Saturday, May 28, 2022


Aboard American Enterprise in the Summer of 1982

Then the last of the former US Lines freighters still operating, now in the hands of a dubious Greek "enterprise" thinly connected with Aristotle Onassis, whose yacht Christina featured barstools made from the foreskins of whales.

We had neither barstools nor bars, and I being "before the mast," I wouldn't have been allowed to frequent them in any case.  Our itinerary was from Southampton to Suez, but a meandering path it was, and the captain never explained why so.  The cargo taken off in the various places was in crates well suited to ammo, but they also could have been full of lace undies for all I knew or even cared.

The Bay of Biscay only a few days in lived up to its fearsome reputation.  A wicked gale and a lee shore pinned us off of La Rochelle, that ancient French naval station, for three days.  " I never get sick," I always said, but I got mighty sick.  One cup of noodle soup was all in those three days, plus lots of water.  But I kept up my duties for what you might call "cultural" reasons.  Which is to say that my shipmates would have called me a candy ass if I hadn't.

On a midnight to four watch during those three days I had to go up on the foredeck to tie down a fluttering tarp covering one of our lifeboats, assisted in the task by my friend Jerome.  Later that same evening, in the tweendecks, a big pipe wrench, not well secured, dropped about six feet onto his right foot, breaking some bones and also some skin.  A couple days later it turned gangrenous.  Our medic, hardly a doctor even in his own mind, had to cut it all off, both rotten and potentially so, and Jerome's "forefoot," as we say of some of the headsails, went overboard with the inedible chef's scraps left over from that evening's dinner.  After that, in bars in Barcelona and elsewhere, Jerome, who was only five foot eight on a good day, and I being quite tall, would tell the girls that I had "half a foot on him" ha ha.

The morning of the fourth day dawned mostly clear with some scudding clouds, still a heavy swell and a west wind down to about 20 knots.  We steered 260 degs magnetic and made about six knots when in normal conditions we might have made ten.

I could not fail to be impressed by the Rock when we got there two days later, but when we got past it, still, initially, with a heavy following swell, I thought about physics experiments explained to me by Mr. Forrestal in my junior year, which is to say four years before -- you know, the ones that prove that light is a wave as well as a particle.  The wave passes through a narrow aperture and then "diffuses" into  pretty and complex patterns.  So it seemed to be with us even though the aperture in question -- the Strait of Gibraltar -- was eight miles wide.  Things thereafter were confused but much calmer.  I myself was confused but much calmer.

From west to east in the Med that summer was like a journey passing backwards through time.  Barcelona, Marseilles, Algiers, Malta, Genoa, Athens, Beirut, Alexandria and Suez.  

When in port, I tried to defy the stereotype of the "tar."  Girls yes; whores no.  Booze yes; throwing up in the streets no.  No belligerence for the sake of belligerence. Lots of museums and solo architectural walking tours, about which no shanties have yet been sung as far as I know.

In Suez I collected my pay and caught a bus to Port Said and thence a ferry to Athens.  After a few days there it was beyond by ferry to Hydra, where there was a girl and coincidentally a place where one could, in general, live forever without regret.  I made my living there for five wonderful years by the good graces of her family.  She died in 1987 at age 26, in the sea.  Perhaps my fault but I don't think so.  After that I could no longer live there without regret.  In part out of nostalgia I took passage back to New York in early 1988 as a passenger on a bulk carrier from Algiers.

In many respects everything else in my life has been an afterthought.

Monday, May 16, 2022


The Spirit of Lincoln Lachrymose at Luhansk

Lincoln's supreme rhetorical trick at Gettysburg was to honor the dead of both sides without appearing to honor the Confederate cause.  (The cemetery dedicated that day was, to be sure, reserved for the Union dead.)  He needed to do this in the interest of healing the country, in the spirit of holding "malice toward none."  But at the same time and at his command, his best generals, Grant and Sherman, poured Union men into the maw of death unflinchingly, with eyes open for the later, greater good.

Perhaps it's too late ever to welcome the Russian people back into the fold of normal nations.  They have not progressed, it seems, beyond the delusions that sustained them under communism, the pitiful falling back on «у нас лучше» -- "we have it better" -- despite a mountain of evidence to the contrary.  But this does not mean that we should not join in mourning most of their dead, the 20,000 or so young men who were poured into the maw of death in an entirely pointless and criminal cause that was not even revealed to them until the day of the ill-fated invasion.

Sunday, May 8, 2022


Alone Together

When, at the Hour of the Wolf, I survey my own private landscape -- the world inhabited by my closest friends and relations -- what I see with nary an exception is spiritual impoverishment, brave people putting on brave faces.

But hasn't it always been so?  Lives of quiet desperation, the portents of Yeats' Second Coming? 

No, we've ground our civilization down into a new place that is, as never before, devoid of meaning.  It's as if we are all living in a little house on the prairie, biding our time until the Apaches, or a 100-year wind, rise to wipe the prairie pristine again.

Monday, May 2, 2022


Hi Strangeness Arrives in "Space Odyssey" Form

The theory is that the contact is interdimensional, not extraterrestrial, and that it takes whatever form it finds propitious, taking into account the cultural sensibility of the time and place, which in turn may bubble up from Jung's "collective unconscious."

In the late 1960's, Arthur C. Clarke and Stanley Kubrick collaborated on their shared fantasy of an alien intelligence embodied not in a spindly, big-headed, black-eyed midget, but in something more unsettling -- a perfectly wrought but perfectly opaque and inscrutable geometric form, appearing on our planet intermittently, at times of great human paradigm shifts.  Their vision was audacious, among other things, because the role played by the black obelisk was akin to that of a pre-Abrahamic god -- the Golden Calf or maybe the fecund Earth Mother whose image was fashioned out of clay -- but stripped of all the meaning that comes with something that can be said to be "representational," be it calf or earth mother or sasquatch or skinwalker.

Seen through the prism (pardon the expression) of later events, it is hard to say whether Clarke and Kubrick's joint vision tapped into a pre-existing zeitgeist or rather helped to create a new one.

In 2009 and 2018, over the Kremlin and the Pentagon respectively, massive pyramids were captured on video hovering perhaps 1000 feet in the air.  They came with no internal or external light source; they appeared to be nearly translucent.  They were about the size of a three- or four-story building.  One, the Pentagon object, seemed to rotate slowly on one axis.

If the "object of the objects" was to intimidate us into more peaceful behavior than we have shown in the last few hundred years, in light, perhaps, of world-historical nuclear developments, then they picked a terribly abstract symbolism for their project.  A ten-armed Shiva wielding fiery swords, or even Godzilla himself breathing propane, would have done better.  But that's really not for us to say.  After all it is not we who are in charge.