava. The pool was quite large – maybe thirty feet long, eight or ten feet wide and four feet deep. The water was absolutely clear and everything in the pool could be seen with total clarity. But the unreal thing was that it was full of upward streams of bubbles like what might be seen in an aquarium. But this pool was at the bottom of a cliff sticking into the ocean miles from the nearest air pump. We decided that the basalt out of which the depression was scooped must be porous, and that there must be a cave underneath us where air was trapped and driven upward by the waves of water as they washed in and out of the cave, and that that trapped air then must have been forced up through the porous rock and into the streams of bubbles in the pool.

The whole miraculously beautiful scene was topped off by myriad tiny fish darting around, various kinds of snail like things, sea anemones and large numbers of sea urchins. The urchins were variously colored: green, purple, blue and red. And as we lay on our stomachs and watched them closely for awhile we could see that the urchins moved about, propelled by their spines.

We didn’t really need to lie on our stomachs to see the urchins move, but the whole thing was so beautiful that we wanted to get as close to it as possible.

As the tide came in, filling the cave with more water and less air, the bubbles gradually abated. But we had seen them at their peak and had watched them gradually cease as the sea urchins slowly moved about and the little fish darted to and fro.

That gradual metamorphosis of the bubbles from something to nothing, intertwined with the darting and creeping about of the life that inhabited the bubble chamber seemed to us to have carried some higher message; but it was a message that we were unable to divine.

Much later in my life I was able to see it for the metaphor that was.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Closing Time: Those Guys

This book is divided into two parts:




The preceding has been Death.

We now enter life.


As death was interesting, so also was life.

One early summer night in the 1950s I was on a third story sleeping porch at the home of my friend Freddie.

Several of us were sleeping out overnight on the open- to-the-sky porch.

It was late.

It was Portland.

The dark sky was absolutely clear of clouds and was also clear of numerous decades of yet to be spewed hydrocarbon haze.

The sky was alive with stars.

We were all lying on our backs in our sleeping bags looking at the stars and talking in subdued tones. The grandeur of the scene was such that even the normally boisterous children that we were had been brought to heal and reduced to whispers.

Suddenly a brilliant pinprick of light streaked across the blackness of the sky. It had gone so fast that it had looked as if it had been a line rather than a moving point.

A subdued gasp went up from the assembled watchers.

Then there was another one and another and another. We were absolutely convinced as we watched more and more of them that we were witnessing a migration of space vehicles as they trekked from some place to someplace else. We were sure that we were seeing evidence of life beyond ours. And so we went to sleep happily convinced that we were not alone in the universe.

We were glad, though - as we had all agreed - that those guys must have been a long way off and had looked to be going somewhere other than to earth.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Ol’ Ted the Synthetic American


This started as a Facebook post, but I decided that I preferred to make it a blog post.

And there is a reason for that: I am having second and third thoughts about posting the rest of my book Closing Time on this blog, so I need something else to post if I am to continue with the vehicle..

The things that I rave about while cooking dinner seemed appropriate fodder for a post

So I decided to do it..

I decided to post one of the raves.

Please bear in mind, what follows has the same credibility as that of Fox News or Rush Limbaugh.

It is just the stream of conscious sort of thing that comes out of me with a glass of wine and a skillet full of zucchini.

And I always enjoy hearing it.

So maybe you will enjoy reading it.


I think he may be Sarah Palin's brother

“He” is ol’ Ted, ol’ Ted the pseudo American.

I have heard that Sarah's mother lived in Canada before moving to Alaska where she brought little Canadian Sarah into the US illegally; I think she - Sarah's mother -  probably had a liaison with some sort of native Canadian in Canada before - or after -  Sarah was conceived – by god knows what - and that produced Ted. 

Ted is either Sarah’s older, or perhaps,her younger, brother. 

Who knows?

Who cares, really?

Except that the facts are insidious:Ted is not Cuban; he is Canadian First Nation. 

So maybe he can run for Commissioner of Indian Affairs here in the US. 

Certainly he can’t run for president.


I will say one thing: if that shithead-who-is-not-a-citizen were to be elected president (lower case intended) I would do everything in my limited power to bring down his presidency. 

That is what I would do; but the words are Mitch McConnell's.

And they reflect the "steakhouse strategy" of the republican cult. 

That is the strategy concocted in early 2009 in a DC lurking point where a group of republicans committed to bring down the Obama Presidency met an plotted. 

“We need to take back our country” they all said.

“From whom”, I in my oblivious ignorance replied.

I won’t repeat what they said next. 

But it was colorful.

We American’s have been living for 5 years now in a Christian CABAL/cult controlled terrorist state of affairs - with a President trying to keep the train on the tracks and the Christian racists all out there doing everything they can think of to derail the train. 

I am really tired of it.