Wednesday, September 28, 2022


Yes That Nobel Laureate in Literature

Bob Dylan did his best work, it can be argued, very early in his career, when he was still in his twenties.

Lay down your weary tune

Lay down.

Lay down the songs you strum,

And rest yourself 'neath the strength of strains

No voice can hope to hum.


When I Was Young

And more specifically, when I had just completed my schooling and was living on my own for the first time, I used to wish fervently that I would find my true love on one of my weekly trips to the laundromat.  I knew that if she appeared, I would be too shy to approach her, but maybe she would approach me, with a question about laundry detergents let us say, and one thing would lead to another.

In the event, I never spied her there.  All I saw was my underwear in the dryer going round and round and round.

Monday, September 26, 2022


Halloween The Year Round

Years ago, when I was in my thirties, we bought an "old man" Halloween mask in anticipation of a party.  It was a big hit because of an eerie realism.  That realism was enhanced by three things:  a fringe of grey hair around the scalp; deep-sunken eye sockets from inside of which one's real eyes, however nice, would appear penetrating and sinister; and a hinged jaw that allowed the old man realistically to talk as you talked.  For years after the party, we would secrete the mask somewhere in our house and spring it from behind at close range on some unsuspecting victim, which always drew a big laugh from the witnesses, if not from the victim.

I am become the old man mask.  Not often, but often enough, an incident will occur in public that makes it plain to me that that is how I now "present" in the world, sometimes to the point of eliciting a startle reflex when, for example, I look up from a menu at my waitress for the first time, or open the door of a men's room and bump into a stranger.

This is, of course, socially isolating.  

There are two ways of coping with it.  One is to proceed in defiance, to insist on acting in accordance with the younger, inner self.  And indeed over a period of time the spell usually can be broken.  If I take a 12-week course, not via Zoom but in person, by the fourth week or so the phenomenon will have largely passed, which is not to say that stereotypes of age won't be flung about, some legitimately.  (Nearly every stereotype has roots in generalizations that are accurate.)

And there are people on the other side who escape the other side of the syndrome via a gentle and open nature.  They serve out the milk of human kindness to everyone.  (Speaking of stereotypes, nurses by virtue of their calling often so serve it out.  And beyond that the phenomenon is partly culturally determined.  I found that when I was in Ireland I was accepted by strangers more readily than I am here, in one-on-one encounters with strangers that is.)  In this respect as in others, the milk of human kindness heals; it is very welcome.

The other way of coping is to find sanctuary somewhere where one is by choice physically isolated from others, like Quasimodo in his bell tower, Bigfoot in his dense forest.  It's lonely in the sanctuary, but one does not have to compensate constantly for wearing the mask.

And modern technology can serve as a "counter-mask" of youth that one can attempt to present to the world from within one's sanctuary.  One can toy with the task of trying to appear of indeterminate age on one's Twitter or Facebook account.  And if it works, it's liberating.  (For it to work, best to avoid posts that ask the reader if s/he can identify a roller skate key, or the button on the floor of a car that was used in the distant past to control the car's high beams.)  And yes, this very blog itself serves as such a counter-mask.

One person comes to mind as having bravely and with great energy employed both coping mechanisms.  His debilitating mask was not the old man's mask; it was far more terrible even than that.  His name was Stephen Hawking.  He seemed to have little or no self-consciousness about appearing in public in all of his grotesquerie, communicating in his inhuman, computer-animated voice.  And of course, from behind the counter-mask of print, he wowed the world, or perhaps better to say that he wowed two worlds -- the scientific world, in the most esteemed of peer-reviewed journals, and the popular world.  (A Brief History of Time sat atop the New York Times bestseller list for a year or more if I am not mistaken.)

With or without role models, one grows weary behind the mask.  And the weariness has physical consequences.  And so, we experience a vicious cycle that does not end, if it ends at all, until the time of molting, when we leave the weary mask behind for good.

Saturday, September 24, 2022


It's a Big Late-Life Sin

To project one's own impending private apocalypse onto the world at large.  This may be the syndrome driving Vladimir Putin into further perfidy at a cost of countless lives.

Monday, September 19, 2022


Orwell Would Insist

He would insist that this most awful evidence of cruelty not be hidden or suppressed.  Let every man and woman choose to see it or not, with fair warning, but if to see it, never to see it with prurient interest, because that itself would be a disgrace.

"Cargo 200" is Russian military slang for the bodies of the military dead that must be transported, not necessarily home in the case of the Russians because the very existence of the bodies is within Russia a politically inconvenient truth.

"Telegram" is a knock-off of Twitter, popular in Russia and Eastern Europe, but with more liberal boundaries, in terms of both length of posts and tolerance for controversial content, than Twitter.

And so the Telegram channel called "Cargo 200" brings us news of Russian casualties, but also news about the Ukrainian War in general, from a pro-Ukrainian point of view.

Yesterday there were posts about the newly-discovered graves of hundreds of slaughtered Ukrainians, most of them civilians, outside Izyum.  One was a photo of the exhumed body of a man, already badly decomposed.  The caption said that his scrotum had been cut off, and once having been told that, one can only say that the photo seems incontrovertible.  And the castration was by no means "surgical," if that implies care to do a limited amount of damage; rather, it appears that it was done with a hunting knife or a bayonet and with a maximum amount of violence, whether the poor man was dead or alive when it happened.

For those who have followed this war closely, expert commentary has acquainted us with new turns of phrase, turns of phrase often drawn from the schools of the military arts.  One is "the point of culmination."  One might think that this is the point of ultimate victory for the winning side, but it is not.  It is the point at which one's resources to prosecute an attack or an entire campaign have reached exhaustion, or near enough to exhaustion that further progress is impossible, at least in the near term.

The Russians have reached their point of culmination.  Their army is broken.  In the absence of a negotiated withdrawal, they will be forced to slink back to their vast homeland.  The recriminations there will be ugly.  The Russian Federation itself may splinter to such an extent that Russia as a political entity is left with a scale, in terms of GDP and conventional military might, equivalent to that of Italy or Spain.  And the path from here to there may be very fraught, because the Russians do not seem able to accept their reduced weight in the world with equanimity.

This war that no one predicted, taken together with the pandemic that was predicted merely as an abstraction, not as a real thing, and also looming "cosmic" developments to which we have been conditioned to turn a blind eye, seem to me to signal a culmination of sorts on a grand scale.  The paradigm has been exhausted.  It's not the End of History per se, but rather the end of history as a reliable pointer towards the future.  It's not that "les jeux sont faits," but that all bets are off.

Friday, September 16, 2022


No Need To Look It Up

There simply must be an episode of "The Simpsons" in which Homer re-enacts Keir Dullea in "2001: A Space Odyssey."  He lies on his back, on a bed of French Provincial, in a bright, cold light.   He struggles to lift his forearm so as to point his pudgy forefinger at the black monolith that stands beyond his feet.  He struggles to mutter a final "D'oh!", now the trigger-word for his reincarnation.

To be an old man is to be unable to shed the shadow of the black monolith.  The monolith holds the Secret.  It holds it to itself; its very shape signals impregnable opacity.

Sarcasm was the hallmark of the great, the unclassifiable, the one-and-only Mose Allison, percussive pianist and songwriter, who passed about six years ago now.  But from time to time, especially towards the end, he abandoned the signature sarcasm for something deeper and more universal:

No one can say he's made the most of life.

No man can tell what comes with dying.

The Fires of Spring remain the toast of life.

Each man in time a crucifying...

Each man his time for crucifying.

The doctors and even the hospice workers no doubt soon will be authorized to prescribe hallucinogens, to ease the terror of transition.  And so Homer and Mose, locked in a jiu-jitsu embrace, will flit across my screen, fighting for what the fancy people would call "ontological supremacy."

Friday, September 9, 2022


A Blemish Becomes a Blessing

When beheld by the beloved one.

Tuesday, September 6, 2022


Vera, Nadyezhda, Lyubov

The Three Sisters of the New Testament.  Faith, Hope, Love.

What if they did not perish, but rather they were bound back-to-back-to-back, with strong duct tape, and abducted by the djinn, the machine elves, the tricksters and the reptilians, all acting in concert, so that our path to salvation were cut off?

In that case we would have no recourse but to put aside our differences and to raise an army capable of bringing back the status quo ante.  But to put aside our differences and to raise such an army, we would need -- you guessed it -- Faith, Hope and Love.

Monday, September 5, 2022


If Dreams Had Names

It might be called "Bleak House."

I was a young man, just recently out of college.  It was mid-morning of New Year's Day.  I had spent the eve of the day drinking heavily with friends.  That was the usual attempt at manufacturing conviviality and, as usual, it had failed.  I did not connect with anyone, and I was left with a hangover and only faceless memories of the party.

I had not lived in or even seen my family home in some time, but it was clear that I was to be left to live there indefinitely from the start of the new year for lack of alternatives, for lack of funds.

My parents expected me home no later than 2AM.  I had not phoned them to tell them that I would be late.  They would be worried.  I felt guilty about this.  They were old and rather fragile emotionally.

And so I trudged up Cottage Park Road in Winthrop with my sister Denise at my side.  (She had not been at the party and she was soon to disappear from the dream.)  We both remarked that all of the houses on the street had changed, not only to become more ramshackle, but also in fundamental, structural ways, but without recourse to anything that could be called "renovations" or "updating."  Our own house now presented from the street, on our right near the top of the hill, as a big rambling farmhouse with an "Addams Family" demeanor.

In the event, my parents were nowhere to be found inside the house, but it was teeming with Irish immigrant relatives, mostly distant, who appeared to be squatting there for as long as they would be tolerated.  They were dirty and ill-dressed.  They spoke either Irish or an impenetrable English.  

I first encountered the relations in the bathroom area, which was eccentric in the extreme.  As everywhere in the house, the walls were stained a dark brown.  The room was shaped in a circle roughly ten foot across; it had no square walls.  Within the circle was a second, tiny circle in which there were two toilets, back to back and separated only by a low wall.  In fact, the walls of the inner circle were in such disrepair that I could catch glimpses of parts of two women who were "doing their business" back to back.  

The rest of us waited impatiently for our turn.  There were probably six of us in the larger room.  I was more or less pressed, face to face, with two fairly young Irishmen in particular.  Both had what I took to be pencil moustaches, but on closer examination they turned out to be matching thin streaks of dirt on the upper lip.

This was the penultimate scene.  In the last, I was standing in the living room of the house.  Everyone else -- ten or so -- was seated on the floor.  This was what passed for a holiday party it seemed, but there were no refreshments; there was only heavily muted conversation.  Everyone ignored me but for one bespectacled woman in her thirties sitting nearly at my feet, who openly welcomed me.  I said "hello to everybody" in so many words, but no one else responded or even looked my way.  I was, I suppose, the master of the house in my parents' absence, but I was all but invisible nevertheless among the squatters.

Saturday, September 3, 2022


A Separate Reality

No, not Castaneda's, but my own in which, on August 15 of this year, one louver from the left-hand, louvered door of the cabinet that resides below the stove in the galley of my modest motoryacht pierced my gut, in the fine tradition of naval battle in the Age of Napoleon, when splinters killed more seamen than did cannon fire directly.

I bled out semi-conscious.  A bottle of Cabernet shattered on its shelf above me, and the wine and the blood ran together into the bilge and onto the boat's robust propeller shaft, which later complicated the preparation for her salvage auction, including most critically the communications around it.

Two questions.  Where did this other soul go?  And why?  What purpose could it have served?

It seems that that soul evaporated into my own, but I believe that it might be accessed again via the right kind of hypnosis, rightly administered.  An odd synchronicity in this with the post that I last wrote, a week or so before the boat exploded.

The "why?"  Maybe for one so prone to feeling helpless before and defeated by one's fate, it was useful, for once, to see what invincibility feels like, so as to round things out.  But of course that only makes sense if Someone is paying attention.